Fenway, Wrigley…then where?

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If you could travel to three MLB ballparks that you’ve never been to before, which would you go to and why? 

Make a mental note of your top three. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Okay now I’m going to see if I can predict your answers.

This is the question I’ve been asking my friends a lot lately, and I’ve noticed a theme as the question continues to get asked. They don’t always say the same three stadiums, but the consistent theme goes something like this:

  1. Either Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.
  2. Usually the other one: Fenway or Wrigley. But potentially Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, Dodger Stadium or AT&T Park.
  3. Always a mysterious wild card.

It’s almost comical how consistent the answers have been. Obviously, everyone wants to hit the historic venues, but they also consistently include a curveball based on mostly curiosity and very little knowledge of the stadium. There’s no real reason for the interest, they’re just intrigued. It’s mysterious to them, but they feel pulled for some reason.

So how am I doing so far?

Were two of your three choices in the first two points?

The most common response I get for the third one: Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners.

There’s something intriguing about the Mariners for a lot of fans. Seattle isn’t anywhere close to any other MLB team – the nearest are Oakland and San Francisco, 800 miles away – and I think people just mostly forget about it. TV networks are way more likely to show a Dodgers or Giants or Angels game than a Mariners game, and even if they’re on late, nobody on the east coast is going to stay up until 1 or 2AM to watch.

I wonder if Felix Hernandez gets less coverage than he deserves because he’s on the Mariners. I wonder what will happen now that Robinson Cano is there.

Seattle is actually closer to Tokyo than it is to Miami.

Okay. No it’s not. But raise your hand if you kinda believed it at first. I actually had to go look it up myself – Tokyo is 4800 miles away and Miami is only 3300 miles – but the point is that I wasn’t even sure. It feels like a different country to some of us.

Who picked Seattle? Anybody?

Let’s keep going.

Another one I get a lot: PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Now this one has an obvious explanation: the Roberto Clemente Bridge.

Every time there’s a Game Break on whatever Fox Sports affiliate you watch, there are only a few stadiums that truly stand out immediately. PNC Park is one of them. Every highlight has that giant yellow bridge in the background, and it sets it apart from the rest of them.

Besides, deep down, I think we all like the Pirates because we all sorta feel sorry for them. Until last year, they’ve been so bad for so long that it’s difficult to have any negative feelings about them anymore.

Ok, be honest, how am I doing? Was that it? PNC?

Imma regular David Copperfield, amiright?

The third answer I get a lot: Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros.

The reasoning behind this one is similar to PNC Park, I think: it’s immediately recognizable on TV because of the train track that runs across the left field exterior wall and that goofy little hill in center field.

It’s intriguing. Not that anyone wants to see the Astros play anymore – the team lost 111 games last year – but there’s something about it that speaks to us.

Welp. How’d I do? Did I get all three?

Okay, I’m sure there are tons of you who picked Citizens Bank Park in Philly or Busch Stadium in St. Louis or Kauffman Stadium in KC or the freshly named Globe Life Park in Arlington. There’s no wrong answer here.*

* – Except Oakland or Miami. Those could be considered wrong answers, actually.

What I’m getting at is this: the primary destinations of interest are compelling for cognitive reasons. By that I mean, we know we want to go there because we have knowledge of the histories involved. We know that Fenway and Wrigley are the oldest, so we know they need to be at the top of our list. We know that the Yankees, Dodgers, Orioles and Giants have history and traditions that we ought to experience.

But then something in us wants to solve a mystery or quench our curiosity. Our imagination somehow kicks in by the third answer and completes the list with a quirky third option. It leaves open the possibility for adventure or a solved riddle. We’ve seen something that caught our interest on TV and we want to investigate.

So maybe the question to ask is not whether I was able to correctly guess your top three ballparks you want to visit. Maybe what I’m attempting to solve is how you constructed your top three. I’m guessing I at least got that part right.

All that to say, what three would you pick? Which three ballparks are you most interested in visiting?

-apc.

Ballpark Tour 2014: Personal Hermeneutics

busch wrigley kThis is the third post related to my new project: visiting all 30 MLB ballparks this season and writing a book about the experience in the context of spirituality. Click these links to read the first two posts: announcing the project and how i created my itinerary. If you haven’t already, go pre-pre-order my book and help fund this project. Thanks errrbody!

I was sitting with a few of my friends in the cheapest seats available at Kauffman Stadium. Way up in the 400 sections. It was a gorgeous Thursday afternoon game. It was one of those games where you step outside in the morning and immediately start calling the people you have afternoon meetings with asking to reschedule because “something came up.”

The Twins were in town, and the fan split was pretty much even. Half KC. Half Minn. It’s crazy: Twins fans always seemed to have a strong contingency at Royals games before they moved to Target Field in 2010. They must’ve been itching for some fresh air outside the Metrodome. I don’t know if their traveling has dropped off since they made the switch, but I’m pretty sure this game was 2008 or 2009.

Despite the near-50/50 split, we were in a crowd of mostly Royals fans with the exception of a dad and his son a few rows down from us. The kid was probably 8 years old. He was eating Cracker Jack* and wearing a Joe Mauer #7 jersey. The dad was wearing Kirby Puckett’s #34.

* – “Cracker Jack” is plural, by the way. File that under “Things I Learned from Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

A Twins player was batting with two outs – I honestly don’t remember who it was, but lets say it was Delmon Young – and he struck out looking on a knee-buckling curve. Half of the crowd erupted in cheers. I was right with them and shouted out, “Sit down Delmon! Try taking the bat off your shoulder next time!”

The kid down in front of me – the Twins fan – turns around, and squints up in my direction looking simultaneously perplexed and furious.

The Royals come to bat. The first hitter up, Joey Gathright, singles and the Royals chatter raises up a notch. I clap my hands a few times and holler something down to the runner on first base. The whole section is into it. The next batter doubles, and Gathright – who is insanely fast – scores easily from first base. We go bananas.

I pause from my cheering when I notice the kid in the Mauer jersey turned around again. This time he’s giving me a serious death stare. I make eye contact with him and he gasps, panics and abruptly turns back around as if I was the South Bend Shovel Slayer. Then he taps his dad on the shoulder and gestures back toward our group. His dad laughs, shakes his head a bit and pats him on the shoulder.

The kid takes another quick glance back at me then turns his attention back to the game.

I nudge my buddies and clue them in to the kid’s antics. We start experimenting with our shouts starting with the general, “Here we go, Royals!” to more specific comments directed at the Twins players with funny names like “Nick Punto” and “Boof Bonser”. We space the comments out every few minutes so that the Puckett/Mauer Family doesn’t get wise and figure out what we’re doing.

And the kid turns around every single time.

And every time he wields the same puzzled stare.

And then it hits me: he doesn’t understand why I’m not rooting for the Twins too.

I imagine this kid’s whole life has been Twins baseball, and I wonder if he’s ever encountered fans of another team. He’s probably angry that we are cheering against his team, and it probably doesn’t really make sense why anyone would do something so ridiculous. He’s probably wondering why would anyone do something silly like that? The Twins are the best, after all. He’s been raised a Twins fan, and that’s all he knows. I wonder if he’s discovering for the first time that there are other ways of cheering besides his own.

And you know what, we’re all like Kid Mauer.

It might not be the Twins, and we’ve probably (hopefully) encountered alternative perspectives by now, but depending on our family of origin and where we grew up, we have learned certain ways of thinking, certain values and beliefs. From the moment we enter the world we begin a sequence of sampling, testing and drawing conclusions on the world around us. The team we root for is rarely a conscious decision on our own part. Most of us have been groomed in our ways by our family history and our geographical location.

For example, I was raised a Cardinals fan in Kansas City.

My great-grandfather was a Cardinals fan living in the bootheel of Missouri. He raise my grandpa to cheer for Stan Musial, Red Schoendiest and Dizzy Dean. Then Grandpa raised my dad in the years of Lou Brock and Bob Gibson. And sure enough, I was raised in the days of Willie McGee, Jack Clark and, one of my top two all-time favorites, Ozzie Smith*.

* – Alongside Bo Jackson, if you MUST know…more on that very soon.

Cardinals baseball was life for me in the 80s and 90s. It was all I knew. And as such, there is a list of qualities I bring to the game of baseball when I’m rooting for the Cardinals. For example, Cardinals fans are expected to…

  • hate/make fun of the Cubs
  • label myself as one of the “Best Fans in Baseball”
  • hate the Reds too
  • whine about Dan Denkinger the 1985 World Series
  • brag about the 11 World Series championships
  • root for and defend their allegiance no matter what

I have adopted all of these during my life at some point. These don’t make me a better person or a worse person, they’re simply undercurrents of being a Cardinals fan. Probably overgeneralized, sure. And I’m sure you have more scathing things to add to this list of you’re a STL hater, and I’m sure you’re offended by it if you’re an STL lover.

But then I grew up in Kansas City. And with every passing day, I become a bigger KC Royals fan. I don’t know the history of the Royals like I do the Cardinals, but over time I’ve grown to love this team. Through all it’s futility over the last 20 years, I have come out rooting harder than ever. In fact, I’m often asked, “If there’s a 1985 rematch – STL vs. KC – who would you root for?” And today, my answer is easy: I’d be for my hometown team. Mostly because I’ve seen the Cardinals play in the World Series a few times now and win a couple. But also because the Royals fan in me wants it more.

But my Royals fandom has established a totally different outlook on the game and how I approach it. Pretty much all Royals fans…

  • complain about teams with larger payrolls
  • loathe the Yankees and everything they stand for
  • begin every new season with unfounded hope
  • brace for imminent disappointment
  • expect a different manager every few seasons
  • hate the St. Louis Cardinals
  • root for and defend their allegiance no matter what

Obviously, I have never hated the Cardinals because of how I was raised, but the rest of these are accurate. I gripe all the time about the unfairness of our small market in Kansas City. What if the Royals could sign elite players to $100M contracts over 6 years? The Yankees do it with little hesitation. It drives us all nuts. It’s an unfair game! Unlike the Cards, there aren’t many “Royals haters” out there, so it should be easy to look at this list, shrug and agree these all make some sense.

All of that is to say – I have a certain set of values, memories, allegiances and enemies based on where I was raised and by whom. And now, when I walk into a stadium, I bring my own personal hermeneutic with me.

Personal Herme-whaaaaaaat?

When we read any text – billboards, headlines, Scripture, novels – we bring with us our own memories, emotions, histories and traditions. We each have our own point of view. When Yankees, Royals, Orioles and Cubs fans read the headline, “Masahiro Tanaka to Yanks for $155M,” they each have a different reaction. Something like…

  • Yankees: “Aw yeah! We got him! Welcome to the Bronx, Tanaka! Let’s bring home championship #28!”
  • Royals: “Zero surprise. Typical Yankee payroll nonsense. Grrrr.”
  • Orioles: “Oh great. Now we have to face that guy 5 times this year. So long AL East division race.”
  • Cubs: “Dang. I really thought we were going to bid enough to sign that guy. Not that it would matter.”

Picture it like a pair of sunglasses. I see the world a certain way because I’m Caucasian, in my 20s, American, Christian, married, from the Midwest, attended the public school system in an upper-middle class setting – you get it. I also bring psychosocial dynamics from my family of origin, both positive and negative. I bring years of relationships, conversations, histories and memories. Joy and sorrow. Celebrations and tragedies. It’s not necessarily good, bad, ugly or beautiful. It just is.

Our personal hermeneutic informs how we naturally interpret everything based on life’s experiences.

If we each have our own personal hermeneutic, when we have a shared experience, our reaction to that experience is naturally going to differ from person to person.

Hence, why I got fired up when Gathright scored, and why Kid Mauer wanted to throw his Jack in my face. Only I was self-aware enough to realize the dynamics happening between us as rival fans. The kid was not. He was experiencing a clash of personal hermeneutics, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do about it.

I think self-awareness is so underrated in today’s world. Amid the informational noise of social media, technology, television and entertainment, I think we’ve become distracted from actually discovering who we are and what has impacted our identity, and our personal hermeneutic. We also forget to consider how our perspective and our reactions, rub up against the perspectives of those around us.

Throughout this project, I want my experiences in each ballpark to be as authentic as possible. I want to understand and experience these games based on the personal hermeneutic of those around me.

Buck O’Neil, the former Negro Leagues star and later scout and coach for the Cubs and Royals, used to always root for the home team. No matter the team, he was there to support the fans that came out to cheer for their team that day.  Nobody likes to celebrate while everyone else is glum. You go to cheer for the home team; at least, that was his motto.

In his book, The Soul of Baseball, Joe Posnanski tells a story of Buck leaving a game in Houston disappointed because the Cubs had beat them. “Buck should have been happy with the result, since he had worked with the Cubs organization for more than thirty years. But we were in Houston, and Buck always wanted the home team to win. He never did like seeing the home fans sad.”

One of my disciplines as I enter into this crazy ballpark tour, is to adopt Buck’s mindset. I will try my best to remove my personal hermeneutic and approach the game from the perspective of the individuals I’m sitting among at each venue. In other words, I’m rooting for the home team.

I want to be self-aware enough to understand what it is that I am bringing into each of these games and leave it at the door. I want to enter the gates expecting to experience community and friendship and camaraderie in new environments and without the baggage I bring along. I want to ditch my Kansas City/Cardinals sunglasses and put on a different pair at every game.

It will also give me a better gauge of what it is truly like to be a fan of these teams. Will I step into Fenway Park and allow the history and legend to permeate my soul? Can I enter Yankee Stadium without wrecking the experience with my pre-conceived judgements of Royals fandom?

But…will I root against my own teams?

If you saw my itinerary in my last post, you’ll notice two major emotional conflicts for me in the first and last games on the list. March 31: STL @ CIN and September 24: KC @ CLE. Somehow, someway, I’m going to have to ignore the tension I already feel, and enter Opening Day as a Reds fan. I can do that for one game, right? There are 162, and one game isn’t going to make a difference, right?! It’s a tall order, but I’m going to try my best. By far the more difficult task will be the Cleveland game. I just hope* the Royals have locked up a playoff spot by late September. Otherwise this may be a struggle.

* – there I go with my excessive Royals hopes again.

So as you follow me along the journey, and you see an Instagram update from U.S. Cellular Field, and it says “Go Sox!*,” please, refrain from blasting me with hateful texts and murderous tweets. Don’t look at me like Kid Mauer did on that beautiful Thursday at The K. Try to understand there’s a larger purpose behind it all. And if I have to shelf my fandom for a day to more securely put myself in another’s shoes, so be it.

* – Even as I typed this, I struggled to write the entire name of my least favorite team in the entire MLB. I panicked and just said “Sox”. Help me, Lord, to overcome.

I hope you understand. And I hope I can be remotely successful.

-apc.

Past posts on my project…
APC is Writing a Book
The Itinerary
Kickstarter Campaign

Ballpark Tour 2014: The Itinerary

MLB-teams-map

A couple days ago, I broke the news that I am writing a book. I’ll be spending the 2014 Major League Baseball season traveling the country visiting all 30 MLB ballparks. This experience, I hope, will provide a skeleton outline of my book, and the countless stories will be the backbone. For more information on my project and why I’m doing it, check out my Kickstarter and consider helping me fundraise by pre-pre-ordering the book before 3/1.

So this trip. Its going to be nuts. Even now that the Kickstarter has launched and that I’m under contract with a publisher, I’m struggling to comprehend the fact that I’ll be traveling to 30 different cities within 6 months.* It seems impossible, yet I look at my calendar and there it is. All 30 cities in one MLB season. It looks foolproof and easy on paper…not unlike my fantasy football team this year. Hopefully this pans out better than that did.

* – Throw a trip to Myanmar in there too. I’ll be traveling there in March for two weeks with my CBTS seminary cohort taking classes at the Myanmar Institute of Theology. Yep, that’s MIT.

Want to hear something even crazier? When I first had this idea, I wanted to do all 30 of these games in 30 days. It’s doable, and it’s been done before. But as I thought about the writing process and I pictured myself coming home exhausted, sleeping for eighteen consecutive hours, waking up and trying to write a book…and spending most of my time asking myself, “wait, where was Game 6 again? Oh yeah, San Diego. And who were they playing? Oh gosh, maybe Washington? Colorado? Dodgers? Shoot I don’t remember.”

So I wised up. And I spread it out over the entire season. Here’s a look at my current itinerary:

  • March 31: STL @ CIN
  • April 11: WAS @ ATL
  • April 14: SEA @ TEX 
  • April 15: KC @ HOU
  • April 16: NYM @ ARI
  • April 17: COL @ SD
  • May 7: NYY @ LAA
  • May 8: SF @ LAD 
  • May 10: KC @ SEA 
  • May 11: WAS @ OAK 
  • May 12: ATL @ SF 
  • May 18: BAL @ KC
  • June 3: ARI @ COL
  • June 25: OAK @ NYM 
  • June 26: MIA @ PHI
  • June 27: BOS @ NYY 
  • June 30: CHC @ BOS
  • July 1: COL @ WAS 
  • July 2: TEX @ BAL
  • July 18: TB @ MIN
  • Aug 5: BOS @ STL 
  • Aug 6: TEX @ CWS 
  • Aug 7: SF @ MIL 
  • Aug 8: TB @ CHC
  • Sept 17: NYY @ TB 
  • Sept 18: WAS @ MIA
  • Sept 21: MIL @ PIT
  • Sept 22: SEA @ TOR
  • Sept 23: CWS @ DET 
  • Sept 24: KC @ CLE

(It’s okay if you just scrolled through all that quickly without really looking at it. I understand.)

Not only will spreading it out make the entire project more manageable, but I imagine the storylines will be way more enjoyable as well. I’ll get to follow teams from start to finish. If this was the 2013 season, I’d remember how terrible the Dodgers were early, and how Don Mattingly was on the hot seat for his job, but then the Human Firecracker, Yasiel Puig, showed up and Hanley Ramirez got healthy and the Dodgers went on a tear and became one of the NL’s top teams. Storylines like that.

By spreading it out, the entire season comes better info focus. By zooming out, the stories become larger and the entire journey is able to gain more momentum.

The toughest part of creating the itinerary is maneuvering through the MLB schedule itself. On any given day of the week, only half the teams are playing at home. Throw in off-days and an All-Star break, and there’s something like a 40% chance* that any given team is actually playing in the city between Opening Day and the end of the season.

* – Just did the math…between March 31 and September 28 there are 210 days and each team only has 81 home games. Which makes it a 38.6% chance the team is in town. Basically, I nailed it.

So where to begin my scheduling?

Obviously I have to take my own personal schedule into account – I’m still working full-time and taking classes full-time through May and beginning again in August – but the best place to begin, I discovered, was finding the times where nearby teams were in town at the same time. I clustered teams together into a few geographical groups…

Chicago +1: Cubs, White Sox. Brewers
The Californians: Dodgers, Angels, Giants, Athletics, Padres
The East Coast: Yankees, Mets, Phillies, Nationals, Orioles, Red Sox
Florida: Rays, Marlins
Lake Erie: Tigers, Indians, Blue Jays, Pirates
Texas: Astros, Rangers
Middle of Nowhere*: Mariners, Rockies, Braves, Diamondbacks, Minnesota
Missouri…ish: Cardinals, Royals, Cincinnati

* – also a terrific Hanson album. #mmmbop

I knew I wanted to go to Cincinnati for Opening Day – the Reds have a long history of doing Opening Day (more on that later), and it served as the “official” OD location each year until recently. And since I live in Kansas City and St. Louis is only a few hours away, the “Missourish” section was easiest and most flexible. I decided to begin by finding the dates for the most difficult trips first.

One thing I discovered very early: cities with multiple MLB teams don’t schedule them at the same time. In order to hit two teams in one trip, I had to catch the last game of one series and the first game of the next. For Chicago, having Milwaukee in the mix, that was the most difficult task. I found my answer on August 6-8: the last game of the White Sox series, a Thursday afternoon game up in Milwaukee, and the first game of a Cubs series. Book it.

Then I checked out SF/OAK & LAD/LAA. Found both sets ending and beginning series right by each other in early May. Stuck a quick flight to Seattle in the middle…book it.

Then I went searching for NYY/NYM & BAL/WAS. Found the former in late June, the latter on the first two days of July. I squeezed Philly and Boston in between…book it.

I had a couple different possibilities for the Lake Erie group. I could hit the west side cities – Cleveland and Detroit – as a part of the Chicago trio. I could hit Toronto and Pittsburgh in between the New York and Baltimore/DC sections too. There was some flexibility there.

Then I looked at the teams I was dealing with and realized the right answer: I need to visit these games in September. As a fan of both the Cardinals and the Royals, I’ve watched the AL and NL Central compete over the last few years and know it will be a dogfight for the last two wild card games – Cleveland*, Detroit, Pittsburgh…and if Toronto can have a bounce back year anything like last year’s Red Sox did, it should be the perfect storm of drama leading up to the playoffs. And with all four teams playing home games the second to last week of the season, that’s where I want to be as the season is winding down….book it.

* – Especially if my Royals are fighting for a spot too, that last game in Cleveland could get pretty exciting.

Then I noticed that Tampa and Miami were playing back to back just a couple days before the Lake Erie tour…book it.

Here’s something funny: it took me months – months! – to remember that i was already going to Denver in June with my youth group. Duh! Sure enough, the Rockies were in town the exact days we were going to be there. Guess what students?! I just figured out what our evening excursion is going to be on June 3…book it.

So that leaves the two Texas teams, 60% of the Middle of Nowheres and the Padres. What do I do with a smörgåsbord like that? Solution: bunch em all together, get em out of the way early, and move from east to west so I’m gaining hours and not losing them.

I found a stretch in April that worked out almost perfectly: Atlanta to Arlington to Houston to Phoenix to San Diego. Six days. Five games. Book it.

That just leaves Minnesota.

And I am NOT going there until it is nice and toasty this summer. Did you guys hear it was -36F there yesterday morning?! Why does anyone live there?! I just don’t understand how that’s possible. But wait a minute…where’s the All-Star Game this year?

Minnesota.

Ooooooo. So tempting. We’ll see if I can make that happen, but if not, the Twins are for sure in town the weekend immediately after the ASG so that can serve as a safety net regardless of if I can figure out a way to finagle my way into the ASG or not. Also, I’m still uncertain whether going to the All-Star Game at Target Field actually counts – it completes the ballpark requirement, but I won’t even see the Twins play! So I might end up spending a few days there and hitting both just to make sure I’m covered.

Plus the closest IKEA is in Minneapolis*, so….book it.

* – That is, until September 2014, when we finally get one in Kansas City! I hear we’re getting color television soon too. And Creed was just here a few months ago. Look out world.

So there you have it. The itinerary split up into major sections…

1. The Smörgåsbord (April 11-17)
2. The West Coast (May 7-13)
3. The East Coast (June 25-July 2)
4. The Chicagoans +1 (August 6-8)
5. Florida & Lake Erie (September 17-24)

…with a few single game additions in between…

1. Opening Day, Cincinnati (March 31)
2. Dressed to the Nines Day*, Kansas City (May 18)
3. Youth Group, Colorado (June 3)
4. All-Star Week, Minnesota (July 15&18)
5. World Series Rematch*, St. Louis (Aug 5)

* – More on these later. For now, you can get some more info in these two places: Dressed to the Nines Day on Facebook and this Instagram post from before Game 4.

And when you put it all together it looks a lot like a Table of Contents. Interesting.

1. Opening Day, Cincinnati (March 31)
2. The Smörgåsbord (April 11-17)

3. The West Coast (May 7-13)
4. Dressed to the Nines Day, Kansas City (May 18)
5. Youth Group, Colorado (June 3)

6. The East Coast (June 25-July 2)
7. All-Star Week, Minnesota (July 15&18)
8. World Series Rematch, St. Louis (Aug 5)

9. The Chicagoans +1 (August 6-8)
10. Florida + Lake Erie (September 17-24)

So there you have it. My itinerary and how it came about.

It may not stay all the same. (Read: it probably won’t all stay the same.) There may be opportunities along the way to hit games earlier or later than planned. There also might be a missed flight or flat tire or death or dismemberment that may throw a wrench in the whole thing…sorta like my fantasy football team when half the team gets injured. Things will happen outside my control, and I hope those make for some of the best moments in the whole book.

Or, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann once said, “The road emerged only as I walked it.”

-apc.

PS – Thanks to everyone who has pledged to this project so far – I’m 17% of the way to my goal in just 2 days – and thanks in advance to those of you who are going to follow this link and help me out by pre-pre-ordering the book.

Image cred: http://moneyqanda.com/major-league-baseball-stadiums/