A Baseball Tour. And Hooters (concluded)

          The next day after the Cleveland game the baseball touring entourage were back on the bus for the longish trip to Baltimore. To break up the journey, the baseball movie Ed was shown. I will forgive you if you are not familiar with this movie, so I will summarize what I remember. “Deuce,” played by Matt LeBlanc, is a raw pitching prospect from a California farm. For some now forgotten, but I am sure entirely plausible reason, he rooms with a chimpanzee, who wields quite a good bat, on his minor league team. Surprise, surprise, Deuce and Ed become—get ready for it–“friends.” There is also a love interest, and this lovely lady has a kid or maybe two. On Deuce’s big day with major league scouts in attendance, he starts out disastrously, but—I don’t know why they weren’t in attendance earlier—the love interest, the adorable child or children, and, of course, Ed find seats in the park. Deuce becomes the pitcher that was always within him, blows away the other team, and gets promoted to the Los Angeles Dodgers. I am sure that this will shock you, but the movie got 0% from Rotten Tomatoes and was near the top (or is it the bottom) of the lists for the worst film of the year. Despite this, I thought that Ed was the Citizen Kane of chimpanzee-baseball-playing movies. On the other hand, the film may have made the six-hour trip even longer.

          Camden Yards in Baltimore at that time was a new ballpark that had gotten many raves, and I became one of the ravers. It was my favorite place to see a ballgame, and I loved the barbecue from Boog Powell’s place. We all sat together behind the right field foul (fair?) pole. Phil sought out the roving camera man who shot images of the fans to display on the jumbotron telling him that we were a special group who should be shown. I hope that my lasting fame does not depend on the few moments my face was available for all in the stadium to see. (For an essay about some of my media appearances, see post of January 18, 2018 Meet the Press – AJ’s Dad (ajsdad.blog).)

          The next morning we were off to the most anticipated stop for almost all—Yankee Stadium. The stadium was the most iconic park we were visiting, and few on our trip had even been to New York City. As we approached the Lincoln Tunnel for our entrance into midtown Manhattan, the tour guide started making announcements. We were staying at a hotel on Lexington Avenue, and the bus would have to double park on the left hand side of the street. We would have to get off and collect luggage on the street with traffic a few feet from us. We needed to be careful. I tuned out as he talked, but since he repeated himself several times, I began to realize that he was not just warning about the traffic. He was also indicating that New York City was not just dangerous from whizzing vehicles, but because this was New York, we could be mugged during our walk from the bus to the hotel lobby. There was disgust and fear in his voice as he repeated his refrain about the dangers of New York City. At first I was amused by this yahooism, but then it bothered me. I was about to go to the front of the bus to ask for the microphone to explain that I lived in this city. There was no more danger on Lexington Avenue than there had been in Cleveland or Baltimore and that New York was safer than most big American cities and that New Yorkers were helpful, friendly, smart, attractive, and many were knowledgeable about baseball although a disturbing number were Mets fans. Before I did that, a member of the group came up to me and said that he wanted to see the Empire State Building and could I tell him how to get there. I replied that I would take him there, and hearing that, others asked if they could join us. They were excited to be in New York and wanted to experience it, and I realized that not everyone from the other side of the Hudson had the same New York fear and disgust as the tour guide.

          After checking into the hotel and depositing luggage in our rooms, five or six met me at the front door, and long before I became a licensed New York City guide, I led my first tour. We went down Fifth Avenue so they could see St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the New York Public Library, and then went on to the Empire State Building. We went through the lobby but did not have time to ascend to the viewing platforms. Instead, we went a few blocks west and then north to go through Times Square. They, like many seeing New York for the first time, were wide-eyed and full of excited questions, which I did my best to answer trying, mostly successfully, not to make anything up. 

          The group left early for the game so that they could visit Monument Park, with statues and other memorials of great Yankees of the past, before the opening pitch. I had been there several times. I decided to rest and take my usual route to Yankee Stadium, the subway. When I got to our seats, I was pleased to see my fellow travelers still talking about the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio images.

          The next day I parted ways with the tour. They were going to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I had never been there, but it did not interest me to take the bus from there to Toronto only to have to catch a flight back to JFK. Instead, I chose to go to Pennsylvania to play in a parent-child tennis tournament. I might say that I felt that I should do this to satisfy the child, but in all likelihood, that child was not at all eager to play in it. The NBP did not like competition in general and doubles tennis in particular, but I felt that it was my parental duty. It’s also very conceivable that I was influenced by images of a long, long bus ride for the purpose of getting on a plane to get back to where I already was.

          I headed home with my memories one of which was my first, and so far only, trip to a Hooters. The trip had been in the hot season during a hot spell. Every place we went had above-normal temperatures. Baltimore was particularly brutal, and after the game, Phil and I headed off to our hotel, located in the recently “renovated” harbor district. The renovation had taken a distinctive part of the city and turned it into what looked like a mall that could be found in hundreds of other places. Phil said that he would like to get a beer before going to bed, and I agreed. He pointed out a Hooters not far from the hotel and said, “I’ve always wanted to go to a Hooters.” I did not know what to make of the statement. I had never wanted to go to one. I like women. I like looking at women, but Hooters to me was a place that demeaned women. Nevertheless, I agreed to go. The area may have been renovated, but few people were around, and the Hooters seemed remarkably desultory. It had few patrons when we entered. Phil was jovial; I was not at ease. If I had been there without a minister maybe I would have felt different, but it all seemed surreal to me. My discomfort increased when Phil, with a big grin, announced to everyone within earshot that he was a minister. On the other hand, the servers were indeed attractive.

The Braves, Baseball, and Me (concluded)

Although my boyhood baseball team the Milwaukee Braves has been out of existence for a long time, I have remained a baseball fan, now of the New York Yankees. Of course, this has something to do with settling in New York City, but on the other hand, the Yankees beat my beloved Braves in a World Series. I can’t justify where my baseball loyalties ended up. I don’t try to. Being a sports fan is not a rational choice. You are a fan of a team or you are not. It can’t be fully explained, but being a Yankees fan has given me a community of sorts. Several friends are also Yankee fans, and our conversations which touch on many topics often include the fortunes of the baseball team, but none us ever have the delusion that the Yankees are “our” team. We are often reminded that they are part of corporate America. The intensity of my Yankee fandom has varied through the years, but at one stage it was almost killed by George Steinbrenner and his corporate tactics.

          I have seen many exciting and boring baseball games in person and on television and have read about many more, but they have shared a common purpose for me. Sporting events are ultimately trivial, but they draw me away for a while from other worldly concerns and cares. The baseball universe has a welcome separateness from the rest of my life, and I can escape to that other universe while the game is on or being discussed.

          Now with advent of September, a time when baseball should be entering the home stretch for possible pennant winners, baseball does not provide the relief it once did. Pitchers and batters still duel, but the games now bring a focus on national problems. It is impossible to blot out the pandemic watching a televised game in a stadium without fans. And, of course, games have been cancelled because of outbreaks among the players. Baseball, instead of providing a respite from other concerns, only highlights that the disease continues its insidious spread; that we are a nation that has not been able to contain it; and that the pandemic has, amazingly, become a partisan issue that divides us.

          And now shocking racial events have produced calls for cancelling or delaying games. I think back to September 11 and remember attending playoff games in the fall of 2001 when baseball resumed after its hiatus. There was a communal feeling that we Americans were all in that tragic time together and that if baseball could be played, all would be right again. And I look at that picture that hangs above my desk of Eddie Matthews and Henry Aaron walking side by side towards the field where a multiracial team waited with a common goal. Where has that hope gone?

          These days watching a baseball game sooner or later makes me think of sickness, failed leadership, and the racial divisions in the country. Sooner or later I think about elections and contemplate dire outcomes. Right now baseball provides no relief.

          And on top of that, the Yankees have been playing poorly.