Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Royals Baseball Treatment

Rule #42 – When in doubt, do it for the fun of it.
     Next stop on the Great Baseball Tour:
Kansas City.
     The alarm went off way too early on the fourth day of the tour. We were snuggled in at our hotel in Bloomington, Minnesota. Ahead of us was another long day on the road. Our drive took us due south, through the state of Iowa.
We were in I-o-Way - channeling the "Music Man"
     This was my first time crossing the border into Iowa, too. I half expected the whole drive to be one corn field after another. This was a baseball tour, right? If they build it, we will come, right? Not quite. The terrain was flat, but you could tell this area had more than its share of rain from the spring storms. The crops looked as if they were doing all right. But we passed many a “rice paddy” created when sudden rain formed a small pond, where there was none before. This section of our country is our bread basket and many of our grain crops come from this area. It was time for a quick, silent prayer for all of our farmers and their crops.
     The bus stopped at a restaurant off the Interstate for lunch. Note to tour planners everywhere – One hour is not enough time to serve lunch to a bus load of 57 people. McDonald’s excluded, but I don’t consider MickyD’s a restaurant anyway. We had a decent meal, but the whole experience seemed rushed. It could be that we were all a bit more tired and needed to stretch our legs more than we had a chance to do.
Kauffman Stadium - Home of the Kansas City Royals
     We got to Kauffman Stadium, a.k.a. the “K”, with plenty of time on our hands. The gates opened about 15 minutes after we queued up. So out in the heat we stood… and I do mean heat. You wouldn’t think that Kansas City got as hot and humid as it does. We went from cool in Minnesota to very hot in Missouri. 
     Every other stadium I visited up until then was in a downtown area. Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park is within walking distance of population and the old Philadelphia Navy Yard. Oriole Park, Nationals Park, Target Field, and the “Cell” are all plopped into the city landscape. Not the “K”. The closest landmarks are Arrowhead Stadium for the Chiefs and I-70. The two stadiums share the same parking facilities. Then there’s a whole lot of nothing. I’ve seen that a lot on my baseball travels and it makes me grateful that I’m not in charge of Major League Baseball game scheduling!
Party Porch in right field

View from center field fountain area
     Once in the stadium, the fan has a great experience waiting for them. The main concourse is easy to navigate. There is one continuous loop that is open and well-signed. The requisite Budweiser outfield party bar is in place in right field. There are plenty of charging stations for you and your pet electronics. You continue on the concourse to the outfield fountain area. This is where you find the Hall of Fame statues, the Kids Zone, and the K.C. Hall of Fame museum.
George Brett statue along Hall of Fame Row

Inside the Kansas City Baseball Hall of Fame

K.C. Monarchs were a premier Negro league team, thanks to Jackie Robinson and friends

Costumed interpreter welcomes you to the museum
Buck O'Neill offers advice and shakes your hand from the dugout bench
     The statues are of Kansas City Royal’s recent Hall of Fame inductees. The Hall of Fame museum, on the other hand, covers all of Kansas City’s baseball past. K.C. has a rich baseball tradition in both the white and Negro leagues from the early 1900’s. A period costumed gentleman greets you as you enter the left-field building. Then, it’s into a 15-minute film, in a theater with dugout seating, about the history of baseball in Kansas City. Many prominent players, including Monarch’s Jackie Robinson, were mentioned. At the end of the dugout bench is a statue of Buck O’Neill, Monarch’s manager and Cubs scout. Any visitor can shake Buck’s hand as you leave the theater area. In the main museum room, you can find displays of giveaways, George Brett’s bat and ball from his "Pine Tar Game", white and Negro league photos side-by-side, and the World Series trophy.
Royals give-aways - from hot dogs to bobbleheads
World Series trophy
Little K's Kids Zone
      Across from the Hall of Fame is the Kids Zone. This area is a family friendly area with a lot more to entertain the young-uns than I’ve seen in any other park. Kids can play some miniature golf. There is a batting cage and a miniature sized field for an easy preschool pick-up game. Kid-friendly concessions are all over in this area, too. Take you child for a merry-go-round ride or let them cool off in the splash pad. It makes for taking a soggy bottomed child to the seats, but well worth the effort in the heat.

Paul Rudd playing in the Celebrity Classic
Watching the game on the big board
     The day we visited, Paul Rudd, who was raised in the K.C. area, was back in town with a pre-game charity softball game. Early fans got to see many of the celebrity players on the field with Mr. Rudd. The event was on the main scoreboard in center field. The players were still able to do their pre-game warm-ups in the outfield. None of the hits from the celebrities made it that far.
View from the great seats
      Our seats were in the lower level, just beyond first base – prime foul ball territory. We had a great view of the honoree that got to sit in the Buck O’Neill Legacy seat behind home plate. The home team just went home that night, while the Seattle Mariners went home happy. We all went “home” happy after some fantastic fireworks at the end of the game.
Fireworks after the game
More fireworks behind the scoreboard
      This is a ball park I must revisit, preferably in cooler weather. The park itself has lots to offer a visitor; so much that it takes multiple visits to see it all. Also, I never got to have some official K.C. barbecue. There wasn’t any tourist time in the city.
I was there!
     Ahhhh…. Time now for some serious rest. The bus call was not as early for Day 5. We were just heading to St. Louis. Ok, it’s across on the whole other side of the state, but it’s still a straight drive on I-70. Can’t wait to see which team gets the St. Louis “blues”.

     To be continued – still…

Photographs by Marge McGugan. No reuse without permission.
Video courtesy of YouTube.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Minneapolis Baseball, donchaknow

Rule #37 – Everything’s better with friends and family.

     Day three of the Great Baseball Trek began early. We had breakfast in Chicago, then on the bus, with lunch somewhere in Wisconsin. I’m not exactly sure where we stopped, since I took some time to catch up on my beauty sleep on the bus. It was off to Minneapolis.
Somewhere off an interstate in Wisconsin...
...is a rest stop with several restaurants and some interesting landmarks.
     Each one of us got a chance at the mike to introduce himself. On this trip, we had a lot of older couples who love baseball, and traveling. There were a lot of teachers, counselors, and athletic directors on this trip. One entire family – three generations – sat together in one section of the bus. There were very few people who were on the trip solo. However, those who were solo, were devout baseball fans who knew not only their teams, but all of the team rivals, too. This was the place to be for baseball talk.
     Both of our tour leaders are teachers. Or, at least, they were. They may not be in the classroom any longer, but they are both coaches and athletic directors. This “teacherness” was evident each day when we got copied handouts for each town and stadium we visited.
Target Field
Construction site for the Vikings new field
      This day, our handout gave us the history of Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. Baseball and football both shared space at the Metrodome in Bloomington, MN, for years. Then, the Metrodome roof collapsed during a snow storm. The Twin City powers decided to close down the Metrodome and build new facilities in the city. Mall of America Field, the new home of the Minnesota Vikings is under construction just as you go into Minneapolis. About a mile or so down into the city, you come to Target Field. It lays conveniently next to Target Center, home of the NBA Timberwolves and WNBA Lynx.
Weather is not looking promising.
      The weather was not fantastic for this part of the drive. We made great time on the interstate, thanks to our fantastic driver. But the weather gods began weeping as we pulled into Minneapolis. And it wasn’t going to stop everyone from having fun.
Great meeting place anytime!
      I got a chance to catch up with my cousin and his wife while there. My cousin went to college in the Minneapolis area and stayed. We met at a small place called the Depot Tavern, which looked like it was a converted garage. They changed it into a really nice restaurant and bar. Dinner was at their favorite restaurant. Unfortunately, I was stuck on a bus all day. The lack of physical activity had me low on the hunger meter. But there’s always room for an appetizer and a beer.
Nice to see a young pitcher get his big break
      My cousins got me back to the field in time for first pitch. We had to be at the seats in case the game was called. Well, the weather gods kept weeping and it led to a two hour rain delay. Around 9 pm, rookie pitcher Yohan Pino made his major league debut for the Twins. It was time to play ball.
Budwiser party deck... need I say more?
      Target Field had plenty to do during the rain delay. The concourse resembled a large party about to be rudely interrupted by a baseball game. One of my favorite stops was Hrbeck’s. Ken Hrbeck, Twins star from the past, has a bar at the main entrance to the park. The motto on the wall is “Baseball Spoken Here”. There was plenty to eat and drink in the pub food line at Hrbeck’s. On the walls, there are lots of pictures and mementos from Ken Hrbeck’s career. But that ceiling… imagine if you will tin tiles. Now imagine highly polished tin, embossed with every logo Minnesota ever had for the Twins. Now imagine the reflective light from that ceiling. I couldn’t get enough pictures of the ceiling at Hrbeck’s.
Welcome to Hrbeck's
Custom ceiling tiles - not what you would find at Lowe's
      Target Field is also where I stood in line for my official “My First Visit” certificate. I had no idea ball parks gave out certificates honoring your rookie day at the park. Most ball parks do have this fan memento, but you need to go searching at Guest Services for it. Many people ahead of me had small children in their arms. Then I step up – for myself. Well, why the heck not? It was my first visit.
Stands begin to fill as the tarps come off the field
      I got a chance to compare mascots on this trip. T.C.Bear is the Twins mascot. You didn’t see much of him around the field. You did see the five runners. These costumed characters included Spot, the Target logo dog. Mascots can really get a crowd into the action, but I didn’t see too much mascot/fan interaction that particular evening. Guess the rain dampened more than just the game.
White Sox "Southpaw" and Twins "T.C. Bear" ready to duke it out
Race mascots - including Target's logo mascot Spot, who won this race
      This was one park where I did not eat. But I could have pigged out if I didn’t eat before the game. Stands had the usual hot dogs, popcorn, sodas, beer, etc. The Twins concessions also offered vegetarian and gluten free options in several stands. Now that’s something I haven’t seen before.
Great seats and a few foul balls
      Witching hour was 11 pm for us bus travelers. We had to leave the game and get to the hotel, so our driver could get off road for his full eight hours. We were also in for a quick night. It was an early bus call again the following morning.
I was there!
     Time for lights out and solid sleep. Kansas City, here we come.
To be continued…
All photographs by Marge McGugan. No reuse or copying without permission.