“I felt American for once in my life. I never felt it again.”
Each baseball position renders a unique personality and carries with it distinct characteristics. Likewise, no two American cities are the same.
The “big men” – the tall, lanky, sometimes overweight “power” hitters – generally thrive at first base (or “DH,” for all the American League connoisseurs). Second basemen are smaller, agile, and mild-mannered. “Leaders” play shortstop. Third basemen are extremely quick and acrobatic. Outfielders carry larger egos. Center fielders are downright fast. Right fielders have exceptionally strong arms. Catchers are hard as nails. Pitchers are bulldogs. Utility men are so clutch, because they can play a multitude of roles. They have a diversified skill set.
Catchers might evolve into first basemen over time, but not vice versa. Left-handed players are sought-after commodities, but are generally limited to pitcher (i.e. “southpaw”), first base, or the outfield. Of course, a right-hander covers more ground in right field, whereas a lefty is more effective in left field.
Today, we are clinging to this notion of being the “United States of America.” Yet there’s so much regionalism, so much variation at play. Each American city produces a different vibe, a different feel.
A few weeks ago, I went back east for the first time in six years. I traveled solo, and met up with old friends in various locales. Over the span of eight days, I saw five cities, took in three baseball games, and enjoyed a concert cruise on the East River. But, rest assured, I’m not a “tourist;” I only play one on TV.
In Baltimore, I sipped on “Natty Boh” while devouring a side of pickled fries. In Philadelphia, I had a Campo’s cheesesteak (because “it’s all in the name”). I took the “wit wiz and fried onions” route, and paired it with a Yuengling. Late at night, I walked the streets of lower Manhattan eating folded pizza. As Friday night turned into Saturday morning, I watched the sun rise on the Atlantic City boardwalk. In Boston, I enjoyed a lobster sushi roll for which one would die. In the midst of it all, I developed a growing love affair with Dunkin’ Donuts.
This trip was so American.
See, “vacation” is a mindset, kind of like “Monday morning.” People always claim to be “late” on Monday morning because they are still stuck in the “weekend” frame of mind. Work keeps us grounded, but getting back to the “grind” is a difficult task. Still, if that’s the case, why not simply get up earlier?!
On the flipside, we think more clearly on vacation. Vacation is not a “grind;” it’s pure leisure. We can let loose. We can “shrink our brains,” as my Dad would say.
However, “travel” isn’t easy by any means. Baseball teams traditionally have worse records on the “road.” Similarly, west coast elitists are at an extreme disadvantage on the east coast. Sure, the gas is cheap, but the “tolls” will bite you where it hurts.
And how about those “rain delays” during the summertime? Californians don’t have to deal with downpours in June, only fog and microclimates. And, don’t get me started on driving in Manhattan. It’s pure chaos. The lanes aren’t defined on the avenues, and delivery trucks transform the right lanes on the streets into their own personal loading zones.
The thing about New York City is that one single event can alter the flow of the city on any given day. The city is so interconnected that one disruption can interfere with your “typical” travel plans. You might be a part of the event, or you might simply be a spectator.
On Sunday morning, I “did the whole thing.” I went to brunch in Jersey City with some friends, some friends-of-friends, and the friends-of-friends’ family members. The diner was so Jersey. My “pancakes, plus eggs, bacon and sausage” platter was so American.
On the trek back to the city on the PATH train, our route options were limited because the MTA always plays that “game” on the weekend. And in this instance, the tourists always lose. So, we get off at 9th street, near 6th Avenue in the West Village. Any other day, it would have been fine. Walk a couple avenues to east side, and catch the 4-5-6 to the Upper East Side.
Not on Sunday. Not during the Pride Parade. We were stuck. “Literally!” as most Millennials would say. For nearly 30 minutes, we desperately navigated the packed sidewalks adjacent to the cordoned-off, cobblestone streets. It was more or less a re-enactment of the “The Puerto Rican Day Parade.”
In all honesty, New York City is a wonderful place. I was blessed to live there for two years. It truly is a melting pot of ethnicities, cultures, and ways of life. New York is the model city for America. Every resident is entitled to live out his/her “American Dream,” because all dreams are relative. It’s always been that way. Do what you love, just make sure to pay the bills on time.
While the “American Dream” is still a thing, the Millennial generation has taken it to a new level, an unhealthy level at best. We were born with silver spoons. As children, we got trophies when we lost. We were told that we could do anything. As a result, we built up a sense of entitlement.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re smart individuals, perhaps “overeducated.” Still, we’re obsessed with social media, our “careers,” and those cool job perks. We rely too much on technology, and we have very little patience. Everything is “on-demand,” and when it isn’t, something seems off. We don’t use dictionaries or card catalogs anymore; Google is sufficient.
Now the older core of the Millennial generation is burnt out. So, do we settle down like most of our peers, or do we keep the party going?
My journey was so classic. It centered on baseball, our “National Pastime.” Or so I thought.
We live in a fast-moving world. As such, people prefer fast-paced sports. It’s sad to admit, but baseball is no longer the “National Pastime.” In America circa 2017, the NBA and NFL have surpassed MLB in terms of mass popularity, media attention, and general appeal. Bars prefer to air NBA summer league games in July instead of primetime, Saturday night baseball. There’s so much hype in the NBA, even during the offseason, if you can call it that. And how about the NFL? It’s a blatant money grab. The Super Bowl is a national holiday. It’s not even about football anymore. It’s about hot n’ ready pizza, potato chips, beer, iPhones, and the upcoming summer blockbuster.
I’m such a purist. I find value in tradition. I’m so American.
In the old days, ballparks were centrally located in densely populated urban areas, not necessarily “downtown,” but within the city limits (e.g. Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Ebbets Field, Yankee Stadium).
Then in the ‘60s and ‘70s, in a cost-saving approach, municipalities began building “multipurpose” stadiums and domes on the outskirts of town. It was a bit more travel for fans, but these sites allowed for ample guest parking and pre-game tailgating opportunities. Furthermore, the massive structures could cater to both NFL and MLB organizations (e.g. Oakland Coliseum, Candlestick Park, Joe Robbie Stadium, The Astrodome, Three Rivers Stadium, Veterans Stadium, The Metrodome, The Kingdome).
By the late ’80s, change was imminent. The Baltimore Orioles broke ground on a new baseball-only complex in 1989. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, conveniently nestled between the Downtown and Inner Harbor neighborhoods, opened at the start of the 1992 campaign. It set the standard for “new era” MLB ballparks. It’s a rather beautiful park in an otherwise underrated city.
Baltimore gets such a bad rap, mainly because of The Wire. But it’s called “Charm City” for a reason, folks. See, Baltimore resembles Oakland. It’s “edgy,” yet “cool.” There are good pockets and bad pockets. But if you find your niche, then you’re bound to have a good time. If you look close enough, you’ll find that “charm.”
Meanwhile, Philly has a very efficient sports complex. It is located just steps from the AT&T SEPTA station (the last stop on the Broad Street line, a few stops after Tasker-Morris Station). It’s not a burgeoning residential area, but there is business at all times of the year. Within two square miles, fans have access to Citizens Bank Park (Phillies), Lincoln Financial Field (Eagles), Wells Fargo Center (Flyers, 76ers), and XFINITY Live!, where Philly sports fans can enjoy pre and post-game refreshments.
It’s nothing “over-the-top.” Nothing is in Philadelphia. Philly is so mellow. It’s very “working-class” and “community-oriented.” The streets are narrow. The J-walkers are abundant. The bars are packed late at night. Philly is an older version of New York City. It’s an “old-school” city that offers an impressive whiskey pour, superior to that of New York City.
And Boston. How can I forget about you, Boston? You bring so much attitude to the table. I feel like such an outsider in your town. You won’t talk to me until the middle of the third inning. I’m not welcome until I buy you a round at the bar. But Fenway Park is a work of art. It’s a masterpiece. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I truly saved the best for last. Thank you, I appreciate that. Still, your thunder and lightning storms managed to hold me hostage at Logan International for nearly three hours, when all I wanted to do was get back to the Bay and “unwind.”
So there you have it. Eight days, five cities, and three key takeaways: (1) I like the east coast, (2) I love baseball, and (3) The Menzingers are my healthy obsession.