SABR 48 – The Opener

To immerse oneself in the SABR experience, one needs stamina, coffee and energy bars. SABR 48 presentations and research committee meetings are scheduled from 7:30 AM until 7:30 PM. No break for lunch. Two or three sessions running simultaneously.

Good thing I’m prepared with my travel mug and lightweight Senators Fan Club backpack to hold my bars, apples, variety of nuts and a pen. (Thankfully, I never got hungry enough for the pen.)

SABR48-1st

I’m mesmerized from the very first session featuring two veteran Pirates’ official scorers. I know the official scorer in Harrisburg and enjoy hearing his take on hit/error disagreements from the dugouts, using video replay to make calls, etc.

This hour-long session flies by as do each of the rest. I attend presentation after presentation until 7:30 PM. Between sessions I meet more inviting SABR veterans. I share our great flood story from last evening with a few of them.

Highlights include Pirates’ President, Frank Coonelly, offering opening remarks. I learn much more about Roy Sievers’ baseball career and Negro League exhibitions in Pittsburgh. A research committee meeting featuring Women in Baseball and a panel discussion of Wendell Smith prove particularly enlightening.

As a former broadcaster, I enjoy Curt Smith’s history of Pirates’ baseball announcers. A sneak peek at Aviva Kempner’s upcoming film on Moe Berg takes us to 7:30. Aviva treats us to some incredible footage to be included in her project.

Tonight’s dinner is scheduled for the strip district. The good news is no flooding. The bad news is no parking.

Industry-Public-House

After circling and diligently trying side streets and alleys, we head for Industry Public House, which pinch hits nicely for our original plan. Following fish and chips and Hop Farm IPA, we need to pick up Mitch’s formerly stranded SUV and rest up for Friday’s SABR events.

 

 

SABR 48, Us 1

Until this year, SABR was a faceless number-crunching organization. During baseball games, I’d hear “SABR-metrics” mentioned and obscure stats would display on my TV.

Only because the stars align in 2018 do I learn more. Much more.

Back Camera

SABR 48, the national convention, is scheduled for Pittsburgh in late June. My good friend, Mitch, invites Chris and me to stay at his place–less than 15 minutes from the downtown venue. (The three of us and others enjoyed UBT 10: five professional baseball games in five days in four different states. That’s why we call our annual events “Ultimate Baseball Trips.”)

As winter turns to spring, we research SABR 48. The full package is affordable, yet includes the D-Backs/Pirates game on Friday. Mitch and Chris schedule a few vacation days. I’m already off during the summer. Each of us become SABR members and sign up to attend it all.

Along with all of the SABR events, we plan to sprinkle in some craft brews and possibly another ballpark. Let the games begin!

At the Old Ball Game

My list of ballparks is somewhat extensive for a few reasons: my broadcasting career netted me occasional press seats; my recent medical software marketing position required travel with many evenings free; and, one of my best friends (whom I met while we were playing baseball) planned annual baseball vacations for us for nearly ten years. I’m hoping he and I can resurrect that tradition soon.

Philadelphia – The Vet (My parents surprised me on my birthday in May with scheduled doubleheader tickets against the Expos. I remember the man sitting in front of us smoking a cigar.) I returned many times. In fact, before our daughter was born, my wife and I enjoyed a weekend ticket plan. We’d fill in the gaps using my press credentials.

When I was even younger, I saw one Sunday game against the Giants at Connie Mack Stadium on a bus trip with relatives.

And, Citizens Bank Park. Much more fan friendly than The Vet.

Baltimore – Memorial Stadium. I recall attending a Monday Night Baseball telecast game where the A’s wore their yellow and green uniforms and the Orioles wore their orange tops.

And, Camden Yards – one of my favorite ballparks. It’s still a fun destination and as close to my home as Philly, without the horrendous traffic.

Washington, DC – Nationals Park is fun with lots of good food options. I recommend taking a bus trip or take the train to a day game. Trains only run until 11 PM, so you may have to miss an exciting ending or get stranded.
And RFK, the Nats’ home before the new park was ready.

Pittsburgh – PNC Park is my current favorite. There’s something very special about the rivers, the Clemente Bridge and the cityscape surrounding this gem.

New York – Yankee Stadium (the former), Shea Stadium and Citi Field. My wife and I enjoyed a burger and a beer across the street from Yankee Stadium. We also saw an Old Timers’ Game there.

Boston – Fenway Park. There’s nothing like it or Yawkey Way and the surrounding pubs before a Sox game.

Toronto – I only saw one game at Rogers Centre, but I experienced both the roof on and off! About the 4th inning during a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon game, I suddenly saw sunshine and shadows on the field. I couldn’t even hear the roof opening to a much brighter day.

Detroit – Comerica Park. There’s even a brick near the Tiger at the entrance with my name on it … in the players’ section, (except I’m not the former major leaguer, Brian Williams) I still got a photo of myself with that brick! Sadly, during that same trip, I visited the remains of Tiger Stadium and actually witnessed a wrecking ball crashing into the press box. I was surprised how close I could get. I still have a small piece of concrete from the site.

Cleveland – I still really like The Jake. It’s the only stadium where I paid for the standard tour. I especially enjoyed standing on the field, sitting in the Indians’ dugout and seeing the broadcast booths. My friend and I would stay at the Holiday Inn Express two blocks away. It was converted from an old bank and still operated the narrow elevators. Rooms featured spacious wood floors, heavy doors and ten-foot ceilings. Large windows provided a view into the outfield seating at the ballpark.

Cincinnati – Great American Ballpark surprised me. The river behind the park with passing riverboats sets off a fine baseball atmosphere.

Chicago – Wrigley Field. ‘Nuff said. Be sure to visit nearby pubs pre-game (and post-game before getting back on your train).

And Southside. The train takes you right there, too. And the original stadium’s home plate is marked in the parking lot. I saw the Yankees there.

Milwaukee – Miller Park, with the roof closed on a stifling Sunday afternoon. Fortunately, we visited a handy brew pub after the game before returning to our Chicago hotel. I also bought my daughter an Alcides Escobar shirt before he was cool. On a baseball vacation, my friend discovered we could hit Wrigley on Saturday, Miller Park on Sunday and the White Sox Monday. I love having friends who are as passionate about baseball as I am.

Minnesota – This is another well-designed ballpark. Although today’s hitters make even this park look small, it’s cavernous and beautiful.

Kansas City – I never realized how close you could get to those fountains in right field at Royals Stadium! Definitely leave time in your itinerary for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Buck O’Neil’s and Satchel Page’s grave sites. And don’t forget to sample authentic KC barbecue.

St. Louis – The latest iteration of Busch leaves a perfect view of The Arch beyond the outfield. For some reason, I had difficulty navigating the place. (Honest, I only had one beer at Mike Shannon’s.) Maybe it still required some finishing touches, but I ran into a couple of dead ends at the bottom of stairwells. The shops/restaurants beyond left field weren’t built yet in 2013. I like that they marked the base line of the former Busch along the third base side outside the current park.

Los Angeles – Dodger Stadium may be old, but it’s fun. (Yes, I had a Dodger Dog.) Unlike some of the locals, I stayed for the entire game and witnessed an inside-the-park homer.

San Francisco – Candlestick Park. I’m showing my age, but I saw a Dodgers’ game here. I got sunburned in my seat, yet was freezing in the stiff winds on the concourse.
I’d love to see a game at the new park, which looks amazing.

I’ve been fortunate enough to eye-witness two no-hitters: Roy Halladay against the Reds in the playoffs at CBP; and, Jordan Zimmermann wrapping up the regular season at Nationals Park when Steven Souza, Jr. made the game-ending, diving grab in left center field.

I think that leaves a dozen current parks that I haven’t visited. My bucket list includes some Arizona Fall League action and the Midnight Sun Game in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Only because a current colleague asked, I compiled a list of 32 minor league parks (including affiliated and independent) where I’ve seen at least one game. I guess that gives me more writing material.

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