Spring Training road trip in 27 photos.

Footnotes included at the end.

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1) Headed out in the midst of a snow storm.

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2) Night in Richmond with DeMottes

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3) Headed south again

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4) Long ass day of driving.

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5) Dinner with Beatties in FL

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6) Drinks with Dave on his couch

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7) Tigers game at 1:05

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8) Seats in the sun along third base. It’s March and we are watching baseball!

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9) 6:05 game — Jack watching Yankees warm up

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10) Learns Aaron Judge not in the game, but Didi Gregorius is.

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11) Right back to work

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12) Pushing for autographs.

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13) Got Greg Bird, Tommy Kahnley, and Chasen Shreve.

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14) Signed ball from Kyle Higashioka (who told Jack it was because he was the only kid to say “please”)

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15) Game on. Watching from the grass.

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14) Main event time. 7:45 AM arrival at Pirates

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15) Interview with Cole Tucker (Pirates #5 prospect)

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16) Interview with Austin Meadows (26th ranked prospect in entire MLB)

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17) Interview with Steven Brault (starting pitcher)

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18) Team building event — the players did a Chopped-esque challenge.

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19) Checking out which players made the best dish.

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20) Press passes gave us field access, so we took advantage.

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21) Jack taking a pee in the dugout bathroom

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22) Right there for batting practice.

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22) Our seats for the game.

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23) The master at work. (5 balls and dozens of autographs)

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24) Late night driving. Family Guy clips to stay awake.

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25) Long haul home. 10+ hours of driving.

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26) We got home close to 11:00. Alex was not asleep. He helped us bring in our stuff and asked Jack to show him all the swag he collected. Jack said to me later: “I really missed that kid.”

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27) The full road trip. 5 days. 2 Rambler stops. 3 ballparks. 2303 miles and 35 hours of road time.

Footnotes

Things we talked about in the car: Popularity, my mom, suicide (tragically relevant), relationship with his brother, baseball (lots and lots), future road trips, how I met Shani, times I had my heart broken, more baseball, Family Guy, hardest we’d laughed with our friends, play-by-play of my trip around the country, play-by-play of trip around the world, how we approach the future.

People we want to invite for future spring training trips: Shani’s parents, my Dad and Mary, Skinny and Spider.

Observations of a 14-year-old boy: At times he is so powerfully self-involved that he will answer someone’s questions inaudibly, not even considering whether the person can hear the response. He is open to being told to get off the screen. When he hangs back and seems disengaged, he is still paying attention deeply and will later recount the incident with vivid excitement. He deeply appreciates and loves Shani. And finally, he has a presence, a soul, something — it’s hard to describe. But it makes him an other-worldly traveling companion for a road trip. I may only feel that because he’s my son, but I feel it just the same.

And finally…I got a selfie with Ron Washington, bitches!

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Sad Kid

Jacks started his baseball camp Monday. Alex and I picked him up that evening.

“How’d it go?” I asked.

“Man, did I stink it up!” he said cheerfully. His friend Danny (who I was bringing home) chimed in.

“I stunk it up too!”

I didn’t know what to make of it, but after Danny was dropped off, Jack started going after Alex.

“You think you’re so awesome, Alex. This is you: ‘I’m soooo awesome!’”

“This is you, Jack: ‘I’m sooo great!’”

They do this occasionally, and it can go two ways. Sometimes it ends with them laughing like crazy. But this time it got ugly. Jack kept going with an extra edge of intensity in his voice.

I’m Alex and I think I’m soooo awesome. Awesome awesome awesome look at me!

Alex fell into tears and started shrieking: “I don’t do that!”

Here’s the thing, Jack is really pushing up against the edge of kid-hood. He’s out of place. In some ways he’s still a kid. He wants to snuggle on the couch. He watches Tom and Jerry and laughs his head off. But non-kid behaviors are also common. He’s becoming awkward and self-conscious talking to adults. He wants to be alone and away from his parents. He’ll lock himself in his room and blast his music, singing ferociously and punching in the air – the hero of the story he’s acting out.

At dinner we got more into the baseball camp, which was clearly the reason for being mean to his brother.

“How was camp?” Shani asked.

“I stink,” he mumbled, sad this time.

“What do you mean?” Shani responded, a bit of desperation in her voice.

“You don’t stink, Jack,” I brushed him off.

He described missing two ground balls that came to him. He only caught one ball in the pop-fly contest before he was eliminated. He got out when he was batting even though the coach was lobbing balls to them.

And as he does this, he’s met with a relentless onslaught of positivity from Shani and I.

“Of course you dropped the pop-flies. You’re not used to catching tennis balls.”

“You haven’t played in 3 weeks – you’re rusty.”

“You’ve gone to bed past 11 for the entire weekend. You’re just tired.”

And in all honesty, I don’t know if we’re so desperately trying to cheer him up because we want him to feel better or is it really for us. It hurts us so bad to see him down – do we need him to cheer up for our own sakes? Part of me just wants to let him be sad. Part of life is knowing how to pick yourself up when you’re feeling sad – it’s a skill he’s going to needs so let’s let him learn it, right? Hell, I don’t know.

We put him to bed that night. Shani went in to say good night. He pulled her in for a hug and whispered:

“I just want to be good at sports.”

Angelic Baseball

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My uncle Coddy picked me up at the airport. As I climbed into the car, I asked him how far it was to Angels Stadium.

“At least an hour. Get comfortable.”

An hour sounded fine to me. We drove south across LA. Coddy told me about his hip surgery and a songwriter’s convention he’d recently gone to. He played me a few of his new songs. We talked about my boys…

I guess here I have to stop and mention that Coddy has been a role model to me for my entire life. I remember as a teen trying to emulate his warmth and open affection. In my early 20s I lived with him for 6 months and got to see him in action as a Hall-of-Fame dad. So lemme tall ya’, I was damn happy to be headed to a ballgame with him.

As we pulled into the stadium, Coddy spoke to the parking attendant:

“I don’t have a handicapped sticker, but I just had hip replacement surgery a month ago. Is there somewhere you could recommend for me to park?”

Coddy waved his cane through the window and soon we were headed for prime parking.

It was a short walk from the car to the giant Angels batting helmets that sit at the front gates of the park. Once inside, we made our way around towards our seats – good seats. I started plotting where we would get dinner and was pretty disappointed by the selection: Jack in the Box, Panda Express. Pretty unimaginative stuff; it was like the food court at a new mall.

We found a food counter near our seat.

“I’ll have a hot dog, a beer, and peanuts, please,” Coddy said.

“Huh – I’d actually like the exact same thing,” I added. It struck me that we’d ordered the same food. Then I looked at Coddy and something else struck me. See if you can tell what it was from the photos:

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We were wearing the exact same clothes. I took that to be a very good sign.

We got to our seats and settled in to the game. Angels-Mariners. Now, at a new ballpark, you have to get oriented. You have to see where they display the score, the balls and strikes, the batter and pitcher stats. And here is my second observation from Angels Stadium (my first being that the food selection was lame) – the scoreboard situation blows. Check this out:

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That scoreboard has 3 times more advertising space than information. It was really hard to follow what was going in. They should take that whole board, make the entire thing a screen and rotate advertising through it. That way the ads would be right where I’m already trained to look for my information. The way it is now, the ads are just in my way. Asinine.

It also quickly occurred to me that the seating in Angels stadium is built poorly. We had terrific seats, just along the first-base side near the foul pole. But the entire section has the seats set up so if you sit straight you are facing here:

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When you want to look over here:

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So you sit the entire time turned at a 45-degree angle. But in all honesty, I wouldn’t call that a design flaw. Why? Because the fans seemed to have no interest in watching the game at all. I found it baffling.

If you go to the bathroom at a Phillies game, Yankees game, Pirates game…you can tell what’s happening in the game just by listening to the crowd. You can hear them cheer for a hit or moan for an error. Close your eyes and any good baseball crowd will tell you what’s going on.

Not so with the Angels and these assclown fans. They’re all yappin’ with each other, talking on their phones, texting. Hell, most of the crowd never even showed up until the 4th inning.

It was still 0-0 in the 5th and the Mariners got men on base with one out. Big trouble for the home team. But CJ Wilson managed to pitch his way out of it. The inning ended with a weak Popfly that squashed the Mariner threat. There was barely a cheer from the home crowd.

In the 7th, the Angels’ newly-signed high-priced outfielder, Josh Hamilton, struck out for the second time in the game. He’s hitting .212 and is massively underperforming. Where the hell were the boos?

I wouldn’t have thought it would have affected me so much, but I genuinely found it disorienting to try and watch a baseball game when no one else around me was. I felt like I was watching TV in the middle of a party.

“This is a good game that only you and I seem to be watching,” Coddy said, leaning over.

He was right, it was terrific game. Both pitchers kept working out of high-tension innings with men on base.

Only one run scored in the entire game, and that was all Mike Trout. Trout is stocky, short, and non-descript. He doesn’t look powerful or fast – but last year he hit 30 home runs and stole 49 bases. Not to mention he’s dynamite in the field. He won rookie of the year last year and should have won MVP. He is one of those players that I love to watch. It feels like the air is suddenly different every time he gets up to bat. He’s like super hot chick walking around a party – you’re always aware of him.

In the 6th inning, Trout hit a single to the outfield, but he hauled ASS from the first step and turned it into a double. Next batter flied out and Trout moved to 3rd base. From there, he took such a huge lead off 3rd that he was practically halfway home with each pitch, then he’d run like hell back to the base when the catcher caught it. Sure enough, a pitch got by the catcher and Trout was crossing home plate before the pitcher could even get there to try and make the tag. Baseball geeks love players that “manufacture runs” and this was a textbook case of that. Not to mention, it turned out to be the ballgame – the Angels won 1-0.

With the game over, Coddy and I crunched our way out over our peanut shells, out through the concourse, and made the short walk to our car. It was a perfect night – clear and cool. Our handicapped parking had an exit that took us right onto the freeway. A flawless, hip-surgery-induced exit strategy.

“Next time you come out, you gotta bring your boys,” Coddy said. “We could even try to hit an Angels game and a Dodgers game if the schedules work out.”

“Hell yes!” I replied, glad to have yet another reason why Coddy is an outstanding role model.

Afterward: Fangraphs.com (which is an awesome website for hardcore baseball dorks) actually wrote an article about Mike Trout’s “hustle double”. There’s even video of it: check it out:

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/mike-trout-and-yasiel-puig-a-hustle-double-comparison/

Book Review: Babe, the Legend Comes to Life

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Babe Ruth had the appetite, strength, stamina, and libido of 10 men. He could eat 3 cream pies in one sitting. He could screw 6 girls in one night. He could drink 15 pitchers of beer. And after any of this, he could (and often did) head right to the ballpark and smash homeruns.

He was fun and became the most popular man in the world for a while.

He became the greatest baseball player ever for a few reasons:

1)    He was flat out super human. They say that when he was driving he could read an oncoming car’s license plate 5 seconds before anyone else in the car.

2)    Up until that time, it was a huge embarrassment to strike out. Baseball was about bunting and running and fielding. To strike out was humiliating for the batter. It was like a professional golfer whiffing at the tee.

Babe didn’t give a crap. He went up and swung as hard as he could every time. He struck out all the time – but he also started smashing home runs at an unheard of rate. It was a complete paradigm shift in the game.

3)    There were a lot of other factors. Baseball introduced a new type of harder ball, they introduced fences in the ball field, they purposely expanded the strike zone…there are a lot of reasons that baseball geeks will point out. Babe had a lot of help – but still, he was pretty friggin’ amazing on top of it all.

Overall, I’d say don’t bother reading this book unless you’re really into baseball. It basically reaffirms the legend you already know about Babe Ruth.

Tomorrow night: Angels game with my tied-for-favorite Uncle Coddy. My Aunt Mary knows someone who got us tickets. The view looks like…

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Bad Language in the Dugout

Little league playoffs. Double elimination and Jack’s team had already lost once. It was do or die time. Potentially Jack’s last chance to get a hit this season. I’ve kept the score book all season and this time the head coach asked me to sit in the dugout. Alex joined me.

Two observations of note:

1)    The kids were amped up. They wanted it and they wanted it bad. This did not work to our favor. Kids swung at lousy pitches, struck out, and then slammed their helmets down in the dugout. I would say half the kids ended up in tears of frustration at one point during the game. Rough stuff.

2)    Baseball is second priority in the dugout. Top priority: putting stuff into their mouths. Every kid brought in something: sunflower seeds, big league chew, Bazooka gum. They are constantly trading, begging, swapping, denying, and above all stuffing all that garbage into their mouths. Look, I’m a born low-life, but this genuinely grossed me out. These kids are pigs. It’s like Halloween in there.

Some poor kid left an almost-full pack of Starburst on the bench when he went to bat. By the time he got back there were 2 left. I swear to God kids we’re eating them up while other crap was still in their mouths.

As to the game itself, ultimately they lost 8-4 in a really tight game. But the big question…did Jack get a hit? Well let’s start at week 2 of the season. I’m at the airport about to fly to SF for work and Shani calls.

“Jack said Coach Guy (not his real name) used the F word in the dugout.”

“Really?” I asked.

“He was kinda shaken up about it.”

Crap. By the holy laws of Dad-hood, I have to call Guy and talk to him about this. I didn’t know Guy well at all. I wrote him an email:

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To: Guy@email.com

From: Mikenuck@yahoo.com

Guy – can you give me your phone number? I’d like to give you a call.

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To: Mikenuck@yahoo.com

From: Guy@email.com

I think I know what this is about. My number is: XXX-XXXX

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To: Guy@email.com

From: Mikenuck@yahoo.com

I’ll call you tomorrow. Just so you know, I’m not even remotely pissed off (just in case you were anticipating an annoying angry parent call).

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I think that sent a good tone. When I got a hold of Guy, he apologized and we both laughed about it. At the next game he came up to me with a big smile and we shook hands. Oddly enough, the whole thing had actually made us friends. And for the record, Jack has had terrific fun this season and I like the coaches a heck of a lot.

OK…so back to Jack’s playoff game. First at-bat, he was facing the best pitcher in the league. This kid throws super fast and has an honest-to-God curveball.

Jack walked – but he took a couple swings. He hadn’t swung in weeks. This was an extremely good sign. Next at-bat, he walked again but even fouled off a couple of pitches. After Jack’s walk, they put in a new pitcher.

“I think he’s gonna get a hit,” I said to Alex, who was in the dugout helping me keep book.

Jack got up again in the 6th and final inning. This would be the last chance. Jack let the first 2 pitches go by without a swing. Then he took two balls. Then the third pitch comes in. Ump pumps his fist – strikeout. It was over. Hitless through the season.

“Shit!” I yelled. Then quickly I covered my mouth up. “Sorry, Alex,” I quickly muttered. Then I turned to my right:

Coach Guy was sitting right next to me with the biggest damn grin you’ve ever seen in your life.

Phillies Game Part 4 of 4: Making History

Final entry for the Phillies game. This one widens out to a much larger personal picture.

Like I said, it was me, Jack, Alex, and Shani’s dad. Boys trip to the Phils. We parked at the Holiday Inn lot.

“This is a good hotel to stay in if you’re going to the game,” Jack said.

“Just like the Drury Inn in St. Louis,” my father-in-law said. We’d gone to a Cardinals game in St. Louis together last summer. As he brought that up, something really struck me, I found my energy level jump even higher.

“Look at this!” I called out, clapping my hands. “The boys are headed to a baseball game again.” At the time I didn’t know why I was so excited, but I’ve given it some thought and I have a theory.

In the summer of 2005…

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Shani was gigantically pregnant with Alex. We had left NYC and were living in a temporary apartment outside Philadelphia. Shani’s mom came to stay with us for the last month of the pregnancy. She slept on an air mattress and helped take care of Jack while I was at work.

The plan was for my father-in-law to come when Alex was born, but he and my mother-in-law are deeply interconnected. After 3 weeks he couldn’t take it any longer and he joined us. They rented the apartment next to ours.

As the summer went on, we waited for Alex. The due date came and went. Even in the womb, Alex was cuddling. He didn’t want to come out. One Saturday morning at breakfast I said to my father-in-law:

“The Trenton Thunder are playing at 1:00. They’re a minor league team with the Yankees and they’re 5 miles away. Why don’t we take Jack and have a boys’ trip?”

We climbed the steps into the stadium with 2-year-old Jack between us, each of us holding one of his hands. We reached the top of the stairs and looked over the field. Jack was stunned.

We had a terrific time at the game. Tickets were $7.00, we had hot dogs and a few beers. Jack spent most of his time searching for the Thunder’s mascot, Boomer.

“Thunderchicken!” Jack would squeal every time he spotted the mascot among the crowd.

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In the spring of 2009…

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My father-in-law got us tickets to a Yankees game. Jack and I drove into the Bronx. We bought Mariano Rivera T-Shirts on the way in and then found our seats. I expected Jack to be bouncing with excitement, but instead he was subdued. I kept asking him if something was wrong. Finally, I realized that he was dumbfounded by the ballpark. He spent the entire game in a daze.

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That year Jack really became a Yankees fan. He was 6 and able to genuinely follow the team. Each morning we’d watch recaps together and check the Yankees standings. We followed them through the playoffs and even watched a few games. They went on to sweep the Twin in the first round of the playoffs, beat the Angels to make the World Series, and then in 6 games beat the Phillies to win it all.

I have great memories of other Yankees teams that won it all in other years, but they were nothing like that team and that year. Jack brought something thick and heavy to it all. There was a richness to it. Other years were cotton candy. This year was an ice cream sundae. Up until that season I was a Yankees fan. After that season I was a baseball fan.

In the summer of 2009…

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We visited my in-laws in Arkansas and on a crystal perfect evening drove to an Arkansas Naturals game. Our family was in the midst of a glorious road trip across the country.

The game was just fantastic. We laughed at the weird one-man-Village-People act that came out between innings. We ate hot dogs smothered in bright yellow mustard. For the first time Alex made it through the whole game without a single complaint. All six of us left the park glowing from sharing such a great time together.

I think something changed for my father-in-law that game. It began a tradition of going to baseball games together, but for him it was much more than that. Baseball grabbed him – or maybe re-grabbed him — in some emotional way. He started actively following the Cardinals again.  He and Jack would talk baseball on the phone when he called us. He and Shani’s mom now take weekend trips to go to Royals and Cardinals games.

But back to the Phillies game. That moment in the Holiday Inn parking lot when I realized we were going to a game together again. That moment that struck me so vividly. At the time I didn’t know why it struck me so powerfully, but now I think I know.

In the summer of 2012…

“Pop-Pop, do you remember when the closer blew that save at the Cardinals game we went to?”

In the fall of 2011…

“Dad, do you remember when the CN Tower in Toronto lit up with all those colors at the Blue Jays game?”

In the summer of 2012…

“Pop-Pop, do you remember when Carlo Testa gave me his bat?”

In the fall of 2008…

“Dad, do you remember when we ran the bases at the Nationals game?”

When you ask me why I love baseball, one of the reasons is the history. You can go see a team that’s been around for over a century. Every season you’re witnessing the history of the game continue. You’re part of it. Every year records get challenges and set. It’s always unique and yet always the same.

And what occurred to me as we headed to that Phillies game was that we were doing more than going to a baseball game. We were creating our family history.

That was the power of that moment. And perhaps the power of baseball. Can’t wait for our next game together.

Special thanks are due to Andrew Kaufman for setting us up for the tickets to the game. Here’s a look at Andrew’s legendary autographed bat. Our entire family thanks you, sir.

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Phillies Game Part 3 of 4: Citizens Bank Park Review

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When I was in high school, I went to every single home football game, but I didn’t watch the games at all. For me it was a social event. I’d spend three hours walking around and around the field, stopping to talk to people, hitting the snack shack, flirting ineptly with girls.

For many people, a trip to Citizen’s Bank Park is exactly the same.

The park is a gorgeous, brilliantly designed park. Some of the other new ball parks like PNC and AT&T feel small and intimate. Citizen’s Bank Park feels gigantic. It feels like you’re stepping out into the Roman Colliseum. The music over the loudspeakers blasts twice as loud as any park. The crowd is a cheering, crashing sea of red shirts and caps. It’s fun.

But the real genius of the park is not the stadium itself, it is the concession area. At the older parks, if going from your seat to the concession areas you travel through a concrete tunnel. When you’re standing in line for a hot dog, you feel like you’re in a parking garage.

But at Citizen’s Bank Park, nothing separates the concession area from the stands. It’s entirely open. So when you’re buying a beer, you can still see the field. You can hear the crowd. You never really leave the action. You can see what I mean in this photo.

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At the top of the stands, you’ll find crowds of people around beverage carts and food stands, hanging out and watching the game. Now check out the diagram.

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The pink seats are the lower deck of the stands. Behind them is a giant ringed concourse filled with restaurants, picnic tables, beer taps, mounted TVs and mobs of people hanging out. You could spend half the game hanging out in the concourse and still be part of the crowd watching the game.

Because here is the truth about Citizen’s Bank Park: it’s not really a stadium – it’s a bar.

If you’re in the blue, yellow, or green seats, you’re in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th decks. These seats are high above the field. But really, why would you ever bother to go up and sit in those crappy seats. Just spend your time wandering the concourse, having a great time and enjoying the game.

Now let’s take it a step further. Because while the Phillies are on the field, I believe that the game does more than just extend beyond the crowd and into the concession area. In fact, I believe that it spreads out from the field, to the stands, to the concessions, and outward unhindered through the entire city of Philadelphia and even beyond.

In the same way that I think Citizen’s Bank Park is really a bar, it follows that the tremendous Phillies team of the last 10 years are more than just a baseball team. The Phillies have been the hosts of a party and every single person in the city has been invited.

Consider this: In 2009, the Yankees and the Phillies were in the World Series. Cliff Lee pitched game 1 for the Phillies and dominated the game. It was the most masterful pitching performance I’ve ever seen. He made the Yankees ferocious batters look like a Junior High team.

The next morning at work, my friends John and Sonia came cavorting into my office.

“Did you watch the game last night? Sucker!”

“Your Yankees didn’t look very good!”

They were having a great time. I rolled my eyes and ignored them.

“I think your Yankees are going to lose,” John sang. “I love Cliff Lee.”

“Plus the Phillies pitcher tonight is even better,” Sonia piled on.

“What’s that pitcher’s name?” I responded.

This stumped them.

“I don’t know,” John finally cackled, “but he’s going to beat your Yankees.”

Sonia and John both lived in Philadelphia. And while it should be obvious that they knew nothing about baseball, both of them absolutely knew how to enjoy a party. They’d been invited to the Phillies party and were having the time of their lives prancing around my office.

As a resident of the greater Philadelphia area, I can tell you that it’s been a joyous, once-in-a lifetime party. It’s a team and a time that I think people will still talk about 50 years from now. And it is my opinion that it is at least partly due to the brilliant and wide-open welcome design of Citizen’s Bank Park.

*Please note, in 2009 the Yankees went on to beat the Phillies and win the World Series. Needless to say there was no more cavorting from either John or Sonia.

Phillies Game Part 2 of 4: Team Analysis

Before we begin, let me remind you that I am a huge Yankees fan, and therefore loathe the Red Sox. They are my mortal enemy. Also note that my entire town including my younger son are Phillies fans. I genuinely root for them and consider them my second favorite team.

However, as Shani’s dad and I spent the game mushed shoulder to shoulder, deeply analyzing the game with our expert eyes, our conclusions were inescapable. We’ll begin at second base.

The Red Sox second baseman is Dustin Pedroia. As his pitcher winds up, Pedroia takes two quick steps forward and then springs into the air. Check out the photo.

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He times it so he’s landing just as the ball reaches the batter. That way he’s in motion and ready to spring whichever way the ball goes. Ball, foul, pop fly…it doesn’t matter that the ball gets hit to him only 5-8 times in a game. Every single pitch, Pedroia leaps into action.

Compare this to the Phils second baseman, César Hernández. He would stand in the field with his feet together and then just as the ball was pitched, he’d crouch slightly, halfway into a ready stance. A stark contrast to Pedroia’s bounce.

In the outfield, when a pop fly went between the center fielder and right fielder, the Red Sox center fielder would get to the ball. The right fielder would run so he was behind the center fielder for the catch. You’ll see this taught in little league. The idea is that if the center fielder misses the ball, the right fielder is there to back him up.

Now, sure, this is a professional ballplayer with a routine fly ball; there’s no way they’re going to miss it. Yet every single fly ball, the Red Sox did this. I didn’t see it once from the Phils.

In between innings, the Red Sox outfielders would spread out into a triangle and toss the ball around, firing hard straight throws.

The Phillies outfielder did the same thing expect they set up a much smaller triangle and their throws were slow, lazy arcs.

In the 6th inning, the Red Sox batter hit a long fly ball that was clearly going for a home run. Phillies right fielder, Delmon Young, trotted in the ball’s direction, watching it fly.

Except it WASN’T a fly ball. He misjudged it. The ball bounced off that wall and away from Young. His slouchy play turned a single into a double.

The exact same thing happened in the next inning on a fly ball that Phillies left fielder Domonic Brown clearly could have caught if he’d run.

The Phillies played like a team entitled to win. The Red Sox looked like a team taking nothing for granted.

These are clearly both teams in decline. Red Sox won the World Series in 2007 and the Phils won in 2008. They were both powerhouse teams. But now it’s 5 years later. They have aging stars and mediocre rookies. I’d say they each have about the same level of talent on their teams. But the way the teams approached the game was entirely different. It’s not a shocker that the Red Sox won the game 9-2.

Watching the Phillies play lazy baseball, I found it pretty tough to root for them.

Watching the Red Sox play tough, smart baseball, I found myself…not even close. It gives me hives just writing complimentary things about the Red Sox. Actually, I take it all back. They suck.

Lyrics from Boston

First, let me get this out of the way: we did not go to Fenway Park. The forecast called for rain all weekend, and we’re going to the Phillies game Thursday night – so we decided we’d do Fenway for our visit next year. Now…let’s proceed.

Memorial Day Weekend and we were off to Boston. A road trip to visit my Uncle Bob and my Aunt Joan, two of my favorite people. As we headed out, we initiated a new variation on our “rock block” format.

In the past, each person got to pick 4 songs. Shani would take the request, search for the song on Spotify and play them individually. However, this time the boys created playlists on Spotify and took turns playing 4 songs randomly from their playlists. It worked out well.

Jack’s playlist includes Guns N Roses and rappers with aggressive-sounding names like “Pitbull.” Jack’s first song was “Welcome to the Jungle” and in the back seat he sang:

In the jungle, welcome to the jungle
Bring you to you knees-knees
Ooh! I want a watch you bleed.

Jack growled out the lyrics doing his best Axl Rose voice. I smiled when I looked at him in the rearview mirror, putting on his  warrior face. But as it turned out, Jack’s music choice was appropriate for the weekend.

He’s almost 10, and he’s beginning to slide away from being our sweet little boy. Sometimes we’re still his favorite people in the world to be around, but sometimes we’re not. On a dime, he can change into a pre-teen, constantly annoyed at being burdened by his family cramping his style. There were distinct examples of this behavior over the course of the weekend.

Halfway though the drive he started poking at Alex for taking gymnastics. Jack would declare that gymnastics was for girls and Alex would scream that it was not. Soon Alex was in tears of anger and shame. In spite of knowing he was right, he so looks up to his big brother. Jack’s words hurt him; Jack knew it too.

We spent the next day walking around Boston seeing the memorial for the marathon bombing and checking out the Make Way for Ducklings statue.

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Jack started begging to take the train.

“It’s too far to walk! I’m tired! I don’t want to walk around stupid Boston!”

His whining was loud and intense.

“This is so boring! Why can’t we take the train? I’m tired!”

I eventually cured this problem by beating him senseless with my umbrella.

However for every example of poor behavior, there were also moments of intense sweetness.

Jack did a project on family history this year, so Bob brought out a folder filled with genealogy. Bob had the entire Doran family tree on 16 printouts that Bob had taped end to end. Jack and Bob spread the family tree out over the floor. Side by side they crawled around the carpet together as Bob told stories of different relatives.

Sunday morning, Jack woke up before Alex. He popped out of his sleeping bag and climbed onto the bed. He burrowed his way under the covers between Shani and I.

“Spoons,” he cooed and squirmed tightly against Shani.

The final morning we were there, I sent him and Alex out into the hallway to have a rubber band fight (my uncle lives in a condo). We could hear their bare feet thumping up and down the carpeted hallway. A few minutes later, both boys skulked back in. Jack’s face was red.

“What happened?”

“Some lady came up and yelled at us,” he spat as he began to sob. “Why does she have to be so mean? It’s 10:46 in the morning! I wish a rubber band had hit her in the face.” Then he ran into the bedroom and pressed his face against the window, muttering with humiliation and anger.

Probably not the way Axl Rose would have handled the situation. I think Jack’s career as a badass might need some work.

Then there was Alex’s playlist. In contrast to Jack’s playlist, Alex’s was filled with Katie Perry and Taylor Swift. The explanation for this is simple: girls love Alex.

Alex is unbearably cute. 100th percentile. The girls in his first grade class have literally gotten into fights over which one is going to marry him. When we go to friends’ houses and there is a pre-teen girl, she will immediately snatch Alex up and run away with him to her room like she’s been given a new doll to play with. Grown women lean in to ask him questions and find themselves in long conversations with this articulate, irresistible morsel of a boy.

Last summer on the swim team, Alex was the pet of all the girls on the team. They were constantly playing Katie Perry and Taylor Swift and Alex was right there in the midst.

So Alex’s playlist was filled with sentimental girly songs about first heart breaks and teen love. Alex knows every word.

I think about summer, all the beautiful times
I watched you laughing from the passenger side
And realized I loved you in the fall

Hearing his little voice sing out these songs gets me choked up every single time.

Like his brother, Alex’s songs fit his actions over the weekend.

Alex was sweetness itself. He snuggled with my Aunt Joan as they colored the kids menu at dinner. Alex spent the entire train ride into Boston at Bob’s side hearing everything about how to read the train map and the different parts of the city.

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Watching Alex and Bob together took my breath away a number of times over the weekend.

We go to Boston every year and last year it was for Bill’s funeral. Bill was Bob’s husband and they were together for 40 years. This was our first Boston trip without Bill. It wasn’t sad though, which Bill would have appreciated. We actually had a great time. We had cocktail hour every night, drinking gin and tonics and eating bugles with clam dip. We took the Duck Tour and then walked around Boston. We grabbed lunch at a dark old Boston pub and had creamy creamy delicious-ass chowder.

But still Bill’s absence sat vaguely at the back of our minds. To me it felt like a strange nagging. It was like I had something I meant to tell Bob about, but just couldn’t remember what it was.

At cocktail hour Saturday night, Alex broke out the best lyrics of all. He’d written a song about Bill, “An Important Person”. With a tinny electric piano Shani had picked up at a garage sale, Alex performed his song.

He was a nice man
We loved him and
He lived in Boston
No, not Austin

He was important to me
He was important to we
His name was Bill
He lived near Beacon Hill

He was married to Bob
Loving Bill was his job
His funeral was in May
It was a very sad day

He was important to me
He was important to we
His name was Bill
He lived near Beacon Hill

From the first note, the room turned into a hug waiting to happen. Joan, Shani, Jack, and I seemed to fade into mere background; it was just Alex, Bob, and a hug, irresistible and profound. When Alex lifted his fingers off the plastic keyboard after the final note…

You know in action movies when the door of a plane gets blown open and the passengers all get sucked out of the opening? It was like that. Bob was the open door and Alex came flying across the room into Bob’s arms.

I will admit it is a bit odd that on a blog about baseball our family trip to Boston did not include the following lyrics:

Take me out to the ball game

We will set this right with our Boston trip next year. Instead, I’ll leave with lyrics from a song we sang at Bill’s funeral last year.

Oh, I can’t explain,
It’s surely not his brain
That makes me thrill –
I love him because he’s – I don’t know…
Because he’s just my Bill.

Phillies game Thursday. Full report to follow. Til then…

Camden Yards Review with Some Help from the Pope

To give you a proper illustration of Camden Yards, we’re going to discuss…the Sistine Chapel. Trust me, this will make sense.

If you haven’t seen the Sistine Chapel (I have not), you might expect the ceiling to be this big, beautiful flat space. You might imagine Michelangelo in 1502 preparing to create a masterpiece on the massive canvas.

But in reality, this is what the ceiling looks like.

Sistine die

It’s a nightmare. There are buttresses, columns, arches, domes, grottos. This wasn’t a blank canvas, it was a cluttered mess. And that’s what makes it so amazing. Instead of complaining about the obstacles before him, Michelangelo used them to make the painting even better. In each grotto he painted a different Bible character. He put angels on top of the columns. In each panel down the center he painted a different scene from the creation story with God creating man in the very center. In short, he made this.

Sistine cieling

Now…come with me to 1989. This time imagine you’re the architect hired to build this new ballpark. As they were looking at the site of the park they were looking at a major obstacle.

Camden Yards specs

What a pain! Blocking off an entire side of the park was a humongous old warehouse building. That complicated everything – and worse off the building was a historical site making it a royal mess to try and tear down.

And yet…

Camden Yards

They built the warehouse as part of the ballpark in a way that made the whole thing even better. The view of the warehouse wall is unique and beautiful. For years sluggers have been trying to be the first home run hitter to hit the warehouse wall. They built bars and restaurants into the warehouse. In fact, instead of walking through cavernous hallways to get around to your seat, fans get to walk along the street right alongside the warehouse.

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So like the Sistine Chapel, in the face of an obstacle, they found creative divinity.