MLB 2012 Tour - Planes, Trains and Automobiles

When Cecelia first showed me her plans for our European trip, I was excited about the route.  Neither she nor I have ever really spent time in Eastern Europe and I was happy to see that we would be traveling thru this part of the world during the first half of our trip.  I’ve always had a keen interest with this part of the world and a desire to visit it.  That’s mostly due to the continual geopolitical changes in the region starting at the begining of the 20th century.  Just look at a map of the region in 1910, 1920, 1940, 1950, 1990 and 2000 and you’ll see what I mean.  Counties have been shaped, re-shaped and re-shaped again with most of those changes, until recently, being determined by outside forces. Prague, and the Czech Republic particularly interested me due to there attempted break from Soviet control in the late 1960’s.  I can still remember watching the nightly news hearing the chant “Dubcek, Dubcek, Dubcek” as Czechoslovakia attempted to gain some degree of independence from Moscow. Sadly, they were unsuccessful.I was also interested in learning how the country and the attitudes of the people had changed since the downfall of communism in 1989.

Well, I didn’t get to explore that first hand on this trip.  You see, Cecelia endured visiting 30 major league baseball parks in 56 days with me last Spring on my MLB Tour.  It was payback in Prague.  I believe I toured up to 56 churches in 30 hours while in Prague.  Oh well, there are always books.  Plus, I can now genuflect and make the sign of the cross with the best of them.

On a more serious note, Prague is an absolutely gorgeous city with a lot of history.  It fortunately was not heavily damaged during WWII so many of the buildings go back to the 15th and 16th century.  Public transportation was fantastic and it was extremely easy to explore various parts of the city.

Driving in Europe

I thought I’d share some advice to anyone that has not done an auto tour of Europe. 

1.  If you are capable, get a car with a standard transmission.  I’m of the opinion that 95% of all cars in Europe with automatic transmission are owned by rental car companies just for the explicit purpose of gouging American tourists.  You do pay considerably more getting a car with an automatic plus, if you get an automatic, you’ll miss out on driving something with 6 gears which is kind of fun.

2.  While you are at it, get a diesel car.  Today’s diesels are not your grandmothers diesel.  They are very clean and efficient and they get better mileage that a gas powered vehicle.  You’ll understand why that’s important when you read item three.

3.  If you do take an auto tour of Europe, you can never again complain of gas prices in the USA.  Expect to pay the equivalent of $7 - $8 per gallon when driving here.  As I mentioned, diesel powered vehicles get better mileage and diesel fuel is about 10% less expensive.

4.  Despite what you hear, there are speed limits on the autobahn in Germany.  Granted, you can drive for long periods and not worry about your speed but trust me, they do have limits in certain stretches of road.  Why mention this you ask?  Because the use of speed cameras and radar is much more prevalent in Europe.  If you’re not careful, your rental car company will be charging your credit card for the fine they just paid for you.  And no, I’m not speaking from personal experience here.

5.  Since I just mentioned the autobahn here’s another tip for driving on it.  Unless you plan to travel at roughly 200 Km/hours, stay out of the left lane unless you’re passing.  The left lane is for those Germans with the need for speed and if you’re in it, and not paying attention, you’ll quickly notice a Mercedes approximately 6 inches from your rear bumper flashing its lights, honking its horn and the driver yelling some unkind comments your way.

6.  Either get a car with a GPS unit or get international maps added to any personal GPS device you may have.  Negotiating your trip through the country side is no big problem but once you enter any city, finding street signs is literally impossible.  They are generally placed on buildings at the end of a street with a tree always between your line of sight and the sign.  GPS really helps in the cities.  I should add here, however, that once you make it to you destination city, I strongly recommend you use public transportation to get around.  Most large European cities have extremely efficient public transportation. 

European Vacation

It has been a while since I’ve written anything on Tumblr.  I originally started this blog to document a trip Cecelia and I took to visit all 30 major league baseball parks earlier this Spring.  Needless to say, I never finished that blog with any kind of summary of my thoughts both during and after the trip.  Oh well.

Regardless, I’m back with the intent of documenting a 17 day trip we are taking to Europe.  The genesis of this trip began last summer when two former colleagues of mine from my days at Rockwell Collins invited us to attend their wedding celebration in Heidelberg, Germany.  This sounded like a great opportunity to give something back to Cecelia for being such a trouper by going on the baseball tour with me.  She quickly accepted and here we are.

Driver Distractions

This weekend while driving on a state highway, I was passed by a motorcycle which had a cup holder complete with a Big Gulp.  I did not see if he was texting while riding.

Thank You

There were a lot of people that made this trip we took much more enjoyable and I’d like to at least publish a big thank you to them.  I’ll try to do this in chronological order consistent with the trip.

  • Mark Hovda and NCMA - Mark and the local chapter of NCMA provided me with a gift card after I made a small presentation at one of their meetings last fall.  It certainly helped defray the cost of tickets along the way.
  • Rockwell Collins Corporate Finance - As part of my departing gifts at my retirement, the Corporate Finance department provided a Visa Card for along with a stash of peanut butter crackers (love ‘em) for the long road trip.
  • Pat and Lisa Schwinghammer - Pat and Lisa entertained us in Denver with both dinner and tickets to the game.  The game featured my S.F. Giants and unfortunately, the dinner was much better than the game.
  • Marcia Mueller - Hopped a train in Portland to join us for the game in Seattle.  She’s a great baseball fan and I hope we get the chance to see another game together.  Maybe in St. Louis?
  • Kevin Monahan - Kevin joined us for a game in Anaheim and is a great person to watch a game with.  This was the second opportunity I’ve had to watch baseball with  Kevin and hopefully he can continue to make trips to Cedar Rapids that will allow us to watch more in the future.
  • Dave and Marcia Branton - Dave and Marcia hosted us for lunch while in San Diego and it was great to see them both again.  I’m not certain how I can return the favor because now that he’s retired, I believe Dave has sworn off the state of Iowa as somewhere he would want to spend any time.
  • Kyle Eppele - Kyle was our second contact in San Diego and attended the Padres game with us.  He also gave us both personalized Padre jerseys.  However, I’m not certain I should wear mine at a Padres game or save it until I decide to personally invade some other country.
  • Erin Harmeyer - Erin took time from her schedule to join us for the games we attended in St. Louis and Kansas City, chauffeured us around the state of Missouri and gave us a place to stay for one evening.  Like her siblings, she’s the best.
  • Lisa and Ben Ledbetter - My sister and brother-in-law joined us for the Kansas City game but more importantly, hosted us while we were in town.  It was a short stay and somewhat disruptive but they always are the perfect hosts.
  • Melissa Harmeyer - Our eldest hosted us while in Chicago for three days even though it was getting to be crunch time with the Chicago Public School System end of year schedule.  She also took us to one game not on the schedule - Wells High School, her employer.
  • Dave and Pat Miller - Dave and Pat treated us to dinner and a great night while in Cincinnati.  Both Dave and Pat are baseball people and it was great being at the game with them.
  • Ron, Noreen, Finnian and Liam Carstens - Cecelia’s sister and family joined us for a game in Pittsburgh and unfortunately, it rained the entire afternoon.  I’ve made a pledge to get back to Pittsburgh to watch another game with Finnian and Liam.  PNC is a great park and both of my nephews there seem to enjoy the game of baseball.
  • Michael Harmeyer - Our son hosted us while we were in NYC for three days and also joined us for the Mets and Yankees games.  He’s now qualified as a great tour guide for the city after living there for the last 20 months.
  • The Ledbetter and Ubben Families - Our niece Clark Ledbetter married Andrew Ubben over the Memorial Day holiday in Birmingham AL.  It was a great weekend and I can’t thank both these families enough for the enjoyable time we had.  Plus, it was good to see all my siblings together in one place.  It doesn’t happen very often and it was a lot of fun.
Some Baseball Observations

Below are a couple of things I constantly saw on this trip.

  1. Defensive shifts - I never realized how often teams move an infieder to the opposite side of the field and employ this defensive strategy.  This move was first made famous with the Cleveland Indians and manager Lou   Boudreau against Ted Williams. What was interesting was that when it was employed, it almost always on left handed hitters and I saw it only employed once on righties.  I actually saw David Ortiz bunt once to beat the shift. Are righties taught to go with the pitch and lefties to just swing hard?  Don’t know.  But recalling my days as a player, I went with the pitch batting right handed and pulled the ball hitting lefty.
  2. Shattered bats - I cannot think of one game that we watched where a bat wasn’t shattered.  I’m not talking cracked, I’m talking exploded into small pieces.  This surprised me for some reason and I feel less regretful now for all the bats I broke in high school.
  3. Mendoza Line - I was constantly surprised by the fact that every game we saw, someone, other than the pitcher, was batting below the Mendoza Line (<.200).  I guess PED’s did improve hitting, not only for the big name players.
  4. Short pants vs long pants - I don’t know exactly when it started but a number of years ago most baseball players started wearing pants that went down to their ankles versus the traditional length which was just below the knees.  However, there always seemed to be one player on each team that continued to wear the traditional short pant.  Don’t know if there is some sort of quota or what but I think it would be funny if this somehow found it’s way into the NBA.  One player on each team wearing shorts from the 1970’s.  Funny.

There’s no place like home

Dorothy said it best.  Arrived back in Cedar Rapids around 10:30 tonight.  Great to be home.  I will be posting highlights once I become grounded in Iowa once again.

June 3 - Detroit vs New York Yankees (Game 39)

"What a long strange trip it’s been." (from Truckin’ by the Grateful Dead) We left Cleveland this morning for the 2 and a half hour drive to Detroit to watch an afternoon contest between the Tigers and the Yankees at Comerica Park.  Final game of the tour which I’ll have to someday write more about but for now, it’s just today’s game.

Probably everything you’ve ever heard negative about Detroit is true, and then some.  It’s a depressing city, simple as that. During the mid 1990’s, I spent a lot of time in Detroit and the thought at that time was that having this facility downtown, and others (Ford Field, home of the Lions, to name one) would help revitalize the downtown district.  It hasn’t. 

As I recall downtown Detroit from 15 years ago, by 6 PM every evening it was a ghost town.  One large nightly migration to the suburbs.  People couldn’t leave fast enough.  Building Comerica Park, Ford Field and several casinos has not apparently changed peoples habits.  The downtown area is still devoid of shops and restaurants and Comerica Park is stll surrounded by countless vacant buildings.  If you’re a Tiger fan, you drive downtown, go to the game, and leave.  It’s too bad to.  This is a very nice place to watch a game although they may have gone a little overboard in their diplay of tigers at the stadium.  They’re everywhere.

For some reason, I was expecting great things today from the Tigers.  Justin Verlander, their ace was on the mound and this, after all, was our final game on the tour.  I didn’t get that special game.  With Verlander’s first pitch of todays game, Derek Jeter knocked it several rows deep into the right field stands.  Alex Rodriguez also went deep in the third to make the score 3-0 in a game the Yankees eventually won 5-1.  Damn Yankees.

Hopped in the car immediately after the game for the 8 hour trip home.  I guess we are like most Detroit fans.

June 2 - Cleveland vs Minnesota (Game 38)

Arrived in Cleveland this afternoon after about a 5 hour drive thru West Virginia and Ohio.  This will be my first ever game in Cleveland and the 29th MLB park we will have visited on the tour.  Progressive (Jacobs) Field was one of the first of the so-called modern ballparks built in the early ‘90’s and it is a very nice venue.  It is located in the heart of downtown Cleveland right next to the Quicken Loans Arena, former home to basketball player LeBron James.  Like so many of the new stadiums built in the downtown area, this one has a variety of bars, restaurants and casinos that have been opened since the park was built.  Cleveland is often the butt of may jokes but they’ve done a nice job with this facility and surrounding location.

The Indians are struggling with attendance this year. 

 Despite being in contention for the AL Central lead, not many people in Cleveland are attending games.  On this Saturday night, which had several promotions going on, only 25 thousand people were at the game. 

 I know management is concerned because they had numerous people doing surveys of fans to better understand why they do or do not attend games.  At least they understand there is a problem and want to do something about it.

The Twins won tonight by the score of 7-4 and showed a lot more hitting than when we saw them play in Minneapolis.  Even Joe Mauer went yard for just the 3rd time this season.

Tomorrow it’s on to Detroit for the final game of the tour.  This last week with all the driving has been somewhat of a grind. 

American Drivers

Since we’ve started the automobile portion of the MLB 2012 Tour, Cecelia and I have put approximately 7000 miles on our rental car (Cecelia’s done most of it).  After all these miles, driving with countless thousands of other drivers throughout the U.S., I’ve determined that I’m the best driver in America, or at least in the top 10. 

Typical scene on a U.S. Interstate Highway.