He is a lucky man who finds himself on a train, bound for a distant ballpark, while breaking the seal on a pack of playing cards. And if those cards are Bicycle brand and the train is leaving Penn Station (where Babe Ruth first set foot in New York City as a Yankee) and he's booked into the Quiet Car, bereft of bleating cellphones, then it might as well be 1920.
Every baseball season should start on a train. Railroads have inspired some of baseball's best nicknames, from Walter (Big Train) Johnson to Clarence ( Choo Choo) Coleman, a man incapable of staying still even when squatting behind home plate. Asked to name the toughest man he ever pitched to, teammate Chuck Churn replied, "Coleman."
We have ballparks on railways ( Camden Yards, as the name suggests, is on the old B&O rail yard in Baltimore) and railways in ballparks. (The Astros play at the former Union Station and keep a locomotive in leftfield.) We have ball clubs named for railways. (The Gary SouthShore RailCats of the Northern League come to mind.) But we are, alas, no longer blessed with ball clubs on railways, sluggers in sleeper cars, traversing the big leagues from Boston to St. Louis.
"We did take the train to Baltimore a few years ago," says Phillies outfielder Doug Glanville, wistfully. "We played cards and kicked back. But in the blink of an eye we were there."
And so I resolved not to blink while boarding the serpent-headed Acela Express in New York City, bound for Philadelphia, my eyes shifting from passenger to passenger as if I were Hercule Poirot on the Orient Express.
Only days earlier Amtrak police had arrested on this very line, at my very destination, a suspected jewel thief. When the Indians were in town to play a preseason game against the Phillies at Philadelphia's new Citizens Bank Park, Tribe leftfielder Matt Lawton had more than $100,000 worth of jewelry heisted from a Gucci bag in his room in the luxe Ritz-Carlton. While the man apprehended at 30th Street Station—with the bag, a ticket and several watches—did not have Lawton's loot (he was charged with ticket fraud and drug possession), the case did highlight, and not for the first time, this fact: Almost any professional athlete, regardless of achievement, could replace the monocled man on the Monopoly card as the cartoon manifestation of richness.
In baseball a player who strikes out four times in a game is said to have earned the Golden Sombrero, and—given the casual decadence now on display in sports—it won't be long before that player is given a real, 14-carat gilded sombrero.
But I'm getting off the track, an undesirable thing to do on a train, from which I disembark too soon, at 30th Street Station. In 1992, in his 120-page senior thesis at the University of Pennsylvania, Glanville studied the feasibility of building a new Phillies ballpark here, adjacent to the train station, on the edge of Center City. "It would have been real nice," says Glanville, a science and systems-engineering major who is now the Phils' part-time centerfielder. "We could take the Acela up to play in New York. But it would have cost at least twice as much [as Citizens Bank Park] and taken quite a few more years to build."
Now Glanville sits contentedly in the home clubhouse of the $458 million ballpark, next door to the rubble pile that was Veterans Stadium. Surrounded by dark wood and red leather club chairs, basking in the glow of a plasma TV, he says, "I got an A on the paper. It's now in the Hall of Fame. So I can say"—Glanville smiles—"that I'm in the Baseball Hall of Fame."
Citizens Bank Park is stunning. The statue of Steve Carlton is less stoic than the actual Steve Carlton. On the centerfield concourse, at Bull's BBQ, ex-Phil slugger Greg Luzinski mans two grills, twin Webers the size of on-deck circles, while signing caps and brushing rib racks roughly the size of the one in the opening credits of The Flintstones.