Saturday, August 29, 2009

Beisbol Pt VI: The Southside Sox

A beautiful day--but a hot one--for baseball at New Comiskey Park--US Cellular Field, aka "The Cell."
Sunday, August 9: The Chicago White Sox are meaner, dirtier, nastier, more in-your-face than their north-side rivals, the Cubs. That's the image that's cultivated, at least. The Cubs are the loveable losers--haven't won a World Series in 100 years. Hapless. Wait 'Til Next Year, over and over and over again.

Even when things go their way, the Cubs manage to drop the gold ring in the proverbial septic tank. The Sox don't seem to have any of that feeling of self-pity. Any year could be next year to them. They're a bunch of scrappers, led by manager Ozzie "Fuck 'em" Guillen, who demoted a pitcher to the minor leagues when he refused to follow his orders to throw at an opposing batter. Don't mess wit da Sox.

Trips to Cubbyland are full of warmth and giddiness and fellowship for the common cause of The Cubs. The neighborhood around Wrigley Field is packed with bars and restaurants with cute names like the Cubby Bear. A trip to see the Sox, if you listen to their detractors, is taking your life in your own hand. The South Side? That's filled with poor black people!

Wrigley Field, of course, has risen to near the top of the "must-visit" list for out-of-towners on summer vacation, right up there with the Museum of Science & Industry and the Sears Tower. You don't have to be a baseball fan to enjoy a game at Wrigley. . it's the experience of going there for a game in the sun that counts. Not so with the White Sox. US Cellular Field (aka "The Cell", another ironic appellation for a South Side venue) isn't likely to create warm, fuzzy feelings.

Opened in 1991, New Comiskey came just a few years too late to be part of the "retro Ballpark" era that has gripped stadium architecture for the past fifteen years. It's a nice park, mind you, functional and rather bare-bones. There's no fancy facade or notable feature to the playing field, no waterfall or zig-zagging outfield walls. It's been remodeled once already to improve its appearance and reduce seating, but it is rather sterile, one of its few concessions to its predecessor being a version of the famous "exploding scoreboard" from the days when owner Bill Veek tried everything--including Disco Demolition Night--to put butts in the seat. Even so, Veek's son Mike has said the new place has "everything but a soul." It is what it is. But, being baseball fans, how could we pass up a visit when the Sox were hosting the hapless Cleveland Indians?

Robert seems to be enjoying the packed ride on the Red Line more than Mary!

We met our former Fort Worth neighbors, Robert and Donna G., and their two kids near the Chicago River between Union and Northwestern stations. They'd moved to Crystal Lake, in the northwest suburbs, three years ago. Donna, a Texas native, misses the Lone Star State immensely. I think it has to do mainly with winter--as in, Texas doesn't have them, Chicago does. . and they last a helluva long time. Sharing sidewalk space with tons of teenagers and young adults headed for the Lollapalooza concert along the waterfront, we headed into the loop to catch the Red Line CTA subway south. (The Red line, incidentally, links both Wrigley and US Cellular ballparks--the only two major league parks connected by a common public transit route). By the time we reached our stop at 35th St, across the Dan Ryan Expressway from the stadium, the train had become packed. And outside, the temps were already climbing into the low 90s, the humidity making it damned near unbearable. Ah, the midwest in the summer! Nothing like it--even Texas.

Lots of invective hurled at Cubs fans on the Legacy Bricks lining the plaza at The Cell's main entryway. . .

We checked out the personalized bricks in the plaza outside the main entrance, and the sculpture commemorating the 2005 World Series title, and out of nowhere were beseiged by mascots--there must've been a dozen of them, from the White Sox as well as the Bulls, the Blackhawks, college teams, minor-league teams, teams of which I had no idea existed (the Cubs, in case you're wondering, do not have a mascot. That's more of that snooty North Side attitude about "tradition").

As the mascots frolicked around the hot and sweaty masses headed for the stadium entrance, the only thing I could think was: Jesus Christ, can you imagine how uncomfortable those poor bastards are inside those mascot outfits?

Good lord! They're everywhere! Any mascot you could imagine, except, thank God, the scary Burger King guy. . .

Large and In Charge with the Sox mascot, Southpaw. . .

And Mary danced with. . .well, I have no idea who the St. Bernard is.

Germaine Dye went 0-for-4, here fouling off another pitch. . .
The Cell
Here's the main beef I have with The Cell: They treat the upper-level ticket holders like the steerage passengers on the Titanic, but instead of keeping them locked in the lower level of the sinking ocean liner, they're instead banished through separate entrances to the upper reaches of the place, unable to access the amenities, activities, and perhaps snag an autograph during batting practice. You can't take your kids to the Baseball Fundamentals area, you can't see the half dozen statues of great White Sox, you can't even visit the Chicago Plumbing Council Shower. Nope, you're not allowed down below--hey, you rabble, get back up there! No Pro Shop for you!

Our seats were high above home plate. . .high, high, high, above home plate. The angle of the upper level stairs was so steep, you half expected to hook into a rope like a mountaineer. But the view WAS nice, and we lucked out being JUST under the shade from the overhead roof. The upper level concourse was cool and dark and in a couple locations called "rain rooms" water cascaded out of perforated pipes onto those below to keep them cool. I was kept amused by the snippets of organ music played by long-time organist Nancy Faust. I'm sure the younger fans had no idea that was "Norwegian Wood" played, for example, when a bat broke. My favorite was when Indians second-baseman Jamey Carroll came to bat accompanied by the old theme from the Carol Burnett Show. Obscure cultural references relevant only to baby-boomers!

The game? I must say that the luck we brought to the Royals didn't extend to the Sox. The White Sox went up 3-0 in the second before the Indias came back with four runs in the 5th, extending their lead to 6-4 in the 7th before nailing the door shut with two more runs in the 8th. Final: Indians 8, Sox 4, and 34,000 hot, sweaty Chicagoians headed for home. We let the crowds thin out a bit; I hoped to buy a t-shirt on the way out, but all the vendors had shuttered their doors as soon as the final out was called (betcha there were still open on the lower level!). We admired the great view of the city on the way out of the stadium, and the boys checked out the next-door parking lot, where the location of home plate at old "Kaminskey"Park was memorialized.

The boys cool off in The Rain Room. A thoughtful idea--something the Rangers should try out.

I. pretends to take a swing from the site of home plate at old Comiskey Park (1910-1990). . .

Downtown for Dinner
We all caught the CTA back to the city for dinner. Pizza, of course, since we're in Chicago. We transferred at Roosevelt Road from the Red Line subway to the El, then rode that to the north end of the Loop; from there, Robert navigated us using GPS on his phone and we walked the mile or so north up State Street to Uno Chicago, a sweltering trek. Sunday evening? Naturally, the place was packed--a two hour wait. A block away, though, was Pizzeria Due (apparently under common ownership with Uno), and we drained two pitchers of ice water while waiting 20 minutes for our seats. The deep dish was awesome.

We caught a taxi back to the Metra stations (narrowly avoiding an accident on Wacker Drive), bid Robert and Donna and their kids adieu, and lucked into an extra express back to Naperville, added to accomodate Lollapalooza traffic. To the west, lightning flashed from an approaching thunderstorm, but we fell asleep at Tom and Susan's before it hit.

We stopped sweating a moment for a family photo with the Chicago skyline. . .

Friday, August 28, 2009

Beisbol Pt. V: Family History

My aunts Grace Vandellen, Dorothy Barbour, and cousin Ellen Dec (Grace's daughter). . .

Saturday, August 8 (p.m.): Tom and Susan hosted a family get-together the evening we arrived. I'm sure such gatherings aren't too out of the ordinary for the Chicago-area Stobs: most of my aunts and uncles and cousins live a couple of hours from each other, remarkable today given how far-flung most families have become.

My dad moved us from Chicago when I was five years old, away from my mom's family as well as his own (Dad's roots are in Grand Rapids, where his only sibling, William, still lives). Thus, apart from occasional pass-through visits from relatives while I was growing up, the closeness of the exended family is something I've missed. And with Mary's family largely in Mexico, it's sadly something our boys will miss out on also. Which is really a shame. We had a great time reacquainting ourselves with my family, most of whom we'd last seen during our 2003 visit (and you'll have to excuse me for forgetting a few faces and names in the intervening 2000-some days).

My mother, Evelyn, was one of seven children of Thomas and Jennie Stob. The elder Stob was a career railroader with the Pennsylvania Railroad. He worked downtown at Union Station as a bookeeper for the railroad's maintenance department, commuting from home in a nice middle-class working neighborhood, Englewood, around 70 blocks south of the Loop (a place you probably don't want to visit these days if you don't live in the area. If you know what I mean). After retiring in 1961, the Stobs moved to rural Crown Point, Indiana to a big piece of property I recall for touch football games during Thanksgiving. They enjoyed a long and graceful retirement, active in their Church and involved in family, until their deaths. They were life-long Roosevelt-era Democrats, and despite being South-Siders, grandpa was a Cubs fan.

Tom and Jennie were the parents of (in no chronological order) Tom Jr.; Grace; Dorothy; Ed; the twins, Evelyn (my mother) and Eleanor; and Jimmy. Tom Jr. married Susan; Grace married Ned VanDellen; Dorothy married Jim Barbour. Ed married Nancy. Evelyn married Lou Kooistra (my father), Eleanor married Dick Hopkins; and Jimmy married a Susan as well. From these unions begat many children and grandchildren. Some grew up to be Republicans, some Democrats. And life gets interesting during baseball season, for there are a few Sox fans mixed in among the Cubbie faithful.

Evelyn and Eleanor and Jimmy have since passed on, as has Ned. So, to me, it was remarkable to have the four remaining Stob sibilings together in one room in 2009. And, leave it to the photographer in me not to bother getting them together for a picture!

We had a grand time with the aunts and uncles and a few of the kids and grandkids (I'm sure I'll leave someone out, so I'll save myself the possible embarassment of listing everyone). An updated Stob family geneology was brought out, and Mary and I learned quite a lot about my roots. And I learned as well that my aunt Grace worked for the Pennsy as well as a secretary/clerk, as did my uncle Ed--as a car checker during summer vacations from college. They called it the "glory days" of railroading.

It felt great to be part of a family--a large family. But also a bit strange, as if from the outside looking in--largely my relatives are people I really don't know, have no strong memories of, and have no recent shared experiences with. It's tough to keep the family ties strong with only occasional visits, and to this I blame myself and my own family upbringing. I must say I'm envious of my cousins, neices and nephews who have strong family ties. That's probably a Stob family trait as opposed to us stand-offish Kooistras. But at the same time, I'm thankful I have my relatives, and that they've opened their homes and their hearts to make us feel part of the family.

And while Mary and I and the kids will be only occasional visitors to the land of my mom's family, I hope they all know our welcome mat is always out should they wish, for whatever reason, to visit Texas!

Our wonderful hosts, aunt Susan and uncle Tom Stob. . .

Back to School
School's started up again. E. is in the third grade, which in Texas means you have separate teachers for math/science and reading/history--not so much so the kids will learn more, but so they're more apt to inflate the scores for the school districts on the state-wide student aptitude tests, which directly influence state funding. Ah well. . . he's started riding his bike the .43 miles to school each morning. I've been accompanying him this week to make sure he's a good little citizen on the road. He enjoys this extra measure of independence.

Fall will be here too soon. The kids start fall baseball next week. It won't be long until daylight savings disappears and the lawns go dormant. But yesterday, while in our community pool with I., I heard the sound of a lawnmower over the fence and caught a whiff of fresh-cut grass. I savored it, as it seemed to be as fleeting as summer.

E.'s pretty happy to be back in school--and proud as well to be riding his bike there each morning. Ah, independence!

Back to Daylights
After at least seven straight years on the graveyard shift (and probably a bit more), next week I join the land of the polo shirts and docker-wearing living and go back to working days and afternoons. I was beginning to feel more like a zombie than ever on third trick. I've just been worn out lately, and while I can't say my health has demonstrably suffered, working midnights can't be healthy in the long run. There's more stress during days and afternoons, but the workday will pass more quickly. And I'll get to sleep when it's actually night time. In a sense, after being away from any truly challenging train dispatching for so long, I almost feel like a rookie, having to learn the mysteries of maintenance-of-way gangs all over again. But, ultimately, it was time for a change. I'm sure it'll take a while to rejigger my daily routine.

Rangers Take Yankees
Yep. Rangers win two of three against the Bombers. They held on from a 10-4 lead going into the 9th inning of Tuesday's game and barely escaped in spite of closer Frank Francisco. Thursday's 7-2 win found starter Nippert walking seven, getting yanked short of four full innings, and Texas' run production came from two three-run shots (the first one the Rangers' first hit of the game with two walked base runners on board) and a dinger. Texas' patience at the plate chased Yankees pitcher A. J. Burnett off the mound after six inning, running up his pitch count despite only giving up three runs off two hits and three walks, and striking out 12. But it was Ian Kinsler's two home runs and the bullpen troika of Grilli-Wilson-Francisco that made the difference. The Rangers remain four back of the Angels in the AL West and only 1.5 behind the Red Sox for the Wild Card.

They just don't give up.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Beisbol, Pt. IV: Sacred Northwestern Illinois

Mary and the kids at the Dubuque lock. . .

Saturday, August 8: We slept in and didn't get on the road out of Dubuque til after 10am. That meant we wouldn't be stopping by the Mississippi River museum in the old train station downtown; no worries--we'd stopped by Mississippi River Lock and Dam No. 11 the night before en route to our motel room and watched a too-long river barge squeeze into the Lock, executing what the railroaders in the audience will relate to as a "saw by." That wasn't exciting enough for the kids, though, so we left the drama without a resolution.

Crossing over the Mississippi River at Dubuque. . .

A thunderstorm overnight had left the morning air very humid; it was already more than warm outside as the low clouds burned off. We were due at my Uncle Tom and Aunt Susan's place in Naperville, a few hours away, in the early afternoon, and we didn't have much time to sight see as we rolled through Sacred Northwestern Illinois, through tidy little towns that dated from the first half of the 1800s: East Dubuque; beautiful Galena, one-time home of Ulysses S. Grant and a weekend get-away tourist attraction for Chicagoans, judging from the many Bed and Breakfast homes; Hanover; Savanna, on the mighty Mississippi. Beautiful country, too: lush and green and alive and grass and trees and hills and still more corn.

A nicely restored old home in Galena. Of course, it's a bed and breakfast. . .

Rolling hills and cornfields north of Savanna. . .

Main street in Hanover, a typical small town. . .
We left the twisting two-lane roads behind at Dixon, hometown of railfan extraordinaires Jim Boyd AND Mike Schafer. . .oh, and boyhood home of "The Great Communicator," actor-turned-US President Ronald Reagan. Everything is Reagan-esque in Dixon: we were driving the Reagan Trail, there is a statue of Reagan downtown; there's an annual Reagan 5K. Try as we might to just continue through town without stopping, the Mitsubishi diverted onto a side street so we could get a quick piccie of the Reagan Boyhood Home. There you go--Dixon, where it's always Morning in Ronald Wilson Reagan's America. Seemed like a nice place, but I'm reminded that Reagan wasted no time after graduating from Dixon High School to leave town and never return.
(Our trip would touch many towns connected with Mid-Western-born US presidents: Denison, Texas, birthplace of Dwight Eisenhower; Independence Missouri, home of Harry S Truman; Galena and Dixon; Springfield, Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln sat as Governor; and Chicago, one-time home of Barack Obama).

Reagan boyhood home. All white, as you'd expect. . .
From Dixon, it was a little over an hour to Tom and Susan's, who were more than kind enough to offer us the use of their finished basement as lodging for the next few nights. And sometime after three p.m., they'd be hosting a family get-together.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Beisbol, Pt. III: Field Of Dreams

Running for home at the Field of Dreams. . .

Friday , August 7:Out of Kansas City and Iowa bound, we endured six hours of corn field after corn field, economic stimulus highway construction projects (how many million orange traffic cones must there be in Iowa alone?), and AM radio (if it ain't a Jesus preacher, it's an angry, Obama-hating conservative). We were boring deeper into the midwest, where regional dining chains--Bob Evans, anyone?---unbeknownst to us Texans started appearing. Everything was lush and green.

We pointed the Mitsubishi toward Dyersville, in the northeast corner of the state, hoping the rain would hold off so I could take the boys out onto the almost-mythic "Field of Dreams," a regulation-sized baseball field improbably carved into a farm of tall corn, created for the 1989 movie of the same name starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, and Ray Liotta. The movie location has taken on a life of its own, joining the Ertl die-cast farm toy museum as one of the town's major attractions.

The Anamosa Penitentary, Iowa's largest, housing 1200 maximum security inmates. . .

But first: Iowa. Lots, and lots of Iowa. North on I35 to Des Moines, east on I80 to Iowa City, then northeast on two-lane Iowa 1 and US 151 to Anamosa--hometown of artist Grant Wood and the "White Palace of the West," a of a Gothic castle of a state prison established in 1972 and plopped down incongruously in a small town right out of a . . well, a Grant Wood painting. Lots of Iowa towns are like that: Solon and Monticello and Mount Vernon, places a person in a crowded, sun-baked Texas suburb could easily see them selves moving to, living in a big, white, double-story frame home in the cornfields, with a baseball diamond right outside the front door. Just like the place in "Field of Dreams!"

You're almost there. . .
A couple of miles outside of Dyersville, down a narrow dirt driveway, you'll find the "Field of Dreams." It still exists largely as it did in the movie, and we picked the right time of year to visit: the corn grew eight feet high, tall enough to engulf not only our sons but me as well as we re-created the obligatory coming out of/going into the cornfield scene.

You might remember the movie, a metaphysical fantasy into the soul of America and the redemptive powers of baseball. Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, played by Costner, hears voices in his head which implore him to build a baseball diamond in his corn acreage. He builds the ball field, and soon old-time baseball players--the heroes of his late father--inhabit the field each evening. "Is this heaven?" one player asks Kinsella, amazed at the ballfield-in-a-cornfield. "No, it's Iowa," Kinsella replies. The film's final scene finds Costner's character meeting his father as a young man--a baseball player in his youth. The two play a game of catch under the field's lights.

The boys were ready to play. . .

Twenty years after the film's release, the field remains a big draw to Dyersville, and despite the economic temptations, the place isn't TOO commercial--no admission is charged, and you can stay as long as you want until sunset (the light standards are still in place, but the bulbs have been removed to save operating costs. There was a feud between the two landowners whose property the field sits upon, but we didn't see any evidence of that. A wooden concession stand sits in the parking lot, a respectful distance from the playing field and white two-story farmhouse. It did a brisk business in bumper stickers, hats, t-shirts and other knickknacks. "I see how it works," said one visitor. "They don't charge admission, but you end up spending $70 on souvenirs!"

Out on the field, the boys and I joined the never-ending pickup game. Everyone was accommodating, the boys generally well-behaved (well, E. had a tendency to argue pitch calls, but that's just E. being E.). The boys got to hit and run, and I had a good opportunity to chase after fly balls hit by one of the teenaged kids. I am so out of shape.

Between the field and the farm house, Mary sat and chatted with other visitors on the wooden bleachers. The spectators came from all over, including a couple of history teachers from Pennsylvania who'd been on the road since early July, seeing America: the Little Big Horn, Civil War battlefields, and the Field of Dreams.

A great place to make memories with your brother, too. . .

I. stepped right up to the plate in the informal, free-flowing pickup game. . .

Mary took a nice photo of the 3 Dudes at the edge of the field. That corn's about ready for harvest. . .

Then we all "had a catch". . .

Those who didn't play kibbitzed on the wooden bleachers. . .
For many, the film crystalized the link between the past and present baseball represents. Jones' character, a fictionalized 60s writer named Terence Mann said in the film's climactic soliloquy:

And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. . . . The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

They built it. We came. Just as the voice in the movie predicted.

Then it was on to Dubuque and a motel, a take-out pizza, and a come-from-behind Cubs victory watched on the TV from the comfort of a Days Inn bed.

A family portrait near home plate. Not quite "American Gothic," but it'll do. . .

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Beisbol, Pt. II: The Big K in Kansas City

Composite view of Kauffman Stadium. . .

Thursday, August 6th: In 2008, the Kansas City Royals were the second-to-last attendance draw in Major League Baseball, its 38,000 seat Kauffman Stadium averaging only 49 percent of the seats sold over the season.

It must be the baseball, as "The Big K" is a a quite attractive venue to see a ballgame. Sadly, the Royals haven't given their fans a winning season since 2003, but on this night, 15,000 diehards, most dressed in blue jerseys sporting names of players little known--apart from ace pitcher Zach Grienke--outside of Kansas City. Bettancourt? A slacker was just acquired from the Mariners, cut because of his lazy attitude. Callapso? I'd read about the Dominican's lockerroom antics when he played in the Angles organization in Rookie league Orem, Utah, sticking his penis in a hotdog bun and covering it with mustard. Something like that, you remember.

The Royals hosted the Seattle Mariners, and wasted little time sticking it to them, slapping starting pitcher Jason Vargas with five runs in the bottom of the first inning, and rolling easily to an 8-2 victory. Box Score here. Such victories don't come often in Kansas City: the Royals have the worst-record in the American League.

Kauffman Stadium is a winner, though. The sixth-oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues (can you name the five oldest? Answer at the bottom of the post), the 36-year-old facility shares a vast parking lot with the Chief's Arrowhead Stadium at the junction of Interstates 70 and 435 on Kansas City's east side. The place looks sparkling new, as it is fresh from a pricey renovation, with wide, clean concourses under the stands that seem more at home at an airport.

E. tries to run as fast as the Royals in the kids entertainment area. Scott Boras needn't call. . .

Meanwhile, I. plays golf at a Royals-themed course.

Ballpark dinner in the table area behind the outfield. . .

Clean, spacious concourse. . .
The "Water Spectacular" fountain and waterfalls in center field from pre-renovation are still there, sharing space now with a giant video screen/scoreboard. New luxury and press boxes were added, as well as a family-friendly baseball-themed amusement area out behind left field with batting cages, a wiffleball park, miniature golf course, and play area, among other features, sharing space with the Royals Hall of Fame. A large screen towers over an area with picnic tables, where I enjoyed a dinner of Kansas City-famous bar-b-que "burnt ends." We purchased a family pack of four tickets which included unlimited admission to the amusement area (not too useful, given the large crush of kids waiting to play) and $20 food credit for $60. Parking was $9.

With the sparse crowd, requisite fan entertainment (sausage races, and shapely young ladies tossing hot dogs to the crowd) and cheesy music, the place has the feeling more of a minor league ballpark.

Giant video screen in left field, the largest of its type when added in 2008, since eclipsed by the screens inside new Cowboys Stadium. .

Nice view from the 209 section in left field. . .

Moonrise over the dancing fountains. Two ways to Party--a porch and a deck--added in the renovation.

I. added a temporary KC Royals tatoo, something probably not worn much outside of Kansas City. . .

The "Big K" at night.

With the game decided so early, I really couldn't get into it. Despite the empty seats, were were quickly ticket-checked when we moved a bit closer in from our far-left-field seats. The game was over in a breeze: only 2 hours, 28 minutes elapsed--20 minutes shorter than the MLB average--and we were back at the motel shortly after 10pm.

Still, it was a nice night out at the ballpark. A blood-red full-moon rose over the fountains in center field, and it was easy to just sit back and admire the late-60s modernist design of the place. It very much feels like a midwest-version of Dodgers stadium.
* * * *
(Answer to the question: Fenway, Wrigley, Dodger Stadium, Oakland-Alameda County, Angels Stadium of Anaheim)
The Return of Old Number Seven!
For a team known for its depth of catching talent, the Texas Rangers had to go looking for a veteran to fill the gap left by an injured Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Max Ramirez, the obvious replacement, is on the disabled list in Triple A Oklahoma. Down in Houston, though, Pudge Rodriquez could be had for a couple of minor leaguers, and he wasted no time driving up Interstate 45 to rejoin the club he spent his first 11 years with.
Pudge is 38 years old, so old that when he came up as an 18 year-old in 1991 Nolan Ryan was in the starting rotation. Ryan is now the Rangers' president. And Pudge, who has caught more innings than anyone ever in baseball, joins a team with young players who weren't even born when he was drafted into the Rangers organization.
He's immensely popular--still--in Arlington. He can still produce--hitting over .280 in Houston, far better than Ranger starter Taylor Teagarden's .196. He's not as big and muscley as he was back in the days when the Rangers were suspiciously big and muscley. But all that's in the past, and I'd guess most of us are willing to forget all that and welcome Ivan back to the team.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Beisbol Vacation (pt. I)

We've got our tickets: let's hit the road!

Only a week until school is back in session! Whatever happened to waiting until after Labor Day? Glad we squeezed in our last outing on the summer, a 10-day car trip to Chicago, what we've termed our "baseball vacation."

The main theme of the trip was baseball: We crammed in four major-league games in four different ballparks as well as a stop at a popular baseball culture icon; a get-together with relatives; a bit of shopping; and a museum or two.

Time to get out of Dodge.

Wednesday, August 5: I worked that morning, but Mary had the car packed and ready to go when I woke up around 1pm, and we were Kansas-bound by 2:30pm. The first evening's stop was a relatively effortless 400 miles up Interstate 35 and Kansas 61 to overnight in Hutchinson. As soon as we crossed into Oklahoma, we drove through a pretty stout thunderstorm, with 60mph winds and lots of dust and torrential rains. By the time we reached Ardmore, though, the storms were behind us, and we fell into a fast group of drivers ticking away mile after mile at over 90mph to the Kansas Line. We reached Hutchinson shortly after a beautiful orangey sunset.

Welcome to Oklahoma! (M. photo)

Lyrical Kansas sunset near Hutchinson. . . (M. photo)

E. and I. team up in the Mercury capsule simulator at the Cosmosphere.

Thursday, August 6, AM: We partook in the fabulous free Continental breakfast at our Super 8 and were first in line when the Kansas Cosmosphere space museum opened at 9am. We toured the exhibits of cool space stuff--a favorite from our vacation in 2007--until around 1pm, when we pointed the Mitsubishi towards Kansas City. We cut across wheatfields to Cassoday, then wound through the scenic Flint Hills on a two-lane road I'd last visited 15 years ago when I'd come out to the green rolling hills to photograph the Santa Fe Railway when in KayCee as a dispatching student. We didn't stop for trains, though, and made a beeline to Independence to check into our motel rooms, then headed off for a 7pm Royals game at "The Big K" vs. the Seattle Mariners: the first of four baseball games.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Welcome to the Bigs, Neftali!

Feliz joined the Rangers Sunday, and as the bullpen rookie, is entrusted to carry the "Dora The Explorer" pink backpack filled with snacks/AP photo.

Fireball pitcher (100 mph on the gun) Neftali Feliz made his much-anticipated debut Monday night for the Texas Rangers, notching four-strikeouts in two no-hit innings against the Oakland A's in Oakland. Feliz relieved Dustin Nippert, who'd thrown five one-hit innings. Feliz came to the Ranger organization a couple of years ago in the Mark Texeria trade from Atlanta, along with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Elvis Andrus. His four-strikeouts in two innings was the most thrown in a big-league debut by a pitcher since around 1962.

Unfortunately, all that good work of Ranger pitching Monday was undone by C.J. Wilson's work in the ninth. Coming in with one out and no one on base, Wilson promplty gave up three hits--and three runs-- as the A's won the heart-breaker, 3-2. The Rangers no drop to 4 games behind the Angles for the AL West lead and 3 games behind Boston for the Wild Card.

I hadn't read Nippert's reaction to Wilson's spoiling his five good innings of work. Feliz might've offered an opinion, but I don't read Spanish, and the Dominican's English is pretty no bueno.

Speaking of Dominicans. . .

Feliz's making the Show came a day after I'd watched the movie "Sugar," a small independent film about a fictional Dominican pitcher and his coming to America as a minor-league prospect for a major-league team. Looking at the rosters of Major League teams, the number of Dominican (and Cuban, Puerto Rican, Panamanian, Venezuelan, Hondouran, Nicarauguan, Mexican and Dutch Antillies) players is truly staggering, but Sugar reminds one that for every young man who makes it to the Show, there are dozens who end up stuck in the minors, in small towns in a country where no one speaks their language. Sugar is their story. Highly recommended. Watch the trailer. And here's a nice review and overview of Dominican's in US farm systems. Flei Bol! And remember: No chicas in the bedroom!

Hitting the Road. . .

I don't think we see enough baseball here in Fort Worth. So, tomorrow we're heading off for a nine-day trip north to see the sights, visit relatives, and (primarily) catch eight teams in action in four stadiums--Kansas City, Chicago Wrigley, Chicago Cellular One, and Busch in St. Louis. We tried to squeeze in a minor-league game in Tulsa as well, but that likely won't work out. . .but we'll make up for it by "having a toss" on the baseball field-in-a-cornfield from "Field Of Dreams" near Dyersville, Iowa.

It won't all be baseball: we'll be making a return trip to the Kansas Cosmosphere museum, and plan on showing the boys how the Mississippi River locks work. And i'm sure there'll be a couple of museums in Chicago (Field? MS&I?) to entertain the boys (and their parents) as well.

Hopefully driving 2200 miles in a car with two yapping, hyper-active, often-at-each-other's-throats will still make the trip worth it. Check back in a week and find out!