Dodger Stadium:A Sacred Space

“I don’t see it. I don’t…There it..there it is turn left turn left turn left right there where it says “Vin Scully Avenue.” VIN SCULLY AVENUE? My heart was pounding. My head was spinning. Two airplanes, two time zones, 2,661.7 miles from Baltimore and finally, we had arrived.

IMG_2388

It sat like a deserted shrine at this time of day, save a few workers conversing in Spanish, quietly tending to the field and painting white stripes on the mound. “Do not step on the grass!” the tour guide implored. For a moment I was tempted to reach down and secretly pick a small handful to keep as a memento, to reassure myself that I was in fact not dreaming, to reap some kind of blessing from its beauty and perfection, but decided not to.

IMG_2382.JPG

Here it was in all of its pristine splendor, silently waiting to be graced by the agile feet of the most elite players of the game. To be surrounded by the throngs of worshippers in the stands.

It was the Fourth of July and who better to tell the Baltimore-based story of the National Anthem than that preacher of baseball, Vin Scully himself:

Yasiel Puig entered the area near the on-deck circle. I watched him closely and intently. He kneeled and made the sign of the cross with a small necklace, hanging his head. I thought of his journey as a Cuban defector just trying to make it to the United States to play baseball; police pulling over his car, a boat that failed to arrive, police raiding his safe house and detaining him for six days, being intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard then taken to Mexico by a murderous drug cartel and being sold to a wealthy Floridian who would receive a percent of his future MLB earnings. He stood and made a large cross in the dirt with his bat. His cleats bearing the American flag made all the more poignant by his story.

Image result for yasiel puig flag cleats

Being so far from home, I was overjoyed by the sight of my personal guru, the sage, the teacher, the all-knowing Zen master:

IMG_2411

And look! – One of our saints! (at least to Baltimore fans!)IMG_2409.JPG

Like religious spaces, our nation’s ballparks provide the sacred spaces we need to transcend and temporarily escape the ugly realities of our world. There are all kinds of people here. Black, white, asian, latino, male, female, young and old. In this holy space we are all the same. Baseball fans.

The only wall we care about is just beyond the outfield.

Yankee Stadium-I Didn’t Want To Love It – But I Did

WP_20150718_032

It was one thing in Fenway. As a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, I admit to having a reasonable distaste for our AL East rival Boston Red Sox. But this? This was practically a sacrilege.

It was a sweltering day. We stepped from the Baltimore heat into the chilly confines of an Amtrak train headed north to New York. A small fortune expended, I held in my hand three left field front-row tickets to see the New York Yankees play the Seattle Mariners – our first trip to Yankee Stadium. Three hours and a crowded, sweaty “D” train to the Bronx and there we were. Facing the house of the Evil Empire.

The New York Yankees – oh how we love to hate them, especially here in Baltimore where they have always treated the Orioles like a piece of lint to brush off, or like some poorer, weaker, second-class cousin; flagrantly flaunting their “World Championships”, their big names and the big checkbook it took to get them. When their fans are unwilling to pay their astronomical ticket prices, they travel gleefully to our Camden Yards, practically taking over the ballpark, becoming way too comfortable. They are unwelcome houseguests greeted by the sight of O’s fans unapolgetically sporting “Yankee Hater”  and “A-Roid” t-shirts. They are loud. They are obnoxious.They speak with those accents (Def-initely…Fuggetiboutit…). Worst of all, on their team is that man who wears jersey #13 whose name I refuse to type anywhere in the contents of this blog.

My son rode all the way from Baltimore without wearing his own signature baseball hat and sunglasses making him practically unrecognizable to us. Upon  arrival at Yankee Stadium, he immediately purchased a hat and a (Maryland native) Mark Texiera t-shirt. He put on the Yankee cap and Texiera shirt and looked at me cautiously, probably wondering if this shirt would somehow disappear in the laundry.

I went in with a plan to just enjoy the ballpark itself,  to somehow ignore the team that plays there and to stay as detached as possible. As we started to walk around, I became oddly enchanted by the place. There was a mystical quality to it  – banners and signs and shops displaying the faces of baseball legends who transcend today’s petty rivalries – Berra. DiMaggio. Gehrig. Mantle. Jackson. Jeter. The House That Ruth Built.

“Today’s my birthday”, an elderly African-American woman that we had befriended in the seats next to us said.  “She took me here for my birthday,” she said, gesturing towards her proudly smiling friend.  Everywhere I turned fans were beaming with a light from within at the thrill of just being there. Those Yankees fans that take over Camden Yards were nowhere to be found, and I was surrounded only by respectful, real, reverent baseball fans enjoying their home team.

The game ended with the Yankees losing to the Mariners 4-2 with all of the offense (two 2-run homers) provided by  ex-Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano who had left New York for Seattle (and $240 million) after nine seasons. Fans tossed back both of those home run balls in disgust. “Sell out!” someone yelled. There – now that sounded more like New York.

On the way out, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and the famed chorus “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…its up to you…” echoed out through the loudspeakers.  Looking up, we saw the face of The Babe keeping watch over his house. It felt good knowing that he was a Baltimore guy.

WP_20150718_043

Bienvenido A Miami?

The humidity gripped me the minute we reached the rental car station at Miami International Airport. Fortunately, I like humidity, or else I would have a difficult time living the Baltimore/Washington area in the summer. This was a different humidity, though. Tropical, lush, vaguely intoxicating. We were lured to town by the warm aquamarine ocean water and the beaches, but mostly, by the chance to see the Orioles play at Marlins Park, the latest stop on our ongoing cross-country ballpark tour.

The Orioles headed in to Miami having won three of their last four games and were presumably ready to take on the Marlins who had just lost seven straight. The Orioles won the first game of the series that Friday night, but then lost the next night in a 13-inning walk off that featured the ejection of reliever Brian Matusz for a “foreign substance” on his arm.

On Sunday we pulled into the sun-splashed rocky front driveway of a house in the neighborhood near Marlins Park and headed into the game. One thousand miles from Baltimore, the announced crowd included way more Orioles fans than we have seen in other out-of-town ballparks. I had advised my son to be a respectful guest in another team’s park but the resounding “O!” heard during the singing of the National Anthem made that seem unnecessary.

The day before the game we toured the entire city of Miami. We walked through the Wynwood Walls graffiti and street art district. We took in the Art Deco historic district and enjoyed the scent of Cuban cigars and Cafe Cubano in Little Havana. As a tanned, white haired gentlemen guided his shiny black Maserati convertible through a clearly poor neighborhood, I noted the starkness of the income disparity in the city. Like in many cities, in Miami you see mind-boggling, almost incomprehensible wealth and abject poverty. Evidence of the real estate boom and bust is clear in Miami where brand-new high-rise condominiums and office buildings sit ghost-like, idle and empty with taped up windows. There you find beauty alongside depravity, a subtle sense of danger, corruption, self-indulgence, and conspicuous opulence.

On that Sunday in windy-by-air-conditioning Marlins Park, the Orioles were no-hit for 4 1/3 innings by the usually unexciting Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler. I found myself quickly tiring of filing in zeroes on my scorecard. The Marlins fans were energized by their new found success, pounding on chairs, cheering vigorously. Good for them, I thought. We Orioles fans know all too well what it’s like to have a struggling team suddenly start to show some life.

The Marlins scored five runs in four innings against Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez until he was unable to close out the fifth and was removed. He gave up a season-high 10 hits including a solo homerun to Martin Prado (which I thankfully missed because I was standing in line for a chicken taco. The taco was delicious. The home run – not so much).

The Orioles entered the eighth trailing 5-1 and loaded the bases twice in the inning. With one out, Chris Davis grounded out to first to score a run. Then with two outs, Marlins reliever Sam Dyson got Ryan Lavarnway to ground out to second base as the bases were left full and Miami escaped with a 5-2 lead. I was hoping that Miami-area native Manny Machado would put on a show for his hometown fans, but he ended the game with a flyout to center field.

Like Miami itself, the Orioles had chances to mount a comeback in this game but just couldn’t make it happen. They reminded me of the abandoned new condos under halted construction in South Beach. Started with the best of intentions, full of glitz and potential, yet coming up empty.

WP_20150524_016

(My son watching warm-ups at Marlins Park, Miami, FL, May 24, 2015)