Thursday, March 09, 2006

Time Spent In Other Ballparks Feels Slightly Naughty

I've seen major league baseball in seven venues: Tiger Stadium; Comerica Park; Wrigley Field; the original Comiskey Park; the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland; Exhibition Stadium in Toronto; and Shea Stadium.

It's always odd, to me, to watch professional sports in stadiums/buildings other than the ones in your hometown. It sounds weird, but you almost get a little homesick; I did, anyway. That feeling didn't take away from the experience, but it was there. Maybe it wasn't so much homesickness as ... like you were cheating on your wife.

"Oh, I'm watching MLB in Comiskey Park -- I hope I don't get found out."

Of course, a lot of the game is spent simply looking around you, taking in your environs. I found myself studying everything: the scoreboards; the types of seats the ballpark had; the sight lines; and of course the concession stands, to name a few. The game itself was almost secondary. I think I've only kept score once in another park, and that was in Wrigley Field, when I went by myself. I'm usually a "keep score" kind of guy, but sitting my fanny in somewhere other than Tiger Stadium just felt exciting enough that scorekeeping would have taken away from the experience.

I have a few memorable moments that occurred in foreign MLB stadiums. To wit:
  • Shea Stadium, 1991: I was working in local cable downriver, and our sister company was located in New Jersey. So during a business-related trip in May 1991, one of the employees from the NJ company treated me to the Mets game. Along about the fifth inning, out of nowhere, a thick, pea soup-like fog drifted in. It was a night game. The fog got so bad the game was delayed. Eventually the umpires had players and coaches return to the field and hit fungoes to each other, to test the visibility. It was very surreal. I was then allowed into the Mets TV control room, where I heard Tim McCarver talking to the crew about whether he thought the game should continue. We ended up leaving. Turns out the game was continued, I believe. Regardless, it was the only time a game at Shea was delayed by fog. And I was there.
  • Exhibition Stadium, 1978: Before the Skydome, the Blue Jays played in Exhibition Stadium, a horrible, converted football stadium that was ill-suited for baseball. It was so bad it made the Skydome desirable -- and I hate artificial turf parks. Anyhow, when I was 15, my friend Steve Hall -- whose family was from Canada -- let me tag along on a visit to his aunt and uncle's home in suburban Toronto. We went to two Jays games that week -- vs. Chicago and Baltimore. The Jays were in their second year of existence and were awful, of course. One of the reasons we wanted to go was because they were so bad, we wanted to see them stumble all over themselves trying to play baseball. Well, darned if they didn't win both games that we saw! I remember we took the subway -- two 15 year-old kids by ourselves -- to the Orioles game and we were late. Hall asked me what I thought the score was. "4-0 Baltimore," I said. We entered the game in the bottom of the first, and the scoreboard had "4" in the first inning for the O's. I cackled. But the Jays came back and won. In the White Sox game, Ralph Garr of Chicago swung and lost control of his bat. It twirled into the crowd, striking a child in the head. A few innings later, the child returned to his seat, head bandaged, carrying the bat. The crowd went wild. The Jays won again.
  • Municipal Stadium, 1985: The Indians were God-awful in '85, and the Tigers were defending champs. My friends Cory Bergen, John Nixon, and I went to the Friday night and Saturday night games of a weekend series between the Tigers and the Tribe. The Tigers lost Friday, and it was made worse because we were seated behind these annoying Italian kids -- probably late teens, early 20's -- and they kept ripping on the Tigers, saying the only reason Detroit won in '84 was because of their 35-5 start. They knew little about baseball and they were really getting under our skin. The Indians rallied in the ninth to tie the game and then won in extra innings, all while the Italian kids said obnoxious things like, "The Indians are TOUGH with two outs!" Dude, your team sucks! But they kept at it. I still wish I was pounding their melons. After the game we went to a spaghetti joint (how ironic, after our experience with those kids), and the waitress asked where we'd been. "The Indians game," we said. "Oh," she said, "did they lose again?" That was insult to injury.
  • Wrigley Field, 1989: The Cubs were playing the Expos, and I was there by myself, in Chicago on business. The Expos' leadoff man, Dave Martinez, opened the game by fouling off at least seven or eight pitches. It was like that at-bat Dave Bergman had for the Tigers in '84 on a Monday night against Toronto's Roy Lee Jackson. Martinez kept fouling off pitches, and the count ran full. Then he ALMOST strikes out, but the catcher drops the foul tip. Then he fouled off ANOTHER pitch before ending the at-bat with a homerun. It was the greatest leadoff at-bat I'd ever seen.

By the way, one of the cool things I remember about Exhibition Stadium was that some guy was selling banana splits outside the stadium after the game, from one of those portable vendor thingies on wheels. I always thought that rocked.

No, I didn't order one.


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