Take us out to the ballparks
For the love of the game, Jerry Ramsey risked his life in New York City.
He and his wife, Sandi, were sitting amid rabid Yankee fans in the right-field bleachers, nicknamed “Nick Swisher’s section” after the popular third baseman. And they were only people there bold enough to cheer for the visitors.
To make matters worse, Jerry was sporting a Seattle Mariners jersey with Ken Griffey’s name on it, along with a Cleveland Indians hat — an outfit he wore to each game on his quest to visit every major league ballpark.
A guy in a nearby seat turned to the Oregonian and asked, “Are you confused?”
And Jerry opened his mouth. “No, I’m not confused,” he said. “I root for everyone BUT the Yankees.”
It was blatant disrespect, the kind Yankees fans don’t generally laugh off. But the New Yorkers who heard the Newberg man’s banter must have recognized his devotion to the game and easygoing nature, because Jerry survived to tell the tale.
Maybe the Yankee fans had the last laugh, though.
For all the games Jerry and his wife saw during their six-month, 13,000-mile, 30-ballpark adventure, they saw their Seattle Mariners play only once. They saw the Yankees five times.
The trip was Jerry’s dream. And it was the experience of a lifetime for the couple.
“Several times, people said to me, ‘How’d you get your wife to come with you?’” Jerry said. “I told them, I picked the right wife.”
Both widowed, they met seven years ago and quickly discovered they shared many interests, including talking and watching baseball.
She’d always tuned in to the World Series and enjoyed watching baseball on TV. But Sandi said her appreciation of the game has grown since she started attending games with Jerry, a former umpire.
“He’s made me love it,” she said.
Jerry played baseball as a boy in North Carolina. “As a kid in the ‘60s, I never saw an open field where kids weren’t playing baseball,” he said.
He was a good right-handed hitter. When his buddies complained he was hitting too many home runs into the woods, he switched to his left hand. Soon, those hits ended up in the woods, too.
He joined the Marines and became a catcher on his unit’s fast-pitch softball team. After he hurt his ankle, he started officiating games, first softball, then baseball, at the high school and college levels.
When he came to Oregon, he joined the Salem Umpire Association. He said he was proud to be part of such a professional organization. It required its umpires to follow a dress code and take classes.
Courses taught by professional umps persuaded him to take his time making calls. They also persuaded him to stop on the field to mentally “take a picture” of a play, rather than continue running toward it.
That makes sense, he said. After all, he said, “What kind of picture do you get if the camera is jiggling?”
He worked days as a master electrician and umpired games in the late afternoon and evening. “As an umpire, you have to think on your feet and make the right call,” he said.
The crowd may not always agree with the ump, but that’s to be expected, he said. Fans can’t see what the umpire is seeing, he explained, because they’re looking at the game from above and at an angle.
During his 25 years, he called games at McMinnville High School and Linfield College, among others. He happily officiated two Linfield alumni games in which former Yankee Scott Brosius played.
“Brosius was so gracious,” said Jerry, a fan as well as an official. “He let us take pictures with him and signed autographs.”
Once an umpire, always an umpire. Now retired, Jerry still watches baseball from an umpire’s perspective, noticing things the average viewer does not.
When he and Sandi visited the Major League ballparks, he checked each one out thoroughly.
While Sandi got settled in their seats, he walked all over each park, looking at the facilities and amenities, such as the home team’s Hall of Fame wall and concession stands. Some parks, like Safeco Field in Seattle, earned his praise. Others, such as Tropicana Field in Tampa, he found lacking.
Each venue had its “must-sees,” such as the statue of Johnny Bench in Cincinnati or Boog Powell’s barbecue place in Baltimore’s Camden Yards.
At Arlington Park in Dallas, the must-see was a hot dog: a Texas-size, all-beef monster two feet long.
They weigh two pounds even before the buyer heaps on the condiments. And they cost $25.
“Jerry said we have to get one, we have to do it one time, so we did,” Sandi said.
Fans in nearby seats appreciated the Texas dog, too, since the Ramseys cut it into manageable portions and passed them around.
In addition to ballparks, the Ramseys saw plenty of other sights along the way. That was especially fulfilling for Sandi, who was born and raised in Oregon and hadn’t had much chance to travel.
“Jerry took me on an amazing trip,” she said. “I never would have dreamed that big.”
They went through all 48 mainland states and visited national monuments in Washington, D.C. They caught the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery and viewed the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
“We loved learning about the history of our country,” Sandi said.
They also stopped in Sturgis, S.D.; took a flat board ride in the Everglades; drove the highest paved road in the U.S., in Rocky Mountain National Park; swam in the Atlantic and waded in the Gulf of Mexico; ate a lobster dinner in Maine; and toured Disneyworld, Cape Canaveral and the Alamo. Along the way, they stopped to see friends and relatives in several states.
In addition, they visited numerous Latter-day Saints temples across the nation. They carried a big sign saying, “2012 Temples Visited: LDS 42, Baseball 30.”
That’s almost two-thirds of the 68 LDS temples in the U.S., plus every single one of the baseball temples, 29 in the U.S. and one in Canada.
It took a lot of planning to make it work. Jerry started thinking about it in 2000 and seriously plotting a route in late 2011.
He covered the dining room table with maps, calendars and schedules. “We had to be in the right place when they were playing at home,” he said.
They took along a computer, so they could order tickets and locate campgrounds. Just before leaving, they bought a Passport America membership, a $40 investment that entitled them to half-price camping, and it paid for itself many times over.
Finally, they were ready. With a small car hooked to the back of their motor home, they rolled out of Newberg on March 30.
At each park they visited on their trip, Jerry bought a beverage in a collectible cup. He now has a collection of 29 cups — plus a red plastic baseball cap that once contained an official Cardinals sundae.
“Cincinnati was the only park without cups,” he said.
He also picked up a giant finger from the Cubs, hats from the White Sox and the Detroit Tigers, and a couple of bobbleheads, including one of former Mariner Adrian Beltre, who now plays for the Texas Rangers.
His second-favorite souvenir, after his cup collection, is his “Major League Baseball Passport” — a book about all the ballparks. It contains stamps and ticket stubs he collected, plus loads of information about each park.
For both he and his wife, the best souvenirs, though, are the memories the trip produced. One of the most precious involves their visit to Fenway Park in Boston.
They wanted to catch the series between the Red Socks and Yankees, one of baseball’s biggest rivalries. But when they called for tickets months in advance, the three-day series was already sold out.
Sandi kept checking as they made their way across the country, hoping something would open up.
Finally, her persistence paid off. She scored two tickets in the same section for the Sunday game.
The Ramseys arrived in Boston on Saturday and decided to go on the Fenway tour, which takes place an hour before each game. “Jerry had to see the Green Monster,” Sandi said, referring to the stadium’s infamous 38-foot tall home run wall.
The Saturday tour was sold out, so they decided to try again on Sunday, before “their” game. But tour tickets were already gone when they arrived.
Disappointed, they visited the gift shop to look at Red Socks memorabilia. And one of the employees noticed their downcast faces.
When Sandi explained about their 30-ballpark adventure and how much Jerry was counting on seeing the Green Monster, the man slipped them a pair of tour tickets, free of charge. It was one of many examples of kindness and good fortune the Oregon couple encountered on their trip.
Another example happened during their visit to Cooperstown.
It was the day of the all-star game. They planned to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, then return to the motor home in hopes of finding a signal so they could watch the game on their small TV.
But it turned out the Hall of Fame was showing the game in its theater, built to resemble a ballpark. For $10 each, the Ramseys were able to see the game on a big screen, while snacking on hot dogs and participating in trivia contests between innings.
Jerry even won a prize for his trivia knowledge. “The only bad thing was the National League stomped us,” Sandi said.
Jerry is already planning a return trip to Cooperstown. He wants to be there when Ken Griffey Jr. is inducted.
The Ramseys also want to go to spring training.
“For the Mariners,” Sandi clarified.
“First for the Mariners,” Jerry said, “then the other teams.”
The best and worst of ballparks
Jerry and Sandi Ramsey visited all 30 major league baseball ballparks in 2012.
“Baseball is the only pro sport where the fields aren’t all the same,” Jerry said, explaining his interest in seeing all the parks. “The infields are always the same, but the outfields can be different — and they are.”
The Newberg pair especially enjoyed seeing the historic parks, including the century-old Wrigley Field in Chicago, 99-year-old Fenway Park in Boston and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, built in the early 1960s. All the other ballparks are much newer, none of them built before the 1980s.
“The ambiance, the history ... Jerry just ate it up,” his wife said.
They both returned home very pleased with their home field — Safeco in Seattle. The stadium where the Mariners play, featuring good views from every seat, an easily accessible parking garage, a roof for rainy days and “smart seagulls,” is their favorite, they said.
Their second favorite ballpark is Target Field in Minnesota, patterned after Safeco. Next is Miami Stadium, which features real grass and a roof that can open, though it usually remains closed so fans can enjoy the air conditioning.
Coors Field in Denver and Camden Yards in Baltimore are tied for fourth and fifth place on their list. Both give fans a great experience, they said.
Balls travel farther in the Denver stadium because of the thinner atmosphere. But Camden Yards may have the edge on historical value, with a plaque denoting the wall hit by one of Ken Griffey Sr.’s drives.
Their five least favorite ballparks, and their reasons, are:
- Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay, which is outdated.
- Rogers Centre in Toronto, which doesn’t have good parking.
- Oakland Coliseum.
- Wrigley Field, which, although classic, needs updating. Jerry said they also didn’t like Wrigley’s demand that fans throw the ball back if they catch it in the right-field bleachers. In other stadiums, people are forbidden from throwing anything, including a ball, onto the field.
- New Yankee Stadium, which has tempting restaurants open only to season ticket-holders, a bummer for other fans, and is oriented so fans in the right-field bleachers can’t see the scoreboard.
Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or email@example.com.