September 7, 2016
Well, three out of four ain't bad. I didn't make it to the new-fangled edition of Yankee Stadium, but I accomplished almost all my other objectives as I ventured far to the northeast in my annual ballpark pilgrimmage. I saw the insides of two stadiums for the first time, just like in my big trip last year. I saw Washington Nationals games in Philadelphia and New York (Queens), and then took a guided tour of Fenway Park in Boston. But what made this trip stand out compared to the others I have taken was that I stopped at the sites of former MLB stadiums in each city -- five altogether, including Nickerson Field, which is what is left of the former Braves Field.
For the time being, I have updated the My ballpark visits page, with information on my lastest trip, featuring brand-new jumbo-sized photos of the three current MLB stadiums I saw. In the coming days and weeks, I will likewise update the individual stadium pages with dozens of new photos. For the record, I also took photos of Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, Wells Fargo Arena, home of the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers, and Franklin Field, home of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers. (!!?? See pennathletics.com.) I also paid a brief visit to Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.
On August 31, I arrived about an hour early for the final game of the series. The first time I visited it, back in April 2005 (the Nats' very first game!), I wasn't even thinking about Veterans Stadium, but this time I made a point to photograph a statue and historical plaque. My car was parked in what would have been right field, or the seats beyond it. I only saw a few Washington fans at Citizens Bank Park, to my surprise.
Upon entering the stadium, I noticed some dead-looking people dressed in rags shuffling around. Huh? Then I remembered that it was Zombie Night, a clever if weird promotion. The weather was rather strange: cool, humid, and quite windy, with dark clouds approaching. It was not ideal conditions for taking photographs. During the middle of the game, it started to drizzle, and the light precipitation continued until the end of the game.
The game started in ideal fashion for the Nats, as former Phillie Jayson Werth hit a solo home run way up into the camera well on the left side of center field. It was estimated to have gone 451 feet. The score stayed 1-0 until the fifth inning, when Freddy Galvis (not "Galvez" as I wrote last week) hit a solo home run that just cleared the left field wall. Then with two outs in the seventh inning Anthony Rendon hit a double into the left field corner, and the next batter, Wilson Ramos, knocked an RBI single after a typical (for him) long count. The Nats then loaded the bases, and Clint Robinson came up to bat as a pinch hitter for Gio Gonzalez, but he grounded out to second. In the final three innings, Blake Treinen, Mark Rzepczynski, and Shawn Kelly only allowed one base-runner (on a walk), as the Nats held on to win, 2-1. Gio Gonzalez had one of his best outings of the year. Attendance was only 16,503, which pales in comparison to the constant sellouts the Phillies were enjoying a decade ago.
TRUE STORY: before the game, as I was taking photos and inspecting all the interior details of Citizens Bank Park, I stopped by the bullpen area in center field, where I saw Wilson Ramos. I smiled and raised my fist in a gesture of support, and he waved back at me! I later speculated on Facebook that I might have given him the extra spark that resulted in that clutch RBI. Who knows?
In the next day's Philadelphia Inquirer, the big story in the sports section was about Ryan Howard's complaints about not getting much playing time lately. He is in the final year of his contract, and only batting around .200, and the Phillies were unable to make a worthwhile trade for him. After all he did for the franchise, it's a shame his career in Philadelphia is ending on such a downbeat note.
For the next three days -- Thursday, Friday, and Saturday -- I was busy attending a political science convention in downtown Philadelphia. On Sunday morning, I made the obligatory tourist stops in the "City of Brotherly Love" and then went on a search of the sites formerly occupied by Baker Bowl and Shibe Park. I had quite an adventure navigating the streets of Philadelphia! But fortunately, Baker Bowl fronted Broad Street, a major north-south artery, and I immediately recognized the big brick warehouse building as I approached it from the south. I was looking for a historical marker, but didn't see one anywhere. But then just this morning, I noticed it in one of the photos I took from the Broad Street (east) side. D'oh! Anyway, I posted that photo on the Baker Bowl page.
National League Park
The Phillies' baseball park from its opening in 1887 until 1938. Rebuilt 1895, hailed as nation's finest stadium. Site of first World Series attended by U.S. President, 1915. Negro League World Series, 1924-26; Babe Ruth's last major league game, 1935. Razed 1950.
Next I drove about six blocks west to the site of the former Shibe Park / Connie Mack Stadium. I parked at the McDonald's next door and grabbed a bite to eat, and then started taking photos of Deliverance Evangelistic Church, which now occupies the land. Apparently, I looked like a suspicious character, as a gentleman asked me what I was doing, and after I explained my interest in baseball and pointed to the historial sign, he invited me to join the worship service which was just getting underway inside. So I did! The fact that this former ballpark has been converted to a religous function truly bears out the title of Philip Lowry's book Green Cathedrals. Being pressed for time, I the left the service after a couple hours and headed east through northern Philadelphia and then northeast toward New York City.
After leaving Philadelphia, I headed toward Brooklyn via Staten Island, since I really wanted to see the site of the former Ebbets Field for the first time. After maneuvering through the traffic-clogged streets for nearly an hour, I finally located the Ebbets Field apartment building. It is HUGE -- 23 stories tall! There is a pharmacy across the street with a painted mural on one side, showing likenesses of Jackie Robinson and Ebbets Field. But just as with Baker Bowl, I failed to locate the historical marker until I looked at my photos this morning. D'oh again! In the photo below, it is behind the bicyclist on the right. Made of engraved granite (I assume), it reads, quite simply:
This is the site of the former Ebbets Field.
The latter street goes uphill significantly, to my surprise. I knew there was a slight incline along Bedford Avenue, but I would say the elevation changes by at least 20 feet from one street corner to the next. I have seen dozens of aerial photos of Ebbets Field, and in none of them does the ground appear as sloped as it is in real life.
After overcoming hellish traffic delays in Brooklyn and Queens, made worse by a couple wrong turns on my part, I arrived at Citi Field at 6:00 PM, two hours before the first pitch. I wanted to be there early enough to have good lighting conditions for taking photos, but it was already fully-shaded inside the stadium. Attendance was 30,257, with many empty seats in the upper decks. A friend from the New York area warned me that the game might be sold out, but just as I thought, tickets were plentiful. In front of the main entrance there was a Pink Floyd tribute rock group doing very good rennditions of "Another Brick In the Wall," and many more.
The game started on a promising note for the Nationals, but they failed to score with the bases loaded in the top of the first, whereas the Mets did score one run, on a sac fly by Curtis Granderson. The momentum of the game kept swinging back and forth, as Danny Espinosa crushed a home run into the right field upper deck in the second inning, and then Granderson hit a two-run homer in the third inning. Jay Bruce did likewise in the fifth inning, and the Nats just couldn't take advantage of run-scoring opportunities. In particular, Wilson Ramos failed to get a hit three times with runners in scoring position: the first, sixth, and eighth innings. See baseball-reference.com.
On a side note, I noticed that Ryan Zimmerman had shaven his beard since the series in Philadelphia.
It was at this point that I had to make a strategic decision regarding the weather conditions. While I was in Philadelphia, Hurricane Hermine was barrelling up the Atlantic coast, causing some flood damage in Virginia and other states. I feared a worst-case scenario in which I would have to return straight home from Philadelphia without seeing the game in New York, but fortunately the tropical storm turned away from Long Island. But Cape Cod and nearby areas were still under threat, so I had to take a risk in going to Boston. [As it turned out, it was very windy in Boston, but mostly sunny until late in the afternoon. Just as I was departing, the first rain drops fell, and by nightfall the winds had intensified to gale force levels. A little scary, but no visible damage.] My first task was to see Nickerson Field, which is what is left of old Braves Field, where the Boston University Terriers soccer team plays. (See goterriers.com; they no longer have a football team.) After wasting time with a couple wrong turns, I found it, parked and quickly ran over to take a few quick photos and then left. I knew that the Braves Field office building houses the campus security, and they might be looking for vehicles to ticket. I had glimpsed that building once before, when I was riding in a light rail car, but it was the first time I had seen the grandstand itself. Unlike the other former ballpark sites I visited, it was relatively easy to imagine a baseball game being played there 70-odd years ago.
I lucked out as I arrived at Fenway Park (or "Pahk," as the locals pronounce it) at 2:00 on the dot, just as a tour group was entering the stadium. The young lady serving as our guide was very friendly and knowledgeable, talking about the "Curse of the Bambino," and other Red Sox lore. I was ecastic in getting a first-hand look at the insides of Fenway, and was snapping photos constantly. I'm glad they were patient with me! One thing I learned is that the Red Sox created a roof-top garden in which fresh vegetables are grown, for consumption by fans. Smart idea! We started in the lower deck behind home plate, walked over to the left field corner, then ascended to the seating section atop the "Green Monster" in left field, then went over to the press booth behind home plate, and finally walked along the rooftop seats on the first base side around the corner where that big "Budweiser" sign is, getting a closup look at the bullpens and "bleachers." After the tour we spent time in the Red Sox museum, and I bought a couple souvenir items before leaving Boston.
The next day I was planning to take a tour of New Yankee Stadium, but between the heavy traffic in suburban Connecticut, and bleak overcast skies, and my utter exhaustion after three consecutive days of intensive urban driving, I decided to bypass New York entirely and just head straight home. So, I have now covered all geographic regions of the country, baseball-wise, except for the Pacific Coast and Florida. I'll probably do one of those next year. (But which???)
Well, four out of six ain't bad. As noted above, I was there to see the final game of the series in Philadelphia as the Nationals swept the Phillies. After a day of rest, the Nats won the first game against the Mets in New York by a score of 4-1, as Bryce Harper doubled twice and scored twice. A.J. Cole had a quality start for the Nats, going six full innings. That was quite an accomplishment going up against the Mets' ace Noah Syndergaard. But on Saturday, Tanner Roark took the loss in spite of a decent outing, as the Nats hitters just couldn't hit. Final score: 3-1. That broke the Nats' four-game winning streak. And, as noted above, the Mets beat the Nats in the rubber match game on Sunday night. As a result, the Mets climbed to 8.5 games behind the Nats in the NL East race. Realistically, about all they can expect at this point is to get one of the wild card spots.
I updated the Washington Nationals page, including the grand slam Anthony Rendon hit in the Nats' 9-7 win over the Braves last night. More on that series tomorrow.
UPDATE: The Nats just beat the Braves 5-4 in 11 innings, meaning their magic number is now down to 15. As is my custom in years when the Nats are in first place during September (2012, 2014, and this year), I show their magic number at the top right corner of each baseball blog post. The "magic number" equals the number of games lost by the Nats for the rest of the regular season, plus the number of games won by the second place team, that would be necessary for the Nats to lose sole possession of first place.