Game 28: Rogers Centre, Toronto

O Canada!

Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,

O Canada,
we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada,
we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada,
we stand on guard for thee.

In the early 90’s, while other kids were slicing through defenses as Bo Jackson and Walter Peyton in Tecmo Bowl, I was bunting and stealing with Tim Raines and Vince Coleman and launching home runs with Matt Nokes and Darryl Strawberry in RBI Baseball.

There were only 10 team options on the original game: California, Boston, Minnesota, St. Louis, Houston, New York Mets, Detroit, San Francisco, and the American and National League All-Stars. Those were your only options. Before each game, after you selected your teams, the game would play the first few measures of the Star-Spangled Banner. It was always somewhat annoying because I was ready to play ball and was forced to sit through the song. I would still press A repeatedly, trying my hardest to speed up the game…it never helped. But I did it anyway.

A few years later, I picked up RBI Baseball 3, which featured every MLB team with expanded current rosters, past playoff team rosters, and much thinner ballplayers. I remember being so excited to play as the entire Montreal team because Tim Raines was the only player from the original game from the Expos and he was so fast. I also had a strange affinity for Marquis Grissom, Montreal’s centerfielder.

I remember opening that game, inserting the cartridge – probably pulling it out and blowing into if a dozen times – then selecting Montreal (subbing in Grissom off the bench), sitting and listening to the Star-Spangled Banner…

…but what was this other song?!?

You mean when I play as the Expos, I’m forced to sit through two anthems? Well, so much for playing as the Expos* ever again. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

* – As this tour is drawing to a close, it’s dawning on me how disappointing it is that Montreal doesn’t have a ball club anymore. That crazy fan base deserves one. Maybe if they host another exhibition series next year I’ll make the trip up for an epilogue/bonus Chapter 31.

Unless you chose the other Canadian team to play against. Then you only had to listen to one song and could play ball sooner. Brilliant!

That team was, obviously, the Toronto Blue Jays. And while I was busy playing them in RBI Baseball, they were busy ruling the baseball world in the early 90s.

The Jays won two consecutive World Series in 1992 and 1993 with contributions from Roberto Alomar, John Olerud and his helmet, Dave Winfield, Jimmy Key, Paul Molitor, Juan Guzman and, of course, Joe Carter, who hit a walkoff HR to take home the Series in Game 6 in 1993.

Things are done a little differently north of the border. The French Canadian influence isn’t nearly as heavy in Toronto as it is in Montreal but things remain just a tiny bit different from baseball on the other side of the border.

Baseball games are liturgical. There’s an order of events that takes place at every game that the patrons are familiar with. It usually goes something like this…

Around 15 minutes before gametime, there is a ceremonial first pitch or three. After some announcements about how charitable the team is, starting lineups are announced. Then “all rise and remove your caps for the playing of our National Anthem.” Then some kid gets called upon to shout out “Play Ball!”

Fast forwarding through goofy gimmicks like the Kiss Cam, Ball Shuffle, Flex Cam, Grounds Crew Inning, Trivia Contests, the Jump Around Cam, Condiment Races*, etc., to the 7th Inning Stretch where we all stand up and sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and usually “God Bless America” too.

* – For those of you dying to know, Mustard won the 2014 Championship in KC. Relish led all season and then choked down the stretch. Ketchup fell on his face in the finale. You’ll get em next year, Relish,

Each team has it’s own flare to their liturgy. The Angels use the Rally Monkey. The Rays have their cowbells. The Nationals spell out N-A-T-S after each run scored. The Royals play “Kansas City” and sing “hey, hey, hey, hey!” after each home win.

But as a whole, a baseball fan from anywhere can enter a different ballpark without feeling disoriented to what’s going on. There’s an order that we’ve all learned over our years as baseball fans. And even beyond that, there’s a way for us as fans to engage in the rituals offered by the game. Chanting. Clapping. Rally caps. Throwing back home run balls. Booing Robinson Cano.

Toronto was disorienting at two major moments. The first we’ve already talked about: the Canadian National Anthem, “O Canada.”

The second occurs during the 7th Inning Stretch. Rather than rolling straight into “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the Jays have their own song with choreographed calisthenics that comes first called “OK Blue Jays (Let’s Play Ball!). It goes like this…

You’ve got a diamond
You’ve got nine men
You’ve got a hat and a bat
And that’s not all
You’ve got the bleachers
Got ’em from spring ’til fall
You got a dog and a drink
And the umpire’s call
Waddaya want?
Let’s play ball!

Okay (okay)
Blue Jays (Blue Jays)
Let’s (Let’s) Play (Play) Ball!

I’m not one to typically judge cultural differences, but that song is weird and you’re throwing off the entire rhythm of the game. Just do it the way it’s supposed to be done. Sheesh. (Just kidding. Kinda.)

All that to say, it’s an obvious connection to how different communities engage in a worship gathering. What are the rhythms of baseball as a whole, but how does each team orient their practices around these rhythms. Fascinating stuff.

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The Rogers Centre was once the newest and most impressive ballpark in the game. It was built in 1989 as the SkyDome and was the first retractable that worked. The Expos’ Olympic Stadium was supposed to open up but never worked properly, but the SkyDome preceded every other working retractable roof: Houston, Arizona, Seattle, Milwaukee and Miami, It was a modern marvel: 22 million pounds that could slide open at the flip of a switch and get 90% of the seats in the sun.

It was closed last night, which was disappointing, but otherwise Toronto was a terrific host.

The place is huge and embedded among the buildings of downtown Toronto. It has the feel of a basketball or hockey arena more than a ballpark from the outside. And the proximity of the surrounding structures made it impossible to get a picture of the entire park from outside.

It’s right next to the CN Tower, the skyline’s giant space needle. When the roof is open, the Tower can be seen looming above the outfield.

There’s a hotel inside the ballpark too, which is pretty sweet. Imagine sitting i your hotel room and watching the game happen outside your window. Almost wish I’d sprung for a room but it’s hard to beat $8 tickets behind the plate.

With the roof closed, the interior is cavernous. I read somewhere that the peak of the dome is something like 300 feet above the playing field, which allows for 5 levels of seats, not that anyone was sitting up top. It holds 49,282 fans.

The other thing I noticed that was a stark contrast to American teams: it was very evident the ballpark attendants do not care at all where fans sit. Everyone was right behind the plate, myself included. Our tickets were in section 521. We sat in section 120. Nearly every fan in the place was packed in the lower level and just kinda picked whatever seat they wanted with no argument from the staff.

In nearly every other park, you can’t just waltz down to the lower level without some sort of questioning or permission from a staff person. Even at the most sparsely attended games most section attendants require the correct ticket when it comes to the lower level seats. Chalk it up to good ole Canadian passivity, probably.

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The kid in this picture was terrific the whole game. Just going crazy after every half inning. Later, the woman standing next to him won $4,300 the 50/50 Raffle. But that’s all I have to say about that.

Toronto seems likes a great city. Of what I saw of it, it felt a ton like Chicago – right on the Lake, lots of sprawling suburbs, and you can even see the city from across the lake just like you can Chicago from Gary, Indiana. It’s a big city, and s beautiful one. But what really made it a great experience was the game itself. So let’s get to that now.

Game Note:

The Blue Jays are on the verge of elimination, but they opened up a series against the Seattle Mariners last night who are right in the midst of the Wild Card race. They are currently the first team out of the AL playoff race, and last night’s game pushed them another step out of contention.

Tonight’s matchup is R.A. Dickey against Felix Hernandez. This marks the third time I’ve missed seeing King Felix pitch by a day. Instead we saw James Paxton for Seattle and J.A. Happ for Toronto. Happ was solid through 7 innings. Paxton was not solid and didn’t make it through the 3rd.

This one was a blowout.

The Blue Jays lit up the Mariners for 14 runs on 16 hits. Former Royal, Danny Valencia got them started early with a bases loaded triple in the 1st, and a 5 run 3rd made it a 9-1 game early.

Jose Bautista, aka Joey Bats, had a day: 3-3 with a HR, BB, and 3 runs scored. He also had a great day on defense. He threw out Logan Morrison from the warning track as Morrison tried to turn a single into a double, and he had a Web Gem snag diving across his body in right-centerfield.

The Jays hit two more homers – Kevin Pillar in the 6th and Anthony Gose batting for Bautista in the 7th.

Happ got into a bit of trouble in the first and allows Austin Jackson to score before working around runners on 1st and 3rd with 1 out. The Mariners hit two solo HRs late in the game – Seagar off of Happ in the 6th, but the other off the bullpen in the 9th by Denorfia – and scored another in the 8th to make it less embarrassing, but the Jays hit the ball hard all night and won 14-4. The Jays side of my scorecard was very busy.

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The Mariners fell further behind the Royals, Athletics and Tigers for the wild card spots. Either the Royals or Tigers will win the AL Central, and two of the other three will take the WC spots. Seattle is beginning to look like the team left out.

On the road back to the United States now. See you soon, Detroit.

Twenty-eight down. Two to go.

Up next: Detroit Tigers.

-apc.

Game 10: Safeco Field, Seattle

Two things about Seattle: it’s an awesomely beautiful place, and their residents don’t really care about their sports teams.

Sure, it’s fun to go to a Seahawks or a Mariners game, but this is not a passionate fan base. They cheer for their team, but it’s more about being outdoors and enjoying the night together than it is about the success of the team.

So this post won’t talk about the team much. Because, frankly, it’s not what’s important in Seattle.

What is important: recycling, bike riding, the public market, conserving energy, the outdoors…it’s a very “green” city in both the colorful and ecological senses.

And why wouldn’t you be? It’s a gorgeous place. Coming from smoggy LA to crisp and clean Seattle was like biting into a York Peppermint Patty.

It’s no wonder why so many people move to the Pacific Northwest. It’s a breathtakingly pretty place.

My wife, Karlie, is with me on this portion of the Tour. We spent time with some of our KC friends have moved up here recently – Meredith and Tim & Beth. Meredith has spent the last two years as a student at Seattle Pacific University while Tim & Beth made the move this past fall. They’re new to the area, and they love it, but they’re definitely still dealing with the tension of leaving home behind.

We went to the Mariners game with Tim & Beth and had a blast rooting for the Royals, who won easily, 6-1. They’re going back again tonight to cheer on the boys in blue.

For Meredith, Seattle is starting to feel like home a bit though. She’s built a new community of college friends and found a church she loves. Plus, college just fosters an atmosphere of meeting new people and building new life-long friendships. Kansas City is still home though – her parents and sisters are back there and she definitely misses their faces.

Meredith showed us around town in the afternoon. We visited the Market, saw the Gum Wall* and the original Starbucks. We walked down to the Waterfront and I ate a crab-stuffed king salmon for lunch because salmon is to Seattle as a BBQ sandwich is to KC. Comparably priced too.

* – Business idea: set up a candy shop/bubble gum machine right next to the Gum Wall. Guaranteed millions.

Occasionally when I visit different cities I remember that I have the freedom to live anywhere I want. I’ve lived in Kansas City for 27 years, and I don’t really want to leave, but the thought of leaving sometimes crosses my mind. My wife and I love to dream about how amazing it would be to live somewhere new: explore a new city, eat different foods, and enjoy different weather. Maybe even cheer for new sports teams…ehhhh, doubtful.

Seattle was definitely one of those places. It’s a gorgeous city, surrounded by green forests and white-capped mountains sitting on the bay. The weather oscillates from sunny to rainy by the moment, and the salmon and crab are the freshest you’ll find.

But wait. We couldn’t do that. We can’t leave our home!

But what is it that makes something “home”?

I’ve heard that pets make a house feel like a home. Or putting pictures on the walls. Or plants. But what makes a new city feel like home? My opinion…

Family. Community. Relationships.

It’s the only reason I’m still living in Kansas City; that’s where my people are, and that’s what makes it home.

Meredith is starting to feel like she has those things in Seattle. She has a community and has established a web of relationships, but she still misses here other people back in KC. Which one is home for her? Tough to say.

Tim and Beth have been in the northwest for much less time and are still getting to know their new community. Beth told us a story from right after they moved here where she saw a guy wearing a K-State shirt (her alma mater), and she said wanted to hug him because it was someone she “knew”. She was missing Kansas City, and that guy was a glimpse of home.

It felt that way after the game last night too as we were throwing up high fives and shouting “go Royals!” to everyone in a KC cap. An extension of our community back home.

We aren’t moving to Seattle – or anywhere else in the world probably – but it isn’t because we wouldn’t love to. It’s because of our family, community and relationships we have in KC. And that’s what makes it our home.

Game Notes:

There was a game too, and the Royals pretty much dominates by slapping 16 singles al over the yard. Everyone but Mike Moustakas had a single, and six different guys had 2+ singles.

Brandon Maurer, the Seattle starter, had a bizarro line: 7.1 IP, 14 H, 6 R, 4 ER…0 BB and 0 K. Jayson Stark of ESPN posted to Twitter that it was the first time someone had given up 14+ hits with 0 BB and 0 K since Whitey Ford in 1966.

Jason Vargas was terrific for the Royals: 7 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 6 K.

The Mariners offense is struggling, and I don’t expect them to pick up any against Yordano Ventura tonight. The Royals ought to win their 6th series in the last 8 chances and get back to .500 for the first time in over a week.

I should also note: the retractable roof is super cool at Safeco. It takes about 10-15 minutes to open/close, and when we got there it was closed due to some rain. But, as Seattle weather does, the next moment it was sunny and mostly perfect, so they opened it up.

It was a quick trip, and I wish we could’ve stayed longer, but it’s on to Oakland tonight!

Ten down. Twenty to go.

Up Next: Oakland Athletics.

-apc.

The West Coast Tour

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Let’s recap.

The tour began in Cincinnati for the Opening Day. Then it came home to Kansas City and over to St. Louis for the home openers in the two ballparks where I feel home. Then the tour took me east to west across the southern part of the country for what I called The Smorgasbord Tour: Atlanta, Arlington, Houston, Arizona and San Diego.

Exploring each of these ballparks, talking with the fan base, experiencing the traditions and taking in the the atmosphere, have sparked some significant conversations and with each visit, I find that the book I am working on is slowly being framed in new ways.

Opening Day was so full of hope; visiting my “home” ballparks was an exercise in self-discovery which then spilled over into Atlanta, Arlington and Houston. Arizona sparked the the concept of conversion, and the green space in San Diego began planting thoughts of creation and Creator, gardens and Gardener.

And after two weeks back home, it’s time for the fourth phase of my ballpark tour…

The West Coast.

Tomorrow evening, my wife and I depart for Los Angeles, then on to Seattle, Oakland and San Francisco.

Here’s the list of ballparks, games and probable pitching matchups I’ll be seeing this week…*

  • 5/8 – San Francisco @ LA Dodgers (Vogelsong vs Beckett)
  • 5/9 – Kansas City @ Seattle (Vargas vs Maurer)
  • 5/10 – Washington @ Oakland (Roark vs Gray)
  • 5/12 – Atlanta @ San Francisco (Harang vs Lincecum)

* – Originally, I had the Angels on my list for tomorrow night, but a flight mix up is getting me to Los Angeles a few hours later than I had planned. Thankfully, my sister-in-law graduates from UCLA in mid-June and I’ll be back in the area to catch the Halos then. Phew.

Lots to love in this lineup.

First of all, and this is no offense to those I’ve already visited, but I think the ballparks are about to up their game immensely.

Dodger Stadium is the oldest ballpark not named Wrigley or Fenway.

Safeco Field is one of the more intriguing destinations. The roof is so unique, and Seattle just feels so far away.

I got to walk through AT&T park a couple winters ago. It was actually set up for a NCAA bowl game. Gorgeous views of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, and the Coke bottle and giant glove beyond left field have served as my Facebook banner ever since (image above).

And then there’s Oakland.

O.Co Coliseum is widely understood to be the worst ballpark in the MLB. The sewers backup in the locker rooms a few times a season. It’s one of the last football-convertible ballparks around, and the giant moveable grandstands in center field – known as Mount Davis, named after the late Raiders’ owner Al Davis – is a complete eye sore. The foul territory is enormous and pretty much anywhere you sit places you way too far away from the action.

However, I’m excited to see Sonny Gray in person. He was just tabbed as the AL Pitcher of the Month for April. He’s 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA so far this season. If the same Nationals team shows up in Oakland that did (or didn’t) in Atlanta, it should be a fun game to cheer for the home team.

I get to see the Royals play again. This time in Seattle and this time it’s Vargas instead if Ventura. Bummed it’s not King Felix too. Can’t win em all.

When Clayton Kershaw was making his comeback from injury, it started to look like he was going to get his first start back around this week. Instead, it’s tonight, and we’ll see Josh Beckett instead against Vogelsong. Still should be a solid matchup, but honestly, the mystique and excitement of seeing a game at the Chavez Ravine makes the game itself less crucial. However, If Yasiel Puig isn’t back from his encounter with the outfield wall by Thursday, I’ll be pretty bummed.

Finally, the marquee matchup of this week: Aaron Harang versus Tim Lincecum. Harang has been phenomenal – he threw 6 innings, 5 hits, 1 run when I saw him in ATL. Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young winner, hasn’t been great yet this year, and it’s probably his haircut that’s the issue. Really excited about this one.

Get ready for another series of ballpark posts from out west…and probably prepare for some late night ball game live-tweeting too.

-apc.

Game 5: Globe Life Park in Arlington

From the outside, Globe Life Park looks like more of a fortress than a ballpark. It is a massive brick structure with arched gates and peaked turrets, but it sits in the same complex as the Cowboys’ ridiculously huge AT&T Stadium so that makes it feel a bit less daunting. But don’t be fooled. It’s still Texas, and it’s still huge.

photo-21This was my second trip to the Ballpark. My last trip was 11 years ago. My family was in DFW for my cousin Ryan’s wedding, and the Royals happened to be in town that weekend too. Today, Ryan works for the fire department and he sports one of the most gnarly mustaches you’ll ever see. He and his family live in Abilene, TX, now, so he and his son, Graham, were able to join me for last night’s game.

The Rangers have been here since 1994, the year after Nolan Ryan retired, but his name is still found all over the place as he is the CEO of the Rangers today. Even the hot dogs are “Nolan Ryan Beef” dogs. Nolan Ryan has always been a favorite of my cousins*, and since I’m a handful of years younger, that’s probably the primary reason he’s been a favorite of mine over the years as well.

* – This might get a bit dicey trying to reference Nolan Ryan and my cousin, Ryan, in the same post. If you get confused, I understand. I’m trying my best to wordsmith so it’s clear. I do the same thing when I’m trying to avoid using the possessive form of Jesus’s name the name of Jesus in the possessive.

It’s funny how things like that rub off on you. Someone in your life you look up to likes something? Well, it’s only right that you adopt that thing too.

Oh, you like The Eagles, Dad? Yeah, me too.

Oh, you drink coffee, Mom? Yeah, me too.

Oh, you like Nolan Ryan, cuz? Yeah, me too.

It’s amazing how influential those people we admire truly are in our lives. I think if we all took a moment to think through our interests, careers and values, we could trace them all back to someone in our lives who modeled it for us.

Another individuals who I looked up to as a high schooler was my small group leader, Rapley, who now teaches accounting at the University of North Texas, and drove 45 minutes down from Denton to come to the game last night as well.

Rapley spent four years – freshman through senior year – committed to my group of friends at the church we grew up at. He was there week after week. Rapley wasn’t a youth pastor – he was an accountant in KC during those years – but he was present and committed to our group, and I looked up to him and he helped pastor me anyway.

Rapley was a K-State graduate, and he loved throwing around the Alf phrase, “Relax Willie, no problem!” I was too young to know the reference (and I still don’t really know it), but the guys in our group picked it up and worked it into our lexicon. Not because we knew the origin, but because if Rapley used it, then we wanted to too.

photo-20More importantly, I admired both of these men because of the way they taught me about being a man of God. Not through their intentional words, but through the way they lived their daily lives.

So the ability to be surrounded by Ryan and Rapley, both sitting with their sons, was an awesome experience for me last night in Arlington. They were spending time with me, sure, but more importantly, they were doing was shaping and forming their own sons.

I think something powerful happens when dads (or moms) take their sons (or daughters) to the events they care about. It’s a creator-created relationship, and the created child is being constantly formed in the way of the Creator.

I love getting to watch parents and kids interact at the ballpark. Dads teaching their sons to keep score. Moms dancing with their daughters in the aisles. Dads pointing out players and asking what number is on their uniform. Moms modeling for their sons cheers like, “Charge!” and “Let’s go [insert team name here]!” and “We want a single, S-I-N-G-L-E!” and more.

Baseball, unlike other sports, provides the perfect intimate setting for these interactions to take place. There is time to discuss and teach and invest in one another. It’s not just action packed intensity like football, and it’s not as fast-paced and noisy as basketball, and it provides breaks and silence in ways soccer and hockey doesn’t. It’s uniquely conversational and perfect for formation to take place.

All that to say, I loved being in the middle of these two father-son pairings. I’m thankful for these men in my life, and how they continue to model godliness to me through their love for their sons.

A couple additional notes before I move on to the game itself: the Rangers sell an item called the Boomstick. Which is a twenty-four inch hot dog for $26. It comes in a carrier that folds up with a handle and can be carried like a briefcase. We didn’t get one, but the family in front of us tag teamed one and licked the briefcase clean.

Also, the Rangers do a race called the Ozark Dot Race where three different color dots – Red, Blue and Green – race in from the left field warning track. It was fun to cheer for Relish Green, but then he finished last so clearly it’s rigged.

Game Notes:

The company was great, but the game itself stunk.

Colby Lewis was called up to make his first start in nearly 21 months for the Rangers. He’s a pretty cool story: Lewis was a major piece of the rotation during the 2010 and 2011 World Series teams, but hasn’t pitched since July 18, 2012. He’s spent the better part of 2 years trying to recover and finally made it back to start last night.

He had a respectable game. He gave up a solo homer in the 5th, and 2 runs to start the 6th. Lewis was pulled after that, and walked to the dugout to a standing ovation from the crowd. He looked sharp, which has to feel great for a guy who has worked so hard to get back there.

Unfortunately, the Rangers offense was pitiful again, and only managed 1 run the whole game. They hit into 4 double plays, and only had 3 batters reach 2nd base all night.

A day after watching the Braves offense exploding, I saw the Rangers bats do nothing at all against the Mariners’ Roenis Elias, who got his first win of his career.

The score was 1-0 going into the 6th, and everything still felt pretty good. Even after Lewis gave up 2 runs to make it 3-0, it felt like the Rangers still had a shot. But the defense made 3 errors and reliever Pedro Figeroa gave up 3 more hits en route to a 6 run inning for Seattle.

One of those errors was due to an overturned call. With the bases loaded, the Mariners chopped a ball back to Figeroa, who threw home to get the force out. The catcher, Arencibia, trying to transfer the ball out of his glove quickly and fire to first for the double play, dropped the ball taking it out of his glove.

Initially, the Rangers were given the out, but Mariners manager, Lloyd McClendon, challenged the call and Seattle picked up the run instead.

Then the most exciting moment of the game happened: Ron Washington got tossed. And fast.

Ryan’s question: “I wonder what he said to get himself thrown out so fast?”

photo-22Rangers got pounded, 7-1, and Prince Fielder’s #84 did nothing to help his physique.

Five down. Twenty-Five to go.

Up Next: Houston Astros.

-apc.