Archive for June, 2009
Another baseball-related post, so, y’know, I won’t be offended if the Europeans go off to Boing Boing or whatever. Yesterday, I took the Staten Island Ferry to, well, Staten Island. It still amazes me that it’s free considering the amount of tourists that take the ferry just for the heck of it. When you get off the ferry, there’s a ballpark just a home run away from the ferry terminal. And that’s where I was heading, to see the Staten Island Yankees, the so-called Baby Bombers, the New York Yankees’ Single-A affiliate. A chance to see future proper Yankees. Current big boy Yankees Chien-Ming Wang, Melky Cabrera, and Robinson Cano all played here for a while.
The stadium’s got a really long name, and includes the name of a bank, so I’ll not tell you what it is. But, once inside, you have a lovely view of Manhattan. Well, you would have a lovely view of Manhattan were it not for the batter’s eye (a dark, plain wall so that when the pitcher chucks the ball, the batter can see the ball easier) and a couple of dredger-type boats doing some stuff in the Upper New York Bay.
All went well for a while. I didn’t have to get my ID out once to get beer, I had a good seat for $14, and it was lovely lovely weather. AND Vincent Pastore, the guy who played Big Pussy in The Sopranos threw out the ceremonial first pitch. (By the way, searching Google for “Big Pussy” when trying to find out how to spell the actor’s surname properly doesn’t bring many results about Sopranos characters.)
Then things went downhill. Now, I love me some minor league baseball. Small stadiums, players all trying to impress to get into the big leagues, the feeling that you’re seeing the stars of tomorrow. The one thing that’s mildly annoying about minor league baseball is how much extraneous crap you have assaulting your senses. Mainly stuff that’s for the children. I fully appreciate that children need a little extra stimulation, and if that helps them get into baseball: fine.
But the Staten Island Yankees go way over the top. There are THREE mascots. All of them cows. There are two budding kids TV presenters who come out between EVERY half inning and start yelping about some crappy t-shirts or other prizes kids will get for whatever dumb spectacle they’ve got to partake in to get the prize. It feels very much like what it’d be like to watch a baseball game whilst sitting in the ball-pit at a McDonald’s play area. I realise I can be a bit curmudgeonly at times, but the real reason people are at this stadium is to see a baseball game. I don’t buy a hot dog for the ketchup and mustard, and I don’t go to a Staten Island Yankees game to see kids in a sack race. Seriously, and I’ll reiterate, I understand why this stuff goes on, but please: can you not show some respect to the people who are there to actually WATCH THE GAME!?
They also do the crappy things I don’t like that happen at big boy Yankee games: the singing of “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch; “Cotton Eye fucking Joe,” and “YMCA.” And their announcer is a dick. Apart from all of the above, I had a good time. They didn’t really deserve to, but the Yankees won in the bottom of the 9th after trailing for seven-and-a-half innings. Let’s go Yankees.
It’s been a long week. It began with travelling from Bellingham, WA to Estacada, OR to see my friends Kraig and Barbara. Even though I’d been down there just a couple of weeks earlier, I didn’t really want to leave the States without saying a real goodbye. They’ve been good to me, and I wanted to say thank you properly. We had a nice weekend, with a trip to the beautiful Oregon coast around Lincoln City (feeling a little bit of silly pride at being in a city named the same as my hometown, I bought the t-shirt), and to a really nice restaurant called Rendezvous which is kinda of in the middle of nowhere (about halfway between Portland and Mt. Hood). From the outside, it doesn’t look like anything special – just a run of the mill, kinda crafty looking place next to a wine shop and a gift shop – but the food is delicious.
Tuesday, the comments shit storm went down while I was on the mind-numbingly slow train from Portland to Seattle. Not since the biggest flood of Minipops-related emails back in 2003, when a BBC Radio One DJ started talking about my work, have I had such a bursting inbox. It sent my head spinning, because in amongst the forty-plus comment notifications, and the regular emails, were a couple of hundred emails about my new baseball website, Flip Flop Fly Ball. My brain pulled me one way and the other. Stress, sadness, and anger on one side; joy and amazement on the other. It’s been incredibly strange to see the reaction to FFFB. I’ve beavered away on this stuff for quite a while, mostly for my own enjoyment, thinking that one day, I’ll get around to putting it online. Being a non-American, I felt (feel) like an interloper when it comes to baseball. I feel like I have the mental age of a 13-year-old in baseball years. The amount of time I’ve been into the sport would make me that age if I’d have got into it when most American boys get into baseball. And to suddenly go from that, to having serious baseball emails from people who’ve been following the game for decades is humbling.
I was visiting Heather and Andrew for a couple of days in Seattle. Old friends from Berlin. Andrew and I went to Safeco Field, where I could see one last Mariners game before I left the Pacific Northwest. An interleague game against the San Diego Padres. On my fifth trip to Safeco this season, I finally got to see future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. play; not only play, I got to see him hit a home run. The 619th of his career. I’ll never be a Mariners fan, but I’ve really enjoyed going to their games, and as they rallied towards the end of the game, I found myself genuinely cheering them on. It wasn’t to be, though: they lost 9-7. I also had the joy of seeing a guy I saw play for the Padres Triple-A team a couple of weeks back in Portland. It was nice to see that the guy I’d done the photo montage of – Josh Banks – had been called up to the big leagues.
But it wasn’t to be my last time at Safeco Field. Wednesday, I went on the stadium tour. Nine dollars to take the hour-and-a-half tour. I was one of about thirty people being shown around by a couple of kindly old fellas. We got to walk a little bit on the dirt track – “not on the grass!” – and sit in the Mariners and visiting team dugouts. Apparently, Ichiro, the Mariners’ awesome Japanese right fielder, always sits in the same spot on the bench, so all of the Japanese people on the tour had their photos taken sitting there. No clubhouse access on this tour, unlike the previous stadium tours I’ve been on in The Bronx and Oakland, but we did get to see how the other half lives; being shown around the fancy boxes where the rich people pretend to enjoy a baseball game by scoffing expensive food and watching the game on TVs. A brief stop in the press box, and the tour was over.
I sauntered north to the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum. I’m not a massive sci-fi fan, so I rarely paused in there, but it was nice to see some of Jimi Hendrix’s guitars in the EMP; and the small-but-lovely Jim Henson exhibit is definitely worth seeing. There’s a real Kermit in there! No photos allowed in the museum, so, y’know, no photos here.
I was nervous about flying on Thursday morning. Back in the olden days, I used to be scared of flying; but when flying to Miami in 2005, the plane I was on flew through Hurrican Katrina and since then I’ve taken any bumps or dodgy landings in my stride. This time, though, I had a different reason to be nervous. The I-94W visa waiver stub that I arrived with is still stapled in my passport. The expiration date on that was March 3rd. Even though I had receipts from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that tell anyone who wants to know that my application is pending and voids the expired I-94W, I was still nervous; mainly because you and I know that I’m not gonna be following that through.
My nerves weren’t helped by the most ridiculously unorganised system at the Delta ticket desk. You have to use a computer thingy to print out your boarding pass, and then get in the throng of people to give them your bags. The Delta folks are shouting out surnames, which, over the noise of hundreds of people in the building, was kinda difficult to hear. The woman in front of me in the queue asked how we were supposed to hear our names, and we were directed to check the little sticker on each computer terminal, which told us to stand in a specific queue.
Bag checked, one last smoke, then to the security thingy. I’m one of those people who is kinda well prepared for the metal detector thing. I tend to take off my watch, iPod, belt, and shoes early. So when I finally get to the guy checking IDs, I’m more concerned about my trousers slipping down to my knees than him seeing my expire I-94W. Thankfully, he doesn’t look at anything other than my photo and boarding pass. A little jump for joy. A jump that was cancelled out when, just as I was boarding the plane, and the Delta employee was scanning my boarding pass, the machine didn’t make the “beep” it had made for everyone else, it made a “beepbeepbeepbeepbeep.” My glass-half-empty self resigned myself that I was gonna be cuffed and dragged off the plane in front of everyone. Didn’t happen, of course.
The self-appointed King of Pop popped his clogs, and as my pal Derick drove us to Brooklyn from JFK, all the cars on the road had one song or another coming from the speakers. We had a beer in a local bar, watched the Yankees beat the Braves on the TV whilst listening to a succession of Michael’s songs as hipster girls and hipster boys danced nearby. It was a funny feeling seeing the Jackson reaction. I have a sneaking feeling that, in this “hottest thing on the web today, forgotten about tomorrow” era, aside from family and friends, a lot of people of my generation and younger don’t care deeply about much in particular. We’ve never had a defining moment. Maybe that’s different for New Yorkers, because they have had a defining moment this decade. But the reaction to Michael’s death seems a little fake to me. It’s nice to
hear his music, to be reminded of the reason he was famous in the first place; but I’m not entirely sure if the rest of it is just a way to try and feel something.
A nice relaxing Friday, a bid for tickets on eBay later, Derick and I were heading to Queens, to Citi Field, the new Shea, the home of your 2009 New York Mets for the first game of the “Inaugural Subway Series” at their new stadium. It’s the first time I’ve seen the Yankees away from Yankee Stadium, but when we got there, it didn’t really feel like that. While there definitely were more Mets fans there, there were still a good 30-40% Yankees fans around.
The new Shea is a very nice stadium. We had tickets in the “Promenade” section; their fancy name for being right at the top. As we watched the Yankees doing their batting practice, the clouds looked ominous, and shortly afterwards, as I smoked in the smoking section (you could still see a big screen from the section, so didn’t have to miss any of the action), an employee informed my fellow smokers and I that it was about to get rainy, so we should get under a covered part of the stadium.
And rainy it got. Lashing in, getting us wet even stood about twenty feet away from the uncovered area. I scoffed a tasty grilled hot Italian sausage covered in peppers and onions, chugged down some Beck’s, and we waited it out.
Nearly an hour after the scheduled start, we took off our caps and stood for the national anthem. Then the local anthems began: “Let’s go Yankees!” “Yankees suck!” Let’s go Yankees!” “Yankees suck!” Let’s go Yankees!” “Yankees suck!”
We noticed straight away that both teams were paying tribute to Michael Jackson when on the field, by wearing just one glove. Nice touch. Anyway, the Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia was fairly dominant through four innings, long enough for some Mets errors to give the Yanks a 4-0 lead. And aside from a Gary Sheffield home run for the home team, the Mets put up very little fight, eventually losing 9-1. The star of the show, though, was the sky that followed the thunderstorm. Stunning orange mammatus clouds. All the better for being up high in a stadium where half of what the eye can see is clouds. More photos on my Flickr.
I’ve got another week or so left in New York before returning to Europe. I’m gonna soak up as much baseball as possible. Starting this afternoon, with a trip to Staten Island to see the Staten Island Yankees, the Single-A affiliate of the big boys in the Bronx.
Beautiful sky over Citi Field, the Mets’ new stadium. Yankees won 9-1, yet still the locals chant “Yankees suck.” Clearly not. Anyway, a larger version of the picture here. There’s a few other pictures of the stadium and clouds, too.
My mate Mark suggested this; I can’t take any credit for it: a 24 hour Billie Jean animation vigil. Watch it below or on its original page: http://www.flipflopflyin.com/24hourbilliejean
I’ll be watching it wearing just one glove and occasionally hiccuping. I was on a plane when the news came out, and it was amazing how the news rippled down the plane from one person’s Blackberry when we landed. The woman next to me told me; the guy across the aisle heard; then the people behind, and on and on. I’m in New York right now and, I don’t know if it is the same everywhere, but you can’t walk down the street without hearing some Michael coming from a car radio. Is this what it was like when Elvis died? I was six years old back then, and I can vaguely remember it being like this.
I went on a tour of Safeco Field – the Seattle Mariners’ stadium – today. It was a nice tour. Along the way, I couldn’t resist taking this photograph. Surely writing the words “umpires room” in Braille is inviting some very obvious jokes, right?
I’m sorry about what went down yesterday. Had I not been on a train without Internet access while the comments section was exploding, I’d have knocked it on the head a lot sooner. I’m not going to address the allegations, as it’d be a long bullet-pointed list of the other side’s opinion. It’d just be he said/she said. It is very tempting, though, because – as I’m sure you’ll understand – I didn’t enjoy being the subject of so much vicious hatred. So, yeh: sorry you had to read that, especially those of you that are gay. I never ever imagined that this blog would have homophobic comments popping up. I’m leaving the comment moderation on for the time being.
It’s been a very strange week. A weird mix of lows – lower lows than listening to David Bowie’s “Low” in a low rider driving to do some shopping at Lowe’s – and the odd high. We’ll come to that later.
If you read between the lines, or, indeed, read the comments on the last blog post, you’ll know that my marriage is over. Brisk. It’s not really fair to use this blog as a forum for getting into the details, so I’ll be trying to keep it as neutral as possible. We broke up on Sunday and, despite the sadness, had a pleasant day together. We had a walk on the beach, ate some Mexican food, and talked. Of course, the shuffle function in iTunes and the car radio don’t know the ins and outs of peoples’ lives, so hearing “Don’t You Want Me” by Human League, “Moving Out” by Billy Joel, and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” by Kiss churned my stomach. Sadly, as the week progressed, the interactions deteriorated, ending up with anger, bitterness and spite.
My plans – to go to the Oregon Country Fair, to see friends in San Francisco, and Milwaukee – before heading back to Berlin were kinda forced to change. Divorce papers signed. Letter to the immigration people written, informing them that my appication for residency is to be abandoned. All that’s left of my marriage is a tan line on a finger.
Leaving aside stuff that I don’t want to write about, I’m gonna be sad to leave the States. If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll know that I love it here. The gun-totin’, bible-thumpin’, Fox News-watchin’ parts of the country that some Europeans like to point to when abdicating responsibility for their own government’s failings are far outweighed by a nation of great, friendly people. I’m lucky enough to know quite a few people over here, and I will miss them dearly. In particular, I’ll miss Lisa and Cameron, and Kraig and Barbara. Lisa and Cameron invited me over for Christmas, put me up in their house for longer than anyone should expect a visitor to stay, and have agreed to give Ghostface a new home, where she’ll have a dog and another cat to play with. Kraig and Barbara have been exemplary friends, offering all kinds of support and a chance to see and get to know some basketball. Go Blazers.
And I’ll miss baseball. A lot. Since being here, I’ve been like a kid with the keys to the toy store. Going back to Europe, my access to baseball will return to being the post-midnight web streaming of games, and book shops whose sport shelves go straight from athletics to basketball. One day I’ll get around to writing a baseball-for-Europeans blog post, but I think it’s safe to say, that my love of the sport is currently greater than my love of soccer. Never imagined myself saying that about any sport.
Life has a habit of strange juxtapositions. A marriage break-up has run alongside the incredible reaction I’ve had to my new Flip Flop Fly Ball website. It’s been a strange feeling having something that makes me happy running alongside the other stuff. I still feel like an interloper in the baseball world, and to get such a positive response from people who’ve took the time to email or tweet about it, and from the people who run baseball blogs to write about and link to it: well, it’s very humbling. The timing sucks, mind: getting a baseball site up and running just as I’m about to leave its homeland. Still, I guess “the timing sucked” could be a good epitaph for a lot of things in life.
Update 1pm Tues 23 Jun: comments closed and comment moderation is switched on until this dies down.
I know how much the Europeans amongst you just love the baseball, so, unless you wanna look at some infographics and pretty colours, you might wanna turn off now. To the Americans and baseball followers out there: I have a new web site. All about the sport we love. It’s called Flip Flop Fly Ball (see what I did there?), and features some of the previous baseball-related infographics I’ve done and whole bunch of new ones. I’ve also put baseball-related photos, drawings, and Minipops on there, too. The masthead (a small portion of which is shown above) features many baseball player and ballpark references. There’s a legend if you wanna know what they all are.
Basically, a lot of this stuff is my way of getting the long and glorious history of the sport to stick in my brain. I don’t retain facts very well, but if they are somehow visualised, I can do it easier. Baseball’s been a steep learning curve for me, and the more I get into it, the more I get out of it. So there’ll be plenty of updates on the site, which can be found at www.flipflopflyball.com. Hope you enjoy it.
I guess they must live on a block of some very very unfunny people.
Drawing of a statue in Portland, OR. Click here for hi-res version. Drawn using Brushes application on a well-known portable media player. More of my finger painting in the Much Fuck It’s Drawing section
Josh Banks, the Portland Beavers’ winning pitcher in Sunday’s 6-4 victory over the Reno Aces.