What wonderful cooperation the Burnham Baseball Project has had from the weather! On Saturday we drove to Wheeling, West Virginia through torrential rains. Why Wheeling, you may ask (but even if you don’t, I will tell you). [That last sentence was hard to punctuate, as “Why Wheeling” cries out for a question mark, but a question mark would appear to be sentence-ending. But the sentence itself is not interrogatory and would be confusing if it ended with a question mark. Suggestions for a good solution to this problem would be appreciated.]

The long-awaited answer is that when I planned this weekend trip to Pittsburgh, I first determined that the Pirates were in town. I next searched for hotels near the ball park, and was shocked to discover that the first ones I tried were sold out. I don’t recall what I then clicked on, maybe something about Events in Pittsburgh, but I then discovered that the G-20 summit was taking place in Pittsburgh at the end of that week. This was not a good time to go to the game, because even if we could get a hotel room, I do not enjoy the smell of tear gas while watching a game.

In thinking it would be best to stay outside of Pittsburgh, Wheeling somehow leapt to mind, as I has seen ads for the Wheeling Island Casino when we drove through on our way to Columbus, and the availability of this casino was also reinforced by reading about how World Series of Poker chip leader Darvin Moon got his entry there. When I checked and found that there was a tournament at 3 on Saturday, that sealed the deal. So the plan was to drive the two hours to Wheeling on Saturday, play the tournament and spend the night there, then drive the one hour to Pittsburgh Sunday morning for the 1:30 game, and drive the three hours back on Sunday after the game.

All seemed to go well except for the weather. We arrived at the casino at about noon. I discovered that I had to have a players card to play in the tournament, so we got in the long line for that. Terry was reluctant to get one, but I pointed out that they gave you $10 in free play, which is the only time I invest in a slot machine. We finally got our cards at about 12:30. Signup wasn’t until 1:00, so we had lunch at the casino. The food was pretty good at the sitdown restaurant there, and the service was excellent. I had second breakfast of omelette and Terry had the special, which was cabbage rolls and mashed potato.

She ordered an “Arnold Palmer” off the menu. This was something I had never heard of. In response to my inquiries, she did a google search on her cell phone and found that Palmer (who was from nearby Latrobe, Pennsylvania) was fond of mixing at home a drink of half lemonade and half iced tea. The story is that when a woman overheard him ordering it in a Palm Beach clubhouse, she then asked the server for one of those “Arnold Palmer drinks” and it soon spread across the country. The entry said that it is now licensed to Arizona. I mention this because it raises an interesting trademark question. It seems to me that if it had started life as a bottled beverage, then you could not put it on your menu without infringing the trademark of that company. But since it started life as the drink that Arnold Palmer drinks, you are not infringing a trademark. However, you may be interfering with his right of publicity, as you are using his name for commercial gain. When the very helpful waitress brought the check, I asked her whether they were serving a commercial product or mixing it themselves, and she said they were mixing it themselves.

After lunch I did the tournament signup and then we drove to our motel, which was about two miles away. The drive through Wheeling reminded me of Wallace, Idaho, the city where the last construction of 1-90 took place. You used to have to get off the highway and drive through town, and then get on again. The narrow valley made for tricky construction, but they finally got it done. I guess the similarity shouldn’t surprise me, for West Virginia is The Mountain State and Montana means the mountainous place. Both also have a resource-based economy. It was also cool to drive on The National Road, which was the first interstate, taking settlers to what was then the West in the 1830s. There is a very cool suspension bridge over the river at Wheeling, much like a miniature Brooklyn Bridge.

After we got settled, I made my way back to the casino and did very badly in the tournament. I then set out to find a slot machine I understood. Actually, the only one I understand (in addition to the ones with oranges and cherries, which are hard to find these days) is video poker. Of course, in Montana they claim that video poker is not a slot machine since we allow video poker and not slot machines. This is a carryover from the idea that video poker is merely poker, which is a game of skill, played on a machine, while a slot machine is a game of chance. Nice theory, but the video poker machine, which plays draw poker, has default settings so you don’t have to use your skill to decide which cards to hold. It is also programmed to retain a certain percentage of the money, sometimes in Montana approaching a whopping 17%, so even with perfect play you cannot come out ahead. To my mind, this makes it a game of chance. In a game of skill, if you are a better than average player, in the long run you will come out ahead.

Anyway, the attendant finally took me to a machine that I had not realized was a poker machine because the face of it was a menu of different games and you had to choose video poker. There were about four of them, but since she had indicated one of them, I decided that had to be my lucky machine. I put in my card and downloaded my credits. I have to admit I am not quite sure what happened after that. I tried to remember to push the maximum credits button before I played each time, but I think I forgot sometimes. It seemed I won every hand I played. But I couldn’t figure out from the machine what I had won, since it just recorded a bunch of credits. I also knew that I wanted to play down the credits on my card without using up my winnings, but I wasn’t sure how to do that. So I decided to cash out, thinking I might have earned a dollar or two, and was surprised when the credit slip said I had $35! I then did the same with Terry’s card, and while I thought I had won less than when I used my card, when I cashed that one out I found I had another $55! I do not, however, conclude from this that video poker is either profitable or interesting, but I do conclude, as we say in Montana, that winning $90 is better than a kick in the face! I then played a little poker, without much success, and left the casino, driving back to the hotel in the rain.

I would make a good poster boy for Proposition 3, the Ohio constitutional amendment that would bring gambling to Ohio. They are running a very subtle campaign. Most of the ads just say something like “Keep jobs in Ohio – vote for Prop 3” and show the map of Ohio with money flowing out in all directions, without telling you exactly what the proposition is all about. Since I have made visits to Greektown Casino in Detroit and Wheeling Island in West Virginia, I guess I exemplify those who are taking Ohio money out of the state. But while I don’t expect to regularly leave the state for that purpose, I would frequent a poker room if they built one in Columbus.


PNC Park from Roberto Clemente Bridge

The next morning we drove in more rain to Pittsburgh. We drove on the expressway (we call them that in Boston) past the park and got off on back streets and made our way to the park. There was parking for $20 right in a lot right in front of the stadium, but I thought that was a lot of money, plus it might be hard to make a getaway. So we drove another couple of blocks and found a parking structure where parking was $12. This turned out to be great, as we were able to back into a spot right on the first level not far from the exit, and the exit led right to the entrance to the freeway (we call them that in Los Angeles). We donned our rain gear and headed out to the park. It was now about 11:30, two hours before game time. A number of park personnel were also making their way to the game. We went past the stadium, pausing to check out some of the many statues – Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente, and Willie Stargell were all so honored – continuing to the river and found (as I had read somewhere) that there was a nice riverwalk. We walked west on that to the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which got some award as the most beautiful bridge of 1928, but I thought it was pretty ugly. It did, however, afford wonderful views of the city and, looking back, of the park. While the park is fortress-like on the street side, on the river side it is very open, which is obviously why it is celebrated for the views of the city you get when you are in it. We then walked back across, took in some of the artwork, and entered the park in left field with about an hour to go. We were seated behind home plate, so we started our circumnavigation toward left field. We walked past Manny’s Barbeque and made a note that this was a likely candidate for food. You can look right in at the pitchers warming up in the bullpen. At the little-used right field entrance, we saw a small crowd and discovered fans getting their pictures taken with players. I got mine taken with Andrew McCutchen (as I found out later) who ended up being one of the batting heroes of the game.


Me and Andrew McCutchen (I'm on the right)

We found our seats, which were just a little bit up the first base line from home plate and about 20 feet back. We were just under the overhanging seats above us, so we would probably stay dry if it started to rain again, which it did a little bit. We then made our way the rest of the way around and back to Manny’s. This little nook is operated by Manny Sanguillen. I must say I have a hard time following the career of a lot of players, especially National League players, but I remembered him as the Pirates catcher in the 1970’s. Terry was sucked in by the burgers that were actually being barbecued, while I got sliders of half pork and half beef. Along with baked beans and cole slaw, I thought this was a pretty good deal for $8. We then made our way back to a draft beer stand we had seen. I got a William Penn Dark, which I thought was a pretty good stout. This meal confirmed my view that beer goes with barbecue. We were really stuffed after polishing off that grub, and I was still burping it up two days later. We forewent (if that is a word) any other food at the park, even though we had spotted some pretty good looking caramel corn in our tour, and we made a meal out of Starbucks beverages that night.

The game was probably the best I have seen this season. But I think this is the point at which I have to confess to my marital infidelity. You will recall that in my post “On Rooting” I said that in a contest between the Dodgers and the Pirates playing at home, then I would root for the Dodgers. Terry even says this is part of our marriage vows, but I doubt that, and even if it were true, that is not like a contract, right? Well, as the game progressed, I began to get a warm feeling for the Pirates. Here they are the last place team in their division with a budget of about $100,000 (the guy in the stands behind us who was a font of statistical data that he didn’t mind sharing with all around him would be pleased to confirm the exact amount) while the Dodgers are guaranteed a playoff spot and have a budget of about $200 million (admittedly a lot but less than a certain team that thinks it can spend its way to a world series victory). Plus my man Willie McCutcheon was tearing up the field, going 4 for 5. Plus the Pirates got behind in the top of the ninth and staged a rally to come back, aided by some bonehead plays by the Trolley Dodgers. So this is all leading to a confession that I slowly succumbed to their charms and began rooting for the Pirates, quietly at first, but in the bottom of the ninth, actively standing up and cheering as they rallied for a victory.

I am now finishing this post a couple of weeks later. I have been faithfully rooting for the Dodgers, who just beat St Louis in the division series, but nevertheless I am constantly reminded of my infidelity.

We had an easy trip home after the game, stopping, as mentioned, for the Starbucks that became our dinner. I like going to Pittsburgh. Maybe we will have to go again to see some of the city (and possibly to pause at Wheeling on the way).