Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Postcard tour: Wonderful Wrigley

We're resuming the postcard tour, but not leaving Chicago -- which I swear is just a coincidence, as we're operating alphabetically.

Being a Windy City icon, there are plenty of opportunities to send loved ones an image of the bricks and ivy, though postcard styles certainly have changed over the years.

Given the park's age, I'm sure there are some classic Wrigley linen postcards out there, I just haven't come across them. My collection starts with the epic ballpark road trip Rich and I took in 1988, and the blue-bordered cards we picked up then remain among my favorites.

Note that one of them is from the era before Wrigley had lights.

We did have some neat adventures at the park over the years. In the 1990s I was a leader of the church's high school youth group, and a friend in the congregation through it would be good for the kids to see the Lutheran world headquarters in Chicago. And, of course, we thought the kids should see a game at Wrigley, too. Properly training teenagers to appreciate a good ballpark should be a requirement for such positions.

Adventures continued through our most recent visit. Late in the game, we had a chance to meet Tom Ricketts, the Cubs new owner. He was walking around the upper deck, just meeting fans and posing for photos.

Ricketts seems to be a smart man. I was wearing my Cubs jersey, so he assumed I was a fan. He didn't jump st my suggestion that the Cubs try to acquire Jason Bay from the Mets.

More recent cards seem to be moving away from using classic ballpark photos and relying more on graphics.

While the ballpark isn't the complete focus of this card, the 3-D effect makes it kind of fun.
Next we'll head to the South Side for the strange tale of two ballparks.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Deezo Friday Five returns to wrap up Windy City adventures

My daughter demanded the return of the Deezo Friday Five after our trip to Chicago, saying we’ve been focusing too much on baseball. It’s been a while, and we had some neat adventures.

The Ledge at Skydeck
The building formerly known as the Sears Tower is now only the eighth-tallest in the world, but still can claim the title of tallest in North America. We went to check out the observation deck’s newest feature, four glass rooms called "The Ledge" hat protrude from the western side.

You can go out about four feet or so and look straight down, 103 stories.

It looks scary. In fact, a little kid had to be dragged screaming by his dad, who had to pry the kid’s fingers from the edge of wall to carry him out on the ledge for the family photo, which, I’m sure will be a special memory for all.

I figured it was safe, as we could look straight down and I saw no chalk outlines below.

Mold-A-Rama machines
The trip to the top of the Willis Tower was fun, but there was much glory awaiting us at the bottom. After picking up our postcards and wacky Obama finger puppet magnet in the gift shop, we found two Mold-A-Rama machines.

If you are not familiar with these rare, amazing devices, you insert $2, and two halves of a metal mold come together. Before your eyes, they are filled with a waxy substance, which is then deposited in a slot after the sides separate, revealing your train, dinosaur or other newly created work of art and a spatula-like device scrapes it free.

Customers are cautioned to keep the new creation upside down, lest some of the still-liquid wax spill out and giving you a souvenir burn.

I’ve learned that Mold-A-Ramas have been around since 1962, but became very popular at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, though there do not appear to be any waxy Unispheres out there.

The Willis Tower machines produced little versions of the building – a new, custom mold, I’ve learned – and statues of Lincoln, because you can’t leave Illinois without at least one Lincoln souvenir.

“The Bean”
Yeah, I know, it’s technically "Cloud Gate. And sculptor Anish Kapoor reportedly thinks it “completely stupid” for people to call it “The Bean.” Memo to Kapoor: Don’t shape your artwork like giant beans if you don’t want people to call them that.

Cranky and pretentious artists aside, the $23 million leguminous shaped sculpture is really cool. It’s made of 168 polished steel plates, and crews wash the lower regions twice a day to remove all the fingerprints, of which I left many.

OK, first of all, I had no idea the walk from Navy Pier to the Shedd Aquarium was so long. I thought we could park at the pier as a central location, spend part of the day south at the Shedd and then north on and around Michigan Avenue.

You can see the aquarium right there at the other end of Grand Park, and it was, in fact, a beautiful day to walk along the lakeshore. At my daughter’s insistence, I later checked the distance on and learned that it was a good, 2.1-mile hike. She also insisted that we take a water taxi back.

We arrived to find a line stretching out the front doors, down the steps and into the park in front. Memo to people in line: There is another entrance on the side of the aquarium with hardly any line at all.

Once inside, we found the otter tank. Caroline loves otters. While bashful at first, the three otters later came out and put on a show. Like penguins, otters seem to lead a carefree life, swimming, flipping, rolling and otherwise being as cute and cuddly as wild animals can be. Just don’t mess up their order at the drive-thru.

We sat and watched the otters for more than an hour. Caroline likes otters. And her legs were really tired.

Touch and Go Chess Party
We were walking from the Building Formerly Known as the Sears Tower to the Sculpture Popularly Known As The Bean and found this long row of chess boards set up, with a few checker boards as well.

In theory, you could pick a board and challenge all comers, taking on Windy City tourists, Chicago residents and escaped otters.

We resisted, as we were a little pressed for time and the guy wanted $3 to play. I’m holding out for the Touch and Go Trivial Pursuit Party, 1980s Edition.

Now that daughter demands have been met, we can resume the postcard tour, which, coincidently, takes us to Chicago.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bartman legacy lives on in Wrigley adventure

I've learned that the Steve Bartman curse is real.

My daughter and I spent the weekend in Chicago visiting otters, scaling tall buildings and doing other things tourists do, and capped off the vacation with Sunday night's Cubs game against the Cardinals.

Wrigley is, if nothing else, an interesting place to see a game, and my daughter learned many things.

I told about some of my past adventures there, including the afternoon when I was sure a Cubs fan died in my lap.

I told her about the ivy and the billy goat, and pointed out how the once quaint tradition of neighbors watching games in lawn chairs atop their roof has been replaced by multi-decked stadium seating owned by corporations.

We visited the statues of Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo – and couldn't find where the team has moved the strange monument to Harry Caray.

I also explained the Cubs fans Will calls “Tylers and Trixies” who arrive in the third inning after partying at Murphy's, Sluggers or any of the other Wrigleyville establishments, walk around the park with drink in hand and leave after a former Cub or another Chicago notable sings “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

But I also told her about the plight of Steve Bartman, the fan who did what any other fan would do when a foul ball came his way. Of course, Bartman reached up for a ball at a pivotal point in the 2003 playoffs, possibly preventing Moises Alou from catching a ball and opening the door for another epic collapse.

You know you're in Wrigley when you see ivy on the wall and generations of sad fans.

I bear no ill-will toward Mr. Bartman, now somewhere in exile. The loss allowed the Florida Marlins to head to the World Series, where they became the second expansion team in three years to deny the Yankees a championship.

During batting practice, we made out way over to the left field corner and pointed out the general area where I thought the now infamous Bartman incident occurred. I had an idea where this was because Will and I posed for photos reenacting the scene, and two of those shots are going to be included in an HBO documentary scheduled to be aired before or during the World Series. True story.

“This is the one, right here,” an usher said as he pointed to the exact seat, numbered 113.

I will say this: The Wrigley ushers are the most friendly, helpful collection of senior citizens anywhere. Several offered to take photos of my daughter and me, and one directed us to a booth near the gift shop where Caroline would be given a certificate saluting her first time at the ballpark.

I was sitting right in the Bartman seat when a ball hit by a Cardinal batter taking his cuts came bouncing our way. I reached out, felt the ball in my outstretched hand – only to have it knocked out by the fan behind me, dropping to the field where neither an usher or Cardinal shagging flies would bestow it upon us. Apparently such duties are reserved for Manny Acosta.

Caroline recreates the Bartman moment. The doof behind her in the jersey is the guy who knocked the ball out of my hand.

We were denied our prize – just like Bartman. The Cubs, of course, went to blow the actual game, 6-2, though no one sought to blame us.

I'm pretty sure Cubs pitcher Rodrigo Lopez gets the blame, especially after surrendering back-to-back homers to John Jay and Yadier “Bleeping” Molina. Both balls were tossed back on the field, which I explained was a Wrigley tradition, and a stupid one at that.

We were pleasantly surprised when Albert Pujols launched a bomb into the bleachers in the fifth inning, and this time the fan held on to it.

From our perch in the upper deck, we could see and hear the abuse the fan was being subjected to. But even a Cubs fan realized that a home run ball hit by the best player in the game is worth holding on to.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Postcard tour: Fastastic Fenway

There have probably been more words written about Fenway Park than all the other current parks combined – many by authors more accomplished than me.

Like Will, for example, who is a contributor to the 2002 book “The Fenway Project,” edited by Bill Nowlin and Cecilia Tan, a magnificent compilation of New England lore and angst surrounding Red Sox Nation, which wears its oft-broken heart on its sleeve.

And Fenway is the center of the Sox universe and rightly treated as a Boston treasure alongside Old North Church and the U.S.S. Constitution.

Even advertising signs associated with the ballpark are legendary. Not signs located inside the stadium, mind you, but ones that you can see far beyond the outfield wall.

I've had adventures at Fenway. It’s almost impossible to attend a game at Fenway and not have an adventure.

The Mets certainly have had some adventures at Fenway, including the middle three games of the 1986 World Series, of which the team won the first two.

Since then, the Mets have gone 5 and 7 in Boston during interleague play.

And, of course, Fenway was Tom Seaver’s last home as an active player, though his final start was in Toronto.

I last visited Boston since 1991, and was able to pick up some fine postcards.

The fisheye lens card doesn’t seem to give a true feeling for the park, making it seem larger than it is. And the view from the air doesn’t quite show how well the ballpark blends into the neighborhood.

The shot at dusk shows just how beautiful the park is. But my favorite is the one with the red border that looks older than it is. A classic look at a classic park.

I also love the postcard showing the bullpen buggy. I’m an unabashed bullpen buggy fan, and that particular buggy was placed outside an old-school souvenir shop for all to enjoy before games. I have no idea if the old school store is still there, or whether it still rolls out the buggy before games.

But they’re still cool, and I’m surprised some tradition-minded team hasn’t brought them back. Of course, with the Mets’ luck, Bobby Parnell would fall out and get run over.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Postcard tour: Baltimore, a place for brief but memorable visits

We spent just one day at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, but we had enough adventures to last an entire home stand – or beyond.

We attended a game in the stadium’s final season as part of a Flint Journal story about ballparks, and in the course of one afternoon we:

 Sort of played catch with Cal Ripken Sr.
 Watched Flint native Jim Abbott pitch seven strong innings.
 Ate crab cakes in the press box.
 Lounged around the Angels’ dugout
 Witnessed a full-fledged press box tantrum
 Sat in bleachers – in the upper deck.

All the detais are here. But as the postcard clearly shows, Memorial Stadium was a different-looking kind of ballpark, and a pretty awesome one, too.

The Mets spent just one more game than we did, splitting the first two games of the magical 1969 World Series in Baltimore. The Series never made a return trip, with the Mets completing the miracle in five games.

I have the one postcard of Memorial from that trip, but have managed to acquire more of the team’s new home, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a bad name for a wonderful stadium.

We enjoyed an incredible hard hat tour of Camden Yards before the game at Memorial. Even then we could tell it was going to be a special place.

The Mets like going there, too, winning 11 of 17 interleague games, including a three-game sweep last season.

Two of the post cards are nice stadium and city shots, and one is an interior photo with team graphics that I was sent by the Orioles, who always added postcards and stickers to my annual request for a schedule.

The final one is my favorite, but not for the reasons you might suspect. Oh, the photo of the ballpark on the front is nice.

But check out the back:

The producers – identified as the Traub Company of Baltimore – have a fill-in-the-blank spot for the name of the ballpark, then a disclaimer: Fees for printing the trademarked name would increase the price of this card.

Seriously? And I don’t recall this postcard being sold in a special, less-expensive rack than the others. Why were these alleged savings not passed along to me, the consumer, who is even asked to complete the job by filling in the stadium name?

And despite being a photo of Baltimore produced by a Baltimore company, the cards proudly state they were printed in Canada.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Postcard tour: Atlanta, home of Mets triumph and shame

Turner Field in Atlanta has, of course, been a graveyard for the Mets. But the fared fairly well in Fulton County Stadium, Braves’ first home.

According too the Ultimate Mets Database, the Mets won 90 games at “The Launching Pad” and lost 100. That’s not bad considering we’re talking about the 30 years between 1966 and 1996, the vast majority of which the Mets were not especially good.
But the two contests we care about the most were on Oct. 4 and 5, the first ever National League Championship Series games.

The Mets won the first 9-5, with Tom Seaver not particularly sharp but the Mets scoring five runs in the eighth. The next day the Mets won again, 11-6, before completing the sweep at Shea.

There was a home run of note hit in the ballpark in 1974.

The Braves moved to Turner Field after the Olympics, and it’s brought nothing but hurt and shame for the Mets, especially the night in 1999 when Kenny Rogers earned his “Bleeping” through is utter inability to throw a strike to a young Andruw Jones, who had no intentions of even swinging.

But I digress.

I’ve been to Atlanta many time, but always on the way to somewhere else, driving through on I-75 or changing flights.

That means postcard shopping has been limited to Hartsfield Airport. I’ve been able to snag one from the Fulton County days.

My favorite of the Turner bunch shows how the Braves chose to commemorate their old stomping grounds, with the outline of the field in the parking lot, with the spot of fence that No. 175 cleared preserved.

Another has goofy writing on it – missing comma and all -- but we get to see the plaza beyond the outfield that marks the original shape of the stadium from the Olympics.

The others are better. One has a nice view of the inside of the stadium from an Opening Day – note the logo behind home plate.

The other is an exterior shot. It must be a playoff game – note the empty seats. Heh. I do like the new trend of teams putting an historic ball on the backs of the scoreboard. I’m assuming that’s the ball from Aaron’s record-setting blast.

But knowing the Braves, it’s the ball that Kenny Rogers threw high and outside. Or any number of Chipper Jones’ pain inflicting homers.

Next we head to Baltimore, and more pleasant Mets memories.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Postcard tour: First The BOB, then Chase but forever the home of Fonzie's slam

Chase Field has only been around about a dozen years, yet it has already hosted two glorious events.

First, it was a scene of major Yankee weepage, when the Diamondbacks overcame the Evil Empire and its cyborg closer in the seventh game of the 2001 World Series.

Then, it was the host for this year’s All-Star Game, a lovely Jeter-less affair won by the National League for the second year in a row.

The ballpark is famous for being the first retractable roof stadium with real grass, and it has a neat pool just beyond the right field fence.

The yard, previously known as Bank One Ballpark – or “The BOB” – holds a place in Mets history. The Wild Card Mets played the Diamondbacks in the 1999 Division Series, with the first two games in Phoenix. It was the D-Backs first trip to the post season.

Masato Yoshii faced Randy Johnson, and the game was tied in the top of the ninth inning. Buck Showalter allowed The Unit to stay in the game, at least long enough to load the bases and allow a reliever to tee-up an Edgardo Alfonzo grand slam, propelling the Mets to victory.

Kenny Rogers blew the second game, which, of course, would become a trend.

Having never been to Phoenix, I’ve got but one postcard of the ballpark, a gift from a friend who traveled out west. This one is pretty neat, with the roof open so we can see the turf. The ballpark has one of those roof signs, and it looks like there was a lot of construction going on at the time this photo was snapped.

But so begins our tour of non-Met ballparks. Next stop is Atlanta, where there are not as many warm and fuzzy moments.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Shea still remains, at least on postcards.

Postcards are among the way-too-many things I collect, and I’ve had a lot of fun at work and on Facebook writing about the really bad ones.

Now that those are out of my system, I can focus on the other extreme – postcards showing baseball stadiums, especially those belonging to the Mets.

I’ve tried to collect stadium postcards from all the modern ballparks, and usually ask friends, relatives and co-workers to keep an eye out for the on their travels. Note, if you are on the go, I’m missing several.

But of course, all stadium postcard discussions start with Shea Stadium and Citi Field. Mostly Shea, that is, because I’ve struggled to find anything depicting the Mets new home and my glorious brick installed near the front door.

Actually, the selection for Shea is fairly slim, at least considering the bounty available in cities like S. Louis, where Busch Stadium postcards seem to rival those of the Arch.

I’ve come across two early Shea cards, both linked to the World’s Fair. Both are artist renderings, one showing the stadium and the whole waterfront and even part of the airport.

The second is more familiar, a painting that that was used in various team publications. I’ve not sure what’s casting the giant shadows in the parking lots.
The first postcard with an actual photo of Shea is again tied to the wonderful fair, with the stadium in the background and the spectacular Unisphere in front.

The first Shea-centric photo card I’ve found still has the World’s Fair logo, with a view looking into the horseshoe, but blocked by the back of the scoreboard. I’ve tried to figure out where the slightly elevated shot must have been snapped, and there are no postcards I’ve seen looking in unobstructed from beyond leftfield.

Another card uses the same photo, but with cartoon Mets and Jets players.

I’ve found two 1970s era postcards, a large one with a yellow border that just screams the decade. A second is probably the only Shea photo I’ve seen that allows us to see the New York skyline in the background – the real one, not the loveable plywood version that was atop the scoreboard for years. And the orange and blue panels are awesome.

I came across another Shea painting postcard, though it’s part of a tribute to the 1969 team, and there’s a card for every player, coach and even the broadcasters.
The 1980s were not kind to Shea postcards, and I’ve yet to find one with the deep blue paint job.

But there are two nice cards from the 2000s, both interior views, shot at night. One was part of a final season postcard set I found in the Mets gift shop.

The final Shea card – courtesty of Greg Prince – places the beloved ballpark in its proper place among treasured New York landmarks. It’s a general New York card, and we have a photo in the lower right showing the iconic spires of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building. Then the left side of the card is dominated by a view of the Manhattan skyline, taken, I think, from the south.

That left only room in the top right, and much of New York to represent. What image might be inserted to bring back warm memories of a trip to the Big Apple, or to tell a loved one, “Wish you were here” and really mean it? Lady Liberty might work, possibly Times Square. But are worthy, but why take a chance? The postcards producers wisely opted for a view of Shea.

With the arrival of the new ballpark and a hole in the collection, I spent part of my whirlwind New York trip in March searching high and low for a Citi Field postcard. Actually, I was confined to shops in and around Times Square , Penn Station and the Newark Airport. Denied.

So this artwork postcard will have to make do until I can make a return trip.

And, I suppose the spring training site at Port S. Lucie counts as a Mets home, and I have found one card showing what then was called Thomas White Stadium and the five practice fields.