Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Yanks Back to .500 by Beating Pesky Blue Jays

Last night, the Yankees did what they haven't been able to do all this year: Get to .500, and forge a 6-game winning streak.

And they did what they didn't do enough of last year: Beat those pesky Toronto Blue Jays.

Jacoby Ellsbury led off the Yankees' side of the game with a triple off former Met R.A. Dickey. Brett Gardner walked, Mark Teixeira struck out, and then Carlos Beltran grounded into a force play, on which Ellsbury scored.

As it turned out, that was the only run the Yankees would need. but it was not he only one they would get. Beltran hit a home run in the 4th inning (his 10th of the season). Austin Romine hit an RBI double in the 7th, followed by an RBI single by Ellsbury. In the 8th, 2 more runs came home on a sacrifice fly by Chase Headley and a single by Didi Gregorius.

The Yankees actually allowed more baserunners through walks than hits. Here's all the baserunners the Jays got:

* 2nd inning: Troy Tulowitzki singled off Nathan Eovaldi. Jimmy Paraedes walked. Neither scored.

* 3rd inning: Josh Thole drew a leadoff walk. Cliche alert: Those walks'll kill ya. Except when they don't. Jose Bautista singled (but did not flip his bat). Josh Donaldson bunted them over. But Eovaldi worked out of the jam, and allowed no further baserunners as he pitched into the 7th. This was key, because it was only 2-0 going into the bottom of the 7th, and you know how the Yankees have struggled to get results this season when they don't get at least 3 runs. Indeed, the Jays didn't get another hit after this.

* 7th inning: Eovaldi walked Tulowitzki, and Girardi removed him for Dellin Betances, who got the next 3 batters out.

* 8th inning: Kirby Yates walked Bautista, but stranded him.

* 9th inning: Luis Cessa (almost certainly, by accident) hit former Yankee Russell Martin with a pitch. He did not score, and it wouldn't have mattered much if he had.

Yankees 6, Blue Jays 0. A 2-hit shutout. Our best game, all-around, of the season thus far, and against the defending American League Eastern Division Champions, struggling at the moment though they may be. WP: Eovaldi (5-2). No save. LP: Dickey (2-6, whose story has been full of hard luck since he came to Toronto).

In the 1st game they played after I was born, in he 1st game they played after my sister was born, and in the last game they played before my father died, the Yankees lost to the Boston Red Sox. (Neither of my parents was a Yankee Fan. In the 1st game they played after my father was born, they beat the Washington Senators; in the 1st after my mother was born, they lost to the Philadelphia Athletics.)

In the 1st game they played after my twin nieces Ashley and Rachel were born, the Yankees won... beating the Minnesota Twins. Now, in the 1st game they've played after my niece Mackenzie was born, the Yankees have won.

*

In other news, Alex Rodriguez made his 1st injury rehab start. In his 1st at-bat for the Trenton Thunder, he popped up.

He's already in October form.

As for that Other Team, Matt Harvey got rocked again. Does anybody still think he's an "ace"?

*

It's been 3 weeks since I did a countdown:

Hours until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 6, at 8:00 PM Eastern Time tonight, at Toyota Park in Frisco, Texas, home of FC Dallas. It is the last warmup match for the 2016 Copa America, the 100th Anniversary of the tournament, being hosted on U.S. soil for the 1st time. (The U.S. normally wouldn't compete, and nor would Mexico: It's traditionally the continental tournament for national teams in South America.)

Days until the New York Red Bulls play again: 3, this Saturday night at 7:00, home to Toronto FC.

Days until the 2016 Copa America kicks off in the U.S.: 9, a week from this Friday.

Days until Euro 2016 kicks off in France: 16, on Friday, June 10. A little over 2 weeks.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series of the season: 51, on Friday, July 15, the 1st series after the All-Star Break, at Yankee Stadium II. A little over 7 weeks.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": 53, against the Philadelphia Union at Talen Energy Stadium (formerly PPL Park) in Chester, Pennsylvania. The next game against New York City F.C. (a.k.a. Man City NYC, Man City III, Small Club In Da Bronx and The Homeless) is on Sunday afternoon, July 3, at Yankee Stadium II -- although after the greatest humiliation any MLS team has ever endured, that 7-0 defeat in The Bronx last weekend, I wonder if NYCFC (now 0-4 all-time against RBNY) will even want to show up. The next game against D.C. United (a.k.a. The DC Scum) is on Sunday night, August 21, at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington. The next game against the New England Revolution is on Sunday night, August 28, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.

Days until The Arsenal play at the opponents in the 2016 Major League Soccer All-Star Game: 64, on Thursday night, July 28, at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California, home of the San Jose Earthquakes. A little over 2 months. Three days later, The Arsenal will play C.D. Guadalajara (a.k.a. Chivas), one of the biggest clubs in Mexico, at the StubHub Center, home of the Los Angeles Galaxy, in Carson, California. This will be just 2 years after The Arsenal came to America to play the Red Bulls in New Jersey. I was lucky enough to get a ticket and attend that match. I don't think I'll be going to either of these: Even if I could get a game ticket, paying for a plane ticket would be tough.

Days until the 2016 Olympics begin in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 72, on Friday, August 5. A little over 10 weeks.

Days until The Arsenal play another competitive match: At least 87. The 2016-17 Premier League
season is likely to open on Saturday, August 20. Their game could be delayed to Sunday the 21st, or Monday the 22nd. Under 3 months.

Days until Rutgers University plays football again: 101, on Saturday, September 3, away to the University of Washington, in Seattle.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 107, on Friday, September 9, probably away, since, while the 2016 schedule hasn't been released yet, the Big Green opened last season at home.

Days until the New Jersey Devils play another local rival: Unknown, but at least 135. The schedule for the 2016-17 NHL season has been announced as being released on June 22. The new season is likely to begin on the 1st Friday in October, which would be October 7. But the Devils are not likely to play either the New York Rangers (a.k.a. The Scum), the New York Islanders or the Philadelphia Flyers (a.k.a. The Philth) in the opener.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 173, on Thursday morning, November 24, at the purple shit pit on Route 9. Just 6 months.

Days until the Contract From Hell runs out, and Alex Rodriguez' alleged retirement becomes official: 524, on October 31, 2017, or at the conclusion of the 2017 World Series, if the Yankees make it, whichever comes last. A little over 17 months.

Days until the next World Cup kicks off in Russia: 750, on June 14, 2018. A little over 2 years. The U.S. team will probably qualify for it, but with Jurgen Klinsmann as manager, particularly in competitive matches rather than in friendlies, you never know.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Jeffrey Loria for the Montreal Expos Moving to Washington

Nope, that M stands for Miami, not Montreal.

This week, the Mets are in Washington, D.C. to play the Washington Nationals

The Mets should be playing these games in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, against the Montreal Expos, the team the Nationals were from 1969 to 2004.

Washington is a great city. Of course, it deserves to have a Major League Baseball team. But so does Montreal, and they got screwed.

Most frequently blamed for the Expos' move is Jeffrey Loria. In 1999, the New York-based art dealer, former owner of the minor-league Oklahoma City 89ers, and unsuccessful bidder for the Expos in 1991 and the Baltimore Orioles in 1994 bought the Expos for $12 million (U.S.).

He demanded a new ballpark to replace the 1976 Olympic Stadium -- which still wasn't paid off (and, as it turned out, wouldn't be until 2006). But the City of Montreal wouldn't pay for it. Nor would the Province of Quebec. To make matters worse, Loria didn't get a TV contract for the Expos for the 2000 season -- on either an English station or a French one.

In 2002, a musical chairs of ownership saw Loria sell the Expos to the other 29 MLB owners, Florida Marlins owner John W. Henry sell his team to Loria, and Henry buy the Boston Red Sox from the Yawkey Trust. Then Loria moved the Expos' entire front office staff, on-field staff, and even broadcast staff (including Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Van Horne) to Miami to join the Marlin organization. He even took the Expos' office equipment, leaving them with, essentially, nothing but the players and coaching staff.

Near the end of the 2004 season, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig (essentially, the Expos' controlling owner) announced that the team had been purchased by a group that would move it out of Canada and into America's capital, becoming the Washington Nationals.

Montreal has had preseason exhibitions at the Olympic Stadium in 2014, '15 and '16, but has been without an MLB team for 12 seasons now. And, despite speculation and jokes about the Oakland Athletics and the Tampa Bay Rays moving in the next few years, the odds of Montreal getting a replacement team are long. It took Washington 33 years to get a new team, and it may take Montreal longer than that.

And to really add insult to injury, in 2003, the Marlins won the World Series. In 2012, Loria got what he wanted in Montreal, but got it in Miami: A new stadium with a retractable roof, close to downtown.

Montreal still has a weird and empty stadium, not well-suited to baseball, and no baseball team to play in it (although the CFL's Alouettes and MLS' Impact do play some home games there).
So, Loria is the biggest reason the Expos moved, right? It would seem that way. But, as ESPN host Brain Kenny said on their series The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame... , "Things aren't always what they seem."

Note that Loria's ownership of the Marlins has nothing to do with the following. How he's mishandled them is a whole other debate.

Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Jeffrey Loria for the Montreal Expos Moving to Washington

5. Quebec Separatists. Jacques Parizeau led the separatist Parti Quebecois to victory in Quebec's 1994 provincial election, making him the Premier of the Province, equivalent to the Governor of one of our States -- and, with about 8 million people, Quebec has more people than all Provinces except Ontario and all but 12 of our States.

Parizeau immediately set about putting a referendum on independence on the ballot. On October 30, 1995, with Quebec nationalists led by Parizeau and Canadian nationalists led by Prime Minister Jean Chretien, himself a Quebec native, both having advertised heavily and held massive rallies, the Non side just barely triumphed over the Oui side. The number of spoiled ballots was actually larger than the margin of victory.
He looks like a businessman putting profits before people
in a 1980s TV drama, doesn't he? The kind who
would have been a villain on Quincy, M.E. or Knight Rider.

Having failed by the slimmest of margins, Parizeau (not exactly slim himself, one critic called him "the Elephant Seal") resigned as Premier. Lucien Bouchard, leader of the federal Parliament's version of the PQ, the Bloc Quebecois (that's right, the federal government had a party devoted to taking 1/4 of its people away), was elected the new Premier.

And when Loria demanded a new ballpark, Bouchard told the National Assembly. Quebec's Provincial legislature, that they shouldn't pay for it. His successor, Bernard Landry, also refused. Even when the Liberal Party won the 2003 election, and installed Jean Charest as a Premier that wanted to keep Quebec in Canada, the NA wanted to focus on things that a Provincial/State government should focus on. Considering Quebec's high standard of living, in 2004 and in 2016, I can't say they were wrong.

In addition, the Quebec separatists cast the Province in a very bad light for the rest of Canada. Independence would have cut the Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador), all of them considerably closer in road and air miles to the Expos than to the Toronto Blue Jays, off from the rest of Anglophone Canada. Lots of people began to assume that the Pequistes would keep trying until they finally got what they wanted, calling it "The Never-endum."

There had been an earlier referendum in 1980, but it lost 60-40. It is now believed that the current PQ government won't schedule another until they think they can win with room to spare, as they don't want another loss, which would be humiliating in ways that 1995 was not.

And it depressed attendance. When you don't know for sure what country you're going to be living in this time next year, even though you have no intention of moving out of your current building, your next thought is not likely to be, "Hey, the Cubs are in town, let's go to the Big O and watch them toss the ol' horsehide around!"

More likely, it could be, "What if I want to visit my brother in Ottawa? My Canadian passport is going to be no good anymore!" Or, "Les Anglais in Toronto and New York won't trade with us, so our economy is in tatters, and my Banque du Quebec $5 bill is worth more as toilet paper than as currency!" (At least, at the time, Russia was run by Boris Yeltsin rather than Vladimir Putin, so not being part of NORAD anymore wasn't going to be a problem if Quebec separated.)

4. The Exchange Rate. On January 18, 2002, I was in Montreal. It was a good day to be there. Not because of the weather -- it was very cold and snowing, as you might expect of Montreal in January -- but because this was the day in history on which the U.S.-Canada exchange rate most favored Americans: C$1.60 = US$1.00, or C$1.00 = US 62 cents.
That, plus Canada's taxes (see, they actually pay for social services, instead of demanding said services but also demanding low taxes, and, as any idiot knows, and any non-asshole accepts, you can't have both high services and low taxes), meant that it was harder for the Expos (and the Blue Jays) to pay for anything, including player salaries, than it was for U.S.-based teams.

In 1994, the Expos had Pedro Martinez, Jeff Fassero, Ken Hill, John Wetteland, Larry Walker, Marquis Grissom, Rondell White and Moises Alou. And they had the best record in baseball before the Strike of '94 hit. But they couldn't afford to keep those guys.

In contrast, in their last season in Montreal, 2004, they had a Cabrera (the decent Orlando, not the superstar Miguel or the steroid-aided star Melky), a Hernandez (a washed-up Livan, not a still-serviceable Orlando), 2 Beltrans (pitchers Francis and Rigo, neither of them a hitter like Carlos), a Cordero (Chad, not Wil), a Tony Armas (Jr., a decent but not great pitcher, not Sr., a very good hitter), a Hill (Shawn, not Ken), a relief pitcher from Korea named Kim (Sun Woo, not Byung-hyun), a catcher named Diaz (Einar, not the late Phillies All-Star Bo), a Batista (Tony, not Jose Bautista), a Chavez (slick-fielding outfielder Endy, not good-hitting 3rd baseman Eric), a Rivera who once played for the Yankees (outfielder Juan, not pitcher Mariano), a banged-up Nick Johnson, a genuine All-Star in Jose Vidro, and an all-time great in Frank Robinson (a 68-year-old manager, not a 30-year-old Triple Crown winner).

3. The Strike of '94. The Expos never really recovered from it. Not on the field, and not at the box office. Fans began to get the idea of, "What's the point?" And this was a few years before Loria bought the team.

2. Claude Brochu. The owner before Loria is hardly blameless. He could have managed the fallout from the Strike better, and he could have pushed for a new ballpark anytime between his June 14, 1991 purchase of the team and the August 12, 1994 date of the Strike. He didn't.
It wasn't that he didn't want to. It was that he couldn't. He and his investors simply didn't have the money. They stepped in to stop the Expos from being moved to Phoenix, but it only delayed what might have been an inevitable. It's worth asking if a completed 1994 season, with the Expos winning the World Series, would have made a difference.

(Maybe not. The Boston Braves won a Pennant in 1948; 5 years later, they were in Milwaukee. They finished only 5 games out of 1st in 1964; 2 years later, they were in Atlanta. The Brooklyn Dodgers won a Pennant in 1956; 2 years later, they were in Los Angeles. And those are just examples from baseball.)

And if you still think Loria is more to blame than Brochu, just remember that it was Brochu who sold the team to Loria. Maybe Brochu wasn't as malicious about it as Loria -- the old saying is, "Never ascribe to malice that which can be blamed on incompetence -- but he's at least as much to blame.

1. Bud Selig. Allan Huber Selig was the Commissioner of Baseball -- Acting Commissioner after Fay Vincent was fired in 1992, and then full Commissioner from 1998 to 2015. Theoretically, the owners could have ganged up on him and demanded something, and, if they didn't get it, fired him.

That was never going to happen, because, for 28 years,from 1970 when he purchased the Seattle Pilots and moved them to become the Milwaukee Brewers, until 1998 when he was named full Commissioner (including 1992 until 1998, making him a walking conflict of interest), he was one of them. The owners rarely turn on one of their own. Bill Veeck and Charlie Finley were the last exceptions, and they both sold out in 1980.
Kind of looks like a James Bond villain, doesn't he?

If Selig wanted the Expos to stay in Montreal, he would have made it happen. Instead, he wanted Montreal out of MLB, and Washington in, and both happened.
Or maybe Charles Gray's take on Bond's nemesis
Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever,
filmed during the Brewers' 1st season of 1970,
made him look like a baseball team owner.

The Verdict: Not Guilty. On the lesser charge of being a jerk, Loria is unquestionably guilty. But the Expos were probably doomed before he came along.

I hope MLB returns to Montreal soon. If it's the Rays, who are probably never getting a replacement for their stupid dome in St. Petersburg, a real dome somewhere in the Tampa Bay area, at least they wouldn't have to be moved out of the American League Eastern Division. It would make scheduling easier, and there would be the built-in rivalry with Toronto.

Niece Born With a 5-Game Winning Streak

New Yankee Fan! My 3rd niece was born this morning! Mother and child both resting comfortably at a New Jersey hospital.

I've already succeeding in convincing the 1st 2 to become Yankee Fans.

From the "You can't make this stuff up" department: The Babe was born at 7:14.

*

Anyway... As Blake Lively probably shouldn't say, this past weekend, the Yankees kicked some Oakland booty.

On Thursday night, the Yankees began a 4-game series with the Athletics at the Oakland Coliseum. They got 6 innings of strong start from Ivan Nova, and a scoreless inning each from Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman.

They got enough runs to back it up. Carlos Beltran hit his 9th home run of the season. He, Brett Gardner and, yes, Chase Headley each got 2 hits.

Yankees 4, A's 1. WP: Nova (3-1). SV: Chapman (5). LP: Kendall Graveman (1-6).

*

On Friday night, East Bay native CC Sabathia pitched against his childhood team, and pitched like the CC of 2001 to 2012, going 6 strong innings, striking out 8 and walking only 1. Beltran and Didi Gregorius each had 3 hits, Jacoby Ellsbury and Ronald Torreyes each had 2. A 5-run 4th inning put the game away.

Yankees 8, A's 3. WP: Sabathia (3-2). No save. LP: Sonny Gray (but we were sweeping the... A's away; 3-5).

*

Saturday afternoon, it was Tanaka Time. Masahiro Tanaka was allowed to go 7 innings by Joe Girardi. And with a cushion, Girardi gave most of the bullpen the night off, letting Nick Goody pitch the last 2 innings.

Starlin Castro had 3 hits, Beltran 2, and Rob Refsnyder, who's really gotten a raw deal (first last year, getting stuck behind Stephen Drew, and now with Castro getting signed and blocking his path at 2nd base), hit a 2-RBI double. Again, it was the 4th inning that made the difference, with the Yankees tallying 4 times.

Yankees 5, A's 1. WP: Tanaka (2-0). No save. LP: Sean Manaea (1-2).

*

On Sunday afternoon, Michael Pineda got the start, and fell behind 1-0 in the 1st inning. But home runs by Brian McCann in the 2nd (his 6th of the season) and Ellsbury in the 3rd (his 2nd) gave the Yankees the lead. The A's tied it in the 5th, but the Yankees got 2 runs in the 6th and 1 in the 7th.

Betances was fine in the 7th, but Miller fell victim to an error and an unearned run in the 8th. But Chapman did what we acquired him to do, which was slam the door in the 9th.

Yankees 5, A's 4. WP: Pineda (2-5). SV: Chapman (6). LP: Jesse Hahn (1-2).

*

So, 7 weeks into the 26-week season, this is how the American League Eastern Division stands:

Baltimore Orioles, 26-16
Boston Red Sox, 27-17, behind on percentage points
New York Yankees, 21-22, 5 1/2 games behind, 6 in the loss column
Tampa Bay Rays, 20-21, 5 1/2 back, 5 in the loss column
Toronto Blue Jays, 22-24, 6 back, 8 in the loss column

Despite a horrendous start, the Yankees are by no means out of the race, are only 1 game under .500, and are on a 5-game winning streak.

Today is a travel day, and then the Yankees start a home series against those pesky Toronto Blue Jays, who are not looking like defending Division Champions, or like a team that reached the AL Championship Series last season.

Here are the projected pitching matchups:

* Tomorrow, 7:05 PM: Nathan Eovaldi against former Met R.A. Dickey.

* Wednesday, 7:05 PM: Nova vs. Marco Estrada.

* Thursday, 4:05 PM: Sabathia vs. Aaron Sanchez.

Come on you Pinstripes! Do it for Mackenzie, your newest fan!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

How to Be a Yankee Fan In Tampa Bay, 2016 Edition

This coming Friday, the Yankees fly down to Florida to play a 3-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

If you want to go, be advised that this is Memorial Day weekend, and flights, train rides, bus rides and hotel rooms may be hard to come by.

Last year, I saw a blog post (don't know who wrote it) by someone who called San Diego "the Tampa of California." I think he owes San Diego an apology.

Before You Go. While the games will be indoors, you'll still have to get around, so you should know about the weather.

For this weekend, the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) and the Tampa Tribune
are both predicting thunderstorms, but only for Friday. They're also predicting daytime temperatures to be in the high 80s, and nighttime temperatures to be in the low 70s. Florida must be where the cliche, "It's not the heat that's so bad, it's the humidity" began. So even if you manage to avoid the rain, be prepared to sweat when you're outside the dome, if your visit is later in the season.

The Tampa Bay region is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you don't have to change your watch, or the clock on your smartphone. And while Florida was a Confederate State, you won't need to bring your passport or change your money.

Tickets. The Rays averaged just 15,403 fans last season -- dead last in the major leagues, 30th out of 30. This season, they're averaging 16,242, ahead of only Cleveland. Aside from their 1st season, 1998, when they could count on the novelty of even having Major league Baseball, and drew an average of 30,942, their peak attendance is 23,147 in 2009, the year after they won their Pennant.

This was disgraceful support of a winning team, and if they can't draw fans to a lousy ballpark with a winning team, it begs the question, "Can they draw fans to a good ballpark with a winning team?" Considering the trouble they've had getting a location, let alone a deal, we may never find out. Along with the Oakland Athletics, the Rays are the current MLB team most likely to move in the next few years. The factor that may keep them in the Tampa Bay area is that nobody else seems to have a suitable ballpark ready for them, unless MLB wants to go back to Montreal and its Olympic Stadium.

So, even with all the ex-New Yorkers and ex-New Jerseyans in the Tampa Bay area, you can probably show up at the Trop on the day of the game and get a decent ticket.

The Rays classify a game against the Yanks as a "Diamond Game," meaning they will charge their highest prices: Lower Boxes (infield) are $95, Baseline Boxes (corners) are $60, Outfield seats are $30, Press Level are $55, Upper Boxes are $30, and Upper Reserved, including the left field Party Deck (a.k.a. The Beach) are $26.

Getting There. It is 1,136 road miles from Times Square in Manhattan to downtown Tampa, and 1,167 miles from Yankee Stadium II in The Bronx to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. Sounds like you're gonna be flying. If you play your cards right, you can get a round-trip, albeit not a nonstop, flight for only $725.  (Tampa International Airport was originally named Drew Field, after John H. Drew, a land developer who gave it to the Army.)

If you want to take a side-trip to Disney World, you could fly to Orlando (it's 92 miles between the downtowns of Orlando and Tampa) and rent a car, but I suspect that hotels will be cheaper in the Tampa Bay area, and get more expensive the closer you get to Disney.

Amtrak is longer, but a lot cheaper: $323 round-trip. Tampa’s Amtrak station is at 601 N. Nebraska Avenue, and you’ll need a bus to get across the bay to St. Petersburg. Amtrak’s Silver Star train leaves Penn Station at 11:02 every morning, and arrives in Tampa at 12:34 the following afternoon. That’s right, 25½ hours.

If you're staying for the entire 3-game series, you may have to leave early on Sunday: The Silver Star leaves Tampa at 5:17 PM (arriving in New York 7:18 the following night), so a 1:40 start, coupled with Joe Girardi's tendency to use most of his bullpen in order to beat the Rays, means you may not be out of the Trop before 5:00, and you'd still have to get across the Bay.

You can get a Greyhound bus out of Port Authority at 9:15 Thursday morning and be in St. Pete by 4:45 Friday afternoon. That's 31 1/2 hours, but it gives you time to get to the game (and maybe even a hotel in-between). You'd leave St. Pete at 6:20 PM on Sunday. That includes changing buses in Richmond and Tampa.

Round-trip, $216, maybe as little as $178 on advanced purchase. The catch is that you'd have to change buses 3 times: In Richmond, Orlando and Tampa. Unless you get a hotel in Tampa, in which case you'd only have to change buses twice. And the layover in Richmond is 3 hours and 15 minutes. And I don't like the Richmond Greyhound station, and I doubt that you will, either. There's also hourlong layovers in Fayetteville, North Carolina and Jacksonville.

Greyhound's St. Petersburg station at 180 9th Street North, a 5-block walk from Tropicana Field. The Tampa Greyhound station is at 610 E. Polk Street, 4 blocks from the Amtrak station. To get from either to the Trop without a car, you'll have to take the 100X bus to Gateway Mall, then transfer to the 74 bus. It will take an hour and a half.

If you do prefer to drive, see if you can get someone to split the duties with you. Essentially, you’ll be taking Interstate 95 almost all the way down, turning onto Interstate 10 West at Jacksonville and then, after a few minutes, onto Interstate 75 South. Taking that into Tampa, you’ll soon go onto Interstate 275, and cross the Howard Frankland Bridge – a bridge so traffic-ridden it's known locally as “Frankenstein” and “the Car-Strangled Spanner” – over Tampa Bay and into St. Pete. Take Exit 23B onto 20th Street North, and it’s just a matter of blocks until reaching The Trop at 16th Street South and 1st Avenue South.

It should take about 2 hours to get through New Jersey, 20 minutes in Delaware, an hour and a half in Maryland, 3 hours in Virginia, 3 hours in North Carolina, 3 hours in South Carolina, 2 hours in Georgia, and a little over 5 hours between crossing into Florida and reaching downtown Tampa. Given proper 45-minute rest stops – I recommend doing one in Delaware, and then, once you’re through the Washington, D.C. area, doing one when you enter each new State, and then another around Orlando, for a total of 7 – and taking into account city traffic at each end, your entire trip should take about 26 hours. Maybe you can do it in 24 if you speed and limit your rest stops to half an hour each, especially if one of you drives while the other sleeps, but I wouldn’t recommend this.

Once In the City. "Tampa" is believed to be a Native American name meaning "sticks of fire," while St. Petersburg, like the city of the same name in Russia that was known as Leningrad in the Soviet era, is named after the first Pope, the Apostle Peter. Tampa, founded in 1849, is home to 350,000 people; St. Petersburg, founded in 1888, is home to 250,000; and the metro area as a whole 2.8 million, so while neither city is big, it's a decent-sized market (and thus should be drawing more people for baseball games).

In Tampa, Whiting Street divides the city's streets into North and South, and the Hillsborough River into East and West.  In St. Petersburg, as I said, Central Avenue divides the city into North and South, and while there appears to be no East-West divider, 1st Street seems to set off a section with Northeast addresses.

Although the locals -- the ones who are not transplanted New Yorkers or New Jerseyans, anyway -- really, really hate the Yankees and Yankee Fans for repeatedly "taking over their ballpark" (as if it were much of a task, or much of a prize), they will not fight you. Aside from the occasional brawl between football players in the "hate triangle" between the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of Miami, there is rarely violence at sporting events in Florida.

HART, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, runs buses, $2.00 Local and $3.00 Express. PSTA runs $2.00 buses around St. Petersburg. So taking the 100X bus from downtown Tampa to St. Pete ($3.00) and transferring to the 59 to the stadium ($2.00) will be $5.00 each way.

The sales tax in Florida is 6 percent.

Going In. Tropicana Field has an official address of 1 Tropicana Drive, 2 miles northwest of downtown St. Petersburg and 22 miles southwest of downtown Tampa. It is bounded by 1st Avenue South on the north (Central Avenue, St. Pete’s north-south divider, is 1 block north), 16th Street South on the west, Stadium Drive on the south, and a service road and a creek to the east.

Opened in 1990 as the Florida Suncoast Dome, and nicknamed the White Elephant because of its exterior color and lack of a tenant for the sport for which it was intended, the name was changed in 1993 when the NHL's Lightning came in, making the stadium the ThunderDome. But they were only there for 3 seasons, until the building now known as the Amalie Arena opened.
In their home opener, October 10, 1993, the Bolts set what was then an NHL record of 27,227 fans in the quirky seating configuration the place had at the time. So an expansion hockey team -- in Florida, mind you -- in the era before you could buy game tickets online, managed to outdraw a winning, Internet-era baseball team.

Anyway, when the Devil Rays (as they were known from 1998 to 2007) arrived, the stadium's name was changed to Tropicana Field -- but, make no mistake, this blasted thing (or thing that should be blasted) is a dome. In 1999, it became the only building in Florida (so far) to host an NCAA Final Four; Connecticut beat Duke in the Final.

According to the team website, the Rays provide carpoolers access to free parking in team-controlled lots, Lots 2, 6, 7, 8 & 9. Vehicles with 4 or more passengers may park free for all Sunday games. For all other games, the first 100 cars with 4our or more people park for free up to an hour before game time, with other main lot Tropicana Field parking rates ranging from $15 to $30 per vehicle. Fans attending games at Tropicana Field are encouraged to arrive early to enjoy tailgating and baseball activities.
Gate 1, the Rotunda, is at the northeast corner of the stadium, dead center field. Gate 2 is at 1st base, Gates 3, 4 & 5 behind home plate, and Gate 6 at 3rd base. Gates 1 & 4 are Will Call pickup areas. However, unless you're a season ticket holder (and, being a Yankee Fan, you're not), the only gate by which you can enter is Gate 4.

The official current seating capacity is 31,042, but that's with several sections of seats tarped over. The actual number of seats is 42,735, but even the reduced capacity doesn't give the Trop an "intimate setting." Like the hardly-mourned Kingdome in Seattle, the high, gray roof gives the stadium the look of a bad shopping mall.
Those "catwalks" around the rim don't help. And that awful field -- one of the few ever to have a dirt infield with the rest of the field being artificial turf, instead of just dirt cutouts around the bases -- may make you nostalgic for Giants Stadium's awful experiments with real grass. But the seating design itself may look familiar to you, in shape if not in color: It was copied from Kauffman Stadium (formerly Royals Stadium) in Kansas City. Don't look for fountains in the outfield, though: That would be too classy for this joint.
The Trop may turn out to be the last MLB stadium built with the bullpens in foul territory, which was always a bad idea. It is also, with the Minnesota Twins having gotten out of the damn Metrodome, currently the only non-retractable domed stadium in Major League Baseball, with Houston, Miami, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Seattle and Toronto having retractable roofs. And, with Toronto planning to put real grass down at the Rogers Centre, The Trop will turn out to be the last MLB stadium with artificial turf. Good riddance.

Yes, that is a pool in center field, which is reminiscent of the one in right field in Phoenix. No, it is not for people. They have a live cownose ray in there. No, I'm not kidding. It's called the Rays Touch Tank, and while they do let people touch the ray (very carefully), it is not the kind that killed "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin, so you can relax. If you're into that sort of thing. I am not.
The roof slopes downward toward center field. The field is not symmetrical. The left field pole is just 315 feet from home plate, the right field pole only 322. In spite of this, it's generally a pitcher's park, which goes against the trend of the domes built in the 1970s and '80s. The power alleys are 370, and center is 404. In 2001, Vinny Castilla hit what remains the dome's longest home run, going 478 feet.

Food. Whatever I say about this ballpark being bad, I cannot fault it for its food, which reflects the Tampa Bay region's Spanish and Hispanic heritage. Cuban sandwiches, featuring freshly sliced ham, pork, and Genoa salami on toasted Cuban bread with Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, are sold throughout the stadium.

Stands for Everglades BBQ serve barbecue-themed items. The right field concession area has a Checkers burger stand. Both the First Base and Third Base Food Courts have stands for Papa John's Pizza, if you don't mind giving money to a billionaire who raised his prices to offset the cost of Obamacare, because he was too cheap to provide his employees with health insurance.

The First Base Food Court has the Del Ray Cantina, a full-service bar specializing in tropical drinks, and the Third Base Food Court has the similar Oasis Bar and the Outback Steakhouse Food Court -- in recognition of Outback's Tampa headquarters and the NFL Buccaneers' hosting of the Outback Bowl, which was known as the Hall of Fame Bowl when it was held at the Bucs' old stadium.

The thought of having an Outback Steak appeals to me -- especially since I watched the 1st 5 innings of the 2009 World Series clincher at the now-closed Outback at 56th & 3rd on the East Side -- and the idea of having a Bloomin' Onion at a ballgame, while hardly healthy, also has, pardon the pun, appeal.

Oddly, considering the stadium's name, there is no juice bar.

Team History Displays. Stop laughing. The Rays do now have some history. The area could have had more, but near-miss moves by the Chicago White Sox for the 1989 season, the San Francisco Giants for the 1993 season, and seriously considered moves by the Minnesota Twins in the 1980s and the Seattle Mariners in the 1990s, all fell through.

(Can you imagine the Yanks and the Tampa Bay Mariners -- the region's nautical heritage means they wouldn't have had to change the name of the team -- being AL East opponents? All the Jeter and A-Rod comparisons? Plus all those times having to face Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson and Ichiro Suzuki?)
The Rays' 2008 and 2010 AL Eastern Division Title banners are to the left of the center field scoreboard and the "K Counter" on a small wall.

Over the Captain Morgan Deck, the Rays post their 2 retired numbers, plus the universally-retired Number 42 of Jackie Robinson. The 1st was the Number 12 they retired for Tampa native Wade Boggs, who played the last 2 years of his career (1998-99) with the Devil Rays and got his 3,000th career hit at the Trop. (Boggs was also named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Players in 1999, and named the Rays' fans choice for the DHL Hometown Heroes poll in 2006.)

They've also retired a number for Don Zimmer. A native of Cincinnati, Zim and his wife Soot had long lived in Tampa, where the Cincinnati Reds used to have their spring training camp. When Zim finally had enough of George Steinbrenner after the 2003 season, he decided enough was enough, but the Rays offered to let him coach in uniform, and he wouldn't have to take roadtrips. He accepted, and continued the shtick he'd been doing since becoming part of the inaugural coaching staff of the Colorado Rockies in 1993: Making his uniform number the number of seasons he'd spent in professional baseball. He died after his 66th season, and so 66 was the last number he wore, and the Rays retired it.
But the stadium's big feature, history-wise, is the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame. It was moved to the Trop after its original facility in Hernando, Florida (the town where Ted lived the last few years of his life), went bankrupt. It houses exhibits on Ted's careers both with the Boston Red Sox and the United States Marine Corps during World War II and the Korean War, and the monuments to the members of the Hitters Hall of Fame, complete with memorabilia. Ted did not induct himself into his own Hitters Hall of Fame, and was inducted in 2003 only after he died.
The museum is only open on game days, opening at the same time as the park and closing after the 7th inning with the concession stands. Admission is free, and the museum is open to all ticketholders.

Stuff. The main Team Store is located in Center Field Street near Gate 1, and is open during Rays home games and special public events. Additional merchandise locations and novelty kiosks are open throughout the stadium during all home games.

As you might guess, having been to one World Series (and lost it) thus far, the Rays don't have team history videos on sale. But there have been a few books written about the Rays, and they may be available at the Trop. Most notable, probably, is The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First, by Jonah Keri.

During the Game. A recent Thrillist article listed the Rays 21st on a list of "Baseball's Most Intolerable Fans": "After all these years and some pretty good teams, the few real Rays fans that exist have come to terms with the fact that they're still the best place to see your real favorite team after you retire, thanks to the lowest attendance in all of MLB."

The few real Rays fans don't like it when Yankees, Red Sox, whoever else fans "take over the ballpark." Well, there's a simple remedy for that: Buy tickets, show up, and sit in the seats before opposing fans can do those things. 

Nevertheless, these people are more laid-back Floridian than chip-on-their-shoulder Southern: They won't try to stop you from cheering on your team. After all, you probably outnumber them.

"The Happy Heckler" is a fan by the name of Robert Szasz, a Clearwater real estate developer. He has season tickets near home plate, and is known for his rather boisterous heckling. He is so loud that he is clearly audible on both TV and radio broadcasts. Of course, that's possible because the Rays get small crowds, so individual fans can be heard, much as Cleveland phone-company worker John Adams could be heard on his drum all the way out in the bleacher of Cleveland Municipal Stadium when he was surrounded by 65,000 empty seats, less so now that the Indians are in Jacobs Field and drawing much better. Szasz is considered an "ethical" heckler, heckling opposing players only based on their play, and never throwing personal insults. Despite this, he has drawn the ire of some opposing players.

Just as the Yankees have Bleacher Creature Milton Ousland and his cowbell, and the Mets have Eddie Boison, with "COW-BELL MAN" and the Number 15 on his Met jersey, the Rays have cowbells as well. It was originally a promotional idea thought up by principal owner Stuart Sternberg, who got the idea from the Saturday Night Live "More Cowbell" sketch. Since then, it has become a standard feature of home games. Like the Happy Heckler, this is an annoyance.

The most famous proponent of the cowbell is Cary Strukel, who is known as "The Cowbell Kid." Strukel can be seen at most home games sitting in right field and wearing some kind of costume, typically topped with a neon colored wig (like former JOHN 3:16 banner guy Rollen Stewart) or Viking horns. The cowbells are rung most prominently when the opposing batter has two strikes, when the opposing fans try to chant, and when the Rays make a good play.

The Rays hold auditions for National Anthem singers, rather than having a regular. Their mascot is Raymond -- at least the name makes sense. He's not a ray -- manta, sting- or otherwise -- he is a furry blue creature wearing a large pair of sneakers and a backwards baseball cap, completed with a Rays jersey. He is described officially as a "seadog," and bears a physical, though not in color, resemblance to Slider, the mascot of the Cleveland Indians.

They also have a secondary mascot, a disc jockey in a cat suit. No, not a nice-looking woman playing records while wearing a catsuit. I mean a man in a cat costume, D.J. Kitty, based on a video showing a real cat, with help from special effects, spinning records while wearing a tiny Rays jersey.
Raymond and D.J. Kitty. This, among many other reasons,
is why Rays fans can't have nice things.

The Rays have a "mascot race" between people dressed as Pepsi products: Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Aquafina and Sierra Mist. I guess they didn't want Diet Pepsi in the race, figuring, being on a diet, he'd be in better shape, and thus have an unfair advantage.

The Rays do not have a regular song to sing after "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th inning stretch. Their postgame victory song is "Feel the Heat," by Derren Moore.

After the Game. Downtown St. Petersburg is not an especially high-crime area, and, as I said, Rays fans do not get violent. You might get a little bit of verbal if you're wearing Yankee gear, but it won't get any worse than that.

There aren't a lot of interesting places to relax with a postgame snack and drinks near the Trop, although Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill, at Central Avenue and 13th Street, a 10-minute walk from the dome, is described by one source as "a popular haunt right after a game, for the Rays fans and Rival fans alike."

The Birchwood Hotel, at 340 Beach Drive NE at 4th Avenue, caters to New Yorkers, including at its rooftop bar, The Canopy. It's a mile and a half from the ballpark, though -- but that still makes it a lot closer than Legends Sports Bar, Billiard, Hookah and Grill, the home of the New York Giants Fan Club of Tampa Bay. But it's at 1339 E. Fletcher Avenue, on the north side of Tampa, 31 miles from the Trop. The home of the New York Jets Fan Club of Tampa Bay, Peabody's Bar & Grill, is similarly far away, at 15333 Amberly Drive on the north side of Tampa, 35 miles.

Sidelights. The Yankees' spring training home, George M. Steinbrenner Field (formerly Legends Field), is at Dale Mabry Highway and Tampa Bay Blvd., across from the home of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium. (Raymond James is a financial holding company, not a person native to Tampa who deserved the naming rights.) The University of South Florida (USF) also plays football at Raymond James, and the U.S. national soccer team has played 4 games there, and has never lost, winning 3 and drawing 1. It is 1 of 4 stadiums currently being considered to host Super Bowl LIII, in February 2019, or Super Bowl LIV, in 2020. So it has a 50-50 chance of hosting one of them.

North of Raymond James was Al Lopez Field. (Lopez, a Hall of Fame catcher and manager, was a person native to Tampa who deserved the naming rights.) North of that was the Buccaneers' first home, Tampa Stadium, known as The Big Sombrero because of its weird shape. It was built in 1967 with 46,000 seats, and expanded to 74,000 when the Bucs were expanded into existence in 1976. The Giants won Super Bowl XXV there. It also hosted Super Bowl XVIII, in which the Los Angeles Raiders beat the Washington Redskins, and 3 games of the U.S. soccer team. It was demolished in 1999.

The entire group of current and former stadium sites is north of downtown Tampa, near the airport. Take the Number 30 bus from downtown to the Number 36 bus to the complex.

One of the legendary homes of spring training baseball, Al Lang Field (now Progress Energy Park), named for the Mayor who promoted St. Pete as a spring training site, is at 1st Street SE & 2nd Avenue S., 2 miles east of the Trop, in downtown St. Pete on the shore of Tampa Bay.
The spring home of the Yankees from 1947 to 1961, the Mets from 1962 to 1987, and the St. Louis Cardinals from 1947 to 1997, it is no longer used as a major league spring training or Florida State League regular season facility. In fact, the new Rays ballpark was supposed to be built on the site, but they haven't been able to get the funding, so Al Lang Field remains standing. It is the home of the new version the Tampa Bay Rowdies, in the new version of the North American Soccer League, the second division of North American soccer. Bus 100X to Bus 4.
Tampa-based teams have won Florida State League Pennants in 1920, '25 (Tampa Smokers), '57, '61 (Tampa Tarpons), '94, 2001, '04, '09 and '10 (Tampa Yankees). St. Petersburg teams have done it in 1975, '86 (St. Petersburg Cardinals) and '97 (St. Petersburg Devil Rays, who won a Pennant before their parent club had even played a game). The Clearwater Phillies won a Pennant in the same year as their parent club in Philadelphia, 1993, and won another under their current name, the Clearwater Threshers, in 2007, presaging their parent club's success.

The Tampa Bay Times Forum, formerly the Ice Palace, home of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning, is at 401 Channelside Drive in downtown Tampa, near the Convention Center, the Tampa Museum of Art, the Tampa Bay History Center, and a mall called Channelside Bay Plaza. They're a 15-minute walk from the Greyhound station, or 5 minutes on the Number 8 bus. The Forum hosted the 2012 Republican Convention, at which Mitt Romney was nominated for President.

Tampa Bay does not have an NBA team, nor is it likely to try for one in the near future. The Orlando Magic play 93 miles from downtown Tampa, while the Miami Heat are 279 miles away. Yet, mainly due to LeBron James (but also due to Shaquille O'Neal being much more recently in Miami than in Orlando), the Heat are more popular in the Tampa Bay region than the Magic are -- and the Los Angeles Lakers are nearly as popular as the Magic, probably because of Shaq and Kobe. If Tampa Bay was an NBA market, it would rank 20th in population.

This should provide you with a couple of non-sports things to do in the Tampa Bay region. And, if you want to go there, Walt Disney World is 70 miles up Interstate 4, an hour and 15 minutes by car from downtown Tampa.

Malio's, in downtown Tampa at 400 N. Ashley Drive at Kennedy Blvd., is a locally famous restaurant, known around there as George Steinbrenner's favorite. He had a private room there, as does the still-living Tampa native and Yankee Legend Lou Piniella.

The Tampa Bay region doesn't have a lot of tall buildings. The tallest, at 579 feet, is 100 North Tampa, named for its address at Whiting Street downtown, formerly named the Regions Building.

Oh, and, get this: As New York is known as the Big Apple, Tampa likes to call itself the Big Guava. In the words of the immortal Jack Paar, I kid you not.

*

So, if you can afford it, go on down and join your fellow Yankee Fans in taking over the Rays' stadium. Let's just hope the Yankees' bats and arms are as good as their fans. We need to make a statement against these guys. Tell them, as Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) said in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, "You'd better mind your P's and Q's, buster, and remember who you're dealing with!"

Friday, May 20, 2016

How to Be a Met Fan In Washington -- 2016 Edition

The Mets hosted the Washington Nationals this week. Next week, starting on Monday, the same teams play in D.C.

In 2012, the Interleague schedule meant that the Yankees also played a series there.  This season, they will not.

Before You Go.  D.C. can get really hot in summer, and mid-May could be counted as "summer." So, on some roadtrips down there, you'll have to remember to stay hydrated. But for next week, The Washington Post is predicting low 80s for the afternoons, and low 60s for the evenings. They're not talking about having any rain, so it should be dry.

Washington is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to fiddle with your clocks, digital or otherwise.

Tickets. From their 2005 arrival through the end of 2011, the Nats were terrible. But they won the National League Eastern Division in 2012 (no Washington baseball team had been in first place late in the season since 1945, and none had finished in 1st place since 1933) and 2014. They led the NL East much of the way last year, before collapsing, allowing the Mets to overtake them.

As a result, attendance is good: Last year, they averaged 32,343 fans per game, a record for Washington baseball. This year, they're averaging 26,737, and that will surely go up once school lets out.

So getting tickets for a baseball game in Washington is a bigger problem than it's been since the 1924-25 Pennant-winning Senators, and a lot of New Yorkers & New Jerseyans may have the same idea as you – and many of them are federal government employees or college students already living and working in the D.C. area. In fact, the transient nature of the federal government was a big reason the Senators never made it: People came in from places that had teams, and rooted for them, not the Senators; only went to Griffith Stadium and its successor RFK Stadium to see their hometown teams; and rarely went back home having been converted to Senators fans. The Nats seem to have the same problem, and it remains to be seen if winning will prove to be a long-term cure.

Dugout Boxes will cost $100. Infield Box, $78. Baseline Box, down the foul lines, $70. Baseline Reserved, $60. Outfield Reserved, $37. Left Field & Right Field Corners $45, Left Field & Right Field Mezzanine, $39. Scoreboard Pavilion $25. Gallery (upper deck) $34, and Upper Gallery $23.

Getting There. Getting to Washington is fairly easy. However, if you have a car, I recommend using it, and getting a hotel either downtown or inside the Capital Beltway, because driving in Washington is roughly (good choice of words there) as bad as driving in New York.

It’s 229 miles by road from Times Square to downtown Washington, and 238 miles from Citi Field to Nationals Park. If you’re not "doing the city," but just going to the game, take the New Jersey Turnpike all the way down to the Delaware Memorial Bridge (a.k.a. the Twin Span), across the Delaware River into the State of, well, Delaware. This should take about 2 hours, not counting a rest stop.

Speaking of which, the temptation to take an alternate route (such as Exit 7A to I-195 to I-295 to the Ben Franklin Bridge) or a side trip (Exit 4, eventually leading to the Ben Franklin Bridge) to get into Pennsylvania and stop off at Pat's Steaks in South Philly can be strong, but if you want to get from New York to Washington with making only one rest stop, you're better off using the Delaware House Service Area in Christiana, between Exits 3 and 1 on the Delaware Turnpike. It’s almost exactly the halfway point between New York and Washington.

Once you get over the Twin Span – the New Jersey-bound span opened in 1951, the Delaware-bound one was added in 1968 – follow the signs carefully, as you’ll be faced with multiple ramp signs for Interstates 95, 295 and 495, as well as for US Routes 13 and 40 and State Route 9. You want I-95 South, and its signs will say "Delaware Turnpike" and "Baltimore." You’ll pay tolls at both its eastern and western ends, and unless there’s a traffic jam, you should only be in Delaware for a maximum of 15 minutes before hitting the Maryland State Line.

At said State Line, I-95 changes from the Delaware Turnpike to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, and you'll be on it for about an hour (unless you want to make another rest stop, either the Chesapeake House or the Maryland House) and passing through Baltimore, before seeing signs for I-895 and the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, Exit 62.

From here, you'll pass through the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. Take I-895 to Exit 4, and you'll be on Maryland Route 295 South, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Crossing into the District of Columbia, M-295 will become the Anacostia Freeway. Take Exit 3B for South Capitol Street East, go over the Frederick Douglass Bridge over the Anacostia River, and you’ll be right there.

If all goes well -- getting out of New York City and into downtown Baltimore okay, reasonable traffic, just the one rest stop, no trouble with your car -- the whole trip should take about 4½ hours.

Washington is too close to fly, just as flying from New York to Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore, once you factor in fooling around with everything you gotta do at each airport, doesn't really save you much time compared to driving, the bus or the train. So forget about flying from JFK, LaGuardia or Newark to Reagan National or Dulles International Airport. (John Foster Dulles was President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Secretary of State.)

The train is a very good option, if you can afford it. Washington's Union Station is at 50 Massachusetts Avenue NE, within sight of the Capitol Building. But Amtrak is expensive. They figure, "You hate to fly, you don't want to deal with airports, and Greyhound sucks, so we can charge whatever we want." New York to Washington will run you $176 round-trip, and that's if you take the regular Northeast Corridor, instead of Acela Express (formerly the Metroliner), which would be $542 round-trip. And that's before you add anything like Business Class or, God forbid, Amtrak's overmicrowaved food. Still, it's less than 3 hours if you take the Acela Express, and 3 hours and 40 minutes if you take a regular Northeast Corridor train.

Fortunately, Greyhound has rectified a longtime problem. They now use the parking deck behind Union Station as their Washington terminal, instead of the one they built 6 blocks away (and thus 6 blocks from the nearest Metro station), in the ghetto, back in the late 1960s. So neither safety nor aesthetics will be an issue any longer. Round-trip fare on Greyhound is $76, but you can get it for as little as $28 on advanced purchase. It takes about 4 1/2 hours, and usually includes a rest stop about halfway, either on the New Jersey Turnpike in South Jersey or on the Delaware Turnpike.

Once In the City. Founded in 1800, and usually referred to as "The National City" in its early days, and "Washington City" in the 19th Century, the city was named, of course, for George Washington, although its "Georgetown" neighborhood was named for our previous commander-in-chief, King George III in England.

Its "state," the District of Columbia, comes from Columbia, a historical and poetic name used for America, which was accepted as its female personification until the early 20th Century, when the Statue of Liberty began to take its place in the public consciousness. "Columbia" was derived from the man who "discovered America," Christopher Columbus, and places throughout the Western Hemisphere -- from the capital of South Carolina to the river that separates Washington State from Oregon, from the Ivy League university in Manhattan to the South American nation that produces coffee and cocaine, are named for him.

Like a lot of cities, Washington suffered from "white flight," so that, while the population within the city limits has seriously shrunk, from 800,000 in 1950 to 650,000 today; the metro area went from 2.9 million to double that, 5.9 million. As a result, the roads leading into the District, and around it, the Capital Beltway, Interstate 495, are rammed with cars. Finally, someone wised up and said, "Let's build a subway," and in 1976, the Metro opened.

That metropolitan growth was boosted by the Maryland and Virginia suburbs building housing and shopping areas for federal-government workers. And, perhaps more than any other metro area, the poor blacks who once lived in the city have reached the middle-class and built their own communities (especially to the east, in Maryland's Prince Georges County). The metro area now has about 6 million residents -- and that's not including the metro area of nearby Baltimore, which would boost it to over 8.6 million and make it the 4th-largest "market" in the country, behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and slightly ahead of the San Francisco Bay Area.

So, if you want to say "the area" has a National League team, the Nats, and an American League team, the Baltimore Orioles, that's not quite correct, but it is understandable, especially since Maryland Commuter Rail (MARC) does link the 2 cities, and for much of the major league interregnum between the Senators' departure in 1971 and the Nats' arrival in 2005, people living in D.C. -- especially part-timers who worked in, or media personalities who covered, the federal government would head up the railroad, I-95 or the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and watch the O's at Memorial Stadium, then at Camden Yards.

The NBA's Bullets moved from Baltimore to Washington in 1973, and became the Wizards in 1997, and Baltimore still follows them. The NHL's Capitals began play in 1974, and Baltimore has adopted them. However, during the NFL interregnum between Robert Irsay's theft of the Colts in 1984 and the arrival of the Ravens in 1996, Baltimore never accepted the Redskins as their team, despite 2 Super Bowl wins in that period. Still, the Nats-O's rivalry matters very little to Baltimore, and while it matters a bit more to people in the Washington area, given the choice, they'd rather beat the Mets or the Phillies than the Orioles.

When you get to Union Station, pick up copies of the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun. The Post is a great paper with a very good sports section, and in just 6 seasons (now into a 7th) has covered the Nats very well, despite the 1972-2004 era when D.C. had no MLB team of its own. As a holdover from that era, it still covers the Orioles well. The Sun is only an okay paper, but its sports section is nearly as good as the Post's, and their coverage of their town's hometown baseball team rivals that of any paper in the country -- including the great coverage that The New York Times and Daily News give to the Yankees and Mets.

Do not buy The Washington Times. It was founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in 1982 as a replacement for the bankrupt Washington Star as the area's conservative equivalent to the "liberal" Post. (That’s a laugh: The Post has George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Gerson and Kathleen Parker as columnists!) Under editor-in-chief Wesley Pruden, the Times was viciously right-wing, "reporting" every rumor about Democrats as if they were established, proven fact, and giving Republicans a free pass. Moon’s "Unification Church" sold the paper in 2009, and Pruden retired the year before. But it has cut about 40 percent of its employees, and has dropped not only its Sunday edition but also its sports section.

And now, there's another paper, the Washington Examiner, owned by the same company as the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, and it is so far to the right it makes The Washington Times look like the Daily Kos. It is a truly loony publication, where Michael Barone of the American Enterprise Institute and Byron York of National Review are considered moderates.

So avoid the loonies and the Moonies, and stick with the Post. Even if you don't agree with my politics, you're going down to D.C. for baseball, and the Post’s sports section kicks ass.

The sales tax in the District, once as high as 9 percent, is now just 6 percent.

The centerpoint for addresses is the Capitol Building. North and South Capitol Streets separate east from west, and East Capitol Street and the National Mall separate north from south. The city is divided into quadrants: NW, NE, SE and SW. Because of the Capitol's location is not in the exact geographic centerpoint of the city, NW has about as much territory as the other 3 quadrants put together. In fact, the Navy Yard and the Nationals Park area take up about half the SW quadrant.

Remember: On street signs, 1st Street is written out as FIRST, and I Street is written out as EYE, so as to avoid confusion. And for the same reason, since I and J were virtually indistinguishable in written script when D.C. was founded in 1800, there is no J Street. Once the letters are expended, they go to to 2- and then 3-syllable words beginning with the sequential letters: Adams, Bryant, Clifton, etc.

Going In. Washington's subway, the Metro, was not in place until 1976, far too late to help either the "Old Senators" at Griffith Stadium or the "New Senators" at RFK Stadium (though both locations are now accessible via Metro), but it works just fine for Nats games. Take the Red Line from Union Station to Gallery Place, and transfer to the Green Line to Navy Yard-Ballpark station. (Those of you who watch the TV show NCIS will recognize the Washington Navy Yard as home base for Leroy Jethro Gibbs & Co. Rule Number 17: Never go anywhere without a FareCard.) Since these games will be played on weeknights, going in, you'll be arriving during rush hour, so the fare will be $2.15 going in. Going back, and each way on the weekend, it'll be $1.75.
Coming out of the Navy Yard-Ballpark station, you’ll be at M Street and New Jersey Avenue SE. Turn right on M, and walk past 1st Street and Cushing Place to Half Street. Yes, between South Capitol Street (in effect, the city's north-south "zero line") and First Street is "Half Street." Make a left on Half Street, and in one more block, there is Nationals Park. From Union Station to the ballpark, via subway and then foot, should take 25 minutes, about as fast as it does to get from Midtown Manhattan to Yankee Stadium, and slightly less than to get to Citi Field.
The official address of Nationals Park is 1500 South Capital Street SE, about a mile and a half south of the Capitol Building and about 2 miles southeast of downtown. Parking is plentiful in the area, and can be bought for as little as $9.00.

You're likely to walk in at the center field gate, at N & Half Streets. There, you will see 3 statues, of Washington baseball legends Walter Johnson, Josh Gibson and Frank Howard. I'll elaborate in "Team History Displays." On your way in, you might also notice the Racing Presidents, on whom I'll also elaborate later, dancing and greeting fans.
The field points northeast, and is natural grass, but the dimensions are not symmetrical: 337 feet to left field, 377 to left-center, 402 to center, 370 to right-center, and 335 to right. The park seems to favor pitchers, but not by a lot.
The longest home run yet in the new park was hit by Michael Morse of the Nats (now with the Giants), in 2012, 465 feet. Howard hit the longest at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, a shot estimated at 500 feet shot in 1970, which is still commemorated with a white seat.

The longest home run at Griffith Stadium is hard to figure: Although Mickey Mantle was credited with a 565-foot blast in 1953, every quoted eyewitness confirmed that the ball hit a scoreboard at the back of the left-field bleachers before flying into a backyard a block away. Since you're only supposed to measure from home plate to where the ball first hit something, that was more like a 460-foot homer; still, it was the only ball ever to clear those bleachers. Babe Ruth may have hit a longer homer at Griffith in the 1920s, and Josh Gibson may have done so while playing a home game there for the Negro Leagues' Homestead Grays (who divided their home games between Washington and Pittsburgh -- Homestead is a town outside Pittsburgh), but there simply aren't specifics as to when, or to how long.

When the location for Nationals Park was chosen, the idea was to have a view of the Capitol dome and the Washington Monument. Unfortunately, they can only be seen from the 1st base/right field half of the stadium. But in the outfield, they planted another Washington trademark: Cherry blossom trees. That's nice, but by late April, let alone the late May of this roadtrip, the blossoms are already gone.

Nationals Park hosted the 2015 NHL Winter Classic, in which the Capitals beat the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-2.

Food. Very good. Not only do they serve good hot dogs and other standard ballpark fare, but "Frozen Rope" (Section 135) serves good ice cream, and they also have that "futuristic" ice cream known as Dippin' Dots. The Red Loft Bar, in the second deck in left field, is their version of a McFadden's. They serve pretzels in the shape of the script "W" logo that they inherited from the "New Senators."

And the Nats do not have to look up I-95 at Boog's Barbecue in Baltimore, Bull's Barbecue in Philly, Brother Jimmy's at Yankee Stadium or Blue Smoke at Citi Field, and feel any envy. In the right field corner is their own Blue Smoke stand. I kid you not: They serve the best piece of ballpark food I have ever eaten, a big hunk of meat named "the Rough Rider" in honor of Theodore Roosevelt. Eating that gave me more pleasure than any ballpark experience this side of the Aaron Boone homer. It's $12, but it will be worth every flick of the tongue.

Guess what, Met fans? Nationals Park has a Shake Shack! It's under the right-field stands. And, while I haven't been there since they opened it in 2011, I'll bet they manage the line better than whoever runs Citi Field does.

Team History Displays. The "old" Washington Senators played from 1901 to 1960, and moved to become the Minnesota Twins. The "new" Senators played from 1961 to 1971, and moved to become the Texas Rangers. The Expos/Nationals franchise has some history, but until 2012, it was all in Montreal.

Nevertheless, there are tributes to the history of Washington baseball. A pedestrian path leading into the south entrance is marked with certain dates:

* 1859: The birth of Washington's 1st organized baseball team, the Olympic Club.

* 1910: President Taft becoming the 1st President to throw out the 1st ball to start a season.

* 1924: The city's only World Series win so far.

* 1937: The city's 1st MLB All-Star Game. (And also the arrival of the NFL's Redskins.)

* 1948: I don't know what this date represents.

* 1961: The Old Senators leave, and the New Senators arrive.

* 1971: The New Senators leave.

* 2005: The Nationals arrive.

* 2008: Nationals Park opens.

Outside the north gate, you will see 3 statues: Walter Johnson, "the Big Train," the great pitcher for the Old Senators from 1907 to 1927, the game's former all-time strikeout leader with 3,508 and still its all-time shutout leader with 113; Josh Gibson, the catcher for the D.C.-based Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues, the man so powerful he was known as "the Black Babe Ruth" – although some black fans suggested that Ruth be called "the White Josh Gibson" – and Frank Howard, the slugger for the New Senators known as "Hondo," "the Monster" (he was 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds in his prime, and was also played basketball at Ohio State and was drafted by the NBA's Philadelphia Warriors) and, due to D.C.'s status, "the Capital Punisher."

You might remember Howard as a coach for both New York teams and, briefly in 1983, the Mets’ manager, before Davey Johnson came in and turned the franchise around. Howard, along with George W. Bush, threw out a ceremonial first ball before the first Nationals game in 2005. He turns 80 in August, and, a longtime friend of the Steinbrenner family (George's widow Joan is, like Howard, an Ohio State graduate), he has worked for the Yankees as a player development instructor since 2000.

The Washington Baseball Ring of Honor, patterned after the multi-sport Hall of Stars at RFK Stadium, was erected at Nationals Park in 2010, and is on the facing of the upper deck.

It honors these figures from the "Old Senators": Pitcher/manager/owner Clark Griffith, pitcher Walter Johnson, 2nd baseman/manager Bucky Harris, left fielder Henry "Heinie" Manush, right fielder Sam Rice, shortstop/manager Joe Cronin, left fielder Goose Goslin, catcher Rick Ferrell, pitcher Early Wynn and 3rd baseman Harmon Killebrew.

It also honors some Homestead Grays: Catcher Josh Gibson, 1st baseman Walter "Buck" Leonard, center fielder James "Cool Papa" Bell, pitcher Ray Brown, 3rd baseman Ernest "Jud" Wilson and outfielder/manager/owner Cumberland Posey (who had the retroactively obscene nickname "Cum").

And it honors the 2 Hall-of-Famers from the Nats' Montreal Expos years, Gary Carter and Andre Dawson. Frank Robinson, manager of the Expos/Nationals franchise during the switch, is in the Hall of Fame (for his accomplishments as a player), and he was placed on the Ring of Honor last year.

Oddly, Bucky Harris, due to his status as a scout with them, is the only figure from the "New Senators" honored on the Ring. Even Frank Howard isn't, yet.

Old Senators Joe Judge, Ossie Bluege, George Case, Cecil Travis, Eddie Yost, Roy Sievers and Mickey Vernon (who also managed the New Senators) were honored on the old Hall of Stars, but not yet on the new Ring of Honor. This is also true of New Senators Howard, Gil Hodges (he managed them between retiring as a Dodger and Met player and becoming the Mets' manager), Chuck Hinton and George Selkirk (the former Yankee outfielder had been their general manager). While these were notable figures from Old Senators or New Senators history, none of them, as yet, has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and that's probably why they haven't been elected to the new Washington Baseball Ring of Honor -- although, like Johnson and Gibson, Howard has that statue outside Nationals Park.

Johnson -- the highest-ranked pitcher at Number 4 -- Goslin and Wynn were the Senators named in 1999 to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Baseball Players. So were Homestead Grays Gibson, Leonard, and Bell; and Oscar Charleston, briefly with the Grays but better known for playing for other teams.

The Expos retired Number 8 for Gary Carter, Number 10 for both Rusty Staub and Andre Dawson, and Number 30 for Tim Raines. All of these numbers were returned to circulation after the move, and, except for the Number 42 retired for all of baseball for Jackie Robinson, the Nats have no retired numbers. Nor do they yet have any Hall-of-Famers of their own, unless you want to count Frank Robinson, who was already in the Hall of Fame for 23 years when the team arrived in D.C. And, unlike the Mets, who retired 37 for Stengel even though he won nothing for them – far too close to being literally true – the Nats have not retired Robinson’s 20.

Stuff. There's a team store called Rushmore's in the left-field corner. It's got loads of jerseys, T-shirts, caps, and stuffed toys such as the Racing Presidents and the mascot Screech the Eagle.

In 2013, Frederic J. Frommer (travel expert and son of travel icon and Yankee Fan Harvey Frommer) and Bob Schieffer (CBS News legend and D.C. resident) collaborated on You Gotta Have Heart: A History of Washington Baseball from 1859 to the 2012 National Legue East Champions. The same year, Elliott Smith and Bob Carpenter (no relation to the family long owning the Phillies) published Beltway Boys: Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper and the Rise of the Nationals.

Looking for team DVDs? You're out of luck: All they had on my 2009 visit was a commemoration of their 1st season back in Washington, 2005. They can't even sell official World Series highlight films, like the Mets' package of the 1969 and 1986 films, because the only Senators' World Series, in 1924 (won), '25 (lost) and '33 (lost), came before MLB started making official highlight films in 1943. The Nationals franchise never made it to a World Series in Montreal, and they've never yet won a postseason series in Washington. So there’s nothing celebrating anything like that, because, so far, there's nothing like that. If you’ll forgive the near-Yogiism. The closest they come is Bryce Begins, a DVD on Harper's early career (which, for the moment, is all he's got). Why him, and not Strasburg? As Harper himself might say, "That's a clown question, bro."

During the Game. You do not need to fear wearing your Met gear to Nationals Park. Despite the boisterousness of Washington fans when they watch their NFL Redskins and soccer's D.C. United, there's a far more relaxed atmosphere at Nats games.

That could, of course, be due to the fact that, until 2012, you had to be over 70 to remember when a Washington baseball team was in a Pennant race. Just as George Washington was said to be "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen," Washington the city was long said to be "First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League." The old Senators finished 1 game behind the Detroit Tigers in 1945, and that was basically their only Pennant race after 1933. The new Senators had just 1 winning season, a 4th-place finish in 1969. That being the Vietnam War era, it was said that Washington was now "Last in war, last in peace, and last in the American League."

When the Redskins were winning, their fans were really loud, but they didn't really give anybody outside of Dallas Cowboys fans a hard time, unless provoked (and New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles fans, a short trip down I-95 or Amtrak, have been known to do that). Nor do the current, Alexander Ovechkin-led, Washington Capitals generate much ire: Their fans don't much like the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins, but, as their 2011, '12 and '13 Playoff series with the Rangers proved, they generally leave fans of the 3 New York Tri-State Area teams alone.

A recent Thrillist article on "Baseball's Most Intolerable Fans" put Nats fans smack in the middle, 15th out of 30, probably due to their lack of a history of fan incidents. They claim that Nats fans' top 3 priorities are:

1. Networking. (Not surprising due to government employees & lobbyists attending.)
2. Shake Shack.
3. Ben's Chili Bowl because the Shake Shack line was too long.

In other words, not unlike attending a Met game these last couple of seasons!

The Monday game is a promotion, Max Scherzer Bobblehead Night, with the dolls going to the 1st 25,000 fans who arrive. The Tuesday game is also a promotion, Federal Workforce Day.

The Nats hold auditions to sing the National Anthem, instead of having a regular singer. During the Anthem, when the line, "O say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave" is reached, some fans, trained in baseball as Oriole fans, still shout "O!" I've also heard this done at a Capitals-Devils game at the Verizon Center and a Maryland-Rutgers football game.

It's bad enough when they do it in Baltimore, and I realize that the University of Maryland football team would be nothing without players -- and fans -- from the Baltimore area. But doing it at a home game for the Washington baseball team, beyond being offensive and disrespectful, makes no freaking sense. They need to stop. You think Baltimore fans would accept hearing "Hail to the Redskins" when the Ravens score a touchdown?

The Nats have a fight song, "Welcome Home to the Nationals." It’s not exactly as stirring as "Hail to the Redskins," or even "Meet the Mets." After "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the 7th Inning Stretch, they play "Take On Me" by A-ha. Their postgame victory song is "Raise Your Glass" by Pink, even though she's from Philadelphia. In tribute to their Navy Yard location, they blast a submarine's horn for each Nats home run.

Hugh Kaufman is "the Rubber Chicken Man." A Washington baseball fan since the days of the Old Senators, he waves a rubber chicken over the Nats' dugout to ward off bad luck. On occasion, he's made chicken soup (a.k.a. "Jewish penicillin") to give to sick or injured players.

The Nats have a mascot named Screech, a bald eagle. Sounds natural enough. They also have the Presidents Race. In a takeoff of the Milwaukee Brewers' Sausage Race, in the middle of the 4th inning, the 4 guys wearing the Mount Rushmore President costumes, with the huge foam caricature heads, break out of a gate in center field, run to the right field corner, and down the 1st-base line, where the first to break the tape is the winner.

Over their period costumes, they wear Nats jerseys: GEORGE 1, TOM 3, ABE 16 and TEDDY 26, for their places in the chronological order of Presidents. Screech is the referee, in case anybody tries any funny business.

Which leads to, literally, a running gag: "Teddy never wins." Sometimes he leads and trips. Sometimes, like the minor-league mascots who race kids around the bases, he gets distracted, for example when players from the opposing Atlanta Braves caught his attention in the first game at Nationals Park in April 2008.

Sometimes he gets sabotaged, as in June 2008, when, in an Interleague game with the nearby Orioles, the visiting Baltimore Bird tripped him just short of the finish line. (In a special grudge-match race the next day, Teddy outraced the Bird, but it was announced that this wouldn't count in the victory totals). Sometimes he just plain screws up: At the final game at RFK Stadium in 2007, a lot of people figured he’d finally be allowed to win, and the other 3 stayed back to "throw" the race, but Teddy went to the nearly-finished Nationals Park instead.

And sometimes... he cheats. (No doubt the real TR would have been appalled at all of this, but especially at the cheating.) When I went, Teddy got on a motorized scooter (leading me to yell, "Holy cow!" in memory of Phil "the Scooter" Rizzuto), and won the race that way. Naturally, "Honest Abe," who finished 2nd, complained to Screech, who declared Abe the winner by default.

However, on October 3, 2012, the season finale, in honor of the Nats finally winning the Division, Teddy was allowed to win. And he got on a winning streak: He was allowed to win all 3 races at Nats home games in the NL Division Series.

When I visited on July 26, 2009 (a 3-2 Nats win over the San Diego Padres in 10 innings), the huge-headed Presidents were dancing outside the north gate, while "oldies" played over the stadium loudspeakers. This was bad enough, until "Billie Jean" was played – this was within days of the death of Michael Jackson – and, cue The Awkward Moment, the guy dressed as Jefferson danced right into my line of sight as soon as Jacko got to the words, "The kid is not my son!" I also noticed that the costumes, all four of them, were filthy. Doesn’t the club wash them?

In 2013, a 5th contestant was introduced: William Howard Taft (BILL 27). Why him? He's the only President to also be a Supreme Court Justice, and, along with John F. Kennedy, one of only 2 Presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery. (There is a JACK 35 character, resembling Kennedy, but so far he hasn't raced.) But I'm guessing the main reason is that, on April 14, 1910, Taft became the 1st President to throw out the ceremonial first ball on Opening Day, starting the tradition. (The story that, on the same day, he started the tradition of the 7th Inning Stretch has long since been debunked: That tradition was already long in place.) Bill won his first race on May 11, followed the next day by Teddy winning for the 1st time since the preceding season's Playoffs.

In 2015, Calvin Coolidge (CAL 30) was introduced, but lasted only that season. This season, Herbert Hoover (HERBIE 31) was introduced, but will be retired after the season. The next President in line would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FRANK 32), but since FDR had polio, seeing him run might be in poor taste.

As of this writing, May 20, 2016, according to the Nats' website, Abe is the all-time leader with 286 race wins, followed by George with 215, Tom with 192, Teddy with 65 (all since October 2012), Bill with 39, Cal with 12 and Herbie with 5.

After the Game. Although there are condos adjacent to the stadium, it’s not exactly a neighborhood hopping with nightlife, in case you're looking for a postgame meal (or even just a pint). At 301 Water Street, 3 blocks east, there's Agua 301 and Osteria Morini, but those are expensive; and Ice Cream Jubilee, which may not be open after weeknight games. Willie's Brew & Que, Bluejacket, and English chicken chain Nando's (as in, "I went out for a cheeky Nando's") are at 300 Tingley Street, also 3 blocks east. Leo's Wings & Pizza is at 7 N Street SW, across South Capitol Street, but that's a nasty intersection to cross on foot.

If you're only down for the one game, the best thing to do is to get back to Union Station, grab a bite there, and hop on your train; or, if you're driving, just hit one of the rest areas on the way back up I-95.

If you're staying for the whole series, your best bet may be to head downtown, near the Verizon Center (home of the Wizards and Capitals) at 6th & F Streets NW, on the edge of Chinatown. You'll find a lot of good (and maybe one or two great) nightspots there. I recommend Fado, an Irish-pub-themed place nearby, at 808 7th Street NW. (One of several around the country, including the Philadelphia one I've also been to; they're the same company as Tigin, which has outlets at JFK Airport and Stamford, Connecticut.)

If you came to Washington by Amtrak, and you're not spending the night, you've got a problem: The last train of the night leaves Union Station at 10:10 PM (and arrives at New York's Penn Station at 1:40 AM), and since MLB games tend to last around 3 hours, you're not going to make it unless it's a pitcher's duel. (Though at the rate both the Mets and the Nats have been going for the last year or so, that is a distinct possibility.) The next train leaves at 3:12 AM (arriving in New York at 6:41 AM), but do you really want to be in downtown D.C. from 10 at night to 3 in the morning?

Better to go for a weekend series, to come down on Friday afternoon or early on a Saturday, get a hotel, enjoy the sights on Saturday afternoon, see the game on Saturday night, and then on Sunday, choose between going to a second game and seeing something away from downtown. You'll be glad you did.

The bar 51st State is a known hangout for Mets, Yankees, Giants, Jets, Knicks and Rangers fans. (No mention of the Nets, Islanders or Devils, though.) 2512 L St. NW at Pennsylvania Avenue. Metro: Blue or Orange to Foggy Bottom. Nanny O'Brien's is also said to be a Giant fans' bar. 3319 Connecticut Ave. NW. Red Line to Cleveland Park.

Sidelights. There aren't a whole lot of sites in the District related to baseball other than Nationals Park itself. The Ellipse, just south of the White House on the National Mall, has baseball fields. (If you've ever seen the original 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still, that's where Klaatu's ship landed.)

* Griffith Stadium. There were 2 ballparks on this site, one built in 1892 and one in 1911, after the predecessor burned down – almost exactly the same story as New York's Polo Grounds. The second one, originally called League Park and National Park (no S on the end) before former pitching star Clark Griffith bought the team, was home to the old Senators from 1911 to 1960, and the new Senators only in 1961.

The Redskins played there from 1937 to 1960, and won the NFL Championship there in 1937 and 1942, although only the '42 title game was played there. There was another NFL title game played there, in 1940, but the Redskins were beaten by the Chicago Bears – 73-0. (Nope, that's not a typo: Seventy-three to nothing. Most points by one team in one game in NFL history, slightly ahead of the 'Skins' 72-49 victory over the Giants at RFK in 1966.)

While the Senators did win 3 Pennants and the 1924 World Series while playing at Griffith, it was not a good home for them. The fences were too far back for almost anyone to homer there, and they hardly ever had the pitching, either (except for Walter Johnson). In 1953, Mickey Mantle hit a home run there that was measured at 565 feet – though it probably shouldn't count as such, because witnesses said it glanced off the football scoreboard at the back of the left-field bleachers, which would still give the shot an impressive distance of about 460 feet.

The Negro Leagues' Homestead Grays also played a lot of home games at Griffith, although they divided their "home games" between Washington and Pittsburgh. Think of the Grays as the original Harlem Globetrotters, who called themselves "Harlem" to identify themselves as a black team even though their original home base was Chicago (and later moved their offices to Los Angeles, and are now based in Phoenix).

By the time Clark Griffith died in 1955, passing the team to his son Calvin, the area around Griffith Stadium had become nearly all-black. While Clark, despite having grown up in segregated Missouri during the 19th Century, followed Branch Rickey's path and integrated his team sooner than most (in particular going for Cubans, white and black alike), Calvin was a bigot who wanted to move the team to mostly-white Minnesota.

When the new stadium was built, it was too late to save the original team, and the "New Senators" were born. Griffith Stadium was demolished in 1965, and Howard University Hospital is there now. Florida & Georgia Avenues NW. Green Line to Shaw-Howard University Station.

A monument to Walter Johnson was placed outside Griffith Stadium, and has been moved to Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland. 6400 Rock Spring Drive. Red Line to Grosvenor, then Number 6 bus. Johnson is buried in Rockville Cemetery. Baltimore Road. Red Line to Rockville, then Number 45 bus.

* Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Originally named District of Columbia Stadium (or "D.C. Stadium"), the Redskins played there first, from 1961 to 1996. The new Senators opened there in 1962, and President John F. Kennedy threw out the first ball at the stadium that would be renamed for his brother Bobby in 1969. (There was a JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, formerly Municipal Stadium, where the new arena, the Wells Fargo Center, now stands.)

The new Senators played at RFK Stadium until 1971, and at the last game, against the Yankees, the Senators were up 7-5 with one out to go, when angry fans stormed the field, and the game was forfeited to the Yankees. The 'Skins moved to their new suburban stadium in 1997, after closing the '96 campaign without the Playoffs, but the final regular-season game was a thrashing of the hated Cowboys in front of over 100 Redskin greats.

The Nats played the 2005, '06 and '07 seasons at RFK. D.C. United, the most successful franchise in Major League Soccer (although they’re lousy at the moment), have played there since MLS was founded in 1996, winning the league title, the MLS Cup, 4 times, including 3 of the first 4. Previously, in the North American Soccer League, RFK was home to the Washington Diplomats, featuring the late Dutch legend Johan Cruyff. And the Beatles played there on their final tour, on August 15, 1966.

DC/RFK Stadium was the 1st U.S. stadium specifically designed to host both baseball and football, and anything else willing to pay the rent. But I forgive it. It was a great football stadium, and it's not a bad soccer stadium, but for baseball, let’s just say Nationals Park is a huge improvement. And what is with that whacked-out roof?

No stadium has hosted more games of the U.S. national soccer team than RFK: 22. (Next-closest is the Los Angeles Coliseum, with 20.) Their record there is 14 wins, 3 draws and 5 losses. So RFK is thus the closest America comes to having a "national stadium" like Wembley or the Azteca.

The most recent match there was on June 2, 2013, the 100th Anniversary match for the U.S. Soccer Federation. I was there. It was a 4-3 win over a Germany team operating at half-power because their players from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund had so recently played the UEFA Champions League Final. It hosted 5 matches of the 1994 World Cup and 6 of the 2003 Women's World Cup.

With the Nats and 'Skins gone, United are the only team still playing there, and plans for a new stadium for them are on hold, so it will still be possible to see a sporting event at RFK Stadium for the next few years. 2400 East Capitol Street SE. Orange Line or Blue Line to Stadium-Armory. (The D.C. Armory, headquarters of the District of Columbia National Guard, is that big brown arena-like thing across the parking lot.)

The plan for a new D.C. United stadium is for one at Buzzard Point, on land bounded by R, 2nd, T & Half Streets SW, 2 blocks from Nationals Park. Prince Georges County had a proposal for one near FedEx Field, and Baltimore offered to build one, leading New York Red Bulls fans to mock the club as "Baltimore United." But ground has been broken at Buzzard's Point, and a Spring 2018 opening is planned.

* Uline Arena/Washington Coliseum. This building was home to the District's 1st NBA team, the Washington Capitols, from 1946 to 1951. They reached the 1949 NBA Finals, losing to the Minneapolis Lakers of George Mikan, and were the 1st pro basketball team coached by Red Auerbach, who'd played in the city for George Washington University. Firing him was perhaps the dumbest coaching change in NBA history: By the time Red coached the Boston Celtics to their 1st NBA title in 1957, the Capitols had been out of business for 6 years.

The Coliseum was last used for sports in 1970 by the Washington Caps (not "Capitols," not "Capitals," just "Caps") of the ABA. It was the site of the 1st Beatles concert in the U.S. (aside from their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show 2 nights before), on February 11, 1964.

It still stands, and its interior and grounds are used as a parking lot, particularly for people using nearby Union Station. Unfortunately, it’s in a rotten neighborhood, and I wouldn't recommend visiting at night. In fact, unless you’re a student of NBA history or a Beatlemaniac, I'd say don't go at all. 1140 3rd Street NE, at M Street. Red Line to Union Station, and then it’s a bit of a walk.

* Capital Centre site. From 1973 to 1997, this was the home of the NBA's Washington Bullets, who became the Wizards when they moved downtown. From 1974 to 1997, it was the home of the NHL's Washington Capitals. The Bullets played in the 1975, '78 and '79 NBA Finals there, although they've only won in 1978 and clinched that at the Seattle Kingdome.

The Cap Centre was also the home for Georgetown University basketball, in its glory years of Coach John Thompson (father of the current coach, John Thompson III), Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Allen Iverson. Remember those 1980s battles with the St. John's teams of Louie Carnesecca, Chris Mullin and Walter Berry?

Elvis Presley sang there on June 27, 1976 and on May 22 and 29, 1977. (He never gave a concert in the District.) It was demolished in 2002, and a shopping mall, The Boulevard at the Capital Centre, was built on the site. 1 Harry S Truman Drive, Landover, Prince George's County, Maryland, just outside the Capital Beltway. Blue Line to Largo Town Center station.

* Verizon Center. Opened in 1997 as the MCI Center, the NBA's Wizards, the NHL's Capitals, the WNBA's Washington Mystics, and the Georgetown basketball team have played here ever since. Only one Finals has been held here, the Caps' 1998 sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. (Georgetown has reached a Final Four since it opened, but those are held at neutral sites.) But it's a very good arena. 601 F Street NW, at 6th Street. Red, Green or Yellow Line to Gallery Place-Chinatown Station.

* FedEx Field. Originally known as Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, for the Redskins owner who built it and died just before its opening, it has been the home of the Redskins since 1997. RFK Stadium has just 56,000 seats and was the NFL's smallest facility for years, but with close seats even in the upper deck, it provided one hell of a home field advantage.

In contrast, FedEx seats 85,000, the largest seating capacity in the NFL (the arch-rival Dallas Cowboys' new stadium can fit in 110,000 with standing room but has "only" 80,000 seats), but the seats are so far back, it kills the atmosphere. Being out in the suburbs instead of in a hard part of the District doesn't exactly intimidate the opposition, either. (Think if the New Jersey Devils had been an old team, starting out in an old arena tucked away in a neighborhood in Newark, and then moved to the spartan parking lot of the Meadowlands, and were still there, rather than going back to Newark into the Prudential Center.) As a result, the Redskins went from 5 Super Bowl appearances, winning 3, while playing at RFK to just 2 Playoff berths and no visits to the NFC Championship Game since moving to FedEx.

While several big European soccer teams have played there, and 4 matches of the 1999 Women's World Cup were played there, the U.S. men's team has only played 1 match there so far, a draw with Brazil on May 30, 2012. The Army-Navy Game was held there in 2011.

1600 FedEx Way, Landover, practically right across the Beltway from the site of the Cap Centre, although you'd have to walk from there after taking the Blue Line to Largo Town Center in order to reach it without a car.

* The Smithsonian Institution. Includes the National Museum of American History, which contains several sports-themed items. 1400 Constitution Avenue NW. Blue or Orange Line to Federal Triangle. (You could, of course, take the same lines to Smithsonian Station, but Fed Triangle is actually a shorter walk.)

The University of Maryland, inside the Beltway at College Park, 10 miles northeast of Nationals Park, can be accessed by the Green Line to College Park and then a shuttle bus. (I tried that for the 2009 Rutgers-Maryland game, and it works very well.) Byrd Stadium is one of the nation's best college football stadiums, but I wouldn't recommend sitting in the upper deck if you're afraid of heights: I think it's higher than Shea's was.

Across from the stadium is Cole Field House, where UMd played its basketball games from 1955 to 2002. The 1966 and 1970 NCAA Championship basketball games were played there, the 1966 one being significant 'ecause Texas Western (now Texas-El Paso) played an all-black starting five against Kentucky’s all-white starters (including future Laker, Knick and Heat coach Pat Riley and Denver Nuggets star Dan Issel). In the 1970 Final, UCLA beat Jacksonville University.

Elvis sang there on September 27 and 28, 1974. The Terrapins won the National Championship in their final season at Cole, and moved to the adjacent Comcast Center thereafter.

Remember that Final Four run by George Mason University? They're across the Potomac River in Fairfax, Virginia. Orange Line to Virginia Square-GMU. They're 20 miles to the west. The U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland is 32 miles east. The University of Virginia is 118 miles southwest, in Charlottesville. Virginia Polytechnic Institute, a.k.a. Virginia Tech, is 272 miles southwest, in Blacksburg.

I also recommend visiting the capital's museums, including the Smithsonian complex, whose most popular buildings are the National Archives, hosting the originals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; and the National Air and Space Museum, which includes the Wright Brothers' Flyer, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, Chuck Yeager's Glamorous Glennis (the 1st plane to break the sound barrier), and several space capsules including Apollo 11. The Smithsonian also has an annex at Dulles International Airport out in Virginia, including a Concorde, the space shuttle Discovery, and the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the 1st atomic bomb.

One of the 1960 Presidential Debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was held in Washington -- still the only Presidential Debate held in the capital. On October 7, it was hosted not in a sports arena, a theater or a college auditorium, but in front of no live audience other than the panelists and the TV crew, at the studios of the NBC affiliate, WRC, Channel 4, 4001 Nebraska Avenue NW. Red Line to Tenleytown-AU.

In spite of what some movies have suggested, you won't see a lot of tall buildings in the District.  The Washington Monument is 555 feet high, but, other than that, no building is allowed to be taller than the Capitol. Exceptions were made for two churches, the Washington National Cathedral and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and the Old Post Office Pavilion was built before the "unwritten law" went into effect. In contrast, there are a few office buildings taller than most D.C. buildings across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, and in the neighboring Maryland cities of Silver Spring and New Carrollton.

If you're into looking up "real" TV locations, the Jeffersonian Institute on Bones is almost certainly based on the Smithsonian. And the real NCIS headquarters is a short walk from Nationals Park, on Sicard Street between Patterson and Paulding Sts. Whether civilians will be allowed on the Navy Yard grounds, I don't know; I've never tried it. I don't want to get stopped by a guard. I also don't want to get "Gibbs-slapped" -- and neither do you.

Of course, The West Wing was based at the White House, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The best-known D.C.-based show that didn't directly deal with government officials was Murphy Brown. The FYI studio was said to be across the street from Phil's, whose address was given as 1195 15th St. NW. Neither the bar nor the address actually exist, but if the address did, it would be at 15th & M Streets. This would put it right down the block from 1150 15th, the headquarters of The Washington Post.

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Have fun in the Nation’s Capital. And if Teddy wins, that's okay. If the Nats win, well, maybe not. But a loss in Washington is usually a better experience than even a win in Philly.