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Baseball Road Trips

Dennis Nyback and company at the former Safeco Field. Photo courtesy of Dennis Nyback.

For the first few years of this century the Seattle Mariners opened their baseball season at home. That ended in 2009 when they opened on the road in Minnesota. The next two seasons they opened on the road in Oakland. That was noticed by a couple of my Seattle friends, Carl Harms and Mark Handley, who each thought “That is within driving distance.” In 2012 I joined them on seeing the M’s open the season on the road against the Athletics. There we watched the M’s kick of the season right, taking the first two games of the year, King Felix Hernandez pitching the win in the second game, before heading back to the Northwest, listening to the M’s continue the four game sweep, along the way.

We did it again in 2013. Both trips followed the same path. Mark and Carl drove south to Portland where they picked me up. We continued on to Eugene, where we spent the night at Dan Dixon’s house. The next day, joined by Dan, we drove, via The Trees of Mystery on Hwy 101, to Elk, California, on Hwy 1 on the coast. There we visited Mark’s brother Kirk Handley and his wife Patty, to spend the night. In the morning, after breakfast at Queenie’s, we continued on into Oakland, checking into the Berkeley La Quinta Inn. The day after the opening night was spent in San Francisco. We visited AT&T Park, which is sort of the poster child park for corporate naming rights. The park had opened in 2000 as Pac Bell Park, then became SBC Park, before becoming AT&T park in 2006. It is now called Oracle Park. In SF it is jokingly called “the stadium to be named later.” Since there was no game that day we generally cavorted in the sunshine while walked among the statues of Giants greats. We had lunch at Lefty O’Doul’s. Lefty was not there to greet us. He died in 1969. He broke into the Majors in 1919 as a pitcher. After four years his arm went bad. He then spent a few years in the minors becoming an outfielder. In 1928 he returned to the Majors, and in 1929 had one of the all time best years ever as a hitter, setting a National League record for hits with 254, leading the league with a .398 average, hitting 32 homers, scoring 152 runs, and knocking in 122. Upon retirement his career .349 batting average was, and remains, fourth best all time. It is a crime he isn’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His cafe at Geary closed in 2017 but has now been reopened in a new location on Fisherman’s Wharf.

Again in 2013 the M’s won the first two games of the year. After the second game we headed back home, listening to the M’s jump out to a two to nothing lead in game three by homering twice in the first inning. On the drive home we stopped to hit baseballs in Dunsmuir, California, on the field where Babe Ruth appeared on a barnstorming tour in 1923.

In 2014 the M’s opened at Anaheim against the Angels. Well, what is a few hundred more miles among friends? That trip started the same, Mark and Carl pick me up driving South on March 29 and picking up Dan in Eugene to complete the group. To get deeper into California we decided to forgo the trip down Hwy 1 to Elk. Instead we went straight down I-5 past Mt. Shasta, stopping in Dunsmuir to hit baseballs. The next day we got as far as Coalinga. On 3/31 it was a short drive into LA. We checked into the La Quinta Inn in Costa Mesa, and then headed to the Big A where we watched the M’s spank the Angels 10 to 3. King Felix Hernandez pitched the win. The next day we drove to San Diego to watch the Dodgers play the Padres. It was promoted as opening day, a sort of cute idea, since opening night had been the night before. It was gala and fun. Before the game a plane dropped two skydivers off. One almost crashed into the stands before making a correction to land safely on the field. The other took a more direct, if less exciting, route. The Dodgers won. The next night we were back in Anaheim to watch the M’s behind James Paxton beat the Angels. The next day, April 3, we drove to Oakland, where we watched the M’s lose in 12 innings. Coco Crisp homered for the win. The loss was bad enough, extra innings were worse. We had planned to drive north after the game. That we did. It was over a two hundred miles, arriving in Redding after two in the morning, to crash at a Holiday Inn. The next morning from Redding was a more leisurely drive the rest of the way home.

In 2015 the M’s opened at home against the Angels. After that they went on the road to California. So did we. Carl and Mark picked me up April 9. Dan Dixon couldn’t make it, although we stayed at his house in Eugene the first night. The next day we drove to Sacramento, where we watched the AAA River Cats play against the Salt Lake City Bees in Raley Field. Sacramento was one of the six original Pacific Coast League franchises from 1903. They are the only original PCL teams to still field a AAA team. Portland had shared that distinction until 2011 when owner Merritt Paulson was granted a Major League Soccer franchise, then he moved the Soccer team into Portland Civic Stadium, and then sold the Beavers out of the state, since they no longer had a home park. In Sacramento it was a beautiful night for baseball and things were festive in the park. It was the opening weekend and the home team had won the opener the night before. Sacramento had recently become the AAA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. The Giants had won the previous World Series. Sacramento was basking in the reflected glow. Hunter Strickland pitched in the losing cause for the River Cats. He is currently pitching for the Mariners.

The next two nights were spent watching the M’s against the Athletics in Oakland. Both were day games. I personally like the Oakland Coliseum for baseball. I was told there by fans that it was a much nicer park before luxury boxes were added for NFL football, enclosing the field and taking away the view to center of the Oakland hills and also taking away once cooling breezes. Funny, it was done to monetize the place, but had the opposite effect of making it a less attractive place for fans to watch a game. It is generally considered one of the worst stadiums in baseball. The M’s won both games. After the second game we drove to Santa Barbara where we stayed at the very first Motel 6, right on the beach, and generally considered the nicest Motel 6 there is.

Photo: Lu. CC-BY-NC-SA.

The next day we drove into LA, where we stayed at an AirBnB on Allison Ave in the Echo Park neighborhood. The flat itself was very modest. Its attraction was it was walking distance to Dodger Stadium. After getting settled in the flat, then grabbing a bite to eat, we walked to the park. It was a warm spring day. The last time I’d been to Dodger Stadium was on June 13, 1976, for a day game. The most memorable event that day was the Old Timers game prior to the main event. Willie Mays played for the oldsters. He looked fine catching fly balls in center field and hit a ball off the fence for a stand up double. Back to the present, it was a nice night for baseball in a nice ballpark, the third oldest park in the majors.

There was a weird glitch. Anyone in the park speaking on the big screen was way out of sync. Old Vin Scully, who broadcast his first game around 1955, gives a talk every day about what to look for in the upcoming game. His lips would move for a several seconds before his voice would start, and then the voice would continue well after his lips stopped moving. It was the same for the person singing the national anthem. You’d think in Hollywood there was some techie who could fix that. When I complained out loud after noticing all around me ignoring it, a woman in front of me claimed it was because light travels faster than sound. Well, so much for physics. It wasn’t till a year later I was told it was due to the image being in house but the audio being from the broadcast and that the broadcast has a bleep delay. I still think they could fix it if they cared. Our seats were in the outfield in the right center power alley. They were nice seats. One Dodger fan noticed Mark with his white beard and M’s jersey and jeered “Hey Santa, Seattle sucks.” Mark gave him a beatific look and said “Be careful or I’ll put you on my naughty list.” In game one the M’s jumped out to a four to nothing lead but lost in ten innings. They did about the same thing the next night, jumping out to a lead but losing in the bottom of the ninth, coughing up two runs.

The next morning, not far from our flat, at the edge of Echo Park I found the flat out weirdest Starbucks I have ever been in. The Starbucks sign outside was of normal dimensions. Inside, under one big roof, was a laundromat, coin arcade, Subway Sandwich Shop and “Ace Cash Express.” The laundromat was a big laundromat, taking up most of the space. There were a few tables for the people who could stand to hang out there. From my chosen table the view to my left were arcade machines. Straight ahead were washing machines. Above the washing machines on the back wall were TV sets, all tuned to a Spanish talk show. AM radio was playing what I assumed was current music. I never seem to hear current music in public. It was surreal.

Game three in Dodger Stadium was Jackie Robinson day. Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball on opening day at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn on April 15, 1947. Jackie Robinson Day has been celebrated on that date since 2004. All major league players, coaches and managers, wear Robinson’s number 42 on Jackie Robinson day. Since Robinson had broken the color barrier with the Dodgers, they celebrated it in a big way. Every fan got a replica number 42 jersey. On the field before the game were Magic Johnson, Frank Robinson and Don Newcombe. Newcombe had played with Robinson and also pitched in the 1955 world series where Brooklyn finally won their first championship. Sandy Koufax, who also pitched on the 1955 team, escorted Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, onto the field.

Photo: Dinur. CC-BY-NC-ND.

That was all the best of it. For us, the fans in the seats, the greedy Dodgers milked Jackie Robinson Day for every nickel they could chisel out us. The seats we sat in cost twice what they had the day before. Beer was raised to $14.50 for a micro pint. It was $13 the day before. In Oakland it was eleven. They also sold more advertising space inside the ballpark. Much more. There were strips along the front of each seating level running from foul pole to foul pole where advertising could be electronically changed. Some of that space was normally used for game information. For JR day it was all paid advertising. That meant useful information for the fan, such as the full names of the pitchers, the speed gun reading, pitch counts, decisions made by the official scorer, and the line score, were all just gone, replaced by ads. It was the same for the primary big screen with thirty percent of it now one big ad. In total there was more ads, and less info, for the involved fan.

The game itself, a five to two loss for the M’s, did have one memorable event. In the sixth inning, trailing 5-1, the M’s loaded the bases with Austin Jackson on third, Robinson Cano on second and Nelson Cruz on first. Then there was a pitching change. Kyle Seager then grounded out to first unassisted, scoring Jackson, with Cano moving to third and Cruz to second. Logan Morrison walked. Cano on third, thinking the bases were loaded, jogged home, where he was tagged out, effectively killing the rally. It was conjectured that Cano, whose first name Robinson was based on Jackie Robinson, had gotten so wrapped up in the big day, that his mind had wandered in the details. It would have been a shocking gaffe in a high school game. At the major league level it was mind boggling. Well, why else would anyone drive a thousand miles to see a game, unless you expected the unexpected to happen?

I just got home from watching the last four games of the Mariners’ season in Seattle. The most unusual event was that the M’s had a shot at the post season right up to the final game. Seattle is the only team in the MLB that has never played a World Series game. Their ending by not making the post season this year was unhappy, but not surprising. One thing I learned in the four games was that the born to monetize ethic had arrived in T Mobile Field. There was a band of advertising in all of foul territory. In past years that was where game info would appear. I might add, that I buy a score card when I enter a park and I keep score during the game. The lost info is more important to one keeping score, than the average fan. The worst thing is it one of more baseball related thing gone from a ball park. It will be replaced by loud music. It would appear the baseball team owners don’t believe the game is enough to entertain a fan. So they have added music and other attractions.

All of that aside, I will continue to attend baseball games. Wading past all the crap now thrown at the fan, it is still a wonderful thing to watch a baseball game.

Categories History

Dennis Nyback is a legendary independent film archivist and historian. Formerly of Seattle, he now resides in Portland, OR with his 13,000 film collection and a clear conscience.

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