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Rochester, New York

Relieved at being allowed back into the country, I was instantly reminded what I had been missing for the past week when I saw a car go past me with a sign on the back of it that said “Quarter horse for sale”. It didn’t go into any specific details about which part of the horse you got for your money, nor indeed give any inclination as to exactly what you would do with a quarter of a horse. Maybe it’s a bargain for people who can’t afford an entire horse in one go and can save up to buy the remaining three quarters later on.

Being late for the game thanks to US customs, I didn’t really get to see much of Rochester. There’s a giant Kodak building there, possibly their headquarters, but in the digital photography age that’s probably no longer much of a claim to fame. The only other thing I noticed about Rochester was that there were an inordinate number of New York Yankees hats and t-shirts being worn around the place. New York State, New York city is more than three hundred miles away and there are plenty of other Major League teams that are closer. Still, Bournemouth is several hundred miles away from Manchester but everyone living there still supports Manchester United!

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo New York State
After the neo-Nazi grilling from Adolf and his moustachioed friends a few hours earlier, it was nice to sit in the sunshine with a beer and hot dog in the ‘land of the free’ and watch the game. Someone, obviously a tortured artist, had created a full-sized model of a donkey using only old baseball gloves, and during the game they got a couple of people from the crowd, dressed them up in large rubber sumo wrestler suits, and had a ‘best of three’ competition. Well, whatever makes them happy, I suppose!

Auburn, New York

I realised that watching these baseball games was becoming something of a ridiculous obsession when I drove to Auburn, a small town in New York State, just to watch the Auburn Doubledays play a game. It turned out to be a good choice though, with free parking on a ‘dollar night’. Entry was a dollar, hot dogs were a dollar, and far more importantly beer was a dollar. Decent sized cups as well! And because of this most excellent promotion the place was heaving. The capacity is somewhere around 3,000 but there must have been at least twice that many people milling around in there. All the seats were full, all the standing and picnic areas were full, and if you walked around the back of the stadium where they were selling the dollar goodies, then that area was packed as well with people staggering from concession stand to concession stand. Maybe they were all drowning their sorrows from missing the recent ‘Duck Derby’, where over 6,000 ducks race for charity. Smashing!

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo New York State

Baseball team names are, like everything else in America, a bit bizarre. In footy you will get to see City vs. United or Albion vs. Rovers or even the mildly ridiculous Argyle vs. Alexandra, but nothing like today’s match up of the Doubledays vs. Muckdogs. Some of the major league team names go back over a century (Red Sox, Yankees, Reds, Giants, etc.) and are pretty tame. Even the newer major league team names seem to be fairly sensible (the Rockies in Colorado, the Marlins in Florida, blah blah blah). Maybe the major league team owners didn’t go too over the top because of the exposure that the teams get (I can’t imagine a sportscaster being too happy about reading the result of the Wisconsin Wankstains every day), revenue from ballpark advertising (“It’s a great day out at Gary Glitter Stadium – bring the kids”), or merchandising (would YOU walk around wearing a t-shirt with ‘Pasadena Pillowbiters’ plastered across it???). But minor league teams with low exposure, no Major League Baseball (MLB) corporate restrictions, and a local market of fans that are in on the joke have much more leeway.

All minor league teams are affiliated with major league teams, providing them with a farm system that potential superstars can come up through (unless you’re the Yankees of course, in which case you just wait until they become superstars in another teams minor league system and then throw money at them until they sign for you). Some of these Minor League organisations imaginatively name themselves after their Major League bosses, so you get the Atlanta Braves MLB team, then the Danville Braves, the Rome Braves, the Mississippi Braves, the Richmond Braves, yawwwwwnnnnn, … Perhaps they do it so that they don’t have to bother ordering new shirts for the Minor League players: they just use the Major League player’s cast-offs.

Some teams have ‘normal’ names but suffer from their location. For example, the ‘Quakes’ isn’t a bad name for a team, especially considering they’re based in California where the earth’s sub-strata is about as stable as Wayne Rooney in a Manchester nightclub at 2am. Unfortunately for these particular ‘Quakes’, they’re based in a town called ‘Rancho Cucamonga’ I imagine the strains of “Come on you Rancho Cucamonga Quakes” don’t cascade down from the grandstand too often. What is a ‘Cucamonga anyway? The only information I could find after searching for it on the Internet came back with a Belgian music site, the only English phrase on there being ‘Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat’. Okay!

Some cities with more respectable names decide to give their team a strange name to promote the team, such as the Lansing Lugnuts and the Clinton Lumberkings. I suppose it must mean something to the people that live there, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the selection of team names is done by setting up a competition in the local newspaper and letting the public run riot with their imagination. There are obviously a lot of local drunks reading the local newspaper in Lansing and Clinton and deciding that entering a ‘name our new team and win your own weight in lard’ competition would be a good idea. And different types of food seems to be popular with team, so people in Cedar Rapids, Modesto and Montgomery get to cheer on the Kernels, Nuts and (most ridiculous of all) the Biscuits.
“ What baseball team do you three support?”
“ The Giants”
“ The Reds”
“ The Biscuits”
Cue long pause, followed by uncontrollable laughter.
Once again I suspect the resident bar flies; it’s only a matter of time before a franchise called the ‘Packet of Pork Scratchings’ trots onto the field!

Animals are hugely popular as far as team names are concerned. So you get cats and dogs. But not just any old cats and dogs, These are Hill Cats, Rock Cats, Mud Cats, Fisher Cats, Valley Cats, Alley Cats, River Cats, River Dogs, Sea Dogs and (breaking with tradition), Sea Wolves. I’m not so sure about the last one: I imagine that throwing a wolf into the sea will make it considerably less of a threat than when it was on dry land.

Once every conceivable combination of cats and dogs has been thought of, other animals such as Pelicans, Warthogs, Manatees, Tigers and Bisons are used. And those are the good ones: there are also teams called the Savannah Sand Gnats (wooooo, scary), Toledo Mud Hens (particularly vicious hens, apparently), Batavia Muckdogs (I know what the mucky end of a dog looks like, and imagine their team logo has steam rising from it), and the Orem Owlz (spelling not their strong point, obviously).

Apart from the animals and assorted bar food, there are team names that I have no idea what they are. Anybody know what a ‘Diamond Jaxx’ is? How about a ‘Chukar’? Is Lowell full of ‘Spinners’? And what on earth has Albuquerque got to do with ‘Isotopes’? Strange. And before you ask, ‘Doubleday’ was the name of the bloke who was thought to have invented the game of baseball in Cooperstown, just down the road from Auburn, hence the Auburn Doubledays. And of course their team mascot is some old duffer, although whether any of his living relatives would recognise great uncle Abner Doubleday from his ‘likeness’ is extremely questionable.

But the winner of the coolest baseball team name comes from a place in Pennsylvania called Moosic. Rather than going for the obvious and calling themselves the ‘Moosic Mooses’, they have used the more phonetically attractive names of two surrounding towns and chosen a name that has, as far as my wild imagination can stretch, absolutely nothing to do with baseball whatsoever. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. What a great name for a team. Maybe they drew up a logo first (a local art student only comfortable with drawing pictures of famous World War One fighter pilots)? Maybe there is some historical reason for the team name? Or maybe they just set up a ‘name our new team and win your own weight in lard’ competition in the local newspaper and the winner frequents the local bar.

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo New York State

In-between the beer and hot dog consumption, a baseball game broke out. Some of the Muckdogs players had red shirts with white numbers on the back, and others had red shirts with pink numbers on the back, obviously the victims of an over-enthusiastic hot wash cycle. Everyone in the crowd won a free taco when one of the Muckdogs players struck out in the first inning, aided by the completely impartial announcer shouting “Taco, taco, taco” over the world’s tinniest loudspeaker system while he was standing at the plate trying to concentrate, and there was excellent mid-inning entertainment when a couple of people took part in a fish-throwing competition. Not normal fish of course, but three huge fish that they had to throw into an equally huge net. Don’t ask me why! There was a cool sunset thrown in, and the game was finally decided after twenty innings some time around 1am, by which time I was safely in the land of nod.

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Cooperstown, New York

Cooperstown is a small place with a population of maybe ten thousand, isn’t on many maps, and is difficult to get to in the middle of New York State. What Cooperstown does have going for it though is that it’s recognised as the birthplace of baseball, is the location of the baseball ‘Hall of Fame’, and everything and everyone in the town is connected with the game. Without baseball, the population of Cooperstown would be two goats and a farmer, but with baseball the population comprises entirely of people running memorabilia shops. There are a couple of restaurants and a gas station, but apart from that every single shop is selling baseball related tat.

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo New York State

The Hall of Fame itself is quite interesting (if you like that kind of thing!), and way better than the football Hall of Fame in Ohio. There’s plenty to do and see there, and when you’re done with that you can wander around Doubleday Field, where the first ever game of baseball was played. Unfortunately it was pouring with rain so I didn’t bother doing that, but hopefully the weather will clear up in time for a ‘special performance’ by those monsters of rock the Beach Boys and Herman’s Hermits. Told you it was in the middle of nowhere!

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Syracuse, New York

Syracuse doesn’t really have much going for it. The city isn’t really famous for anything, doesn’t look particularly pretty, and doesn’t have much there to interest the passing tourist. Even the baseball stadium is a bit of a letdown, as it’s stuck in the middle of a grotty industrial area, with goods trains going past every few minutes rattling the chairs as you’re sitting there watching the game. The Skychiefs (whatever one of those is?) play in a multi-purpose stadium with extremely green artificial turf, which after a while is very harsh on the eyes. Even the bobblehead giveaway was only available to kids so I didn’t get one of those either. Booooo!

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo New York State

The Skychiefs multi-coloured mascot, species undetermined, appeared in the sparsely-populated stands at one point and approached a group of blokes that were happily drinking and heckling their way through the game. It turned out that one of them was having a birthday (I can think of any number of places that I would rather have my birthday party than in Syracuse!), and his cohorts had arranged for the mascot to perform a lap dance for him. As you might imagine, this turned out to be quite a disturbing sight: if you can’t tell what kind of animal a mascot is supposed to be, then it’s certainly difficult to know if it’s male of female. Not that it’s any better for somebody to get a lap dance off a female undetermined animal rather than a male one, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Unfortunately this traumatic experience seemed to temper the mood of the hecklers and they kept pretty quiet for the rest of the game after that.

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Saratoga, New York

The majority of New York State, with the exception of New York City, is out in the sticks a bit. Not restricted to the Deep South, inbreeding seems to be a popular pastime amongst the locals, and when you combine that with more menial occupations such as pumping gas, you do get to meet some interesting people. “You’re not from around these parts, are you?”, tends to be the first thing that they say, and that’s just because I only have ten fingers & thumbs and one head – nothing to do with my strange accent!

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo New York State

Today was slated as a day of history and culture, wandering around some of the battlefields from the American War of Independence. Given the nature of the historical sites, of course I felt it necessary to walk around all day in my Union Jack t-shirt shouting “Hello, Colonial” at anyone I met!

During the war, the British Redcoats (who were asking for trouble, whatever happened to good old fashioned camouflage?) were having a bit of a hard time putting down the uprisings. The colonials, not up to speed with the rules of warfare would run around during battles rather than lining up and letting the British shoot at them. How terribly unsporting! Britain also had the Germans on their side (once again, asking for trouble!), while the French were staying out of the war until they saw who was winning, to join in with them at a later date. Nobody needs a history lesson for this; it should be obvious to everybody!

So, the Americans defeated the British at Saratoga, giving the rest of them the confidence that they could actually win the war, and it was a major turning point in the war, blah blah blah. So now it’s a National Park, where you can wander around, see where the action took place, look at historic buildings, and listen to made-up accounts of what it was like to actually be there. But the coolest thing that they do is have re-enactments from time to time. There wasn’t much going on today but a dozen or so hardy souls had braved the grotty weather and set up camp, dressed as they would have been more than two hundred years ago. They put on demonstrations for the tourists, chatted to anyone willing to listen to them pretending to be from the mid 18th century, and seemed to be having a jolly time away from their wives for the weekend!

Warwick's Roadtrip Photo New York State

Just down the road from Saratoga is a town called Victory, where there is a large obelisk plunging phallically into the sky to commemorate the battle. By this time the weather had turned very nasty so there wasn’t much of a view from the top of it and I felt quite bad disturbing the old biddy inside who was happily reading her book to go up to the top. Walked up a few hundred steps, could see bugger-all apart from driving rain when I got to the top, and walked down again. But trust the Americans to name a town ‘Victory’; subtlety never was their strong point!

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