Happy Father's Day. Tommy and I are staying with Ed Hughes in Springfield NJ. We scrambled together breakfast and headed to the train station and into the city for the Mets game at "Citi Field". Aside from theme parks, the boy does not travel by rail so he was quite amused and that was before the spectacle of people at Penn Station. We took the # 7 train to the ballpark with time to spare, got relatively cheap tickets and scored a blue ball cap upon entry. The venue was packed and we all moved a little slower than usual around the perimeter amongst the kids, moms and dads. No doubt that this game was a family destination today. There is a large open food court in center field for gathering, sipping, downing a Nathan's Hot Dog and otherwise hanging out in the sunshine. The deep blue sky, green grass and 82 degrees combined to provide the perfect setting missing with all of the drizzly gloom of late. It was perfect.
A window decal was purchased, as was a souvenir soda cup and we made it to our sky high seats in time to see the first pitch, a ball, inside. The roof provided needed shade along with a TV monitor for replays and the towering views with a steady breeze blowing out kept everyone cool. We sat here through three innings and ventured down to eat, only returning to pick up a forgotten cup later.
My friend Ed, a huge baseball fan enjoyed this park saying now he knows what all the fuss is about and it's the fan experience. Tommy liked it too perhaps for the excellent pizza, and Cotton Candy, but he was happy all day.
The innings rolled on by. Some games can be painstakingly slow but this one had action, the crowd energy was high, people were nice, even the lines seemed to flow quickly; nobody wanted it to end. Ed and I talked about Johnny, a boy he knew as a little kid and how he would have enjoyed this day, father's day, at the ballpark, a place he loved to be more than anywhere else. He said that Tommy will always remember the trip and perhaps a few of the games but he will come to realize that it's as much about him as it is about Johnny. More so I think.
I pulled the tiny packet from my pocket, opened it up and poof, Johnny is forever part of this magical place, this perfect day, with us.
The train ride back to Ed's place was a carnival of sights and characters. Tommy had been doing his "wanna hear the most annoying sound ever" movie quote from 'Dumb and Dumber' for the 700th time but it was still funny to me. I think that line, that sound, will always be associated with this trip. Some fellow passengers did not agree but the ones who knew the movie seemed to chuckle. We exited the train, drove back to his condo and are lucky to have had such a fun-filled day.
Slept late, rolled off the couch, ate, did emails, slept. Nice to have a lazy day. Weather in NY kept us inside. Tomorrow looks great though. Thanks for checking in. Back at it Tuesday being a tourist and going to Yankee Stadium
What a day, what a day. We are leaving the NJ/NY area tomorrow so we packed early, finished some laundry sorting and ate a full breakfast. It was a marathon day for us in the city that never sleeps. Tommy was on nitro all day and he lasted well into the night.
Uber swiftly ushered us to the Maplewood station a couple of miles away. We caught the 11:40 train into Penn Station and then from there we picked up the # 1 train to South Ferry for a free ride to Staten Island and back, passing Lady Liberty on the way. Hunting for electrical outlets to keep the phone charged up was a chore but worth the effort and the photos.
We returned to the big Island, again on the #1 train, and uptown to Times Square. Sensory overload cannot begin to describe this place. Tommy was speechless; a first. We gobbled down some NY style pizza and a soda for $2.99 and then met up with Ed Hughes beside the iconic NYPD substation at Broadway and 42nd.
Traveling on the subway D train brought us to 161st Street in the Bronx for tonight's game at Yankee Stadium between the Bombers and the Angels. As luck would have it, Ed bought the tickets and we got online to enter the ballpark, I mean stadium. Also, I only say online for gaining access to the internet except for when in the big Apple - just because.
"Yankee Stadium" is impressive from the celebratory championship banners and hall of fame player tributes to the grand scale of the façade and sheer size of the hallways, echoing the crowds exuberance. We each grabbed a beverage and even though this venue has been visited twice before, Tommy was mouth agape silent at the magnitude of the house that Jeter built.
We collected a window decal, the souvenir soda cup and a NY fidget spinner. Our seats were great, 1st base side in the shadow of the setting sun and we had agreed to hit the center field open area for ballpark grub after the third inning. Violins played the national anthem to a thunderous applause from the growing Tuesday night crowd under blue skies and 80 degrees. It could not have been nicer. Cameron Maybin took a first pitch ball before delivering a leadoff double into right and this game, one I have been looking forward to for a long time, (hey it's the Yankees), was underway.
We made our way out into the newly revamped fan friendly "Frank's Red Hot" Terrance that featured some tiered standing room only spaces with rows of elbow height countertops to place a frosty beer upon and charge the phone again. Aaron Judge crushed a Homer into the stands and the place went wild. Fans love these gathering spots ala Camden Yard's 'Porch' and so did we.
Time flew by tonight and we simply decided getting back at midnight was better than 1am. It would take us an hour minimum to reach Penn Station using the D train with either a transfer to the M or a long walk from 34th to the NJT to catch the 10:56 out of NYC. A 3 run surge from the Angels and a Pinstripe pitching change made that decision easier.
I pulled out the small prepared packet of Johnny Boy and with a slight nod from Tommy, released the contents nonchalantly into the 7th inning night. He will always be in straightaway center field in home run territory. Johnny would have loved this ballpark and respected the fiercely loyal fans too.
We made the trains easily enough and arrived back here at 11:55 p.m. but this day will stay with us not for the long hours but rather the memories long remembered. Happy to report that the Liza Minnelli version of New York, New York was played as the game ended- only done so if the home team loses. We are heading up to Boston tomorrow but all kidding aside, NYC, the teams and their fans are truly great. Thanks for hosting us Ed.
Today marks the first official day of summer. It's the solstice and is the longest day of the year which was so fitting because it took us seven hours to travel 229 miles today.
We left Ed's place in Springfield, NJ at 11:15 a.m. after doing laundry and packing the gear into the bus. It took a push start to crank over the engine which means I'll be charging up the battery as it should just crank over. No worries today though. Tommy steered us at first, and we rolled until I popped the clutch in second gear, just like the LaRusso's in The Karate Kid. No issues as the battery regained full capacity but it will be examined carefully on Thursday.
The route we took had us going up and around the city via I-287 to the Tappan Zee bridge and then to I-84 to the Mass Turnpike. We were guided up the Saw Mills Parkway just after the TZ bridge and this road was so much fun to drive and saved us at least one portion of bumper to bumper traffic. Try it on your next trip, it's great. Later, we hit several pockets of construction or accident constrictions that held us up quite a bit. We took two breaks while fueling up along the way to just give the bus a rest and cool down. The boy never complained once.
The ride was long but not hot at all. Some stretches were smooth and others systematically jarring. We cruised between 40 mph on the somewhat lengthy climbs in the right truck lane, to 65 on the downhill runs, but maintained a normal 55 speed over the flats. I have not been back to Boston since Johnny died and the familiar roadway signs as we crept closer felt good. Seeing family and friends and having Tommy get more acquainted with his relatives surely is going to be a trip highlight for us.
We took the exit off of I-95 into my hometown of Dedham, MA and stepped back a few years. Flashes of my youth had me pointing out places to the boy. He sat upright about hearing of the movie theater, the ballpark on Rustcraft road, of driving past my friend Jeff's old house and the place where his uncle splashed a car into a stream as a boy. We turned onto East Street, the main roadway through town, and I told him that uncle Steve's house is really large. Keep an eye out for the yellow mansion.
We rolled onto the Endicott Estate property, and his jaw dropped a foot. I stopped under the portico and he was awestruck and then the jig was up. I told him this is not the right house. This joke has been executed on several people, a gem my dad pulled often, as did Mr. Grimes and now, someday this boy can pass it on.
Minutes later we cruised down Carol Drive and parked in front of the real MacDougall residence. There to greet us, my brother, his wife Allison and two of three kids, Sam and Matty. This is a home, a neighborhood where kids ought to grow up playing street hockey, shooting hoops and where everyone knows everyone.
Thus far, 1,763 miles have been traveled in fulfilling a promise ergo scattering Johnny at the ballparks. We are roughly at the near halfway mark of the trip, perhaps as far away from the start as we might get; but it sure feels like home.
Cruised around my hometown with Tommy. We drove through Dedham Square, past my High School and over to a much needed car wash. Scraped off some non-baseball decals from the drivers rear side window and applied five new ones (Nationals, Orioles, Phillies, Mets and Yankees). We have been to 20 ballparks thus far and the Fenway visit on Saturday will score another one with a prominent placement.
Ran into Jim Driscoll working a police detail and chatted for a bit. He's the guy who appreciates ballparks more than anyone. We have been to old Yankee Stadium, Camden Yards, and Turner Field to watch games together over the years and those trips inspired me to share something special with my boys. Thanks Jim.
Met up for lunch with my parents and caught up about the trip and talked of times gone by. Good stuff. The best stuff really.
A couple of errands later and it was back to Steve and Allison's house. Kevin Costello, the first kid I ever met in Dedham, July 2 1972, stopped by for a couple of hours and we all just sat around and talked. Being here allows for a good rest and quality time for Tommy to hang with his cousins, probably the trip's highlight for him. It certainly is for me.
Puttered around this morning. Did some errands with Steve and took care of a couple of bits of business. Later met up with Joan Scanzio Briggs and Staci Sullivan O'Gryzek, two lovely ladies from grade school / Jr. High. Joan made copies of class photos and has total recall of events stretching back to kindergarten. Staci told stories of our past days working at Papa Gino's Pizzeria. Together they gave me and Tommy a gift bag of Red Sox goodies which will come in handy for tomorrow's game. It was so nice to reminisce and hear of how their children have grown and gone through college. We sure have a long way to go. My friend Michael Monahan was in town this afternoon and joined us at Joe's American Bar and Grill. Glad to hear that his family is doing well. These people have not aged at all.
We said our goodbyes, took a couple of photos and headed to our next stops but I'm grateful for the power of Facebook for enabling the meet up.
On the ride back to Steve and Allison's place I bumped into Kelly Sullivan-Craig and her daughter Sarah. I haven't seen that young lady for 15 years. She knew me as the voice of Santa who'd call on every Christmas Eve, something I had totally forgotten about. Home is truly a special place filled with memories; some fresh, some cloudy, but collectively, life defining.
At days end, the MacDougall's of Carol Drive descended upon the best ice cream place in the county for an evening treat. Bubbling Brook has been serving scoops of heaven since I was a kid and tonight, the retirement of David Otriz's # 34 was only bested by a country road cruise into Westwood. Pretty much a perfect day.
An epic day. Moved the bus to Steve and Allison's backyard in preparation for the party at noon. These two called in favors for a 20×40 tent, tables and chairs, a commercial cooler and took care of the beverages and catering expense too.
Family and friends began arriving just as the rain showers passed and the sun came out precisely as my sister Nancy arrived with Tim and the kids. Being surrounded by so many well-wishers was quite humbling. This trip to the Dedham / Boston area was my first since Johnny died and was in a way a homecoming for us; a way to personally connect with people. Billed more as a 50th birthday party rather than a Johnny inspired gathering kept the interaction lighter. Some guests such as my cousin Peter could not help but be so gracious in expressing his heartfelt condolences. I sensed this from many people and please just know that I am so appreciative of your support and was completely relieved that my mothers foresight was spot-on today.
A few people checked out the bus, took some photos and I heard that my aunt Lorraine's boyfriend Brian is going to get one.
The food was great, the beer was cold and the best thing of course was the price! My family are so generous in supporting one another (parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, the best cousins anywhere, and most especially my friends-who are family to me). Thanks for coming out. I only wish we could had more people attend. To those who may have been overlooked today please know that it was very impromptu. You know who you are, you were missed.
The afternoon wound down as the kids drained free throws out front. Guests began to leave and we too had to hit the road for the Red Sox game. One guest, Eric, gave me an envelope containing a letter that he had written shortly after Johnny died. He held on to this for some time, searching for the right time to deliver it. I said that I have a stack of unopened cards and letters back home, some from many of the guests in attendance that I have not had the courage to open just yet. He said that when I do find some strength, to give his a read. With tear-filled eyes, I hugged my friend as he headed out. I am lucky to have such caring people in my life.
I can name you all and as my wise grandfather, a patriarch of 100's did, he called everyone 'Joe', even the girls. He even called his son Collie by this name, or so I heard. My uncle would say that's not my name, to which he'd retort, 'take it easy Joe'. So, in the spirit of the original John MacDougall, thank you Joe for attending the event. The gifts were generous, humorous and very thoughtful.
We stepped into a shiny Uber SUV at 4:45 p.m. and headed to magical "Fenway Park". We stepped out on the corner of Brookline Avenue and Yawkey Way into a carnival atmosphere unlike any of the previous 20 ballparks we have been to, or will ever go to. Perhaps it was the fans still being amped up from Big Papi's uniform number retirement the night before, or just a Saturday night electric vibe in Beantown. Maybe it was the perfect weather. Whatever the "IT" factor may be, no other ballpark comes close. Speaking of being close, no other ballpark has you sitting so close to one another either.
We entered, took some photos after picking up a window decal, souvenir soda and made our way to our seats, Box 163, Row HH # 1-5.
The game seemed to fly by, just like the balls off of the bats delivered by our starter David Price; a first pitch strike, shot back into the outfield for a leadoff hit. The game was exciting, fast, and lost early in front of the Fenway faithful. My sister Nancy had a special message displayed on the Jumbo-Tron during the second inning. My cousin Anita did too during the 7th which regrettably I missed. Johnny was scattered per our tradition, during the seventh inning stretch but getting to the end of the row to lean over the wall proved to as difficult as the Sox scoring runs. Nancy wept. We all hugged. It was good for all.
Later we belted out Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline' and headed for the exits to the awaiting ride back home. The house was dark and only Steve and I stayed out for a neighbor's beckoning firepit and a final beverage. They knew of the trip, the mission and we all raised a glass to Johnny boy. Carol Drive is Rockwellian.
Then it was off to bed. A day well spent. An epic day I will always cherish, thanks to my family and friends.
Got up late this morning after that great day of partying yesterday. My nephew Sam had an All Star Hockey game in Worcester at noon which we wanted to see but skipped to manage some housekeeping details and carve out time to visit friends in Quincy. Later, my brother-in-law Tim had a surprise 50th Birthday party that we all attended.
I was happy to help out today after all of the generosity provided to Tommy and me. I played with my nephew Matty as we opened cards and recorded the contents. Humbling. I read the letter my friend Eric wrote in April of 2015. Suffice to say, he spoke of someone who died during 9/11 and of how it was decided that telling a good and memorable story of that person can lessen the sadness. He told me that when Johnny first went to his home in Roslindale years ago, Johnny was polite, direct, asked pointed questions and had a sense of wonder. He looked out for his brother too in the rather large unfamiliar place, making him feel at ease. Eric noted that Johnny had an intelligence about him and he was impressed. The boys played and when it was time to sleep, they did not fuss, they just followed the directions and were polite about it. He then wrote that there was no doubt he was the son of Dave MacDougall. Probably the nicest thing I ever heard of. In my darkest time, my friend so eloquently tried to lift me up. Thanks buddy. I love you too. I will follow this lead from here on out whenever possible.
We drove to Quincy to see friends celebrating the graduation of their brilliant daughter Terry. Meg McMillen and Greg McMillen were pleasantly surprised that our mutual friend Elisete G. Rossini thought a quick hello would brighten their already sparkling day. I have not seen them in 12 years and none of them have changed a bit. Tommy enjoyed the bouncy house, we just chatted about life but before long we had to depart. Seeing friends of days gone by makes you realize that Facebook has merit for keeping tabs, but a handshake or hug, a kiss on the cheek and the sound of a voice and a look in the eyes is way better.
We were off to Scituate and found ourselves circling the ever busy singular lot for a coveted parking spot. As luck would have it, we passed a VW Cabriolet with the top down. A sprinkling rain started to fall during the second lap and I noticed a lady scurrying along towards the ragtop. She struggled with it, I helped and landed a spot in time to enter the building 10 minutes early and just 15 minutes after my parents who have been late for a whopping total of zero times. Family followed, Tim entered and the surprise was intact. Dinner was plentiful, we learned that Sam's team lost 17-0, and that Tim has really, really good friends. We finished dessert, said our long goodbyes to Brooke, Courtney and Nancy and headed out to the lot after a nice shower soaked the seaside town. Sam and Ella joined Tommy and me for the ride back to Dedham. Avoiding cape traffic was the goal and route guidance had us down roads less traveled and that made all the difference because beating Steve home while driving a safe 55 MPH had Sam cheering yet again. That boy is always smiling, like his dad.
Good night. We were wiped out. What a weekend.
Thanks Steve and Allison MacDougall for hosting us for 5 nights, one ballgame and a great party too. Tommy got to know his cousins more and that in itself was worth it.
We packed, replaced a broken fuse and headed out at 8:30 a.m. towards the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. We barely made Albany.
While cruising steadily at 55 we encountered a locked up drivers side rear wheel, skidded for 150 feet but managed to safely get to the side of the road. The tire was absolutely immobile and it was apparent that something was really wrong. The smell of burnt rubber and break dust will never be encapsulated into a men's cologne, not even for grease monkeys. I set up a stool for Tommy on the correct side of the guardrail and called AAA for a tow. Then I called my friend Mike Bradley for a phone diagnosis. He said the brakes must have failed, were compromised forcing them to lock up on that singular tire.
We were safe alongside the I-90 Albany Throughway at mile marker B-12.8 waiting an hour for the flatbed. Tommy was bored. I was relieved that the issue wasn't severe. A work truck pulled over to see if we were ok. Then the tow showed up, loaded us on and dropped us off 20 minutes later. The shop determined that an axle bolt sheered off and jammed up the brake shoe. The tire was ruined, only 2,000 miles on that one, but not our spirits. This repair will not stop us from our planned trip.
Tomorrow we expect to pick up the bus in time for a meet up with Suzanne Oot and a return run to the Hall of Fame. Wednesday we will hit Toronto. Building in insurance days pays off. We may face issues during our travels but the adversity of it adds to the adventure.
We spent the night in a hotel near the repair shop and slept late, had a big breakfast and then headed over at 11 a.m. The bus wheel was swapped out with the new spare, the new axle bolts were tightened to maximum torque and certified by NASA scientists to be dead on balls accurate...it's an industry term. I then straightened out the smiley face tire cover and checked travel times, distances and regrettably had to cancel the trip to East Syracuse to meet up with Suzanne Oot. This was on our radar for some time but due to the mishap yesterday causing 6 hours of lost driving time, there was simply no way to get there. She even made cookies. Soooo sorry!
Parts of our route guidance trek towards the "Baseball Hall of Fame" had us traversing back roads more suitable for 4x4 trucks yet we forged ahead, albeit slower than desired. We should have examined the map to see that by staying on the interstate for that three extra minutes likely would have saved us time overall. I know better too.
We rolled into the hamlet of Cooperstown, NY at 1:45 and parked on Main Street across from Yastrzemski's Sporting Goods. This town is more charming than Mayberry RFP, Edgartown and Pleasantville - in color, combined. The streets are dotted with artisan shops crafting baseball bats, collectible memorabilia emporium's and tasteful T-shirt shops. Busloads of baseball teams decked out in full uniform gathered for photos, other kids sporting matching Tees skipped along, and countless other fans donning their favorite ballcaps were walking around, jaws agape. The sidewalks were jammed with adults in a fantasy land like children on their first stroll at Disney. This was a man's Mainstreet U.S.A. and the draw here of baseball honors the heroes of youth.
We handed over cash without even thinking and walked through the doors eager to see it all. Tommy lasted ten minutes. I could have stayed all day, could have read every single placard, every factoid. We toured for ninety minutes before exiting and with all due respect to my childhood idols, we hit the highlights. I said to the boy, if we have to hurry here, we can hurry at the waterpark too. This seemed to make him think beyond his own interests, but, he has been such a trooper over the last 24 hours that the compromise was just. A window decal was purchased as was a Lego figurine of Dustin Pedroia and we left, happy.
The ride out of town on Route 28 North was thrilling. The countryside was rich with green rolling pastures, bright red barns, some steep graded climbs and heart dropping descents and no shortage of twists. We ended up back on Interstate 90 westbound with the goal being to get as close to Toronto this afternoon as possible. In all, we covered 210 miles.
Tonight we are still five to six driving hours away from ballpark # 22, but are stretched out in bed, fed, and ready for a good night's rest.
Back on track.