History, Travel

Montgomery, Alabama

In the last post I described the Legacy Museum here. The same organization, Equal Justice Initiative, headed by Bryan Stevenson, created and built the National Memorial for Peace and Justice on a sloping lot above downtown.

The Memorial is even more powerful than the Museum. It is organized loosely in a spiral with each county where a lynching occurred having a column, and each such column naming the victims whose death could be documented from two sources.

There are 803 counties represented with more than 4,400 victims listed. The columns continue as you move through the display but as the floor heads downward, they are suspended from the ceiling, so that all are on the same level. The “spiral” culminates in a concrete wall with water running over it, which is dedicated to the countless victims whose names are lost, but who are believed to vastly outnumber the 4,400.

Outside, lying flat, are duplicates of the columns, which are intended as public memorials in each of the counties. For a county to get their memorial, they must have the approval of the appropriate local governmental body and an agreement that it will be displayed and maintained in the town square or similar public space. To date, no county has claimed their memorial, though, as the docent pointed out, there is a required process and this Memorial just opened in April.

In some ways, the design of this installation is very simple, but it was obviously done with great thought and care, and the impact is indescribable. If you ever get anywhere near Montgomery, do not fail to visit this wonderful and sobering tribute.

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Eats, History, Minor Leagues, Oddity, Travel

Biscuits vs. Generals

There was no sign of the previous night’s storm when we left New Orleans, headed east and north to Montgomery. Despite the fact that we skirted the Louisiana and Mississippi coastline, we rarely saw the ocean. Instead, it was mostly miles of kudzu.

When we arrived in Montgomery, we went first to the state Capitol, the focal point of so much of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.

Next came the Legacy Museum, which opened in April. It was conceived and built by Bryan Stevenson, a truly remarkable man I had the pleasure of meeting and the honor of sharing a podium with several years ago at an ABA conference when I was working on a death penalty case. Bryan has made a career of such work through the organization he founded here in Montgomery, Equal Justice Initiative. If you want a real flavor of his genius, read his book, Just Mercy. I highly recommend it. The museum is almost overwhelming it is so powerful a portrait of slavery and its legacy. If you get anywhere near this part of the country, be sure to stop. We will go to the Memorial tomorrow. You can see pictures of it on the website.

Finally, the ball game. Well, almost. On the way to the ballpark, we first smelled, then saw Dreamland Barbeque. We only had 30 minutes, so we asked if we could get some food to take to the game. They told us we wouldn’t be allowed to take their food into the park, but after telling us the ridiculous prices for not-very-good ballpark food, they guaranteed us they could feed us and get us out their door in time for the first pitch. They did, and it was really, really good. Pulled pork and sausage and an unusual BBQ sauce that was not sweet, but had a nice piquancy that really enhanced the meat. Add mac and cheese and slaw and we were happy, to say the least.

The game featured the home town Montgomery Biscuits hosting the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals. The Biscuits are affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Generals with the Diamondbacks in the AA Southern League. The Biscuits ballpark is called Riverwalk Stadium (though there is not a single indication of the name anywhere on the premises) and it is next to the Alabama River, though the river can’t be seen from the park (only railroad tracks). That’s fitting, since the stadium is a refurbished train station. It is quite lovely, and one of the locals told us it is consistently voted one of the top minor league stadiums in the country.

Game time temperature: 91 degrees. And, to my chagrin, they have the cursed Chick-fil-A foul poles, though the lettering on these was black, so one of my complaints vanished. (The violation of baseball propriety still stands!)

Though we didn’t partake, some of the culinary offerings were regional and eponymous.

We did indulge in one offering – a brownie sundae – made with chocolate ice cream. I gave away the cherry (and maybe took a bite of the brownie) before I remembered to take the picture, but it was good, especially on a hot night.

Montgomery was just one game out of first in their division coming into the game, with the Generals trailing them by a game. This game was tight and well played, with the Generals eking out a 3-2 victory. The Biscuits, in their game program, featured Nate Lowe, who was recently promoted from Single A Port Charlotte, where I saw him play (with his brother Josh) in May during my Florida tour.

Nate Lowe

The Biscuits mascot was a puzzle. Their team gear features a smiling biscuit, but the mascot is called “Big Mo” for no apparent reason. It looks to some like a rusty brown elephant, to others like an anteater or maybe an aardvark. One fan said it was a “biscuit eating beast.”

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Eats, M's, Major Leagues, Rants, Travel

Rangers vs. A’s

So the accident in Reno cost me five games, but four days of hard driving put me back on schedule. I will just note a point I have made before – our interstate highway system is in poor condition, and it does not appear that much repair or maintenance is going on.

But back to the important stuff. Brother Tom flew in to join me as the Rangers took on the A’s at Globe Life Park. I should say first that it is an attractive ballpark. It is almost 25 years old, but is to be replaced with a new, air-conditioned park with a retractable roof in 2020. One of the principal reasons was illustrated at this game – 102 degrees at game time – and a sparse crowd supports the argument.

The Rangers have given up. They traded Cole Hamels to the Cubs, and their play was lackadaisical. Without knowing anything, it was easy to tell from the way the two teams carried themselves who was in the cellar and who was a contender.

The treat of the game for me was watching Rangers starting pitcher, forty-five year old Bartolo Colon, who has been in the game forever. He went seven innings, gave up six earned runs and took the loss but was still fun to watch. Talk about slow motion! The Rangers also have the aging Adrian Beltre, who is beloved in Texas, but did nothing during his stint with the Mariners. I’m only slightly bitter about that.

Colon

Beltre

The most remarkable feature of the game was five triples, four by Oakland and one by Texas. I’ve done some quick looking and can’t find any reference to that ever happening before. One of you stat freaks who has more time might find it. One of those triples illustrated my earlier point about the Rangers – it was a good hit by the A’s batter, but a hustling outfielder might have held it to a single. As it was, the loping outfielder seemed unconcerned that the runner was on his way to third. The Rangers have given up.

Here’s one of my pet peeves that you may have heard about – the shift (three infielders on the same side of second base). Why in the world don’t hitters learn to bunt the opposite way??? They would be guaranteed a single and eventually the defense would stop shifting. MLB is thinking about banning it by rule, but I say make the hitters fix it.

This ad is clever, but it offends my sense of baseball propriety to have an ad on the foul pole. (And, to my earlier point, notice how few spectators there are in the stands?)

The eats were mediocre but the prices weren’t. I had a BBQ beef brisket that was probably prepared last week. And there wasn’t a lot of variety. We’ll wait till Houston to see if we can make a sweeping generalization about Texas food. We did see one new item, but lacked the courage to try it.

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Eats, M's, Minor Leagues, Travel

Reno Aces vs. Tacoma Rainiers

Reno

After a smoky drive from Klamath Falls (much of it at and above 5,000 feet), I arrived in Reno with plenty of time to fully prepare for the evening’s game. Unfortunately, remember what I said about car trouble? Well it happened in the form of a minor fender bender – no injuries, but some mechanical issues that I’m praying will be resolved tomorrow morning with no interruption in the schedule. The folks who diagnosed the problem were incredible – got right on it, spent a good deal of time and effort, referred me to a specialist and absolutely refused to take any payment. Don’t forget that there are good people all around.

But no real baseball fan can let a little thing like a car accident get in the way of a game. So naturally, I showed up at Greater Nevada Field to see the Aces take on the Rainiers. This is the AAA Pacific Coast League, once considered a rival to the big leagues (when it was actually limited to the Pacific Coast). The Aces are affiliated with the Diamondbacks and the Rainiers with the Mariners. Some of the Rainiers starters have actually seen time with the M’s this year.

But this was names night. I first saw the best-named player in professional baseball a couple of years ago when he was up with the D’Backs in Phoenix – Socrates Brito. Here he is in right field and at the plate. (He hit a dinger just for me!)

Then there were these two Aces standing together during the national anthem. You can’t make this stuff up.

The ballpark is simply beautiful – carefully groomed and well appointed and relatively new (built in 2009), with a capacity of 9,100. Fortunately, virtually all of the third base side is in the shade, which is important when game time temperature is 98 degrees. Did I mention Heat/Humidity Tour?

And then there were eats. A variety of sausages and dogs, pot stickers and spring rolls, cheesesteak, a number of vegetarian items, including, of all things, a caprese sandwich. And one specialty I’ve never seen in a ballpark before – caramel apples! But once again, a dog bit me. I was leaning toward a “Krautdog,” but when I learned I could put kraut on my choice, it was game over. Here it is, a bacon-wrapped foot-long hot dog! (The kraut was added after the picture – and please notice that it was so big I couldn’t even get it all in the picture.) This one vaulted to number one on the all-time hot dog list.

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Eats, History, Minor Leagues, Travel

Klamath Falls vs. San Francisco

After a couple of boring hours on I-5 to Eugene, I thankfully turned east on Hwy 58 toward Oakridge. The drive from there up and over Willamette Pass (5100 feet), past Lake Odell and Diamond Peak, with glimpses of scenic and sparkling Salt Creek is quite simply beautiful. Then it is a straight shot south, past the massive Upper Klamath Lake, into Klamath Falls, the first stop on this year’s tour.

My welcome there was not what I had expected. Because of forest fires in the area, most motels were fully occupied by firefighters and those that had space were asking (and apparently getting) double their normal rates. I did find one with a friendly manager who took pity on an old baseball fan and gave me a break on the rate. Turned out I was just a short walk from the ballpark.

This game wasn’t even professional baseball. It was between the Klamath Falls Gems and the San Francisco Seals of the Great West League, a summer collegiate wood bat league. The players are all in college and this league (and others like it) is designed to provide a program for them to improve their skills during the summer. By the way, that Seals name is a venerable one – harking back to one of the original teams of the Pacific Coast League at its founding in 1903.

The game was played at Kiger Stadium, one of just two remaining all wood stadiums in the country. It is tired. One might even say dilapidated. Parts of the outfield grass were brown. The rafters were decorated with pigeon droppings, deposited by birds clearly not intimidated by the several wooden owls hanging from the under side of the roof. That feature may be what kept the crowd small – I counted about 60 at game time. There were so few people that I found a foul ball in the parking lot when I left.

In keeping with the amateur nature of the event, the players groomed the field, laid out the foul lines, hosed down that part of the infield not covered by the in-ground sprinklers, a feature I’ve not seen in any other ballpark anywhere. In the same vein, apparently the team does not have a laundry service because some players sported already dirty uniforms before any baseball was played. They also shagged foul balls (no bat boy).

The first inning was scruffy, with some errors and all around amateur play, but then calmed down. The teams traded home runs (perhaps made a bit easier by the 4100 foot elevation and the short fence – 325 feet at the corners and 385 in center) and the score was tied at 3 and again at 6. The Gems got a run in the top of the 8th to go ahead, but couldn’t hold it, losing 8-7 after giving up two runs in the top of the 9th.

Some have proposed that I must eat a hot dog every night on this tour because it is “integral to baseball,” and that I should rate them to determine the best of the tour. I fear salt poisoning. However, I did start with a dog, and I can say confidently that it will not make the list. It took forever to cook (I suspect it came out of the freezer when I ordered it) and the condiments were in packets. Need I say more?

Oh yes, and game time temperature was 90 degrees. So the tour is aptly named.

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Major Leagues, Minor Leagues, Travel

2018 Schedule

Here is the itinerary for what may be the last step in my quest to see a game in every major league ball park.  I call it the 2018 Heat/Humidity tour, based on the facts that three of the four I have yet to visit are in the South and that it is July/August.  Barring rainouts or car trouble, I’ll see sixteen games in seventeen days.  Most of those will be minor league games, chosen based on who is at home along my route within a reasonable distance from the last game, with special emphasis on choosing teams with the best nicknames.  So you will see that I’ll be hitting the Pupfish, the Baby Cakes, the Biscuits and the Yard Goats.  I regret that I will miss the Flying Squirrels and the Rumble Ponies, among others, but there are seasons to come.

The blog is more fun if you submit comments, so please do.

July:

18 Klamath Falls Gems vs. San Francisco Seals

Kiger Stadium 6:30 p.m.

Great West League (summer collegiate wood bat)

19 Reno Aces vs. Tacoma Rainiers

Greater Nevada Field         7 p.m.

Pacific Coast League (AAA)

20 Visalia Rawhide vs. Inland Empire 66ers

Rawhide Ballpark  7 p.m.

California League (A+)

21 Rancho Cucamonga Quakes vs. Modesto Nuts

Lean Mart Field. 7 p.m.

California League (A+)

22 Mariners vs. D-Backs

Peoria Sports Complex 7 p.m.

Arizona Rookie League

23 Tucson Saguaros vs. Ruidoso Osos

Saguaros Park. 5 p.m.

Pecos League (Independent)

24 Alamogordo White Sands Pupfish vs. Roswell Invaders

Griggs Park 6:30 p.m.

Pecos League (Independent)

25 Off

26 Rangers vs. A’s

Globe Life Field. 7 p.m.

MLB

27 Astros vs. Rangers

Minute Maid Park     7 p.m.

MLB

28 N.O. Baby Cakes vs. Tacoma Rainiers

Shrine on Airline. 6 p.m.

PCL (AAA)

29 Montgomery Biscuits vs. Jackson Generals

Riverwalk Stadium. 5 p.m.

Southern League (AA)

30 Braves vs. Marlins

SunTrust Park. 7:30 p.m.

MLB

31 Winston-Salem Dash vs. Carolina Mudcats

BB & T Ballpark  7 p.m.

Carolina League (A+)

August

1 Frederick (Md.) Keys vs. Potomac Nationals

Harry Grove Stadium  7 p.m.

Carolina League (A+)

2 Mets vs. Braves

Citi Field          7 p.m.

MLB

3 Hartford Yard Goats vs. Trenton Thunder

Dunkin’ Donuts Park. 7 p.m.

Eastern League (AA)

4 Off

5 Hall of Fame – Cooperstown

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Eats, Major Leagues, Oddity, Travel

Twins v. Angels

We came to Minneapolis for a wedding, but could not allow it to interfere with baseball. Add to that the fact that the Angels are in town, giving us the chance to see two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, and it’s clear the stars are aligned.

But remember, baseball is a game of managed failure. Not long after we arrive, the notice on the Jumbotron advises that Ohtani has just gone on the DL with an ulnar collateral ligament strain. Probably more serious than it sounds.

OK, so the game must go on. We have the prospect of a pitching duel between Garrett Richards for the Angels and Lance Lynn for the Twins. It’s a pleasant evening with light breezes and no sign of the sprinkles that had been forecast earlier.

Target Field is nice. That word applies to so much in Minnesota, and it certainly does to this stadium. It is relatively compact and gives you a feeling of being part of the ballgame.

We find our seats and head off in search of food. That’s when I make a rookie mistake. I’ve been to Target Field before and so I know better, but I mindlessly went to the establishment food place and got the cheddar bratwurst and an “Italian” salad. Looks pretty good, huh?

My mistake was in failing to make a complete circuit of the ballpark before buying and simultaneously forgetting that when I was here last, I had a Kramarczuk’s brat, the best I’ve found at any major league park. And I didn’t remember it until I’d already downed the first one. Not only that, but the picture I took of the Kramarczuk grill didn’t turn out either. It would have made you weep. Failure engenders regret, and in this case, the regret nearly led me to have another brat, but that would have led to yet another failure (of the digestive system). Managed failure.

The evening was made memorable by the unusual promotion – it was Prince Night. And the giveaway was a blow-up purple guitar, seen here in all its glory. Yes, Prince was from Minnesota and yes, his color was purple, but what does that have to do with baseball?

The game did indeed turn out to be a pitcher’s duel with the score tied at one after two innings and continued that way till the sixth when Grossman hit a solo dinger to put the Twins up 2-1. Then the Angels stormed back with two of their own by the ever-dangerous Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton to reach the final of 4-2 for the Halos.

One surprise was Mike Trout going 0-4, striking out twice, once with the bases loaded. Didn’t matter in the end, though, except to his batting average. Oh yes, and as you can see from this picture, the Twins have extended their screens to mid-outfield. Farther than I’ve seen anywhere else.

MINNEAPOLIS

Since this rag is supposedly about travel as well as baseball, I should mention that Minneapolis is a beautiful city. We spent the better part of a day in the Minneapolis Institute of Art – known as Mia. It is a terrific museum with an eclectic collection, including a significant body of Asian art, both ancient and contemporary. I was particularly taken with the woodblocks of Japanese artist Kawase Hasui. They also have works by many of the impressionist and modern masters. A very impressive place.

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