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On a warm night last June—the night I realized it was possible—I was sitting on one of the old Briggs Stadium seats bolted to my backyard patio. The voice of Ernie Harwell scratched in the night, traveling with the aid of 50,000 watts from Detroit, across Ontario and New York and into our western Massachusetts hills. My dog Willie, named for Mays, was curled at my feet. Spread before me were the American and National League schedules, anchored against the breeze by the weight of The Baseball Encyclopedia on one side and a genuine Seattle Pilots ashtray on the other. As usual, my wife took little notice of the Washington Senators cap I was wearing—until I threw it into the air with a whoop of triumph.
This is what was possible: I could, in 13 days, travel to 13 different ball parks, watch 13 games, see all 26 major league teams in action and see no team twice. I could, with the aid of a good travel agent, a light suitcase and my wife's characteristic tolerance, enter baseball heaven. I could go looking, without distraction, for the game itself and for others who love it as I do.
The key to the trip was "my discovery" of a rained-out Texas Rangers home game against Seattle on the second Monday in September. Later I learned I had misread the schedule; it had always been there, but this didn't lessen my delight. Now I could do it. I wouldn't make it to either of the domed stadiums, but the silver bodies of 18 different planes would provide me claustrophobia enough. Nor would I see a game in New York, but I had lived in that city for nearly 10 years and knew I would miss neither the expense-account high rollers in Yankee Stadium's boxes nor the brawling punks in its cheap seats. As for Shea Stadium, it's a fine place for baseball if you carry 1) earplugs to obliterate the whine of jets flying in and out of LaGuardia, and 2) a blindfold to obscure from view the charmless excuse for a ball club that plays there. I would, instead, begin in Cincinnati, where money had first been paid to baseball players 110 years earlier, and end in Chavez Ravine, where Walter O'Malley all but made the stuff grow on the palm trees outside his gates. My route would follow a path unfettered by any logic: from Cincinnati to Chicago to Detroit; then to Boston and Arlington and Kansas City; Chicago again, on to Milwaukee, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Toronto; a long flight to San Diego; and, finally, up the Coast to L.A. Along the way, I would get by on an umpire's per diem of $72, eat my main meal each day in the park and risk the threat of rainout.
I should have realized an umpire's per diem wouldn't suffice. I did know that a dinner of Fenway Franks, on my fourth day out, would place my digestive system in grave peril. But I never, not for a moment, gave any thought to a hurricane.
Inventory: comfortable shoes, drip-dry slacks, sport coat, plastic rain slicker. Three changes of shirts, socks and underclothes. Razor, shaving cream, toothbrush, deodorant, shampoo. Who's Who in Baseball, 1979 edition. A stack of large, heavy-duty scorecards set up for pitch-by-pitch scoring. Blue pen for basic scoring, red pen to highlight noteworthy plays. Plane tickets, game tickets, notebook, traveler's checks. Dramamine, aspirin, bicarbonate of soda.
On the September morning that I set off for Cincinnati, Baltimore has a 9½-game lead in the American League East. California holds a bare edge over Kansas City and Minnesota in the American League West. Houston and Pittsburgh protect tiny margins in the National League over Cincinnati and Montreal. The Red Sox, who in June had appeared likely to be the hosts for one of the two games between contenders that I planned to see—a Sunday encounter with the Orioles—have become a joke; the Phillies and the Cubs, the opponents in my other prospective big game, are now positively hilarious. But tonight, in Riverfront Stadium, Tom Seaver will be pitching. That'll be something, even though the opposition will be the inept Giants.
Sights of Cincinnati: an airport gift shop jammed with Reds regalia—posters, pennants, caps, jackets and key chains. An empty plot of land, only partially redeveloped, where Crosley Field once stood. Billboards on the freeway announcing THIS IS REDS COUNTRY! A club-owned souvenir store in a handsome office tower in the heart of downtown. And, on the banks of the Ohio, Riverfront Stadium itself, which sits, says the Reds' media guide, "in the middle of a large parking garage."
That is no accident, because Riverfront is a park designed for getting to and for leaving, not for watching in. My sister and her family live in Cincinnati, and her 8-year-old son, Joel, goes with me tonight. It is his first major league game. Joel carries his fielder's glove with him—it's a lot spiffier than the Elmer Valo pancake I took to my first game, but bringing it is no less futile (nor any less appropriate)—and joins me in a climb up to seats otherwise attainable only by a giant George Foster parabola. Seaver's image is larger on my 12-inch Sony.
The crowd—20,935—is well-behaved, good-natured, polite, and begins to leave the park in the sixth inning with the Reds on their way to a 12-3 rout. Before the game, hundreds stop by a six-foot-high greeting card to inscribe 80th-birthday good wishes to Waite Hoyt, who was a broadcaster here for many years. The national anthem isn't interrupted until the last note. The ushers, at least those in charge of these seats, are kind-faced men in their 60s, clad in bright red pants, checkered vests and plastic boaters. The program for tonight's game even tells fans what kind of banners and signs they can bring and where they are best hung—which might explain why there isn't a single banner visible. Cincinnati's proconsuls would serve baseball better if, instead, they would figure a way to ban the Giants' Day-Glo uniforms. Or stop boasting that Riverfront is "the first stadium of its kind to feature AstroTurf on nearly all the baseball diamond."
This is supposed to be a family ball park. Only fine sausages, a superb selection of local, German-style beers and an excellent baseball team save one from the suspicion that the only family that could really feel at home here is the Osmonds.