By Mark Yost
"When I was about 18 and my dad and I couldn't communicate about anything at all, we could still talk about baseball."
That quote from the 1991 buddy movie, City Slickers, resonated with a lot of fathers and sons. But I think it has special meaning for my son, George, and me.
We've been going to Major League Baseball games since George was about seven. First in Minnesota, then in Chicago. Mostly to see the visiting New York Yankees, the team I cheered for in my native Brooklyn when I was his age.
They were great times for us.
Eating hot dogs.
I taught George how to keep score.
But about four years ago, we took our passion for baseball to a whole new level. We began what I like to call The Great American Hajj – the quest to go to every Major League stadium.
Originally, it was pretty easy because we drove every summer from Chicago to New York to see family and friends. So we'd simply plan it out so that we could hit stadiums along the way.
Detroit – a pretty nondescript ballpark in the middle of a decaying city. We saw our Yankees there.
Cleveland – another so-so park in a rust-belt city barely hanging on.
Cincinnati – about as bland as they come, but, again, we saw the Yankees there.
And Pittsburgh – probably our favorite ballpark outside of New York. Pittsburgh is a city on the rise. It's remade itself, it has energy again. PNC Park is one of those retro ballparks – like the original, Camden Yards in Baltimore – that works.
It sits on the banks of the Allegheny River.
Just beyond center field is the glorious Sixth Street Bridge, one of a handful of Depression-era brides that make Pittsburgh unique.
Just beyond that is the revitalized Pittsburgh skyline.
But best of all, prices are still reasonable (or, at least they were before they Pirates had their first winning season in 20 years).
Which brings us to Yankee Stadium.
I grew up a Yankee fan. Some of my best memories with my friends are going to "The Stadium" (yes, to us, it was The Stadium, capital T, capital S). And I've long known that the Yankees are all about money. But the new stadium has driven me away.
Thankfully, George was able to go to the old stadium before they tore it down. When we went, I made sure that we took the No. 4 train, because it stops at 155th Street and then goes through the subway tunnel and comes up just before 161st Street and Yankee Stadium. So, like me when I was a kid, George stood on the left side of the car as the train came out of the tunnel and saw the stadium rise up as the train pulled into the station.
We had some great memories at the old Yankee Stadium. Mostly with my friends, Angelo and Nino. I have pictures of George in the centerfield bleachers during batting practice. Him and three other New York kids about his age, living a rite of passage for generations of New York kids, including the moment when a home run came right toward them and a guy about 30 pushed them all out of the way and caught the ball.
George has been to the new Yankee Stadium, too. We went during the inaugural season. It looks a lot like the old stadium, but to me, it's not.
Again, the Yankees have always been about money. But the $16 mixed drinks in the Hard Rock Café and $45 to park during the playoffs was too much for me. I've since become a big Dodger fan, harkening back to a team that once called Brooklyn home (and, yes, I know they now have the highest payroll in baseball at about $250 million).
I think George and I showed our true commitment to this journey when we went to Fenway Park. We saw the Dodgers play there. I was doing a story for The Wall Street Journal on renovations to the stadium ahead of the 100th anniversary. Because my mom is from Boston, we were able to put our partisanship aside and have a good time. It's a great old ballpark, and the sausage and peppers on Yawkey Way are some of the best.
The sausage and peppers at Wrigley Field are pretty good, too, but the baseball fans leave a lot to be desired. They're mostly 20-something hipsters who prove the old adage that Wrigley Field is the biggest bar in Chicago, there just happens to be a baseball game going on there.
George and I were at Wrigley once watching the Pirates (we're sorta fans since we like PNC Park so much). A.J. Burnett was throwing a no-hitter into the 8th inning. When the Cubs finally got a hit off him, fans applauded – not for Burnett, their noses buried too much in their iPhones to know what was going one, but because the Cubs finally did something. One vapid girl nearby turned to us and asked, "What just happened." I said, "Robbie Gould [the Bears kicker] just kicked a field goal." She smiled, said "thanks" and went back to texting.
Last summer, we went to L.A. and hit the Dodgers, Angels and Padres in about four days. It was a great trip. The Dodgers played the Yankees, so George was in his Yankee jersey and I was in my Dodger t-shirt. The Yankees won, and we got to see Mariano Rivera come in and close out the last game of his career in the Chavez Ravine.
I love Dodger Stadium. It's a bit expensive, but it's a great old ballpark. And like Wrigley, the fans really don't know much about baseball. They arrive in the third inning and leave in the sixth.
A few days later, George and I saw the Yankees again in San Diego. That's a great ballpark.
George and I are true baseball nerds; i.e. we keep score. And most other fans look at us like we're doing math on an abacus. But I was pleasantly surprised when I walked up to a stand in San Diego and asked for a scorecard and the girl behind the counter just handed it to me.
"How much?" I asked.
"No charge," she said.
George is a sophomore now and we have 11 ballparks left: Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, Colorado, Arizona and the Texas Rangers.
I think we'll make it by the summer after his senior year. I may go broke, but I think the memories will be worth it.