As you read this I am in Las Vegas, uh, I mean Florida. Sorry, I just couldn't resist that one. This trip, unlike the make believe one from a week ago, is very real. It doesn't involve all expenses paid, but then neither did the Vegas deal, I guess.
I'm taking a break from the bowling scene to pursue my hobby. This time I am going to visit Marlins Ballpark in Miami.The new digs for the renamed Miami Marlins will be the 55th Major League Baseball stadium I have visited. It has been an ongoing pursuit that started when I was 8-years old. My dad took a wide-eyed youngster to a ballgame at cavernous Municipal Stadium in Cleveland and the memories are as vivid today as it was oh so long ago.
Also as a kid I had the chance to take in a couple of games in old Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. My family's summer vacation was a trip to West Chester, Pa. to visit my mother's relatives. I recall my Uncle Albie taking us to see the likes of Johnny Callison and Richie Allen ply their trade.
In the summer of 1977 I went to the Buffalo area to visit a former college roommate. From there I went to Cooperstown to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Springfield, Ma. to the Basketball Hall of Fame. My final destination was to take in games at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium.
It was the following year the hobby really got rolling. After a particularly taxing school year, Dave Uitto, a fellow teacher at New Riegel, and I decided we needed a vacation. We settled on New Orleans, as neither of us had been to the Big Easy.
Our trip to New Orleans took a circuitous route though, as we began in Milwaukee taking in a game between the Brewers and Indians at County Stadium. From there we went to Wrigley Field, Busch Stadium, and Arlington Stadium before spending a weekend in New Orleans. After visiting the French Quarter, it was on to the Astrodome, Royals Stadium, Metropolitan Stadium (where the Mall of America now sits) and Comiskey Park.
After this trip, the thought occurred to me that it would be cool to go to every major league stadium. I'm still "ballparkin" to this day.
The hobby now includes my wife, Anita. When we married in 1980, she was surprised, but not opposed, to taking in a couple of stadiums on our honeymoon. She didn't really know what she was getting into. Perhaps not as big a fan of the game as I am, she does like the game and enjoys traveling, and that is the beauty of this hobby. We have seen so many sites in this great country as we find new stadiums to visit. Here is a sampling of places we have gone to as we hit new ballparks:
We watched the bats fly out of Carlsbad Caverns, observed the lighting of the Presidential faces at Mt. Rushmore and stopped at Niagara Falls. We smelled the cherry blossoms in our nation's capital, rode a cable car in San Francisco and stepped aboard the Mayflower. We dined on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, toured Independence Hall and went to the Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta.
The trips have taken us to so many places, including my favorite spot in the entire country - Yellowstone National Park. The wildlife, flowers and clear streams make this a must-stop. Even Old Faithful erupting is a sight to behold.
I even had a "catch" with total strangers at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa. How could this hobby not take me there, right?
I have made trips with friends such as Paul and Mary Gnepper as well as John and Sharon Fox. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Dennis and Nancy Coleman have been to parks with us. I even got to repay my father, as dad accompanied Anita and I to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore many years ago.
Along the way I got to see some great baseball. Dave and I watched Lou Brock steal a couple of bases in St. Louis. Anita and I watched Nolan Ryan strike out the side while pitching for Houston in the Astrodome. Of course the Astros lost the game 11-0. It was, as it turned out, his only good inning! My biggest thrill was being in Yankee Stadium in 1985 as Tom Seaver won his 300th career game as the White Sox knocked off the Bronx Bombers.
Part of the allure of going to these stadiums is eating ballpark fare. We munched on Dodger Dogs in Chavez Ravine and ate string cheese in Milwaukee. I tried a fish taco in San Diego and I can tell you this, it tasted as bad as it sounds. I spent $13 on a Vincent burger (named for the owner of a French restaurant) at Target Field in Minneapolis. It was good, though I'm not sure it was $13 good. It seemed like a better option than walleye on a stick, which would have set me back eleven clams.
I have had a lot of people ask me this question: "What is your favorite park?" It's a fair question, but difficult to answer. Wrigley Field was special with the ivy on the walls and the late Harry Caray singing "Take me Out to the Ballgame." I can appreciate the history of Fenway Park, the old Yankee Stadium and even venerable Tiger Stadium.
I really like some of the newer parks such as Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Pacific Bell (as it was called when I was there) in San Francisco and PNC Park in Pittsburgh where you can feast on a Primanti Brothers sandwich. Hey, many things make up a ballpark trip!
As awful as old Municipal Stadium was in many ways, it was awesome for a little boy. When I walked up the ramp and saw the greenest grass I had ever seen while taking in the sounds of bat connecting with horsehide, I was smitten. It was my first park and it will always have a special place in my heart.
However, if I have to pick one as my favorite, I'm going with Royals Stadium in Kansas City. Now this would be after they got rid of the artificial turf (a ground ball that barely eludes the second baseman has no business reaching the outfield fence) and before they recently remodeled to become more modern. Part of the reason for this choice is the fans.
I've never seen fans take care of a stadium like these folks. When finished eating, they would walk up the steps and throw their trash into a receptacle rather than stuffing it under their chair. No beer or soda was going to reach your souvenir bag resting comfortably under your seat. With the fountains in the outfield it was a beautiful setting for baseball, making you glad you were there to watch the national pastime.
So I'm off in pursuit of my hobby. There will be no column next week, as I will be soaking up the rays in Miami Beach. We will be looking for the beautiful people, or as I told my wife, maybe they will come looking for a certain famed bowling columnist. Yeah, she rolled her eyes too!
I will be back with more bowling news before turning my attention to golf. This week though, baseball is uppermost in my mind. It's time to play ball.
Al Stephenson is The A-T's bowling columnist
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