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Wanna Look at My Vacation Pictures?

When their season began, they were nobody. When it ended, they were somebody. If it’s the first Friday of the month, then we’re remembering them in this special 1997 [1] edition of Flashback Friday [2] at Faith and Fear in Flushing.

Ten years, seven Fridays. This is one of them.

My vacation pictures came back today. Wanna see ’em?

Aw, where ya going? They’re good pictures! It won’t take that long, I promise.

Stephanie and I drove to Cooperstown on Monday and returned home Thursday, and the next day I took a train down to Baltimore to see the Mets play their first-ever games, Friday night and Saturday afternoon, at Camden Yards. It was kind of a coincidence that the two things happened in the same week, but it sounds like the perfect baseball tourist adventure, doesn’t it?

Well, it was, though mostly I remember the schlep. The schlep and being really tired and buying t-shirts. But enough of me telling you about it. Here are the pictures.

Not these. These are from Shea. I was using up this roll during the first few weeks in August. Kind of like the Mets were using up the roll they had been on in July. We can just run through those real quick.

That’s me and Frank the comedy writer who was visiting from California. We saw the Mets lose to the Rockies and some douche named John Thomson shut us out. Mlicki is worthless, as Frank reminded me repeatedly.

That’s me and Chuck against Houston on his birthday. Another loss. Reeder got clobbered early for maybe the second time all year, but they hung in there. Got it to 5-4 but kept falling behind. Fucking Astros. Tim Bogar had three hits, Chuck Carr had two. Whaddaya gonna do? We had an OK time anyway. Olerud hit two homers and Ordoñez actually drove in two runs with a pinch-hit. If you look in the background you can see two of the new guys we got in the Lance Johnson trade. That’s Brian McRae pinch-hitting and there’s Turk Wendell coming in. I’m guessing the key to the deal is Mel Rojas, but you’d have to ask the new GM, Phillips. I liked Joe McIlvaine just fine.

That’s me and Stephanie the Sunday before we left for Cooperstown. Got four tickets for the Mets and Padres from my friend at one of the beverage companies, which I gladly accepted despite covering his company because I’m a whore for Mets tickets. That’s my e-mail buddy Jason and Bruce, a guy from work. And that’s Pete Smith — yes, Pete Smith from the ’94 Mets — dumping a triple in front of Butch Huskey, scoring three runs. There’s Huskey homering, trying to make up for it. And there’s good old Fonzie doubling in Luis Lopez in the seventh, but Trevor Hoffman closed us out and we lost.

That? In my mouth? A cannoli. It was the end of international week and the Mets were having a clearance sale on ethnic food. I can’t say I’m sad I missed any of the international-themed games. One night against the Dodgers they had a convergence of Merengue Night, so you had a lot of Dominican fans rooting for Raul Mondesi. Plus Chan Ho Park was pitching for them, so you had a lot of Korean fans rooting for them. I was listening on the radio and I swear I hardly heard anybody cheering when the Mets did anything good.

Bad month at Shea for me. Oh and three. That’s me looking depressed as I realize that even though it’s been such a fun season, it’s late August and we’re 5-1/2 in back of the Marlins and we’ve even fallen behind the Giants.

Oh well. Good time to get out of town. Here’s where the vacation pictures start.

This is Stephanie and me at the Kenny Rogers in Rockville Centre. You know: the chicken and country music guy, not the pitcher on the Yankees. We were chowing down on rotisserie chicken and side dishes before taking off on Monday. We love that place. We had to drop off Bernie and Casey at the vet for boarding and then run some other errands and by the time we finished lunch, it was 2:30. I have to admit I was a little worried because as you know I don’t like driving at night. RVC is 242 miles from the HOF, so it shouldn’t take more than 4-1/2 hours to get there, though I don’t drive very fast. I also have to admit that when I don’t have to adhere to a schedule, I tend to dawdle, so it’s really my own fault.

This is me at the Exxon station in Oceanside staring at a map of New York State I just bought, trying to come up with the least traffic-combative route upstate. Good thing I bothered to notice I didn’t own one before we left.

We’re passing through Valley Stream here, which is just a few minutes from East Rockaway. I asked Stephanie why they can’t just have the Hall of Fame here. It’s not like baseball was really invented all the way upstate.

OK, this is us on the New York State Thruway, toward late afternoon. We’re turning off to go to Woodstock. By the time we got to Woodstock, I was wary of losing daylight. You know I don’t like driving at night. Did I mention that? But Stephanie spent part of her childhood in Woodstock — what a hippie — and hadn’t been there since she was four, so I really couldn’t say no.

Here we are in Woodstock. They didn’t even have the concert there, you know. Just sayin’.

This one here is of me narrowly missing a deer. We had left Woodstock and the sun was beginning to set and I’m trying to find my way back to where I need to be, and a deer trots in front of me. I didn’t see any DEER XING signs and it didn’t see any COROLLA XING ones, so I guess we’re even. I had to slam on the brakes but I missed the deer. It left me rather shook up.

Next, you see me behind the wheel and I’m not doing so good — see all those sweat beads? Once it was getting dark, I knew I couldn’t stick with the highway, so I turned off to Route 28.

This is a little after I came to a fork in the road and, like Yogi suggested, I took it. But I took the wrong fork because as you can plainly see, I don’t know where the hell I am. It’s an unmarked road and I’m kind of panicky. If you look closely, you can see it drizzling. As a result, I’m going like 5 miles an hour and letting what few cars there are pass me. I’m in such a state that I even switch off the Mets-Giants game crackling its way up from Flushing.

There’s a cop car going by. I thought he was going to pull me over for not going fast enough. I wouldn’t have minded the break.

Here we are pulled over to this house in the middle of nowhere asking these two teenage girls who happen to be outside how to get to Oneonta. Oneonta is a college town adjacent to Cooperstown. I don’t just ask for directions to Cooperstown because I have this weird hangup about coming off as a tourist, even a baseball tourist. Somehow, I think I’ll come off as more authentic to total strangers if I ask about something less obvious. Yes, it’s stupid. Yes, Stephanie thinks it’s stupid. But we get directions and we’re not all that far off 28, thank goodness.

This one is us pulling into the Best Western parking lot around 9:30, seven hours after we started. I’m literally shaking.

All right, it’s Tuesday. Yes, now we’re in the actual Hall of Fame. That’s me with my Mets cap over my heart. I like to do that. I like to get all solemn with history. I really went respectful in the ballparks room, where I had to pause and pay homage to the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field and Comiskey Park, which I’d actually been to.

Look at that! It’s a seat from the Polo Grounds! I wish I had seen it. The park itself, I mean.

In the next few, I’m moving around to the various exhibits. There’s me next to Gil Hodges’ uniform. There’s a 1986 World Series ring. It’s all good.

I don’t have any pictures of the no-hitter exhibit. I didn’t go anywhere near it. If you have to ask me why not, you haven’t been paying attention.

This is the plaque room. I guess it’s technically the actual Hall of Fame. This is where they honor everybody who we argue about all year, especially in January when the voting comes down. Y’know, it’s funny — I’m really passionate about who’s in and who’s out, but when you’re there, the plaque room is really the most boring part of the Hall of Fame. Except for Tom Seaver’s.

This is Tom’s plaque. Look at what it says: “Franchise power pitcher who transformed Mets from lovable losers to formidable foes.” Yeah!

Here’s another of Tom’s plaque…actually, I think the rest of the envelope is Tom’s plaque. I took a lot of pictures from a lot of different angles. I’ll get out the next roll.

As you can see, we’re outside the Hall in these. See all those bags we’re lugging? We got carried away in the gift shop and all the other baseball stores on Main Street. What do you expect? We’re t-shirt freaks and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stock up. I even thought about buying an old-time, pre-refurbishing Yankee Stadium shirt, if you can believe that. Thought about it but didn’t. I may have spent too much money in there, but I didn’t spend my sanity.

Here’s a shirt I bought depicting the Polo Grounds in one of its early incarnations.

Here’s another with “Knights” on the front and Roy Hobbs’ and Todd Hundley’s number (9, of course) on the back.

Here are a couple commemorating and promoting the Hall itself.

Steph got several, too, including this one for the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. League of Their Own was an overrated movie, but it’s a neat shirt.

This is another picture on Main Street. I’m surprised how many Mets fans there are, especially how many green Mets caps there are. They had Irish Night at Shea over the weekend and that was the giveaway. As you can see, I’ve got my “How About Dem 1997 Mets” shirt on. Look! Ordoñez, Olerud, Jones and Hundley on their very own t-shirt! It’s important to represent.

Recognize this place? It’s Doubleday Field where they play the Hall of Fame game every year. An amateur tournament is going on. Steph got a really good picture of it. We’re getting it blown up for the living room.

This is the inside of one of the memorabilia stores. I’m looking for a Washington Senators cap, a red one. They don’t have it and I don’t want the earlier, darker version. I was in Washington years ago and thought about buying a Senators cap I saw but didn’t. If I’m ever going to buy one, I figure Cooperstown is the place. But they don’t have it and, honestly, what do I need one for?

These here are the next day, Wednesday. Turned out we didn’t need more than a couple of hours inside the Hall, so we’re actually at one of those other attractions that all the brochures say Cooperstown has and actually does, the James Fenimore Cooper House. It’s pretty cool even if it has nothing to do with baseball.

We’re back on Main Street in these, having lunch. Look at the TV in this place. Do you see what’s on? Whatever it is, it’s not the Mets game. The day before, I noticed one of those stores had the Yankee game from Oakland on. I assumed that since they got Sportschannel up here and it is the baseball capital of the world and the Mets are playing an afternoon game against the Giants, that it would be on in this place. But it’s not. Figures.

Our room at the Best Western in the middle of the afternoon…I’m watching the game. The Mets are breaking a three-game losing streak that started on Sunday against the Padres, which, like I said, we went to. We got up to get something to eat in the second and Pete Smith — the pitcher! an ex-Met! not Tony Gwynn but Pete Smith! — dropped one in front of Butch Huskey and drove in three runs and we lost 3-2.

Yeah, I know I already mentioned that. Still pisses me off. That cannoli was excellent, though.

Anyway, I rushed us back to the room to watch the game because it was Jason Isringhausen’s long-awaited return from injuries. By the time we got back, Izzy was out but I watched the rest and the Mets won 15-6. There’s a shot of the one of the four hits and five RBI from Fonzie. Oh how I love him.

There’s Steph reading while I’m watching. Steph’s a good sport for interrupting our tourism so I can sit in the room and watch the Mets. Oh how I love her, too.

These pictures are nothing special. We’re leaving Cooperstown Thursday morning…we’re driving on I-88 because we left nice and early…we stop at SUNY Cobleskill to get college t-shirts — I couldn’t find SUNY Oneonta it turned out…we’re at a rest stop…we’re at another rest stop…and another, because the only way I could do the highway was to keep stopping…here we’re enjoying a blueberry doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts, which they had at one of the rest stops…we’re passing Yankee Stadium here, which I point out to Steph. I’m in a good enough mood from Cooperstown not to say anything disparaging about it.

These? Those are of Bernie and Casey [3], of course! We’re picking them up at the vet Thursday evening. We have a bunch of pictures of them, but I won’t bore you. They’re such good boys!

Wait! There’s more! I have a whole other set of pictures from the Camden Yards part of the trip. It won’t take long, I swear.

This is me unpacking and packing simultaneously. It’s Thursday night and it’s kind of hitting me that we just got home but I’m about to take off again. Boy am I tired. A good tired, I suppose, since it’s tired born of baseball, but tired just the same. How do the beat writers do it?

Friday morning, I’m kissing Stephanie goodbye. It only occurred to me tangentially that after spending half our vacation together, I’m abandoning her, if only for an overnight trip. I feel a little guilty, but you’ll notice it’s not stopping me.

Here I’m outside Dock’s Dog House, the summertime snack shack in our neighborhood where I occasionally buy Newsday on my way to the train station. I’m wearing the “No Place Like Tiger Stadium” t-shirt I got at the end of June when we were in Detroit to see the Mets. One of the old codgers who spends his mornings outside Dock’s teases me about it. I think his point was the Tigers weren’t the Yankees. Coot.

I don’t have any pictures from the LIRR or Penn Station or the Amtrak. Sorry.

The next ones are of Baltimore Penn Station, which is a reasonably photogenic place. That’s me wandering around out front waiting for Fred. You know about my high school friend Fred Bunz. Ever since he moved here to do medical research at Johns Hopkins, he’s been a terrific source for Orioles tickets. His lab gets them. Once he noticed the Mets were on the schedule for late August, he arranged to get seats for the first game Friday night. Fred and the lab’s freebies were unavailable for Saturday afternoon, unfortunately, but I ordered a ticket on my own. They’re both sellouts, but I managed to get a single.

This is Fred and me at Laura’s apartment. Laura is sort of Fred’s girlfriend, I think. He’s kind of vague about it. Look real close at that table in the corner and remember it.

The next picture is me and Fred driving toward Camden Yards when Fred suddenly realizes he doesn’t have the tickets. We had stopped by the lab to pick them up, then Laura’s. Now we’re almost to the ballpark and no tickets. We start searching the car frantically.

That’s me with a murderous glare in my eyes. I love Fred, I really do. He was never much of a baseball fan, and since he moved down there, he sort of clung to the Yankees as his team, though in a benign, inoffensive fashion. This is all to say he was doing me a big favor inviting me down and getting the tickets to see the Mets, but now he’s lost them. Fred looks all apologetic and he starts talking about seeking out scalpers.

Fred again. He’s at a pay phone. He’s calling Laura. It’s our last chance to find the damn tickets.

Inside Laura’s apartment again. Remember the table? I told you to look closely. While chatting with Laura, Fred mindlessly placed the tickets on the table. I’m rolling my eyes in this one, but I let it go. We’ve got tickets to grab and a game to haul ass toward.

Check it out. We’re in Camden Yards! I’m here and the Mets are here. I thought Interleague was a stupid idea, and I still sort of do, but this is pretty great. There are a lot of Mets fans. Maybe a quarter of the crowd is on holiday from New York. It is Labor Day weekend, after all.

Oy. This guy sitting next to us wouldn’t shut up most of the night. He has one comment about Bernard Gilkey getting hit in the head by a fly ball in Men In Black and he keeps rolling it out. It’s funny once. Actually, it isn’t, but I’m a guest here. Even Fred, who lives in Baltimore, is embarrassed.

Not a great shot, but here’s the Bird and, yup, Mr. Met. Between innings they do a battle of the mascots. The PA plays “New York New York” and Mr. Met dances. Then it’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” and the Bird kicks his ass a little. All in good fun, I suppose.

This is Matt Franco, DH’ing. He hit a two-run homer in the second to give us a 3-0 lead. I don’t like the designated hitter, but I can’t complain about it here.

This is Cal Ripken, homering to tie it at 3 in the eighth against Greg McMichael. I thought I liked Cal Ripken. This is the problem with Interleague. I never had to do anything with the Orioles except admire them from afar. Now they’re the enemy for three days.

And this is John Franco walking dejectedly off the mound in the 12th after giving up the losing hit to that goddamn Ripken. I already didn’t like him. Now I can’t stand him.

Here’s me and Fred in the parking garage where I’m going on about how this Wild Card thing probably isn’t going to happen, how I’ve sensed it since were swept in Colorado two weeks ago and Jerry Fucking DiPoto closed all three games against us. We’re now seven behind the Marlins and suddenly five behind the Giants. Fred’s going on in earnest tones about how great 1996 was with the Yankees winning the World Series. It’s obvious neither one of us is listening to the other guy.

Fred’s dropping me off at this hotel near the ballpark. Laura’s mother was coming into town Saturday and Fred had to join them, otherwise I’d stay over with him and we’d go to the next game. I’m a reluctant houseguest anyway, so I defused any possible conflict by booking a room nearby. But I gotta tell ya, it’s not a great neighborhood. Seems like the kinda place where there’ll be sirens blaring through the night. Whenever Fred drives me around Baltimore, he’s always characterizing this or that neighborhood as “not the best part of town.” Eventually, I told him I concluded Baltimore is, as a whole, not the best part of town. He agreed.

Saturday morning and the hotel is still standing. That’s me checking out and checking my Evian overnight bag with the clerk. You’ll note he’s not giving me a claim check. Don’t worry, he says, it’ll be here. Why don’t I quite believe that?

Recognize this? It’s the Babe Ruth Museum. I had plenty of time before the game, so I tracked it down. I was a little queasy at the idea of paying homage to Babe Ruth, but it’s also an Orioles museum and, well, it’s there. It’s not bad. I bought a magnet for the fridge at home.

The Warehouse! Don’t you just love the Warehouse? In case you’ve forgotten, there’s a big Orioles Shop in there and I searched for another t-shirt. See the one I settled on? It says Orioles Interleague Play 1997 with a team logo and a National League logo. Kinda stupid, but it was half-price.

Dig the view from the upper deck in left field. Probably the worst seats I’ve had in Camden Yards — this was my fourth game there — but it’s still Camden Yards, for goodness sake.

That’s my sullen puss in the second as the Orioles get three off Brian Bohanon. There are still plenty of Mets fans in the house, but the Orioles are in first place and we are in Baltimore. As the Mets fall behind, the cheers are raucous. I’m alone and growing inwardly surly. This may be beautiful Camden Yards, but even the greatest ballpark in America sucks when your team is losing in it.

A more relaxed me here. Why? Look at this picture of the scoreboard. The Mets have taken a 10-5 lead in the seventh thanks to Fonzie and Lopez and Gilkey. That’s more like it. Some New Yorkers behind me are doing an M-E-T-S METS! METS! METS! chant. I don’t like to mix my sports, but what the hell? METS! METS! METS!

Here’s something we can all enjoy. The DiamondVision says “What Goes Around Comes Around.” Almost live from New York, there’s a highlight from Yankee Stadium and their own unnatural matchup with the Expos. A fan reaches over the rightfield fence and screws with Paul O’Neill trying to catch a ball. It’s ruled a home run for Darrin Fletcher. A roar goes up from the Orioles faithful and the Mets interlopers. This resonates with everybody as revenge for Jeffrey Maier last October. Fred said it was still a hot topic down here. Pedro Martinez goes on to shut those bastards down 7-2. That guy is good.

Giddy me leaving OP@CY. Final score: Mets 13 Orioles 6. Gilkey the DH had three hits, four ribbies and a home run to ice it in the ninth. I wonder if that obnoxious kid from last night was watching.

Me in the hotel lobby getting back my Evian bag. Sometimes I worry for nothing.

Me getting into a cab. This was key to my master plan. There’s no obvious public transportation between Camden Yards and Baltimore Penn Station, so I was counting on the Inner Harbor area having plenty of cabs postgame. And they do.

And me on the train back to New York. I brought a Walkman and took it out here to get scores (damn Marlins won again). WCBS is reporting Princess Diana was killed in a car accident in Paris.

Finally, I’m in the door at home. Stephanie’s asleep in bed, where I give her a kiss hello and good night. Guess we won’t be doing our usual Saturday night laundry.

That ends the trip, but I have one more picture I took. It’s of a clipping from the Post. See the date? It’s from the summer of 1986. It’s how to get to Cooperstown and where to stay and such. I included it here to give you an idea of how long I was gameplanning this trip. I had been to the Hall of Fame once before, with my family on Labor Day weekend 1977. Took me almost exactly 20 years to get back. I didn’t really have to convince Stephanie, but I did talk it up for a long time. The drive was torture, but it’s the Hall of Fame. I’d do it again in a minute…if they’d just move it to Valley Stream.

Maybe we can still win this Wild Card.

Next Friday [4]: Old enough to go it alone.