Friday, March 31, 2017

How to Be a Yankee Fan In Baltimore -- 2017 Edition

On Friday, April 7, the Yankees begin a series away to the Baltimore Orioles.

I started my "How to Be a Yankee Fan In... " series with the Orioles, because they are actually the Yankees' closest opponents, if you don't count Interleague trips to Flushing and South Philly. They are closer to New York than the Boston Red Sox: Camden Yards is 193 miles from Times Square and 202 miles from Yankee Stadium; Fenway Park, 210 and 203.

It's an easy trip, or, as Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay once said, seeing a LOT of Yankee paraphernalia in the stands, "This is really the South Bronx. About 190 miles south."

I saw 3 Oriole games at the old Memorial Stadium, and I've seen 4 games at Camden Yards, the last 2 involving the Yankees. I won't be going this week, but I highly recommend this trip -- if not now, certainly in the future. Baltimore is a good city and a very good sports town.

Before You Go. Baltimore can get quite hot in the summer, but we're in early April, so heat shouldn't be a problem. Check the Baltimore Sun website for the weather before you go. Afternoon temperatures are expected to be in the mid-50s, evenings in the low 40s. No rain is predicted for the weekend. Fortunately, Baltimore is close enough that, if there's a rainout, your raincheck will be fairly easy to use.

Baltimore is, of course, in the Eastern Time Zone, so there's no need to fiddle with your timepieces.

Tickets. It used to be that getting tickets to any Orioles home game, not just Yankee games, was hard, because they were selling Camden Yards out 44, 45, 46,000 per night. (Officially, seating capacity is 45,971, with the difference long being made up by standing room.)

Just as the 1954 arrival of the Orioles in Baltimore, 40 or so miles away, probably doomed the Washington Senators (twice, as it turned out, the originals-turned-Minnesota Twins in 1961 and the "New Senators"-turned-Texas Rangers in 1971), so, too, did the specter of a new team coming to Washington hang over the Orioles.  Edward Bennett Williams, the "superlawyer" who also owned the NFL's Washington Redskins for many years, wanted out of Memorial Stadium, which was a fine place to watch a baseball game and a great one to watch a football game. It had two major problems, however: You couldn't get in, and you couldn't get out. Driving there was bad, and public transport was every bit as bad, with the Number 3 bus constantly getting stuck in traffic on North Charles Street and then on 33rd Street.

Williams wanted a ballpark close to downtown, with easy access to Camden Station and Interstate 95 -- and thus with easier road and rail access from his Washington hometown. For years, Baltimoreans were terrified that, if he didn't get what he wanted, he would outright move the team to Washington to share Robert F. Kennedy Stadium with the 'Skins. This fear expanded after Robert Irsay moved the Colts to Indianapolis in 1984. But, just before Williams' death in 1988, a funding plan for the new ballpark got through the Maryland legislature.

New team owner Peter Angelos, once one of the biggest-spending owners in the game, was desperate to keep MLB expansion from including the Nation's Capital and established teams from moving there. He was sure that one-quarter of the Orioles' fans were from the D.C. area, and he didn't want to lose those fans. Which explains why he got plenty of freebies to D.C. power brokers, including members of Congress, White House staff, and pundits, including George Will, who became a minority owner of the franchise despite his lifelong fandom for the Chicago Cubs.

The Orioles reached the American League Championship Series in 1996, but lost to the Yankees; and again in 1997, but lost to the Cleveland Indians. In fact, the O's have played 6 ALCS games at Camden Yards since it opened in 1992, and have won only 5. (This includes 0-3 against the '96 Yanks, so since they couldn't protect their house, their fans can shut the hell up about Jeffrey Maier.)

A beanball war at Yankee Stadium in 1998, in the midst of a Yankee sweep, marked the end of the O's would-be dynasty. But people still came to Camden Yards in droves, even as the team deterioriated. In 1997, attendance peaked at 45,816 per game. As late as 2000, it was 40,704. In 2001, still 38,686.

And then, in 2002, per-game attendance dropped to 33,122. Just like that. So what happened in 2002? Or in the 2001-02 offseason? Easy: The statue of Cal Ripken was removed from third base.

You've probably gotten the joke: That wasn't a statue. That was Ripken himself, who probably played 3 years too long. But after Cal left, and took his overrated legend with him, there was no reason to watch the Orioles anymore: They stunk, and had no drawing cards.

In 2004, the last season before the Montreal Expos moved to become the Washington Nationals, O's per-game attendance was 34,300. In 2005, the Nats' first season down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, attendance fell to 32,404. The Nats weren't good, and RFK Stadium was inadequate for modern baseball, but the novelty of baseball being back in the Nation's Capital wasn't enough to make the one-quarter difference that Angelos long feared. In fact, instead of a 25 percent drop, it was a 6 percent drop. But it was a 19 percent drop from the last Cal season.

In 2010, O's per-game attendance bottomed out at 21,662, which was their their lowest since 1988, the year they lost their first 21 games en route to losing 107 for the season. That's little more than half the total from the last Cal season, but that's got little to do with the Nats simply existing an hour's drive away (at least, it's an hour's drive in theory; BaltWash Corridor traffic can be horrendous), and lots to do with the O's being pathetic. And with Stephen Strasburg having arrived, now it will be the Nats who have the iconic player (as if Ryan Zimmerman isn't already a damn good player).

So the O's were really up the creek, right? Nope, they found a way to bounce back: Winning.  In 2012, they drove the Yankees crazy all season long, taking the American League Eastern Division race down to the wire, and even facing the Yankees in the AL Division Series, before the Yankees finally emerged victorious. Per-game attendance rose to 26,610. In 2016, with the O's making the Playoffs, it was 26,285, 58 percent of capacity.

So what does this mean? It means getting tickets for O's games will still be relatively easy, although it may no longer be possible to just walk up to the ticket booth and give your request, and basically get pretty much any seat(s) you're willing to pay for.

Field Box seats are $48, Terrace Boxes are $48, Left Field seats are $39, Lower Reserves are $24, Upper Boxes are $24, Upper Reserves are $20, and Bleachers (in center field) are $24.

Getting There. It's 193 miles from Times Square to Camden Yards. Getting there is fairly easy. However, if you have a car, I recommend using it, and using the parking deck at a hotel near the ballpark. There are several.

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.
The Delaware Memorial Bridge

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 Baltimore with making only one rest stop, you’re better off using the Walt Whitman Service Area in Cherry Hill, between Exits 4 and 3. It's almost exactly the halfway point between New York and Baltimore.

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 on Interstate 295, and you'll be faced with multiple ramps signs for Interstates 95, 295 and 495, as well as for U.S. Routes 13 and 40 and State Route 9 (not the U.S. Route 9 with which you may be familiar, although that does terminate in Delaware, but considerably to the south of where you'll be). 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, at either the Chesapeake House or Maryland House rest area) before reaching the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel and Exit 53, for I-395 which empties onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and the ballpark will 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 4 hours.

Baltimore, whose airport is named for native son Thurgood Marshall, the 1st black Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, is too close to fly, just as flying from New York (from JFK, LaGuardia or Newark) to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, once you factor in fooling around with everything you gotta do at each airport, don’t really save you much time compared to driving, the bus or the train.

The train is a good option, but not a great one. Baltimore's Penn Station is at 1515 N. Charles Street, bounded on the other side by St. Paul Street, which runs southbound. Get on Charles, and you'll be going northbound, away from downtown, and you'll end up near the Museum of Art, Druid Hill Park ("Droodle Park" in Baltimorese), and the site of Memorial Stadium (now senior-citizens' housing). It's not a good neighborhood (although there are worse ones in Baltimore), and it will be out of your way. In addition, 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."
Baltimore's Penn Station, with that weird sculpture in front

Still, if you have the money – it’ll probably be $293 round-trip – Amtrak is a good option. An Acela Express (they don’t call it the Metroliner anymore) will be much more expensive, $482, but it will take about 2 hours and 15 minutes; a regular Northeast Regional about 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Bus? The old Greyhound terminal was right downtown, but it was an absolute hole. It looked like a homeless shelter. The new one is a huge improvement in terms of cleanliness, and a round-trip fare would around $60. The problem is that the terminal is at 2110 Haines Street, south of downtown. On paper, it's not unreasonable to walk from there to the NFL Ravens' stadium (currently, M&T Bank has the naming rights) and then past that to ballpark. But you'll be walking under the elevated Interstate 395, and, having done it, I can tell you: You won't like it.

From the Greyhound terminal, the Number 27 bus will take you right to the ballpark. If you want to see the Inner Harbor attractions, change by the ballpark to the Number 7 bus, theoretically in just 3 minutes. (That's what the schedule says, but we're talking night games, therefore rush hour traffic. Expect a longer trip.)

Unfortunately, New York to Baltimore -- or, more accurately, the return trip -- by Greyhound is a bad option on a weeknight. The last bus of the night leaves the "downtown" terminal at 7:30 PM. You'd have to spend the night in the city to go back by bus. Anyway, the trip is around 4 hours.

In hindsight, it's better to come down early on a Saturday, get a hotel, enjoy downtown 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 such as the Museum of Art. You'll be glad you did. There are 2 more Yanks-O's series in Baltimore in this regular season, and they're both Monday to Wednesday, with the Monday being a holiday and thus an afternoon game: May 29 (Memorial Day) to 31, and September 4 (Labor Day) to 6.

Once In the City. Named for Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Lord Baltimore, founding proprietor of the Maryland Colony, and founded in 1729, Baltimore -- from the Gaelic "Baile an Tí Mhóir," meaning "town of the big house" -- is one of those cities whose interior population shrank from the 1950s onward, due to "white flight," causing its suburbs to boom. A city of 800,000 in 1970, it has fallen to 622,000, but the metropolitan area has about 2.8 million -- roughly as many as Brooklyn. Counting their entire market -- roughly northern and eastern Maryland, plus Sussex County, southernmost Delaware, including Rehoboth Beach -- and it's about 3.4 million. Combine it with D.C. -- something neither area is fond of doing, as they don't like each other -- and it's almost 9 million.

Keep in mind that Baltimore City and Baltimore County are separate entities. (This is also true of St. Louis -- but not Philadelphia, San Francisco or Denver, where the City and the County have the same borders. And the Counties of Los Angeles, San Diego, Dallas and Milwaukee include the cities with those names, as well as other municipalities.) So if someone tells you that a location in which you're interested is in Baltimore County, you'll know it's not anywhere near downtown. Example: Towson University (the word "State" has been dropped from its name) is 8 miles north of downtown.

The city's centerpoint is Charles & Baltimore Streets. Charles separates east & west addresses, Baltimore separates north & south. Sales tax for the State of Maryland is 6 percent. That does not rise when you enter Baltimore City, or Baltimore County for that matter.

ZIP Codes for Baltimore start with the digits 212 (not to be confused with New York's old Area Code), and the suburbs with 210 and 211. The Area Code for Baltimore, its suburbs, the Northeast, and the Eastern Shore is 410, split off from the old 301 in 1991, with 443 and 667 overlaid.

Baltimore is way behind the curve when it comes to public transportation. They didn't have a subway (they call it the Metro) until 1983, and it didn't go anywhere near Memorial Stadium. As it is, the Lexington Market and Charles Center stops are each 8 blocks from Camden Yards.
The Light Rail system opened in April 1992, the same month as the new ballpark, and separate stops serve both the ballpark (and Camden Station, enabling MARC commuter-rail access from Washington and the suburbs between the two cities) and the football stadium. The Light Rail does serve Penn Station, although the closest stop to the Greyhound station on Haines Street is Hamburg Street, which is the stop for the Ravens' stadium. The regular fare for a bus, subway or light rail ride is $1.60.
Camden Yards Station light rail stop

As a result of not having a subway or a light rail until a generation ago, old habits die hard, and people overrely on the city's buses, jamming them, sometimes not even during rush hour. So I'll say it again: If you can drive, or if you can get someone to drive you, do it, and park in a downtown hotel's deck. You'll be better off walking around to the various downtown locations.

If you're coming into the city by Amtrak, when you get to Baltimore's Penn Station, pick up copies of the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post. The Post is a great paper with a very good sports section, and as a holdover from the 1972-2004 era when D.C. had no MLB team of its own, 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.

Once you have your newspapers, walk out to St. Paul Street, and catch either the Number 3 or the Number 64 bus, which will take you to downtown, to the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards areas.

Going In. Hard to believe, but this is the 25th Anniversary (26th season) for the stadium that was designed to have all the comforts of the future and all the atmosphere of the past. So now, instead of only looking like it has some history, Camden Yards actually does -- although it hasn't yet hosted a World Series. It has, however, hosted an All-Star Game, and the Playoffs 5 times, including the 1996, 1997 and 2014 American League Championship Series.
There are 5,000 parking spaces available at the ballpark (costing $6.00), but over 20,000 within a short walk of it. The official address for the ballpark is 333 W. Camden Street.

However you got there, you're most likely to walk in at the Eutaw Street gate, between the edge of the left field stands and the Baltimore & Ohio Warehouse. This area has statues of notable Orioles and of Babe Ruth. I'll elaborate in "Team History Displays."

But if you can, try to enter by the right field gate. You'll see some of the letters from the front gate of Memorial Stadium, which stood as a memorial to Baltimore City and Baltimore County losses in World Wars I and II. The bottom line of the inscription on the gate was saved: "TIME WILL NOT DIM THE GLORY OF THEIR DEEDS."
Entering by the right field gate will also enable you to get a good look at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the 2-time Super Bowl Champion Ravens, and its statue of Colts legend Johnny Unitas, and to get to what appears to be the only escalator bank at Camden Yards.

Sometimes the ballpark is "The Yards" for short. It's also been nicknamed "Comedown Yards." Nobody calls the ballpark just "Camden," or "Oriole Park," even though that's how its name officially begins. It's always referred to as "Camden Yards," named for the adjoining rail terminal, Camden Station.

It's the only MLB stadium with a name that evokes English soccer grounds, particularly the pre-Taylor Report era (up until 1990, when stadiums had to begin conversion to all-seater in the wake of the previous year's Hillsborough Disaster): "Highbury," "Anfield," "Old Trafford, "Maine Road," "White Hart Lane," "Stamford Bridge." (But nobody ever called Memorial Stadium "Venable Park" after its neighborhood. And when people talk about "The South Bronx," they're not referring to Yankee Stadium, old or new.)

The field is natural grass, and points northeast. The park is not symmetrical. The left-field pole is 333 feet from home plate, left-center a nice, close 364, the deepest point in left-center 410, straightaway center 400, right-center 373, and the right-field pole 318. Unlike its predecessor, pitcher-friendly Memorial Stadium, Camden Yards is very much a hitters' park.
Darryl Strawberry, while with the Yankees on June 17, 1998, hit a 465-foot home run. (I previously thought that Evan Longoria hit one 473 feet against the Orioles in 2010. He did, but that in Tampa Bay, not at Camden Yards.) To this day, no one has hit the Warehouse during a competitive game, although Ken Griffey Jr. did it during batting practice for the 1993 All-Star Game.

The longest homer inside Memorial Stadium was a shot to center field by Frank Howard, 470 feet. However, on May 8, 1966, Frank Robinson hit the only home run out of Memorial Stadium, down the left field line, hitting the parking lot 460 feet from home plate, before bouncing another 80 feet. A flag reading "HERE," with black letters on an orange background, was put up on a pole where the ball left the confines of the stadium. (It was among the memorabilia given away in a raffle at the Orioles' final weekend at the stadium, October 4-6, 1991.)

Every seat in Camden Yards is dark green, except for 2, which are Oriole orange: 1, in left field, which marks the spot of Cal Ripken's 278th career home run at the shortstop position, breaking the record of Ernie Banks; and 1 in right field, which marks the spot of Eddie Murray's 500th career home run.

Food. Eat. You'll be glad you did. Baltimore is a really good food city, and the concession stands reflect this.  There are plenty of stands, and the lines are usually of reasonable length. The Esskay hot dogs are good, and the beers are varied.

Boog Powell's barbecue stand, on the Eutaw Street walkway, sells good stuff, although his meats are a little too spicy for my taste. Sometimes, you can even see the big fella himself, the 1961-74 1st baseman monitoring the cooking, seeing to it that his recipes are well-cared-for. He runs it with his lookalike son, John Wesley Powell Jr. or "J.W. Powell." Like the Number 19 Phillie jerseys in honor of Greg Luzinski at Bull's BBQ in Philadelphia, Boog's employees wear his Number 26 Oriole jersey.
The Big Fella himself

Also on the Eutaw Street walkway are Baltimore Burger Bar; Esskay Gourmet, run by the company that has long sold the Orioles' hot dogs ("Esskay" as in "S.K.," for the merger of meatpacking companies Schluderberg and Kurdle), and famous for its crab mac & cheese dog (ew); Dempsey's Brew Pub and Restaurant, inside the Warehouse, named for former Oriole catcher Rick Dempsey; Natty-Boh Bar, also inside the Warehouse, complete with National Bohemian beer's one-eyed, mustachioed logo, which is iconic in the Chesapeake region (both Baltimore and Washington).

At Section 27 on the 1st base side is Flying Dog Grill, famed locally for their "Chesapeake fries," a variation on waffle fries. A recent Thrillist article on the best food at each major league ballpark
called them the best item at Camden Yards. Nearby, at Section 31, is Ole Mole (a play on the expression "Holy moly!"), a Mexican stand. Near that, at Section 37 (also upstairs at 222 and 366), is Pizza Boli's.

At Section 53 on the 3rd base side is TAKO Korean BBQ. Nearby, at Section 68, is The Chipper, serving nacho-style kettle-cooked potato chips, which come will all kinds of toppings, including that Maryland favorite, lump crabmeat. Near that, at Section 78, is Kosher Sports. And they now have a Shake Shack.

And, of course, Camden Yards sells that most Maryland of foods, crab cakes. I don't like crabmeat, but if you do, this is as good as it gets without actually going to Ocean City, Maryland.
Team History Displays. As I said, there is a nod to Oriole history at the Eutaw Street gate. Since 2004, there have been steel sculptures of the uniform numbers officially retired by the team; and, since 2012, statues of the players so honored: 4, 1968-86 manager Earl Weaver; 5, 1955-77 3rd baseman (and later broadcaster) Brooks Robinson; 8, 1981-2001 shortstop (and later 3rd baseman) Cal Ripken Jr.; 20, 1966-71 right fielder (and later manager) Frank Robinson; 22, 1965-84 pitcher (and later broadcaster) Jim Palmer; and 33, 1977-96 1st baseman Eddie Murray.
Brooks Robinson at the dedication of his statue

The Orioles will only retire a number if its wearer has been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, although the Robinsons and Ripken had their numbers retired before they were elected. For this reason, Number 7, worn by longtime coach and briefly manager Cal Ripken Sr.; Number 44, worn by former catcher and longtime coach Elrod Hendricks; and Number 46, worn by former pitcher and general manager Mike Flanagan, have not been officially retired, and they don't have statues. However, the team has not given any of these numbers out since these men died.

They have since added an inside display of the retired numbers -- but in a rather inappropriate place, over lower-level restrooms.
Since 1996 -- a little late, just missing the 100th Anniversary of his birth -- a statue of Baltimore native Babe Ruth has stood outside the Eutaw Street gate, roughly at the spot once occupied by Ruth's Cafe, a bar owned by the Babe's father, George Herman Ruth Sr. It's known as "Babe's Dream," and its sculptor, Susan Luery, is also a Baltimore native.

It shows him with a righthanded fielder's glove. This is often considered a mistake, since the Babe was lefthanded. But the first position he played at Baltimore's St. Mary's Industrial School was that of catcher, and he almost certainly didn't have a lefthanded catcher's mitt, since those are so rare, and an early 20th Century orphanage would have been unlikely to have one. So the glove might not be a mistake.
Ruth's 1st professional team was the International League version of the Orioles, in 1914, but the major league version didn't start until 1954, replacing the last one, in 1899.

As far as I know, only 1 other current big-league ballpark has a statue of a person who was never involved with the current home team in any capacity. That's Turner Field in Atlanta, which has one of Georgia native Ty Cobb. (Presumably, it has been moved to the new SunTrust Park in the suburbs.) The Olympic Stadium in Montreal has a statue of Jackie Robinson, who did play in the city for the Triple-A Montreal Royals, but never for the Expos; and, besides, Montreal doesn't currently have a major league team anyway.

The 6 Pennants that the American League version of the Orioles have won -- 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1979 and 1983 -- used to be shown as painted onto the outfield fence. Now, they, and their 3 World Series wins -- 1966, 1970 and 1983 -- are restricted to a pair of murals inside the concourse.
The old, National League version of the Orioles won Pennants in 1894, 1895 and 1896. The Triple-A version of the Orioles won the International League Pennant in 1908, 7 straight from 1919 to 1925, and again in 1944 and 1950. And the team the Orioles used to be, the St. Louis Browns, won the AL Pennant in 1944. However, there is no notation for these at Camden Yards. (It is now generally accepted that the 1901-02 American League version of the Orioles is not the same franchise that became the Yankees in 1903: The AL folded the Baltimore franchise, and started over in New York.)

There's a brick wall on the Eutaw Street walkway that features an Orioles Hall of Fame, with 73 inductees:

* From the pre-title period, 1954-65: Founding owner Jerry Hoffberger, manager/general manager Paul Richards, executive Jack Dunn III, general manager Lee MacPhail, 1st baseman Jim Gentile, outfielder Gene Woodling (the Yankees sent him there in the 18-player deal after the 1954 season that included getting Don Larsen), catcher Gus Triandos, and pitchers Hoyt Wilhelm and Milt Pappas.

* From the 1966-74 glory years: Hoffberger, managers Hank Bauer and Earl Weaver (the ex-Yankee right fielder was fired in 1968, and Weaver hired as his replacement); 3rd base coach Billy Hunter (also involved in that 1954 18-player deal), pitching coach George Bamberger; executives Frank Cashen and Harry Dalton; 1st baseman John "Boog" Powell; 2nd basemen Davey Johnson (yes, the later Met manager) and Bobby Grich; shortstops Luis Aparicio (better known for playing for the Chicago White Sox) and Rick Belanger; 3rd baseman Brooks Robinson; outfielders Frank Robinson, Paul Blair and Don Buford; catcher Elrod "Ellie" Hendricks; and pitchers Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Jim Palmer, Stu Miller, Steve Barber, Dick Hall and Eddie Watt.

* From the 1977-84 contention: Hoffberger; GM Hank Peters; Weaver, coaches Hunter, Hendricks, 3rd base coach Cal Ripken Sr. and pitching coach Ray Miller; 1st basemen Lee May and Eddie Murray; 2nd baseman Rich Dauer; shortstops Belanger and Cal Ripken Jr.; 3rd baseman Doug DeCinces; outfielders Ken Singleton (now a Yankee broadcaster), Al Bumbry, John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke; catcher Rick Dempsey; and pitchers Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martinez, Tippy Martinez (no relation), Scott McGregor and Mike Boddicker,

* From the 1985-95 period that closed Memorial and opened Camden Yards: Both Ripkens, Manager Johnny Oates, coach Hendricks; catcher Chris Hoiles, and pitchers Gregg Olson and Mike Mussina (later with the Yankees).

* From the 1996-97 Playoff berths: Davey Johnson, back as manager; coach Hendricks; Ripken, Hoiles, Mussina, 2nd baseman Roberto Alomar, shortstop Mike Bordick, and outfielders Brady Anderson, B.J. Surhoff and Harold Baines.

* Since 1998: Ripken and 3rd baseman Melvin Mora.

* Crossing the eras: Broadcasters Chuck Thompson and Bill O'Donnell; public-address announcer Rex Barney (formerly a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers); trainers Eddie Weidner, Ralph Salvon and Richie Bancells; public relations director Bob Brown; minor league director Lenny Johnston; scouts Don Pries, Walter Youse and Fred Uhlman; traveling secretary Phil Itzoe; director of community relations Julie Wagner; clubhouse attendant Ernie Tyler; and Baltimore cabdriver turned superfan Wild Bill Hagy.

In 1999, Brooks and Cal were named to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. That same year, they, Frank, Palmer, Murray, and 1890s Oriole Willie Keeler were named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Players. Wee Willie, just 5-foot-4 and maybe 140 pounds, was the earliest, and smallest, player so honored. Ripken was chosen by Oriole fans in the 2006 DHL Hometown Heroes poll.

The Orioles have not retired any numbers from the Browns, nor elected any to their team Hall of Fame. Even if they wanted to, who would they take? The Browns' only real members of the big Hall of Fame in Cooperstown were shortstop Bobby Wallace and 1st baseman George Sisler, and they played before numbers were worn. When the 1st All-Star Game was played, only 1 Browns player was selected, Sam West. And that was the highlight of his career.

There is a museum partially dedicated to the team, which I'll describe in more detail in "Sidelights."

The Orioles have plaques on Eutaw Street for every home run hit there. It's been done 78 times. It's been done 9 times by 6 Yankees: Paul O'Neill in 1996, Jason Giambi in 2005, Johnny Damon in 2007, Giambi again on back-to-back days in 2008, Robinson Cano later in 2008, Nick Swisher in 2011, Curtis Granderson in 2012, and Granderson again in 2013.
Stuff. Souvenir stands dot the Camden Yards concourses every few yards, and when I was there in June 2010, some of them sold Yankee T-shirts as well as Oriole gear. I don't know if they do this for other teams -- I haven't been there for a game with an Oriole opponent other than the Yankees since 1999 -- but while I appreciate the effort to pander to visiting fans, I also find it troubling: It suggests that they think that their own stuff might not be good enough.

The Warehouse includes a team store, but if you're looking for nostalgia items, your luck will be limited. They do see B. Robinson 5, Ripken 8, F. Robinson 20, Palmer 22 and Murray 33 jerseys, but that's about it.

If you're looking for Oriole history DVDs, forget it, although it probably shouldn't be too hard, somewhere nearby, to find the official World Series highlight films, sold in an Orioles package of 1966, 1970 and 1983. While a 40th Anniversary video was released on VHS in 1994, there appears not to have been a DVD released for the 50th in 2004 or the 60th in 2014. There a commemorative DVD for Ripken, though.

As for books, the best single-volume history of the team is Baltimore Orioles: 60 Years of Magic, written by Jim Henneman and Jim Palmer. It was updated in 2015 to include the previous season's run to the ALCS. Henneman, now 81 years old, worked in the Triple-A Orioles' clubhouse at Municipal Stadium before it was converted into Memorial Stadium, worked in the press box after the conversion, and wrote for the Baltimore News American and the Baltimore Sun, and thinks he's seen more Orioles games than anyone.

Published last year was Skipper Supreme: Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Oriolesby Todd Karpovich and Jeff Seidel. Begging the question, how can a skipper be supreme if, in 25 seasons, with 4 different teams, he's never won a Pennant?

During the Game. A recent Thrillist article on "Baseball's Most Intolerable Fans" ranked Oriole fans 25th -- in other words, the 6th most tolerable. They're right: You do not need to fear wearing your Yankee gear to Camden Yards. Although Baltimore is an old, tough, gritty Northeastern city, home to two tough, gritty, much-honored TV crime dramas (Homicide: Life On the Street and The Wire), their fans will not fight you or provoke you into a fight. O's fans are generally classy. And they know the game, and they don't want to ruin their experience by mixing it up with outsiders.

They will, however, boo you and your fellow Yankee Fans when you chant, "Let's Go Yankees!" They don't like it when you (and Red Sox fans, and, with Interleague play coming in, fans of the Mets, Phillies and Nats) take over their ballpark, but they know fighting isn't the answer. This is something some Red Sox fans have yet to learn.

The Thursday night game between the Orioles and the Yankees has a promotion. Every Monday and Thursday home game, former Orioles players will sign autographs on Eutaw Street as part of the Orioles Alumni Autograph Series, beginning 1 1/2 hours before game time. (In case of inclement weather, location will be on the lower concourse near home plate fan assistance.)

The Friday night game will be Student Night. The Sunday afternoon game will be Kids' Opening Day, with all fans age 14 and under getting an "Orioles Kids' Fedora." The Monday, May 29 game will be Orioles Memorial Day T-Shirt Day, and there will be Orioles Alumni signing autographs on the Eutaw Street promenade between right field and the Warehouse. The Labor Day game on September 4 will also be a T-Shirt Day and an Alumni Autograph Series day.

The Orioles are wearing sleeve patches honoring the 25th Anniversary of the ballpark.
There is one thing that might bother you at the start of the game. "The Star-Spangled Banner," played at baseball games since at least 1918 and our official National Anthem since 1931, was written in Baltimore, by city resident Francis Scott Key, following the Battle of Fort McHenry on September 14, 1814. The city's connection with the song remains strong, and since the 1979 Pennant season, it has been a tradition at Orioles games for fans to yell out the "Oh" in the line, "Oh, say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave." In this case, "O" is short for "Oriole."

It was started in the upper deck of Section 34, on the 1st base side of Memorial Stadium, by a woman named Mary Powers. Nearby was Wild Bill Hagy, the cabdriver from neighboring Dundalk, known for his physical resemblance to Hank Williams Jr. and his body-spelling "O-R-I-O-L-E-S" cheer. He picked it up, and soon the entire section, and by the postseason the entire stadium, was doing it.

In theory, this is cute. In actual practice, I find it grossly offensive. It trivializes the event the song commemorates. My 1st visit for a Yanks-O's game was on September 11, 2004. As Baltimore was still (for 3 more weeks, anyway) the closest MLB team to D.C., they had Pentagon rescue workers throw out the ceremonial first ball to some Yankees, representing New York and the World Trade Center. But when they sang the "O!" I said, "Not today, people!" They still do it.

To make matters worse, this is done at other sporting events. I heard it in September 2009 when Rutgers went down to the University of Maryland to play football. I understand: While the College Park campus is inside the Capital Beltway, UM wouldn't be the athletic powerhouse it's become without kids from Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

I heard it in the summer of 2006 when the Yankees played the Washington Nationals in an Interleague game at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, and I heard it again that Autumn when I went to see the New Jersey Devils play the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center.

Baltimore doesn't have an NHL team, and never has, although they briefly had the Baltimore Blades in the World Hockey Association. And a lot of Nats fans grew up with the O's as their MLB team, and old habits die hard. But the D.C.-area natives booed the hell out of the "O!" shouters at both the Nats game and the Caps game. (At the former, the Nats trailed the Yankees 8-2 but came back to win, 9-8, oy; at the latter, the Devils embarrassed the Caps, 4-1.)

I've never been to a basketball game in the D.C. area -- Washington Bullets/Wizards, University of Maryland, Georgetown University or George Mason University -- but I have it on good authority that the "O!" is done at games of the Ravens, the minor-league Aberdeen Ironbirds (owned by the Ripken brothers, adjacent to their Havre de Grace hometown), and the minor-league Norfolk Tides, even before it became the Orioles' top farm club in 2007.

From 1969 to 2006, the Tides, previously known as the Tidewater Tides, was a Met farm club. That's 240 miles from Camden Yards, but apparently they still do the "O!" I don't know if they do it on at Delmarva Shorebirds games in Salisbury on the Eastern Shore. (They're in the Lakewood BlueClaws' league, and not far from Ocean City, Maryland. Maybe I'll check them out someday.)

At any rate, the Orioles hold auditions to sing the Anthem, instead of having a regular singer. When they closed Memorial Stadium in 1991, they asked the fans to sing it a cappella before the next-to-last game, and they had the Baltimore Colt Marching Band play it before the very last. (Both times, the fans shouted out the "O!" They became the Marching Ravens when the new stadium opened in 1998.)

During the team's final regular season homestand, and during the postseason if they make it, in a tradition they started at Memorial Stadium during the 1979 postseason, the Orioles fly a copy of the 15-star, 15-stripe flag made famous by the Battle of Fort McHenry, the original "Star-Spangled Banner," and the First Army Band plays the National Anthem.

The center field scoreboard is sponsored by the Baltimore Sun. Note the Oriole weathervanes at the corners, the big block letter "THE" and "SUN" flanking the paper's "Light for All" coat of arms, and a clock on top of that with the BALTIMORE SUN letters taking the place of the numbers.
May 24, 2014. The Oroles lost to Cleveland, 9-0.
You're reading that right: The O's gave up the DH that day.

Another tradition that started in 1979 was the mascot: The Oriole Bird (or just "The Bird") was hatched out of a giant egg on the field at the home opener, trying to ride the Seventies successes of the San Diego Chicken and the Phillie Phanatic. His head was designed to look like the Oriole logo used on the team's caps from 1966 to 1988, and again since 2012. (Note: With that cap, the O's have reached the postseason 10 times; with all other cap designs, twice.) However, more often than not these days, he wears a cap with the "O's" logo.
The Bird, with Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal

At the 7th inning stretch, after they sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," they go into "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" by John Denver. It was suggested by shortstop Mark Belanger in 1975, as Oriole management was looking for "new songs" to appeal to young fans. During the 1979 World Series, Denver himself came to Memorial Stadium and sang it from the top of the Oriole dugout, along with the Oriole Bird mascot.
John Denver, on a later visit to Camden Yards

I hate that song. And it makes no sense for them. Come on, Baltimore, you're a Northeastern city of over 600,000 people. You're supposed to be tough and urban. You've got a subway, for crying out loud. Stop with this "country boy" nonsense!

Well, you got you a wife, she's a cousin you diddle...
This is what a real oriole looks like.

During the Orioles' heyday in the 1970s, a club song, appropriately titled "Orioles Magic (Feel It Happen)," was composed by Walt Woodward, and they play it after home wins.

After the Game. Don't worry about Oriole fans talking trash to you if they manage to beat you. A few might, but most won't. This isn't Boston. It isn't even Toronto, where the Blue Jays fans take a lot more liberties than their team has earned (since 1993, anyway).

If you want to get a drink before or after the game, there are plenty of choices near the ballpark, including Slider's Bar & Grill (504 Washington Blvd.), Pickles' Pub (520 Washington Blvd.), and the Goddess (38 S. Eutaw Street -- I realize that the last one's name makes it sound like a strip club, or maybe a lesbian bar, but it's neither). Going to Harborplace for a late meal/snack/drink only works for day games, as they close at 9:00 at night.

Smaltimore is a bar known as a hangout for Yankees and football Giants fans. 2522 Fait Avenue, in the neighborhood of Canton, east of downtown. Bus 7 from downtown. No Idea Tavern is known to cater to Jets fans. 1649 S. Hanover Street, in Federal Hill, south of downtown. Bus 1, 3 or 64 from downtown.

Royal Farms, a.k.a. RoFo, a convenience store chain similar to 7-Eleven, has stores throughout Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The closest one to the ballpark is at 36 Light Street, at Lombard Street. Actually, the Royal Farms Arena is closer. (Someone told me they're Baltimore's answer to Wawa, but they're really not, because they don't have the range of specialty sandwiches, bowls and drinks that Wawa has.)

If you came to Baltimore by Amtrak, and you're not spending the night, be advised that the last train of the night leaves Penn Station at 10:54 PM (and arrives at New York's Penn Station at 1:40 AM), and since Yanks-O's games tend to last over 3 hours, you could be in trouble. You could take Bus 36, leaving from Baltimore Street & Eutaw Street (4 blocks north of the ballpark) at 10:21; Bus 11, leaving from Hopkins Place & Pratt Street leaving at 10:23 (2 blocks east of Eutaw, going southbound before turning left at Conway Street and again at Charles Street to head north); Bus 3, leaving from Charles Street & Pratt Street in front of Kona Grill (4 blocks east of Eutaw) at 10:24; or the Light Rail at 10:16.

If you're trying the Light Rail, make sure you go to Convention Center station (not Camden Yards), on Howard Street between Conway & Pratt Streets, and get on a train marked "PENN STATION," so you'll be taken directly into the station. Do not get on a train marked "MT. WASHINGTON" or "HUNT VALLEY," or you'll end up in the suburbs of Baltimore County. They might be a nice place to visit, but not now.

If your visit to Baltimore is during the European soccer season, which is now approaching its climax, the best bar in town to watch your team is probably Slainte Irish Pub and Restaurant. (The name is the Gaelic toast, meaning "health," roughly equivalent to "Salud," "L'chaim," "Na zdrowie," and so on.) 1700 Thames Street, in Fell's Point. Bus 10 or 11.

Sidelights. Despite currently having only 2 major league sports teams -- the metro area could probably support another -- Baltimore is a city with a rich sports history.

Just to the east of the ballpark is Camden Station, the former terminal of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. (If you play Monopoly, this was the B&O Railroad.) From 2005 to 2015, it was home to the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards. However, the Museum's lease ran out, and it closed.

* M&T Bank Stadium. The home of the Baltimore Ravens since 1998 is part of the Camden Yards complex, just to the south of Oriole Park, separated by a ramp from I-395 that becomes Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Its official address is 1101 Russell Street.
The Ravens' stadium, with the Orioles' park in the background

It has hosted 2 Super Bowl winners, several games by touring international soccer clubs, and 2 games of the U.S. national soccer team: A July 21, 2013 win over El Salvador, and a July 18, 2015 win over Cuba. It has hosted the Army-Navy Game in 2000, 2007, 2014 and 2016.

* Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. Three blocks from the ballpark, to the west, at 216 Emory Street, is the rowhouse where the Great Bambino was born on February 6, 1895. It, and the rowhouse next door, are now the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Baltimore Orioles Museum.

The Museum features exhibits on the Babe, and on the history of baseball in the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland. It's open 10 AM to 5 PM, Tuesday through Sunday -- but not at all on Mondays -- meaning you can visit before Orioles home games, even on Sundays (but not Mondays).
* Baltimore Civic Center. Also 3 blocks away from the ballpark, to the north, bounded by Baltimore, Howard and Lombard Streets and Hopkins Place, is the Royal Farms Arena, formerly known as the Baltimore Civic Center.

This arena, built in 1962, hosted the NBA's Baltimore Bullets (now the Washington Wizards) from 1963 to 1973; the Beatles on September 13, 1964; Elvis Presley on November 9, 1971 and May 29, 1977; and Martin Luther King's "Race and the Church" speech in 1966.
The American Basketball Association team known as the New Orleans Buccaneers, the Memphis Pros, the Memphis Tams and the Memphis Sounds, was supposed to play the 1975-76 season there as the Baltimore Claws. They played 3 exhibition games: In Salisbury, Maryland; in Cherry Hill, New Jersey; and at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Maryland. They never did play in Baltimore, or in a regular-season game: Financially, the team was a disaster, and the Civic Center's management padlocked their offices. They folded right before the season began, and that's the last time Baltimore had a basketball team that even pretended to be major league.

The Baltimore area appears not to have forgiven the Bullets/Wizards for heading down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway over 40 years ago: According to recent polls, NBA fandom in Baltimore seems to be divided between the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. Indeed, even in D.C. itself, the Wizards only have plurality support, as most of the people working for the federal government and living in the D.C. metro area have kept their hometown fandom, often rooting against the Wizards at the Verizon Center. (This is also a problem for the Nationals and Capitals, and used to be one for the Washington Senators. Not so much for the Redskins: They own the town, far more than any politician ever has.) Nevertheless, the Wizards, playing 37 miles from the Inner Harbor, remain the closest NBA team.

The closest that Charm City has ever had to having a major league hockey team was in 1975, when the Michigan Stags of the World Hockey Association folded, and the WHA sold the team to Baltimore buyers, and they played out of the Civic Center, winning only 3 out of 17 games before folding for good after the season.

According to an article in the January 8, 2016 edition of Business Insider, the Capitals are the most popular NHL team in the State of Maryland, despite the success of the nearby Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Arena has been a mainstay in minor-league hockey in the Northeast, featuring the Baltimore Clippers (1962-77), the Baltimore Skipjacks (1981-93), and the Baltimore Bandits (1995-97). But despite also having hosted arena football, indoor soccer (the Baltimore Blast won the 1984 Major Indoor Soccer League title, and a newer version has won 7 league titles), lacrosse (a popular sport in Maryland), and concerts, the only current tenant is the reborn Blast.

If Baltimore ever did get a new NBA team, the metro area would rank 20th in population among NBA markets. It would also rank 20th among NHL teams. It does not appear that the Washington teams would claim territorial rights and block such a team being placed in Charm City.

The problem with the arena isn't its condition: Despite its age, it's in good shape. The problem is the cramped conditions, with narrow concourses, not enough concession stands and restrooms, and the installation of wider seats has reduced the capacity to 11,271. (To put that in perspective: The smallest current NBA arena in New Orleans, 16,867; in the NHL, Winnipeg with 15,294.) Several plans to replace it have been floated, but none has been approved.

* Site of Memorial Stadium. "The Insane Asylum on 33rd Street" (1954-2002), and its predecessor Municipal Stadium (1922-1953), were at 900 E. 33rd Street, at Ellerslie Avenue. It hosted the minor-league Orioles from 1944 to 1953, the major-league Orioles from 1954 to 1991, the Colts from 1947 to 1950 and again from 1953 to 1983, the Canadian Football League's Baltimore Stallions in 1994 and 1995, and the NFL’s Ravens in 1996 and 1997.
The Army-Navy Game was played on the site as Municipal Stadium in 1924 and 1944. Memorial Stadium didn't host the Army-Navy Game, but it did host a few University of Maryland football games. (Despite having the Baltimore name, the USFL's Stars, in their last season of 1985, actually played at UMd's Byrd Stadium, closer to Washington.)

It hosted the home leg of the Baltimore Bays' National Professional Soccer League Final against the Oakland Clippers, but the Clippers won the title in the Oakland leg. It hosted 2 U.S. soccer games, a 1972 draw with Canada and, in one of its last events, a 1997 loss to Ecuador.
Senior citizen housing has gone up on the site. The Number 3 bus goes up Charles Street and turns right onto 33rd.

* Previous Baltimore Ballparks. Before Camden Yards, before Memorial Stadium, and before Municipal Stadium on the same site as the preceding, teams named the Baltimore Orioles played at several other locations:

* 1872 to 1890, Newington Park: 2301 Pennsylvania Avenue, in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood in West Baltimore. Metro to Penn North, or Bus 7.
* 1891 to 1899, Union Park: 2500 Guilford Avenue. The National League Orioles won 3 Pennants here, and nearly 2 others.
* 1901 to 1915, Oriole Park: 400 Ilchester Avenue. The 1st American League Orioles played their desultory 1901 and '02 seasons here. Then the International League Orioles were founded. This was Babe Ruth's 1st professional home field.
* 1914 to 1944, also called Oriole Park: 2900 Barclay Street. The Federal League's Baltimore Terrapins played here in 1914 and '15, and when the FL folded, the IL Orioles made the short move in. But they had to leave after a fire on July 4, 1944, and played at Municipal Stadium until its conversion to Memorial Stadium, allowing the St. Louis Browns to restore the city to the majors.
Union Park, home of the Hanlon-McGraw-Keeler 1890s Orioles

These last 3 locations are in the Venable Park neighborhood north of downtown, not far from the site of Municipal and Memorial Stadiums. They can be reached from downtown by Bus 3, and are about a 10-minute walk apart. Worth visiting in daylight, but I wouldn't do it at night.
Oriole Park, before the 1944 fire

The Baltimore Black Sox, Negro League Pennant winners in 1929, played at Maryland Baseball Park, at Russell Street and Brush Street, across from where the Greyhound Terminal now stands, south of Camden Yards.

The Baltimore Elite Giants (that's pronounced EE-lite, not El-EET) played there, and at the 1914-44 Oriole Park, and at Municipal Stadium, but played most of their home games at Bugle Field. Led by Hall-of-Famers Leon Day and Roy Campanella, and later by Campy's future Brooklyn Dodger teammates Jim Gilliam and Joe Black, they won Pennants in 1939 and 1949, but losing players to the major leagues after integration knocked them out, and they folded in 1950, playing that last year at Municipal Stadium. Bugle Field was at 1601 Edison Highway, at Federal Street, 3 miles northeast of downtown. Bus 5.

* Pimlico Race Course. This track opened in 1870, with a race won by a horse named Preakness. In 1873, the Preakness Stakes began to be run there. It became the 2nd leg of U.S. thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown. It was the site of the 1938 match race between 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral (son of Man o' War) and his own nephew, underdog-turned-folk hero Seabiscuit. Seabiscuit famously won. 5201 Park Heights Avenue. Metro to Rogers Station, then Bus 44.

* Site of Baltimore Coliseum. This 4,500-seat arena opened in 1930. The original Baltimore Bullets began playing there in 1944, won the American Basketball League title in 1946, joined the Basketball Association of America in 1947, won the title in 1948 under player-coach Buddy Jeannette, became part of the NBA after the merger of the BAA with the National Basketball League in 1949, and folded in 1954.
The Baltimore Coliseum in its final days

The Coliseum closed after the Civic Center opened in 1962, but wasn't torn down until 2008. An auto parts store is on the site now. 1750 Windsor Avenue, in the Penn-North neighborhood. Metro to Penn-North.

* Soccer. Baltimore does not currently have a professional outdoor soccer team, at any level. From 2011 to 2016, the Baltimore Bohemians plaedy in the USL Premier Development League, the 4th tier of American soccer, but announced in January that they wouldn't play the 2017 season.

It was a development club -- or a "farm team," as we would say in baseball -- of Washington's MLS team, D.C. United. When DCU couldn't get a new stadium built in the District, Baltimore's Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, made them an offer, and it looked like they might move. They did, however, get a new stadium site in the District, which is scheduled to open next year. Still, New York Red Bulls fans continue to taunt them as "Baltimore United."

As I said, the Royal Farms Arena is home to the Baltimore Blast. The Baltimore Bays played in the old North American Soccer League, but couldn't come close to filling Memorial Stadium. That's the last time the city had a "top flight" outdoor soccer team.

* Site of St. Mary's Industrial School. If the old Yankee Stadium was "The House That Ruth Built," St. Mary's Industrial School was "The House That Built Ruth." From 1866 to 1950, including Ruth's residence from 1902 to 1914, it was a combination orphange, vo-tech school, and reform school. After a fire burned down all but one building on the campus in 1919, the Babe took the school's band on tour to raise funds for new buildings.

The Babe continued to donate to the only school he ever knew, until his death in 1948. But declining enrollment, and the Babe's no longer being available to raise money for it, led to its closing in 1950. The Archdiocese of Baltimore, recognizing its place in the local Catholic community, bought the campus, and in 1962 opened Cardinal Gibbons High School on the site. (James Gibbons was Archbishop of Baltimore from 1877 until his death in 1921, and likely knew Ruth. After John McCloskey of New York, he was only the 2nd U.S.-based Cardinal in the Church.)

But "CG," too, faced declining enrollment, and closed in 2010. Adjacent St. Agnes Hospital bought the site, and is expanding on the land, while keeping the athletic facilities, including Babe Ruth Field, the spot where little George Herman Ruth Jr. learned to play that game for which his legend still does more than it even did for him. 3225 Wilkens Avenue, in the Morrell Park neighborhood in West Baltimore. Bus 35.

* New Cathedral Cemetery. Several of the 1890s Orioles are buried here, including John McGraw, who went on to become the legendary manager of the New York Giants. (Willie Keeler, who played for all 3 of the old New York teams as well as the "Old Orioles," and was the Yankees' 1st superstar from 1903 to 1909, is not: He's buried at Calvary Cemetery in Queens.) 4300 Old Frederick Road, west of downtown. Bus 20 from downtown.

* Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens. Colts legend Johnny Unitas is buried here. So is Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon's 1st Vice President, who had served as Governor of Maryland and Chief Executive of Baltimore County, and had to resign the Vice Presidency in 1973 (during the baseball Playoffs) because of crimes committed while serving in each of those offices.

200 E. Padonia Road, in the northern suburb of Timonium, Baltimore County. Metro to Fairgrounds Station, then transfer to Bus 9 to York Road, then a 1-mile walk east on Padonia.

* Inner Harbor. No visit to Baltimore is complete without a trip to the Inner Harbor, home to the Harborplace mall. James Rouse, who revitalized New York's South Street Seaport and Boston's Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market, and designed Philadelphia's Gallery at Market East Station (now Jefferson Station), was from Baltimore, and he wanted to give his hometown the best one of all.

He may have succeeded. Aside from the Orioles team store, the highlight may be The Fudgery, where the people making and serving the fudge sing all day. Harborplace is at the intersection of Light & Pratt Streets, and there's a Light Street Pavilion (with mostly food and tourist trinkets) and a Pratt Street Pavilion (with mostly clothes).

To the east of Harborplace is the USS Constellation museum, a pentagonal skyscraper named the World Trade Center (Boston, Montreal and San Francisco also have buildings with that name we so often associated with New York from 1973 onward), the National Aquarium, a Hard Rock Café, the Pier Six concert Pavilion, and the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House at 844 E. Pratt Street.

The Flag House is where the 15-star, 15-stripe Fort McHenry flag that "was still there" was sewn, not where it is now (it's at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington), and it's also a museum dedicated to the War of 1812 and Baltimore's pivotal role in that conflict, for which 200th Anniversary commemorations were held from 2012 to 2015.

Beyond that is Fell's Point, which is Baltimore’s Little Italy, and is loaded with kitschy stores and bars. To the south of Harborplace is the Maryland Science Center, the American Visionary Art Museum (not to be confused with the Baltimore Museum of Art), and Federal Hill, a neighborhood which is the closest thing Baltimore has to a Greenwich Village, a neat (as in both "tidy" and "cool") place to walk around when you've got an hour or two with nothing to do until it's time to go to the game.

Federal Hill includes the South Street Seaport-ish Cross Street Market, and my favorite Baltimore watering hole, the Abbey Burger Bistro. Officially, it's at 1041 Marshall Street, but don’t let that fool you: It's actually in a short alley off Cross Street between Light and Patapsco Streets, giving it the allure of an English-style pub. This is one of the reasons it's the home of the Charm City Gooners, the local supporters club of my favorite English soccer team, London's Arsenal FC. Like such new-to-New York chains as The Counter and Five Napkin Burger, you can build your own burger, and it caters to fans of the Orioles and Ravens; but they will put up with Yankee Fans if they're also Arsenal fans. And (assuming you have time either before or after the game), it's a reasonable walk from both the ballpark and the Greyhound terminal on Haines Street.

* Museums. I mentioned the USS Constellation, the Flag House, the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center. The Baltimore Museum of Art is one of the most renowned in the country. 10 Art Museum Drive, in the Wyman Park neighborhood, adjacent to the main campus of Johns Hopkins University. Their Archaeological Museum may also be worth a visit. Bus 3.

But if there's one thing people know about Baltimore, aside from its sports history, it's Fort McHenry National Monument, where the U.S. Army held off the British fleet on September 13, 1814, inspiring Francis Scott Key -- on one of the British ships, as he had gone, as a lawyer, to negotiate for the release of a prisoner of war -- to write "The Defence of Fort M'Henry," which was given the tune of an old English drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven," and became known as "The Star-Spangled Banner."

It was named for James McHenry, a physician, a member of the Continental Congress, a signer of the Constitution of the United States, and Secretary of War under Presidents George Washington and John Adams. Last year, on May 3, 1816, was the 200th Anniversary of his death, and the Orioles hosted the Yankees on the day. The Orioles won, 4-1.

The Fort was established in 1800, and continued as a U.S. Army base during the American Civil War. In World War I, in a move that Dr. McHenry would have appreciated, it became an Army hospital, treating returning veterans from the fields of France and Flanders. It was proclaimed a National Monument in 1939. It was where the 1st official 50-star U.S. flag was flown on July 4, 1960, and that flag is still on the grounds, as is the "storm flag" that actually flew during the battle, replaced by the much-larger "garrison flag" when the battle ended -- the flag that Key saw and is at the Smithsonian now. 2400 E. Fort Avenue. Bus 1.

The closest college sports programs are the University of Maryland in College Park, 28 miles to the southwest; and the U.S. Naval Academy in the State capital of Annapolis, 25 miles to the southeast.

UMd's Cole Field House hosted the 1966 and 1970 NCAA Final Fours. The 1966 Final featured Texas-El Paso (then Texas Western), a Southern school with an all-black starting lineup, beating Kentucky, a Southern school with an all-white starting five, one of the landmark games in basketball. The 1970 Final had UCLA beating Jacksonville University. UMd played there from 1955 to 2002, when they moved to the XFINITY Center (formerly the Comcast Center).

UMd's Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium, known as Byrd Stadium from 1950 to 2015, was where the Baltimore Stars played their 1985 USFL Championship season, because, as a condition of the settlement between the city and Colts owner Bob Irsay for moving the team to Indianapolis, no pro football team could play at Memorial Stadium until 1986. However, to get to UMd's campus without a car, you'd be better off taking Greyhound or Amtrak from Baltimore to Washington, and then taking D.C.'s Metro up to College Park; or you could take MARC from Camden Station to College Park.

The Naval Academy is a military base, so you should go to their website to check for visitor information. There is a museum on the campus. For those of you who are New Jersey Devils fans, the team's founding owner, Dr. John McMullen, was a graduate, and a naval engineer, and the school's hockey arena is named for him.

Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium seats 34,000, and has hosted Navy football and Academy graduation ceremonies since 1959. It hosted an NHL Stadium Series game on March 3, 2018, with the host Washington Capitals beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2.

550 Taylor Avenue. Bus 64 to Patapsco Avenue & Potee Street, then transfer to Bus 14. The trip takes a little over 2 hours, even though it's only 33 road miles, so you might be better off driving if you can.

Maryland has never produced a President (although Jimmy Carter was an Annapolis graduate), so there's no Presidential Birthplace or Presidential Library. The closest they've come, sadly, is the aforementioned Spiro Agnew. Martin O'Malley, Mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007, and Governor of Maryland from 2007 to 2015, ran for the Democratic nomination for President last year, but dropped out after finishing a distant 3rd behind Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Baltimore does, however, have its own Washington Monument, the 1st monument to the 1st President, completed in 1829, just 30 years after George Washington's death. It's 178 feet tall, and is the centerpiece of Mount Vernon Place, itself the centerpiece of the Mount Vernon neighborhood, named for Washington's home, north of downtown Baltimore. 699 Washington Place, at Charles & Monument Streets. Any bus that goes up Charles.

The Democratic Party made its 2nd attempt at an 1860 Convention, after a disastrous 1st one in Charleston, South Carolina, at the Front Street Theatre. It nominated Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. He lost to the man he beat in his last Senate run in 1858, Abraham Lincoln, the 1st President elected as a member of the Republican Party. The Republicans held their 1864 Convention at the same theater, renominating Lincoln. Built in 1829, it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1904. A hotel now stands on the site. Southwest corner of Front & Low Streets.

That was the only time the Republicans have had their Convention in Baltimore, but the Democrats frequently held theirs in Baltimore in the early days. They held the 1st-ever national nominating convention in 1832, renominating President Andrew Jackson, at the Athenaeum, at 110 St. Paul Street, where the Quality Inn now stands. Their 1840 Convention, renominating President Martin Van Buren, was held at Odd Fellows Hall, where the current City Hall stands at 100 Holliday Street.

Their 1852 Convention, nominating Franklin Pierce, was at the Maryland Institute, at Howard & Dolphin Streets, at the southern edge of the current MI campus, near that of the University of Baltimore and Penn Station. Mount Royal Station is on the site. Their 1872 Convention, nominating Horace Greeley, was at Ford's Grand Opera House (run by John T. Ford, who also ran Ford's Theatre in Washington, where Lincoln was killed), at 300 W. Fayette Street. Retail space is on the site now.

Their 1912 Convention, nominating Woodrow Wilson, was at the Fifth Regiment Armory, the only one of these buildings that still stands. 219 29th Division Street, on the opposite corner of Howard & Dolphin from the 1852 Convention site. Light Rail to Cultural Center.

Baltimore doesn't have a lot of tall buildings. The tallest is the Transamerica Tower, built in 1973 as the USF&G Building and later the Legg Mason Building, at 100 Light Street at Lombard Street, 528 feet high. It succeeded the old Baltimore Trust Company Building, now the Bank of America Building, built in 1924 at 509 feet, at 10 Light Street at Baltimore Street.

Don't look for TV locations from Baltimore. The best-known series set there are Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, and they were mainly set in bad neighborhoods. In particular, stay away from the west side, and the neighborhoods to the north, east and south of the Memorial Stadium site. (This includes between downtown and the old Stadium site.)

Because the Orioles were the closest team to the nation's capital from 1972 to 2004, and Ronald Reagan revived the tradition of Presidents throwing out the first ball to start the season at Memorial Stadium in 1984, and especially after Camden Yards opened in 1992, giving closer access to D.C., TV shows and movies that want to show government officials at a ballgame have used Baltimore. The films Dave and Head of State, and the TV shows The West Wing, Commander in Chief, and House of Cards have shown fictional Presidents throwing out first balls. Camden Yards was used as the Cleveland Indians' ballpark in Major League II, and it was also shown on The Wire and
Eastbound & Down.

The movie version of Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears shows the Super Bowl taking place in Baltimore, at M&T Bank Stadium, with the city being destroyed by a nuclear blast, but the stadium scenes were filmed at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. In the book, the Super Bowl was set at Mile High Stadium in Denver. Neither Baltimore nor Denver has yet hosted a Super Bowl in real life, probably due to weather concerns, although with the Meadowlands having pulled it off in decent weather, and with both Baltimore and Denver having new stadiums, maybe the NFL should them a try.


Baltimore's Sunday games are usually 1:35 starts, barring switches due to ESPN Sunday Night Baseball; while all other home games, including Saturday games, are 7:05 starts. These 3 will all be night games.

Good luck, and have fun!

Monday, March 27, 2017

How to Be a Yankee Fan In Tampa Bay -- 2017 Edition

Next Sunday, April 2, is Opening Day! That's the good news. The bad news is, the Yankees will open the season in Florida, to play a 3-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

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 the 4 days over which this series will be played - Sunday, then Monday off, then Tuesday and Wednesday - the Tampa Bay Times
(formerly the St. Petersburg Times) and the Tampa Tribune are both predicting high 80s for daytime and high 60s for night. Tuesday is the only day for which they're predicting rain, which won't be a problem during the game, but you won't be indoors the entire day.

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, especially 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 15,879 fans per home game last season -- dead last in the major leagues, 30th out of 30. It was an improvement of about 600 per game over the year before, also last.

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 $75, 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 $367 - diet cheap, especially considering the distance. (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, and, this time, not much cheaper: $332 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 12:23 the following afternoon. That's right, 25½ hours.

You can get a Greyhound bus out of Port Authority at 11:00 Saturday morning and be in St. Pete by 4:45 Sunday afternoon. That's 29 1/2 hours, but it gives you time to get to the game (and maybe even a hotel in-between).

Round-trip, $231. 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 named for the local businessman who proposed it, built in 2 spans, 1960 and 1990, and so traffic-ridden it's known locally as "the Howard Frankenstein Bridge" and "the Car-Strangled Spanner" – over Tampa Bay itself 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.
The Car-Strangled Spanner

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 you 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 380,000 people; St. Petersburg, founded in 1888, is home to 260,000; and the metro area as a whole 3.1 million, so while neither city is big, it's a decent-sized market (and thus should be drawing a lot 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. ZIP Codes in Tampa begin with the digits 335, 336 and 346; in St. Petersburg, 337; in nearby Lakeland, 338. The Area Code for Tampa is 813, 727 for the St. Petersburg side of the Bay, and 941 south of Tampa Bay.

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, more accurately, this 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, in which 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 4 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 in time for the 2018 season, a year from now, 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. According to a recent Thrillist article detailing the best food at each MLB stadium, that's it at Tropicana Field.

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. I'm reminded of the time the Yankees played the Houston Astros, and Charlie Steiner said to his radio broadcast partner John Sterling, "You know, John, I understand that, at Minute Maid Park, the balls are juiced." Sterling didn't miss a beat: "Ah, that's just pulp fiction."

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.

The Florida Sports Hall of Fame is located at Lake Myrtle Sports Park in Auburndale, 48 miles northeast of downtown Tampa and 70 miles northeast of Tropicana Field. There are 4 figures connected with the Rays who are members, all Tampa natives: Boggs, Lou Piniella (the former Yankee outfielder and manager managed the Rays from 2003 to 2005), Tino Martinez (played for the Rays in 2004) and Fred McGriff (played for the Rays 1998 to 2001 and again in 2004). It also includes a pair of Als: Al Lang, the businessman who brought spring training to Tampa Bay, and Al Lopez, Hall of Fame catcher and manager.

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 will be giving away Magnetic Schedules on Opening Night, Sunday. On May 20, also against the Yankees, it's Hawaiian Shirt Night. I guess no one told them that neither Tampa nor St. Petersburg is in Hawaii. On May 21, they will be giving away a "Super Rays Comic Book," though it now appears the only superhero they had was Chicken Man (Boggs). Joe Maddon, Jose Canseco? Both of them are super-villains. And, as the Yankees will be playing away to the Rays on September 11, the Rays will hold Salute to Service Monday that day.

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.

On occasion, the Rays will wear "throwback uniforms," even though they've only been in the majors since 1998. In 2000, when the Mets came in for an Interleague series, to promote the film Frequency, which uses the 1969 Mets as a plot device, they had the Mets wear copies of their 1969 uniforms, while the Rays wore copies of the uniforms of a team the Mets never played, the 1969 Tampa Tarpons, who, as a Cincinnati Reds farm team, wore uniforms that looked like those of the Reds. Sometimes, it will be the Tampa Smokers. Sometimes, it will be the St. Petersburg Pelicans.

But their usual "throwback," or, as some would say, "fauxback," is a variation on the uniform of the 1978 San Diego Padres. Only, if you can believe this, even more ridiculous, due to the color combination.
Don't say I didn't warn you.

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.

If  you visit during the European soccer season (which is now drawing to a close, but will start up again in mid-August), and want to see your favorite club play on TV, the best soccer bar in the Tampa Bay area is MacDinton's, in Hyde Park, about 2 miles over the Hillsborough River and west of downtown. 405 S. Howard Avenue at Azeele St. Bus 30 to Kennedy Blvd. & Howard Avenue, then 3 blocks south on Howard. Unless you're a Liverpool fan, in which case you might prefer Pokey's, at 100 E. Madison Street, downtown, near the Hillsborough River waterfront.

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.) Steinbrenner Field is also the home of the Tampa Yankees of the Class A Florida State League.

The official address is 1 Steinbrenner Drive. It's on the 4300 block of North Dale Mabry Highway (U.S. Route 92) and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (Florida Route 574). It's about 5 1/2 miles northwest of downtown Tampa, across the Hillsborough River. From downtown, take Bus 8 to MLK Blvd. & Hines Avenue.

UPDATE: Major League Baseball has been pressuring MLB teams to take their parent club's name off their minor-league teams. As a result, starting in 2018, the Yanks' FSL team will take on the name of a former team in the city, the Tampa Tarpons.

The University of South Florida (USF) also plays football at Raymond James. It also hosted the 2016-17 College Football National Championship Game, in which Clemson beat Alabama.

The U.S. national men's soccer team has played there, and has won a friendly with Ecuador, 3-1 on March 25, 2007; won a friendly with El Salvador, 2-1 on February 24, 2010; lost a CONCACAF Gold Cup match to Panama, 2-1 on June 11, 2011; and won a World Cup Qualifier with Antigua & Barbuda, 3-1 on June 8, 2012. (UPDATE: They've since won a CONCACAF Gold Cup match over Martinique, 3-2 on July 12, 2017.) The women's team has won a friendly with South Korea, 1-0 on November 8, 2008; won a friendly with France, 1-0 on June 14, 2014; and a She Believes Cup match with England, 1-0 on March 3, 2016.

It hosted Super Bowl XXXV (Giants lost to Baltimore Ravens) and XLIII (Pittsburgh Steelers beat Arizona Cardinals). 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.

(UPDATE: It was not selected for either, but when the builders of the new Los Angeles stadium announced that it wouldn't be ready until the 2020 season, the NFL's rule that a stadium had to have at least 2 full seasons completed to host a Super Bowl, to make sure it had gotten all the kinks out, the League took Super Bowl LV away from them, and gave it to Tampa, for February 7, 2021.)

North of Raymond James was Al Lopez Field. 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 United States Football League's Tampa Bay Bandits also played there.

The Giants won Super Bowl XXV there. It also hosted Super Bowl XVIII, in which the Los Angeles Raiders beat the Washington Redskins; the 1984 USFL Championship Game, in which the Philadelphia Stars beat the Arizona Wranglers; 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 Bay-based teams have won these Florida State League Pennants:

* Tampa Smokers, 1920 and 1925.
* St. Petersburg Saints, 1922, 1928 and 1964.
* Tampa Tarpons, 1957, 1959 and 1961.
* St. Petersburg Cardinals, 1966, 1967, 1973, 1975 and 1986.
* Clearwater Threshers, 1993 (as the Phillies, winning a Pennant in the same year as their parent club in Philadelphia) and 2007 (presaging their parent club's success).
* Tampa Yankees (now the new Tarpons), 1994, 2001, 2004, 2009 and 2010.
* St. Petersburg Devil Rays, 1997 (winning a Pennant before their parent club had even played a game).
* Bradenton Marauders, 2016.
* Dunedin Blue Jays, 2017.

The Amalie Arena, formerly the Tampa Bay Times Forum, formerly the St. Pete 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 and 2016 NCAA Frozen Four, and 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, even though it would rank 20th in NBA markets. 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.

The Beatles never played a concert in the Tampa Bay region. Elvis Presley played many: In Tampa, at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory on May 8 and July 31, 1955, and on February 19 and August 5, 1956; and at Curtis Hixon Hall on September 13, 1970, April 26, 1975 and September 2, 1976; in St. Petersburg, at the Floridian Theater on August 7, 1956, and the Bay Front Center on September 3, 1976 and February 14, 1977; in Sarasota at the Florida Theater on February 21, 1956; and in Lakeland, at the Polk Theater on August 6, 1956, and at the Lakeland Civic Center on April 27 and 28, 1975 and September 4, 1976.

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.

No President has ever come from Florida. Two men who served as Governor ran for the Democratic Party's nomination for the office, but neither came particularly close to the nomination: Reubin Askew dropped out after the 1984 New Hampshire Primary, and Bob Graham didn't even make it to calendar year 2004, much less the Iowa Caucuses.

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.

Steinbrenner is buried at Trinity Memorial Gardens, 12609 Memorial Drive, in New Port Richey, in Trinity, 28 miles northwest of downtown Tampa and 41 miles north of Tropicana Field. It is not reachable without a car.

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!"