Head East – All I-70 All the Time

Saturday, June 8 – UBT Day Eight

You know what they say about Ohio. It’s high in the middle and wide on both ends.

I have family in the Dayton area so I’m familiar with just how wide. Plus, a couple of our UBTs have covered nearly every professional team in Ohio. (I’ve only missed the Mahoning Valley Scrappers and possibly a new team that’s sprung up since our Ohio tours.)

Although none of this week’s driving has dragged, I brought along a laptop in order to share something with Mitch. Of course it’s baseball-related.

I’d been fanatical about baseball since Little League. Even considering our brief season, pickup games, whiffle ball, The Sporting News and the Game of the Week, I craved more. So I finally responded to the APBA ad (in The Sporting News) to receive a free Johnny Bench card. What better way to spend some birthday cash?

I still have that set and every season since. I’m still active in a fun face-to-face Master Game league called OOTL with about a dozen other local baseball enthusiasts.

I also embraced technology and play in some leagues using their computer version, BBW or Baseball for Windows. That brings me to my point.

The BBW version features Ernie Harwell doing radio play-by-play of your games! What better complement to a UBT stretch of driving than to play a few league games through Mitch’s truck radio?

I boot my laptop and arrange my starting lineup. Soon we hear Ernie paint the diamond picture with the Riegle Speakers hosting. Ohio’s girth never seemed so narrow!

Before we know it, we cross into West Virginia for a familiar grocery store stop. (If you’re unfamiliar with Pennsylvania’s laws regarding beer sales, think Dark Ages.)

Over the PA border lies Washington County. When traveling I-70, you can literally glance directly into the ball yard home of the Washington Wild Things.

Our hotel also hugs the Interstate as we’re perhaps 150 yards from the home plate entrance. This is where UBT 2013 will conclude.

Due to Washington’s proximity to Pittsburgh, two friends in Mitch’s face-to-face All Star Baseball winter league join us on the hotel patio for pre-game pizza and beverages. Chris was with us for UBT 2010 featuring both Chicago MLB teams and Milwaukee with bookend games in South Bend and Gary, Indiana. That had been our most aggressive trip prior to this marathon. We’re glad he and Jeff can share in our final night of UBT 2013.

The four of us stroll toward the entrance of Consul Energy Park. Our perfect evening of independent Frontier League ball is enhanced by the “Turnpike Classic.” The Lake Erie Crushers represent the Cleveland Browns while the home team assumes the role of the Steelers.

Consul Energy Park Pregame - Washington, PA

The outdoor stadium features artificial turf and dirt. Although bouncers do kick up some sort of cloud.

Bleacher seating is flanked by a picnic area down the left field line and a party deck in far right. The kids really enjoy the mascot as many families attend.

Steeler-themed giveaways highlight between-inning moments. The Crushers live up to their name during those innings, scoring early and often, coasting to a 9-1 victory.

Mitch's Popcorn Snack - Consul Energy Park - Washington, PA

The Wild Things load the sacks in the bottom of the 9th, but come up empty. No one homers, but Russell Moldenhauer strokes an RBI triple in the 4th.

We enjoy post-game beverages and baseball highlights back at the hotel before Chris and Jeff travel back to Pittsburgh. All that remains for Mitch and me is a good night’s rest and a leisurely Sunday drive to Harrisburg.

UBT 2013 gives us a lot to talk (and write) about. Our custom T-shirts, binders, photos and conversations keep these UBT memories alive. Thank you for taking this journey with us.
Brian Williams
From Deep Short

“Everyone Knows It’s Indy”

Friday, June 7 – UBT Day Seven

Getting on the road in St. Louis, we take a slight detour to grab a sandwich at a place recommended to us by a friend of Mitch. As we roll by shortly after 11 AM, there’s a line out the door of the small city establishment. The line continues around the corner!

The sandwiches must be as advertised, but we decide to forego the delay considering we have 240+ miles to travel before tonight’s game. The line of hungry patrons also reminds me of something my Dad’s been saying since I was a youngster: “I stood in enough lines in the army.”

We agree to catch a bite along the way when we stop for fuel. This must have been a day of reflection for me, because this seemingly small decision triggers another thought. Not just today, not just on this week’s massive UBT undertaking, but Mitch and I always seem to agree with plans … even when they don’t always go according to plan.

Having the same passion for baseball, craft/micro-brews and a variety of food plays a part, I’m sure. Plus, both of us consider ourselves fortunate (extremely understanding spouses, enough vacation time, etc.) to take trips like this, so we never sweat the small stuff.

We cross through Illinois. Shortly after we’re in Indiana, it’s time for a fuel stop — both for the truck and for us. We eat on the go, because we still need to get to Indianapolis, check in to our hotel, and experience tonight’s first pitch.

Lucas Oil Stadium from Hotel Parking Lot - Indianapolis

Our hotel is literally in the shadow of a huge domed building. Football fans may understand the use for this place (above). Our focus is on checking in, dropping off our bags, and walking to Victory Field.

Our walk takes us by a huge coal-fired power plant, which contrasts the clean, new look of Lucas Oil Stadium, but looms nearly as large. At the end of the block rests Victory Field.

Victory Field from LF - Indianapolis

The outfield gate at the corner of West and Maryland looks inviting, featuring brick and an iron gate to match its surroundings. The sidewalk is brick as you approach the entrance.

Just inside, an outfield concourse welcomes ticket holders with concessions and games. A spacious grass bank circling the outfield offers relaxing views of the action.

Families already begin to spread blankets in anticipation of Friday night baseball. Behind the banks and walkway is another roomy, tree-shaded area for children to play, safe from the action.

Mitch and I find craft beverages and an engaging usher on the concourse behind the Indians dugout. We also chat with a local businessman who enjoys the proximity of professional football and baseball with his son.

The concourse displays banners depicting players who’ve graced the current and former Victory Field. This modern version opened in 1996 yet rivals newer parks in many ways.

Former Royals farmhand, Mike Montgomery, takes the ball for the Durham Bulls. Another former Royals prospect plays right field. See how close you could be to Wil Myers?

Wil Myers, RF - Victory Field - Indianapolis

Montgomery steals the show, hurling 7+ innings of no-hit ball. Leslie Anderson and Shelley Duncan provide long ball support and a 4-0 lead, but four walks force Montgomery to the side after reaching his pitch count.

The pen and defense immediately unravel as the home team records a 6-spot in the 8th. Tony Sanchez ropes a clutch RBI double in that big inning.

This game represents the most baseball drama we’ve witnessed since Omaha. The Pirates AAA team hangs on to win, 6-5, sending nearly 14,000 fans home happy. On the other hand, Mitch and I strike out in search of food and beers.

We stroll past a couple of high-class places, one of which spills out onto the sidewalk. On the same block we enter the local Rockbottom. A late dinner, some Red Ales and IPAs, more baseball highlights, and a leisurely walk back to the hotel cap off another perfect UBT evening.
Brian Williams
From Deep Short

Day Six – I70

Thursday, June 6 – UBT Day Six

The cloud cover that slightly threatened the Royals game dissipates, giving way to bright morning sunshine. We have a (relatively) brief easterly jaunt ahead of us: 3.5 hours of I-70, the tour of Missouri’s mid-section.

We lunch on the eastern side of Columbia. The hotel Mitch selected is a few minutes walk to the train that’ll take us to the new Busch Stadium. No parking or traffic hassles. No parking fees. Just an affordable round trip train ticket. Mitch’s impeccable planning once again promotes convenience and frugality!

During our walk we pass Tom’s Bar & Grill on South Euclid, making a mental note for post-game beverages. The train ride proves much shorter than I anticipate.

Busch Stadium 3rd Base Gate - St. Louis

As we climb the steps from the platform, Busch Stadium’s third base gate, and more importantly, a statue of Stan Musial come into view. We secure our tickets, but have other priorities before game time.

As we stroll the street toward left field, a security guard on a golf cart stops to chat. The friendly guard confides that he prefers “old Busch” to the new facility.

I was still surprised after he presented his reasons, but of course, I’d never been to either one. I wasn’t about to allow his opinion to influence my first impression.

After he wished us a fun evening, we continued on our way to Mike Shannon’s Steaks and Seafood. Rather than an upscale dinner, we were mostly interested in the memorabilia, which is everywhere.

Mitch and I each sip one AmberBock draft before we head back toward the ballpark. On the block in between, we’re greeted by a street vendor preparing cheesesteaks and a large outdoor room in which to enjoy them. We take our seats to partake while watching baseball highlights on one of several flat screens adorning the walls.

Now comes time to enter the “new Busch” along with nearly 44,000 others. Not a bad turnstile evening for a Thursday in early June.

Mitch and I adhere to our usual exploration. Below us, two 1st place teams, the D-Backs and Cards, each cross the plate twice in the 1st inning.

Arizona puts up a 3-spot in both the 7th and 9th frames and still lose, 12-8, thanks to a St. Louis snowman in the 4th. Ian Kennedy sticks around through 4 IP for a 13 H, 10 ER, 3 HR line. That’ll make the ol’ ERA soar in a hurry.

It doesn’t get any better for Matt Reynolds in the 5th. He surrenders another pair of long balls so the D-Backs’ late surge only gets them within 4. Starting and winning pitcher, Shelby Miller, even registers a dinger.

The early laugher gives us an opportunity to check out the stadium even more closely. A kids’ play area in right center’s family section is enormous. A party bar occupies the area above the batter’s eye.

The openness in left is by design to allow a game view for “rooftop grandstands” across the street. This is on the property of the former Busch and is currently under construction to include shops and restaurants.

In fact, as we exit an outfield gate, we discover the “former Busch” foul line marked across the sidewalk and onto the wall of the new park. A plaque tells the story. Very cool!

Maybe it’s because of how Mitch and I enjoy exploring new parks; maybe it’s due in part to the open left field; we find that this stadium seems to impede your progress as you attempt to travel up and down levels. More than once we attempt to shift from one level to another, but only discover escalators going up when we want to go down and vice versa.

At one point, we find only flights of stairs that lead us down to a dead end. An usher is stationed there to assist weary explorers like ourselves. Again, maybe this isn’t an issue for 44,000 others, but the other MLB parks we visited this week were much easier to navigate. That could be what the security guard had alleged this afternoon.

The Arch from Upper Level - Busch Stadium - St. Louis

It certainly is a picturesque view as my late afternoon iPhone pic (above), taken from an upper deck, can attest. Here’s another instance, such as PNC Park in Pittsburgh, where it seems the city was painted around the stadium.

After snapping photos for other visitors next to the “Stan the Man” statue, we descend the stairs to board the next train. The brief ride followed by a short walk take us back to Tom’s, where we belly up to the bar for some local craft brews and baseball highlights.

As we continue our stroll toward our hotel, we pick up sandwiches for a late bite. The hotel features a patio where we enjoy our late night snack in the cool night air.
Brian Williams
From Deep Short

Day Five Nightcap

Wednesday, June 5 – UBT Day Five

Day Five has already been a great day, yet a ball game awaits at Kauffman Stadium. On our way to the hotel, Mitch spots something you don’t see every day (unless you live in Kansas City): a cow on a pillar on a hill high above the treetops. We’re thinking this bovine is somehow related to CowParade Kansas City, but someone in the know can (hopefully) provide the true story.Steer on a Pier - Kansas City

Our hotel is conveniently just across the Interstate from the ballpark. As we arrive, we see plenty of both Twins and Royals gear. I guess we aren’t the only ones on a baseball trip this week!

Fortunately, the hotel room offers my favorite view. (Below is an actual shot I took from the hotel room window.) I’ve stayed in hotel rooms in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Cleveland where I’m actually closer to the stadium, but this is as close to Kauffman as one can stay.

Kauffman Stadium from Hotel Window - Kansas City

We don’t have much time if we want to enjoy our usual pre-game. As a starting pitcher prepares on game day, Mitch and I need to soak in the park early to enjoy the amenities before the first pitch.

Shuttle buses leave the hotel parking lot every few minutes. We step onto one with several Twins and Royals fans.

There’s a buzz of excitement as the driver asks baseball trivia questions. Eager fans respond.

Kauffman Stadium Pregame - Kansas City

We pull up to a gate where Mitch and I acquire our tickets for the evening. After a quick jaunt around part of the outside of the stadium, we enter and head for the fountains.

I never realized how close they were to the playing field or to the spectators. See the fence behind Brett’s statue below? It’s directly adjacent to the fountains.George Brett Statue - Kauffman Stadium - Kansas City

Across the concourse from the fountains, a sign promotes college student Happy Hour: hot dog and craft draft for $7. Usually unheard of in MLB parks, so Mitch and I partake.

After snapping some fountain and statue photos, we head toward left field and the Royals Hall of Fame. A brief video with stadium seating (second time today, I know!) precede Royals memorabilia and a shop featuring Hall of Famer gear.

You can also take your photo on a bench next to a statue of Buck O’Neil. (Both of us did. Surprised?)

Behind the concourse (away from the left field wall) from the Hall of Fame is a netted mini-ballpark, where younger employees/interns pitch whiffle balls to youngsters. This was a great, unexpected family gem. Mitch and I wanted to participate, but decided to allow for some dignity. Looked like fun though!

Kauffman Stadium Scoreboard from LF - Kansas City

At this point in the season, Minnesota is ahead of the Royals in the AL Central. The game starts out offensively. Josh Willingham knocks in a 1st inning run off Jeremy Guthrie, but the Royals answer with 3 in their half. Thanks to Salvador Perez and Billy Butler accounting for 5 of KC’s 8 hits, the home team pockets a 4-1 win.

Throughout the game, Mitch and I make our usual rounds for different perspectives. One perspective eludes us, however: the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat.Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat - Kauffman Stadium - Kansas City

The only differently colored seat in the stadium is behind home plate in the Diamond Club area. Near the end of the game, we strike up a conversation with an usher, who radios to the usherette near the Legacy Seat.

“Can these gentlemen take photos after the game?” She responds that we could once the Diamond Club area clears out.

It’s worth the wait. Especially considering the meaning behind it.

Following the game, we look forward to a frothy beverage or two and maybe an appetizer in the hotel’s sports bar. That’s when we discover a true marketing gaffe.

While on the shuttle van, we agree that I’d get a table for us while Mitch drops off his camera in the room. We figure that post-game celebrations would abound in such a convenient venue with a captive and thirsty hotel audience.

I’m a little surprised to only see a few folks at the bar and none seated at the many tables. The waitress invites me to sit anywhere, but they aren’t serving food. Mitch is in disbelief when I relay the message.

Okay, it’s barely 10 PM after more than 12,000 people leave a baseball game across the street. You’d think they’d want to keep the kitchen open a couple of hours to serve a percentage of them 81 days a year.

So we check apps. We have to drive away from the hotel to pay someone else to satisfy our appetites. Am I missing something here?
Brian Williams
From Deep Short

Day Five Historical Tour Continues

More from Wednesday, June 5 – UBT Day Five

The Buck O’Neil gravesite whets our appetites for the Negro Leagues Museum. On our way to 18th and Vine, we’re greeted by a mural that covers the entire side of a brick building.

Buck O'Neil Center Ballfield - Kansas City

Below the mural sets a home plate, mound, base paths and a left field wall, which play into the mural. (Finally, a left field wall I could reach on the fly!)

The back of the building features a dugout with several Monarchs players and a young man in a jacket and tie standing next to the team.

Little benches adorn each baseline. Behind home plate is a street corner. Mitch took this photo from across the side street.

Buck O'Neil Center Mural - Kansas City

This is the John “Buck” O’Neil Center at 19th and Paseo, Kansas City.

After a few phantom pitches, swings, and playful circling of the bases, we continue down the hill toward 18th and Vine. The historic jazz district features the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

On one corner, we spot the 9th Inning Sports Bar and Grill. Every block sports the 18th and Vine logo.

9th Inning Sports Bar and Grill - Kansas City

18th and Vine District - Kansas City

The museum itself resides in the same building with the American Jazz Museum, along with shops and an eatery or two. Had we had more time, we would have enjoyed both.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is to the right with a prominent sign: no photography. Good thing for you, because we could’ve filled hundreds of pages with photos. Instead, you’ll have to contend with my radio play-by-play.

Museum workers are inviting and eager to help visitors. Visible from nearly any angle in the place is a mini “ball field” featuring some not-so-miniature statues. Upon entry you witness this central theme and its figures through glass.

Every 15 minutes or so, you can enjoy a brief video presentation from stadium seating. Then it’s a whirlwind tour of equipment, photographs and historical markers preserving a rich period of baseball.

You can learn how various teams and leagues evolved, how they traveled. See a replica of a typical hotel room and a barber shop where baseball was always the hottest topic.

Turn the corner where individual Negro League players are honored with rudimentary lockers full of uniforms, caps, bats, stats, cards and a wealth of history. Mitch and I step on the “field” with the likenesses of these great players.

At nearly 6′, I looked up to almost everyone from two generations or more in the past. Each of the players covers a position, (Satchel Paige throwing a pitch to Josh Gibson crouched behind the plate), and practically come to life.

Don’t let the size of the Museum Store fool you. There are plenty of mementos you can take home.

Throughout our visit, I’m torn between the frustration that most of these talented players never were allowed to play in the major leagues; and, the joy of the legendary stories they built of their own merit. For any baseball fan, the museum at 18th and Vine is a must-see.
Brian Williams
From Deep Short

UBT Day Five – Brews & Reflection

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 – UBT Day Five

Mitch and I decide on lunch at 75th Street Brewery to consolidate two must-do items for today. Turns out to be a terrific choice on many levels.

75th Street Brewery - Kansas City

75th Street Brewery Selection - Kansas City

First, the tender barbecue ribs possess all the flavor you expect. The fries and Scottish Ale provide just the right complements. I also try a Muddy Mo’ Stout as a finisher.

Along with excellent recommendations, our waiter offers a bit of historical data regarding the brewery, a fire and a rebirth from the ashes. We could stay all afternoon, but we have another must-do on our list: the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Along our journey toward 18th and Vine, we pass a large cemetery surrounded by stone walls and iron gates. Our Roger Maris gravesite visit in Fargo prompts Mitch to say, “I bet somebody famous is buried here.” I reply, “Hmmm. Maybe Buck O’Neil.” And we both think, “Of all the Kansas City area cemeteries, what are the odds?”

What’s the name of this cemetery? We pull over for some quick smartphone research.

Once again, UBT magic defeats the odds hands-down. This is it!

By sheer chance we enjoy lunch just where we would pass Forest Hill Cemetery on our way to the museum to honor Buck and his colleagues! Then a couple of off-hand remarks (as we are wont to do whenever we’re together, but especially when we drive a couple of thousand miles with one another), and we now have another stop to make.

The sales office is in a small ranch house not far inside the gates. Immediately behind this building stands the Negro Leagues Museum monument to honor Buck O’Neil.

Buck O'Neil Memorial - back - Kansas City
Buck O'Neil Memorial - front - Kansas City

When seeing interviews, especially the Ken Burns’ “Baseball” segments, I’d always hoped to have a conversation with Buck. Mitch had been fortunate enough to gain an autograph some years ago.

As Mitch and I admire the majestic monument, a gentleman in a coat and tie approaches from the office. He’s carrying a folded paper and a pen. He compliments Mitch on his throwback Pirates cap, (which Mitch provided for each of us on our very first UBT).

After we talk for a few moments, he informs us that Buck isn’t buried here. At least not at this spot. And he begins to draw a map.Buck and Oka Lee O'Neil Grave Marker - Kansas City

Several yards away in a row of grave markers not unlike any other, lie John J. and Ora Lee O’Neil. A modest gravesite for a man and his long time wife, who lived humbly and joyfully. One of the greatest players to never play in the major leagues.
Brian Williams
From Deep Short

Kansas City, Here We Come

After a few more photos from outside Werner Park, we bid farewell to Omaha and begin our journey toward today’s Game 2 in Kansas City, KS, where the T-Bones await us.

The weather no longer threatens as we travel back into Iowa over a two-lane iron toll bridge. Back to hugging the Iowa-Nebraska state line, we cross into Missouri and eventually sneak into far eastern Kansas. I’d been to Kansas City and the Overland Park area many times, but never for baseball.

Community America Ballpark is nestled near Kansas Speedway and rows of every franchise retailer and restaurant you can imagine. The same light colored brick adorns each building. The entire area appears brand new and well planned.
Community America Ballpark Parking Lot - Kansas City
As more fans arrive, we make our way across the parking lot to the ticket window. The modern brick exterior is inviting, clean and appearing new although this park is ten years old in 2013.

The T-Bones match up against the Sioux City Explorers tonight. After the miles we covered since Fargo last night, I can’t help but think about the travel for these teams: bus rides covering El Paso, St. Paul, Fargo, Gary (Indiana), and even Winnipeg.
Community America Ballpark Action - Kansas City

Community America Ballpark RF - Kansas CityYou can walk all around the playing field with the now popular grassy areas beyond right field. The building behind the sloped grass houses games for kids.
Sean Toler in T-Bones Pen - Kansas City
Mitch and I stroll about and stop near the T-Bones pen. We’re intrigued by how close the fans could be to Sean Toler, who begins to loosen for an eventual appearance in the 8th inning. We remain here until Toler gets the call and races toward the mound.

Unfortunately for the T-Bones, Sioux City scratches out an unearned run in the 8th to win a well-pitched game, 2-1. Toler takes the hard luck loss.

After the game we settle into a Holiday Inn downtown on the Missouri side, the only Holiday Inn we’ve ever experienced with a 7-11 attached. We loosely plan the next day over a Slurpee and MLB highlights.

Since we’re staying in the area, we definitely want Kansas City barbecue. We need to decide between two breweries to visit. Plus, we promise ourselves a priority stop before Wednesday night’s game, part of our overall trip plan since January.

Little did we know, UBT magic would take over yet again following a good night’s rest.


Brian Williams
From Deep Short