In New York, a different kind of quiet

HARLEM — It’s not the same quiet that comes from a summer holiday, when so many people flee from this place, leaving everything to be just a bit more hushed.

No, everybody’s still here. They’re still squeezing onto the subway, still blowing their horns at red lights, still asking if you’ll pay five bucks for one of the pirated DVDs in this plastic grocery bag. It’s just that they’re doing it more quietly.

You sense it in the firemen, an entire house of them roaming the block in their dress uniforms, looking for a place to eat together. Today, they’re no different from a family in its Sunday best after a morning at church.

You see them all the time, of course, bounding into the corner coffee shop, gear rattling, smelling like fresh smoke. They’re chattering as they stand in line while waiting for their drinks to be made, forgetting, maybe ignorning, the fact that they’re in public. You don’t get the inside jokes but you hear the words all the same. It gets loud.

Something else I’ve seen more than once: when it’s time to pay they’re told to save their money for next time.

It’s different today. Even with neck ties and blazers on, so many of them look like they couldn’t have been past grade school 13 years ago. As they walk the block, sticking their heads into doorways, hoping for places that will open for lunch, there is no chatter.

The city never forgets.

– 30 –

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Houston, we have a problem

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HOUSTON — I’d be pissed if this weren’t so hilarious. Makes me glad I signed up for United’s text messaging service:

– Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 415pm and arrives 520pm

– Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 608pm and arrives 714pm

– United gate change:
As of 2:39p Jul. 17,
UA259 IAH-SAN
gate is changed to E21.
Subject to change

– Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 639pm and arrives 745pm

– Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 700pm and arrives 806pm

– United gate change:
As of 4:05p Jul. 17,
UA259 IAH-SAN
gate is changed to E9.
Subject to change

– United gate change:
As of 5:39p Jul. 17,
UA259 IAH-SAN
gate is changed to C42.
Subject to change

–United flight delay:
As of 6:02p Jul. 17,
UA259 IAH-SAN
now departs at 6:45p from gate C42
on Jul. 17.
Subject to change

– Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 715pm and arrives 821pm

– Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 730pm and arrives 836pm

– Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 745pm and arrives 851pm

– Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 815pm and arrives 921pm

– Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 830pm and arrives 936pm

– Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 845pm and arrives 951pm

That’s 11 delays and three gate changes, if you’re scoring at home.

A woman at the gate just held her phone up and asked “IS ANYBODY HERE HAPPY!” Nobody was happy.

A few guys with guitars have started playing in the waiting area. They just wrapped up a lovely version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight before belting out Country Roads.

A frail old man in a wheelchair just rose to his feet, staggered to the gate agent, and raised his voice in Spanish.

A gate agent just wheeled up a cart of candy and soda. Looks like a peace offering.

It won’t be long now, I’m sure.

– 30 –

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Good call, preppy

tigersATLANTA — Getting room service is one of my favorite perks of the road. It’s a perfect fallback for those days when you just want to stay in and get some work done.

But the only drawback is that moment when the food arrives and you’ve got to let a stranger into you room. I always thought that was somewhat uncomfortable and it seems like I’m not the only one.
It used to be that you’d answer the door and the server would just walk through the door and drop the tray off. But in recent years, I notice that they’re now trained to ask for permission to come in. At least, that’s how it works at Marriotts.

It’s pretty common for there to be some small talk while you’re signing the bill. It’s usually standard stuff: weather (have you been able to enjoy it?), the city (have you ever been here before?, what happens to be on TV (so, you’re a baseball fan?)

But sometimes, that small talk can be plain awkward, like this morning when the server noticed my T-shirt.

Server: “Bayside, is that in California or something?

Me: “Actually, it’s from an old TV show.”

(long pause, eyes frantically scan the room)

Server: “So, you’re golfing?”

And that’s how I met the only person on Earth who hasn’t seen an episode of Saved by the Bell. Also, bonus points for the abrupt subject change.

– 30 –

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Franco Harris, Founding Father (?!?!)

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PITTSBURGH — Stupid things already encountered at the airport this morning:

1. Franco Harris, George Washington, you know, just a couple of American heroes standing on equal ground. Also, lack of perspective is fun!

2. A flight is either full or it isn’t full. I want to say this to the gate agent who keeps announcing that this flight is completely full. There is no need to modify “full,” in the same way that there’s no need to modify “crash” or “burn,” since you’re either crashing and burning, or you’re not. One does not crash and burn partially.

3. I’d also like to tell the folks in boarding group 39 to have a seat so the folks in the first 38 boarding groups may board the plane without feeling like they’re making their way to the bar on a Saturday night.

Anyway, on to Atlanta!

– 30 –

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‘This isn’t the fucking PGA Tour’

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NEW JERSEY — Things I learned on the golf course today from the very friendly and hilarious older Middle Eastern man that I had the pleasure of playing with this morning:

When a ball ends up in a muddy bunker: “Get that shit out of there. This isn’t the fucking PGA Tour.”

When the guy ahead of you spends too much time fishing a ball out of a lake: “Somebody tell that guy lent is over. Stop fucking fishing!”

When your Brazilian son-in-law picks the name Laila Maria the name of his first born daughter: “At least it’s not Nicole or Madison or some shit like that. The girls I get lapdances from in Memphis are always named Tiffany or Amber. If he named them that shit, I would have killed him!”

When your son-in law tops a ball off the tee for like the eighth time: “You lifted your head, your body, your feet… like Jesus!”

And before you ask, no, I did not play with the Iron Sheik.

– 30 –

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Ten years

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MIAMI

Ten years ago tonight, I lost my sister, Carolyn. That’s her, second from the right. I’m pretty sure she organized this wonderfully cheesy Christmas photo, which is now in a frame in my brother’s living room. It sounds like something she’d do, anyway. 

I’d love to write something uplifting about her here. It shouldn’t be very hard, since she was better than me in every conceivable way. I’d like to tell an old story, and bring back an old memory, and hope that somebody who knew her might read this and share one of their own.

I’ve spent much of the day thinking about how I might do this. Now, it’s nearly gone, and the right words haven’t come. I know why, I think. If I’ve learned something over the last decade, it’s that time might help to close a wound, and it might even take the freshness away from the sting.

But time doesn’t heal shit.

So, instead, I’ll pass along something I wrote about her a few years back. Just as I am now, I was on a road trip for work, and I didn’t know quite what to do. It’s from this exact same date, one that I’ll dread for the rest of my life. As it turns out, time doesn’t help with that sort of thing, either.

 

June 21, 2004

PHOENIX — The last time I heard my little sister’s voice, she was telling be about how she was going to see her favorite band, “No Doubt.” She’d loved them for years. But for the first time, she got the chance to see them live, and she couldn’t wait.

Those who were with her at the concert that night would tell me later that when the band took the stage to play their first song — they opened with “Hella Good” — she was euphoric. Midway through the song they looked back and saw her dancing. When the music stopped they looked again, only this time, she was motionless on the ground.

There’s no way to know for sure, of course. But I’ve always prayed that the last thing she heard in this world was that first song in her first concert with her favorite band. Mostly, I pray that it at least brought her some joy in the moments before she died.

Her name was Carolyn, but we all called her Lyn, and I spent every minute of today thinking about her. She died on June 21, 2004, exactly six years ago today, though to me it still feels like six minutes.

My kid brother, who used to call her “manang” because it means big sister, is the one who broke the news to me that night. He called just past 1 a.m. on the East Coast so I figured it was bad. He sobbed but kept himself together just long enough to say, “it’s manang…” The way he said it, he didn’t have to finish the sentence.

The morning that we buried her, I did the most important thing I’ll ever do in my life. I delivered her eulogy. I closed it with a line from the last song she heard:

You’ve got me feeling hella good
So let’s just keep on dancing

I figured that it was just about what she would’ve told us herself that day if she could. After this terrible thing, she would’ve wanted us to keep living our lives, to keep on dancing. Thankfully, as hard as it was, we did.

One of the people with her that night, her best friend, has since gotten married. Soon, she’ll be a mom. The other person with her that night, our cousin, recently had her first baby, a beautiful daughter, named Wynterlyn. My other little sister is working a job she loves and is on her way to a college degree. My little brother is getting married in October. I’ll be there as his best man.

After tonight, I’m more convinced than ever that Lyn will be there, too.

It was the eighth inning and the Yankees were getting beat badly and it was easy for the mind to wander. I looked at the clock on my laptop and realized that it was about this time of night, exactly six years ago, when my phone rang and it was my brother.

Right then, over the stadium loudspeakers, I heard it playing.

It was “No Doubt.” They were singing “Hella Good.”

– 30 –

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From No. 33 to No. 1: My all-time ballpark rankings

20130517-081626.jpg CHICAGO — I attended my first big league ballgame in 1989. And since that traumatizing evening at dumpy old Candlestick Park, my goal has been to see as many ballparks as possible.

Just this week, I checked No. 33 off the list when the Mets played a four-game series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. That leaves just three more current stadiums to see — Petco Park in San Diego, PNC Park in Pittsburgh, and Minute Maid Park in Houston. The Mets’ schedule will take me to Petco and PNC Park by the end of the season.

Minute Maid Park might have to wait until the Astros make the playoffs — assuming that they haven’t built themselves a brand new ballpark by then.

My methodology was both subjective and imprecise (no different from an MVP ballot, amirite?)

I factored in whether I found a place aesthetically pleasing. That can mean many things, though I put a heavy emphasis on distinctiveness. For instance, there’s no mistaking Fenway Park and the Green Monster for any place else. Same for the bricks and ivy of Wrigley Field or the lime-green outfield wall and home run monstrosity at Marlins Park. (Yes, I’m a fan.)

After all, you shouldn’t need more than once glance to know where you are.

Keep in mind that this is not a fan’s guide. It’s more based on my impressions as a reporter. While there are a few these parks I’ve seen only as a fan, I’ve seen most as a media member, so I took working conditions into consideration.

In this case, that means the size and location of the press box, and its proximity in relation to the field or the clubhouse. Such things come in handy when you’re pressed for time on deadline following a night game. Or if you’re upstairs writing an early edition story before the game and you realize that your competitors are on the field, talking to the general manager of the team that you cover.

For example, for all of its history, Wrigley Field is a reporter’s nightmare because you’ve got to wade through the crowd to get to the visitor’s clubhouse after the game. It’s like being a salmon swimming upstream. Except the stream can sometimes be hammered and belligerent following a loss. Meanwhile, Tropicana Field has all the charm of a warehouse, but it has a low press box and a conveniently located stairwell that makes for quick access to the field and to both clubhouses.

These things reflect in my rankings. Anyway, enough of this preamble. Let’s get to it. (Note: Almost all photos are taken from the press box):

33. Candlestick Park, San Francisco
I’ll never forget waiting in line to get into a men’s room that was so overrun that those who were tall enough relieved themselves in the sinks. I was 10. These things stay with you. I never covered a baseball game here but I did do a 49ers game. I learned that it would rank dead last on my list of football stadiums, too.

32. U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago
Shaving some rows off the top deck, extending the roof, and changing the color palette from blue to black has helped make the place look a bit more current. But the press box is cramped and it’s located way down the right field line — offering the worst view in the big leagues.

31. Joe Robbie Stadium, Miami
It’s everything you’d expect about cramming a baseball field into a football stadium. The press box was low enough to watch fans — often delirious from the oppressive heat and humidity — getting into full-blown fist fights with each other. This might have been the only highlight.

30. RFK Stadium, Washington
It was big, gray and round, exactly the kind of concrete donut you’d find in your garden variety Eastern Bloc nation. It would have been perfectly suited to host soccer games in Sarajevo, not baseball games in the nation’s capital. The only reliable way from the press box to the clubhouse was through the narrow stadium ramps. I hear there was an elevator, though the last writer to use it was last seen in 1971.

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29. Turner Field, Atlanta
The ballpark was adapted from the Olympic Stadium originally built for the games in 1996. It’s really not that long ago, but for some reason, the venue looks and feels 20 years older than it actually is. Otherwise, it’s a perfectly solid place to work. The stadium has an elevator reserved for media needing to get from the press box to the service level — always helpful on a tight deadline.

28. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati
Sure, I can’t find much to complain about here. But I also can’t find much to like either. Other than baseballs flying over the fence at an alarming rate, I find very little distinctive about the ballpark itself. The view of the river would be nice except the river isn’t much to look at — unless you’re a big fan of mud.

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27. Busch Stadium, St. Louis
The view of the famous Gateway Arch dominates the skyline beyond center field. The red brick on the facade of the stadium is also a nice touch, along with the various statues honoring the franchise’s greats. Because it’s the Cardinals, they’ve had plenty of players worthy of such honor. But the press box is a bit too high up for my taste.

26. Coors Field, Denver
Sadly, first impressions count. I’m sure it’s a lovely place in normal weather. But my only experience here involved two blizzards, two postponements, and a horrendous doubleheader played through snow flurries and bitter cold. The trees behind the batter’s eye in centerfield and near the bullpens looked pretty.

25. Chase Field, Phoenix
On first glance, the ballpark looks like a maintenance hanger built for the space shuttle. And it appears just as cavernous from the inside as the stands go seem to go straight into the air. Yet, it seemed like a comfortable place to see a game. I suppose that has a lot do with the air conditioning.

24. Nationals Park, Washington
The press box is named after the late, great, Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich. It is so named because reporters share the same view of the field as Mr. Povich currently enjoys. The capitol dome is visible from the sky-high press box. As is the international space station, the asteroid belt, and several of Jupiter’s moons.

23. Shea Stadium, New York
Two memories of my one game here as a fan: 1. I had to turn my body all night long to see home plate, and 2. You could land a 747 in the space between my seat and the batter’s box, and we were in the lower bowl. But I got to see the Home Run Apple. Sadly, I never got to cover a game here, though I’m told by the veterans in the press corps that I didn’t miss much.

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22. Comerica Park, Detroit
I’ve never understood this. But no matter what time of year, even when the weather was pretty, the local writers never opened the windows in the press box. (Customarily, the home team’s writers sit in the front row, thus it is their call whether or not to open the windows). It always felt as if we were watching a game from a glass case.

21. Miller Park, Milwaukee
Sure, it’s cheesy. But seeing Bernie Brewer go down his slide always makes me happy. The place always looks so cavernous on television but somehow it feels completely different in person. The place looks even better when the giant windows behind the outfield are opened.

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20. Ameriquest Field, Texas
Ordinarily, I’m no fan of indoor press boxes because I love the sound of the crowd. But when you’re in a land of heat, humidity, and Texas-sized insects, I say bring on the windows. I’ve always liked the overhang in right field and the way fans dive into that grassy hill in center field to chase after home run balls.

19. Progressive Field, Cleveland
From the high wall in left, to the toothbrush-shaped light towers, I’ve always appreciated just how different this ballpark looks from the rest. It’s a comfortable place to cover a game unless it’s bug season. I know a native Clevelander who insists that the mustard here is superior to the mustard anywhere else. I tried it once. It tasted like plain old mustard to me.

18. Rogers Centre, Toronto
I’m clearly biased since Canada will always be my favourite road country. But I’ve always been amused by the fact that there’s a hotel overlooking the field. The vintage baseball card machine — one pack of 1990 Donruss for one toonie! — used to be a frequent stop when I came through while covering the Yankees. It’s a tough place to write after the game because a.) the grounds crew makes a tremendous amount of noise to take care of a layer of dirt and fake grass and b.) they turn off the air conditioning. Biggest regret: never having the chance to book one of those rooms.

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17. Tropicana Field, Tampa
If you ever needed an early story, all you had to do was go to Jorge Posada’s locker, say the word “catwalks,” and then hit the little red record button. It’s not a pretty ballpark. But the press box is low and both clubhouses are close. This came in handy very on Sept. 29, 2011 — otherwise known as Game No. 162.

16. Metrodome, Minneapolis
I covered the last baseball game ever played here, after which I fulfilled a childhood dream by jumping into the Hefty Bag in right field. Just like in Tampa, the press box was low and offered a perfect view of the field. There was even a small concessions stand in the back of the press box.

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15. Oakland Coliseum, Oakland
It’s a dump, but it’s home. It’s where my family still goes to games. It’s where my brother and my buddies used to spend Saturday afternoons. And it’s where I once heckled Raul Mondesi by calling him a Dodger reject. He responded by making eye contact with me before grabbing his crotch. I deserved it.

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14. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
The Phillies did everything right when they built this place. I love the view of the skyline, especially at dusk, and the crowds here bring so much energy. They took it to another level during the 2009 World Series against the Yankees. Every time I come here, I find it difficult to lay off buying some of the cool stuff in the Mitchell and Ness store in Ashburn’s Alley.

13. Safeco Field, Seattle
Few ballparks do a better job of mirroring the feel of its city. From the color scheme, to the actual materials used to build the structure, there is no mistaking the sense that you’re in Seattle. Another highlight: Ichirolls. I believe that this is the only press box in which glass garage doors double as retractable windows.

12. Marlins Park, Miami
Lime green fences. Home run sculpture. Nightclub. Fish tanks. And somehow, it all works. The futuristic exterior sets the tone for an experience unlike any other in the major leagues. The Marlins clearly pay attention to even the smallest design details of their new ballpark. Just beautiful in its own way.

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11. Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City
The water fountains in the outfield have always made this place unmistakable. But a major modernization effort a few years ago made this crown jewel even brighter. I’ve only been here for work but it’s one that I think I’d enjoy even more as a fan. The concourses have been widened and the expanded area beyond the outfield brings you closer than ever to the famous fountains.

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10. Citi Field, New York
It’s hard to think that there’s a ballpark in all of baseball with better overall concessions. The food is outstanding. And from a fans’ perspective, it looks like a comfortable and welcoming place to take in a game. It’s a bit of a hike from the clubhouse to the press box and it’s easy to take a few wrong turns on the way. But it’s hard to complain of the view from the box.

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9. Yankee Stadium, New York
Critics may call it cold and intimidating and corporate. But there’s no arguing that it is distinctive, from the recreation of the famous facade down to the plaques in Monument Park. Besides, the Yankees didn’t set out to build a lyric little bandbox. They wanted a Stadium. And they got one. The open (windowless) press box is outstanding — except for in April and in October.

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8. Angel Stadium, Anaheim
I might have to significantly this ranking since the Angels have gone the way of the White Sox and moved the press box well down the right field line. But since I have yet to see this new configuration, all I can go on is what I remember. And what I remember is the complete package — easy stadium for fans, easy stadium for reporters.

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7. Wrigley Field, Chicago
Worst. Workplace. Ever. The journey from the press box to the clubhouse involves a series of twists and turns through narrow concourses flooded by fans. The trip down is often long enough that you’ve got to watch the game from the stands in the ninth inning — just to beat the traffic downstairs following the game. But all of that is a minor inconvenience for the privilege of spending an afternoon in the friendly confines. They’ve since changed this. But in 2008, when I covered my first game here, they didn’t blast music during batting practice. Nor did they play walk-up music.

6. Old Yankee Stadium, New York
The press box was old and cramped. The clubhouses were small and the ceilings were low. But it always felt special being here — both as a fan and as a reporter. It wasn’t the easiest place to work though that didn’t matter. The original Stadium had a way of leaving an impression. I remember seeing the place on television for so many years. But it looked so much bigger in person. And it seemed so much louder than its newer, shinier, replacement.

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5. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore
This place brings the total package — a perfect place for business and pleasure. The press box is so low behind the plate that sometimes you can see the movement of the pitches as they cross the plate. Everything seems close, including the fans, who aren’t shy about asking questions of the reporters in the front row. The experience is just as rewarding as a fan. Incorporating the warehouse into the stadium’s design was a moment of brilliance.

4. AT&T Park, San Francisco
Just as it is in Baltimore, the press box is close to field level, which means the clubhouses are easy to reach. The stunning view of the Bay Bridge gives the park one of several unmistakable visual signatures. The seats get a bit steep, especially in the upper levels, but the stadium possesses plenty of amenities. That includes ample restrooms — which is more than can be said about its predecessor.

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3. Fenway Park, Boston
Since I began coming here in 2004, Fenway Park has seemingly undergone a neverending series of expansions and improvements. But through it all, the Red Sox have found a way to preserve the feel and the charm of the place. Because the ballpark is so old, reporters must weave through the main concourse to reach the visitor’s clubhouse after the game. This can be very difficult (unless you’re lucky enough to pick up a lead blocker, which in this case, is another reporter). For some reason, I expected the Green Monster to look even taller than it is in real life.

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2. Target Field, Minneapolis
None of the newest generation of ballparks can stack up. The press box is comfortable and offers a perfect view of the field. The stone exterior of the ballpark gives it a timely appeal. The concourses are wide enough for fans to move around easily. The boomrang-shaped roof over the main seating bowl is the only one like it in the big leagues. Sure, there are some cold days. But the Twins got it right by leaving off the roof.

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1. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
Reporters enter from the top of the stadium, an area that offers a killer view of downtown Los Angeles. Even the landscaping on the grounds surrounding the stadium was immaculate. I covered a playoff game here in 2008 and I could feel the press box shake whenever the fans got excited. This is everything that a ballpark should be. Beautiful, comfortable, timeless.

– 30 –

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