Kansas City Baseball

Continuing on our day in Kansas City we decided that since the Boston Red Sox were in town and we’re from Boston (though only one of us is a Sox fan…and it’s not me) that we would take in a Royals game at Kauffman Stadium. But as far as baseball goes, the Royals aren’t the only “game” in town. Before our evening at the ballpark we made a stop to learn about an oft-neglected history of the sport.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a showcase for the (mostly) unknown talents that passed through the Negro Leagues from the late 1800’s to the early 1960’s. It was founded in 1990, growing from a small, one room office to the 10,000 square foot space that it occupies now.

An important point about the museum’s purpose can be found on its website:

Often the museum is referred to as the “Negro Leagues Hall of Fame” or “Black Baseball Hall of Fame” and various names. It is important to the museum that we not be referred to as such. The NLBM was conceived as a museum to tell the complete story of Negro Leagues Baseball, from the average players to the superstars. We feel VERY strongly that the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, NY, is the proper place for recognition baseball’s greatest players. The Negro Leagues existed in the face of segregation. Baseball’s shrines should not be segregated today. Therefore, the NLBM does not hold any special induction ceremonies for honorees. As space allows, we include information on every player, executive, and important figure. However, we do give special recognition in our exhibit to those Negro Leaguers who have been honored in Cooperstown.

As was the case on a few other spots along the trip, the museum did not allow for photography, so the only picture I took was of the lobby as you enter.

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As I blog this nearly a year later (yes, I’m a slacker), I find it would be impossible for me to do this museum justice. On future road trips (we’ll have to do the southern states at some point), I’ll bring along a notebook to all of my stops to record my thoughts in the moment, but since I can’t go back in time to do that on this trip, I’m left with only vague memories when trying to write about places I couldn’t take pictures.

I recall really liking the setup of the museum. A movie, They Were All Stars, set in a bleachers area, tells the story of many of the players and is narrated by the incomparable James Earl Jones. The museum itself is laid out in time-line fashion chronicling nearly 100 years of African American and baseball history. It was a fascinating place to visit and a fabulous tribute to those who played the sport without the credit or fame of their white counterparts.

One of my favorite parts of the museum was the Field of Legends. 10 bronze statues of players who have been honored in Cooperstown are positioned on a baseball diamond. I found this picture of it online at Trip Advisor:

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The players on the field are Rube Foster, Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Pop Lloyd, Judy Johnson, Ray Dandridge, James Thomas “Cool Papa” Bell, Oscar Charleston, Leon Day, Martin Dihigo, and “Buck” O’Neil

The link to Buck O’Neil’s page on the Hall of Fame website leads to information about the Buck O’Neil lifetime achievement award:

The Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award is presented by the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors not more than once every three years to honor an individual whose extraordinary efforts enhanced baseball’s positive impact on society, broadened the game’s appeal, and whose character, integrity and dignity are comparable to the qualities exhibited by O’Neil. The Award, named after the late Buck O’Neil, was first given in 2008, with O’Neil being the first recipient.

I went back to our visit at Cooperstown at the beginning of our road trip and found this photograph that I took of a bronze statue of O’Neil with an infographic about his eight decades long association with baseball.

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Those are some of the highlights of our visit to the NLBM. Feel free to read more about the current exhibits on the Museum’s Website.

Our afternoon of baseball learning morphed into an evening checking out Kauffman Stadium. We were able to walk right up to the ticket window and get pretty great seats right up over home plate. It was a chilly September night, as evidenced by this concession change:

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Note the carousel in the picture above. As is my ritual when entering any new ballpark (this was my tenth), we did a lap around the park to see what there was to see. The outfield had lots of activities for kids – batting cages, rides, a playground, even mini-golf. I’m not sure how I felt about the number of things kids and their families could be doing instead of watching the game. We kept on moving.

The park had the typical bronze statues denoting notable Royals and this great water feature in the outfield made for cool viewing from either side. Here’s a shot from center field as the sun went down.

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After our exploration, we grabbed some hotdogs and headed up to our seats. A pretty great view for last minute tickets.

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Here’s another view of that water feature from the seats.

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It was a fun outing, but since we wanted to avoid being stuck in the parking lot, and were more than a little chilly, we decided to take off early. Ultimately the Royals ended up winning 7 to 1. We made a pit stop before heading back to Sriram’s friend’s house, which you can read about it in the upcoming “Eats and Treats” installment. Until then, see you next time!

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From August 12 – October 15, 2014 my husband and I traveled the northern United States in my Honda Civic. Cross Country Civic was started (and will eventually be completed) to document our cross country adventure. All comments and questions welcome.

“Is This Heaven?”

“It’s Iowa.”

In 1999, I went on a quest to watch a bunch of baseball movies I hadn’t yet seen. I watched Pride of the Yankees (“Phoebe, the guy WAS Lou Gehrig. Didn’t you kind of see it coming?”), Eight Men Out (a personal favorite), Bull Durham, and The Natural (having already seen other baseball gems, such as the hysterical Major League and the wonderful Sandlot, among others)

Eventually, I made it round to Field of Dreams. As movies go, it’s a bit of a slow one. Non-fans have been known to call it boring. Its most famous line is nearly always misquoted (the line is, “If you build it, HE will come,” not THEY). And the reality is, it’s not so much about baseball. But that’s actually what makes it so great. The story of family, redemption and forgiveness, of believing in the unbelievable and not giving up, is one that has touched many a movie goer for the last 25 years. With it being the 25th Anniversary of the film, I knew that little ballpark in the cornfield out in Dyersville, Iowa was a must stop for this road trip.

There are two ways into the Field of Dreams Movie Site. One way is pretty much right off the main road. The other, through a maze of unpaved dirt and gravel roads cutting between cornfields in the middle of nowhere. We were lucky enough to have taken the road through the corn, a far more magical journey in. We’d been in the Great Lakes area for 8 days, and then spent some time in the city. The scenery in Iowa was a welcome change. We found ourselves surprisingly drawn to it.

When we arrived at the farm we noticed one of the “Black Sox” sitting at a nearby picnic table, chatting with a few people. Moments later he would vanish. A bus was coming down the road, and soon enough he would emerge from the corn and greet them.

Before the site was inundated with tourists, I stepped behind home plate and took a picture of the famous field (though I couldn’t get a full shot)…

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…and then another from third base with the white house (different from the movie only in that it’s missing the porch swing) in the background.

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It turned out it wasn’t the bus he waiting for, so in the meantime he was available to chat and play. His name was Frank Dardis. Frank, a local guy, portrayed one of the ghost players in the original movie 25 years ago. He now greets tour buses and gives little talks. He signs autographs, and hands out old call sheets from the movie (with his name featured not quite as prominently as the likes of Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta). And he plays ball. Here’s Frank emerging from the corn.

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He was really sweet, and it was such a fun, unexpected touch to the visit. We played ball for a while. First Sriram pitched to me for a bit, and then later Frank did (I got one decent hit, and whiffed a bunch of others – need to keep my eye on the ball). We sat in the bleachers, the ones that are still carved with “Ray Loves Annie” and cheered on others as they played.

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We stayed for nearly an hour, reading up on the history of the movie, how the site was selected, how the corn almost didn’t grow, and how all these years later, the field still draws baseball-loving tourists from near and far. We also bought some memorabilia and learned that interestingly enough, the costs of upkeep come solely through concessions (admission is free). The studio has no part in keeping the site open; in fact, the farm has to pay royalties to the studio for the rights to the name/story.

But I’m glad that they have opted to keep things alive there in Dyersville as it’s a magical place. If you ever find yourself nearby, be sure to go explore a little bit of heaven.

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Twin One

We arrived in Minneapolis to the lovely Hotel Ivy. It marks our first view of skyscrapers since we left Niagara. The area of the city that we are in is pretty deserted upon our arrival and it’s on the late side, so we opt to eat at the hotel’s restaurant, Porter and Frye rather than going out for the evening. We’ll be here for a few days so we have plenty of time. And we plan to make the most of our time here – culture, spa visits, good food, and perhaps even a ballgame await.

In the morning we touch base with the front desk about a few items – particularly laundry (the dreaded road trip must), a running route for Sriram, and some activities in the area. We speak with Manager Tee Phan. She asks us to give her a few minutes to pull some information together with the concierge and tells us she will get back to us. In the meantime, we head up to the spa to book some appointments – a massage for Sriram and a (long-overdue) pedicure for me.

We return downstairs and meet with Joseph, concierge-extraordinaire. Truthfully, in all of my travels it is not often that I have found a concierge helpful. Most don’t (or won’t) do anything more than what you could have googled yourself. But Joseph was super helpful. At the direction of Tee, he had a lot of information already pulled together for us, including running routes for Sriram, a variety of laundry options, and lots of things to keep us busy in the city. With an outline of our plans at hand, we head out.

It’s a nice walk over to the Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center. We decide to skip the museum itself, but enjoy the grounds and the variety of different sculptures, including the famous Cherry on a Spoon (which we were very disappointed did not come in sticker form for our roof box).

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Some of the sculptures were interesting, others left us scratching our heads. But the fun really began when we happened upon the artist-designed mini-golf course at the museum. Each hole was more unique than the last, with the designs ranging from a tilting maze to garden gnome foosball to a pool table where you use the back of your club to try to pocket the ball pool style (around obstacles, of course).

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I think my favorite hole was the one that encouraged players to stand on foot pads on the course to block their opponent’s shots. We played 18 holes (two 9-hole courses), and had a lot of fun. It was actually the first time we’d ever played mini-golf together. Somehow we’d made it through 2 years of dating and 4 years of marriage without ever partaking in this quintessential date-night activity.

When we got back to our room (with the intent to nap), housekeeping had just arrived and did not seem to want to take the hint that we didn’t need them, so we left and headed for a late afternoon lunch instead. I was a little annoyed at a essentially being booted from my room, but was amused when we returned to find a note from the staff as well as a welcome package that included a flip-flop magnet, some fun Minneapolis postcards, and comfy hotel slippers.

The note read: Thank you for choosing Hotel Ivy, Minneapolis as your hotel choice as you are doing your cross country! Thought you could use these MN souvenirs. ~ Tee Phan, Joseph, and All Hotel Staff.

It was very sweet. A very nice welcome indeed.

Twins Time

Checking out the weather, we decide it was our best night during our stay for a ballgame, so we head over to Target Field and select some seats right over home plate.

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The Twins are playing the Angels, so we don’t have much riding on the game, but we’re both baseball fans, and I love checking out different parks. We spend a bit of time exploring the park. There’s not a ton of interesting stuff to see, but a few player statues and such, but it’s nice park, still pretty new and shiny. We find our seats and settle in for some baseball. It’s not looking good for the Twins pretty early on. We end up leaving in the 6th inning or so. It’s cold and since we’re not much interested in the outcome, we can’t be bothered staying. We walk back to the hotel and another day is over.

The Spa

Our second morning we head to the spa for our varying services. I’m excited about my pedicure. I’ve booked the “Peaceful Pedicure” (Lay back, relax and unwind in our zero gravity chair while you experience a luxurious pedicure in a quiet treatment room. Begin with a soothing eye pillow followed by a calming neck wrap and be transported into a state of bliss while your toes are beautified. Each pedicure begins with a foot bath containing essential oils to protect and hydrate the feet, followed by an indulgent foot mask, leg and foot massage and polish), and it truly lives up.

It is quite different than any pedicure I’ve ever had. The first noteworthy difference is that it is in a private room. No loud salon with chatting and music. I begin seated in a lounge chair that is upright. A basin of warm water is placed at my feet (no typical spa chair here) for soaking. Once the soaking is done and my color has been selected (a fun raspberry called Between the Sheets), the basin is moved away, my chair is reclined, and the relaxation begins. Soothing music plays in the background (think new-agey massage music), a warm compress is placed over my eyes. A blanket is tucked over me, and I could very easily fall asleep. The usual prep work happens (I apologize for my road-trip feet), and then lotions, and warm towel wraps before my toes get painted. It’s all heavenly.

Once completed I return to the spa lounge area and with a glass of water and a magazine, sit by the fire in my comfy robe while letting my nails dry. Sriram returns from his massage (routine by comparison to my treatment) and his trip to the sauna and after freshening up, we head out for the afternoon.

Minnesota’s biggest attraction awaits.

The Mall of America

Curiosity is the driving force here, more than any need for what the Mall offers. We arrive and enter through one wing of the mall. I look around. I’m not seeing what all the fuss is about. It looks like a mall to me, big, sure, but nothing special. I note the Verizon Store and plan to stop in to up my data limit on my gadgets (I’m using far more data on this trip than I do in “real life”). As I’m about to call the mall a wasted trip, we round a corner and I get my first glimpse of the real Mall of America – the part that makes it unique, makes it stand out, makes it a vacation spot in its own right.

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Three different roller coasters wind their way through the center of the mall in a section known as the Nickelodeon Universe. Other rides (carousel, swings, Ninja Turtles Shell Shock, among others) are spread throughout. An Aquarium and stores like Lego Land and the Barbie Dream House Experience are nearby. Restaurant choices are aplenty. It’s teaming with kids and families. I’m tempted to try out the log flume ride until I see a few of its previous riders. They’re pretty soaked and I’m not particularly thrilled with the idea of walking through the mall with wet clothes, so I pass. I feel compelled to ride something but I’m an amusement park wimp and most of the rides aren’t my style. We end up just taking it all in and enjoying the people watching. It’s definitely a unique place and well worth the visit. And I can see why families from more rural areas might consider it a one stop trip for shopping and amusements.

Mary Tyler Moore

On our final morning we are in search of some souvenirs – a Christmas Ornament, a bumper sticker and a few more postcards. In our travels we came across this fun Mary Tyler Moore statue.

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Dedicated in 2002, the statue commemorates the ground-breaking character and television series which ran from 1970 – 1977. A fun final stop before we heading back to our hotel to check out and leave town. For our final walk back we used the famous 8-mile long Minneapolis Skyway. The weather is pleasant enough to walk outdoors, but we can’t resist the opportunity to use the linking pedestrian bridges between buildings. I’m sure the system comes in real handy during those cold Minneapolis winters.

The Great American Pastime

For several years while Jason Varitek was playing for the Boston Red Sox he hosted an annual celebrity putt putt tournament. Red Sox players and other local athletes/celebrities would play mini-golf against ticket-paying fans, with the proceeds going to charity. You could also buy tickets just to watch the action. Back in 2009, I attended one of the events with my sister and bid on (and subsequently won) a four pack of tickets to the Baseball Hall of Fame in the event’s charity auction. Included were tickets to the Hall, as well as a behind the scenes tour. I never used it. After finding the certificate a few months ago I contacted the Hall to see if they’d still honor the package. They asked me to send them copies of the document and said they would be more than happy to honor it. We decided that it would make a great stop at the beginning of our trip.

We scheduled the tour for 10:30am on Friday morning (Day 2) and after checking in with Jackie Brown at the Administrative Offices we were sent off with Lenny DiFranza, an Assistant Curator at the Museum. We were told that the behind the scenes portion would take about 90 minutes and then we’d be free to explore the Museum and Hall at our leisure.

We didn’t really know what to expect from the tour, but were a bit blown away by the experience. Lenny began with the brief “history of baseball” – invented by General Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, NY. A fun story, Lenny explained, but not a word of truth to it. You can find lots of info about the “Doubleday Myth” on its official Wikipedia page, but needless to say, the myth did lead to Cooperstown becoming the home of baseball’s HOF.

We moved into the first part of our tour – the Hall’s photograph collection. While we were not able to to simply flip through the Hall’s extensive collection, specific prints had been pulled for the purpose of our tour. It was fascinating listening to the stories told through the photographs. The first baseball game filmed, early panoramic photographs using two different methods, opening day at the Polo Grounds (a copy of that image is on the linked Wikipedia page), baseball’s first World Tour organized by Albert Spalding, ladies day at the park (interestingly enough, we were told the majority of baseball tickets are now purchased by women), and a picture of Honus Wagner, among others. I related a story to the Lenny about the television show Prison Break in which one of the characters receives a five year sentence for having stolen some baseball cards. What should have been a misdemeanor is bumped up to a felony because the cards included a  Honus Wagner T205 card – considered one of the most rare cards in baseball and valued at over $1,000,000.

At our next stop, boxes and boxes of jerseys lined one wall. Boxes of other artifacts (balls and gloves, etc) lined other walls. We were required to wear gloves (white cotton or disposable) before touching anything. Once again, while we weren’t allowed to simply pull things off the shelves, a series of items had been pulled out for us to explore. Sriram was handed a baseball bat and realized it was the first time he’d ever held one (he grew up with cricket, which has a different style bat). The bat in question was the bat that David Justice used to hit the game winning home run in the 1995 World Series. Not bad for the first bat he’d ever held.

Another bat was presented (I don’t recall whose). It was made of maple (not the traditional ash). Maple bats apparently splinter on contact and break more frequently than ash, so the league requires that they be tested before being used. A new maple bat comes to a player with the following marking.

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If you’re interested in more about the maple bats, I found a great article here.

Lenny picked up the final bat and held it out to me. I took it carefully in my white gloved hands and held it with more reverence than an inanimate object probably deserves. I read the signature – Lou Gehrig. As a Yankees fan, it doesn’t get much better than that. A strange sensation overtook me. Perhaps it was the impact of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that’s currently so popular (which I know I’ve been challenged – I will definitely get to it), but it was really cool holding that bat.

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We moved on to some other items: Ty Cobb’s Shriner’s hat, some memorabilia from the short-lived Federal League (including a medallion that was a “season ticket” that would get you into any Federal League game), Pedro Martinez’s 2004 World Series hat, and a harmonica.

The harmonica in question was presented to NYY Phil Linz after an incident on the team bus in 1964. As the story goes, Linz had been playing the harmonica after a loss. Yogi Berra, who was managing the Yankees at the time, wasn’t pleased with the light-hearted atmosphere and told him to stop. Linz was at the back of the bus and asked what Yogi had said. Mickey Mantle, who loved to stir the pot, relayed back to him, “He said, play louder.” Yogi eventually slapped the harmonica from Linz’s hand. The Yankees later credited that moment with turning their season around, though they did eventually go on to lose the WS to the St. Louis Cardinals in 7.

Finally, we came to a small collection of balls. Within the case, which was closed to light to protect the signatures from fading (note to self: put autographed balls someplace dark), was a series of balls. The first was a ball signed by both Kenny Griffey and Ken Griffey, Jr. The second was a silver plated souvenir ball that the Federal League used to give out. Another ball was signed by the members of the Spalding touring team. The most notable signature being that of Jim Thorpe, considered one of the greatest athletes ever.

The final ball in the series wasn’t a baseball at all. It was a small green, oddly shaped ball. I’d wondered about it since the moment he’d opened the box.

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It turned out that it was a stress ball that belonged to, then Yankees Manager, Joe Torre. During the 1999 season Joe kept two things in his Yankees jacket – a picture of his daughter, and the stress ball. When Joe was inducted into the Hall of Fame (in this year’s class) he donated his 1999 Yankees Manager jacket to his display. The photo was removed from the jacket. The stress ball was left behind. The Hall now keeps it in its collection. An interesting artifact, indeed.

We moved on to a library of sorts. The Hall keeps a folder of newspaper clippings on every player in the game. The folder that was out for our viewing was for a player by the name of Ronald Wade Wright. Never heard of him? I suppose you wouldn’t have. While his pro career lasted eleven seasons, all but on game was played in the minors. The one game he was called up for in 2002 he played as the designated hitter and ultimately struck out, hit into a double play and into a triple play. He was pulled in favor of a pinch hitter at his last at bat and never made it back to the majors. In the article we read, it referenced that he had joked to the effect that despite being responsible for 9 outs, it was the best day of his life.

Also out for us was the 1947 stats ledger. The ledger contains every statistic on every player for the entire season. The ledgers were a wonderfully maintained source that were eventually converted into digital archives by Major League Baseball. Once the project was completed, MLB planned to destroy the books. As explained to us, an unknown MLB employee suggested contacting the Hall to see if they wanted the ledgers. A good save, indeed. Here is the ledger, opened to the page documenting the breaking of the color barrier with Jackie Robinson’s first season.

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Other items we saw included a promissory note for the sale of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees…

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…and a gold record of the famous Abbott and Costello, Who’s on First? recording.

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We saw so many wonderful things on the impressive behind-the-scenes tour. After completing the guided portion we checked back in with Jackie, who very sweetly gave us a packet of goodies for the road. It was a wonderful experience.

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We entered the main section of the Museum to begin our self-guided exploration, and spent 2 hours exploring parts of the museum. I was thoroughly impressed (and dismayed) by the collection. I feel as though I could have spent days in there and hardly made a dent in seeing the contents contained therein.

We decided to take a break for lunch before heading back for more (the ability to come and go all day is definitely a help). Items in the main collection are more easily accessible to the public, and I tend to take too many pictures anyway, so I won’t bore you with them all here. But after nearly 5 hours taking in the museum, I can definitely say, I’ll go back again to see all that I missed.