Yankee Stadium, Fenway and Cooperstown: The baseball trip of a lifetime | Column

Above, Sports Editor Matt Phelps sits at Caskn’ Flagon across the street from Fenway Park in Boston.  Right, Dave Niehaus’ Cooper’s Town plaque. - Scott Christopher/ Special to the Reporter
Above, Sports Editor Matt Phelps sits at Caskn’ Flagon across the street from Fenway Park in Boston. Right, Dave Niehaus’ Cooper’s Town plaque.
— image credit: Scott Christopher/ Special to the Reporter

For most people, the vacation of a lifetime has a destination of Italy, France, or for Islander Paul Allen, maybe outer space. For me, the person who has taken two vacations since starting at the Reporter in 2001, it was the baseball trifecta.

Following the Midlakes Championship meet and quickly filing my story, I rushed to the airport with my brother-in-law for a red-eye to New York to see Yankee stadium, Cooperstown and then over to Boston for a game at Fenway Park.

The trip began with aggravation thanks to Delta Airlines. We were supposed to get a connection at JFK to Syracuse, where we would drive to Cooperstown. A thunderstorm diverted our JFK-bound flight to ... Syracuse. After being told that we would be let off in Syracuse while the plane refueled, allowing us to get to Cooperstown in time to see Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus be inducted into the Hall of Fame, the airline refused to let us, and eight others, off the plane.

Some quick action by my brother-in-law resulted in us spending that first day seeing New York and switching our Cooperstown trip to another day. As a journalist and lifelong Mariners fan, Niehaus’ induction was one of my main reasons for the trip.

Yankee Stadium was not the grand architectural wonder I expected. The renovation in the 1970s and hundreds of coats of paint gave it the same feeling as an old high school football stadium. The construction of new Yankee Stadium across the street was a wonder to behold. Built to resemble Yankee Stadium in its prime, the huge granite stones and gold lettering was enough to make my chin drop.

The age of old Yankee Stadium, destined for a wrecking ball at the end of the season, was only apparent when taking in the details. The left-field pole looked as if it had been a part of the Titanic, only painted 200 times to hide all the decay.

I spent most of the game not really paying attention to the action on the field. All I could see was old TV footage, Ruth hitting a home run, Lou Gehrig giving his last speech or Don Larson’s perfect game in the World Series super-imposed onto that grand old diamond. What I would give to have been there. My brother-in-law and I saw some great players from this generation in Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mike Mussina. The biggest surprise of the day came when a fan fell out of the bleachers, about 10 feet, onto his head — trying to catch a batting practice ball. He landed at my brother-in-law’s feet. Amazingly, he walked away. It was honestly the scariest moment I have ever had at a ballpark, with the exception of getting back on the subway train in the Bronx after the game.

The feeling of history in Yankee Stadium carried over to Cooper’s Town a day and a four-hour drive (thanks, Delta) later.

To be honest, the Hall of Fame was smaller than I expected, but no less spectacular. To see the bat and ball from Babe Ruth’s final at bat, a World Series trophy (which we may never see in Seattle) and all the plaques of all the players in the Hall, gave me goose bumps. One of my favorite parts of the Hall was getting to see some memorabilia from the Negro Leagues and some of the artifacts of Josh Gibson. I love the lore that goes along with old baseball stories, and Gibson is my favorite player. Josh Gibson, Kirk Gibson and Bob Gibson are all reasons for my son’s first name.

Getting to see Boston Red Sox Ted Williams’ game-worn jerseys and bats was also a big thrill at the Hall. But nothing on my trip compared to the game at Fenway Park in Boston.

The two hours we paced around Fenway was full of more anticipation than Christmas when I was 6 years old. For those headed to Boston, I recommend Caskn’ Flagon on Yawkey Way. They had the best french fries ever and the biggest burger I have ever had. I was surprised at how many Babe Ruth pictures and signs there were in Boston. I realized that he began and ended his career in Boston, with the Red Sox and Braves. But he is also, in part, blamed for 86 years of futility. It made me wonder if those pictures were only recently put back up on the walls.

Walking into Fenway made me realize what it must have been like in 1912 when baseball was king and the park opened its doors. Baseball is still king in Boston. I have heard many people say that Seattle people are not real baseball fans and I used to get extremely mad about that. But seeing up to 80 percent of the fans in that park with a Red Sox shirt on was amazing. It was a thrill to see all the artifacts that lie in Fenway, such as the Green Monster, Pesky Pole, Ted Williams’ red chair in right field and the old wood bleacher seats. Witnessing Many Ramirez’s last game in Boston was great as well. But the aura of that grand old stadium, along with the fact that only about 10 people left before the last pitch of a 9-2 game, made me wish that I was from Boston.

Being from Seattle, there are differences between my hometown nine and the great teams and parks of Boston and New York. There are no World Series Trophies in Seattle. Our team plays in a stadium instead of a ballpark with hundreds of coats of paint. And there are no players in the Hall of Fame, just our great broadcaster.

But at least our hometown airline, Alaska, got me home on time and in the right place.

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