Tag Archives: baseball

Giants win the World Series!

My team, the San Francisco Giants, have won the World Series! In a tight series with the Kansas City Royals, they won four games to three. This is the third time in five years they have won (this is much more impressive in US sport than it would be in UK sports….please see me for extra lessons if you’d like to know why!)

Baseball is getting a bit of coverage here in New Zealand. This is how it was reported in the Wellington newspaper, the Dominion Post:

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Cable cars and rocking the Castro

Sunday 12th October – Monday 13th October
San Francisco, USA

Trolleys and cable cars, San Francisco
Coming from Gateshead, we know hilly when we see it, but San Francisco takes the biscuit. And since the late 1800s the solution has been the cable car – a small carriage that zips up and down the hills using a moving cable under the street (in places you can see and hear the cable under the street; the cable car essentially grabs onto the cable with a huge pair of pliers in order to move along).

There are only forty cars and a couple of cable car lines left in the city, and although many other cities once had them, these are the now the only remaining working lines in the world. And they are more fun to ride than any public transport should be, especially when you get to hang onto the outside of the carriage as it descends a steep hill into downtown San Francisco.

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In addition, the city still has a network of trams (US: trolleys or street cars) covering parts of the city that are a bit flatter. A number of the lines are served by historic trams from across the USA and elsewhere in the world. 

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On Sunday, we took the tram and cable car (and one of the city’s electric buses) to the cable car museum, to find out more. The museum is small but fascinating….not least because the very same building houses the workings of the system, which keep the cables moving at a constant pace of 9.5 miles per hour. 

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A final baseball fix, The Castro
As I mentioned in our last post, the Giants weren’t playing at home while we were in town, but we couldn’t miss the opportunity to watch an away game in a sports bar with the local fans! We found an amazing bar, called Hi Tops (the only gay sports bar in town, apparently), not far from our apartment.

The atmosphere was fantastic, not least because it was a very close game. The St Louis Cardinals took the lead a couple of times, only for the Giants to draw level, and even edge one point ahead in the top of the seventh and ninth innings. Unfortunately, it then fell flat when the Cardinals scored a walk off home run in the bottom of the ninth, leaving the series tied at one all (the series is the best of seven games….let’s go Giants!).

Exploring the Castro and Mission
We had a few hours before our flight to Sydney on Monday, so after checking out of our apartment, we took a bit of time to walk around the Castro and Mission districts.

The Castro wears its gay heritage on its sleeve – from our lunchtime stop, Harvey’s (one of the original gay bars in the area, and now named after Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected representative of the area, who was assassinated a short time after his election) through to the brand new rainbow zebra crossings (US: crosswalks) in the heart of the district.

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Mission, meanwhile, just a short walk away, is another lovely area where you can find the most beautiful murals in the most unexpected places. 

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Dolores Park also gave us one last beautiful view of this truly fantastic city.

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Video of the day
Everyone knows the Golden Gate Bridge, but the Bay Bridge is making a bid for similar fame at the moment.

The artist Leo Villareal has created The Bay Lights, a beautiful piece of public art on the bridge. Consisting of 25,000 LED lights which have been individually programmed, the result is a mesmerising (and never repeating) display of lights across the span of the bridge, 1.8 miles wide and 500 feet high. It’ll be here for two years (though there is already a fundraising campaign to keep it longer) and we went to take a look on Sunday evening. A truly beautiful and mesmerising piece of art – this video from the New York Times shows a bit more about it.

How y’all doin’? Heading south

Monday 22nd September to Wednesday 24th September
Washington DC to Atlanta, USA

Train journey, Washington DC to Atlanta
The USA is a big country.  Really big.

Our first long distance train journey was an overnight trip, spanning five states (to add to the five that we had already covered between New York and Baltimore).  Previously, when we have taken overnight trains, we have booked a cabin.  However, on this occasion, we decided to save a bit of money and try spending the night in a “coach” seat.  With plenty of leg room and reclining seats, it wasn’t too bad at all, and we both managed to get a few hours of shut-eye, completely missing South Carolina (sorry, South Carolina!).

Exploring Atlanta
We arrived in Atlanta at around 8.30am, and went straight to our hotel, where they fortunately already had a room available for us to get a bit more rest before we began exploring our new surroundings (which was made more challenging by the fact that almost every street in Atlanta seems to be called Peachtree Street, Peachtree Avenue, Peachtree Square, etc…!).  

During our time in downtown and midtown Atlanta on Tuesday and Wednesday, the most surprising thing that we discovered was Underground Atlanta.  In the 1900s, the roads in downtown Atlanta were getting so crowded with pedestrians, trains, horse-drawn wagons and trolley cars, that a decision was made to build a raised town centre on viaducts, above the existing railroad tracks.  It is still possible to access the lower level in this area, which is a strange mixture of modern shops and stalls and an informal museum capturing life in the early part of the last century, including this 1920s advertising mural (the first carbonated Coca-Cola was served in nearby Jacob’s Pharmacy in 1887).

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Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Atlanta
A short distance outside downtown can be found the area formerly known as Sweet Auburn, where the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was born and raised. Our visit on Wednesday took in Ebenezer Baptist Church where MLK Jr was minister (as were his father and maternal grandfather before him), which has now been restored to its 1960s appearance. It is no longer used as a church (the congregation has moved to a new building across the road) but now plays MLK Jr’s speeches on a loop.  We also saw the house where he was born, and the surrounding homes that have been retained and restored.

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Altanta Braves Baseball, Turner Field
The regular baseball season is now drawing to a close.  The advantage of this is that we have managed to see amazing games such as Baltimore’s clinching of their division.  The disadvantage is that some games just do not matter that much – and Pittsburgh Pirates at Atlanta Braves was one such game (the Pirates have secured their place in the playoffs; the Braves very much have not, as evidenced by the recent sacking of their General Manager). On the plus side, the tickets were cheap, so we treated ourselves to excellent seats, on the field level between third base and home plate.

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Although the crowd wasn’t huge, the atmosphere was still good. It was helped by the Braves scoring two runs in each of the second, third and fourth innings (including a two-run home run in the fourth). It was also helped by the ‘Tomohawk Chop’, a chant (complete with chopping action) that the crowd did each time the Braves made a good play. Pittsburgh managed to get two runs back in the fifth but neither team was able to score again, meaning a home win.

One of our favourite things at baseball matches is when people dress up in outlandish costumes and race around the outfield between innings.  That happens more often than you would think, although not everywhere – so far as we are aware, the instances are Milwaukee (sausages), Washington DC (Presidents) and, apparently, Atlanta (tools).  The crowd are encouraged to cheer on their favourites (in Milwaukee, it is even possible to buy “chorizo” or “bratwurst” t-shirts), and, of course, they do so with enthusiasm.

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Another big bonus for specators at baseball games is the potential to take home a baseball that has been used during the game (if you can catch one, or persuade a player to throw one to you). Towards the end of the game, we were standing above the visiting team’s bullpen.  As the game came to an end, the man standing next to us asked one of the Pittsburgh pitchers, who was leaving the area, to throw a spare baseball (that had been used in practice) up to him, which he duly did.  The lovely guy then handed the official Major League baseball to us.  Best. Souvenir. Ever!

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Song of the day
We have heard Hideaway by Kiesza a fair bit on the radio and TV while we’ve been here (there are a number of other songs/”earworms” we’ve heard a lot, but we won’t inflict them on you!). We also like the fact that the video was shot in Brooklyn, in one take.

Washington DC: National history and Nationals ballpark

Wednesday 17th September – Friday 19th September
Washington DC, USA

Although there is a huge amount to do in DC, we managed to have a relaxing five days there. We stayed in an apart-hotel in Georgetown, a very nice suburb of Washington (which is actually older than the city itself).  On the first evening, we ate a wonderful meal at a restaurant called Unum, which was literally at the top of our street, including a starter featuring basil ice-cream.

Smithsonian Museum of American History, Washington DC
One of the best things about Washington is the multiple Smithsonian museums (which we learnt were named for an English guy called Smithson who never even visited the US, but who promised to leave a large legacy to the US government if they named an institution of learning after him – some good fundraising there!).  

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They are all free, and there are way more of them than anyone could cover during even a two-week stay, so on Thursday we chose to focus on the Museum of American History.  Even that one venue is too big to cover in one visit, so we decided to take a free, ninety minute highlights tour with a docent (a volunteer), which was an excellent introduction to the various exhibits.

The crowning glory of the museum is the actual flag about which The Star-Spangled Banner was written 200 years ago (see Simon’s previous post), which is thirty feet high and was originally forty feet long.  It is now somewhat shorter (and is even missing one star) as sections were cut off and given as souvenirs to various dignitaries in the 1800s!  Seeing it tied in neatly with a theme of our trip so far, as the flag was made in Philadelphia and flown in Baltimore, and is now displayed in Washington. Photos of the flag itself were not allowed, but the picture above shows the artwork at the entrance to the exhibit.

Washington Nationals ballpark, Navy Yards
Unfortunately the Nats were playing away while we were in Washington, so we were unable to see a game here (though we did see the team play back in New York, at the Mets). However, it gave us an opportunity to do an ‘access all areas’ tour of the Nats’ ground. This included visiting some of the best seats in the park, in the Presidents’ Suite (not actually where the President sits when he comes to games, but the suite features photos of all the Presidents that have thrown a ceremonial first pitch, back to William Taft in the early 1900s). Tickets for this area, right behind home plate, include access to an all-you-can eat restaurant, which includes a view of the room where press conferences take place and of the indoor batting cages (so you can watch players warming up before they go and play or keeping warm in the even of a rain delay). 

The tour also included a visit to the home dugout: 

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Finally, we were given a chance to throw a pitch in the home bullpen (where substitute pitchers warm up during the game).  It was brave of everyone to stand so near to Simon, given that he has never thrown a pitch before! The tour was great fun, and was made even better by some very excited Nats fans on the tour with us!

Quote of the day
“When I was a small boy in Kansas, a friend of mine and I went fishing and as we sat there in the warmth of the summer afternoon on a riverbank we talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I told him that I wanted to be a real major league baseball player, a genuine professional like Honus Wagner. My friend said that he’d like to be President of the United States. Neither of us got our wish.”
President Dwight D Eisenhower [from a display in the Presidents’ Suite, at the Nationals’ ballpark]

Baltimore – Merry Clinchmas!

Monday 15th September – Wednesday 17th September
Baltimore, USA

The journey from Philadelphia to Baltimore on Monday took just over an hour. We only had a couple of days there, but this is what we learned…

1. The Star-Spangled Banner was written in Baltimore 200 years ago
Almost to the day, as it turns out. We arrived at the end of celebrations for the 200 year anniversary of the writing of the US national anthem. This included historic tall ships and navy ships, which had sailed to the Inner Harbour area for the occasion.

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Initially a poem, the Star-Spangled Banner was written after an attack by the British on the young independent nation of the United States. The anthem refers to the flag still flying the morning after the bombardment, showing that the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’ had survived the attack.

2. Try the crab cakes
Maryland is famous for its crabcakes. And the best place in Baltimore for crabcakes is widely considered to be Faidley’s, in Lexington Market. My view of ‘lump and fries’? Absolutely delicious.

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The Baltimore Orioles are winners of the American League East!
Baltimore is well known for being a city that loves its sport, and Camden Yards, the home of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team, is regarded as one of the country’s best ballparks.

And we couldn’t have arrived on a better day. With no planning on our part, we happened to be in town on the day the Orioles could win (or “clinch”) their division. For the first time since 1997. Surely we couldn’t see a piece of baseball history?

Many people turn up to baseball games with homemade signs (mainly to get on TV and/or the big screen in the stadium). Our favourite was a spoof Christmas card that read ‘Merry Clinchmas!’

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The Orioles started badly, going 1-0 down in the top of the first inning. But they soon took the lead, scoring three in the bottom of the first. The Orioles’ starting pitcher, Ubaldo Jiminez, continued to struggle, but the Orioles kept fighting, and were 7-2 ahead by the end of the eighth inning. The atmosphere throughout the game was absolutely electric – you could feel the nerves and excitement in the stadium.

The fans were much louder than we are used to at baseball games. They had a number of chants and songs, mostly based on the team’s nickname, the O’s. Before the game when the national anthems were sung (and yes, that is plural, as the Orioles’ opponents were the Toronto Blue Jays), the crowd co-opted the lyrics, bellowing out the “O”s in “O Canada” and “O say, can you see”!

So to the top of the ninth inning. The Orioles were 8-2 ahead. They needed to get just three players out and they would win the league. Every out was greeted with a standing ovation, and when the final out was secured the roar from the crown was phenomenal!

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We stayed behind after the game to watch the players celebrate, both in their dressing room (beamed onto the big screen) and on the pitch with the fans.

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There was a lot of champagne spraying involved, but you can’t say they weren’t prepared…many of the players wear goggles to protect their eyes, and the players’ changing room is protected with plastic sheeting!

What an amazing experience, and we were so incredibly lucky to see them clinch the division live!

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Song of the day
It has to be the Star-Spangled Banner. In this video, made to celebrate the 200th anniversary, CNN challenged members of the public to sing it. Luckily, the words are also provided in the subtitles….

Birthdays and baseball splurges

Thursday 11th September – Friday 12th September
New York City to Philadelphia, USA

New York Mets baseball, Queens
11th September is my birthday. And it’s a day of remembrance in New York City.

The day started with some cards (including this one from my nephew and niece – thanks Holly and Ethan!) and some calls home.

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Then on to Queens (about 45 minutes on the subway from central Manhattan). We started with a visit to the Queens Museum, on the site of the World’s Fairs in 1939 and 1964, including a scale model of New York City.

We then headed to Citifield for our next baseball game – the New York Mets against the Washington Nationals.

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It must be hard being a Mets fan in New York. To many people, the Yankees are New York. The Mets are younger (started in 1962) and despite being from such a major city and a couple of World Series wins they have struggled in recent years.

But we love them anyway. Their current home, Citifield, is fantastic – a fun, modern ballpark. And this was where we saw our first ever baseball game, back on our honeymoon in 2009. The Mets will get back to winning ways soon, and when they do we will be cheering them on!

We were also excited to see the Nats, including young Bryce Harper, widely considered to be a talented player with a very bright future in the game.

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The game started with an emotional ceremony marking the 13th anniversary of 9/11. Both teams lined the field and representatives of the emergency services and other key public services brought flags onto the field. The national anthem was sung (beautifully) by a representative of the New York Fire Department. And the ceremonial first pitch (a feature of every game) was thrown by the father of a man who had been in one of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. He saved many lives running up and down the stairs of the building to help people, but didn’t survive himself.

The game itself was entertaining, if a bit one-sided. It started badly for the Mets – with the Nationals taking a two-run lead in the first inning. The Nationals soon found themselves six runs ahead. The Mets tried to rally, scoring a home run in the 5th (at which point a big apple – see what they did there? – rose up from the far end of the stadium, complete with Mets logo). But despite scoring one more run in the 7th, they left the bases loaded in the 7th and 8th, finally losing 6-2.

(Meanwhile, across town the Yankees came back from 4-0 down to win 5-4. Like I say, it must be tough being a Mets fan…)

Philadelphia Phillies baseball, Philadelphia
The train journey from New York to Philadelphia takes about an hour and twenty minutes.

We were planning a quiet afternoon until we looked at the Philadelphia Phillies website and noticed one of our favourite pitchers – Cole Hamels – was playing that evening against the Miami Marlins (the main pitchers play on rotation, so only appear once every few days). So we decided to rest another day and go to our second game in two days!

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And we are so glad we did! This game was really close. At the end of nine innings it was one all, so it went into a tenth inning (there’s no such thing as a draw in baseball. Their approach is: “we’re all staying until we’ve got a winner”!) The game was won by a walk off home run by the Phillies in the tenth, to wild celebration from the home fans.

Later in the game we also were lucky enough to see another of our favourite pitchers, Jonathan Papelbon.

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This was more than enough for a great night out. Even better, I got to enjoy my first Philadelphia Cheesesteak (slices of beef, melted cheese and fried onions in a roll – delicious if not nutritious!) and one of the most entertaining team mascots we’ve seen!

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Photo of the day
View from our hotel room, 9/11. The beams of light represent where the World Trade Centre towers once stood.

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Batting practice – getting into the swing of things

Saturday 6th September
New York City, USA

Batting Cages, Upper West Side
“Load, stride, twist and swing”

I’ve been playing baseball in the UK for a few months now (Go, Newton Aycliffe Spartans!). Joanna plays a bit too, and on game day is the team scorer. It’s a great game, and it’s been fantastic joining such a friendly (and very international!) team.

But I was keen to take advantage of being in the home of baseball to learn some more skills. Which is how I ended up at The Baseball Center NYC for my lesson with Anthony.

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Anthony played at college before playing professionally across Italy. And boy, can he hit a baseball. The lesson was in a batting cage, basically the baseball equivalent of a golf driving range. The batting cage has a large pitching machine in it, that launches baseballs at you at a variety of speeds. I wasn’t quite at that stage, so was focusing on hitting balls off a large tee.

The lesson was excellent – exactly what I needed to get into my swing. I’ve still got a way to go, but now I really feel like I’ve got the basics – load, stride, twist and swing – and what it feels like to hit that baseball properly. Now I just need my back and arms to stop aching, and for the blisters on my hands to clear up, and I’ll be ready for another go!

Photo of the day
View of the One World Trade Center (also known as ‘Freedom Tower’) from our hotel room.

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