Sunday, September 27, 2009

Baseball Place No. 67: McCovey's. Alternative Place No. 67A: The Shoe Box

I’m on the road this week, seeing some interesting things on the way to Texas. But this adventure harkens back to June and our extended family trip to the Wisconsin Dells.

Josh Pahigian takes us to San Francisco and McCovey’s restaurant as place No. 67 in “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

I’ve never been to San Francisco, and there’s nothing too unusual about a sports-themed restaurant, though Josh seems to like them.

But how about a baseball-themed shoe store?

Alternative baseball place No. 67A: The Shoe Box, Black Earth, Wis.

Like I was saying, we were at the Wisconsin Dells in June, and it’s full of fun places to explore.

We planned a side trip to tour the Cave of the Mounds, which is about an hour south of the Dells.

Along the way, in the small town of Black Earth, we spotted a shoe store with a giant boot and a cow outside.

I confess I have a fondness for giant roadside fiberglass art. Who doesn’t?

On our way back from the cave, I pleaded for the opportunity to pull over and get some photos of the cow and boot, and the family humored me because I behaved reasonably well in the cave, at least as well as can be expected.

Jumping out, I discovered that this wasn’t just any cow, but a cow wearing a Cardinals cap. Then I noticed there were Cardinals logos all over the place. Official, MLB Cardinals logos.

Keep in mind, weren’t in Missouri or southern Illinois. We were in Wisconsin, Brewers country. And these people probably are still stinging from the Cardinals beating the Brew Crew in their only World Series appearance.

Having already pushed my family’s patience to their limits, we hopped back into our cars without poking into the store to find out about the Cardinals thing.
Later I looked up the store’s Web site.

“Steve Schmitt bought a store in downtown Black Earth from his father in the early 70's. They had sold a wide variety of merchandise, including footwear. Steve determined that footwear was the area of focus and closed out all the other merchandise. The store remained in downtown Black Earth for many years and Steve had to add on several times. In 1986, he moved to the busy intersection of highways 14 & 78 and has been there ever since.

“Steve is here about 80 hours a week and this business is like his home. He has four daughters. The eldest, Amy and her husband Paul, manage The Shoe Box Baraboo, which is the only other Shoe Box Store. Jill and Emily work full time at the main store in Black Earth.

“The Shoe Box is one of the largest shoe stores in the USA. We have an incredible selection of over 300,000 pair in stock and feel that there is no reason when a customer walks in that we cannot find something for them. We represent over 180 major shoe companies and we offer most of them at discounted prices.”

OK, that’s a lot about shoes and nothing about the Cardinals.

Then I learned that Schmitt is co-owner of the Madison Mallards, and independent league baseball team. The team’s site reveals that he is a huge Cardinals fan.
Hey, I get it. If I owned a store, the chances are there would be Mets logos all over and posters of Tom Seaver adorning the walls.

Heck, I have a Seaver Starting Lineup figure on my desk at work and a tasteful display of Mets pins.

I don’t know how Schmitt gets to use MLB trademark logos on his signs, or why Brewers fans haven’t stormed the place in protest. I briefly considered tipping the cow over the 2006 playoffs and Yadier Bleeping Molians, but I knew I'd never be allowed to stop at a roadside attraction again.

It will just have to be one of those mysteries, and one of the reasons to keep your eyes peeled when passing through small towns.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Closing out a season at Comerica Park and the Tigers

Made my annual end-of-season trip to Comerica Park to see the Tigers this week.

They got smacked around by the Kansas City Royals, 11-1. Since I'm a neutral observer, this was fine with me. And it was a spectacular night to see a ballgame.

It's taken almost 10 years, but Comerica is starting to grow on me. It's far from perfect, but it's becoming a little more affordable.

So I took a comp day from work and picked a Tuesday night game. After walking down to the Hard Rock Cafe to snag a pin for my son, I popped into a memorabilia shop that's a block from the stadium. It's kind of discounted place, and had table with $1 items, including pins and ticket holder lanyards from the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh and the 2006 World Series. T-shirts from that All-Star Game were four for $10, but I've got a lot of T-shirts.

Expecting a small crowd, my plan was to buy a cheap upper deck seat and wander around, snapping photos from all vantage points.

Scalpers were out in force. I rarely buy from these guys. But one offered a seat for $10, which is cheaper than what I'd pay at the ticket window, so off we went.

Lady Liberty made the trip from New York after last year's All-Star game. This version is better than some of the others I've seen, but I have some issues with depicting the statue as an object instead of as a person. How much better would this have looked had she been wearing a jersey instead of looking like a graffiti-tagged object?
I like the carousel, which has all tigers and no horses. It's a little pricey for such a short ride, but it's a nice decoration for the center of a food court.
There's another food court with nice tables and decorations. There's an outside television studio on one side, and the Ferris wheel at the end of section.
The Ferris wheel is kind of cool. There's not much of a view, since it's pretty small. But how often do you get to ride a Ferris wheel at a baseball game?
General Motors wanted to take its name off the center field fountains in a cost-cutting move. But the Tigers gave them the ad for free, and added Ford and Chrysler, too, to show support for the three automakers.
I have some issues with the placement of the statues. Their backs face the concourse, making it a tight squeeze if you want to shoot the front. But at least they have statues.

Ty Cobb, forever sliding in with spikes high.
This is what the warning track had to see whenever Al Kaline made a leaping catch at Tiger Stadium.

Lots of Gary Sheffield t-shirts and bobbleheads available on clearance racks. Dontrelle Willis' stuff was on sale, too, which sure indicates his status with the team.

The Tigers also hade a game-used memorabilia section, with all kinds of things ranging from affordable to silly. But I snagged Lloyd McClendon's spring training locker nameplate for $10, and a game-used cap from when the Indians and Tigers wore Negro Leagues uniforms. I have Indians first base coach Luis Rivera's cap -- he's an ex-Met!
The team did a nice job with little details. These tigers are at the end of every row -- and seem a lot better than the stickers the Mets slapped on their seats.
Dusk settled in. In the middle of summer, it stays light in Michigan until after 10 p.m. since we're on the far end of the time zone. But this was a beautiful mid-September night.
This guy ran on the field near the end of the game. He started tugging his shorts like he was going to be a streaker. Fans were cheering, I think, that security got there in time.
Curtis Granderson's a good guy who does a lot for the community and made the All-Star team this year. If there was any player I'd consider "My Tiger," it would be him.
This fan seems to think so, too. But it looks like her son favors Magglio Ordonez.
Here's a cameraman's view of Victor Marte closing the door on the Tigers. By the end of the rout, I managed to wander down to the section right behind the Tigers' dugout.
The tigers atop the scoreboard roar when a Tiger hits a home run, but they were silent this night.

The Tigers are atop a weak AL Central, but they're slumping at the wrong time and the Twins are inching closer. Not that we'd know anything about that.

It's been a good season as far as attending Major League games. I caught the Mets twice in spring training, and then the glorious day at Citi Field. August had the Executive Game at U.S. Cellular and wrapping things up at Comerica, which has become a tradition.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Mets and Nine Innings From Ground Zero

This clip from the HBO documentary "Nine Innings from Ground Zero" is amazing and moving.

There are interviews with Bobby Valentine and Rudy Guiliani and, of course, Mike Piazza's magical home run on that night against the Braves.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Like I was saying, Johan Santana's season-ending surgery can be blamed on Hallmark

Not that I like saying “I told you so.” But I sure wasn’t shocked when Johan Santana went down with season-ending surgery a couple weeks ago.

This was to be expected. Not only is he the latest victim of the Hallmark curse, he is proof it exists.
People, especially friends in the Crane Pool Forum, scoffed when I exposed this. But the track record speaks for itself. There is no denying it at this point.

In case you missed that one, it’s become an established fact that whomever Hallmark selects to be this year’s Christmas ornament is destined to spend the holidays and the rest of the off-season recovering from a catastrophic injury — or worse.

Here’s the quick listing as a refresher.

2009: Our Johan, season-ending surgery

2008: Nomar Garciaparra, played just 55 games and drove in 28 runs

2007: David Ortiz, robbed of his power — 55 homers to 35 — due to mysterious ailment or lack of “supplements.”

2006: Alex Rodriguez, reduced to batting eighth in post-season, photographed with strange woman in Toronto, dated Madonna, dumped by wife, outed for steroid use back in 2003, hip ailment, deemed never to be a true Yankee.

2005: Albert Pujols, missed three weeks the next season, allowing Ryan Howard to steal his MVP Award.

2004: Barry Bonds, life pretty much went to hell.
2004: Willie Mays, other than the shame of being depicted as San Francisco Giant instead of a New York Giant or Met, Willie is one of the rare exceptions to the curse.

2003: Jason Giambi, linked to BALCO scandal, Yankee taint.

2003: Ted Williams, died, head lopped off, frozen.

2002: Derek F. Jeter, became smug, homely, over-rated weasel with no range. Team hasn’t won a series since this ornament was cast.

2002: George Brett, like Mays, seemed to be the rare exception.

2001: Sammy Sosa, had one more decent season before the wheels came off, another player allegedly outed by leaked test results.

2001: Mickey Mantle, was dead by six years when ornament came out. Remained dead.

2000: Mark McGwire, was hurt for much of the season, hit just .187 the following year. รนรน 2000 and 1999: Ken Griffey Jr., was traded two months after Christmas ornament came out, with Hallmark issuing a second one the following year.

1998: Cal Ripken Jr., went from playing 161 games in 1998 to just 86 in 1999. Here’s where the curse kicked in, when Hallmark started going after active players.

1997: Hank Aaron, a safe and glorious choice.

1996: Nolan Ryan, the first ornament, sadly depicting Ryan playing for some Texas team instead of his glory days, winning his only World Championship with the 1969 Mets.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

About the only thing we can do now is start e-mailing Hallmark requesting — no, demanding — that they produce ornaments of Phillies and Yankees in 2010. All of them.

And David Wright? He doesn’t exist, as far as you know, Hallmark.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Baseball Place No. 66: Samford Stadium-Hitchcock Field; Alternate Place No. 66A: KeySpan Park

Now that we’re back from all the ballpark adventures and the Mets season is, well, what it is, we can get back to tracking through Josh Pahigian’s book.

Josh heads down to the deep South for Place No. 66 in his "101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out." Samford Stadium-Hitchcock Field is at Auburn University. He says it's a nice little ballpark with lots of brick and charm.

I’ve never been that ballpark, but I did get to check out another yard — and some of the wild activities that surround it.

Alternate place No. 66A: KeySpan Park, Coney Island.

Dad, Andrew, Tim and I finished our day at Citi Field by taking a spin through Coney Island. I haven’t been there in probably 15 years, if not more. Tim shocked us by revealing had never been there.

KeySpan, of course, is the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Mets’ short-season Single-A team.

There wasn’t a game at the time, and the gift shop was closed. So we were limited to walking around the outside of the park.

Seemed like a neat place!

First we wandered over to the statue of Jackie Robinson and Pee-wee Reese, which is nice. It’s certainly appropriate to have some sort of recognition for Robinson in Brooklyn. Maybe the Cyclones could build a rotunda to build around the statue or something.

Then we walked down along the first base side, and saw the moving tributes to first-responders who died in the terrorist attacks.

The Parachute Jump was, of course, amazing. Nicknamed "Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower," the ride hasn’t been in operation since the 1960s. But it’s such an icon that it has survived various attempts to demolish it.

It was built for the 1939 World’s Fair and moved to be a part of Steeplechase Park in 1941. The jump was designed to train troops, but the creator had so many civilian requests to experience it that he converted it into an amusement ride.

My father rode the Parachute Jump as a child, and told us that patrons were belted into a canvas seat hanging below a closed chute.

After being tugged up about 250 feet, the chutes were opened by metal rings and people floated to the ground — slowed by the functional chutes, not the guide wires.

Dad said there were shock absorbers — springs mounted on poles — to cushion the landing, but it was pretty rough, with shoes sometimes flying away.

We walked around the back of the ballpark and could peek inside. I love the scoreboard, with the depiction of the people riding the coaster on top.

Naturally, we started our Coney adventure at the famous Cyclone, built in 1927 and now a National Historic Landmark.

The track is 2,650 feet long, with six fan turns and nine drops. The first drop is at a 60-degree angle. The ride's top speed is 97 km/h and it takes about 1 minute and 50 seconds.

I learned that the Cyclone was in disrepair in the 1960s and shut down in 1969, condemned and nearly demolished to make room for the New York Aquarium.

A "Save the Cyclone" campaign followed, and it was refurbished and reopened in 1975. It was named a city landmark in 1988 and a National Historic Landmak in 1991. Today, the ride is owned by the Parks Department.

Next we moved on to the Wonder Wheel, which is not your average Ferris Wheel. Some of the gondolas are stationary, with the others on tracks, moving around as the wheel turns. There are times you feel the cart is going right off the edge.

The ride is 150-feet tall and can hold 144 people at a time. And like the Cyclone, the Wonder Wheel is a landmark.

We also walked along the boardwalk for a stretch, stumbling across a "Shoot the Freak" game where a real person ran around an alley while patrons shot at him with paintball guns.

Amazingly, I’d say this was only the tenth most horrifying thing we saw during our two hours at Coney Island.