Grand Tour V: Baseball Lives!

The Hall of Fame was one of the stops on this year’s Grand Tour. (via Shane Tourtellotte)

I needed this trip. I needed some time away from Asheville, N.C., for reasons not connected to baseball. I needed some time with Paul Golba, my friend in northern New Jersey whom I could see only occasionally after my move eight years ago. I just wasn’t sure I needed another Grand Tour.

“Grand Tour” is the name I’ve given our annual baseball trips, which we started in 2013. Hitting as many new major-league (and a few minor-league) ballparks as we could had become tradition. It’s a baseball binge, but this year I wasn’t feeling quite as hungry for a binge. Perhaps I wasn’t feeling quite as hungry for baseball.

This may be a natural reaction more than halfway into what is, by games played, the longest of all professional sports seasons. Feed yourself enough of even your favorite dish, and surfeit sets in. You can’t eat another bite. You may even start convincing yourself that it’s lost its savor, and you don’t want to have it again.

As I winged into Newark Airport, these worries loomed over the big road trip lying before Paul and me. Was I getting sick of baseball? Or did I need a new perspective on it, one not chained to my chair and a glowing screen?

I should have known it was option number two. I really should have.

Follow along with us, as we ramble across the North (occasionally Great White), and I find baseball again.

Friday, July 21 – Canal Park, Akron, Ohio
Richmond Flying Squirrels at Akron RubberDucks

Attendance: 8,296 (their eighth sellout of the season) Time: 2:33

A long drive from New Jersey, crossing Pennsylvania lengthwise, into Ohio got us to our initial destination. We chose Akron for proximity to Cleveland, minimizing our travel on Saturday, and for actually having a Friday night game. (Sorry, Toledo Mud Hens, your schedule did you in.) Canal Park is a handsome field for minor-league ball, although coming in we were perturbed by a number of signs warning about explosives. We’d find out about that after the game.

Canal Park, fifty minutes before the anthem.

Canal Park, 50 minutes before the anthem.

The first three innings were scoreless, with Richmond’s Sam Coonrod setting down all nine batters he faced. His Flying Squirrels broke through in the fourth for a run, in a rally that included a first baseman’s misthrow to the pitcher covering that went into the dugout. Hilariously, the scoreboard ending up scoring this as two hits and an error! One infield single later, they got that extra hit off the board.

Coonrod’s perfecto ended in the home fourth when he plunked center fielder Greg Allen with his first pitch. I was mildly disappointed, though Paul soon reminded me, “He’s still got a no-hitter going.” Within two seconds of this statement, third baseman Joe Sever got Akron’s first hit of the game. Just to pile onto Paul, the RubberDucks rang up four runs in that frame.

I may not believe in the no-hitter superstition, but I respect it. This matter would arise again a week later.

One odd thing Akron did was with walk-up music for the visitors. I’ve noted before the wittily mocking music sometimes used in places like Atlanta. This was different. It didn’t make puns off players’ names, it was just very low-key and anti-energizing. Seriously: Debussy’s Clair de Lune, “Careless Whisper” by Wham!, Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” Thaïs’ Méditation? Debussy and Thaïs? There’s no classical music in baseball!

Richmond got one back in the sixth, but would get no closer. Hence, much of the entertainment came from local color. One inning break featured a video doing a live-action recreation/parody of the opening sequence of DuckTales* (Woo hoo!), with real ducks if not RubberDucks. Come the top of the ninth, the fans joined in a chant of “Quack! Quack! Quack!” for each batter, almost every pitch, of the frame. One wonders if Emilio Estevez is getting royalties.

* That, or a preview of the opener from the upcoming reboot. I’m hoping it’s the former.

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Following the 4-2 Akron win came the post-game fireworks show, the reason for all those explosives warnings outside. The Double-A venue performed at a major-league level. The show was themed with AC/DC music, perhaps to counterbalance the soporific stuff used for Richmond walk-ups earlier. That raised my final qualm. Did anyone go over the lyrics to “(You Shook Me) All Night Long” before playing it to a family audience? I guess they hoped the fireworks would drown out the actual words, which was a pretty plausible assumption.

At least the song title was perfect for the show. Ditto with “Thunderstruck.”

Saturday, July 22 – Progressive Field, Cleveland, Ohio
Toronto Blue Jays at Cleveland Indians

Attendance: 34,569 Time: 3:01

We had some side activities in Cleveland the afternoon before the game, which got us walking the streets. In evidence were Blue Jays fans, and lots of them. We must have seen hundreds of people in Blue Jays shirts or caps, even half a mile or more from Progressive Field, two hours before game time.

Do Canadians regularly flood Cleveland (as well as Detroit) when the Blue Jays come to town? Are there fleets of charter buses cruising the highways for such weekend sets? Whether arranged or spontaneous, it was impressive, and would have a sequel in three days.

Heritage Park at Progressive Field. Note the strong Toronto presence.

Heritage Park at Progressive Field. Note the strong Toronto presence.

Progressive Field, part of the great post-Camden Golden Age of Ballpark Design, didn’t impress as much as I’d hoped. Part of that may have been meteorological: rain showers alternating with glaring sun. Part may have been promotional: the “Block Party” promotion included sales of beer cans for $2. It reminded me of Cleveland’s infamous Ten-Cent Beer Night from 1974, with 43 years of ballpark inflation thrown in. While it didn’t produce drunken crowds invading the field, it did render the concourse around the bleachers very crowded and tough to negotiate.

Our seats were in the right-field bleachers, looking directly into Cleveland’s bullpen from the side. I settled in to watch some batting practice, glove at the ready just in case, while Paul handled his own errand. A while later he returned with his prize, which naturally he had to show me. It was a figure of Jobu, the idol familiar to any aficionado of Major League, a present for Paul’s brother.

It was while observing Jobu that the BP home run came my way, a matter that eventually reached my attention. I never tracked the ball until it crashed into the seats just ahead of me. There was a scramble. I lost the scramble.

Paul got his major-league ball before a game at Globe Life Park last year. I have yet to get mine. I will now have the opportunity to remind Paul of this fact, pretty much forever. My attitude toward Jobu now matches Pedro Cerrano’s final verdict. I will be a little kinder toward Paul.

Eventually they played the actual game, and it was a tight pitchers’ duel. Toronto’s Marcus Stroman slipped only in the fourth, when Josh Donaldson’s bobble turned an inning-ending double play into one out and a run home. He held Cleveland there—Height Doesn’t Measure Heart, ‘mano—but through seven was looking like the hard-luck loser.

That’s because Danny Salazar, just off the DL and fresh from four rehab starts in the minors, was dealing hard. He faced the minimum through seven, the lone hit he allowed getting erased on a twin-killing. At 86 pitches, he seemed ready to go longer, but Terry Francona didn’t care to put him into triple digits his first game back. He signaled for Andrew Miller.

We’d seen Miller warming up in the bullpen. One of his pitches got past the catcher, reached the pads on the wall, and stuck in a seam. He appeared ready. One pitch later, Justin Smoak slammed a shot—THUD!—off the right foul pole’s screen. Tie ballgame. Our Canadian guests worked up a good “Let’s Go Blue Jays” chant, which competed with “Let’s Go Tribe” on and off for the rest of the game.

The tie held in the ninth, partly due to a 7-4 double play. Take a moment and read that over, then I’ll explain. Darwin Barney walked to open Toronto’s ninth, then when José Bautista flied to left, tried to tag and advance. I respect the hustle of tagging from first, but maybe that’s because I’d never seen such a play fail, until now. Toronto mustered a bigger threat in the top of the 10th, but Cody Allen and then Bryan Shaw stifled it.

Then the rain came back. Exposed in the bleachers, and without my umbrella, I began decamping for someplace covered. I looked back just in time to see Francisco Lindor’s shot sail into the bleachers toward right.

If anybody tells you that Lindor’s walk-off homer brought rain that night, their timing is a trifle off.

Sunday, July 23 — Wrigley Field, Chicago, Ill.
St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs

Attendance: 41,582 (sellout, of course) Time: 2:50

We had been to Wrigley twice before, in 2014—sort of, but not entirely. One game was at one of the rooftop clubs, the year before the new jumbo scoreboards began blocking their views. An experience worth having while we could, but not actually Wrigley. The second was inside the Friendly Confines, with a few THT compadres. The game got suspended by rain after six, the Cubs and Pirates knotted at three. We were off in Minnesota when the game was completed the next day.

Paul wanted to try again. He desired the complete experience. Did we ever get it.

Outside Wrigley on game day, it’s an even bigger party than three years ago. What had been a parking lot on the third-base side is now grassed over as a fan park, plus an added souvenir store, part of the multi-year Wrigley renovations. Briefly, I looked for vendors selling raffle tickets for the World Series ring that Cubs ownership is giving away, as a charity fundraiser. Did I buy one, or more? You’ll have to wait until the drawing in September to find out …

There used to be a car park right here.

There used to be a car park right here.

Inside, the atmosphere was even better. It was Sunday night, the national game on ESPN, which pumped the crowd. It was a series-ender against the rival St. Louis Cardinals, which had all the fans engaged, including the leavening of brave Cardinals boosters who attended. Best of all, David Ross, heart and soul of the 2016 Cubs, was in attendance. Fans went bananas when they saw him on the scoreboards, in the dugout, or on the field. They still love him to pieces, and why not?

Starting the game for Chicago was José Quintana, in his second appearance since being traded over from the White Sox and his first start ever at Wrigley. His previous start had given him a nice round ERA of zero as a Cub. That mark lasted seven batters.

The game was good and active. Two homers for each team, from Randal Grichuk and Paul DeJong and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras; other long flies disturbing the ivy or flagged down by outfielders, including a swerving, turning, jumping Jason Heyward; the 7-6-2 cutting down Matt Carpenter; the Michael Wacha bunt that ended up a 2-6-4 double play. And Yadier Molina trying to steal second. Trying.

There was the seventh-inning stretch, singing along with Harry Caray on the scoreboard, matching his mangled lyrics. There was not, to my mild surprise, any “Let’s Go Cards” chant raised by the dissenters in attendance. I would not have expected Canadians, stereotyped as polite to several faults, to be more demonstrative than partisans in one of the great rivalries of baseball. More evidence in that case would come another day.

Chicago held its 5-3 lead from the sixth onward, with a leadoff single in the Cardinals ninth providing a mildly exciting threat until Wade Davis finished out the game. There were the cheers; there was the playing and the singing of “Go Cubs Go.” There was the raising of the “W” flag. A moment after that, the pennants on the center flagpole lowered, only to be raised again momentarily in a new configuration—with the Cubs flag on top, a percentage point ahead of Milwaukee.

They would lose that division lead the next day. Oh well.

Still, for anyone who wondered, I can confirm that success has not spoiled the experience of Wrigley Field. Not yet.

Monday, July 24 – Comerica Park, Detroit, Mich.
Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers

Attendance: 26,415 Time: 3:57

In the five years of our Grand Tours, this was a first: a rematch. We saw the Royals beat the Tigers at Kauffman Stadium last year. Detroit now had the chance to even the score, if only on our scorecards.

The loss of Tiger Stadium was bitterly regretted in Detroit, which seems to have pushed the designers of Comerica Park hard to make fans forget their sorrow. I cannot speak for bereft Detroiters, but I was much impressed. Comerica is one of my favorite ballparks from these five years of baseball expeditions. That’s true even if, with the fake street signs for Michigan and Trumbull outside the main gate, the Tigers are trying a little too hard.

Immortalized. L-R: Kaline, Newhouser, Gehringer, Greenberg, Cobb, Horton.

Immortalized. L-R: Kaline, Newhouser, Gehringer, Greenberg, Cobb, Horton.

Comerica does well in several categories. It has a fine cityscape view beyond the outfield walls. The concourse is expansive and resists traffic jams. It perhaps does best embracing baseball history. A rank of six statues of old-time Tigers stands beyond left-center field, wrought in jagged, dynamic styles. On the concourse, display cases show pictures and artifacts from past eras of Detroit baseball history, and not only the Tigers: there was a Detroit Stars uniform from 1921, in excellent condition. It may not be PNC Park, my personal favorite, but Comerica is not far off the pace.

The night’s game was pretty good. Justin Verlander started off strong for Detroit, including striking out the side in the second. Things went south for him in the fourth, as a rally that included a wild pitch and a walk of Salvador Pérez (!) netted Kansas City two runs. He yielded another in the sixth on Jorge Bonifacio’s homer, and wasn’t getting much help, from the Tigers or the fans. A moderate crowd of 26,000 was close to somnolent, rousing itself to do the Wave in the fifth but not putting much actual cheering behind the team.

This changed moderately in the home sixth, when the Tigers rallied. Miguel Cabrera drove home Detroit’s first run, and against Kansas City’s first reliever, Alex Avila’s liner over Alcides Escobar’s head brought two more around to tie the game 3-3. This rally still didn’t bring the crowd fully into the game. That had to wait until Verlander finished the seventh, obviously his last inning after 119 pitches. Then they stood for a rousing ovation.

The game stayed tied through seven … and eight, and nine, and 10 and 11. Ned Yost was sending in new Royals relievers every inning, while Brad Ausmus did that with two Wilsons before settling on Drew VerHagen as a long man. That went well, for two innings. VerHagen gave up home runs to Pérez and Mike Moustakas to open the 12th, then deep fly-outs to Brandon Moss and Alcides Escobar. He was not far from allowing four consecutive homers (a theme we would re-visit). The diminished crowd watched Kelvin Herrera, Yost’s eighth pitcher of the night, shut the door on a 5-3 win.

The home team had finally lost one on our tour. More, Detroit had missed its revenge. Best three out of five?

Tuesday, July 25 – Rogers Centre, Toronto, Ont.
Oakland A’s at Toronto Blue Jays

Attendance: 40,624 Time: 2:55

I visited Toronto once before, in 2003 for the World Science Fiction Convention. (I still have the tote bag to prove it.) Once the con was over, I stayed an extra day to, among other things, take in a Yankees-Blue Jays game at the Toronto SkyDome. The less said of the game, the better. Jeff Weaver was involved: it wasn’t pretty. Thus, while this was Paul’s first time at what was now Rogers Centre, it was a return engagement for me.

The stadium hasn’t changed much, except for the name, but baseball has changed around it. The last great pre-Camden ballpark (New Comiskey/U.S. Cellular/Guaranteed Rate sadly doesn’t qualify as great), with the first retractable roof in the game, feels close to antiquated. It was an engineering marvel in its time, much like the Astrodome, but ballpark design stormed ahead into the modern era just a few years later. One younger major league park, Turner Field, has already been abandoned, and another in Arlington soon will be.

Does this make Rogers Centre a dinosaur in today’s ballpark environment? It might have, except for one feature. If you’re at a game in Toronto, try to sit between first and third, ideally a bit to the third-base side. Assuming the roof is open, look up and right. There stands the CN Tower, 1,815 feet high, looming magnificently right over the ballpark. In an age that has put a premium on what spectators see beyond the confines of the stadium, that probably remains the single best sightline the game has to offer.

Now that's a view. Even better at night, but not for cameras.

Now that’s a view. Even better at night, but not for cameras.

Rogers may also contain the most dedicated fan base in the game today, at least outside Wrigley. For a game featuring two last-place clubs, on a Tuesday, attendance at Rogers Centre was 40,624. That crowd of Blue Jays fans in Cleveland had been no fluke. Indeed, that weekend game at the home of the defending league champions, with its team in first again—and $2 beer!—had drawn 6,000 fewer fans. They may be running on momentum from two good playoff runs in 2015 and ’16, but they are running very, very far on it.

Perhaps it’s a show of patriotism. This is the sesquicentennial of the founding of the Dominion of Canada, which they will not easily let you forget. The Rogers scoreboards mark with maple leaves all players born in Canada, even for minor league listings. Perhaps they went too far when a between-innings presentation claimed a Canadian origin for baseball. John Thorn, someone’s challenging your scholarship. Get on the case!

The game itself was commonplace. Oakland starter Sonny Gray’s wild throw on an attempted force at second opened the floodgates for a four-run Toronto second. (He got zero earned runs, fodder for Brian Kenny to “Kill the ERA” once he’s done slaying wins.) The A’s got one back in the fourth, but would never get the tying run even to the plate. The home teams were back to their winning ways.

Wednesday, July 26 – UPMC Park, Erie, Pa.
Bowie BaySox at Erie SeaWolves

Attendance: 2,306 Time: 2:36

Every chain has to have its weakest link. For our tour, it was the second Double-A game we attended. This noon game on a Wednesday drew a sparse crowd, thickened by groups drawn in from summer camps. The game itself got out of hand in Erie’s favor by the third inning, though a Bowie rally in the sixth halved the 6-0 lead and made the contest a little more interesting. Still, for the last three innings the eventual 6-3 final seemed like a foregone conclusion.

UPMC Park is certainly an adequate minor-league venue, but not more than that. The team went for some color by making the left-field wall the exterior wall of the next-door Erie Insurance Arena. The foul “pole” and home-run line are painted in yellow on the arena, until a real wall angles off at the power alley. Sadly, it’s no B&O Warehouse at Camden Yards or Western Metal Supply building at PETCO Park.

Granted, I might have thought differently if I had seen a home run ball head for one of the arena’s windows. Glass or plastic? Time to find out …

Buses periodically cruised down the street past the right-field wall, just their roofs visible from our low-level seats. Often, when one passed by, the PA would play the opening bars of the “Jaws” theme. The joke was funnier in Airplane!, but then every joke was funnier in Airplane!

To be fair, I didn’t help the game’s, or park’s, cause with my choice of seats. At the ticket window, I asked for the best seats available, and when offered the first row I snapped them up. This was the first row right behind home plate, seemingly ideal, but not really. With the netting literally a couple feet away, my eyes had trouble adjusting between what was right in front of them and the action on the field. I was slow all day picking up balls put in play. It’s as true in baseball as in life: for the right perspective, you need to step back just a little.

Sam Jethroe, safe at home in Erie.

Sam Jethroe, safe at home in Erie.

So let me do that myself, and look at the highlights of the place. One is its retired number 5, for Sam “Jet” Jethroe. Jethroe was a Negro League player in the 1940s for the Cleveland Buckeyes. He got a few years in the majors, mostly with the Boston Braves, where he was 1950’s NL Rookie of the Year at age 33. Once his career in Organized Baseball was done, he came to Erie to play in a local league with ex-Negro League teammates. He stayed in Erie, dying there in 2001, and the SeaWolves honored him with the retired number and a plaque at their ballpark. They did right.

In more prosaic matters, there is the Porker Dog at Smith’s Sausage Shack, down the left-field line. It’s a hot dog topped with bologna (or maybe something less processed), loads of pulled pork, and cheese. If you need something to liven your slightly blah day at the ballpark, at the non-ridiculous price of $5.50 (non-ridiculous for a ballpark, certainly)—and assuming “kosher” is not a word in your everyday vocabulary—I recommend it. Indeed, I think it finally beat the footlong from the Asheville Tourists with which I began my very first Grand Tour.

So even if this was our least entertaining day at the ballpark, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t entertaining, or tasty, or classy toward an adoptive favorite son. Oh, and the win also pushed the hometown SeaWolves percentage points ahead of Bowie into first place in their division, our second such experience of the trip.

They would give back the lead three days later. Oh well.

Thursday, July 27 – Cooperstown, N.Y.

The Baseball Hall of Fame hasn’t changed too much in 11 years, which is when Paul and I visited it first. Both times, by sheer coincidence, it was a few days before that year’s induction ceremonies, meaning crowds were sizable but not yet overwhelming. Had Cooperstown not been on the route from Toronto (and Erie) to northern New Jersey, we wouldn’t have made the stop, but since it was along the way, there was no bypassing it.

Incoming!

Incoming!

There have been changes. In the Hall of Fame gallery, there are now small medallions under the plaques of various members, denoting wartime service. There are many for World War II, some for WWI and Korea, even one for the Civil War. Ted Williams gets just one, despite being in two wars. Of course, there are plenty more plaques now than there had been. There were also five blank backings autographed by the incoming Hall members whose plaques were three days from being hung upon them. Previous sections on the Negro Leagues and women in baseball have been joined by a bilingual display on the Latino baseball experience, and Babe Ruth’s nook is now joined by a hub for Henry Aaron.

The museum section still has an amazing array of artifacts, but the more contemporary section has modern attractions. Huge screens with self-scrolling menus allow you to play back historic baseball moments (Carlton Fisk, Kirk Gibson, etc.). Other interactive screens offer interactive quizzes. One measures how much of a rules reformer you are (Should pitchers be on a clock? Do we need robo-umpires?). Another lets you address baseball controversies (e.g., should Pete Rose be in the Hall?). Another probes you on labor relations, to see if you could have resolved the 1994 strike. (You couldn’t, not by acing a test, but it’s a nice thought.)

The Hall of Fame, still evolving as it works to cover what is approaching 200 years of baseball history, is as essential to a baseball fan as it’s ever been. With GPS navigating to keep you from getting lost on the myriad county roads (don’t ask about our first trip), there’s not much excuse for passing it up if you’re in the area. Budget a full day; the Hall will fill it up.

And it still has Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” playing on its endless loop. Good call.

There was no game for us that day, not as attendees, but we still got part of one on an unexpectedly extended lunch break. On two of the screens playing in the eatery that kept mislaying and mixing up our orders (I will mercifully exclude its name), Max Scherzer’s Nationals were holding down the Brewers by the score of 15-1. Milwaukee’s starter had gotten knocked out long before we arrived, after giving up four straight taters.

The offense had given out by the time we sat down, but the fun had not. In the eighth inning, Milwaukee trotted out Hernan Pérez to pitch. Pérez had started the day in left field. I watched a pitch come in at 72 mph, and joked that we’d just seen his fastball. Turned out I wasn’t joking. Next pitch, his “curve” floated outside at 61. But with Bryce Harper already protectively benched, Hernan’s stuff was enough. He stranded runners on the corners to put up a goose egg  (and a 6.13 FIP) in his first big-league inning as a pitcher.

Here’s to you, Hernan Pérez. You couldn’t salvage the game, but you salvaged our lunch.

Friday, July 28 – Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y.
Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees

Attendance: 40,470 Time: 2:23 (!)

The Hall of Fame was supposed to be the end of the tour, but a windfall dropped into our laps. Paul got offered a pair of Yankees tickets for the day after Cooperstown (this happens through his workplace with decent regularity), and we jumped at the chance. This isn’t to say that they were great tickets, but you don’t quibble when you’re getting to see your local ballclub for free.

Our seats. Even from this height, Aaron Judge is still huge.

Our seats. Even from this height, Aaron Judge is still huge.

If you don’t count the $25 for parking, and the $15 bridge toll, which together came pretty close to matching the face value of our freebies.

We took no long tour of Yankee Stadium this time, having done that two years back. Monument Park and the team museum, taken together, are the best in-stadium attractions of their kind in baseball. The one team that could beat them is the Reds, with their museum adjacent to Great American Ball Park. After the incoming traffic, though, we didn’t have time to catch up with the march of retired numbers.

Our seats were on the fourth and highest level, a little foul of the left-field pole. Amusingly, our free tickets were adjacent only arithmetically: I had the last seat of Row 4, while Paul had the first seat of Row 5. Paul moved down next to me, and nobody ever arrived to bump him. We looked far, far down toward home plate, and agreed we had been wise to leave our gloves behind: Aaron Judge probably couldn’t reach us.

The lawyers disagree. “Be Alert for Bats And/Or Balls,” said the signs on all our seat backs. Bats? Holy liability hyperbole!

Masahiro Tanaka started the game for New York. He’d started the game we saw two years ago, and did poorly. This time, he struck out the first five Rays he faced, all swinging. He’d get two more swinging Ks in the third, finishing the frame nine up, nine down.

While Tanaka was doing this, the entire Yankees outfield was homering. Brett Gardner leading off the first; Aaron Judge with a soft liner, a mere 111.6 mph, into the stands in the fourth; fellow rookie Clint Frazier with a three-run jack over the visitor’s bullpen in the fifth. Gardner’s blast was a bit historic. He had hit the walk-off homer that ended the previous night’s game, then homered leading off the next game. Someone later figured out this was just the third time in major league history this had been done.

I wasn’t aware of that history. I was anticipating a different kind.

Tanaka struck out only one apiece in the fourth and fifth, but got his six outs with just 20 pitches, making 62 for the game. I didn’t fret over losing the chance for a historic strikeout night. I was thinking of the pacing Tanaka needed to last nine innings, and 27 batters. I wasn’t alone with such thoughts. The thunderous applause when Tanaka got to two strikes against Brad Miller, the 15th batter, showed that the crowd knew what was transpiring.

It was a crowd with more than home-town rooting behind Tanaka. Our patch of the nosebleed seats was heavy with fans of Japanese extraction, including one with the interlocking Y-G of the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants on his cap. Another nation, represented by immigrants and perhaps some natives, was pouring its heart out for major league baseball, even if their voices might be drowned by the crowd 40,000 strong pulling for a man born halfway around the world to make history.

Wilson Ramos grounded out on his first pitch. Tim Beckham lasted six pitches, as “Ma-Sa-Hi-Ro!” chants rained down from the bleachers, before grounding out to Tanaka. Then Adeiny Hechavarria grounded one past the diving Didi Gregorius and into center field. The perfect game, the no-hitter, was gone.

I had wanted it. Dear Lord, I had wanted it. Maybe it was best, though, if it hadn’t happened. From the nerves I felt in the fifth and sixth innings, I would have been a twitching wreck by the ninth. I applauded with the rest of the fans, as the game became something ordinary once more.

(The game would end 6-1 Yankees, and thanks partly to that win New York would jump to the top of the AL East standings, our third such experience in less than a week. The Yankees would give back the lead four days later. Oh well.)

When I look back on this day, though, it will not feel ordinary. Those few innings where I saw what was possible, and saw Masahiro Tanaka keep it possible, were some of the most thrilling baseball moments of my life. I didn’t hit the lottery, but my numbers kept popping up long enough that I won something.

That might be the best description of the whole trip. Every place I went, every park I visited, had something to offer. A great game; a great individual performance; a great view; great fireworks; lousy singing that was still great; even a great ballpark hot dog. I saw first-hand the embrace that “the national pastime” has received from beyond America’s borders. I got the fresh look at baseball that I had needed.

Even the clock treated us well. In a season where game times have been spiraling back upward, five of the seven games we attended came in under three hours. The two that didn’t—one missing by a single minute—were both extra-inning contests, where the pace was under three hours per nine innings. The Yankees game finished in less than two and a half hours! To someone who has seen Yankees games habitually run four hours for a couple of decades, that’s almost as mind-bending a concept as “World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.”

But that’s baseball. Anything’s possible, however improbable. Keep watching long enough, and you will see it, like a 7-4 double play—or even a perfect game.

That’s part of what keeps the game vital, but not nearly the only part. I rediscovered a lot of those parts, across eight days in July. I hope it will be a long time before I need my next reminder.


A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.
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Alex Bensky
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Alex Bensky
Everyone has an opinion but mine on Comerica Park doesn’t at all jibe with yours. I’m not too impressed with the overall appearance of the place but people can disagree. However, I grew up at Tiger Stadium, and I’m old enough to remember when it was Briggs Stadium. At Comerica Park the closest upper deck seat is something like ten or fifteen feet farther from the field than the farthest upper deck seat at Tiger Stadium. In the lower deck the problem is not posts, as it occasionally was at the old park, but the guy in front of you… Read more »
Chris
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Chris

Blue Jay support is not limited to Cleveland and Detroit. Every time the Blue Jays come to Seattle, downtown is overrun with fans coming down from Canada. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing were happening in Minneapolis.

The games regularly sell out before the season even starts and the crowd on game day is split between Blue Jays fans and Mariners fans.

Paul G.
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Paul G.
Here’s the fellow traveler on this Grand Tour who was equally baffled by the large Canadian contingent. I think part of my confusion is I expect a fan base to be geographically centered around a city and, therefore, it is quite the imposition to drive 4-5 hours from Toronto to Detroit or Cleveland. What I should be thinking is the Blue Jays are Canada’s team everywhere and look how close to the border the city is. Detroit may be 4 hours from Toronto, but from Windsor is more like 15 minutes. For fans in Vancouver, it would be easier to… Read more »
Paul G.
Guest
Paul G.
Some random quick comments on the trip: I-80 across Pennsylvania is surprisingly empty and that’s come from someone who has driven across some very rural interstates. The most recognizable settlement is Williamsport, which oddly we did not realize was in the path until we saw the exit. The interstate is mostly moderate to long distances between exits, many of which do not have any (advertised) amenities. If you go to Progressive Field, do go to Rally Burger. It is as good as recommended. I had a hoot at Erie. That attendance is actually pretty good for a noon game on… Read more »
Bryce
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Bryce
Ditto the previous comments about the Jays. Here in WA it seems like half of BC, Alberta, and even SK or Yukon fans come down to see them in Seattle. I’m not an M’s fan, but this bugs all of them like crazy. There ARE Canadian Mariners fans – I’ve met many and in theory the Jays are supposed to share BC with Seattle. However, the Jays are always on tv and the M’s are rarely shown at all. The media plays off the patriotism angle heavily in Vancouver and Victoria. The Clipper (fast expensive 3 hour ferry from Victoria),… Read more »
Rich
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Rich

Why does every discussion about the hall of fame involve some off handed comment about its location. It is accessible on well marked roads, get in the car and drive. Driving in a rural area is not a kin to some trek that causes some great trauma