Saturday, June 27, 2009

ABC offers up music and memories of the glorious '80s

I think about the 1980s and see milestones and adventures.

I see graduations from high school and two colleges. Marriage and a Mets championship. A real world job and an apartment.

My life probably changed more in that decade than it will in any other. So the soundtrack for that transition from teen to adult will always be special.

Some people might hear Human League and Flock of Seagulls and the Cars and think bad hair and bubbling synthesizers.

But I’m instantly transported back to first dates, dorm parties and road trips. I’ve blocked out anything bad that might have happened.

So I was pretty geeked to discover that The Regneration Tour was coming to Grand Rapids. ABC would headline, with Tommy Tutone, Cutting Crew and Wang Chung filling the bill.

It was a full-scale ‘80s-a-palooza.

A roadie let me have Martin Fry's set list after the show.

Ticket prices started at $24, but by the week of the show they were two for $20. My 17-year-old son quickly announced he was working at the pool the night of the show, and my wife said she couldn’t stay out that late on a work night.

That left my 12-year-old, who, lacking the excuse of a job or a reason to get up early, became my reluctant companion.

“They’re from the ‘80s and still alive?” she asked. I took this as a bad sign. “What if they die on stage?”

About a thousand people were in attendance, many, I noticed were about my age, and my daughter wasn’t the only child dragged along to relive a parent’s memory.

Tommy Tutone was first, with a fun, short set of what he called “soul twang.” Of course, the crowd erupted at the opening notes of “Jenny (867-5309),” which Tommy Heath and his two sidemen turned into an extended jam with a call-and-response.

Heath, here in 2007, wore the same outfit at Thursday's show.

My mind flashed back to the Vignette’s end-of-year celebration, asking the disc jockey to play the song for a girl named Jennifer I was trying to impress.

Next was Cutting Crew, the act that surprised me the most. I owned “(I Just) Died in Your Arms,” of course. Everybody did. But I was struggling to remember a second song, and didn’t even have a song-specific memory.

But frontman Nick Van Eede absolutely charmed the crowd, darn near stealing the whole show. The new but unfamiliar songs were really good, and I’d forgotten about the balled “I’ve Been in Love Before.”

You got the impression that he’s content with whatever he’s doing these years, and if he can hop on stage once in a while and have some laughs, it’s all good.

Wang Chung followed, and were a little more somber, dedicating the show to Michael Jackson. But Jack Hues and Nick Feldman, who reunited recently, rocked harder than I expected.

Considering the band is named after a Chinese philosopher, its lyrics aren’t especially deep. But it sure was easy for the crowd to sing “Let’s go, baby. Let’s go, baby. Come on!” And people screamed the refrain to “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” which leads to our fun ‘80s memory.

I was in a University of Missouri Journalism School graphics lab, working with that first wave of Apples Macintoshes with the black and white screens. We were allowed to play the radio while working, and it wasn’t unusual for people to quietly sing along to themselves.

One day “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” came on, and spontaneously a chunk of the room sang the second line of the chorus -- “Everybody Wang Chung tonight” together, then broke out laughing.

Finally it was time for ABC. It seemed like I was the only ABC fan in college. I’d run laps in the Brewer Fieldhouse with my bulky Walkman playing my “Lexicon of Love” and “How to be a Zillionaire” tapes, imagining what the group would sound like live.

Best I knew, the group didn’t play live. Partly because it was really just Martin Fry and side musicians, and also because the lush sound with strings, horns, complicated arrangements didn’t seem easy to replicate on stage.

Fry, in a stylish shiny black suit and skinny tie, was certainly a little older than the dashing figure on the LP covers, but was sure strong in voice.

He was backed by a six-piece band, including one guy who bounced between keyboards and a huge saxophone and a percussionist with an array of bongos and larger drums.

They band tore through Fry’s hits like “Be Near Me” and “Poison Arrow,” deeper tracks like “Date Stamp” and “Tears are Not Enough” and two songs from a recently released CD that I just ordered from Amazon as an import. It was wonderful.

Fry and friends peforming "The Look of Love" in 2006.

I didn’t think too many people are into ABC. But a several people I chatted with asked which of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing. And when replied, they all said, “Me too.” So the concert was kind of like a gathering of people into a semi-obscure 80s band. Very cool.

I left with ears ringing, voice hoarse and memories revisited. My daughter had a t-shirt and candy from a radio station promotion.

And I now realize why some people took offense to a post last year where I bemoaned that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was filled with one-hit wonders from the 1950s.

Where I heard echoy recordings of do-wop singers, they heard their memories.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Baseball Place No. 61: Jackie Robinson Ballpark; and No. 61A) Plant City Stadium

Florida is littered with discarded major-league spring training sites.

Some, like Dodgertown, sit abandoned. Others find new life as minor-league homes. And there are others who lead less glorious lives, but, at least avoid the bulldozer.

Josh Pahigian takes us to one such place in Jackie Robinson Stadium in Daytona Beach as spot No. 61 in his “101 Baseball Place to See Before You Strike Out.”

The original stadium was built in 1914 and for years served as a minor-league stadium and was home to the Dodgers’ minor-league spring training camp in 1946 when Jackie Robinson made his debut in the Dodgers’ organization.

Josh reports that Branch Rickey selected the site because Daytona was fairly progressive in terms of race relations.

And the future Citi rotunda honoree was indeed greeted warmly.

It was expanded to host the Expos in 1972, and today is the home of the Daytona Beach Cubs, who have a sweet cap logo, which looks like a decapitated bear on spring break, with his cool dude shades and backward cap.

The ballpark was named after Robinson in 1990, and added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Alas, I’ve never been, though do have a cap.

But I have been to another small park that once hosted spring training and now has new life.

Alternate Place No. 61A) Plant City Stadium

The Reds trained in Plant City, not too far from Orlando, for 10 years starting in 1988. We caught a game against the Pirates on March 19, 1997.

It’s funny that the program cover reads “Reds and Strawberries Forever.” The strawberries are the local crop and I’m sure they’re still grown there. But the Reds were in their final year in Plant City before moving on to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.

Plant City Stadium was nothing fancy. There was lots of concrete like St. Lucie in the early days.

The Ray Knight-led Reds beat the Pirates 10-7, with the Pirates scoring five of their runs in the first inning off Dave Burba.

About the best player the Pirates threw out there was Kevin Elster, and the Reds had future Mets Lenny Harris and Ruben Sierra.

The highlight was walking down the ramp after the game and bumping into Peter Gammons. I tried to do the journalist-to-journalist chit-chat thing, and he humored me. I’m sure I asked him a Mets question, though I can’t recall what it was. I do remember him being very gracious and friendly.

After the Reds fled, the stadium gained new life as a softball hub.

It is now home of the International Softball Federation, and hosts tournaments. And, and, at one time the Tampa Bay FireStix and Florida Wahoos of the Women’s Professional Softball league.

FireStix and Wahoos? Those names don’t seem entirely progressive.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Doing the Dells for a Wisconsin Friday Five

Back from Wisconsin and caught up at work, I thought it was a good time to share some of the unusual things we saw in the Dells last weekend.

Given the festive nature of the vacation, I thought it would be a good time to bring back the Deezo Friday Five, which has been on hiatus as we focus on Josh’s travels.

The Dells’ claims to fame are the unique rock formations and the river tours to see them. And then it became a tourist Mecca, with operators playing “can you top this” to lure to visitors.

This created some strangeness, which, of course, we embrace.

1) Fiberglass animals and people.

I’m going to guess that there are more fiberglass creations in the Dells per capita than anywhere else in the world.

We were greeted by the Cheese Mouse and a nearby Denny’s hosted a group of 1950s icons. Then the hotel had a dinosaur slide plus a huge assortment of sea creatures.
Then, we enjoyed dinner at a place that placed moose in trees, on cars and other places where moose are not expected to be found.

2) Amazing tales of child abuse.

The name comes from the French word "dalles" for flat, layered rock. Amazing formations of exposed rock were carved by water over millions of years.

The most famous formation, Stand Rock, played a role in advancing photography.
People posing for portraits used to have to sit perfectly still for several minutes as the image was created.

H.H. Bennett invented the instantaneous shutter, but people thought his photos of dock workers throwing ropes were fakes.

So he sent his son Ashley to jump the 5.5 feet between a cliff and Stand Rock, hoping to catch him in mid-flight. He did, proving his shutter worked and creating an iconic photo.

It took Ashley 17 tries before his Dad got the photo he wanted.

You have to wonder if Ashley fell short and was falling to his doom, would Dad Bennett have snapped the photo?

On tour today, dogs make the leap, and there is a net below them. I think that shows a severe lack of confidence in the dogs.

3) Circus freaks

We traveled just south to Baraboo to see Circus World, a museum dedicated to life under the big top.

The Ringling Brothers Circus was created there in 1884, and used the small town as it winter headquarters until merging with the Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1918.

Some of the original buildings remain as a National Historic Landmark Site and are used for displays. The museum hosts the world's largest collection of circus wagons, and you can watch as woodworkers restore them.

As you know, circuses today are rather tame compared to what they were like in the early days, with sideshows showing off all types of people who today we would call handicapped.

The museum had a display of these unfortunate folks, including Eng and Chang, the conjoined twins, tiny Tom Thumb and, of favorite, Jo Jo, the dog-faced boy.

I couldn’t help but wonder what these attractions were like back in the day. You gave the barker your money, entered the tent and then what? Where they just sitting there, talking among themselves? Could you talk to them? If you taunted them, could they taunt you back? “Yeah, I’m a circus freak. What’s your excuse?”

These questions went unanswered, but they sold clown noses in the gift shop and most of my relatives were forced to wear them for photos!

4) Duck boats

The Dells seem to have the largest collection of Army duck boats in one place since Normandy.

The boats are a combination of boat and truck used during World War II.
Our guide said General Motors built about 21,000 of the vehicles in Pontiac, Mich. and many were used in the D-Day invasion in 1944, bringing supplies from ships to soldiers on the shore.

After the war, 11,000 of the vehicles were sold as surplus, and the tour founder bought 60 of them in 1946 and started offering tours of the Dells. He later started a second duck tour company in the area.

None of the ducks used in the invasion are available today. The Army learned it cost twice as much to transport the vehicles home than it did to build new ones, so they were dumped into the ocean off the coast of France.

5) Bat-less caves

After the circus adventures we headed a little further south to the Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds.

Designated by the National Park Service as a National Natural Landmark, the limestone cave was discovered on Aug. 4, 1939 after an explosion set by quarry workers. They were supposed to wait three days before entering the cave entrance, allowing all the displaced rocks to settle. They waited three hours.

Stalactites are the spikes that hang down from the cave ceiling are caused by water that seeps into the cave and carries minerals. They grow at a rate of 1 inch every 100 years.

We saw all kinds of magnificent formations created by the dripping water, including flow stones and hollow tubes called "soda straws," as well as magnificent colors caused by manganese oxide and iron oxide in the rocks.

You are not allowed to touch any of these, because your fingers have oil on them, and oil and water do not mix, and it would mess up the growth of the formations.
But there’s no oil on your tongue, and if you ask the tour guide, if you can lick a stalactite, she makes a funny face. Or so I’m told.

Since there was no natural opening to the cave, there was no place for bats to enter. This was disappointing.

We saw all kinds of magnificent formations created by the dripping water, including flow stones and hollow tubes called "soda straws," as well as magnificent colors caused by manganese oxide and iron oxide in the rocks.

Bonus facts:

Tommy Bartlett was a radio guy who created a waters ski show that became a Dells legend. While the rest of the family checked out the show, Jeff, Zack and I went next door to the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, where we marveled at all kinds of hands-on science fun.

The highlight was being able to ride a bicycle on a tightrope, aided by weights. And there was what was purported to be a real Mir space capsule that never made it into space.

Then there was some pretty wild architecture. A theme park was devoted to ancient Greece and Rome, with a go-kart track running through a giant Trojan horse.

Next to it was an upside down White House, broken in two. Supposedly he attraction was a tour through the building by walking on the ceiling, which was actually the floor.

I was gung-ho for this, because even an upside-down White House could be cool. But the person selling bulk tickets told us the tour was very expensive and not very good, so we passed – because there were many other strange things to see!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Baseball place No. 60: Bobby Valentine's Sports Gallery Cafe

I’ve been spending time visiting Wisconsin with family creating our own adventures rather than following Josh’s, but now we’re back.

And we’re going all the way back to our three years in Connecticut, the first years out of school, in the working world and in marriage.

I felt at home in Milford when I discovered the Bobby Valentine Sports Gallery Café, which sadly, is gone now.

Josh Pahigian taps the Stamford, Conn. café as spot No. 60 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

Josh reports that Bobby V. invented the sandwich wrap one night when a customer ordered a sub and he was out of buns. I’ve never heard that, and Bobby isn’t the type to be modest about creating a food fad.

But I do know that “Bobby V’s” – as we called it every time – was a fun place. I knew it was a glorious hangout the moment I walked in.

We know what the stereotypical sports bar looks like. A couple framed replica jerseys on the wall. A couple posters you can find anywhere. Maybe a football helmet or two.

That wouldn’t be good enough for Bobby V. We’re talking a quality establishment here.

Every inch of wall – and I mean every single inch – was covered with something cool. Framed magazines and programs, pennants and photos were everywhere. You could spend hours just walking around checking everything out.

Then, the bar and table tops were covered in baseball cards from the 1960s and 1970s, all laminated.

I’m not one to frequent bars or restaurants, but Bobby V’s was the place we took every friend or relative who came for a visit, and where we celebrated special occasions, at least the ones where I was allowed to pick where we dined.

My new sister-in-law visited, and with my wife working nights I had to find something in Milford Kris might enjoy, so naturally we went to Bobby V’s, which she appeared to tolerate.

Then we got bold and crazy, and went across the street to Milford Jai Alai, which also sadly is gone. I’d never been to such a place, had little idea how the game went or how people bet on it.

The game seemed kind of like handball, but with players wearing huge baskets called a cesta. And like Ichiro, all the players go by one name.

The night started when all the players walked out and saluted the audience. They all appeared to be smallish men from Latin America and the Philippines – except for one African-American who looked like a linebacker, towering above all others and going by the name of “Fo.” It was a true “One of these things is not like the other” situation.

Not having a clue how this worked, Kris and I picked a player we thought would win, naturally picking Fo, We didn’t make a bet or anything.

So Fo won, we yelled, “This is easy!” and ran to the window to throw a couple bucks down for the next games.

I think we won only once more for the rest of the night, so apparently there was more to the game than picking the biggest, tallest player with the shortest name.

We never went back to Milford Jai Alai, but we certainly went back to Bobby Valentines’ Bobby had restaurants in Texas, too. But I think the only one left is in his hometown of Stamford.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Place No. 59: Reds Hall of Fame and Museum

The Cincinnati Reds have the best baseball museum not located in Cooperstown.

It’s not even close.

Josh Pahigian takes us to Great American Ballpark – more specifically, the team’s Hall of Fame and Museum – as spot No. 59 in the “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

The museum would be glorious enough just for displaying Tom Seaver’s jersey and his Reds Hall of Fame plaque. But the team created an interactive world that allows fans to learn about history and participate in it, too.

Great American was the host for the 2007 and 2008 BaseballTruth Executive Games, and earned a special place in my heart when the infamous Streak of Shame was snapped there last year.

We toured the museum just after it opened. It’s in a free-standing building next to the stadium, and admission was free with our ticket, though the team added an admission fee last year.

The first thing we saw upon entering is the massive 1976 World Series pennant. If you listened closely, you could still hear the Yankees weeping from the four-game spanking the Big Red Machine dropped on the Bronx that year.

That’s a pretty good start. And then things got better.

The hall’s first temporary exhibit was called “PETE!” and my companions openly speculated it will still be the temporary exhibit when they bring their grand kids to games years from now.

The Queen City appears to be obsessed with Pete Rose, which is something considering he’s not allowed to enter the ballpark without buying a ticket.

And that’s OK with me. We all have our heroes, and sometimes they are flawed. Even Tom bounced his ceremonial pitch when he closed out Shea.

There was a nice collection of Rose jerseys, bats and balls and his story filled the whole lower level before walking you down a corridor to windows that show the Rose Garden. A white rose bush shows where his record-breaking hit landed.

Then we moved upstairs where things got exciting. Turning a corner we came to a section of outfield wall with a bin of baseball gloves. And not just modern gloves – you could try on a glove from just about any era, even some sweet fingerless models.

The idea, of course, is to pose for photos making spectacular Endy catches, which we did many times over.

A few more steps revealed a batting cage, then a pitchers mound where people threw toward a wall with a painting of an umpire.

Embedded in the wall was an umpire’s mask, and from the other side you could look through and decided whether pitches were balls or strikes. I took one off the mask, and it was pretty scary.

And, appropriately, near the pitching cage was the tribute to some of the greatest Reds hurlers. Shining like a beacon to all that is good in life was the glorious Seaver jersey.

We were standing in awe – well, I was standing in awe and my friends humored me by standing by – and a Reds fan walked past, looked at the jersey and said, “Look, it’s a ‘onesy’ like a baby wears.


“Look at the way it’s in the frame. It looks like it has leg holes like a onesy.”

If someone wants to have a little fun at the Rob Dibble display, I’m all for it. But disparaging remarks about the No. 41 hanging there was just unacceptable. He got “the look” then moved along.

After a period of recovery and extended reverence, we moved along to a dugout display, where there was a section of the bench from Riverfront Stadium and a statue of Sparky Anderson leaning on the rail.

Even more life-sized statues were a few feet away, depicting “The Great Eight” celebrating a win, with the three most recent Reds World Series trophies.

There were also displays to assorted Reds greats – like Johnny Bench – and individual achievements – like Tom Browning’s perfect game. A broadcast both allowed fans to make the call on a number of moments in Reds history.

Then came the actual Hall of Fame plaques, which was anticlimactic compared to the rest of the vibrant museum. There were just plaques suspended on wires from floor to ceiling.

Naturally, Seaver is a member. I’m still waiting for the White Sox and Red Sox to extend the honor.

The Hall leads you down a stairway into a gift shop dominated by a massive World Series trophy.

I was so hoping the Mets would do something like this when they opened Citi Field. Of course, they didn’t. But there’s plenty of space in that parking lot for a museum, and it took the Reds several years to get this gem open after the stadium debut.

Maybe the Mets will take care of business in time for Josh to update the book.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Baseball Place No. 58: Big League Dreams; and Alternative Place No. 58A: Coors Field

The Tigers used to hold a youth clinic day, where before the game you could walk out on the field, and at various points Tigers coaches and a handful of players would give tips about aspects of the game.

I brought my young son, and we spent a fair amount of time standing in centerfield, looking around and imagining what it would be like to play there.

The people who run Big League Dreams can sort of provide the same experience. The company creates scaled-down versions of awesome major league ballparks and Yankee Stadium, too. They’re available for softball and youth baseball leagues.

You get dimensions that are similar, and something that looks like the outfield walls of Fenway Park, Forbes Field, the Polo Grounds, Wrigley Field and the dump in the Bronx, where you can imagine being a Florida Marlin winning the World Series.

Sounds like fun. Josh Pahigian takes us there for spot No. 58 in the "101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out."

Can’t say I’ve been to a Big League Dreams complex. But I did get to be in a real stadium that housed pretend major-leaguers for one game before the real ones came back.

Alternative place No. 58: Coors Field

Here’s another tale from the archives.

Back in 1995, I attended an education writers conference in Denver, and I vividly remember sitting in a stadium microbrewery, eating a burger and watching the first televised reports of the Oklahoma City bombing.

I had no idea that I was about to embark on one of the wildest adventures of my life. It had just about everything — a little bit of danger, some misbehavior and, of course, baseball.

The first thing I did after checking in at the Westin was to walk to Coors, which that weekend was to host its first ever game with real players, an exhibition game between the Rockies and the vile Yankees.

This was the year following the baseball strike, and the start of the season was delayed nearly a month because a deal was reached near the end of spring training. Before the deal, the owners had threatened to start the season with replacement players, and Coors had already hosted an exhibition game between the replacement Rockies and replacement Yanks.

After lunch, I walked around taking photos of the outside of the stadium and raiding the gift shop of inaugural year merchandise.

Passing the box office, I thought, "What the heck," and asked if there were any tickets available for the game, which was scheduled for the following night, the same time as the keynote address of the education writers conference.

My experience is that when you’re asking for just one ticket, you can sometimes get in to a game that’s listed as being sold out, especially on the day before the game. Teams hold back tickets for players and VIPs, and if they're not going to be used they send them to the box office. But I surely didn’t expect there to be anything for a first game at a new stadium.

But the patient woman behind the glass said that she could indeed get me in, and with a pretty good seat, too.

This was a pretty heavy decision. And a lot of things weighed on my mind.

Keynote address of my first major education writers conference vs. a baseball game.

Guy talking about schools vs. a potentially historic baseball game.

Stuffed shirt spouting jargon between bites of rubber chicken vs. THE FIRST GAME AT COORS FIELD WITH REAL PLAYERS WITH A SEAT BEHIND HOME PLATE!

Indeed, these things weighed on my mind for a matter of three or four nanoseconds before I slipped the required cash under the window.

Not that I wasn’t a little sheepish about discussing this with other people at the conference. Let’s just say I slipped away at the appropriate time and didn’t return until much later.

Coors is an absolutely wonderful stadium, beautiful with its exposed brick and green ironwork. There’s a row of purple seats in the upper deck to note when you are a mile above sea level, and you can see the spectacular Rocky Mountains if you face away from field.

I wasn’t thrilled that the Rockies were playing the Yankees, but at least I knew who to root for without any kind of mixed feelings.

Before the game I bought an official souvenir ball with both team’s logos on it, and future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs signed it for me.

The vile Yankees won 7-2. Scott Kamieniecki — my neighbor for a short time — started the game, and Dante Bichette hit the first of what was to be many Coors homers for him.

After the game I learned that the Yankees were staying at our hotel, I saw Don Mattingly at the front desk, and broadcaster Dave Campbell going the opposite way on the escalator.

The first two days of the conference were pretty informative. Then on the afternoon of the third day I was sitting in a conference room attending a session when the phone on the wall started ringing. This was before we all had cell phones.

It was awkward because it was ringing and there were no staff people there to answer it and no one wanted to pick it up. Finally someone lifted the receiver, listened — along with the whole room — and then said "Is there a Dave Murray here?"

I was both embarrassed and frightened. Everybody was watching as I got up and took the phone out into the hallway. I figured it had to be bad news. It was one of the Flint Journal editors.

"There’s a Flint connection to the Oklahoma City bombing. Rent a car and get yourself to Kansas." I explained that Colorado and Kansas share a border, but they’re huge and it’s not like driving between Michigan and Ohio. "OK, check out and catch a flight."

I went back into the conference room and planned to sneak quietly back to my seat to gather my things. But I looked up and found all eyes on me. "Well?" someone said.

"That was my editor," I said. "I have to go cover Oklahoma City stuff."

The second part of that adventure is in another post from the archives, and involves Josh’s spot No. 13. m You can read it here.