Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Baseball place No. 49: Yogi Berra Museum; and No. 49A: Minute Maid Park

Yogi Berra’s complicated.

He had all those years as a Yankee, even managing them to the World Series. Then, as if he suddenly realized just how tragic that was, Yogi sought redemption by signing with the Mets for a couple games.

Eventually, of course, Yogi managed the Mets to the “You Gotta Believe” pennant of 1973.

Sadly, proving that you can get sucked back in to the dark side, Yogi ended up in the Bronx again.

Apparently he also ended up in New Jersey, where he is the subject of the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center.

Josh Pahigian takes us there as place No. 49 in the “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

I try to limit my exposure to Yankeedom and New Jersey, so I’ve never been there.

But it’s a little known fact that Yogi spent time with another team, including one that staged an epic battle against our Mets. That would be the Houston Astros.

Yes, Yogi wore the rainbow-sleeved uniforms as an Astros bench coach in 1986.

That leads me to:

Alternative place No. 49A: Minute Maid Park

Here’s another adventure from the archives.

I usually don't mind a layover of an hour or two while traveling. But I confess that I was dragging on my way home from an education writers' conference in Houston in December 2004.

The conference itself was very helpful, our hosts at the Houston Chronicle were awesome and the city itself was nicer than I imagined.

But I usually try to work a baseball adventure into each of my work-related journeys, and this time I fell pretty short.

Minute Maid Park is downtown, but was a pretty good walk from where we were meeting, at least too long for a patented "got lost coming back from the rest rooms" side trips.

I made it to the yard 15 minutes before the gift shop closed. The clerk let me in, but wasn't particularly excited about it. I was able to snag an American League All-Star Game jersey on a clearance rack, but couldn't give the place the usual once-over that I like. And the shop was closed the rest of the weekend.

The store entrance is off a nice-looking lobby of what I believe was Houston's old train station, but I couldn't get any photos of the field or inside the stadium.

Keith feared that if Jesse threw another fastball, this pennant would say "NL Champs" instead.

There were some interesting things outside, like statues of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, but it was getting dark and my photos were disappointing. And the Biggio statue was actually kind of scary.

Bagwell, above, and the "Biggio as zombie searching for brains" statues.

It seemed odd since you usually don’t see statues of active players.

The park looked like a nice place to see a game, though. And I could see the home run train – decorated for Christmas – through the window.

Houston had another neat statue. There was a new park dedicated to President George H.W. Bush. Baseball + presidents = successful road trip.

And while I like cruising through airports, the trip home isn't as exciting as the first time through, especially in Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport.

I'd already ridden the underground train and explored all the gift shops and food courts. The only baseball items were related to the Braves, and you know I want no part of such things.

So I was aimlessly wandering one of the terminals, and I saw one of the gates decorated with tons of red, white and blue balloons. I assumed there must have been some soldiers returning from Iraq, and thought it would be a nice pick-me-up to see our heroes getting off a plane and into the arms of their families.

But within a minute or two, there was an announcement over the public address system: "Delta Airlines, the official airline of the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox, is proud to announce the arrival of a very special passenger, the 2004 World Series trophy."

What? You gotta be kidding me! The actual World Series trophy?

And sure enough, after all the passengers deplaned, the pilot and co-pilot walked into the gate area holding the trophy high. They placed it on a table surrounded by balloons, and people were allowed to pose for photos.

It was actually the first time I saw a legitimate use for those dopey cell phone cameras. Luckily, I had my own camera handy, and a Delta employee offered to snap the photo.

Officially known as the Commissioner's Trophy, it was first presented to the World Series winner in 1967, when the Cardinals beat the Red Sox in 7 games. The trophy features flags with each of the 30 teams on it and the World Series champion gets to keep it because a new one is made each year.

I've always thought the World Series trophy was cool because it is very different from the lame Super Bowl and NBA championship awards. You know exactly what it is at first glance.

I must say it was quite a thrill. I got to touch it and everything, and looked for the little pennant with the Mets name on it.

The Mets 1969 trophy is unique -- it's the only one to have the Seattle Pilots on it.

Naturally I had a lot of questions, namely why in the heck was the World Series trophy making an appearance in the Atlanta airport? I had heard that the Sox were sending it on a tour of New England and even their spring training home in Fort Myers.

But the Atlanta airport? Did the trophy ride in coach or first class? Did they try to charge it $5 for a “snack pack” that included 50 cents worth of pretzels, peanuts and Combos? Did some jerk in the seat in front of it drop his seat back down moments as soon as he could? And did the flight attendant roll her eyes when it asked for a full can of Diet Coke instead of a small, ice-filled plastic cup?

Not that such things have happened to me.

And what the heck was Yogi doing serving as the Astros bench coach?

Not that these nagging details stopped me from having fun. Talk about good timing! And it just goes to show that you never know when a good baseball adventure can happen.


Anonymous said...

That's funny--I live just five minutes from that museum, and the minor-league ballpark right next to it, Yogi Berra Stadium. The museum is disappointingly more about Berra's career as a Yankee than Berra himself. I've met him before though, which is cool--he lives in the same town I do.

Steve J. Rogers said...

Funny thing about the Berra museum, my Dad's business partner is one of those casual wishy-washy "I like both teams" fans and doesn't care all that much about the rest of the league and whatnot. Well, he said that he liked the Berra museum better than the actual HOF!

Yeah, WTF I know, probably because of all the Yankee crap that is in there and none of the historical baseball stuff up in Cooperstown spread amongst all of the other teams.

It is a good place, if you can stand the Yankee-fest aspect, but nothing beats Cooperstown!