Monday, June 23, 2014
A BASEBALL ODYSSEY AROUND THE BASES
When Eric Kabakoff, who grew up in New Haven, went with his dad Arthur and cousin Harvey to his first baseball game, he was 10 years old and saw the Philadelphia Phillies play in Veterans Stadium. He was hooked, ball, bat and glove, and that love has only grown over the ensuing years. Acknowledging he could never play the game well or was even likely to catch a foul ball in the stands, he was, nonetheless, ready to root for his team of choice, mainly the Yankees.
Besides craving the greasy hot dogs that are the traditional food fare at ball parks, Kabakoff inherited all the qualities of a true fan: an obsession for the game and an encyclopedic knowledge of the parks and players. Somewhere between watching the Mets at Shea Stadium, the Yankees at Yankee Stadium and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, he determined he would visit every Major League playing field and record his thoughts for posterity.
The results, after decades of research, is "Rally Caps, Rain Delays and Racing Sausages, A Baseball Fan's Quest to See the Game from a Seat in Every Ballpark." With a breezy, conversational style, that is both witty and educational at the same time, he takes the reader along, in his literary pocket, as he records the history of the teams. The reader feels his pain when he gets sunburned, his financial agony when he overpays for scalper's tickets and his distress when stadium members sitting above, below and beside him disrespect the game. He spoke recently at the New Haven Free Public Library about his literary odyssey.
It's high praise to say that I, a non-sports person who would have been like his college friend Rachel and brought a book along to the game, found his missive totally engaging. The reader also shares his triumph when the Liberty Bell rings and lights up after every Phillies' home run and win, or how a Rally Monkey appears on a big screen if the Angels are in trouble to "rally" the team and fans. Mascots like Bernie Brewer descend a slide when there's a home run while Denver's purple dinosaur became a mascot when dinosaur bones were discovered while building the stadium.
Unique to Milwaukee are the sixth inning races between an Italian Sausage, Bratwurst, Hot Dog, Polish Sausage and Chorizo Sausage as costumed people race around the bases to please the crowds. You don't see that every day of the week. As you visit each ballpark along with Kabakoff, you'll follow the saga of how he tried and tried and tried and finally got a pair of tickets to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, a must for any baseball aficionado-even though they haven't won a World Series for over 105 years. Eric calls Wrigley Field "a ball park, an institution and a community...the quintessential baseball experience...a pilgrimage...a mecca...a cathedral."
In 1926, the name Wrigley Field was given by the Cubs' owner at the time, William Wrigley, Jr., for the express purpose of selling more gum. You may or may not know that enterprising residents nearby built bleachers on their roof tops overlooking the park and then sold tickets to the game. Lawsuits eventually were settled when the rooftop seats became part of the Cubs' official attendance records and money changed hands.
Did you know:
...Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California is noted for a 23 story "A" with a halo at the top that he describes as "a refugee from a 1960's drive-in."
...The 1965 Beatles concert at Shea Stadium set a trend at ballparks, and was known more for the Beatles than for the Mets.
...The Oakland A's inspired the book and movie "Moneyball."
...The San Francisco Giants' A T & T Park could be "the best park in the game," ranking up with San Diego's Petco Park in the author's opinion.
...Eric's favorite hot dog was at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and featured 10 toppings. If you're going to earn an ulcer, that's the way to go.
...Toronto's retractable roof was great 25 years ago but is disappointing today.
...Ted Williams earned the nickname "Splendid Splinter."
...A scene from "The Wiz" with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross was filmed at Shea Stadium. These are just a brief sampling of the interesting tidbits Kabakoff inserts on every page.
Eric plans to have a book signing at Cooperstown, New York at the Baseball Hall of Fame on Thursday, August 21. Maybe he'll get to see his childhood hero Don Mattingly, who always gave his best effort and earned Eric's emulation.
Eric S. Kabakoff is a man of his word too. He determined many years ago he would visit every Major League ballpark, thirty in all, and now he has written a book to prove it: "Rally Caps, Rain Delays and Racing Sausages." Go to www.rallyrainsausage.com or amazon.com to order the book.
Batter up! It's a swing and a hit and a home run when Eric Kabakoff comes up to the literary plate for his turn at bat.