Essay, Pages 14 (3445 words)
Growing up in my house, sports were a big thing like Sunday church services or even family dinners. For as long as I can remember, baseball was the most loved of the sports focused on by my family. Games were always on the TV. My father, a Dodger’s fan, he would always catch the L.A. games when they were on. When my dad told me bedtime stories, I heard about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium instead of fairy tales.
He taught me how to throw, catch, and bat, but he also taught me the history of the game. All through my youth I was a never- ending fountain of questions about baseball, and Dad always seemed to have the answers.Given the way I grew up, it isn’t surprising that my and my dad’s family tradition is going to a major league baseball park each year. We go in August, the dog days of summer when the boys of summer are racing for the pennant and baseball is at its classic point.
The trip lasts a weekend, Friday through Sunday, so we can catch a weekend three game series. In the spring of each year, Dad and I decide on where we should go. The only requirement is that the park we visit is one filled with tradition and that represents the soul of baseball. Our first trip, two years ago, was to Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. This year’s trip was to Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland.
The idea for our tradition came from a trip that my brother and father took to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. Our family was on vacation in north Georgia when we got news that the Seminoles had made it to Omaha. Two days later, my mom and I were dropping my father and brother, Keith, off at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia so that they could catch their flight to Omaha to see the CWS.
After that incident I was jealous, and I decided that a father son baseball trip was in line for Dad and 1. In order to “get back” at Keith for the CWS trip, I play a good- natured joke on him each year. Where and when Dad and I go to the ballparks, are kept secret from my brother. Then, when we get to the park for the first game and the starting lineups are being announced, I call Keith and tell him where we are. The humor, quite obviously, is more on my side than his, but he bears it well. Nothing is left out on the trips that Dad and I take. We get to the ballpark early so we can walk around and see the famous spots of the park. For instance, at Fenway our first stop was the bleacher section next to the Green Monster, and our next was the infamous Triangle in center field and the bullpen abnormally put out in the open of right field. “Seeing the Triangle and how right field really angles in was very unique,” my Dad said of Fenway. At Camden Yards we strolled down Eutaw Street and checked out the plaques cemented into the ground where players’ homeruns had bit. My Dad’s favorite part of Camden Yards was Eutaw Street because “it was like an endless mall.” We also hit up the shops for various sports souvenirs during the first game and sport our new purchases to the last two games, pretending we’re die hard fans of the team. Fenway Park was the first place we went to because of the history surrounding the Red Sox. I first heard of the Green Monster and the Curse of the Bambino when I watched Field of Dreams when it came out in 1988.
Also, as I watched the Red Sox stumble though their seasons I became even more intrigued by their history and the legendary park in which they played. When the Red Sox organization announced their plans to build a new stadium, Dad and I knew we had to go see Fenway before it was torn down. Dad was interested in seeing Fenway because of the history of the ballpark, not to mention how small it is for a major league park. Tom Yawkey, savior and former owner of the Red Sox, perhaps said it best when he said “… we’ve got tradition, and amazing years you remember. (Smith 339)” Fenway Park is the oldest stadium in major league baseball. Built in 1912, its features have made it one of the most recognizable throughout the years. Each part, from the left field wall to the right field foul pole, has a piece of history attached to it. The Red Sox beat the New York Highlanders, (now the New York Yankees), by a score of 7-6 on April 14, 1912 in the first game ever at Fenway Park. Coincidentally, this game didn’t make headlines because the papers were reporting on the sinking of the Titanic. The park is sandwiched in the middle of Boston, Massachusetts across the river from Cambridge. The massive left field wall, known as the Green Monster, rises 37 feet above the only manual scoreboard left in the majors. A 23 foot screen was added to it in 1936 to prevent baseballs from flying onto Lansdowne Street.
The Green Monster got its name from its size, obviously, but also from the green coat of paint that was added to it in 1947 to cover up existing advertisements on it. The wall has proved to be a formidable opponent for many hitters in the past, however some Red Sox greats learned to use it to their advantage. Boston legend Carl Yastrzemski, an outfielder, picked up on the nuances of the Green Monster quickly. Yastrzemski, affectionately knows as “Yaz,” played when the Green Monster was still just plywood covered with tin. Yaz was famous for being able to dupe a hitter into thinking he had hit an easy out pop fly, when the hitter had really hit a potential double play ball off of the Wall. Yaz would trot towards the ball, and wing it in to second base, only allowing the hitter a single, and not the double he should have gotten (redsoxbaseball.com). Yaz knew the ins and outs of the Green Monster better than almost anyone. “That was my baby, the left field wall. The Green Monster. And you had to know that a ball hit by a left handed batter would spin off it differently from a right hander’s shot. I’m not even taking into account what would happen when it hit an exposed rivet. Or the two- by- fours. Or the tin. Or the holes in the scoreboard. (Yastrzemski 3)” Part of the mystique that surrounds the Boston Red Sox is the ballplayers that have played for them.
Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk, Yaz, Babe Ruth, Pedro Martinez, and Rodger Clemens are just a few of the greats on Boston’s long roster. Experiencing a game in the same stadium that these ballplayers played in was a huge factor for Dad and I to consider. The story of Pudge Fisk’s crazy waving on October 25, 1975 is one that I heard many times when I was little and saw replayed even more often on TV. Boston is the place where Rodger Clemens and Pedro Martinez, two pitchers that Dad assured me from day one would be Hall of Fame boys, pitched Cy Young caliber seasons. And we knew that just seeing the plate where Babe Ruth started his career and Ted Williams hit .400 would surly be an out of body experience. When I was little the questions I had for my father were more about the fundamentals and rules of baseball.
I can remember Dad explaining to me what a batting average meant and what was considered a good BA. Batting .400, he used to tell me, was nearly impossible to achieve and that only a few people had ever done it for a season. Naturally he told me about Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters in baseball. Williams ended up providing yet another reason why Fenway Park was the place to visit on our first trip. Williams played left field from 1939- 1961 for the Red Sox, before he passed the place in front of the Green Monster on to Yaz. He set hitting records and often lead the league in BA, runs, RBIs, and home runs. Williams, known as the “Splendid Splinter,” is most famous for being the last batter in the major leagues to bat .400 for a season. In 1941 he hit .406 while hitting a league leading 37 home runs. Williams won two American League MVP awards (one in 1946, the other in 1949), had a lifetime BA of .344, and belted 521 homeruns in his career (Smith 170). He also won the Triple Crown, given to the player with the best BA, most HRs, and RBIs in a season, in both 1942 and 1947 (Adomites 112-3).
Upon Williams’ retirement, Ed Linn wrote “And now Boston knows how England felt when it lost India. (Smith 59)” Another famous part of Fenway Park that both Dad and I wanted to see up close is the left field foul pole. Only in Boston would such an ordinary part of a ball field carry historical significance. It was Game 6 of the 1975 World Series between the Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds and a catcher named Carlton “Pudge” Fisk that sent the pole down in history. The series was at 3-2 in favor of Cincinnati. The Red Sox were down in Game 6 with two outs in the bottom of the twelfth when Pudge stepped up to the plate and knocked Pat Darcy’s curveball over the Green Monster. The ball sailed high to the left, looking like it was going to go foul, but Fisk, waving his arms in a crazy madman like fashion, ‘pushed’ the ball fair. It hit the left field foul pole and the Red Sox sent the World Series into Game 7 (Adomites and Wisnia 212). “1 was sitting at home like millions of other Americans when Pudge hit that home run. It was very dramatic,” Dad said. While many great players spent most of their careers with the Red Sox, the greatest player was unfortunately only in Boston for six years, and the Curse of the Bambino has been with Boston ever since. George Herman “Babe” Ruth started his career with the Red Sox in 1914, leading the team to three World Series titles over the next six years. At the time theatrical producer Harry Frazee owned the Red Sox and was in dire need of money to finance his Broadway and off Broadway shows.
In 1920, Frazee made what has been called”the stupidest move in baseball history” and sold Ruth to the New York Yankees for $120,000 and a $300,000 loan on Fenway Park (Adomites and Wisnia 94). Ironically, Ed Barrow, the manager of the Red Sox at the time, told Frazee “You’re going to ruin the Sox for a long time. (Smith 116)” I’d never heard of the Curse of the Bambino until I overheard my brother and father discussing it during a Red Sox Yankees game when I was ten. I’d always pictured Babe Ruth in a Yankees uniform, standing next to a smiling Lou Gerhig, so I asked what in the world they were talking about. After the story came out my first response was “there’s no such thing as a curse… is there?” Dad told me no, curses weren’t real, but he also pointed out that the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series title since Babe Ruth was traded. I couldn’t believe it, and I didn’t until I heard the game announcers talking about the Curse of the Bambino, too. Since the 1920, the Red Sox have only won four American League Pennants. The 1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986 World Series are all legendary because of classic Boston screw- ups.
The 1946 series is known as the series where “Pesky held the ball,” referring to shortstop Johnny Pesky hesitating and letting the winning run score. After sending the series to Game 7 in 1967, the Sox once again blew their chances by giving up seven runs in six innings, ultimately losing to the St. Louis Cardinals. Although the 1975 series is remembered for Pudge Fisk’s home run in Game 6, the fact remains that the Red Sox once again blew a Game 7, losing to Cincinnati (Adomites and Wisnia 212). Bill Buckner, first baseman for Boston in 1986, made the crucial error of letting a routine grounder pass under his glove in Game 6, allowing the winning run to score. Two days later in Game 7, the New York Mets won the series 8-5 (220). The Curse of the Bambino still stands today, as Boston failed to make the 2001 playoffs 81 years after Ruth’s trade. More extensive reasoning went into our trip to Fenway Park than into our trip to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but that does not make the trip to Baltimore any less special.
There were two solid reasons that Dad and I cited for going to see the Orioles play: Cal Ripken Jr. and the effect Camden Yards had on major league baseball. Dad had raved about Camden Yards since it was built in 1992. Oriole Park at Camden Yards was built to replace Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. It is recognized throughout the league as the park that brought baseball back to where it should be, at least from the fans’ perspective. The stadium it replaced was one of the cookie cutter, horseshoe shaped parks that sprung up all over in the 1960’s and 1970’s (Smith 465). Oriole Park at Camden Yards, affectionately called “the Yard,” was built in a traditional, intimate style that was a throw back to the old days of the game. “Camden Yards was meant to be built on the past- to take what was great about the old parks and combine it with the spiffiest new technologies and amenities. (Adomites and Wisnia 244)” Camden Yards completely reformed ballpark construction.
The days of multipurpose cookie cutter ovals are gone. It brought back intimacy to the game. In the years after 1992, 13 new parks opened, and each tried to match the Yard (Smith 467). Also, another appealing part of the Yard is its location in the city. Michael Gershman once wrote “Fortunately, they didn’t build it at the intersection of two Interstates. It was built in the city. The city was part of the park. The park was part of the city. (92)” Camden is filled with amusements sure to entice any fan into buying a ticket to the ballgame no matter how bad the Orioles are playing. Between the park and the Warehouse, (Camden’s signature feature like that of Wrigley’s ivy), Eutaw Street provides a promenade of food, shopping, and history. Famous spots like Boog’s Barbeque have lines of patrons snaking out below the wafts of the smell barbequed beef sandwiches. Small plaques inlaid in the cement denote home runs that have cleared the stands (the longest belonging to Ken Griffey Jr., who’s homerun hit the Warehouse 432 feet away from home plate) (Smith 468). Souvenir shops and museums fill the bottom floor of the Warehouse that also houses administrative offices for the Oriole organization. My Dad particularly enjoyed Camden Yards because “it brought back, in a modem structure, the asymmetric, cozy, intimate playing field of the old ballparks.” Perhaps Cal Ripken Jr. was just as bewitching as the park that he played in. Ripken announced his retirement in June of 200 1.
Dad and I made plans to see him play in two months later in August. Ripken is not only the new Iron Man, but is the embodiment of class in baseball. His modest propriety stood out because of the rarity of it in the big leagues. Ripken inherited the nickname “Iron Man” from Lou Gehrig when he broke Gehrig’s record of 2, 130 consecutive games played on September 6, 1995. Gehrig’s mark was thought to be the ultimate unbreakable record in the major leagues. Not only did Cal match it, he extended it to 2, 632 games. Ripken’s other achievements include 3,000 hits, Rookie of the Year for 1982, AL MVP for 1983 and 199 1, a Gold Glove in 1991, and 13 straight All- Star Game appearances (Adomies and Wisnia 84-5). For our trip next year, Dad and I have decided on Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. This took a lot of thinking, considering I am a Braves fan and Dad is a Dodger fan. The Yankees might not be our favorite team, but we agree that the New York Yankees are baseball. “I’ve never cared for the Yankees, but I recognize the Yankee’s place in history,” Dad said.
Sportswriter Fred Lieb coined the nickname of Yankee Stadium, “The House that Ruth built,” in 1923, and any place that Babe Ruth played at is worth seeing, in our opinion (Ross 180). Yankee Stadium has seen the greatest collection of pure baseball players run its baselines in addition to housing on of the greatest teams of all time. Besides the Babe, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Joe “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio have all graced the Yankee roster over the years. The 1927 Yankees are considered one of the best teams of all time (Neyer and Epstein 92). The memory of these players and teams are thick in Yankee Stadium, and as one writer put it “the ghosts are alive in Yankee Stadium, and what great ghosts they are. (Adomites and Wisnia 260)” Whether we want to admit it, Dad and I agree that the Yankees are synonymous with baseball. Any stadium that houses a legendary organization must be a legend itself. “I think it would be a valuable trip,” Dad said, “It is pretty impressive that the Yanks have had tremendous teams all through the last century.
They do have a dynasty of sorts.”The legend starts with Babe Ruth, of course, when he was traded from the Red Sox. He put on such a show that the revenue of the Yankee organization increased by a large margin. During Ruth’s first year of play the Yankees were still playing the Polo Grounds, the stadium of the National League New York Giants. After the Giants refused to let the Yankees continue to play there, team owners Jacob Ruppert and Tillinghaus Huston built a new ballpark in the Bronx. When it opened on April 18, 1923, a crowd of 72, 217 jammed its seats to witness the Babe hit the first homerun ever in Yankee Stadium (Adomites and Wisnia 260). It was only four seasons later that the Yankees cemented their place in history as an organization with a dominant team in the 1927 bunch, not just a dominant player in the Babe. The 1927 team spent the entire season in first place with a record of I 10- 44. Gehrig and Ruth were at the heart of the order, hitting 107 homeruns between them. But the collective punch of the team was a formidable one.
While Ruth led the league in runs scored, homeruns, walks, on- base percentage, and slugging percentage and Gehrig led in doubles, RBI’s, and extra base hits, their teammates were doing just as much damage. Earle Combs, the center fielder led in hits and triples. Pitcher Waite Hoyt led in wins and winning percentage, and Wilcey Moore led in ERA and saves (Neyer and Epstein 100). Hoyt went on to be a radio play- by- play announcer after his turn with the Yankees, and some years later, he simply stated that “I have never, never seen a team that I thought could beat the 1927 Yankees. (92)” The trips my father and I have taken and will take are a true luxury. Fenway Park and Oriole Park at Camden Yards have taken on a new and more personal meaning since our visits. The memories that Dad and I have of these trips are as irreplaceable as the marks the ballparks and players have had on history. For the rest of my life, I get the indulgence of seeing baseball as something I did with my dad. Taking these trips with my dad has made Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken more real to me than I could have ever imagined. From now on, when people ask about Dad and I, I’ll always picture us, hotdogs in hand, sitting in the bleachers of a ballpark.