Sunday, May 31, 2009

Baseball place No. 57: Forbes Field remains

All we have left of Shea is brass markers in the parking lot. That’s not much for future generations to savor.

Luckily, the Pirates did a better job when they left Forbes Field.

Josh Pahigian takes us there for spot No. 57 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

And, for the first time in a while, I’ve been there, too. Will suggested we meet up there to kick off the festivities before Executive Game 5.

Will and Scott join me in admiring home plate.

It’s time for another glorious trip into the archives.

Any place where Yankees are humbled -- and goodness knows we need more of them -- is considered hallowed ground in my eyes.

Forbes, of course, is where Bill Mazeroski earned his Hall of Fame plaque by driving a stake through the Yankees' black hearts, winning the 1960 World Series with a home run in the bottom of the ninth.

How much did this hurt the Yankees? Let's go right to Mickey Mantle's autobiography, "The Mick."

"Nothing ever hurt as bad as that one.....Bottom of the ninth. Bill Mazeroski is at the plate, taking the first pitch, a high slider....And the most tearing moment of all, seeing Mazeroski's hard line drive heading for the left field wall. Yogi moves toward it, me backing him up, but it keeps going, going, going....There's a sick sensation in the pit of my stomach. There's that unforgettable look on Yogi's face when he turns around, grim acceptance, expressed by a slow shrug of his shoulders.

"We walked off the field, a mob of fans already streaming past, and as Mazeroski crosses the plate his hysterical teammates grab at his uniform.

"In the locker room, all of us are wandering around in a trance, muttering, 'What happened?' I'm slumped in a stool, feeling so low I can hardly peel off my uniform."

Now that is something to savor. The problem with the Yankees, well, one of them, is that they think they are entitled to all the World Series championships, not just an occasional or even frequent trophy.

And the 1960 loss was so traumatic that the team fired legendary manager Casey Stengel two days later.

The Pirates played their last game at Forbes in 1970 and gave the site to the University of Pittsburgh, which had the good sense to know that it was treading on sacred ground.

A good chunk of the outfield wall remains carefully preserved, ivy and all, as well as the center field flag pole, which was in play.

Home plate rests almost exactly where it was, but it is encased in glass in a first-floor hallway of Posvar Hall, an otherwise drab building.

A row of bricks outside traces where the outfield wall stretched, and there's a plaque at the spot where St. Maz's ball crossed the fence, so all right-thinking fans can stand and reflect.

I caught up with Will and his brother Scott at outfield wall, which is slightly covered by trees in a nice, park-like setting.

After posing with home plate, we opted to pay homage by playing catch in what was right field, where Roberto Clemente once patrolled.

Forbes, which had been home to the Pirates since 1909, also was the site of Babe Ruth's last three home runs on May 25, 1935.

But it was Maz's blast that elevated Forbes to hallowed status. We remarked that 45 years later, the you could still catch a scent of Yankee shame lingering in the air. Of course, it had just poured buckets and all the trees were in bloom, which might have had something to do with it. But I prefer the former.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Baseball place No: 56: McCovey Cove; Alt. Place No. 56A: Crash Splash

I love my kayak, and I love baseball, so I think the chance to sort of watch baseball from the comfort of my kayak is a pretty cool thing.

Josh takes us to AT&T Park and its McCovey Cove in San Francisco for spot No. 56 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

The splash down home run is actually pretty rare, even though balls only have to travel 352 feet to get there. And the cove seemed neater before the All-Star Game Home Run Derby when the Fox commentator was standing next to his kayak, and the water was only about waist-deep.

I haven’t been to San Francisco, so I’ve never floated in the cove. But Pac Bell/AT&T isn’t the only ballpark next to water. I offer:

Alternate place No: 56A: The Crash Splash, Fifth Third Ballpark, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Yes, the stadium for my own West Michigan Whitecaps, Single-A Midwest League, was built on the banks of the mighty Grand River. The team’s mascot is Crash, an animal of some sort identified as a “river rascal.”

Sadly, the ballpark doesn’t face the river, it faces US 131. But it’s still pretty cool to have a large river running alongside the game.

This weekend I wanted to see if we could create the magical McCovey Cove experience right here in Grand Rapids.

The Grand River runs not far from my house, and there’s a park with an access ramp, so that’s where I usually paddle.

And while we’ve biked our way to Whitecaps games, I’ve never paddled there. It would be about four miles, going with the current.

So we cheated little for this experiment. I packed up the kayak – known as Kayak 2.0 – into the Vue and headed down to the park with my trusty sixth-grade assistant.

I donned my Whitecaps jersey and cap and slipped Kayak 2.0 into the river, paddling out a ways. My assistant documented the activity.

From my vantage point, I came to the sad conclusion that I would not be catching a ball.

For one thing, the Whitecaps were playing the Kane County Cougars – in Kane County.

But suppose they weren’t.

The river runs alongside the first base side of the park. And you enter by walking up stairs, so there’s a huge grass berm surrounding the seating area.
That's the stadium up ahead. The Grand is a pretty wide river.

A ball would have to be hit sky high and at an angle to clear the stadium, then land on the berm, speed down the hill with enough momentum to clear a small parking lot, a road, a bike trail and, finally, a small section of trees before rolling into the water.

So, the team actually playing a game at the time I would be in the water only slightly increases the odds of getting a soggy ball.
It would have to go down the hall, through the lot, across the road, over the bike trail and through the woods.

But there have only been about 60 balls landing in McCovey Cove, so it’s not like too many folks floating there are leaving with a souvenir anyway.

And any excuse to get out in the kayak is a good one!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Baseball place No. 55: Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum; and No. 55A: LaMontagne sculptures at Hall of Fame

Wax museums are like clowns. They give me the creeps. I don’t know why. They just do.

So the odds of me going to see the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum in Cooperstown are pretty slim.

Nevertheless, Josh Pahigian takes us there for sport No. 55 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

According to Josh, the museum has 35 figures set against backgrounds. Some are serous, like Lou Gehrig making his “luckiest man” speech. Others are supposed to be whimsical, like Randy Johnson standing next to Eddie Gaedel.

Josh said the wax statues are created by a pair of artists in England who update displays every few years.

I don’t want to sound too harsh here, but I’m wondering if the “artists” are interns from Madame Tussaud’s who have no clue what a baseball game looks like.

The museum has a Web site where you can see photos of the figures. Some of the faces look right, but the poses are more awkward than a middle school mixer.

Plus, the photo of former Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis identifies him as “Judge Landice.”

Dudes. You’re a museum.
OK, this is supposed to be Mike Piazza. Note the "photo opportunity stand here" sign. Impress your friends!

Apparently the building used to be a Mickey Mantle museum, so there might be some lingering taint issues.

But, if you want to see far better baseball sculptures in Cooperstown, I offer:

Alternative Place No. 55A: Armand LaMontagne carvings in Baseball Hall of Fame.

Visitors to the Hall of Fame are greeted by two live-sized figures of Ted Williams and Babe Ruth.

They are so incredibly realistic that I thought they were mannequins dressed in uniforms.

Then I read the plaque describing how they were made – carved from wood. I couldn’t believe it, and I stood as close as the museum lets you stand so I could to inspect, amazed that the uniform appeared to be flannel and the spikes made of old leather. There is practically stubble on their faces.

It turns out that LaMontagne is a master carver who specializes in New England sports figures. Each one takes six months of 80-hour weeks to create.

I’ve read that the two are the most-photographed items in the Hall of Fame, and that’s amazing considering all the glory contained in that building, like Tom Seaver’s plaque.

There is one mystery, though. LaMontagne is from North Scituate, R.I. and creates New England athletes. The Bambino played for two Boston teams with distinguished uniforms, the Red Sox and the Braves.

So why on Earth would the guy choose the depict Ruth in that clown suit he was forced to wear during those unfortunate middle years of his great career?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In the tank for school supplies and Tom Seaver

You can’t let Tigers fans get too cocky, and you absolutely must stand up for “The Franchise” when people attempt to besmirch his good name.

That’s what I took away from my time in the dunk tank on Friday.

The school district I cover hosted a carnival for employees to thank them for meeting their United Way donation goals. One of the highlights was a dunk tank, and after a school board meeting the president showed me the flier and asked if I’d volunteer to sit in the hot seat – or wet seat, in this case.

“Sure,” I quickly replied. I think she might have been kidding. But I wasn’t. Proceeds went to buy schools supplies. I think the newspaper is a member of the community and it’s OK to participate in such things. There has been a string of rough stories in recent months, and I thought it might be nice for all to see the education writer in another light once in a while.

I showed up in my swim suit, Mets towel and a change of clothes and found a number of school administrators patiently awaiting my scheduled appearance.

“It’s Murray’s turn. Get him in there,” one high-ranking school staffer said. She was seriously intent on getting me wet.

After a couple tosses that missed wildly, she moved closer and closer, standing about a foot from the lever.
I showed up in my swim suit, Mets towel and a change of clothes and found a number of school administrators patiently awaiting my scheduled appearance.


The tank was filled with hot water – a place in heaven awaits whomever made that decision – and it was actually kind of nice.

And that’s good because this administrator kept sinking me again and again and again until I was waterlogged.

I decided that this exercise was a form of therapy for her and I would not take it personally. I was also grateful that a friend had e-mailed me a tip about sitting on the edge of the bench and leaning forward so you don’t bang your head on the seat on the way down.

Several other administrators, staff members, school board members and their children took turns dunking me, and I happily gave way to the superintendent when he arrived to take his turn.

I learned that hitting the target is more difficult than you would think.

None of the administrators wanted to sink the boss, and one called me over to be a relief pitcher.

Alas, like Kenny Rogers, I narrowly missed every time.

Later, the board president took the seat. She’s an avid Tigers fan, and started talking trash from behind the bars.

“Oh, he’s a Mets fan. Let’s see you pitch.”

I missed the first two.

“Whoa! Just like Dwight Gooden.”

Now, I don’t like it when people make cracks about Doc, who has certainly seen his share of tough times and seems to get loose with a Sharpie in inappropriate places.

I missed again.

“Ha! You’re like that other Mets pitcher. What’s his name? Tom Seaver.”

OK, I’ll take a lot of abuse from these people. I’ll let them stand too close when they throw and I’ll let them and their kids run up and smack the lever with their hand.

But I will not – no, cannot – allow the name of Tom Seaver to be bandied about in some taunt.

I took one more throw.

I hope she was leaning forward on the seat.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Speak now or forever hold your peace

Check this out, the Mets actually appear to care what the fans think.

It appears the team is considering a uniform change for 2010, and sent a survey out to select people. Luckily, this news was posted on, and someone of the always-vital Crane Pool Forum posted the entire link to we can all contribute.

Among the qestions was how often the team should wear the traditional pinstripes -- always -- and if the team should drop the black jerseys -- obviously.

Here are the main choices:

The only difference appears to be cream-colored base under the pinstripes. I don't get the cream thing, so A is the clear answer.

Looks like they want to know if we like the piping. I voted to keep it.

I like the ide a of a non-black alternative jersey. But three should be a choice C: Orange letters WITH the piping.

Another piping question. IF the black stays, they should keep the piping.

Still more piping. There must be someone stomping around the Mets' front office yelling, "I hate that piping! We gotta get rid of it!" That would be the only reason I can imagine for these questions.

This must be a joke to see of we were paying attention. I can't imagine any team -- and that includes a recreation league softball team -- wearing these.

These must be a chance to see if fans would threaten to storm the field in protest.

The team also wants to know if fans want to name the bridge in right field. Options are: Amazin’ Alley, Casey’s Crossing, Gil Hodges Bridge, Miracle Mile Bridge, Piazza Path, Seaver Bridge, Ya Gotta Believe Bridge.

Seems to me that the Mets ignore Joan Payson, the original ower and a true pioneer. Not many women own sports teams back in the day. And she was a minority owner of the Giants who voted against moving the team.

I think "Payson's Path" should be the selection.

Feel free to take the survey yourself:

Amazin’ Alley Casey’s Crossing Gil Hodges Bridge Miracle Mile Bridge Piazza Path Seaver Bridge Ya Gotta Believe Bridge

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Baseball Spot No. 54: Babe Ruth photomosaic. Alternative spot No. 54A) Andy Warhol's Tom Seaver

I can’t think of too many things that would prompt me to lose my appetite more than a 9-foot by 12-foot mural of a Yankee.

Except, maybe a 9-foot by 12-foot mural of a Yankee created using 1,392 smaller portraits of Yankees.

Seriously, how does the ESPN Zone on Broadway in Manhattan expect to sell any food?
Sadly, Josh Pahigian takes us there for spot No. 54 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

Josh, whose cred as a Red Sox fan weakens with every Yankee-centic post, selected the artwork by Robert Silvers, which is a photo mosaic of Babe Ruth made with 1,392 baseball cards, all of them Yankees.

I’ve never been to this particular ESPN Zone, but I have been to a New York art exhibit that had more appropriate subjects.

Alternative spot No. 54A) Diamonds are Forever exhibit, with Andy Warhol’s portrait of Tom Seaver, New York State Museum, 1987.

I’d heard stories that Tom Seaver would often take young players under his wing, and take them to see art museums while on road trips.

That Tom, a very cultural guy.

During our first year living in Connecticut, I heard about a new baseball art exhibit opening at the New York State Museum in Albany, which was a fairly long drive by East Coast standards.

Here’s the amazing thing. Seaver, ever the cultural ambassador, was promoting the exhibit.

This was only months after he hung up his spikes. To celebrate the opening, Seaver would pitch to 30 lottery winning fans at Albany’s Lincoln Park. It was Tuesday, Sept. 15, 1987.

I cannot imagine the thrill of stepping in the box and facing the Franchise, hero of my youth.

Alas, my bride-to-be and I were unable to get to Albany that day, arriving that weekend to see the exhibit.

My fiancĂ©e – we were less than a month away from the wedding day – indulged me by making the trip and then touring the maze of underground hallways under the capitol plaza.

The exhibit’s full name is ''Diamonds Are Forever: Artists and Writers on Baseball,'' and combined both visual and literary art. There were 116 paintings, sculptures, photographs and lithographs plus quotations from 55 writers.

Among the most famous pieces was Michael Langenstein's ''Play Ball,'' a variation on Michelangelo's ''Creation of Man'' on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in which God hands Adam a baseball.

But the best of the lot was Andy Warhol’s portrait of Seaver. Tom is wearing his road Reds jersey and isn’t wearing his cap, which seemed a little odd.

But apparently Warhol was kind of an odd guy, so we’ll let that pass.
There was a Warhol exhibit here in Grand Rapids recently, and I rushed through looking for his masterpiece.

Alas, there were plenty soup cans, but no Seaver.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Baseball Place No. 53: Frank Navin's resting spot; and No. 53A: "Dead" Cubs fan at Wrigly Field, seats behind home plate

Josh Pahigian comes right here to Michigan, and I confess it’s to a spot I’ve never visited.

He picks former Tigers owner Frank Navin’s crypt at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield as spot No. 52 in the “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

I’m sure he picked Navin’s crypt because of the two Tiger statues standing guard. But doing a little research, I learned the cemetery has as many Tigers interred than are standing on the Comerica Park Field during gametime.

Aside from Navin, fellow owner Walter Briggs also has a crypt, sans the statues. Tiger Stadium once was called both Navin Field and Briggs Stadium.

Then you have Hall-of-Famers Charlie Gehringer and Harry Heilmann. Rounding out the roster are Vic Wertz, Dick Radatz, Billy Rogell, Barney McCosky, Steve Gromek and Al Cicotte.

“Leaping Mike” Menosky never played for the Tigers, but he’s buried there, too. Golfer Walter Hagen rests there as well.

So someday I’ll have to make it over there and pay respects to this fine gathering of ballplayers.

I did spend time with someone at Wrigley who I thought was about to join these guys in the great beyond.

Alternative place No. 52A: Wrigley Field, seats behind home plate.

Here’s another tale from the archives!

My assignment was to check out a charter school in Chicago that was run by a company setting up a similar school in Flint, where I worked at the time.

It was just a coincidence that the Cubs were in town on the day we were scheduled to be there.It also was just a coincidence that I wrapped up the last interview in time to make it to Wrigley before the first pitch.

These things happen.

What also happened that day was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen at a ballpark.

Since I was buying just one ticket, the Cubs were able to sell me a seat about five rows right behind home plate — among the best seats I’ve ever scored. Chris Berman of ESPN was in the next section.

It was a beautiful May day, and Jon Leiber was throwing against the Braves and future Hall-of-Famer Tom Glavine.

Glavine was not at his best that day, giving up five runs including a blast from Sammy before being chased in the fifth. Not that we Mets fans have ever seen anything like that from Glavine.

But the real story took place in the seat in front of mine.

Early in the game, a guy wandered to his seat with a beer in each hand. He looked a lot like the Jim Belushi character in "...About Last Night," wearing a Starter red Bulls jacket and sweat pants.

He didn’t spend much time in his seat, disappearing for an inning at a time to buy more beer and smoke in the concourse — which was fine with me. I was enjoying the unobstructed view of Chipper Jones taking a collar with two strikeouts.

Later in the game, the guy came back and slumped down in his seat to take a nap. I remember thinking, "What a waste of one of the best seats in Wrigley."

As this guy slept, he apparently tried to get more comfortable, stretching out instead of slumping. His arms went out over the seats on either side of him. Keep in mind, Wrigley is an old ballpark with small seats and narrow rows. His head now stretched back so far into my personal space that I had a hard time keeping score in my program.

This went on for an inning or so, with people sitting around me making jokes.

Suddenly the guy’s arms started shaking and bubbly spittle was forming on his lips. I knew this wasn’t good.

Then we heard something spilling and saw a puddle forming under his seat. Did he knock over his beer? No. He was wetting himself.

Now, one of the things I remember best from Mr. Ousteckey’s eighth-grade science class is that the first thing you do after dying is wet your pants — the body just releases everything.

I remember thinking, "This guy is dead. There is a dead Cub fan practically in my lap."

The guy in the seat next to me started freaking out, waving frantically for an usher. One came over and radioed for the paramedic on duty. A lot of people in the section were trying to move away.

I was scared, but apparently had the presence of mind to continue keeping score, as my program would indicate.

The paramedic was pretty calm. He leaned over the guy, poked him a little and said. "Hey, chief. I work for the Cubs. Let’s go for a walk."

The guy -- apparently not dead -- woke up, groggily stood up and started walking with the paramedic. Then he stopped, turned around and went back for the half a cup of beer in the cup holder. He walked off, oblivious to what had transpired. Someone came by with a cup of water to pour under his seat and dilute the puddle.

Apparently these guys have some experience with drunken Cub fans.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pink rainbows and extra innings: Mother's Day with the Whitecaps

Figuring that a day of peace and quiet is a good gift in addition to the one that came wrapped, I take the kids to see the West Michigan Whitecaps on Mother’s Day each year.

There’s another benefit, too. The ‘Caps declare the game to be Breast Cancer Awareness Day. The team auctions off its pink jerseys and a portion of the ticket proceeds are donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which supports research to find a cure.

The Whitecaps are so well-run that virtually any day at the park is a good one. But this year’s event was particularly eventful.

The pink jerseys are different every year, but this time the team wore a design resembling the glorious Houston Astros’ rainbows that people either love or loathe. I’m in the love camp.

The first 1,000 guests get pink t-shirts, and moms get a carnation. Plus, before the game, kids get to go on the field to either get autographs or play catch in the outfield.
The Whitecaps got attention from around the world with the 5,000-calorie Fifth Third Burger. If you eat it all by yourself, you get a free t-shirt and your photo on the wall. I'll pass.

But things looked ugly once the game against the Clinton LumberKings got underway. The team was down 8-0 after four innings, which sent me scrambling for the best meal in the ballpark, the pulled-pork sandwich. And my daughter used the time to call both Grandmas to wish them a happy Mother’s Day.

The Whitecaps made things interesting by getting two runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth, and tacked on another in the sixth.

Jordan Lennerton of the Whitecaps and Mario Martinez of the LumberKings.

It wasn’t looking good in the bottom of the ninth, and kids were already lining up for the post-game running around the bases when Jordon Lennerton and Gustavo Nunez got on base.

I’m not sure if the reason is the park or the players, but it’s rare to see a home run at Fifth Third Park. So pardon everyone for being a little surprised when outfielder Ben Guez hit his first of the year, bringing the game to an 8-8 tie.

The Caps had two men on base in the bottom of the tenth and twelfth, but couldn’t push one over. And the LumberKings threatened atop the thirteenth.

Tyler Stohr above, and the ever-present Crash the River Rascal and Frankie the Swimming Pig below.

The teams had played into the fifteenth inning the night before, so they might have thought it was Groundhog Day instead of Mother’s Day.

Finally, a sac fly from Brandon Douglas brought home Angel Flores in the bottom of the inning. The team had never before come from so far behind to win a game.

The Whitecaps are a Tigers' affiliate, and these seats behind home plate came from Tiger Stadium.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Baseball Place No. 52: Huntington Ave. Grounds; and 52A: Space Coast Stadium

Cy Young is almost a mythical figure in baseball.

No one is ever going to top his 511 wins. No one is ever going to come close.
There’s a statue of Young in Boston at the Huntington Avenue Grounds on the Northwestern University Campus.

The statue of Denton True Young sits on the spot where the mound located at the early home of the Boston Pilgrims, who became the Red Sox. It’s also the site of the first World Series game.

The statue was unveiled in 1993, and I haven’t been back to Boston since 1990. So it’s on my list of places to see when we make it back East.

So I must offer a statue of another mythical figure in baseball. That would be:

Alternative site No. 52A: Mighty Casey statue at Space Coast Stadium in Melbourne, Fla.

We made two trips the Space Coast back when it was created as the Marlins spring training site.

It’s a nice enough place. They tried hard. Too hard.

The site is a classic example of what my Dad calls an “If You Build it, They Will Come” development in Florida. You build a stadium in the middle of nowhere, and hope that housing, offices and retail follow.

This will sound familiar to Mets fans, especially ones who remember when Port St. Lucie was Port St. Lonesome.

The Marlins’ stadium was pretty lonely when we were there. It was a big, shining structure that you could see for miles because there was nothing surrounding it.

The team tried to embrace the space theme, since it’s a short distance from Cape Canaveral. They tried to get cute by dropping “port” after every feature. So you had “Foodport” and so on.

But you know me. I head for the team store first. And I saw a sign reading “Sportsport.”

I sat there and looked and looked and tried to figure this out. “Sport sport?” I walked around, saw the other signs and later realized they were trying to say “Sports port.”
There was teal. Lots of teal. I'm not sure if the Nats had untealed the stadium since taking over.

It just didn’t work when they had the words all smooshed together.

Then, at their space-themed stadium, the team had an old-fashioned hand-operated scoreboard. Because you know, nothing says space like pretend old things. You’d think three would be a state-of-the-art scoreboard in that spot.

Outside the stadium, there was a neat model of the space shuttle. Very cool. And it fits with the theme.

And the other huge decoration? That would be a massive statue of the Mighty Casey, of “Casey at the Bat” fame. Friends, what does the star of a treasured but ancient poem have to do with space or a brand new expansion baseball team named after a fish?

Nothing, of course. The Marlins tried to be all things to all people. Pick one theme, because retro and space do not play well together.

That said. We had a nice time heading to see the Mets play the Fish on a St. Patrick’s day, at least until a Florida storm washed out the game.

We came back in 1999 for a the final spring game of the year, where the Marlins played their top farm team.

The Marlins scooted to Jupiter to share s spring site with the Cardinals after the whole Marlins-Expos franchise swap.

These days it’s the spring site for the Washington Nationals, but also the home of the Florida State League’s Brevard County Manatees, one of the best team name and logos ever.

And last I heard, Mighty Casey still stands, sadly out of place with his surroundings.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Baseball Place No. 51: Double Play Restaurant; and Place No. 51A: Dodger Stadium

Josh Pahigian has a thing for restaurants, even though I’m pretty sure baseball has never been played in one.

This time we’re dining at The Double Play in San Francisco, which he lists as place no. 51 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

I like this one than the DiMaggio dining establishment. The Double Play stands across the street from where Seals Stadium, the minor-league yard where the San Francisco Giants spent two seasons as Candlestick Park was built.

Sounds like a nice place, with all sorts of Giants memorabilia on the walls.

I’ve never been to San Francisco, but I did explore the home of the team’s arch-rival when I attended an education writer’s conference in 2003.

Alternative Place No. 51A: Dodger Stadium

I arrived into L.A. on a Thursday night in early April, and didn’t have to be at the conference until Friday afternoon, so I had a little time to explore. Naturally, I made Dodger Stadium a priority.

Finding the ballpark was a little tricky because I couldn’t see it from the street. I was driving around the Chavez Ravine neighborhood and found the sign directing me into a wide area with what looked like toll booths.

The Dodgers started the season on the road, so I didn’t expect to do anything more than walk around the outside and snap some photos.

But the security at the entrance was pretty intense. I had to open the trunk of my rental car and answer questions.

I told the guard I was hoping to visit the team store if it was open, and he told me to “drive up to the upper deck.” I wasn’t sure I understood what he was telling me.

But sure enough, I drove on the circular road around the park as it went higher and higher, and arrived at the spot. I knew the park was built on a hill, but I didn’t realize they built it right into the hill.

A guard at the gate directed me to the store, and said I was free to walk anywhere in the upper deck.

The store was pretty neat, with a lot of older items. I picked up a Christmas ornament that looked as if had been on the shelves since the 1970s. There was a sweet t-shirt with Greg Gagne’s face with blue fringe for his beard, with “Game over” in big letters.

I walked out to do some exploring and an usher offered to take my photo. He was happy to point out some of the stadium’s quirks and features. Drinking fountains, he said, were added after the park was built in 1962, an oversight.

Walking on the concourse, he pointed out that you could see downtown – very easily, it’s close – but also the Pacific Ocean and the Hollywood sign.

Later I drove around the outside. The team had murals of then-current stars, but everything else looked like it came right out of the 1960s. It was immaculate and colorful.

Driving out, I saw huge letters spelling out “Think Blue” in the hills beyond the outfield. I never noticed them while watching games on television.

With a couple hours of free time left, I explored some of L.A.’s lesser sites, such as Hollywood Boulevard, where I could stick my hands in the imprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and follow some of the stars on the sidewalk.

Shockingly, Tom Seaver did not have a star, which left the experience lacking. Apparently the people who decide those things did not see his appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show or any of the season highlight films.