OpinionAugust 26, 2006

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2005 Baseball Road Trip Part IX
Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C.

By Kevin Naughton

On the morning of July 20 I climbed out of my tent and took a hot shower at the campsite near Treasure Lake, Pennsylvania, where I had spent the night. I also managed to cut myself so badly while shaving that it wouldn’t stop bleeding for nearly two hours. The cut wouldn’t go away for the rest of the summer and I still have a scar from it. It was more embarrassing than anything else; walking around the rest of the summer with a huge cut on my face.

I left way too early to get to Cleveland, and had to hang out for awhile. I decided to go to the ticket box first because Karen Calder, whom I had stayed with in Texas, had arranged for two tickets to be left for me. I talked to the guy behind the window and he searched for the tickets. After looking around and confirming my name a few times, he told me that they weren’t there. He said that I should call whomever was supposed to leave them, to make sure that they had remembered. I didn’t know the name of the person in Cleveland so I called Karen and she said that it would be taken care of. I walked around Cleveland for awhile to kill time, and strolled down to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I didn’t have enough time to enjoy the whole thing, so I decided not to spend the money for admission and instead spent some time in the gift shop before walking back to the stadium. By the time I got back to the ticket office the tickets were ready for me. The same guy who I had talked to earlier told me to enjoy the game and pointed me toward the gate that would open up first. (In Cleveland, they open up the gate in center field an hour before they open the rest of the stadium.) This was the only entrance that was open during the Indians’ batting practice, which must have sucked for the home fans. The part of the stadium that was opened to the fans for Cleveland’s batting practice was separated from the rest of the ballpark by at least twenty feet, and had some hedges that blocked the view of the field too.

After the Indians were done and the Royals were on the field, the rest of the ballpark opened up. I headed for a spot in right field in the hopes of getting a ball. I’d done this in numerous other stadiums before the games started and had no luck thus far. Fortunately the Royals had a few left handers who were all in the same group that were peppering the bleachers with souvenirs. On the third and final cycle through, Matt Stairs launched one that started out in my general direction. I was in the front row and had prime position to try and snag one if it were going to fall short of the wall. The ball that Stairs hit had more than enough to clear the wall though and I stretched my arm as high as I could. The guy to the left of me was hanging all over me and trying to push me out of the way. I caught the ball in the palm of my glove and got the immediate, satisfying sting. The guy to my left was still wrapped around my arm and when I looked over at him he pulled away sheepishly. I can understand trying your best to get a souvenir, but when it involves making yourself look like a jerk by nearly tackling the guy next to you who has a better shot at it, it’s time to let it go.

After securing the ball that I had just caught, I headed to the seats that had been left for me. They were on the first level behind third base and tucked underneath the overhang. The seats were great, and I had room to stretch out because the one next to me was left vacant. I already noticed the lack of Andy’s presence when I had no one to talk baseball with during the game. Instead, I had to listen to a couple of guys in front of me trying to figure out what the different numbers meant on the out of town scoreboard. After straightening them out, I watched the rest of the game in peace. The game wasn’t very good at all, and the Indians didn’t even start their premier players. Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, and Ronnie Belliard were all missing when the teams took the field. Martinez and Belliard ended up in the game as pinch hitters, but they only got one at-bat apiece, and made no difference as the Indians lost 5-3. Jose Lima, whom I had seen get rocked earlier in the year in Los Angeles (or Anaheim, or whatever it’s going by these days), got the start for the Royals, and he actually pitched pretty well. He went six innings and gave up only two runs before turning it over to the bullpen. Jeremy Affeldt, who had been joking around with the fans during batting practice, came in and pitched a solid inning of relief. I got to see Mike MacDougal’s wacky delivery once more as he closed out the game.

I was pretty disappointed with the way that the Indians had decided to approach the game, but if you don’t want to play your best players then you deserve to lose. There are no ‘gimme’ games in professional baseball, even when playing the lowly Royals. The Indians had lost 11 of their last 13 games before the game, and the whole time that I was in town, I heard nothing but how badly the Tribe was struggling, and that the lone bright spot had been Kevin Millwood. For a team that had been struggling to score runs, I didn’t see the point of sitting the sluggers against one of the weaker staffs in the league. I would rather have seen them try to blow out the Royals to get some confidence flowing in the clubhouse. I’m sure that the manager had his reasons, but I sure couldn’t see them.

Most of the excitement at the field that night took place off the field. I’d read ahead of time that the scoreboard combined with the video screen was the largest in all of baseball. The Indians made full use of their Jumbotron in between innings when they zoomed in on their fans. The fans, apparently disgusted with the entertainment that was supposed to be happening on the field, took it upon themselves to provide the entertainment. During one inning when they were looking for fans that had brought signs to the game, they focused in on a group of four Indians fans that had brought some signs that spelled out SIZEMORE. When they realized that they were on the big screen, they flipped the signs over to spell out a curse word. As soon as the camera operator realized what was going on, he yanked his camera off to the side and the video operators switched to a safer camera that was focused on some little kids. Almost as quickly as the four fans had flipped over their signs, they had tucked them up under their arms and bolted for the exit. A few minutes later, I looked up and saw security leading them out. Later on in the game, during the “Kiss Cam,” the camera focused on a couple who were being somewhat reluctant. After showing them on the screen for quite awhile, someone around them started to get antsy and decided to throw his middle finger into the middle of the shot. Out of all the stadiums I went to the whole summer, Jacobs Field was the only one where the fans tried and were actually successful at getting their obscene gestures on the big screen.

After the game was over I headed back to my car with plans on getting out of Cleveland and finding a campsite somewhere along the way to Pittsburgh. I consulted the GPS and it led me on several detours, none of which put me at a campsite. On the way to one, I realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere and decided to head back to the highway. I canceled out my current route and told it to take me back toward Pittsburgh. I don’t know how or why, but somehow a single lane dirt road, straight out of every horror film you’ve ever seen, had been programmed into it and I was heading down it. The trees were so low that their branches were scraping on the roof of my car and they made a perfect tunnel all the way over the road. If I had gotten a flat tire on that road, I may very well have abandoned the car and bolted toward where I thought civilization might be. Fortunately, I had no car come at me and my car held up until I could get back to a more normal-looking road. After traveling across some more countryside I finally made it to a small town which had a Rite-Aid that was still open. I went inside and asked for directions to a motel, but the woman that I asked didn’t know of any that were in town. I got back on the highway toward Pittsburgh and tried exiting several times to find a motel with vacancy. I even mistakenly tried the Four Seasons Hotel not knowing that it would have cost me a small fortune to stay there that night. Everywhere that I stopped was either closed for the night or had no vacancy, and with no campsites around I kept going. I made it to Pittsburgh and attempted to find a hotel that was close to the ballpark. After getting hopelessly lost at one in the morning, and unable to find anywhere to stay, I decided to head toward one last campsite, and if worse came to worse, I would spend the night on the side of the road in my car.

On the way to the campsite, I passed by another group of motels which were all full. By this time I was sick of driving and only wanted to sleep for the night. I ended up sleeping in my car in the parking lot of a Super 8 motel.

I woke up the next morning with a stiff back and dying of heat. Sleeping in a car is a lot like sleeping in a solar oven. You can crack the windows all you want, but as soon as the sun comes up you start to bake. I headed to a Giant Eagle grocery store that I had passed the night before and got some milk to pour on my cereal. I hadn’t had milk since leaving Reno, Nevada, at the beginning of the month and it definitely hit the spot. I tried to take my time getting to the stadium, but I still made it in less than ten minutes. I cruised around the ballpark a few times and decided to get my ticket for the game. I drove across the Allegheny River and found a parking garage. I drove to one of the upper levels that looked into an office building across the street and fired up my laptop in the hopes of free Internet. I’m pretty sure that the connection that I got wasn’t meant to be free, but I wasn’t complaining. I checked my email for the first time in a few days, updated my fantasy baseball rosters, and headed to the Cafe for the latest baseball news. It started to rain while I was using the internet, which prompted me to check some weather reports as well. The rain wasn’t supposed to affect the ballgame that night, but I was going to be heading into a heat wave in Washington DC.

After making the most of my free Internet, I walked over to the stadium and got a Pastrami sandwich at a deli nearby. By the time I was done eating, the sun had come back out in full force and it was starting to get toasty in the Steel City. I found some shade on the outside of the stadium along the Allegheny and did my best to stay cool for awhile. After killing a sufficient amount of time, I went into the ballpark to watch batting practice and was again disappointed by the fact that only parts of the stadium were opened while the home team was hitting. For the fans who come out to watch the team day in and day out, it would be nice to be able to get up close and personal with some of their heroes, and have the chance at a souvenir. I guess clubs are more interested in their players’ best interests though, even when the team is a perennial loser. I got to watch the Rockies take batting practice and Danny Ardoin, the Rockies catcher, was giving the fans some lip for shamelessly begging for a ball without even knowing who he was.

The game was pretty good and I got to watch the rookie phenom Zach Duke take the mound for the home team. He lived up to the hype and threw seven strong innings. I was fully expecting this game to be a stinker, but the Pirates surprised me by scoring five runs and batting around in their half of the first. In the second inning, I almost caught my first home run ball from an actual game. Jason Bay hit a blast toward my section in left field and the ball was going to land behind me and slightly to my right. The people who had been sitting next to me took off just before the inning started, and I made full use of the vacant space. Looking back now, I made the same mistake that I had made before when going for a ball. I should have stood on the seat of the bleacher instead of on the ground and I would have had a clear shot at the baseball. Instead, my glove scraped the ball at the same exact moment as it scraped four other hands and squirted straight back. A guy who was sitting a few rows behind me ended up taking it off of his cheek and the guy behind him picked it up off the ground. The guy whose face was starting to swell told the ball’s new owner that it had struck him in the face and asked if he could have the ball. He was quickly rejected. I called home that night to tell my family about my near miss and they checked out ESPN for highlights of the game. Unfortunately, when the Rockies play the Pirates (especially last season), it typically doesn’t make for good viewing material and was relegated to a quick mention at the end of SportsCenter. I found out later that during Baseball Tonight’s home run highlight reel, I was in fact in view thanks to my Kelly green Yankees hat.

The Rockies managed to scratch out just one unearned run and the Pirates won by a final score of eight to one. After the game I walked back to my car and started driving toward Washington DC. This time I actually spent the night inside of a Super 8 motel which was located in Somerset, Pennsylvania. I don’t know if Somerset is in some parallel universe, where yes means no and no means yes, but after being questioned by the woman at the front desk and being assigned a room that was supposed to be non-smoking with a queen-sized bed, I spent the night choking on the residue of tobacco smoke in a small twin bed. I wasn’t very happy about my stay, but any mattress at that point beat the front seat of my car.

I slept in on the morning of July 22 and got started toward Washington DC. The drive only took a few hours and I arrived around two that afternoon. I’d been to the nation’s capital before and didn’t have a particularly fond memory of the city or its citizens, and nothing on this day would change that perception. I went into the Nationals’ gift store and the employees there made it seem as though I was inconveniencing them by looking for my pin. The woman at the ticket window also had no interest in helping me get the best seat for my money. Unlike the ticket agents at most parks who will give you advice on how to get the most bang for your buck, here I was treated like an unwanted tourist when asking for seating advice. I ended up buying the cheapest ticket available and planned to seat hop my way to the first level out of revenge.

After buying the ticket and pin I headed back to my car to avoid any more Washington natives and to kill some more time before the gates opened. After sweating profusely in my car for a few minutes I decided to go for a walk. I started out down an adjacent street and made a U-turn after only going one block. It definitely didn’t look like the type of neighborhood that I wanted to be walking around in by myself, regardless of the time of day.

The gates finally opened and I watched the Astros take their batting practice. I knew that RFK Stadium was a cookie-cutter ballpark, but I didn’t anticipate that it was going to be as bad as it turned out to be. I already hated cookie-cutters from my limited experience with them and this only added to my disdain. Once again, all of the outfield seats were removed ridiculously far from the field, and when an Astros player went to throw a ball to a fan who had asked for one, it took him several attempts to make the straight-up toss. I stood down the third base line to try and snag a batting practice ball, but I didn’t even come close.

After getting shut out during batting practice, I headed up to my seat in the nether regions of the stadium. I couldn’t believe how high up I was here. As bad as my seat was though, it could have been worse. The people in the section next to me were equally far away from the field and had a scoreboard obstructing their view as well. I couldn’t believe that the Nationals would even bother to sell those seats to their fans. They were absolutely horrible. I sat in my seat for a total of one-half inning before I had to move. I walked back down to the first level near the spot I had watched batting practice from and didn’t even come close to being booted by ushers. As the game went on and more people departed, I was able to move even closer to the field, eventually watching the final few innings from the front row. It was my greatest seat-hopping triumph to date. The highlight of the game for me was getting to see Roger Clemens pitch for the Astros. He was lights out and racked up ten strikeouts before leaving after just six innings of work. He could have pitched much worse and still received credit for the win as the Astros gave him a surprising fourteen runs worth of support.

As if getting trounced by the Astros wasn’t bad enough, in the eighth inning things would go from bad to worse for the Nationals. Their backup right fielder Kenny Kelly, who had just entered the game, misplayed a couple of balls hit his way that allowed the Astros to stretch their lead even further. The first one came on a fly ball that reached the warning track. Kelly started backing up as soon as the ball left the bat and appeared to have it under control. The ball settled into his glove and bounced right back out again allowing the hitter to reach second base rather easily. The second misplay came on another deep fly ball later in the same inning. The ball was going to bounce off the front of the wall about a foot from the top if Kelly hadn’t touched it. Instead, thinking he could make the catch, he jumped up and caught the ball before colliding with the wall. As soon as he crashed into the wall though, both the ball and his glove fell over the wall and into the visitors’ bullpen for a home run. He looked shocked and I couldn’t stop from laughing. An Astros pitcher made a big deal of opening up the gate and handing him back his glove. He tried to give him the ball as well, but Kelly didn’t appear interested. The game started dragging toward the end, but it ended in just over 3 hours.

Once the game was over I got into my car and drove to Alexandria, Virginia, where I would spend the next few days with John and Kirsten Johansen. Once again, I was set up by my mom’s co-workers and everything worked out great. I had been in contact with the Johansen’s before I arrived but was still nervous about spending several days with them. I hadn’t gotten used to knocking on doors of people I hadn’t met, but just like the rest of my trip the people that I stayed with were great.

I slept in until almost noon on the morning of Saturday, July 23. John finally woke me up and took me out to lunch. I hadn’t had a good meal since I’d left Florida earlier in the month and he was out to fix that. He took me to a restaurant and I got a big bowl of jambalaya. We talked about my trip and baseball in general before heading back to their house. That afternoon, I watched some TV, caught up on my e-mail and helped out with some house maintenance. John didn’t want me to help at first, but I felt bad just sitting there and eventually persuaded him to let me give him a hand.

I woke up the next morning at 7:30 and got ready to do some sightseeing. I felt bad for Andy who had really been looking forward to seeing Washington DC for the first time. Instead he was back in Reno recovering from surgery. I got a ride into the city from Kirsten and she gave me a Metro Card to get back to Alexandria. I checked out the International Spy Museum, the Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial, and then walked to the National Archives. I had been to Washington DC four years earlier and hadn’t been able to go to the National Archives because it was under construction. During my senior year in high school, I took an AP Government course so I was excited to see the actual documents that laid out the entire framework for our country’s government. I was surprised to see more than just the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. There was also the Writ of Mandamus from Marbury v. Madison which set up the Supreme Court and the Confederate papers. This was the first attempt at a National Constitution. It was pretty cool getting to see all of those important documents up close and personal.

After finishing up at the Archives, I went and explored a couple of the Smithsonian Museums before hitting the National Mall. The World War II memorial was constructed after the last time I had visited, and I spent some time admiring it. I went to the Lincoln Monument before walking to a Metro station to get back to Alexandria. I headed in the wrong direction at first and rode for about twenty minutes before realizing my mistake. I made it back to the Johansen’s eventually and spent the rest of the day lounging around.

Coming up in the next article, I head to Baltimore to catch the O’s in action, encounter some minor car problems along the way, deal with scalpers, meet some fellow road-trippers, catch a game in Yankee Stadium, and head West where I meet up with a friend from Nevada.

Kevin Naughton is getting ready to mark a full year since he started his road trip. He can be found on the Cafe's forums where he posts as luckygehrig.
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