The book: “The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip: A Fan’s Guide to Major League Stadiums, 2nd Edition”
The author: Josh Pahigian and Kevin O’Connell
The vital stats: Lyons Press, 493 pages, $24.95
The pitch: Before the summer of ’03, Pahigian and O’Connell, fresh out of grad school and not looking to do any real work, pitched an idea to Lyons Press: Let us go on the ultimate baseball road trip. It happened. And they wrote about it.
By the time their first “Ultimate” book was published in 2004 (linked here), the reader response was overwhelming — of fans sharing their own experiences at ballparks across the country. One of the letters was from an American soldier in Iraq, who got he book and said that as soon as he got home, he and his buddies were going to get a van and see all 30 big-league parks. The talk about the trip and plotting the course helped them pass the time.
“We were amazed and humbled,” they write in the intro of this latest edition. “Our book was playing a meaningful role in real people’s lives.”
Trip 2.0 comes with a ton of experience, more reader suggestions, and new stops — the new Yankee Stadium and Bush Stadium, Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, the Mets’ Citi Field, San Diego’s Petco Park, the Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., the Twins’ Target Field and even Miami’s new Marlins Ballpark — with the promise of revealing as much not-so-good as good. Such as:
An excerpt: From their review of Dodger Stadium (pages 409-427):
“Much press has been given to the ‘gang’ element in parts of the stadium, and much blame has been laid at the feet of the owners for cutting security. We did not experience this drop in security. Sure there are pockets of fans willing to fight anyone not wearing the local blue and white. There’s a rough element that shows up seemingly every night in the Pavilion seats to do little more than pick fights with opposing fans — especially when the Giants are in town. … One thing’s for sure: Security has been beefed up and trained in anti-gang tactics to keep peace once again in the wake of a near-deadly incident on Opening Day 2011 when a Giants fan was nearly beaten to death in the parking lot.
“Plenty of misinformation surrounds the Dodgers move to Chavez Ravine … We suggest reading ‘City of Quartz’ by Mike Davis for an excellent account of the times …
“Be aware of calling the ticket line by phone as the ticket office charges $2.25 per ticket handling charge. …
“Seating tip: Notice that there is an overlap between Inner Reserved and Outer Reserved Seats in Aisles 13-20. That is because these aisles service both sections and price ranges. So beware: Some aisles only head up from the concourse toward the worse seats, while others go up toward the poorer seats, but also head down toward the better seats. Ask for seats in the lower rows of Aisles 23-24, 27-28, 31-32, 35-36 and 39-40 (as these rows also head upward) and your seats will be vastly improved within the same price range).
“The food at Dodger Stadium used to be like the food at a movie theatre: expensive and worse than a Keanu Reeves movie (“The Matrix” and “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” excluded). But it looks like the Dodger brass got the memo and read our first edition, because the eats at the Stadium (at least on the Field Level) have improved …
(One of the stands this book suggests heading to is the Canter’s Deli spot on the field-level third base side — alas, it’s no longer there).
“We actually received a lot of mail regarding our review of the Dodger Dog in the first edition … and most of it was not kind. One reader actually suggested that he would find us at a ballpark one day and force-feed us Dodger Dogs until we conceded that they were pretty darned good. … Angelinos seem to want to will the Dodger Dog to greatness. But the reality remains, if you’re not getting it grilled, it’s actually a very bland dog. … (it is on) the thin and skimpy side. We like to call it the ‘Not too this, not too that’ dog. Not too spicy, not too bland, not too salty, not too bursting with flavor. It’s the most average dog we have ever tasted, designed seemingly to offend no one. We therefore rate it mediocre once again …
“The ushers and food servers at Dodger Stadium are polite and very well dressed. But there are more do’s and don’ts at Dodger Stadium than any other ballpark in the country. These polite ushers will ask you to leave the area behind the last row of seats within seconds if you so much as slow down there to look at your ticket. It’s as if they’d prefer you to stand in the middle of the concourse and block traffic there. The mission of these friendly fascists seems to be whisking folks like sheep from their seats to the concession lines or bathrooms, then corralling them back again to their seats as quickly as possible before they start to cause trouble. Josh half expected an usher to visit his seat and re-fold his napkin for him when he got up to use the bathroom … Why would the Dodgers have such inane policies, while, at the same time, they neglect the real security issues in some of the seating sections? They’re not fan friendly, and they’re an anomaly throughout all of baseball.
“When the Dodgers win, the meager sound system plays ‘I Love L.A.’ by Randy Newman …
They also chronicle a problem they had trying to find food for a tailgate after paying “nearly half a year’s salary to park the road trip mobile.” …
Officers told them that tailgating was illegal inside the stadium parking lot. After they were told they’d have to come to the “holding facility inside the stadium,” they got off with only a “citation.” They packed up their tailgating food and drink, went to the very last spot in the lot but still inside the gates. They took their hibachi, cooler and lawn chairs outside the gate and set up on the sidewalk across the street from the Police Academy.
But they offer this note: “Tailgating on city streets in L.A. or any other public place especially directly in front of an establishment teeming with freshly minted and overeager members of the law enforcement community is a strictly ‘swim at your own risk’ activity. We don’t recommend it. but we did it and live to tell the tale.”
From their re-trip at Angel Stadium (pages 396-408):
“Angel Stadium is indeed a stadium, not a ballpark. There’s no denying that. But it is one of the better ones. of course, it doesn’t measure up to Yankee Stadium, but it sure beats the heck out of the Oakland Coliseum …
“Be advised that Angel Stadium is a difficult place for seat-hoppers to navigate. Usually the top of the second is when we start looking for a free upgrade, but here, due to the typically laggard crowd, seat-hopping prior to the end of the third is an exercise in futility. Just as soon as you start to feel secure in your sly new vantage spot, folks holding legit tickets for your liberated seats show up and give you the boot …”
The group also tells a story of, before their trip to Anaheim, they ventured out to South Central L.A. to look for the Angels’ original home field, Wrigley Field, now occupied by the Gilbert Lindsay Rec Center on 42nd and Avalon. They write that James Lee III saw them searching for some kind of plaque or market, and led them to a spot about 20 feet to the left of the Rec Center building where the old home plate used to be. It was just grass, no marker.
James said the old home plate is currently stored under lock and key inside the large metal storage bin next to the Rec Center building. The group then took a buck of balls and bat and headed for the Wrigley Little League field, where they hit a few around.
“One day we’ll be able to tell our grandkids we took BP at Wrigley Field,” they write. “We won’t mention of course that it was at the Wrigley Little League Field in Los Angeles.”
How it goes down in the scorebook: Fan-tastic, as expected.
One of the better fan reviews we saw on Amazon.com went this way:
“I remember seeing these guys on those Mastercard commercials and then hearing them talk on NPR back in the early 2000s. Then I bought my hubby their book when it came out. My impression was that they were two regular guys living a dream, but that they were starting to turn up on national tv (hubby saw ‘em on ESPN, I think) and that before long they’d probably join the sports intelligentsia and turn into just another set of “media types.” Well, to their credit, they never went mainstream. They’ve kept it real as the new edition of their book attests. They’re still just a pair of regular fans calling ‘em like they see ‘em and having a heck of a lot of fun while they do it. For the last several years my husband and boys have brought their first book on our family trips whenever a ballpark was near. Now, they’ll surely be toting this tomb along. It’s a big book and a lot of fun. And best of all, it’s written by two real fans. Oh yeah, and one of them’s a Mainer like me!”
The friendly banter that Pahigian and O’Connell weave through the text is key to keeping things lively, refreshing and real. Pahigian, who also wrote two of our favorite “keeper” books in this series, “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out” (linked here) and “The Seventh-Inning Stretch: Baseball’s Most Essential and Inane Debates” (linked here), lives with his wife and son in Maine. He also has a mystery book coming out this fall called “Strangers on the Beach” (linked here). O’Connell, a Mariners fan living in Pittsburgh, admits to being an insomniac while trying to follow his team from the East Coast.
They also include a through bibliography, citing references from Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four” to www.ballparksofbaseball.com, and the Ken Burns “Baseball” documentary.
One of the other cool things they include is a “sample itinerary” for a West Coast major and minor league tour that includes 15 days in 15 cities, starting in Denver and ending in Seattle, but also includes stops in Albuquerque, Reno, Las Vegas, Fresno, Sacramento and Tacoma.
It’s a journey you can take in many ways, but thankfully, through the pages of this book, it costs a lot less and you can get a lot of the same vicarious experiences.