Monday, July 28, 2008

WED, July 9th - MON, July 14th - The Baseball Part of the Trip (Part III)

(via Philadelphia)

Having finished up all of our business in D.C., we took to the road on Saturday morning to begin heading north. The ultimate destination on this trip had always been the Connecticut shore, and now I was a mere six hours away. The trip from D.C. to the Connecticut shore is surprisingly easy. If you Mapquest it, the directions are basically this:

1. Find I-95
2. Head north on I-95 until you get to the state where liquor stores all close at 8:00 PM.

Our agenda for Saturday consisted of lots of windshield time and two stops -- first, we were going to in the south side of Philadelphia for lunch at the legendary Pat's Steaks; second, we had tickets to the MLB All Star Fan Festival at the Javits Center in Manhattan.

We arrived in Philadelphia right around noontime, and since the Phillies were playing an afternoon game, this means we arrived right in the middle of the lunchtime crush of Philly Fans getting their steak on before the game that day. The temperature hovered somewhere between 95 degrees and "surface of the sun", so cramming roughly 1,000 overweight Philadelphians onto one street corner, all with a common goal of devouring red meat had the air of a cruel joke from the gods. Regardless, the Pendergast family jumped into the cheesesteak fray, happily so.

If you've never been to the south side of Philadelphia, just rent Rocky 1 or Rocky 2, and you'll get a pretty accurate feel. It's the Italian section of Philadelphia and the row houses/apartments are plentiful. Also, in this part of town, you'll find the Italian market, probably most famously displayed in Rocky 2, where Rocky jogs through the market proudly waving and fist pumping to every passerby. Most importantly, you find the three-way street corner of 9th Street, Wharton Avenue and Passyunk Avenue housing Pat's King of Steaks. Worth noting, it's located right across the street from the almost as legendary Geno's Steaks, thereby making each day a Steak War in the Italian section of Philadelphia. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for the sitdown when Pat and Geno sat with the Steak Boss (presumably Rocky's boss Gazzo from Rocky 1) and divided up the steak territory on the south side.

The first challenge in doing business at Pat's is making sure that you order properly. Since the line to eat is usually about 50 or 60 people deep, they have a very efficient method of taking orders that involves insider lingo (i.e. "give me two steaks, no onion, wiz wit', to go") and a shot clock of about 10 seconds to get your order conveyed. Somewhere, the Soup Nazi is nodding with approval. After ordering, you take a walk down to the pick up window passing by another window in front of the actual grill where the delectable mountain of red meat is constantly being refreshed. Seriously, looking at that grill piled high with steak, I felt like Rudy's dad walking into Notre Dame Stadium for the first time. "This is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen." Me, I went with the cheese steak, no onions with provolone (as opposed to cheese whiz, thereby making my sandwich a "wiz wit'out"). Sitting in a crowded Italian section of Philly already gives this meal a minimum of a B+ on atmosphere alone. The food did nothing to detract from the grade.


Having successfully escaped the south side of Philly without getting caught in the Pat vs Gino crossfire, and with bellies full of red meat and various forms of processed cheese, we jumped back onto I-95 to head to New York City for the All-Star Game Fan Festival. Originally, we had planned on going to Shea Stadium to see the Mets play the Rockies, but we called an audible and decided against it for a couple of reasons:

(1) The aforementioned temperature.

(2) I've been to Shea Stadium before so it didn't really have "Bucket List" status for me. And my kids ... well, they'll never know the difference. To be honest, crossing Shea Stadium off of your "baseball stadium visited" bucket list is a akin to crossing Toledo off of your "cities visited" bucket list. If it doesn't happen, your quality of life hasn't really been impacted one way or the other.

So instead of sweating like stuck pigs at Shea, we decided to head to Manhattan to the Javits Center for the All-Star Fan Fetsival. If you've never been to this event, it is essentially one of those convention center style events with various booths containing different baseball experiential-type games, such as clocking your fastball on a radar gun, taking batting practice against in a cage, or singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". Conspicuous by their absence were the booths were you could take fantasy injections of HGH, testify on fantasy Capitol Hill, and date a Mindy McCready lookalike, but I'm hopeful these will be in place next year!

The business plan for an event like this is simple -- sell tickets for $30 a pop for people to come inside and (1) stand in line for an hour to take part in the aforementioned events and (2) spend another $200 on All Star Game gear. It's essentially the Amusement Park Business Plan, where the one-time expense of admission to the event buys you the right to stand in line and spend more money all day. Good times. And when you're doing it amidst thousands of Jeter and A-Rod jerseys ... well, even better times.

The big selling point of the event was the ability to get autographs from some of the legends of baseball, including Rollie Fingers and Fred Lynn. Naturally, by the time we arrived at the event, the legends had left to go get up on the early bird special at Denny's. So we let the kids have one crack at batting practice, had my daughter sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" (available on CD! Yes!), and we hit the road for the Connecticut shore. I'll chalk up the All-Star Fan Fest as a healthy reminder of the age old adage that "Amusement parks suck".

Onward and upward ....

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