“Let’s meet at The Bat.”
If you attended a New York Yankees home game between 1976 and 2008, those words are sure to evoke a specific time and place for you. Built in 1923, “The Bat” was actually a working exhaust chimney rising nearly 140-ft just outside the old stadium’s Gate 4 entrance – and it was as much a part of Yankees Stadium character as Monument Park or the elegant white frieze that rings the top reaches of the big ball yard. As legend has it, Joe Garagiola noticed that the chimney resembled an inverted baseball bat; the Yankees were taken with the idea, and at Garagiola's suggestion affixed a “knob” to the top of the structure and had the chimney painted to resemble the Louisville Slugger model used by Babe Ruth. The chimney itself was decommissioned (and refurbished as a landmark) with the opening of Yankees Stadium III in 2008, where it remains as the central meeting place for generations of Yankees fans.
“Walk into practically any basketball arena, hockey rink or football stadium and you will find it pretty similar to all the rest,” writes Josh Pahigian, author of The Amazing Baseball Adventure: Ballpark Wonders from the Bushes to the Show. “But just about every baseball park presents an array of quirks that makes watching a game within its bounds a one-of-a-kind experience.”
The Bat. The B&O warehouse at Camden yards. ‘The Big A’ at Angel Stadium. Those special flourishes, details, or attractions that make each ball park unique and serve as local touchstone (the guitar-shaped scoreboard at First Tennessee Park, home of the Nashville Sounds) or national icon (the ivy at Wrigley). Some are wonders of engineering (Safeco Field’s retractable roof); others are monuments to kitsch (the bobble head museum at Marlins Park). Some are awe-inspiring (the desert vistas at Camel Back Ranch-Glendale), while others are just annoying (the drummer at Cleveland's Progressive Field). They are an indelible and indispensable part of the ball park experience, and it’s a safe bet no one has seen more of them than Pahigian, who estimates he’s visited 150 stadiums (and sites of former parks) in the course of doing research for The Amazing Baseball Adventure, and two previous baseball-related travelogues: The Ultimate Baseball Road Trip and 101 Baseball Places to See Before You Die.
He checks in with his son at the end of every inning: “What do you say, Spence? Want to listen to the rest on the ride home?” Every inning, Spencer rebuffs him. “One more inning, daddy. We’re not leaving until we see the lighthouse.”
The Lighthouse. A 16-foot simulacrum of the iconic, romantic buildings that dot Maine’s rocky coast. It stays hidden behind Hadlock Field’s center field fence until summoned, emerging in a sea-spray of fireworks after every Sea Dogs victory or home run. Spencer wasn’t going to miss it.
And as Pahigian writes in his introduction, this made things a bit awkward. “The Sea Dogs were... just an extra-inning run away from treating us to the elusive ballpark frill hiding behind the center field fence. And so, I had let my enjoyment of the game and of my son’s company override my better judgment. And now, as Sea Dogs right fielder Cole Sturgeon was preparing for his second inning of emergency relief service on the mound, the Fisher Cats’ on-deck hitter was giving us a funny look through the home plate screen and stopping mid-swing to ask, ‘Isn’t it past your bedtime?’ ”
The disapproval of a 22-year old minor-league player—during a game, no less—is too much for Pahigian to bear, and so, to his son’s disappointment, he packs up the souvenirs and sippy cups and heads home (his son asleep in his arms before they even make it to the parking lot).
Spencer doesn’t get to see the Lighthouse this evening, but his steadfast hope and resolve gave his dad the idea for his latest panorama through baseball country.[i] In it, Pahigian profiles more than 100 ballpark attractions and eccentricities (including mascots beloved and belittled), and offers a breezy mix of history, commentary, whimsy and trivia.[ii]
What he doesn’t do, is pass judgment. The Amazing Ballpark Adventure leaves the “Best/Worst” lists to others. “I purposely didn't rank the attractions in the book,” says Pahigian. “Because I think they are all special and, depending on your individual taste, any one of the 101 sites might be your favorite.”
While he takes pains not to rank the attractions in his book, Pahigian did share his personal favorites with Plate Coverage:
"The story of how Hollywood created the original ‘Bulls’ sign just for [the film] Bull Durham, and then left it behind after filming wrapped, presents one of those neat intersections between the game and pop-culture. More than that, the sign epitomizes the quirky, campy joy of the bush leagues."
2. The Sausage Racers at Miller Park, Milwaukee Brewers
"Throughout the big leagues and bush leagues, so many teams offer a mid-game ballpark race these days--from the racing presidents in Washington, DC, to the racing hot sauce packets in Houston--and for this wonderful ballpark innovation, fans owe a debt of thanks to the tradition that began in Milwaukee at the Brewers' former home, County Stadium, and continues to this day at Miller Park."
3. The Lighthouse at Hadlock Field, Portland Sea Dogs
"Call me a homer if you'd like, but you asked me what my three personal favorites are! The neat thing about the 14-foot-tall retractable lighthouse that sits behind the center field fence at the home park of the Portland Sea Dogs is its elusiveness. Unless the home team smacks a homer or wins the game, you'll go home without having seen it. When a Sea Dogs homer does leave the yard, though, or when the Sea Dogs win, the fans go nuts as the lighthouse rises amidst a spray of Roman candle fire. Is it derivative of the Mets' Home Run Apple? Sure it is. But the lighthouse fits the mood just right here in coastal Portland, Maine."
Have a favorite ballpark attraction (or memory associated with a ballpark attraction)? Share in the comments below. The Amazing Baseball Adventure: Ballpark Wonders from the Bushes to the Show is available now.
[i] Fear not, Spencer did get to see the Lighthouse rise two weeks later in the Eastern League All-Star Game.
[II] But not 'the Bat' (though monument park and the frieze both get a chapter)!
Sausage Race Close-up. Photo: Dan Eidsmoe.
The Snorting Bull at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Photo: Brian Fleming.
Exploding Lighthouse. Photo: Portland Sea Dogs