Sunday, September 25, 2016

José Fernández, 1992-2016

Baseball was the victim of a tragedy this morning, as José Fernández of the Miami Marlins died in a boating accident.

José D. Fernández -- I don't have a record of what the D. stood for -- was born on July 31, 1992, in Santa Clara, Cuba. He grew up there, as a neighbor and friend of Aledmys Díaz, now the All-Star shortstop of the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2005, his stepfather defected to America. Only 13 years old on the 1st try, José made 3 attempts to defect, but was caught and jailed each time. In 2008, just 15, he made a 4th attempt, with his mother and sister. His mother fell overboard when the boat hit turbulent waters, and he had to dive into the water to save his mother's life. They all made it.

They joined his stepfather in Tampa, where he became a high school pitching star. He had to sue to regain his eligibility for his senior year, as he had attended the 9th grade in Cuba, but he won his case. He did this despite getting a free-agent offer from the Cincinnati Reds, essentially turning down a bonus of $1.3 million -- proving that he wasn't in baseball just for the money.

He was drafted by the Miami Marlins (then in their last year under the Florida Marlins name) in the 1st round in 2011, and accepted a signing bonus of $2 million. A Cuban defector playing ball in Miami? Aside from playing in a liberated Cuba (which still hasn't happened), this was as good as it could get for him.

Before the 2013 season, Baseball America, the definitive source for baseball prospects, rated him the 5th-best in all of organized baseball. He made his debut against the Mets at Citi Field on April 7. "I’ve been in jail," he told the Miami Herald before the game. "I’ve been shot at. I’ve been in the water. I’m not scared to face David Wright. What can he do?"

Wearing the Number 16 that he would keep, he started and pitched 5 innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits, with 8 strikeouts. But Marlins manager Mike Redmond pulled him after 5, and the bullpen blew it, and the Mets won it in the bottom of the 9th, 4-3. What could Wright do? He hit a home run off one of the Marlin relievers, making the Mets' win possible. But that did not diminish the impact of Fernández's arrival in the major leagues.

He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2013, going 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, and a sizzling WHIP of just 0.979. He finished 3rd in the NL Cy Young Award voting. He pitched a perfect 6th inning in the All-Star Game at Citi Field.

He even hit a home run against the Atlanta Braves on September 11 of that year. But he flipped his bat and took his time trotting around the bases. Braves catcher Brian McCann, now with the Yankees, didn't like that, and started shouting at him, and a bench-clearing brawl erupted. But Fernández was not intimidated. I guess when you've been in a Cuban jail, a loudmouthed Atlanta Brave isn't going to faze you. They later made peace with each other.

He had a rare bad start in an Interleague game with the Tampa Bay Rays on May 27, but their manager, Joe Maddon (now the manager of the Chicago Cubs), said, "José Fernández might be the best young pitcher I've ever seen, at that age. I believe he will go far."

He battled injuries in 2014 and 2015, going just 4-2 and 6-1 respectively, on the either side of Tommy John surgery. But when he could pitch, his ERAs were still low: 2.44 and 2.92. He was back in form this season. He was 16-8, his ERA was a strong 2.86, and his WHIP 1.119, making him an All-Star for the 2nd time.

His pitches included a 4-seam fastball, a changeup, a sinker and a slurve. (I used to think "slurve" was a portmanteau of "slow curve," but it's actually one of "slider" and "curve," because it's a curveball thrown with the grip used for a slider.)

His last game was on September 20. He pitched 8 shutout innings in a 1–0 win over the Washington Nationals at Marlins Park. He should have started today, and had 1 more start this season afterward.

His career statistics were 38-17, 2.58, 1.054. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the pitcher in baseball's entire history whose performance at age 20 most statistically resembled his was Fernando Valenzuela. The 20th Century pitcher whose stats through his current age most resembled his was Mark Fidrych. 

He had just turned 24. He was on a rising team in a city that doesn't always show it at the box office, but loves baseball. Today's Miami Herald called him "an electric fan favorite." What's more, he had a gorgeous girlfriend, Carla Mendoza, and was about to become a father for the first time.

He could have been told in sincerity what an infamous fictional Miami resident, Tony Montana (played by Al Pacino) in the 1983 remake of the 1932 gangster classic Scarface), was told in jest: "The world is yours."

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In the middle of the night last night, José Fernández was killed in a boating accident off Miami Beach that also killed 2 others. The Coast Guard found the boat at about 3:15 AM, overturned on a jetty near Government Cut and South Pointe Park, and found 3 victims, 2 on top of the water, and 1 underneath the boat.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation, but the Coast Guard has said that none of the victims were wearing their life vests, suggesting that they didn't realize that they were in danger. The Coast Guard also said that they'd stopped the boat, belonging to a friend of several Marlins players, several times for safety inspections, and never found any infractions. They also said that there’s no evidence that alcohol or drugs played a role in the crash.

It appears from reports that they crashed into a jetty, similar to the boating accident on a Florida lake during 1993 Spring Training that killed Cleveland Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews, and badly injured Bob Ojeda, one of the stars of the 1986 World Champion Mets who was trying to revive his career in Cleveland.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/mlb/miami-marlins/article104073926.html#storylink=cpy

The Marlins canceled their game for today with the Braves. At the press conference announcing this, the Marlins' manager, former Yankee Don Mattingly, said, “When I think about José, I see such a little boy. The way he played, there was just joy with him.” We can probably expect them to retire his Number 16.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/mlb/miami-marlins/article104073926.html#storylink=cpy

“His death is a huge loss for our community,” Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said in a statement.

Fellow Cuban superstar Yoenis Céspedes had a Number 16 Mets jersey with "FERNANDEZ" made up, and hung it in the Mets' dugout before today's game with the Philadelphia Phillies. Another exciting young Cuban star, Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers, tweeted, Hermano (brother), wherever you are, you know how much I loved you. Sin palabras. (Without words.) My heart is with the families.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/sports/mlb/miami-marlins/article104073926.html#storylink=cpy

Met manager Terry Collins said, "This is not only one of the greatest pitchers in the modern game, but one of the finest young men you'd ever meet. He played the game with passion and fun, and enjoyed being out there."

Met pitcher Jacob deGrom, now having to consider Tommy John surgery himself, added, "You never know how long you get to play this game. You don't want to take this for granted. And I don't think he did. Every day, he went out there and gave 100 percent, and he put it all out on the field."

His former antagonist McCann said, "It's sickening. One of those competitors you loved competing against, because you knew he was going to bring his best. He was one of the best pitchers in the game. What he did in a short amount of time was incredible."

Yankee manager Joe Girardi, who managed the Marlins for a year, but well before Fernández got there, never met him, but said, "I don't know how you ever get over it. It's going to be difficult around baseball today. Your thoughts are always going to go back to José, and the Marlins, and the community."

José Fernández's last tweet was on September 19, showing a picture of pregnant Carla Mendoza on the beach, saying, "I'm so glad you came into my life. I'm ready for where this journey is gonna take us together. #familyfirst"

The journey had just gone into high gear. Now, it has stopped, in a shocking way. A woman has lost the love of her life, a child will never know his or her father, many people lost a friend, a team lost a very talented, much-admired teammate, and baseball has lost a star who seemed destined to shine very bright. Now, we simply will never know.

My 2,500th Post: How to Watch a Game With Me

This is my 2,500th published post.

Number 1: September 26, 2007, titled "The Big Premiere," introducing the blog. The post was not about any subject in particular.

Number 100: December 10, 2008, "Oh, Say, Can You CC? Yes, We Can! And Flash In the Hall," about the Yankees signing CC Sabathia as a free agent, and Yankee Legend Joe "Flash" Gordon being elected by the Veterans Committee to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Number 500: November 10, 2010, "Jeter Deserved His Gold Glove." Yes, he did.

I had listed my post of May 17, 2012, as "My 1,000th Post: Top 10 Events That Defined This Era." But that was counting all posts listed in my blog, including those that had, for whatever reason, not yet been published.

The actual Number 1,000, as it turned out: June 9, 2012, "Yankees Bring Santana Down to Earth," about a 9-1 Yankees win over The Other Team and their "ace," The Great Johan Santana.

Number 1,500: January 10, 2014, "Baseball Hall-of-Famers By Team," a piece I update every year. That year, the new inductees (via the Writers' Association) were Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

Number 2,000: August 7, 2015, "CC and Ells Bounce Back, Beat The Scum." Always good to have a Yankee victory over the Boston Red Sox to report.

Now, Number 2,500: September 25, 2016: "How to Watch a Game With Me." This is a takeoff on my "How To Be a (Name of Local Team) Fan In (Name of City)" series.

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First, note where the game will be: Live, in a bar, or in a private home. There will be different rules for each.

If It's Live 

I will dress for the game. If it's Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, I will wear my cap. I have many caps, acquired over 30 years of adult sports fandom, but there's 2 that get regular usage: A cap for regular usage, and a cap I use only for gamedays, which is going to be considerably cleaner.

If it's the National Hockey League's New Jersey Devils, I'll wear a cap and my jersey with my name on it. Remember, they can never trade you, or choose not to re-sign you to save money. And you don't retire. Players come and go, but your fandom is forever. So having your own name on the back isn't stupid or childish, it's a badge of honor.

If it's the football team or the basketball team at Rutgers University, I have a cap and a sweatshirt.

I have several shirts of English Premier League team Arsenal Football Club, including a throwback from their 1971 "Double" season, which I wore when they came to America to play a friendly against the New York Red Bulls. Which one I would wear if I ever actually went to London remains to be decided.

I will not paint any part of my body. I painted my face for 1 high school basketball game in 1986, and regretted it. I won't do it again. I once asked a Rutgers student painted from the waist up, head and hair included, how long it took to get it done. He said it was 20 minutes. That's nuts. They called me "Crazy Mike" in high school, but I was never that crazy, and I certainly am not now.

There is only one way to go to the game, and that's on the Subway. If the city in question doesn't have one, a light rail system will do. If it doesn't have that, either, I will make the sacrifice of going on a bus.

I like to arrive early, and explore the venue, including any feature they may have such as the Yankees' Monument Park. A team hall of fame, statues, things like that. I also want to know where the best place to get food is within the stadium or arena, and where the closest restroom is to my seat. I will want to take care of "output," then "input," before the first pitch/kickoff/tipoff/faceoff/opening whistle. Once the game begins, I want my food tray in my lap and my drink in the cupholder. This way, I don't have to wait until halftime (or, in the case of hockey, the 1st or 2nd intermission) to get my lunch/dinner. If I still need something, I can use that time for a snack or an additional drink, or an additional trip to the can, and probably spend less time on line.

I usually don't drink beer at a live game. It's not just the ridiculous prices that the concessionaires charge. I generally don't like beer. There are maybe 5 or 6 brands that I can drink without making a face. And Budweiser is not one of them. Nor is Bud Light. Certainly not Coors Light. I once tried to type that it was "barley-flavored water." It came out "barely-flavored water." I left it alone, because that's true, too! This will be very different if I'm at a bar or at someone's house.

I will stand for the National Anthem. I will not sing it, because I'm a lousy singer. The exception is if my team is playing a Canadian team. Then, I sing "O, Canada" -- in French. (Yes, I know the words, and, when translated into English, they're a bit different from the English version.) This pleases visiting Montreal Canadiens fans. It angers Toronto Blue Jays and Maple Leafs fans. Fans of the Edmonton Oilers and the other Canadian NHL teams just think it's weird.

It matters whether the game will involve one of my teams. If it does, I will be very much into it. The word "intense" comes to mind. If it doesn't, my attitude will be very different. I will be a lot calmer. Though I still reserve the right to question the decision of an umpire/referee. Out loud.

If it's a high school game, the standards are different. You don't yell things at a kid that you would yell at an adult. Although, since the regular readers of this blog generally aren't fellow EBHS graduates, we almost certainly won't be going to a high school sporting event together.

If it's college, then I don't care if they're not professionals: They're still adults, and poor play is fair game. I was once at a Rutgers game where the season started with a great deal of promise, and by the end of the 1st quarter, the entire season was effectively over. Complete incompetence. Now, I wasn't calling them "bums" or worse, but I was yelling that they had to block better, that they had to tackle better, that they had to hang onto the ball. And this woman across the aisle yells and me for not supporting the team. I had paid $50 to get into the game, and the least I should get for my money is the right to say what I want if I don't get competent product.

Any official -- umpire, referee, or whatever -- gets a light jab the 1st time in a game that he gets a call wrong. The 2nd time, I let him know he's getting on my nerves. The 3rd time and thereafter, he's a bum. Or worse. I might use the "Where's your father... " song from English soccer. But I will not use some of the harder language you might hear at one of those games. (More on that later.)

If the manager or head coach makes what I think is a dumb decision, I reserve the right to say so. If he turns out to be right, I'll admit it. If I turn out to be right, I reserve the right to say, "I told you so!" Or something harsher.

I will curb my language if there's kids around. If not, the "George Carlin words" may well fly.

I will not dance. Especially to "YMCA" or "Cotton Eye Joe." I hate those songs. And so should you.

I may follow the pattern of English soccer fans and adapt a song to a player. This usually doesn't work well. People heard me sing, "One Derek Jeter, there's only one Derek Jeter!" and unless they knew the Premier League, they'd wonder what the hell I was doing. One I miss doing, and the only thing I miss about former Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk, is singing, to the tune of "Jesus Christ, Superstar," "Kovalchuk! Kovalchuk! He scores a goal and the Rangers suck!"

If it's a Devils game, there will be "Rangers suck!" chants, and I will join in. But if it's a Yankee game, it's a little different. It's hard to say, "Red Sox suck!" So they usually say, "Boston sucks!" But I really like Boston as a city. It's the sports teams I hate. So I usually don't join in with "Boston sucks!" "Mets suck!" is another matter.

If it's a baseball game, and "God Bless America" is played during the 7th Inning Stretch, I will stand, but I will not sing along. It's been 15 years since 9/11, and it is well past time to retire this tradition. We go to sporting events to escape from the world at large, not to be reminded of it. The National Anthem before the game, I accept; being told to be patriotic when we should be cheering on our local team is overkill. But I do sing along with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." The definitive version of that is not by an opera singer like the late Robert Merrill, but by the boozy old broadcaster Harry Caray, so if you sing it poorly, you're fine.

If the result seems clear early -- win or lose -- I will be considerably calmer than I will if the result is still in doubt until the end. Words like, "Oy vey," "I can't look" and "I can't take this" may be heard.

If it's an away game, much of what I've said thus far goes out the window. I would be "a guest in someone else's house." So the language would be calmer, even if the ump/ref really screws my team over (intentionally or otherwise). Unlike European and Latin American club soccer, all the visiting fans are not grouped together, so you have to be very careful.

And never, ever mock the host city. It's one thing, if you're at home, to say, "You still have to go live in Detroit!" or, "You still have to live under Mayor/Governor (name of corrupt idiot)!" It's another thing if you're surrounded by people proud of their City or their State. They will defend it, with words, possibly with fists.

At home, surrounded by fellow fans, I will gloat and, as they say in English soccer, "take the piss." On the road, I try to follow the advice of the great football coach Paul Brown: "When you win, say little. And when you lose, say less." Lose, suck it up; win, do not gloat. Smile, yes; enjoy it, yes; gloat in public, no.

What I do after the game depends largely on whether it's home or away. I usually like to leave the venue as soon as possible. Unless it's a Rutgers football game, in which case the traffic will be bad, with long lines for the Campus Buses. So I usually stay and watch the band's postgame show.

I never go to a local bar or restaurant after a home game, usually because I don't drive, and thus am at the mercy of the public transportation system. (Then again, if I did drive, that would limit my booze consumption -- which isn't a problem anyway, since I don't drink much.)

If it's an away game, again, I am at the mercy of public transportation, both short-distance (to the bus or train station) and long-distance (Greyhound or Amtrak). If it's a day game, I'm probably fine, and can stop off someplace first. In which case, I'm very careful not to rub it in if my team has won. If it's a night game, then we're talking an overnight trip, meaning I probably have to take the 1st possible conveyance back to whatever station I used to enter the city, and then sleeping on the bus or the train, and possibly taking the 1st bus of the morning out of Port Authority back home.

If It's In a Bar

Know the clientele. Get a feel for what you can say, and what you shouldn't say. A bar showing an English soccer game will have fans shouting obscenities that you wouldn't hear even at the toughest of baseball, football or hockey bars, like "cunt," "twat" and "wanker." This includes the women.

Knowing the clientele also involves knowing what percentage is rooting for my team. If I'm watching the Yankees, but there's also a Met game on, and there are Met fans in the place, I do as little as possible to engage those troglodytes. But if they try to get into it with me, and the Yankees end up winning, and the Mets end up losing, well, they're fair game.

When it comes to drinking, I pace myself. Soccer, I have a drink in each half. Baseball, 1 for every 3 innings. Hockey, 1 for every period. Football, 1 before the game to get me through the 1st quarter, 1 to get me through halftime, 1 to get me through the 2nd half. That way, I never have more than 1 full drink in my system.

I always pay my check before the game ends, so that, after the game, I can finish my meal and/or drink, and get out. No reason to stick around. Do more drinking? Suit yourself, but I don't need it.

If It's In a Home

Host's house, host's rules. I abide, no matter what. I sit where the host says to sit. If he/she doesn't say where, then any open seat is available. If the host offers a beer, and it's a brand I don't like (most of them), I will politely ask what my other options are. Usually, there will be a good one.

Again, I have to know the character of the "crowd." If they're intense people, I'll be intense. If they're more sedate, I will adjust. If any of the other guests are rooting for the other team, I'll have fewer people having my back than I would in a bar, let alone in a stadium or arena, in which case I'll let the scoreboard do the talking.

I have this nasty habit of overdoing it with chips and dip, and also with shrimp. Keep this in mind; it may cause you to rethink inviting me.

When the host says it's over, Yogi Berra lines aside, it's over. I would almost certainly have been driven by someone else, so we head for the car and go home.

Regardless of where the viewing is: If my team simply did not put up the effort, I will be angrier than if we were cheated by the opposition or the officials (or both). Take that into account.

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Watching a game with me could be a hazardous and/or exasperating experience. Or it could be fun. Or it could be all of the above.

You have been briefed, and warned.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How to Be a Rutgers Fan at Ohio State -- 2016 Edition

On Saturday, October 1, Rutgers University will play The... Ohio State University in football, in Columbus.

Refresh my memory: Who thought that RU joining the Big Ten Conference was going to be a good idea?

Before You Go. Columbus can get really hot in the summer, but this game will be played in early October. The Columbus Dispatch website is predicting low 60s for Saturday afternoon, and low 40s for the evening. It should be dry. You should definitely bring a jacket. If you're not going just for the game, but plan to spend Saturday night into Sunday morning in Columbus, bring a winter jacket, and drop it off in your hotel, and switch to it if you're going out on Saturday night.

Columbus is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to set your clocks back.

Tickets. The legendary ABC Sports college football announcer Keith Jackson called Ohio Stadium "The Big Horseshoe on the Olentangy." It is so big! (How big is it?) The official seating capacity is currently listed as 104,944, making it the 4th-largest non-racing stadium in the world. And yet, that's only 2nd in the Big Ten, behind Michigan Stadium -- but "The Big House" is no architectural marvel. Ohio Stadium is.

What are your chances of getting one of those 104,944 seats? Not good: OSU's average attendance in 2015 was 107,244 -- about 102 percent of capacity. (For comparison's sake: In the same season, their 1st season in the Big Ten, Rutgers averaged 47,723 at their 52,454-seat High Point Solutions Stadium.)

If tickets were available from the school, they'd run between $50 and $105. Most likely, you'll have to order from StubHub or some other ripoff outfit ticket broker. Visiting fan groups (ordering block tickets through their own school) are placed in the upper right corner of the south end zone -- the southwest corner of the stadium, at the open end of the horseshoe.

Getting There. It's 536 miles from Times Square in New York to Capitol Square in Columbus, and 515 miles (and a whole lot of football talent) from Rutgers Stadium to Ohio Stadium.

Flying may seem like a good option, although with a destination city as close as Columbus, you shouldn't have to change planes. If you fly United Airlines, you can go nonstop for as little as $320 round-trip, although you will probably have to pay more like twice that if you don't want to fly out to Port Columbus International Airport or back first thing in the morning.

Amtrak does not go to Columbus. Its main train station was demolished in 1979 to make way for the Columbus Convention Center (which is too bad, because it was just 2 blocks from the Arena), and it is now the largest metropolitan area in America that doesn't have Amtrak access.

Greyhound's run between New York and Columbus is about 14 hours with no change of buses necessary, costing $140, and dropping to as little as $94 with advanced-purchase. The station is at 111 E. Town Street, at 3rd Street, downtown, 2 blocks south of the State House.

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. You’ll need to get on the New Jersey Turnpike. Take it to Exit 14, to Interstate 78. Follow I-78 west all the way through New Jersey, to Phillipsburg, and across the Delaware River into Easton, Pennsylvania. Continue west on I-78 until reaching Harrisburg. There, you will merge onto I-81. Take Exit 52 to U.S. Route 11, which will soon take you onto I-76. This is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the nation’s first superhighway, opening in 1940.

The Turnpike will eventually be a joint run between I-76 and Interstate 70. Once that happens, you’ll stay on I-70, all the way past Pittsburgh, across the little northern pandhandle of West Virginia, and into Ohio all the way to Columbus.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and 15 minutes in New Jersey, 5 hours and 30 minutes in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in West Virginia, and about 2 hours and 15 minutes in Ohio. That’s about 9 hours and 15 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter Ohio, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Columbus, it should be no more than 11 hours, which would save you time on Greyhound, if not flying.

Once In the City. Founded in 1816, Columbus, named for Christopher Columbus, celebrates its 200th Anniversary this year. It is easily the largest city in Ohio by population, with about 823,000 people, to a mere 397,000 for Cleveland and 298,000 for Cincinnati. But its metropolitan area has just 2.4 million people, still larger than Cincy's 2.2 million but considerably smaller than Cleveland's 3.5 million, because Cleveland has a much larger suburban area.

High Street, the main drag for Ohio State students, is the street address divider between East and West, and Broad Street serving as the divider between North and South. The southeaster corner of High & Broad includes Capitol Square, with the State House. The sales tax in the State of Ohio is 5.75 percent, rising to 7.5 percent in Franklin County, including the City of Columbus.
The Ohio State House. No, I don't know why they stopped buildng it
before finishing the dome.

The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) runs buses, but no rapid transit rail system: No subway, no elevated, no light rail, no commuter rail. The fare is $2.00.

Going In. The most famous building in the State of Ohio is Ohio Stadium, or, as ABC Sports' legendary college football announcer Keith Jackson called it, The Big Horseshoe On the Olentangy -- home field of the school usually referred to as "THE... Ohio State University." It opened in 1922, and its address is 411 Woody Hayes Drive (formerly Woodruff Avenue). It is 3 1/2 miles north of downtown, and can be reached by the Number 18 bus. If you're driving in, parking is $20.
Do you know of any other college football stadium with stained-glass windows in its main entrance? Ohio Stadium has them inside its northern entrance. It has the arched entrances so common to college football stadiums built in the 1920s, particularly in the Midwest.
Officially, capacity is set at 104,944 seats. So far, they've topped out at 108,975 fans, for last season's game against Michigan State, which they lost 17-14. (Ohio State came in ranked Number 3 in the nation, Michigan State Number 9, so it wasn't a big upset.)
The stadium is, as previously stated, in a horseshoe shape, with the south end being the open end. The field is aligned north-to-south, and is made of FieldTurf.

The stadium also hosted the Ohio Glory of the World League of American Football in 1992, and the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer from 1996 to 1998. The enormous size of the stadium led the Crew to close off the upper deck and the south stand, so soccer capacity was usually 25,243, although they topped out at 31,550 for a game against our MetroStars (now the New York Red Bulls) in 1996.

Pink Floyd hosted the 1st concert at the stadium in 1988, and the record attendance for a single-act concert is 75,250 for their return visit in 1994. Last year, they sold over 90,000 tickets to the Buckeye Country Superfest, including Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban. Two months later, One Direction got a mere 31,626 -- although that would have filled the Blue Jackets' arena and then some.

Food. Being in Big Ten Country, where tailgate parties are practically a sacrament, you would expect Ohio Stadium to have lots of good options. Unfortunately, the school's website is rather vague about it, saying only the following:

Levy Restaurants is excited to offer fans this season a variety of game day options -- from gluten-free (located at 19A) to in-house smoked BBQ (located at 15A), to fan favorites, such as hot dogs, bratwurst, popcorn, pretzels and nachos (offered at stands throughout the stadium), there is something for everyone!

Alcohol is served inside this college stadium, however sales are cut off with 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. (Presumably, to handle overflow from people hitting concession stands at halftime.)

Team History Displays. Ohio State has won the league now known as the Big Ten Conference 35 times, the 1st time in 1906, the most recent time in 2014. They claim 8 National Championships: 1942 under head coach Paul Brown, later the 1st coach of the Cleveland Browns and the founding owner of the Cincinnati Bengals; 1954, 1957, 1961, 1968 and 1970 under Woody Hayes (although the 1970 one, awarded to them by the National Football Foundation, is dubious, since they lost the Rose Bowl); 2002 under Jim Tressel; and 2014 under current coach Urban Meyer.

There is no display for the Conference Championships in the field area, but stanchions for the National Championships are shown in the northwest corner.
Apparently, to get your uniform number retired at Ohio State, you need to have won the Heisman Trophy, and have graduated more than 10 years ago: Number 22, running back Les Horvath, 1944; Number 31, running back Vic Janowicz, 1950; Number 40, running back Howard "Hopalong" Cassady, 1955; Number 45, running back Archie Griffin, 1974 and 1975, the only 2-time Heisman winner; and Number 27, Eddie George, 1995. Quarterback Troy Smith won it in 2006, but his Number 10 remains in circulation. The retired numbers are on display in the northeast corner.
Since 1934, every OSU First Team All-American has been recognized by the planting of a buckeye tree and installation of a plaque in Buckeye Grove, now located near the southwestern corner of Ohio Stadium, next to Morrill Tower. Trees are planted in ceremonies held prior to the Spring Game. All 126 Buckeye All-Americans dating back to 1914 have been so honored.
Stuff. According to the school website, "Authentic Buckeye merchandise may be purchased throughout the Stadium. The Official Team Shops are located at Section 11A, 12A, 23A, 24A, 16C, in the south stands and in the Huntington Club. A customized jersey stand is located near Section 16A. For additional merchandise, please visit www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com."

There are lots of good books about Ohio State football, including the about-to-be-published Ohio State Football: The Forgotten Dawn, about the program's early days, by Robert J. Roman, a New Yorker but also an OSU graduate.

David Hyde's 1968: The Year that Saved Ohio State Football and Michael Rosenberg's War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest both tell of the 1968 season as the one that turned Hayes from a relic who may have needed to be pushed aside into both relic and icon at the same time.

The latter book tells of "The Ten-Year War," in which Wayne Woodrow Hayes and Glenn Edward Schembechler Jr. -- who played for him at Miami University of Ohio, coached under him at Ohio State, and then became head coach at Michigan -- had what looked like the ultimate college football rivalry from 1969 (when Bo's Wolverines ended Woody's long winning streak and ended talk of "the greatest college football team of all time) until 1978 (when Woody ended his career by punching a Clemson player in the Gator Bowl). 

Hayes -- born on February 14, 1913, the same day as Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen and labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, and died on March 12, 1987 -- was a fascinating figure, conservative in personal style, football style and politics (he and Richard Nixon were friends both before each man reached his greatest height and after each man fell from grace), yet not an anti-intellectual: He told his players the best thing they could do after playing for him was not to play in the NFL, or even to enlist in the armed forces in the Vietnam War era, but to go to graduate school, particularly law school, as his only son did. He was a full professor of physical education, even after he was fired as head coach, and taught mandatory English and vocabulary classes to his players, and often offered free-lance lectures on history, including military history. Sometimes his players would secretly call him "The Old Man," but they also spoke of him as "Professor Hayes."

In addition to Schembechler, men who played or coached under him who went on to coach elsewhere include Notre Dame's Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz, Indiana's Bill Mallory, North Carolina's Dick Crum (who coached Lawrence Taylor at Chapel Hill), Bill Arnsparger (who built the Miami Dolphins' "No-Name Defense" before serving as head coach of the Giants and Louisiana State), and the man who eventually succeeded him at O-State, Earle Bruce. And one of his students, though not a football player, and eventually adopting habits of his both good and bad, was basketball coaching legend Bob Knight.

There are many good books about him, including Buckeye: A Study of Coach Woody Hayes and the Ohio State Football Machine, written by Robert Vare in 1975 when Woody was still coaching; Woody Hayes: A Reflection by Paul Hornung, a longtime columnist for the Columbus Dispatch (and no relation to the Notre Dame and Green Bay Packer legend of the same name); A Fire to Win: The Life and Times of Woody Hayes by John Lombardo; and Hayes' own 1973 psychology treatise You Win With People! 

Bill Rabinowitz of the Dispatch and Kirk Herbstreit, the former OSU quarterback now on ESPN, collaborated on The Chase: How Ohio State Captured the First College Football Playoff (to win the National Championship for the 2014 season). And Ken Magee and Jon M. Stevens recently chronicled the matchup between O-State and, as Woody put it, because he didn't even like to say the name, "That School Up North" (or "TSUN"), in The Game: The Michigan-Ohio State Football Rivalry.

Commemorative DVDs of the 1969 Rose Bowl, the 2003 Fiesta Bowl and the 2015 National Championship Game, in which Ohio State won the 1968, 2002 and 2014 National Championships, are available. So are the DVDs Ohio State: The History of Buckeye Football (2005) and Michigan vs. Ohio State: The Rivalry (2013).

During the Game. Since Rutgers is new to the Big Ten, there is no rivalry between them and Ohio State. Ohio State's big rival is Michigan, with lesser but still intense rivalries with Penn State (we can relate), Notre Dame and Illinois. Although Indiana borders Ohio, Ohio State vs. Indiana isn't all that big a rivalry in football. In basketball, that's another story. Anyway, you shouldn't have any trouble wearing RU gear on campus, even in the stadium -- especially since their main color is also Scarlet.

Gates open 2 hours before kickoff. However, 4 hours before kickoff, fans can enter St. John Arena across the street, and watch The Ohio State University Marching Band play, in what's known as their "Skull Session."

The Band -- a.k.a. The Best Damn Band In The Land, or TBDBITL (pronounced "Thuh-BIT-el") for short -- is always the performer for the National Anthem. But they are best known for their formation "Script Ohio," which they play to the tune of "Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse," a French marching song written in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 -- coincidentally, the year Ohio State University was founded.
The first Script, October 24, 1936. Note the rounder capital O.

They began using the formation in 1936, designed by their director at the time, Eugene Weigel, who took the shape from the Loew's Ohio Theatre in downtown Columbus, although the capital O now resembles the block O used in Ohio State's logo.
Usually, the Band does a single Script, taking up a majority of the field. They have been known to do a Double Script (one along each sideline, with 2 i-dotters) and even a Quadruple Script (adding one at each end of the field, with 4 i-dotters).
A rare Quadruple Script

At the conclusion of the formation, the drum major will high-step toward the spot where the dot in the "i" in "Ohio" would be, then slap his baton down to that spot. A sousaphone player -- always a senior, and to do it before the Michigan game is a massive honor -- will, in a feat requriing considerable strength and coordination, rear his instrument back and high-step to that spot. He will then remove his hat and bow, then turn around and bow to the other side of the field.
The first i-dotter was actually a cornet player, John Brungart. A year later, in 1937, Weingart decided to switch the cornetist with a sousaphone player. Later that year, the drum major mistimed his step, and got to the spot a little early. The sousaphone player, Glen Johnson, decided to use up the time with the hat salute and the bow, and it's been part of the tradition ever since.

Women were first admitted to the Band in 1973. In 1979, Jan Duga became the 1st female i-dotter. I can't find a record of who was the 1st black i-dotter, but they have had them. Honorary i-dotters have included retiring band directors, retiring longtime university employees, Cleveland native Bob Hope in 1978, Woody Hayes in 1983 (he called it the greatest honor of his life), Columbus native and then-Heavyweight Champion of the World James "Buster" Douglas in 1990, Columbus area native and golf legend Jack Nicklaus in 2006, and Ohio native and astronaut John Glenn and his wife Annie Glenn in 2009.

For those of you who are Yankee Fans: Joan Zieg, a.k.a. Mrs. George Steinbrenner, is an Ohio State alumna, and their wedding was in Columbus. As an Ohio native with a love of all things military, including marching music, George made a huge donation to the Band, and their training center is now named for them. The University even gave him a National Championship ring in 2003, and at Spring Training, he showed that to Derek Jeter, a graduate of arch-rival Michigan, which had won the title 5 years earlier. Normally very deferential to The Boss, Jeter sneered, "They're giving those away now?"

Ohio State has 2 fight songs, and they usually bracket Script Ohio. The Band usually precedes it with "Across the Field," and follows it with "Buckeye Battle Cry." Author and Ohio State grad James Thurber, in his play The Male Animal, popularized their song "We Don't Give a Damn for the Whole State of Michigan." In 1965, when "Hang On Sloopy," by the McCoys, a band from Indiana but their members the Derringer Brothers were from Ohio, hit Number 1, they began playing it, and it is now the Official State Rock and Roll Song of Ohio. The Band also plays "Fire" by the Ohio Players, with its trademark "O-H-I-O" chant.

Ohio is the Buckeye State, and Ohio State's teams are called the Buckeyes. What's a "Buckeye"? It's the fruit of the Aesculus tree. A Michigan fan designed T-shirts, caps, mugs, etc. with the slogan "Happiness is crushed Buckeye nuts."
In 1967, Woody Hayes began rewarding his players for good performances with stickers with Buckeye leaves on them, the size of a silver dollar, on what had been plain gray helmets. In 1979, after Woody was fired and Earle Bruce became the new head coach, they were reduced to the size of a quarter, which they remain -- probably so that more can fit on the helmets.

The mascot is Brutus Buckeye, a guy in a Scarlet & Gray striped shirt with a buckeye nut for a head and an Ohio State cap on top.
Women go nuts over Brutus Buckeye.

Since 1938, Section 39A in the north end zone, the middle of the closed end of the horseshoe, has been home to the registered student organization Block O. 
Woody Hayes was a run, run, run kind of guy. His style was known as "Three yards and a cloud of dust." He did not like the passing game. He used to say, "There are three things that can happen when you throw the football, and two of them are bad," meaning an incompletion and an interception. And his opposite number at Michigan, Bo Schembechler, had the same idea. The days when they led the "Big Two, Little Eight" and only the occasional exception threw the ball in that league (Purdue has been known for a long line of good quarterbacks, including Len Dawson and Drew Brees) are long gone. Ohio State will run the ball when they think they can get a 1st down that way, and they will throw the ball whenever they please. Woody might not like it, but he'd be fine with the results: In 4 seasons and the start of a 5th, Urban Meyer is 53-4, including 31-1 in Big Ten play.

Since 1954, after every win, home and away, the fraternity Alpha Phi Omega rings the Victory Bell for 15 minutes -- 30 if it's against Michigan. Supposedly, the Bell, in the southeast tower of the Stadium, can be heard 5 miles away. Since Ohio State is currently the Number 3 team in the country, and Rutgers is, well, Rutgers, I guess we'll find out.
Since 2001, at the instigation of then-head coach Jim Tressel, at the end of every home game, the coaches, players and cheerleaders have gathered in the south end zone, the open end of the horseshoe, to since the school's alma mater, "Carmen Ohio," to the massive student section.

After the Game. The University is well-policed, and both the campus and downtown should be safe. Columbus doesn't have nearly the reputation for crime that Cleveland and Cincinnati do.

The most famous bar, perhaps in the entire State of Ohio, is the Varsity Club, across from the OSU Ice Arena and 3 blocks north of Ohio Stadium. 278 W. Lane Avenue, at Tuttle Park Place. High Street, the eastern boundary of the OSU campus, has been described as "a zoo" on home football Saturdays, so think of it as Easton Avenue and then some, and use discretion.

Unfortunately, the most storied Ohio State fan bar of all, Papa Joe's, home of the Saturday morning Kegs and Eggs breakfast, burned down in 1996. The current pizza chain of the same name has no connection, aside from being an Ohio tradition. Retail space, including the current Ohio State bookstore (a Barnes & Noble, of course), is on the site. 1556 N. High Street at 11th Avenue.

I can find no references to places where New Yorkers gather in or around Columbus: The sites that usually list bars for football fans in exile don’t seem to have references to where Yankees, Mets, Giants or Jets fans go when they live nearby.

Sidelights. Columbus may have only the 1 major league team, but it's a decent sports town, and here's some of the highlights:

* Ohio Field site. Ohio Stadium's predecessor was at the southwest corner of High Street and Woodruff Avenue (Woody Hayes Drive). Its 14,000 seats weren't nearly enough, so Ohio Stadium was built with 66,000 seats. Many people scoffed that the Buckeyes could fill it. But the dedication game drew over 71,000, and nobody's laughed at Ohio State's attendance since.

* Value City Arena at the Schottenstein Center. Ohio State's new basketball arena opened in 1998, at 555 Borror Drive, across the Olentangy River from the Stadium. The Bill Davis Stadium (baseball) and the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium (track & field) are part of this complex as well.
* St. John Arena. Ohio State played basketball here from 1956 to 1998, across from the Stadium at 410 Woody Hayes Drive. It was at this arena that the Buckeyes played the 1959-60 season in which they won the National Championship. Coach Fred Taylor is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, along with 3 players on this team, although 1 is in as a coach: Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, and "sixth man" Bob Knight.
It was also at St. John that Elvis Presley sang on June 25, 1974. Early in his carer, Elvis played 2 shows at the Franklin County Veterans Memorial Auditorium on May 26, 1956. Built in 1955, it was demolished in 2015, and an Ohio Veterans Museum is being built on the site. 300 W. Broad Street, on the Scioto River, just across from downtown. (The Beatles played in Cleveland and Cincinnati, but not in Columbus.)

* Nationwide Arena. The home of Ohio's only NHL team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, is about a mile northwest of the State House, in the Arena District, near the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers, in an area that includes their minor-league ballpark and their Convention Center.
ESPN The Magazine declared it "the No. 2 stadium experience in professional sports," behind Target Field in Minneapolis. The Ultimate Sports Road Trip rated it the best arena in the NHL. Several bus lines get you there. The official address is 200 W. Nationwide Blvd.

Why did Columbus get an NHL team? Why not Cleveland or Cincinnati, the more proven major league cities? Probably because somebody (probably Commissioner Gary Bettman) though that neither Cleveland nor Cincinnati could support a team by itself, but a team in Columbus, in Central Ohio, would be supported by the entire State. (Or maybe that theory makes no sense, since he let the Minnesota North Stars move to Dallas, when he could have suggested Austin as a way to get fans from Dallas and Houston.)

* Huntington Park. Just 2 blocks west of Nationwide Arena, at 330 Huntington Park Lane, this 10,100-seat stadium has been home to the International League's Columbus Clippers since 2009. Since moving in, they've won Pennants in 2010, 2011 and 2015, giving them a total of 10 Pennants.
* Cooper Stadium. Opened in 1932 as Red Bird Stadium, and renamed for Harold Cooper, the Franklin County Commissioner and team owner who kept professional baseball in the city in the 1950s, this stadium was one of the most successful ballparks in the minor leagues. It was also one of the largest, seating 17,500 people at its peak, and 15,000 in its last years.

Initially, it was home to the Columbus Red Birds, a farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals (also nicknamed the Redbirds), and to a Negro League team, the Columbus Blue Birds. The Red Birds won Pennants in 1933, 1934, 1937, 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1950.

The Cardinals moved them to Omaha in 1955, and a new team was brought in, the Columbus Jets, a farm club first of the Kansas City Athletics, then of the Pittsburgh Pirates. This led to the stadium being renamed Jets Stadium. They won the Pennant in 1961 and 1965, before being moved to Charleston, West Virginia after the 1970 season. The Pirates restored Columbus as their Triple-A team in 1977, the Yankees took over in 1979, the Washington Nationals in 2007, and the Cleveland Indians in 2009.
The Clippers were a Yankee farm team from 1979 to 2006, infamous as the bad end of "The Columbus Shuttle," George Steinbrenner's pipeline from Triple-A ball to the Yankees and back. As a Yankee farm team, they won IL Pennants in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1987, 1991, 1992 and 1996. All told, Columbus baseball teams have won 19 Pennants.

Cooper Stadium was closed after the 2008 season, but instead of being demolished, it has been converted into an auto racing facility. 1155 W. Mound Street, 3 miles west of downtown. Number 6 bus.

An April 24, 2014 article in The New York Times, showing baseball fandom by ZIP Code, shows that, despite being considerably closer to Cincinnati (107 miles) than to Cleveland (143 miles), the Indians still have a slight edge on baseball fandom in Columbus, on the average having 28 percent to the Reds' 22 percent. The September 2014 issue of The Atlantic Monthly had a similar map, showing that the Browns are more popular in Columbus than the Bengals.

Cincinnati is the nearest MLB and NFL city, 110 miles away, while Cleveland is the nearest NBA city, 145 miles. If it had teams in those sports, Columbus would rank 29th in population in MLB, 26th in the NFL, and 25th in the NBA. So don't hold your breath.

Columbus has never hosted an NCAA Final Four. Nor has any other Ohio city. The 13,435-seat University of Dayton Arena, built in 1969, 74 miles west of Columbus, has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other facility: 107.

* Indianola Park. Home ground of the Columbus Pandhandles, one of the 1st professional football teams, from 1901 to 1926, before the glut of early pro football doomed them. Along with the Canton Bulldogs, in the 1910s they dominated the Ohio League, one of the NFL's predecessors.
They are best remembered for the 7 Nesser brothers (sons of German immigrants, there were 8, but Pete, 1877-1954, the largest of them, didn't like football and didn't play; there were also 4 sisters): John (1875-1931), Phil (1880-1959), Ted (1883-1941), Fred (1887-1967), Frank (1889-1953), Al (1893-1967) and Ray (1898-1969). Knute Rockne, who did play a little pro football before going back to Notre Dame to coach, said, "Getting hit by a Nesser is like falling off a moving train." In 1921, Ted's son Charlie (1903-1970) played with the Panhandles, marking the only time a father and son have played in the NFL at the same time, let alone for the same team.

The Indianola Shopping Center is now on the site, 3 miles north of downtown. 1900 N. 4th Street at 19th Avenue. Number 4 bus.

* Mapfre Stadium. Opening in 1999, and known until last year as Columbus Crew Stadium before naming rights were sold to a Spain-based insurance company, the Crew moved into this 22,555-seat stadium after playing their 1st 3 seasons (1996-98) before 90,000 empty seats at Ohio Stadium. They won the MLS Cup in 2008, and reached the Final again last year, losing to the Portland Timbers despite playing at home.
The Stadium also hosted the MLS Cup Final in 2001 (San Jose beating Los Angeles), 10 games of the U.S. National Team (including 4 games against Mexico, all 2-0 or "Dos A Cero" wins), and 6 games of the 2003 Women's World Cup (including a 3-0 U.S. win over North Korea).

One Black and Gold Blvd., at 20th Avenue, about 3 1/2 miles north of downtown, near the Indianola Shopping Center. Number 4 bus.

Currently without an NBA team, a May 12, 2014 article in The New York Times shows basketball allegiances in the Columbus area are mixed between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat. Gee, you think LeBron James having played for both teams might have something to do with that?

The aforementioned Ohio Veterans Museum will probably be completed in early 2017.

The aforementioned Ohio Theatre, the former Loew's movie palace that opened in 1928 and inspired Script Ohio in 1936, is still open, at 39 East State Street downtown.

Ohio Village is a recreated 19th Century community, sort of an updated, Midwestern version of Colonial Williamsburg. 800 E. 17th Avenue, at Velma Avenue. Number 4 bus. The Columbus Museum of Art is at 480 E. Broad Street, at Washington Avenue. Number 10 bus. The Center of Science & Industry (COSI) is across from the Veterans Memorial Auditorium site, at 333 W. Broad Street, at Washington Blvd. Number 10 bus. The James Thurber House, home to the legendary author and humorist, is at 77 Jefferson Avenue,at N. 11th Street. Number 6 bus.

Farther afield -- with no public transportation available -- the Armstrong Air & Space Museum is in the hometown of Neil Armstrong, the late 1st man to walk on the Moon. 500 Apollo Drive in Wapakoneta, just off Interstate 75, 87 miles northwest of downtown Columbus.

No Presidents have come from Columbus, but Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley lived there while they were Governor of Ohio. Alas, there was no Governor's Mansion during their times in the office. The Ohio Governor's Residence and Heritage Garden has only been the Governor's Mansion since 1957, and current Governor John Kasich, who is running for PResident this year, already lived nearby (he'd been a Congressman for the area), and so he only uses it for official functions. 358 N. Parkview, in Bexley, about 4 miles northeast of downtown. Number 10 bus.

McKinley's historical sites are all in or near his hometown of Canton, and I'll discuss them in my Cleveland trip guides. Hayes' home, Spiegel Grove, and his grave and Presidential Library are in Fremont, 106 miles north of Columbus. Warren G. Harding's hometown of Marion is 51 miles north. Dying in office in 1923, he remains the last President to have lived in Ohio. As with both locations, there is no public transportation to there from any of Ohio's major cities.

The tallest building in Columbus is the Rhodes State Office Tower, named for the longtime Governor who ordered the Ohio National Guard to fire on the protestors at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Completed in 1974, it is 629 feet high, and every bit as ugly as the Administration it memorializes. 30 E. Broad Street, downtown, across from the State House.

While lots of movies have been shot and/or set in Ohio, Columbus hasn't been a popular location for them. There have been 2 TV shows set in Columbus: Family Ties, the 1982-89 NBC sitcom that introduced us to Michael J. Fox; and Man Up!, an ABC sitcom set in nearby Gahanna that tanked and was canceled after 13 episodes in 2011.

*

Columbus may be Ohio's largest city, but aside from being the State capital, it's known for 2 things: Ohio State football, and Ohio State anything else. The Blue Jackets are almost an afterthought.

Rutgers at Ohio State? It's close enough for a fairly easy Rutgers roadtrip. It could even could be fun... if you don't mind being far on the wrong side of the score.

W.P. Kinsella, 1935-2016

I don't want to be one of those guys. The guys who hear about a movie, and say, "The book was better."

But if you liked the baseball-themed movie Field of Dreams, do yourself a favor, and get the book on which it was based: Shoeless Joe, by W.P. Kinsella. You will love it.

*

William Patrick Kinsella was born on May 25, 1935 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He grew up nearby in Darwell, Alberta. Like me, he was taught to read early by his mother, so he was already reading when most kids were struggling with it. The family moved to Edmonton when he was 10, and his literary education came when he worked in his high school's library.

He worked for the Alberta Provincial government, and in 1967 moved to Victoria, the capital of the Province of British Columbia, when he ran an Italian restaurant and drove a taxi. He took writing courses at the University of Victoria, got his bachelor's degree there in 1970 (at the age of 35), and then moved to Iowa, where he got a master's degree at their famed Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1978. This is why he used Iowa as the setting for his most famous work.

He moved back to Alberta, teaching English at the University of Calgary, and spent the rest of his life writing about 2 subjects: Baseball, and the indigenous peoples of North America -- which we Americans have, so frequently, ignorantly called "Indians" but have begun to call "Native Americans" or "First Americans," and the Canadians call "First Nations." About them, Kinsella would publish Dance Me Outside, Scars, Born Indian, Moccasin Telegraph, The Fencepost Chronicles, and others.

In 1979, he began to write a story about a poor Iowa farmer named Ray Kinsella,  who hears a voice in his cornfield, telling him to take steps to bring back to life the 8 Chicago White Sox players banned from baseball for life for their role in the 1919-21 Black Sox Scandal, particularly their best player, the all-time hero of the protagonist's father, Joe Jackson.

Jackson had once played a game in his native South Carolina, before signing a professional contract, with new shoes that didn't fit well, and they hurt his feet, so he took them off and played the rest of the game in just his socks. The nickname that would follow him for the rest of his life, and would become the title of W.P. Kinsella's book, was Shoeless Joe.

SPOILER ALERT: In 1989, the film Field of Dreams was released, based on the book, with significant differences:

* Ray has an identical twin brother, Richard, distinguishable by a scar on his forehead, until Ray bumps into something, and develops an identical scar. The movie mentions no siblings for Ray.

* The author who had written about losing his dream of playing baseball was J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher In the Rye, a book that had a deep effect on W.P. and many other boys of his generation (and later ones). Salinger had used characters named Ray Kinsella and Richard Kinsella (the protagonist and his brother) in stories. He had also written that he had wanted to play for the New York Giants, but never made it, the Giants moved, and the Polo Grounds was torn down. At the time, the real Salinger was living on a hilltop in New Hampshire, and refused to write again or see visitors. In order to avoid a lawsuit, the filmmakers made the author Terence Mann, a fictional black author involved in the 1960s civil rights and antiwar movements, who had wanted to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, lamented their move and the tearing down of Ebbets Field, used a character named John Kinsella (Ray's father), gave up his causes ("I was the East Coast distributor of 'involved'") after the disastrous year that was 1968, and secluded himself in a small apartment in Boston, where he became a computer programmer, designing ways to teach children to solve conflicts without violence.

* Ray and Salinger -- or "Jerry," as he ends up calling Jerome David Salinger -- do the smart thing and look Archibald Wright "Moonlight" Graham up in The Baseball Encyclopedia (what we used before Wikipedia and Baseball-Reference.com came along), and knew before heading out that he was already dead. In the movie, Ray and Terence don't find out until they get to Graham's adopted hometown of Chisholm, Minnesota. Maybe hoping that Graham was elderly but still alive as they set out worked better for dramatic effect, but their lack of preparation was foolish and out of character, at least for Terence.

* The timeline is moved up. The novel clearly takes place in 1979 (I'll explain later). Ray and Annie don't make mentions of any 1960s activism -- although, unlike the movie's versions of them, they would have been old enough. And Graham's real history is used: His one and only major league appearance is on June 29, 1905, in the middle of a season, the scene where Ray time-travels to see him is in 1955, and he dies in 1965. In the movie, it's 1988, Ray specifically says he was born in 1952 (making him 17 when the 1960s ended and thus unlikely to have been involved in major events or even to have been at Woodstock), Graham's one appearance is in the last game of the 1922 season, he dies in 1972, and Ray's unwitting time-warp brings him to shortly before Dr. Graham dies.

* There's a character and a storyline in the book that didn't make it into the movie. Ray and Annie had bought the farm from Eddie Scissons, an old eccentric who had told the locals that he was the oldest living former Chicago Cub. He gets exposed as a fraud, something Ray had already suspected due to a mistake Scissons had made: He claimed to have played with Cub icons Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance at Wrigley Field, which didn't open until after they had all left the Cubs (although Tinker had played there for the Chicago Whales and returned to the Cubs when they moved in). After his exposure as a fraud, Scissons sees his younger self walk out of the cornfield in a 1908 Cubs uniform and take the mound, but, as penance, gets clobbered, and leaves without recording an out. He dies the next day, and is buried in the outfield, and Ray is now sure that if he looks in The Baseball Encyclopedia where Scissons' name would be, it will be there.

My favorite part of the book concerns the trip back from Chisholm to the farm in Iowa. In a scene that does not appear in the film, Ray, Salinger, and young Archie Graham stop off at Metropolitan Stadium outside Minneapolis to watch the Minnesota Twins play the Yankees. Ray takes a particular interest in the Yankees' banged-up, grumpy but heroic catcher, Thurman Munson, and notes (after the fact) that Munson would die in a plane crash only a few weeks later. (This definitively dates the story: The Yankees visiting the Twins in June 12, 13 and 14, 1979. The Yankees won the opener of the series 4-1, and the Twins took the next 2, 8-7 and 4-2.)

He also mentions going back the next day, and watching the groundskeepers water the field, taking notes on how to do it for his own field back on his farm, and pointing out that, by the time the book was done, the Twins had moved out of The Met and into the downtown Metrodome, which had artificial turf, and didn't need any watering.

*

Shoeless Joe was a bestseller and made Kinsella a literary star, and Field of Dreams made him a legend. He wrote a 2nd baseball novel, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, about an Iowa minor league team playing the 1908 World Champion Cubs in what turns out to be a days-long game that simply doesn't want to end. It was excerpted in Sports Illustrated at its publication in 1986.

He had also invoked the Cubs in a 1984 story, The Last Pennant Before Armageddon, in which it looks like the Cubs might finally win the National League Pennant for the 1st time since 1945, just as America and the Soviet Union might actually be heading for a nuclear exchange, thus preventing the Pennant -- or, if the Pennant does happen first, preventing anyone from enjoying it for very long. It was very fortuitous: This turned out to be the same year President Ronald Reagan, himself a former broadcaster for the Cubs in Iowa (doing games by telegraph over Des Moines radio station WHO), made a joke about bombing Russia that mistakenly went out during preparations for his weekly radio address; and the Cubs reached the postseason for the 1st time since the 1945 World Series, and came within 1 game of that elusive Pennant, but blew it. The story was adapted for a stage play in 1990.

In 1993, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada; he would later receive the Order of British Columbia. In 1996, his story Lieberman in Love was turned into a short film that won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. Somehow, the film had been made without him even knowing about it, until he watched the Oscar telecast and heard it announced. He was not mentioned in the film's credits. Nor did Christine Lahti, the actress who directed it, mention him in her acceptance speech. Variety, the show-business newspaper, took out a full-page ad apologizing to him, and that seemed to settle things.

In 1997, Kinsella was hit by a car. His impact injuries were minor, but he suffered another injury when his head hit he ground. He would later say he lost his senses of smell and taste, and his ability to concentrate. He also developed diabetes. He became embittered about the publishing industry, bemoaning the shrinking audience for academic fiction.

Shortly after his accident, the last novel he had written before it was released: Magic Time, which followed a group of activists from the early 1960s to the late 1970s. I read it. It showed so much promise. It went someplace I didn't want it to go. Timothy Leary, the doctor who became the high priest of LSD, was still alive when Kinsella wrote it, but had died before it came out. Early in he book, Kinsella wrote of the group's first "acid trip," and had one of them think, "Timothy Leary looked like an angel." Toward the end, one of the characters has an "acid flashback," and thinks, "Timothy Leary looked like the Devil."

By the end of the 2000s, he had settled in Yale, British Columbia, a small rural town well inland from the big city of Vancouver and the Provincial capital of Victoria. In a way, he was emulating Salinger, who died in 2010. By that point, Kinsella had begun to write again. In 2011, another baseball novel was published, Butterfly Winter.

His diabates would soon leave him debilitated. On June 18 of this year, physician-assisted suicide was legalized in Canada. Three months later, on September 18, 2016, in Hope, British Columbia, W.P. Kinsella and his doctor took advantage of this law. The author was 81 years old. He was survived by his 4th wife, Barbara; 2 daughters, Erin Kinsella and Shannon Kinsella; 3 stepchildren, Scarlet Gaffney, Aaron Gaffney and Lyn Calendar; and 4 grandchildren.

"I just think magically," he told the Vancouver Sun in 2011. "I always have."

Anyone who reads Shoeless Joe or watches Field of Dreams would have to agree with that.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Boston Miscue Means Cashman & Girardi Must Go

I had hoped that this weekend's 4-game series in Boston against the Red Sox would be a repeat of the September 7-10, 1978 series that became known as "The Boston Massacre." I wasn't asking for scores of 15-3, 13-2, 7-0 and 7-4. But I was hoping to have gone in 4 games behind the Sox for the lead in the American League Eastern Division, and emerge tied.

Here's how close that came to happening:

* Thursday night: Yanks led 5-2 going into the bottom of the 9th inning, and were ahead 5-4 needing 1 more out to finish the win.

* Friday night: Yanks trailed only 3-2 going into the bottom of the 6th.

* Saturday afternoon: Yanks led 5-4 going into the bottom of the 7th.

* Sunday night: Yanks led 4-3 going into the bottom of the 6th.

Instead, the Red Sox won, 7-5, 7-4, 6-5 and 5-4.

These games were lost because Brian Cashman dealt Joe Girardi a lousy hand by gutting the bullpen, and Girardi played that hand horribly.

This was not a Boston Massacre. This was a Boston Miscue.

So now, the Yankees are 8 games out, and 4 games out in the Wild Card race. When they could have, and should have, had a very serious chance to win the Division and avoid that win-or-go-home Game 163 entirely.

Don't tell me the Yankees were never in it. That's a lie. Don't tell me the Yankees "had to rebuild." That's an even bigger lie. Had they merely split this series, they would have been 4 games back with 13 to go, and would still have had a chance at the Division, especially with 3 more games with the Sox in The Bronx.

Don't tell me the farm system needed to be rebuilt. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders have won the International League Pennant. The Trenton Thunder made the Eastern League Playoffs. The Tampa Yankees made the Florida State League Playoffs. The Charleston RiverDogs made the South Atlantic League Playoffs as 1st-half champions of their Division. The Staten Island Yankees made the Playoffs. The top 5 teams in the farm system all made the Playoffs.

The Yankees' farm system was fine. It's the major-league team that needed help.

Instead, Cashman and Girardi made a difficult situation worse.

Both must go in the off-season. Because the purpose of the New York Yankees is to win the World Series. And they have not brought us closer to achieving that goal next season, or the season after, or the season after that. They have pushed us further away.

George Steinbrenner would have fired both years ago.

But Hal and Hank Steinbrenner haven't. What will it take? Must Girardi get caught punching out a guy in a bar? Must Cashman, as the old saying goes, be caught with a dead girl or a live boy?

They should be fired on merit. Or, rather lack thereof.

Don't wait until the end of the season. Do it now.

At this point, I'd even take Alex Rodriguez in either post over those two.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

How to Be a New York Soccer Fan In Houston -- 2016 Edtion

I close my Trip Guides for the 20 current Major League Soccer franchises with the Houston Dynamo. The New York Red Bulls do not visit them this season (although a Playoff matchup is possible), but New York City FC do, on Friday night, September 30.

Before You Go. The Houston Chronicle is predicting low 90s on Friday afternoon, but a considerably more tolerable mid-70s for gametime. The heat could be a problem, since, unlike Houston's baseball, football and basketball teams, the soccer team plays open to the elements.

When I last did this guide for the Astros this past July 23, I bemoaned the fact that Houston could have built an overhead walkway system like Minneapolis, or an "Underground City" like Montreal, in their cases to protect pedestrians from their cities' notoriously cold Winter. I have since been informed that there is a "Houston Tunnel System," begun in the 1930s, and inspired by New York itself, by the system under Rockefeller Center. Regardless of how much this may help, remember to stay hydrated. At least it looks like you won't have to worry about rain on Friday.

Houston is in the Central Time Zone, so you'll be an hour behind New York time. Although Texas was a Confederate State, you won't need to bring your passport or change your money.

Tickets. The Dynamo are averaging 18,835 fans per game this season, down about 1,800 from last season. However, this being soccer, it wouldn't matter if they averaged a sellout (22,039), because MLS teams always set aside tickets for visiting fans.

The Dynamo put visiting fans in Section 240, in the southwest corner. This section, and the entire West Stand, is pretty much the only part of the stadium that doesn't give you a good view of the impressive skyscrapers of downtown Houston. Tickets are $27.

Getting There. It's 1,629 miles from Times Square in New York to downtown Houston, and 1,619 miles from Red Bull Arena to BBVA Compass Stadium. You're probably thinking that you should be flying.

Flying from Newark to Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (That's named for the father, not the son) can be done for as little as $413, nonstop on United Airlines. Bus 102 will get you to downtown Houston in about an hour and 20 minutes.

There are 2 ways to get there by train. One is to change trains in Chicago, and then change to a bus in Longview, Texas. The other is to take Amtrak's Crescent out of Penn Station in New York at 2:15 PM Eastern Time 2 days before you want to arrive, arrive at Union Station in New Orleans at 7:32 PM Central Time the day before you want to arrive, stay in New Orleans overnight, and then transfer to the Sunset Limited at 9:00 AM, and arrive in Houston at 6:18 PM. (In other words, about 40 minutes before kickoff.) No, I'm not making any of that up. You don't want that, even though it would cost you a relatively cheap $348 round-trip. So let's just forget Amtrak, and move on.

Greyhound allows you to leave Port Authority Bus Terminal at 8:15 PM tonight, and arrive at Houston at 1:25 on Tuesday, a trip of 42 hours and 10 minutes. But that would require changing buses in Richmond (an hour and 5-minute layover), Atlanta (also 1:05) and New Orleans (45 minutes). It also includes layovers of 25 minutes in Raleigh, 1:10 in Charlotte, and then there's Alabama, with half an hour in Montgomery and an hour and 10 minutes in Mobile. Then 20 minutes in Baton Rouge. And you'd have to leave tonight, Sunday, in order to make it by the Tuesday night game. It's $198 round-trip. You're better off spending a little extra and flying. The Houston Greyhound station is at 2121 Main Street, a mile and a half from the ballpark.

If you actually think it’s worth it to drive, get someone to go with you so you’ll have someone to talk to and one of you can drive while the other sleeps. You’ll be taking Interstate 78 across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania to Harrisburg, where you'll pick up Interstate 81 and take that through the narrow panhandles of Maryland and West Virginia, down the Appalachian spine of Virginia and into Tennessee, where you'll pick up Interstate 40, stay on that briefly until you reach Interstate 75, and take that until you reach Interstate 59, which will take you into Georgia briefly and then across Alabama and Mississippi, and into Louisiana, where you take Interstate 12 west outside New Orleans. Take that until you reach Interstate 10. Once in Texas, Exit 770 will get you to downtown Houston.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 3 hours in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in Maryland, half an hour in West Virginia, 5 and a half hours in Virginia, 3 hours and 45 minutes in Tennessee, half an hour in Georgia, 4 hours in Alabama, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Mississippi, 4 hours and 30 minutes in Louisiana and 2 hours in Texas. Including rest stops, and accounting for traffic, we’re talking about a 40-hour trip.

Even if you’re only going for one game, no matter how you got there, get a hotel and spend a night. You’ll be exhausted otherwise. Trust me, I know: Trains and buses are not good ways to get sleep.

Once In the City. Houston was founded in 1836 as Allen's Landing, and was renamed for Sam Houston, "the Father of Texas." There are 2.2 million people in the city proper, making it the 4th-largest in America, and 6.2 million in the metropolitan area, making it 5th.

The sales tax in the State of Texas is 6.25 percent, but in the City of Houston it goes up to 8.25 percent. The city doesn't appear to have a "centerpoint," where the address numbers start at 1, but there is a Main Street, running northeast/southwest.

There is a light rail system, called METRORail, but you probably won't need it to get from a downtown hotel to the ballpark. One zone is $1.25, and the price rises to $4.50 for 4 zones, so a daypass is a better bargain at $3.00.
Going In. BBVA Compass Stadium, its naming rights bought by a Spain-based banking corporation, is in the East of Downtown neighborhood, or EaDo, separated from Downtown Houston by Interstate 69, the Southwest Freeway. The mailing address is 2200 Texas Avenue. Parking is $20. It is served by the EaDo/Stadium station.
Opening in 2012, it is also home to the Houston Dash of the National Women's Soccer League, and the football team of Texas Southern University. The University of Houston played football there in 2013, while their new stadium was built on the site of their old one.
Despite the "pub culture" of soccer, this is Texas, this is the South, and the Dynamo organization is one of the few in MLS that actively encourages tailgate parties. They set aside Lot B and Lot C for fans who want to tailgate. (The Red Bulls allow it, but there's a difference between allowing and encouraging. It's part of the culture there.)

The field is real grass, and is aligned north-to-south -- well, northeast-to-southwest, anyway. It's hosted 8 men's international matches, including a U.S. draw with Canada on January 13, 2013; and 1 women's international match, a U.S. win over China on December 12, 2012.
Food. Being a "Wild West" city, you might expect Houston to have Western-themed stands with "real American food" at its stadiums. Being a Southern State, you might also expect to have barbecue. Being in South Texas, you might expect Mexican food. And you would be right on all counts.

They have Texas Fare at Sections 105, 110, 117 and 136; Pizza on the Pitch at 107 and 138; Taqueria Los Anaranjados (Spanish for "the Orange Ones") at 115 and 135; Extreme Dogs & Nachos at 122; Bayou City BBQ at 125 and 133; and Far Post & East End Grill at 127 and 139;

Team History Displays. The 1996 MLS charter club version of the San Jose Earthquakes (replaced in 2008) moved to Houston for the 2006 season, and, in shocking fashion -- shocking not just for the bright orange jerseys -- won the next 2 MLS Cups. They also won Conference Championships in 2011 and 2012, although they lost the MLS Cup Finals on those occasions. They also contest the Texas Derby with FC Dallas, and have won it 6 of the 11 times it's been played, including this season.

The Dynamo hang banners for their titles under the roof at the south end. They do not have any retired numbers, or a team hall of fame. Nor did they announce a 10th Anniversary Team this season.
Stuff. The Soccer Shop is located opposite Section 114 on Texas Avenue, toward the northwest corner of the Stadium, and is open for up to one hour before gates open. Fans must have a valid ticket to enter on matchdays.

While there are commemorative DVDs for their 2006 and 2007 MLS Cup seasons, and this year marks their 10th Anniversary in town, as yet, there appear to be no books about the Dynamo.

During the Game. If you were wearing Dallas Cowboy gear to a Houston Texans game, or Texas Longhorns gear to a Texas A&M Aggies game (or vice versa), or FC Dallas gear to this stadium, you might be in trouble. But Dynamo fans aren't especially hostile to New Yorkers, so safety shouldn't be an issue.

Knock, knock. "Who's there?" Orange. "Orange who?" Orange you glad whoever designed the Dynamo's uniforms didn't design your team's uniforms? They're so orange, they make the Dutch national team look like men in gray flannel suits! They even have "Forever Orange" as one of their slogans. So if you don't antagonize anyone, and you keep hydrated so you don't overheat, the greatest danger will be to your retinas!

The club accepts applications for National Anthem singers, rather than having a regular do it. Unlike most MLS clubs, they have cheerleaders (this is Texas, after all), known as the Dynamo Girls. Their mascot is a fox named Dynamo Diesel, who looks suspiciously like the Car Fox character from the Carfax commercials.
Dynamo Diesel and the Dynamo Girls

The main Dynamo supporters groups all sit in the North End, or La Zona Naranja (The Orange Zone), Sections 215, 216 and 217. They include the Texian Army, named for the army that won Texas' independence from Mexico in 1836; La Bateria (The Battery); the Brickwall Firm; and El Batallón (The Batallion).
"Forever Orange"

Many of their songs are in Spanish, including the standby used by the Red Bulls and many others: "¡Vamos, vamos Houston, esta noche, tenemos que ganar!" (Let's go, let's go Houston! This night, we have to win!"

One unpleasant side of Dynamo support was homophobic remarks made on one of the groups' Twitter feeds in the Spring of 2013. They have since accepted the backlash and cut that stuff out.

After the Game. Houston is a comparatively low-crime city, and not a city known for having particularly nutty fans. As long as you behave yourself, they'll probably behave themselves, win or lose.

Lucky's Pub appears to be the go-to bar for New Yorkers living in the Houston area. It is at 801 St. Emanuel Street at Rusk Street, a block west of the stadium. Stadia Sports Grill, supposedly a haven for Jets fans is at 11200 Broadway Street in Pearland, but that's 15 miles south of the ballpark.

If your visit to Houston is during the European soccer season (as this match is), and you want to watch your favorite club play, you can do so at the following locations:

* Arsenal, Manchester City and Barcelona: The Richmond Arms, 5920 Richmond Drive. Bus 20 to Sage Road & San Felipe Road, then transfer to Bus 32 to Fountainview Drive at Richmond Drive.

* Liverpool: The Gorgeous Gael, 5555 Morningside Drive. Bus 20 to Shepherd Drive at Memorial Drive, then transfer to Bus 27 to Greenbriar Drive at University Blvd.

* Chelsea, Everton and Celtic: The Phoenix Brewpub, 1915 Westheimer Road at McDuffie Street. Bus 82 to Westheimer at Hazard.

* Manchester United: The King's Court Bar and Kitchen, 903 Hutchins Street at Walker Street, across from the South End of BBVA Compass Stadium.

* Real Madrid: Taps House of Beer, 5120 Washington Avenue. Bus 85 to Fannin Street at Texas Avenue.

* Tottenham Hotspur and Bayern Munich: BarMunich, 2616 Louisiana Street at Dennis Street. Light Rail to McGowen. If you can't find your favorite club listed here, this place is probably the best choice, because of its early opening.

Sidelights. The Dynamo's 1st home, from 2006 to 2011, was Robertson Stadium. They had their 2006 and 2007 championship seasons there, although they didn't play the MLS Cup Finals there. In 2006, they beat the New England Revolution at Pizza Hut Park, now Toyota Stadium, home of their arch-rivals, FC Dallas. In 2007, they beat the Revs again, at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington.

Built in 1942 as Public School Stadium, and known as Jeppesen Stadium from 1958 to 1980, Corbin J. Robertson Stadium (named for a member of the University of Houston's board of regents) seated 36,000 people at its peak, and was also home to the University of Houston football team from 1946 to 1950, and again from 1998 to 2012; and was the 1st home of the Houston Oilers, from 1960 to 1964.
The Oilers won the 1960 American Football League Championship Game there, over the Los Angeles Chargers (who moved to San Diego the next year), but lost the 1962 AFL Championship Game there to the Dallas Texans (who became the Kansas City Chiefs the next year). They won the 1961 AFL Championship Game on the road.

TDECU Stadium, the new home of University of Houston football, has been built at the site. 3874 Holman Street at Cullen Blvd. Number 52 bus.

The Oilers played the 1965, '66 and '67 seasons at Rice Stadium, home of Rice University. Although built in 1950 and probably already obsolete, it seated a lot more people than did the Astrodome, and so Super Bowl VIII was played there instead of the Astrodome in January 1974, and the Miami Dolphins won it -- and haven't won a Super Bowl since.

It has been significantly renovated, and Rice still uses it. University Blvd. at Greenbriar Street, although the mailing address is 6100 S. Main Street. Number 700 bus.

Before there were the Astros, or even the Colt .45's, there were the Houston Buffaloes. The Buffs played at Buffalo Stadium, a.k.a. Buff Stadium, for most of their history, from 1928 to 1961, when the Colt .45's made them obsolete.

The Buffs won 8 Texas League Pennants: 1928, 1931, 1940, 1947, 1951, 1954, 1956 and 1957. The stadium was at the southwest corner of Leeland Street & Cullen Blvd., about 2 1/2 miles southeast of downtown. A furniture store is on the site now. Number 20 bus.

In 1965, the Astrodome opened, and was nicknamed "The Eighth Wonder of the World." It sure didn't seem like an exaggeration: The 1st roofed sports stadium in the world. (Supposedly, the Romans built stadia with canvas roofs, but that's hardly the same thing.) The Astros played there until 1999, and then moved into Enron Field/Minute Maid Park for the 2000 season. The Oilers played at the Astrodome from 1968 to 1996, when they moved to Tennessee to become the Titans.
In 2002, the new NFL team, the Houston Texans, began play next-door to the Astrodome, at NRG Stadium (formerly Reliant Stadium), which, like Minute Maid Park, has a retractable roof. Suddenly, the mostly-vacant Astrodome seemed, as one writer put it, like a relic of a future that never came to be. (This same writer said the same thing of Shea Stadium and, across Roosevelt Avenue, the surviving structures of the 1964 World's Fair.)

Once, the Astrodome was flashy enough to be the site of movies like The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and Murder at the World Series. (Both in 1977. In the latter, the Astros, who had never yet gotten close to a Pennant, played the Series against the Oakland Athletics, who had just gotten fire-sold by owner Charlie Finley.)

The Astrodome also hosted the legendary 1968 college basketball game between Number 1 UCLA (with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then still Lew Alcindor) and Number 2 University of Houston (whose Elvin Hayes led them to victory, before falling to UCLA in that year's Final Four), the 1971 Final Four (UCLA beating Villanova in the Final), and the cheese-tastic 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, the "Battle of the Sexes."

Elvis Presley sang there on February 27, 1970 and on March 3, 1974. It hosted Selena's last big concert before her murder in 1995, and when Jennifer Lopez starred in the film version, it was used for the re-creation. In 2004, the same year NRG Stadium hosted the Super Bowl (which was won by... Janet Jackson, I think), the Astrodome was used to film a high school football playoff for the film version of Friday Night Lights; the old Astros division title banners can be clearly seen.

Today, though, the Astrodome seems, like the Republican Party that held a ridiculously bigoted Convention there in 1992, stuck in the past, and not just because they renominated failed President George H.W. Bush. The former Eighth Wonder of the World is now nicknamed the Lonely Landmark, and while it served as a shelter for people displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, since 2008, when it was hit with numerous code violations, only maintenance workers and security guards have been allowed to enter. The stadium's future is not clear: Some officials are worried that demolishing it would damage the new stadium and other nearby structures.
NRG Stadium hosted the Final Four in 2011 (Connecticut beating Butler in the Final), and earlier this year (Villanova beating North Carolina). It will host Super Bowl LI this coming February.

It was built roughly on the site of Colt Stadium, which was the baseball team's home in their 1st 3 seasons, 1962, '63 and '64, when they were known as the Houston Colt .45's (spelled with the apostrophe), before moving into the dome and changing the name of the team. The climate-controlled stadium was necessary because of not just the heat and the humidity, but because of the mosquitoes.

Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers said, "Some of those mosquitoes are twin-engine jobs."
Later, seeing the artificial turf that was laid in the Astrodome for 1966 after the grass died in the first season, due to the skylights in the dome having to be painted due to the players losing the ball in the sun, Koufax said, "I was one of those guys who pitched without a cup. I wouldn't do it on this stuff. And Dick Allen of the Philadelphia Phillies, looking at the first artificial field in baseball history, said, "If a horse can't eat it, I don't want to play on it."

The Astrodome hosted a 1988 match between the national soccer teams of the U.S. and Ecuador, which Ecuador won. NRG Stadium has hosted 2 such matches, a 2008 draw with Mexico and a 2011 win over Panama. The Mexico team has made it a home-away-from-home, playing several matches there.

The NRG complex, including the Astrodome, is at 8400 Kirby Drive at Reliant Parkway. Number 700 bus.

For the 2000 season, the Astros moved to Minute Maid Park, at 501 Crawford Street at Texas Avenue, 4 blocks west of BBVA Compass Stadium.

The NBA's Houston Rockets played at the Summit, later known as the Compaq Center, from 1975 to 2003. It's been converted into the Lakewood Church Central Campus, a megachurch presided over by Dr. Joel Osteen. 3700 Southwest Freeway at Timmons Lane. Number 53 bus.

The Rockets now play in the Toyota Center, at 1510 Polk Street at Crawford Street. It's 9 blocks south of Minute Maid Park, and a little bit southwest of BBVA Compass Stadium.

The Houston Aeros, with Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty, won the World Hockey Association championships of 1974 and 1975, while playing at the Sam Houston Coliseum, before moving into the Summit in 1975 and folding in 1978. The ABA's Houston Mavericks played there from 1967 to 1969. The Beatles played there on August 19, 1965. Before the opening of The Summit, the Rockets played at the Coliseum, and at the Astrodome.

The Sam Houston Coliseum was built in 1937 and demolished in 1998. It replaced Sam Houston Hall, where the 1928 Democratic Convention nominated Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York, who thus became the 1st Catholic nominated for President by a major party.

The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts is now on the site. 801 Bagby Street, at Rusk Street, downtown.

The nearest NHL team to Houston is the Dallas Stars, 242 miles away. If Houston had an NHL team, its metropolitan area would rank 10th in population in the NHL.


The tallest building in Houston, and in all of Texas, is the JPMorgan Chase Tower, formerly the Texas Commerce Tower. It was built in 1982 at 600 Travis Street at Texas Avenue, downtown, and stands 1,002 feet tall, rising 75 stories above the concrete over the bayou.

Houston's version of New York's American Museum of Natural History is the Houston Museum of Natural Science, in Hermann Park, at Main Street and Hermann Park Drive. The Houston Museum of Fine Arts is at 1001 Bissonnet Street, just 5 blocks away. Both can be reached by the Number 700 bus.

Of course, the name "Houston" is most connected with two things: Its namesake, the legendary Senator, Governor and war hero Sam Houston, and the Johnson Space Center, the NASA control center named after President Lyndon B. Johnson, who, as Senate Majority Leader, wrote the bill creating NASA and the Space Center, because he thought it would bring a lot of jobs and money to Houston (and he was right). Most historic sites relating to Sam, however, are not in the city that bears his name. As for reaching the Johnson Space Center, it's at 1601 NASA Parkway and Saturn Lane. The Number 249 bus goes there, so if you don't have a car, Houston, you won't have a problem.

Although Houston is the post-Presidential home for George H.W. and Barbara Bush, his Presidential Library is at Texas A&M University, 100 miles away in College Station.

The Alley Theatre, downtown at 615 Texas Avenue, opened in 1968, and in 1976 hosted the Vice Presidential debate between Senators Walter Mondale and Bob Dole. This is where Dole named World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars as "all Democrat wars" -- forgetting that the Republicans wanted America to get into all but World War II, and didn't want that one because they liked the Nazis' anti-union status; and that it was actually the Republicans who got us into Vietnam.

There have been a few TV shows set in Houston, but the only one that lasted was Reba, starring country singer Reba McIntire. But it was filmed in Los Angeles, so if you're a fan, you won't find the house in Houston.

Films set in Houston, in addition to the sports-themed ones, include Brewster McCloud (which also used the Astrodome, and not to be confused with Dennis Weaver's show McCloud), Logan's Run (which used the Houston Hyatt Regency for some scenes), Telefon (set there but filmed in California), Terms of EndearmentReality Bites, and, perhaps most iconically, Urban Cowboy.

*

Houston can be hot, but it's a good sports town, and, best of all, it's not Dallas. So there can be a good old time in the hot town tonight.