Five Years Later

Item #27 on my 33 Before 33 list is a special one. I’ve written about how Dan and I first started dating before, but the quick version is this: at a Somerset Patriots game on August 16, 2008, Dan and I sat next to each other, and didn’t stop talking the entire night. Maybe it was the magic of baseball under the lights, but we both felt the spark that night, even if it took us almost exactly two months to go on our first date.

five years later

Every summer since then, Dan and I have gone to a Patriots game together, to honor that first spark. Sometimes we go with his parents to celebrate our birthdays, and sometimes it’s just the two of us, but it is now tradition to see a game there each summer, no matter how many other baseball games we see.

five years later

Even though there are plenty of other anniversaries now, between our first date and when we moved in together and that whole wedding business, August 16 has always felt especially important, because it’s really where everything started. So when I realized that the Patriots had a home game on August 16 this year, I knew we had to go, in honor of the magic under the lights five summers ago. We were leaving for Cape Cod at 5am the next morning, but we couldn’t miss the chance.

five years later

And I’m so, so glad that we went.

The golden hour felt a little more golden, and we drank cold beers and elbowed each other. I made Dan take an awkwardly-too-close self portrait before we found our seats right behind home plate. We got hot dogs and fries, and ended up with juice boxes too, as we unwittingly ordered kids’ meals instead of plain old hot dogs. We sat next to some really obnoxious teenagers – so obnoxious that we moved our seats twice. But the lights were twinkling and the beer was cold and it was me and Dan and baseball, back where it all started. It feels like a million years and yesterday all at once.

#7: Visit the Baseball Hall of Fame

It is hard to know where to start with this story, so bear with me if it gets a little long. I like baseball, and one of the things I love about Dan is that he likes baseball as much (okay, probably a little bit more, when it comes to the history of it) as I do. Even though our teams are not the same, it’s the crazy love of the game that we share. And that’s really something. So last summer, we planned to drive up to Cooperstown, NY to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame during our Birthday Week Extravaganza. We didn’t realize at first how much going in peak season would impact the cost and convenience of the trip, so we decided then that we’d just have to wait and go during the off season.

I added it to my 30 before 30 list because I was secretly afraid that if we didn’t make this trip a priority, it would easily fall by the wayside and years would pass and we’d still be wistfully saying, “We should really visit Cooperstown.” I went to Cooperstown to see the Hall of Fame game in 1992 when Tom Seaver was inducted, but I never visited the museum, and despite being a member of a pretty baseball-oriented family (of Yankee fans, AHEM), Dan had never been at all.

I can’t remember when we decided to just go, but we picked Presidents Day weekend and I’m writing this a few hours after getting home. We knew upstate New York wouldn’t be a super popular destination in the middle of winter, and let’s face it, only crazy baseball people are thinking about baseball in late February. And while there were some drawbacks to our winter visit, overall I’d do it this way again in a heartbeat.

We left New Jersey in the late morning on Friday, and the trip took a little less than five hours. We stayed at the Inn at Cooperstown, and honestly? Staying at a Bed and Breakfast seemed so… adult to me. But the Inn is within walking distance of the museum, and that was a big priority for us. We knew going in that we’d need at least a full day at the museum, and we didn’t want to have to commute on our weekend away. The Inn was really beautiful, the people were friendly, and the whole experience was just completely charming. And yes, kind of grown-up-ish. Right down to the no tv in the rooms. And the key to the outside door, since they lock everything up at 10:30 each night.

room #26

adorable details

even the radiator was adorable

I really loved the keys for some reason

the Inn at Cooperstown

A few friends told us to do everything we could to go out to Brewery Ommegang during our visit, so we drove out after we got settled on Friday afternoon. It seemed a little deserted, and for good reason, because one of the staff members told us that the brewery was, in fact, closed. Not just Friday, but all weekend. And that was a complete and total bummer. We drove back to the Inn and hung around for a while reading (and/or napping, depending on who we’re talking about here) before taking a walk into the village proper to find somewhere to eat. The downtown area is really only two blocks, and it was both completely charming and oddly deserted. You could cross the street without really looking, half of the stores and restaurants had hand-written signs that said “closed for season” and it was really a very eerie feeling. It honestly felt a bit like walking through an empty movie set. (It was, however, really insanely fun to see the baseball-related signs in every store. Even the CVS had a giant sign assuring us that baseball fans were welcome.) We found a small pub-type place and had a few beers (Dan had one of the Ommegang beers, and I had one from another Cooperstown brewery, which were both pretty fantastic) which was a relief after both the long drive and the disappointing brewery trip. We stopped at a liquor store on the walk back, hoping to pick up a six pack to enjoy back at the Inn, but alas, the liquor store? Only sold wine and liquor. (I am still having trouble getting my head around that notion.) So that’s how Dan and I came to spend our Friday evening drinking wine, eating cookies, and playing board games in the Inn’s common room. (I kicked his ass twice in Battleship, furrowed my brow through an attempt to teach me how to play chess, and then got beat pretty solidly in Parcheesi.)

On Saturday we woke up to a pleasant postcard view… of snow. And howling winds. My insistence on wearing Converse all the damn time has never felt so impractical. We had an insanely tasty breakfast at the Inn (I don’t know why I was so enchanted by the color-coordinated plates, mugs, and placemats, and B&B style family breakfast tables, but there it was. I loved it.) and hurried through the wind and snow down to the museum. (Don’t tell Dan I’m telling you this, Internet, but when we were walking around on Friday night, he deliberately decided on a restaurant we saw early on, so that we wouldn’t see the Hall of Fame until our Hall of Fame Day on Saturday. And I think that’s AMAZING.) As picturesque as the snow was, it was just way too damn cold to even appreciate how pretty it was, it was the keep your head down to keep your face from getting frostbite kind of snow, and it was a relief to just get inside.

And then we were there! And we had baseball-shaped stamps on our hands and Tom Seaver souvenir tickets and a map and it was just so great. They advise visitors to start on the second floor, and we started with the Cooperstown history and a multimedia presentation about baseball and its history and how it makes you feel the same as the kids playing in the fields and stuff. And it had me getting a little sniffly until we were supposed to sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame collectively right before doing the freaking wave. (But it was still great.)

there's a funny story about those hand stamps

We spent a looooong time walking through the second floor, which is organized chronologically and includes artifacts from each important moment going back to the late 1800s. Dan’s favorite part all day was the old-timey baseball stuff, and it’s hard to disagree with him. Something about baseball’s beginnings and seeing the old catchers mitts and ticket stubs, seeing the maps and photos from these trips around the world taken in the very early 20th century, it’s just so … I don’t know. I’m clearly running out of adjectives, but it was really something to see it all. I had a hard time getting over all of the trophies and plaques given to the players by all manners of organizations from schools to towns… the bats artfully carved into canes, commemorative pins and fruit bowls… silver season passes to early games. Since I’m a student of history and baseball, the artifacts that have been preserved for more than a hundred years are just so wonderful to see. I loved especially seeing the old uniforms and warm up sweaters (real wool sweaters) and naturally all of the most famous players along the way (Ruth and Gehrig and Paige and on and on). There were more people there than I expected, but few enough that you could read every description of every artifact in each case if you really wanted to.

old timey gear

insane trophies

1910s and 20s Yankees

the Babe Ruth crown

ted williams' batting average analysis

Seeing it myself was pretty great, and seeing Dan appreciating and marveling over the history of it was really special, too. I didn’t really have a huge need to go to the Hall of Fame until recently, because I knew that I had to get to a certain place, fan-wise, student-of-the-game-wise, before visiting the Hall would really mean as much to me as it should. And we hit that sweet spot, and I suppose this is getting boring for you non-baseball fans out there by now, but just… you know. Or you can imagine.

By the time we got to the 1960s or so, it got a bit more interesting (sort of… the oldest stuff was really the best) just because you’re so much more familiar with what you’re looking at, with the names attached to each exhibit. We saw a full diagram of the expansions of the 60s and 70s, then more Yankees stuff, a few Mets things here and there, the exhibits on women in baseball and the Latin influence on the game… We got through the entire second floor, ending with the modern day exhibits (which frankly really weren’t very impressive to me) right as it got to be about lunchtime. I was starting to feel super bleary-eyed at this point, and my feet hurt in my damn Converse and it was time for a break. How we stumbled through that wind (it was so windy and cold that it almost made me breathless) and into the pizza place, I’m really not sure. But that white pizza? Tasted like heaven.

tom terrific, of course

modern-day baseball

*

the Yankees locker

I was afraid that we’d never, ever get through the whole museum in one day, knowing that we had two more floors to cover before the museum closed at 5pm. We went up to the third floor after lunch, and saw a really interesting exhibit about ballparks (although it hasn’t been updated to include the demolition of the first Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium), which I really enjoyed. I love that aspect of the game, and those early ballparks? Woah. It’s hard to imagine structures like that. There was a special exhibit about Hank Aaron’s legacy, a room full of AP Yankee photos (which, of course, Dan was super into), and an exhibit about the postseason which included copies of each World Series ring since the first one. I could have stayed and pondered the Records Room for quite some time. Seeing the records that Dan is constantly quoting to me written out, and comparing some of the unattainable ones with the active players’ status on the list? Really amazing, especially when you think about how much the game has changed since some of these records were first broken. The wall of game balls from the no hitters was especially impressive. We also got to sit and watch Who’s on First, which is still so damn funny.

no hitters

bling

Don Larsen's perfect game

in the Yankees in the media room

And then it was time to head down to the Plaque Gallery. The gallery and rotunda have a sacred feel, you’re led naturally to the first and most recent classes at the back of the hall. I have to be honest here and say that this was not my most favorite part of the museum. I have to acknowledge, of course, that knowing all of the Hall of Fame inductees and their accomplishments is one of the most interesting aspects of the game… but half of the names are ones I’m not familiar with, and it would be hard to read every single plaque in there. But we found the noteworthy ones, and being there in that space was the perfect cap to the day. It sort of sealed in the history and impact of the experience, somehow, although I’m sure that sounds weird.

the Plaque Gallery

the first class

Casey Stengel's retired number, from Shea

We were exhausted at this point, truly exhausted. We spun through the gift shop briefly and then trudged back to the Inn to put our aching feet up and talk like little kids about how much fun we had, and how we finally saw the Hall of Fame, and to debate over records and statistics and how cool it was to spend the day among other baseball fans, fans who were excitedly pointing out records and bits of history just like we were.

We read and dozed for a while, and then braced ourselves to go back out for dinner. I had expected that we’d be able to get dressed up and go out for a nice dinner, but with the weather and so many of the restaurants being closed, that just didn’t happen. We were just so disappointed with the food options, settling for another mediocre meal of chicken fingers and spaghetti on Saturday night, before settling in at Friday night’s bar for quite a few beers. (We both had Ommegang’s Rare Vos and couldn’t get enough.) And then? We crashed.

beers at the end of a baseball-filled day

at the bar

it's 9:20pm on a Saturday

On Sunday we expected to walk around town so I could get some non-snowing photos of the Hall and other landmarks, while stopping in a few more souvenir shops along the way. We didn’t bank on the few stores being closed because it was Sunday, or the 11 degree temperatures that had our poor toes frozen and hurting. So we cut our trip shorter than we expected and came home.

Cooperstown, midwinter

my obsession with converse has never felt so silly

The National Baseball Hall of Fame

But overall? This trip was amazing. It was exactly the escape we both needed, it was relaxing, it was interesting, the Hall of Fame was as awesome as we both knew it would be. It goes without saying – if you’re a baseball fan, you need to get yourself there. Just don’t go in July. There were a few disappointments along the way, but the bottom line? These two baseball fans spent a weekend steeped in love for the game, and it doesn’t get very much better than that, if you ask me.

Baseball Movie Classics: A Pseudo Marathon, The End!

(Part One) (Part Two) (Part Three) (Part Four)

For Love of the Game rounds out the Kevin Costner trilogy of baseball movies, and was another one I had very high hopes for (even after not totally loving Field of Dreams). The movie came out much more recently than I realized (1999) and is actually based on a novel by Michael Shaara (who also wrote The Killer Angels, which is a Pulitzer Prize winning Civil War novel). Costner plays Billy Chapel, 40 year old veteran pitcher (who’s been pitching for the Tigers for 19 years), who learns before the last game of the season that the team has been sold, and he can either be traded or retire. The same morning, his girlfriend informs him that she’s leaving for London. Forever. So it’s not a good day. The movie chronicles Chapel’s journey through this single game, and flashbacks to his relationship and love of baseball are mixed in between the innings. I love stories that are told backwards in this way, and although some would probably argue that the story is too much about his love of Jane, rather than his love of baseball, but I thought it was just right. It was a great story, and Costner is really compelling, and I am definitely adding this one to my list. If you love baseball, you really should see this.

So! That finishes the movies that I’m going to watch for this project, largely because baseball season is in full swing and I want to watch BASEBALL, not movies about baseball. The two movies I had tentatively put on the list that we didn’t get to were A League of Their Own (which I’ve seen a bunch of times, and can acknowledge as probably worthy of being included in the better of the baseball movies, but which I can’t seem to get the motivation to watch) and Bad News Bears (which I included just because I’ve never seen it). So I’m considering this project a resounding success because it was a lot of fun, and I finally did watch a bunch of those movies everyone thinks I should have seen, but I haven’t (if you recall, that’s #11 on my 28 To Do List).

All told, we watched 9 movies. Two I really didn’t care for (Field of Dreams and Mr. Baseball). The rest were really good movies. Here’s my final ranking:

  1. Bull Durham
  2. The Natural
  3. Major League
  4. For Love of the Game
  5. Mr. 3000
  6. Little Big League
  7. Major League 2
  8. Field of Dreams
  9. Mr. Baseball

And I’d happily add Bull Durham, The Natural, Major League, For Love of the Game, and maybe Mr. 3000 to my annual Baseball Season Is Almost Here Let’s Watch Some Baseball Movies To Get Even More Psyched About It movie viewing list. The first four are solid, amazing movies with great stories about likable characters, and more importantly, about loving the game of baseball.

Baseball Movie Classics: A Pseudo Marathon, Part Four

(Part One) (Part Two) (Part Three)

Mr. Baseball was a added to my Baseball Movie Classics list based on three things: it’s about baseball, Netflix suggested it when I was adding these movies to my queue, and it stars Tom Selleck. I think I may have inherited my fondness directly from my mom, who has a non-secret Thing for him. (Looking at my dad, maybe it’s the mustache?) Personally, I’m a sucker for a dude with a deep, good-sounding voice, and Tom Selleck fits the bill. Or maybe I just love Three Men and a Baby/Little Lady and transfer that love to Tom Selleck in general. Okay fine, I like Tom Selleck! So sue me!

Ahem. Anyway, in Mr. Baseball, Tom plays aging first baseman Jack Elliot. He’s old, there’s a new first baseman in town, and the only team interested in Elliot is the Chunichi Dragons in Japan. So Elliot goes to Japan, where he is instantly a big star. To be perfectly honest, this movie was kind of boring and I may have… slept through a good chunk of the middle and part of the end as well. It’s not so much about the game of baseball, but about the brash American Jack Elliot having no respect or understanding for Japanese culture or its impact on baseball. (For example, there’s a big to-do about how Japanese players consider the field to be sacred, meaning no spitting. So Elliot shows how annoyed he is about the rules and strictness by chewing a big wad of tobacco and spitting on the field.) It was made in 1992 and comes off as dated, but not in the charming way, in the this-is-verging-on-offensive way. And as much as I love you, Tom Selleck, I couldn’t even stay awake for the meat of the movie. So perhaps I was a bit brash in adding this to my list. But that’s part of why this project is a ton of fun.

Baseball Movie Classics: A Pseudo Marathon, Part Three

(Part One) (Part Two)

The latest picks in my baseball movie marathon were strictly comedies, which is always a good thing when it comes to baseball. We started with Major League, an obvious classic that I had only seen once before. This is one of those movies that amazes me now to see how many future stars appear. Before we go any further, I LOVED it. It’s hilarious, and the comedy holds up to the test of time. Although some of the characters and parts of the plot show up in other baseball movies (injured veteran catcher leads the team, young hotshot pitcher who has no control, asshole team owner wants them to fail…), Major League puts it all together perfectly. Incidentally, Wikipedia tells me that Charlie Sheen was a pitcher in high school, and managed to get his fastball up to 85 mph during filming. How cool is that? Perhaps this movie rings true to me as a Mets fan, watching my team SUCK the past few years despite their talent (not to mention a super-speedy Wesley Snipes (aka Jose Reyes) and a bald, goateed superstitious slugger (aka Carlos Delgado)). It’s just a good story about a team that pulls together. It’s funny, it’s got good montages (made better by the addition of newspaper headlines as the season nears the end), Bob Uecker is perfect as the Indians’ announcer, and I love the cuts to the fans’ reactions at first when they suck and then as they get better. Maybe it doesn’t say important things about the spirit of baseball, but it’s one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s going on my annual baseball-is-almost-here movie watching list, without a doubt.

We then watched Major League 2 which is also really funny, but doesn’t hold up to the original at all. The cast of characters is largely the same, swapping Wesley Snipes for Omar Epps, who is good but clearly doing an imitation of Snipes’ version of Willie Mays Hayes. Tom Berenger’s character is too old to be competitive, so he joins the coaching staff. There are a few new misfits added to the bunch; this movie chronicles the season just following the success in Major League. It definitely feels like they were trying to recapture the magic of the original movie, but they don’t quite get there. It’s not without hilarious moments, though. There’s a young catcher who can’t throw to the mound. Charlie Sheen’s character has tidied up his image and lost his ability to blow pitches by the batters. It’s another classic baseball comedy, but I didn’t love it nearly as much as the original. Dan assured me that the third one (Back to the Minors!) is not worth a viewing. Maybe one day. Still, it’s hard to turn down a baseball comedy, so don’t rule this one out completely.

The third baseball movie we watched this week was Mr. 3000, starring Bernie Mac. This is the only remotely recent movie on my list (it came out in 2004), and was recommended by my brother. I was a little skeptical, because Bernie Mac plays an asshole first-baseman who alienated all of his teammates and fans in his pursuit of 3000 hits, topping it off by retiring the same night he achieves the goal. The bulk of the movie takes place nine years later, where a 46-year-old Stan Ross is frustrated because he keeps missing the Hall of Fame. It turns out that a statistical error was made, and he only has 2,997 hits, so he decides to make a comeback in order to get those last 3 hits. This is one of those movies where you’re not loving the main character, but grow to root for him as the movie goes on. He clashes with his new teammates, who are obviously much younger, in better shape, and don’t think they need him at all. His struggles are hilarious, but the movie has a lot of heart. I wasn’t expecting to laugh so hard. This movie was really great, and I love how it ended (but I won’t ruin it for you). I’m glad we included this one, and Bernie Mac is fantastic.

Baseball Movie Classics: A Pseudo Marathon, Part Two

(Part One)

The storm this weekend meant that we got in one day of baseball movie watching. First up was Little Big League. This is one of the many children’s baseball movies that came out in the 90s, movies that I remember awfully fondly. (See also: The Sandlot, Rookie of the Year, Angels in the Outfield) Dan campaigned for this one to be included in our study because it holds up to the test of time despite a very weak actor playing the main character. And he was right. It’s a great, if unlikely, story, about a kid whose grandfather dies and leaves him the Minnesota Twins. After arguing with the Twins’ manager, twelve-year-old Billy names himself the manager. It’s fairly straightforward from there: single mom is romanced by the first baseman. Old grizzled reliever resents having a kid as a manager. But what this movie has going for it are a bunch of really fun team members, clever trick plays, former MLB players playing the baseball players in the movies (including former Met Kevin Elster!), the Twins’ actual radio announcer, Chris Berman doing Baseball Tonight, and cameos from big-name 90s baseball greats like Ken Griffey, Jr, Pudge Rodriguez, Paul O’Neill, Randy Johnson, Lou Piniella and Rafael Palmeiro. You don’t see that kind of thing any more, and it’s just flat-out cool. Oh! And don’t let me forget that this movie contains a sweet baseball montage to “Centerfield” by John Fogerty. Which is kind of essential. It’s a good story and it’s funnier than you think. Good stuff.

Bull Durham was next, and this one carries a lot of weight. I’ve only seen it once, but both Dan and my brother list it among their very favorite movies. This was part of Kevin Costner’s late 80s baseball movie trifecta, and it’s GOOD. I mean, this is an amazing movie. Because this movie focuses on a really terrible minor league team, it’s unique. It’s about baseball and love and loving baseball, and about wanting to make it in the majors. And about sometimes not making it. Tim Robbins is hilarious as a clueless hotshot rookie who has no control on the mound, while Susan Sarandon is the woman who adopts one player each year and makes him great. But it’s even more about Kevin Costner’s character, and old catcher whose last hurrah will be grooming Tim Robbins to make it big. Maybe this movie’s strength comes from the fact that it was written by a guy who played in the minors for five years and really understands what that means. Another “Centerfield” montage, a fast-talking manager, and a really great cast of characters only add to Bull Durham’s charm. It’s funny, it’s sexy, and it’s a great story. So, so, so good. Don’t watch it with kids. But I love it.

Baseball Movie Classics: a Pseudo Marathon, Part One

When I wrote my 28 To Do List last summer, #11 was to watch some of those movies everyone thinks I should have seen, but I haven’t. There are a lot of important cinematic classics that I’m embarrassed never to have seen. Like The Godfather. Or Terminator 2. Or most of the classic baseball movies. But it’s not like I have a list of movies that fit this criteria, it’s more that I hate that feeling when someone can’t believe I haven’t seen something so ubiquitous. So this list item has been knocking around in my head, without a good solution. But my friends, baseball season is drawing near, and what better time than now to start an extended marathon of the classic baseball movies? (Prior to this project I had seen Major League once, Bull Durham once, A League of Their Own a bunch of times, and Rookie of the Year a million, billion times. Also frequently watched: The Sandlot. And Angels in the Outfield.)

So I consulted my brother and my boyfriend to make sure the list of movies was complete. We left out most of the children’s movies (see above: I’ve seen them a million times). The ones we included were ones John or Dan loved, or ones that were important to the baseball movie genre. Or simply ones I really need to have seen, just for the sake of completeness. We aren’t planning to watch these in a standard marathon, but over the course of the weekends in March, leading up to opening day. Maybe this will be a new tradition!

We started off with The Natural. I loved it. And I think I have a crush on Robert Redford now. This one had all of the best things non-comedy baseball movies should: solid montages, a spitfire manager, someone trying to take down the team, and best of all, old timey uniforms. Dan and I really like old timey baseball. It has a certain something modern baseball just can’t get at. I think, though, that this one I’m definitely going to need to watch again. The problem with watching a movie that you know is classic and well-regarded is that you’re on pins and needles waiting for something bad to happen. This happened when I finally saw the Shawshank Redemption three years ago, too. I was waiting for something horrible and sad and heartbreaking to happen at the end; to end up sobbing. It’s hard to relax and enjoy a movie with that in the back of your mind. But nothing as catastrophic as I feared happened in The Natural, and the scenes on the field at the end are pure baseball magic. Classic through and through.

Next up was Field of Dreams. I’m no stranger to the creepy whisper-shouted If you build it, he will come. I didn’t expect that the building of the baseball diamond in the cornfield would be finished so early in the movie, and that a larger spirit-quest would ensue, with further mysteriously whispered and unintelligible instructions. Before I say anything else, I do want to point out that I’m obviously approaching all of these movies with the open mind of a true baseball fan. But Field of Dreams? It was a little MUCH, wasn’t it? It was all Important Swell of Music and Long Pauses Before Meaningful Moments. It felt like they were bashing me over the head with these Meaningful Baseball Moments, rather than just letting the moments develop in a meaningful way just because it’s a good story that pulls your heartstrings. (See: The Natural). Maybe it was because the story is about life and nostalgia and this one man’s journey, rather than about the game of baseball… But I could do without this one. I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t know if this needs to be added to my personal rotation or anything. Of course, Dan’s brother Dave yelled at me for saying all of this. “This is one of the few guy movies with non-cheesy emotion! How can you mock it?!” Ooops.

This is going to be such a fun project.