From MA to IL – Stop One Williamsport, PA

Well the first week of our trip across America ended in Dakota country. Having trekked from Boston to Chicago, we spent the first week mingling with each of our families. It can be an interesting dynamic with competing schedules and desires, but everything has worked reasonably well, so far.

Photo: Keri, Aunt Ede, and Ali

On our way to Chicago we made a short stop in the Keystone State of Pennsylvania, to visit Ali and Keri’s Great Aunt Ede. At eighty-five, Aunt Ede is still a dynamo of hospitality and general activity. She was quite the host for our short stay in Williamsport, taking us out to dinner, where she was spotted by one of her card club colleagues, and making sure we were well fed before continuing on down the road. She nearly held me in particular in an almost Calypso-like spell with her warmth and generosity. Ede and I certainly shared a sweet tooth and had it not been for the heat, she would have baked, and my guess is that I would have been even less likely to want to be tempted away from the double desserts that are a staple of Ede the hostess.

Photo: Little League Museum Sign

Aside from the prospects of meeting Aunt Ede, the mere mention of Williamsport was exciting for additional reasons, namely because it is the birthplace of Little League. More than that, I came to find that the first ever Little League diamond, Carl E. Stotz Field, is still open for ball, despite having hosted its first game in 1937. The late Mr. Stotz even has a monument commemorating his achievement at the World Series complex, as seen below. Williamsport also serves as the sport’s headquarters and hosts a museum celebrating the world’s youth playing the great American pastime. While at times the museum borders more on the hysterical than historical, it is still a must see for anyone in the area. Below and to the right is a snapshot from the lobby. Another baseball related site in town is Bowman Field, the second oldest minor league stadium in the country, home to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ A ball affiliate, the Crosscutters.

Photo: Carl E. Stotz Memorial Photo: Little League Museum Lobby

Photo: Bowman Field Crosscutters Sign

However, Williamsport’s crown jewel is the complex devoted to the Little League World Series, including the final’s home, Howard J. Lamade Stadium. I must say that when I was a twelve year-old, all-star shortstop, hardened on the base paths of Village Green in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, there was no more majestic place outside the Show. How I dreamed of stepping into the batter’s box of that hallowed ball field? From the moment I first saw kids, my own age, on television playing baseball in that place, I was captivated like every other kid that donned a cap and leather mitt everyday the weather was warm and the rain was at bay. It even had a fence in the outfield, which might as well have been a professional park as far as I was concerned. It was some time before any of the fields in Glen Ellyn had any kind of fences, which basically meant that you hit the ball as hard as you could and ran like hell hoping you could beat a throw to home. Well, I was pretty fast, but without a limit to the field of play, I hit a whole lot more triples than round-trippers.

Photo: Howard J. Lamade Stadium

Before giving over to the beautiful game, soccer, I absolutely breathed baseball as a youngster and believed Williamsport was the pinnacle, like every Little Leaguer. Well, I was twenty years too late and the place was empty, but I couldn’t have been happier traipsing the hallowed ground. As a matter of fact, I am not sure I could have enjoyed it nearly as much had I made it there before now. I made sure that I saw just about everything, taking pictures the whole time. The place was still as fantastic to me now as it was when I was just a kid imagining what it must have been like. I especially liked the Casey at the Bat Monument beyond the left field wall, just adjacent to the scoreboard. Ali and Keri showed great patience, waiting in the wheels while I covered every inch on foot.

Photo: Little League Museum Exhibit Booth Photo: Casey at the Bat Monument

After falling victim to Aunt Ede’s hostess charms and all the Little League allure, I was a little remiss to leave, but we had to make tracks to get back near those fields of my youth. Thus, we resumed our westward trek with designs on arriving before sundown, which was successful.

Photo: Howard J. Lamade Stadium from Behind the Plate

More on the rest of week one to come.

Heading Home Once Again

Well, it is off to the Midwest again, as this week Ali and I, along with Keri and Zerbert, head back to Chicagoland for some summer family fun. Thus, all Live from New England posts henceforth will be piped in from the greater Chicago metro area.

I have to admit that I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into all those longed for local victuals. Considering I am back on the exercise wagon, so as to not die an early death and maintain some semblance of physical fitness, I will need to demonstrate moderation. Nevertheless, I will be resuming the gastronomic tour which I started early in the year. This time I will be able to hit all those places that tend to close the doors in the colder climes.

Of course, I will maintain a chronicle of the adventures, complete with pictures. In addition to Chicago, we will be heading out to South Dakota briefly to visit Ali’s grandma. Best of all, the trip will include a detour to the Spam Museum. Believe me there will be pictures! I can hardly wait to take in some of that Americana kitsch. Hopefully, there will be other incidental adventures along the way.

So, stay tuned.

Minor League Baseball & Family Fun

So last week we headed to Worcester for a Tornadoes game. The Worcester Tornadoes are one of the many local minor league teams in the New England region. It seems like every fifth town has a minor league team here in New England. This is fantastic! There are few seasonal pleasures that compare to knocking down a hot dog and slugging a beer at a ballpark, while watching America’s past-time, especially at an admission price that has yet to come face to face with former President Jackson. Having lived within about a mile and half form a Alexian Field, home of the Schaumburg Flyers, prior to my arrival here gave me a definite taste for the minor leagues. Simply put, if you love the game, the minor leagues offer the greatest bang for your buck experience out there. Of course
Red Sox
tickets are scarce and expensive and the quality of play is undoubtedly better, but there is a romantic quality to the small, family friendly parks of the farm systems.

Here is a nostalgic glimpse of the Flyers’ Alexian Field. With a fairly steady stream incoming small aircraft lining up their landing approach and flying diagonally across the mound and first base line, to the adjacent airfield, it is still one of my favorite baseball sites anywhere.

Photo: Alexian Field in Schaumburg, IL

Worcester is no exception here. Fitton Field, also home to the College of the Holy Cross’ team, is a park with both the appeal of intimacy and newness, while rising above bare-bones lesser collegiate stadiums. The seats are cheap, close to the action, and almost all in the range of foul ball collection. It offers a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Based on the crowd that turned out for the game, I am not the only person that feels that way. My only complaint about the park was that it was situated almost in reverse, with the left field wall facing almost directly west, creating sight problems, as well as completely throwing off the whole notion of the south-paw. The picture below illustrated this, but it is a fairly minor issue, no pun intended.

Photo: The Stadium at College of the Holy Cross

The game itself was pretty good, overall. There was a paucity of hitting initially, but things started to heat up a little in the middle to late innings, as expected. It was full of everything, except a home run. We saw great plays and awful ones, including the opposing shortstop rifling the ball over the head of the first baseman and into the right side stands. Best of all the home team pulled out the victory.

What is always most interesting to me are the players. Unlike other games I have seen this group seemed to lack any of the grizzled veterans who had a shot in the show at some point in their careers and are either washed up or making that last gasp campaign to get back. The players of Worcester and New Haven all looked young, simply full of hope and desire to keep playing a game with the outside chance of making a legitimate living at it. It is refreshing to see guys take the field that are still green and looking to make a splash. Plus, before the game many of them were part of the pre-game family festivities and contests, which is a much rarer and media savvy phenomenon in the big leagues. With this group it was evident that more than anything else, they just loved playing the game.

Photo: Tornado Player After Sun Sets on the Park

Ali, Keri and I were all in attendance that night. We had hoped to get the rest of their family, but they were already slated to go the next day by complete happenstance. The greatest drag of this was that we missed their father Henry’s championship twirl in the mid-innings classic dizzy bat race, where at home plate, with head placed on the knob of a bat standing upright on the ground, he spun around and around ten times, only to rise and erratically race a competitor down the third base line to tag the mascot for a wobbly win. So, good on you Henry! Entertaining your family, as well as thousands of spectators you proved yourself a true competitive champion, even after a few ballpark brews at that. I have to say that this alone would have been worth the price of admission, for me. We were all sorry we missed it. I am most sorry that I don’t have any pictures of your victory!

London Calling: A Media Rant

Well, this Thursday was a rather sobering one, as I watched the news on and off most of the day about the bombings in London. It really made me think about how ridiculous some of our media coverage is. Like many previous major tragic events the networks interrupt regularly scheduled programming to bring us live news coverage as it happens. Unfortunately, the reality is very little happens and next to nothing is known, at least initially. So we get force fed the same pabulum every ten to fifteen minutes, with the complimentary loop of video footage with the some of the most dramatic images. The whole thing serves to do little other than serve up a whole lot of noise, with very little information, and induces a kind of aimless panic.

What has always most amazed me during these kind of news events is how routinely the media, in an effort to be the first or exclusive, gets things wrong. I can’t count how many times the television news media has made statements or claims that were proven to be false, once someone actually does know something. Occasionally, we get that weak qualifier from the anchor about what is confirmed. Even worse is when we get some face on the television saying, “We don’t yet know…” or “officials have not yet released…” It’s all rather absurd. Yet, every time some significant event happens this same beast rears its ugly head and must be fed.

What I have found most interesting is that here in Boston at least one local anchor had to fly to London to “cover” the story. So there he was, live in the middle of the night with Big Ben in the background, with generally not a mush to say in his less than two minutes of air time. Wait, he did offer up the same sound-bite banter that reduces and stereotypes nearly all British people to their stiff upper lips. Even more interesting is how quickly the London bombings have been finding there way further down the headline lineup. It is already old news, in a way. In fact, we have got a hurricane about to rip through the Southeastern Gulf states. So there was all kinds of attention paid to an event about which we know very little, while all kinds of assumptions and “expert” analysis is proffered. The cameras roll and audiences are treated to a kind of grand violent tease. Then it is time to move on, because there are new stories to “cover.” All the while, the massive amount of misguided assumptions and misinformation are rarely rectified. When something more is known it will be old news and probably used as a footnote to get to the weather, because “all new is local.”

The whole thing made me understand why some of my friends don’t own a television, for anything other than a monitor for videos and games. More than that, it made me think what a disservice the news media is to most of us, generally. I think nearly sane individual saw the images coming from London and immediately felt sympathy and grief. In lieu of nothing to say, why can’t the news media be more of a reflection of that, rather than a voyeuristic, violent peep show with a predatory taste for blood and drama. What’s more do it without reducing all involved. The sight of the same bloody young Londoner, head wrapped, dressed in the remnants of his finely tailored suit, being helped to his feet, while he briefly stared into the lens of an on looking news camera, as if to say, “What are you doing?” grew grotesque, to say the least. Finally, how about keeping the reports simple and short, until someone knows something. That way people aren’t left to create their understanding on a bunch of half-truths and idle speculations. People don’t need any help in that area.

Just some random thoughts, prompted by a truly horrific incident, which I fear will become more the norm, even on our side of the pond. And as cliché as it may be, may all of our thoughts and prayers be with those victims and their loved ones. It is a wonder and a miracle more were not killed or maimed. To London.

Food Fests: Fabulous and Farce

Not that long ago, I headed into Boston’s Government Center, for one of the annual events to which I had been looking forward ever since I moved here. The Scooper Bowl is a benefit for the Jimmy Fund, but more than that it is a festival of ice cream. Now anyone that knows me well knows that ice cream is far and away my favorite food. So from the moment Ali had mentioned this phenomenon, I have been waiting anxiously to attend.

Here are some pictures of one of the finest event I have attended since living in the Boston area. Featured prominently is the gate to get in and enjoy the dairy deliciousness and a shot from the belly of the beast.

Photo: Ice Cream Cone Gateway to Scooper Bowl Photo: Inside the Row of Ice Cream Tents

With well over a dozen vendors, all handing out heaping cups of savory ice cream flavors in a myriad of fabulous flavors, as well as standby chocolate and vanilla, this was a magnificent occasion. Better still it lasts nearly a week. For a mere $7, you are let inside the gate and it is all you can eat. For me heading to the Scooper Bowl was a sprint, from the moment I raced from the high school onto the train, to entering the gate and commencing with the consumption. For those concerned among you, I knocked down eleven scoops inside a half hour, before deciding that it would not be wise to continue. Unfortunately I was solo for this because of the timing. Since I was still in school and had to wait until the later afternoon and Ali made it a work outing with her staff earlier in the day, we missed one another by a couple of hours. Next year we’ll have to coincide. Plus I will be experienced and better able to pace myself.

Photo: Ben and Jerry’s Tent

I wanted to rave about the Scooper bowl for a couple of reasons. One because it was one of the best fests of its kind I have attended here or anywhere; but two, because it serves as such a shocking contrast to the other equally awaited food event, Boston’s annual Chowderfest. Again, even before I lived here I had heard tale of the Chowderfest and how magnificent it was supposed to be. Travel television shows had regaled it as one of Boston’s best, saluting hall of fame winners of this distinctly New England fare. As soon as I found out that it was going to be Fourth of July weekend, the third, it was penciled in for a must attend. Neither Ali nor Keri had ever been there, so the three of us piled on the train and headed to Government Center.

Photo: The Line to Get into Chowderfest

Simply put, the Chowderfest was the worst travesty ever perpetrated on an unknowing public in search of either festival or food. The three of us arrived to join thousands of others, all of us gift wrapped in cellophane, suckers waiting to be bilked. After waiting in line for well over forty-five minutes, just to get into the farce-fest we walked through the gates to find yet even more lines for the equivalent of six tablespoons of less than stellah chowdah. A mere three, that’s right three, chowder vendors, two of which were not even from Boston, were there ladling out miniscule sample cups of their ware. Better still while we there the lone Boston contingent and past winner, Ned Devine’s, even pulled up stakes and knocked down their booth, apparently having been drained. Mind you this was at 2:30 PM and the event was supposed to go ‘til 6:00 PM. It was a complete joke. Even better was the local news, later that evening, celebrating the event with very tight shots of the event so you couldn’t really see the complete paucity of chowder. It was made even more complete with a Mayor Menino sound bite, “It was great. We had some of Boston’s best restaurants…” Are you kidding me?! I still don’t have enough literary control to exercise all the venom I still harbor for this outrageous Harborfest experience.

In spite of the soup sham, I still always manage to find a way to enjoy myself downtown. It was packed from Faneuil Hall al the way down Washington street and all along the Freedom Trail. Plus it is not everyday that you see Red Coats in the street marching.

Here’s hoping everyone had an Independence Day that exceeded our chowder experience. In spite of the horror show we still managed to have a quality weekend. More on that, perhaps, later.