Tuesday, May 03, 2011

April in Detroit & Boston: a travelogue

Here's my travelogue from my recent stint with the Mariners.  Thanks to those of you who listened.  Hope you liked what you heard. 

On the road with the Seattle Mariners to Detroit & Boston. When I was negotiating with the Mariners for this announcing job I held out for Detroit in April.

Me and Rick Rizzs at Fenway
So fortunate to work with Rick Rizzs. Great guy, great friend, and I hope to be half as good as him someday on the air.

Boarded the team buses at Safeco Field on Monday morning. Had the TSA inspection right there. Not sure why anyone would want to hijack a charter flight bound for Detroit but okay.

Zipped off to Sea-Tac, passing the Boeing airfield. Two of the new mondo planes were visible. That’s the passenger model that will carry 500 or 12,000 – I can’t remember which exactly. All I know is it will take five hours to get your luggage.

Major league travel is the best! It spoils you in eleven seconds. Everyone gets their own row, food and drinks for everyone, and (you’re not going to believe me) blankets are FREE. No. It’s true. I took pictures.

We all had to wear sports jackets and most notable was Ichiro Suzuki who wore a grey suit, Sinatra hat, checkered shirt, and green & white polka dot tie. He leads the league in hitting and clashing.

Arrived in Detroit and sped to our hotel, which was not in Detroit. No one stays in Detroit. Despite that impressive ad on the Super Bowl where citizens declared their pride for Detroit, the city’s population has actually decreased since 1910. That didn’t happen, even in Chernobyl.

Stayed at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, a lovely lush suburb. The farther away from downtown you get, the nicer the suburbs and the more Japanese the cars.

Windsor, Canada is right across the river but did you know that to get there from Detroit you have to go south?

I will say this -- Detroit does have an appreciation for historical landmarks. I saw a Borders that was still open.

For some reason my room is always next to the hotel gym, which I never use so I always feel guilty. It’s like putting a chapel in a brothel.

Along with our producer/engineer Kevin Cremin and the rest of the broadcast crew, we barreled down Woodward Avenue (the country’s first paved street, and soon to be resurfaced) through 236 stoplights en route to Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers.

One day last year there was a traffic light out on Grand Boulevard, which resulted in a major traffic snarl. Usually a policeman will direct traffic but none were in evidence -- despite the fact that on the corner of Woodward and Grand is a police station.

Comerica Park is a wonderful stadium. The skyline of the city serves as a backdrop, the original Tiger Stadium flagpole stands proudly in deep center, and they have more statues than Italy. Tiger greats from the past are immortalized; all shown in action. Ty Cobb is depicted sliding into second base with his spikes up about to inflict a career-ending injury to a shortstop.

Willie Horton is one of those Tiger greats and he stopped by our booth. First time I’ve ever spoken to someone who had his own statue. I once talked to Jack Lord but it turned out I was speaking to his statue.

Other things I like about Comerica Park: In the Tigers’ clubhouse there is a locker still for Hall-of-Famer, Al Kaline. He’s one of my absolute baseball Gods. And they have a singing vendor. Charlie Mancuso brings snacks to your seat and serenades you with opera. Who says there’s no high culture in Detroit?

Talk about an obstructed view...
One strange feature they have (the vendor belting Rigoletto is considered normal) is an entire section of seats that are dining room chairs. Levitz must’ve had one helluva close-out sale that weekend.

The first night we had a tornado watch. Do you know how hard it is to call a game when cows are flying across your field of vision? I thought they should have Dorothy & Toto bobblehead night.

Listened to Tiger Talk on the radio during the rides home. I’m always curious about these shows, having hosted one myself for years (Dodger Talk). The first night they weren’t getting enough calls so they expanded the Tiger topics to include reaction to recent gas price hikes. When they weren’t getting calls the second night they asked listeners what their favorite potatoes were. I’m not making this up.

Across the street from Comerica is the majestic old Fox theatre where only weeks ago a packed house booed Charlie Sheen off the stage. Of course, why did they pay to see him in the first place?

There is a Ford hospital, and I’m told it’s not just for former Pinto owners.

Drove past the “Self Esteem Store”. What exactly do they sell there?

Went with the broadcast crew to check out the Motown museum. This is a MUST SEE. Out of this modest little house came some of the greatest music of the last half-century. Will we ever forget “My Girl”, “Dancing in the Streets”, “Baby Love”, or “First I Look at the Purse”? I just assumed there would be two hundred people lined up to get in. Nope. Just six or seven tourists. This is music Mecca, people! We broke off from the guided tour (suffice to say Barry Gordy didn’t need the Self Esteem store) and wandered downstairs to the little basement that served as the recording studio for all those solid gold Motown hits. We were in the presence of greatness and peeling linoleum. Seeing how close those little houses were to each other, I wonder if the neighbors complained to keep the damn music down all night.

You must try a Coney Dog. It’s a regional favorite – a hot dog smothered in chili, mustard, and chopped onions. I recommend “American Coney Island” downtown, but right next door is another Coney Island stand that’s the exact same thing. Apparently, one family started the business, there was a falling out, and several members split off and opened their own stand – right next door.

The mighty Mariners swept all three games! The highlight – Mariners’ catcher, Miguel Olivo hit a long fly ball to Ryan Raburn in left. Raburn tried to backhand the ball and it kangarooed off his mitt over the wall for a home run. (Only time I can recall something similar is when a ball bounced off Jose Canseco’s head for a home run – fortunately, there was no further neurological damage left to be done) Fans on Tiger Talk were outraged and also agreed that “Russet” was the best potato.

On to Beantown where the weather was considerably better and warmer. And after the long winter, relieved Bostonians took to the streets. It was like 5,000,000 Salman Rushdies coming out of hiding.

All of the Duck Tours were out in full force. So be very careful crossing the street. How embarrassing to get run over by a boat!

Stayed at the Copley Westin, a swank hotel. Did not get assigned a room by the gym. Just by the ice machine.

The U.S.S. Constitution has once again been commissioned. So it’s available again for booze cruises.

Trying to dissuade folks from dining at a certain eatery on Boylston, some disgruntled former employees (I guess) have set up a giant inflatable rat on the street right in front of their outdoor patio along with signs that warn of rat droppings in the food. On the other hand, people could just mistake the place for Chuck E. Cheese.

Fenway Park remains the cathedral of baseball, especially now that the Metrodome is no longer in use. You can almost hear the ghosts of Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr beckoning you into the team gift store where “Yankees Suck” Mothers’ Day earrings are now on sale.

Me and my son, Matt inside the Green Monster
Happy to say the three scoreboard operators remain in their narrow concrete cave inside the fabled Green Monster. They haven’t been let out since 1995. Leftfielders still bring them pizzas and nachos between innings. The poor guys didn’t ration properly this winter and spent the final weeks of February fighting over the last bag of cotton candy.

Checked to see that my name was still on one of the concrete pillars. The greats of the game have all signed the antiquated pillars and walls. And yep. There mine was – right next to baseball immortal, Rachel Maddow.

Press room dinners are a highlight for me. Every night we broadcasters converge and discuss the finer points of the game. The big topic Friday night: which team hotel has the best showerheads on the road? The general consensus: Boston and Dallas. We were going to discuss potatoes but the game was starting.

The Mariners took the first two thus running their winning streak to five -- thanks entirely to a certain lucky charm announcer who was assigned to this trip. Game three they lost but hey, it wasn’t my fault. I’m not a player.

Lowlight: Mariners’ baserunner Milton Bradley getting ejected Saturday night for arguing a call that wasn’t even at his base.

Highlight: When we arrived home late Sunday night and the buses pulled into deserted Safeco Field, there were three fans waiting for us, standing in the dark, hoisting a big cardboard sign that said “Good Job”.

April in Detroit and Boston – if you go with the Seattle Mariners it’s more fun than April in Paris.

Okay, now a plug.  Many more of my travelogues are in my book WHERE THE HELL AM  I?  TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED.  Only $2.99 for ebook version and a ridiculous $6.99 for paperback.  Here's where you go for more information and to order.  Not that I need the money but Coney Dogs aren't free.   Thanks.


TC said...

The inflatable rat isn't from disgruntled ex-employees. It's a protest by the IBEW, because the restaurant in question used non-union electricians. They've been handing out something that highlights sanitation violations at other locations of the same restaurant, but the Boston one hasn't been open more than a month.

Neil said...

Ken, although I missed the Boston series (I was in sunny SoCal), I did catch your work with Rick on the Detroit series. You two make a great team. I think Rick is really underrated as an announcer due to his overly-optomistic disposition. But you can't be in the game for nearly 30 years and simply suck.

Looking forward to hearing your next stint back on our airwaves!

RCP said...

Although I'm not a big sports fan, your love of the game shines through and I get a sense of the passion and fun of baseball.

Only negative: I'm going to have that damned jingle - "You'll love it at Levitz!" coursing through my head all day - Thanks!

Chris from Bothell said...

Great job, come back soon! Your announcing style complements Rick's very well and you seem to work well together. I like your gentle bluntness with the state of the game or the team. Cheers!

Sanford said...

Great post! When is your next radio gig with the M's? You and Rizzs are the best combo they've used yet by far.

Jim Endecott said...

Thanks for the calls Ken.

My favorite parts were when you would crack a joke and I could here someone in the background laughing their ass off.

Is it true that Wedge's mustache has it's own twitter account?

When is your next run on the radio?

Thanks again!


Chris said...

Re: The Coneys in Detroit

It's not just that there's one next door to the other, but that you go to one OR the other. There's a very strong loyalty to them that would put Coke and Pepsi or Michigan and Michigan State to shame.

As it so happens, I go to American whenever I'm back in Detroit so I applaud your choice!

benson said...

Ken, this may be your funniest travelogue post ev-ah. Looking forward to reading the book, which seems like a real bargain at just 6.99. With all these hits, it's like a K-Tel album. (For a nominal fee, feel free to use the quote in the liner notes of a future edition)

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Is that the same Kevin Cremin who used to be an AD on Murder she Wrote, and eventually became a director on Babylon 5?

Anonymous said...

Beantown : Boston :: Frisco : San Francisco

Max Clarke said...

Glad you got to see the new Boeing jumbo-jumbo. I saw my first 747 around 1970, descending over a golf course toward its landing at San Juan, Puerto Rico. It seemed to hover, its apparent speed was so low.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Someone from the Detroit area is planning on opening a Detroit-style Coney place in West Hollywood -- near The Viper Room.


Anonymous said...

Now that you've been to Hitsville, flesh out the experience by digging up a DVD of STANDING IN THE SHADOW OF MOTOWN, a great documentary about the studio musicians who worked in the Snake Pit and kept the hits comin'. Guys you've never heard of but have heard a thousand times.

rhl said...

RE: The Self Esteem Store.

It's actually the Self Esteem BOOK Store, Ken. I live a couple of miles away, on the east side of Woodward. And I drive a Chevy Malibu.

Anonymous said...

Listened to most of the Detroit series and a little of Boston and I still really enjoy you and Rick together. I'm looking forward to hearing you again. I agree with others that you are the best of the rotating crew.

cshel said...


I must ask the obvious questions:

Did you visit CHEERS while you were in Boston?

Do you try to sell your book to everyone on the plane?

; ) : )

Mike B. said...

And sadly the Comerica Park foul pole is not the one from Tiger Stadium. They had to replace it shortly after the stadium opened.

And sports radio is pretty sad in Detroit, that's why nobody was calling. Since we're not a top 10 market anymore, we either get people trying to get their next job or lifers who are willing to work for low pay. It used to be much better.

l.a.guy said...

Nice travelogue, I smell a sequel to "WHERE THE HELL AM I?"

I'll bet the Detroit "Self Esteem Store" is a factory outlet used to sale off all of the excess inventory from their flagship Hollywood operation.

Cap'n Bob said...

I recall watching the Yankee games when I was a teenager and the announcing teams from TV and radio would switch half way through the 4th inning. Any chance of that happening with the M's? It would be great if you could get a TV gig, if only for half a game.

John said...

Drove past the “Self Esteem Store”. What exactly do they sell there?

Chevy Volts? GM needs all the bucking up they can get.

Pat Quinn said...

Read your book and found myself oddly at the Cheers restaurant at Fanuiel Hall the next weekend. Would have rather gone to a tribute of the hungry heffer.

smith said...

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BWBarefoot said...

Hello, fellow Blogspotter! It's nice to know that an unemployed 40-year-old still living with his parents and a well-accomplished comedy writer and radio baseball announcer have something in common.:)

By the way, my address is http://bwbarefoot.blogspot.com and it's about a fictional character I created for two books I have self-published. Needless to say, the first book sold only a few copies and the second has sold none so far.:(

Speaking of characters, I have the perfect sitcom name for you: Barney Laughinghouse! If you can just develop a sitcom with him as the title character, I will definitely watch.

Desmond Hobson
Lakewood, CA
May 9, 2011

rockola said...

Though I'm a native Southern Californian, I've lived in Western Washington for the last 13 years and loving baseball, I have become a rabid Mariners fan. Growing up on Niehaus, Enberg, and Drysdale doing the Angels, it was like being 13 all over again hearing Mr. Niehaus paint a beautiful vibrant aural picture every summer. Upon his untimely passing, it was kinda neat that some old friends returned to help the M's out with broadcasting chores, you and Ken Wilson being 2 of them. Really enjoy your work. Of course, I dug you when you were Beaver Cleaver with that great TOH Id on Ten Q back in the day. Welcome home.

Cedar Street Kid said...

OK, I am a little late . I just discovered your blog. Great job, Ken. I am a huge Mariner fan, and Rick Rizz fan.You and Rick are great together. Keep up the good work. Hope you are back for 2012.

Game of Thrones said...
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