I’ve got 3 hours to kill on a plane, so you get the long version of my and John’s trip to the DC area this past weekend! Strap in, it’s a doozy!
I wanted to do a father-son trip with John sometime, just the two of us, largely centered around baseball, something we both enjoy very much. One day I would like to do father-daughter trips with Edie, and maybe someday we’ll even be able to do another Ryan-Lauren trip without kids. That, of course, requires us to get a family member to fly down to Austin first, so it’s more complicated. But for now, all things aligned for John and I to do a trip together. Several cities were under careful consideration including Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Boston. Usually my baseball travels involve seeing the Twins play, but this time we actually thought it would be better to intentionally avoid that! This way, we could just be casual unbiased observers, and a bad Twins game wouldn’t derail anything. In the end, we figured Washington and Baltimore would be best for several reasons. We could check off two new ballparks, and for John, two new states (Maryland and Virginia) + DC. Usually, only one of the Orioles or Nationals are playing at home at the same time, but on this particular weekend they were both home, and it was also Father’s Day weekend and a Monday holiday at work for Juneteenth. Plus, John’s baseball season was finally over, and right after things get busy with visitors and other travel. Everything aligned for this to be the destination and the time to do it. Luckily, Southwest flies frequently non-stop between Austin and Baltimore, so flights were reasonable.
The ER Lead-Up
In the days leading up to the trip, I actually had another trip! I went to Tulsa for work Sunday through Wednesday. Amazingly, my long years-long streak of bad luck with flights came to an end and everything was perfect on both ends. However, I apparently went too hard in Tulsa, straying from my relatively low-carb diet and eating lots of fatty, rich foods and going out for nightly drinks with the team. My left abdomen started to really hurt. I was in such discomfort upon return that I scheduled a Telehealth visit with a doctor. He thought the symptoms sounded like pancreatitis, and instructed me to bypass Urgent Care and go straight to the ER. Just what I wanted the day before my big trip—going to the ER. It felt like overkill, especially considering the woman in front of me literally had a broken arm and the woman behind me had blood coming out of her butt. I was just in there with a weird jabbing pain. After three hours, an IV, and lots of bloodwork, it was determined I probably had an inflamed stomach lining, possibly from my Tulsa trip. I was told it was probably nothing to worry about, prescribed some meds, and sent on my merry way. Hey, at least I had peace of mind leading into the trip!
Our flight on Friday the 17th started boarding at 4:45am! I had alarms set for 1:50, just enough time to get ready, catch an Uber to the airport (my van window is still broken and I didn’t want to leave it there in 190º weather), and get to our gate with time to spare. John was very excited for our big adventure. So much so, that he woke up on his own at midnight and got dressed and waited patiently downstairs until I woke up. Our Uber dropped us off at the airport around 2:45, which many of you may feel is egregiously early, and you would be right, because TSA apparently doesn’t even open until 3:30! Bless the Lord, our flight was perfectly on-time and there were no hiccups in getting us to BWI. I had planned to take a train into Washington, our first stop of the trip, but we just missed the 9:35 MARC train, and then next one wouldn’t be around until 10:48! So, we took a very long 35-mile Uber ride, which I gotta say was fairly affordable at $53. We arrived at our hotel, unpacked, and headed right out for Nationals Park, a short 2-block walk from the hotel. We planned to take in both games of a scheduled doubleheader between the Nationals and Phillies, a makeup from the first week of the season when the games were canceled due to the lockout. Early yet again, we killed some time at a very delicious bakery.
Upon entering the stadium, we raced down to our seats right along the third base line, 90 minutes before first pitch. Immediately, John had a ball thrown to him by Phillies pitcher Jose Alvarado. I interfered with John trying to catch the ball, which upset him and Jose alike. John also got a ball signed by Phillies reliever Michael Kelly (we’d never heard of him). Unfortunately for us, DC was experiencing record heat that day. It was 99º + rampant humidity. We absolutely couldn’t stay in our nice seats. We had to buy every cooling mechanism available at the team store, from a misting fan to a cooling towel. I purchased a cup of ice and dumped it down my back. It was so miserable. But when the game started, we went back to our seats and made the best of it. Nationals Park is very nice and modern and has some great sightlines, but it’s not without its faults. All concessions must be ordered on your phone and then picked up at the stand, which is a little clunky. It’s not like your order is there waiting for you either; you show them your order on your phone and they still have to prepare it! I don’t get why this needs to be a thing. Also, the stadium workers and vendors weren’t very nice. It could have been the heat, but there was a lot of grumbling and brushing off of customers.
As for the game, our seats were great and attendance was sparse, which allowed John to snag several baseballs. We received a second one thrown in our direction from Phillies outfielder Kyle Schwarber. A man caught it and passed it over to John. The next inning, Nationals left fielder Lane Thomas threw me a ball, which I obviously gave to John. John then graciously found a smaller kid to give the ball to. That kid then got several more balls during the game too, haha. It sounds impressive, but after virtually every half inning, the left fielders tossed the ball into our area which as I said had very few kids braving the heat. John and a handful of other kids each got their fair share. To leave an MLB game with multiple baseballs feels greedy, but when you consider how few people there were, and how generous John was, I felt it was fine. The game itself was rather unmemorable, with the Phillies winning 5-3. John and I left a little early to rest in the hotel between games. At the hotel, John randomly lost a tooth! (The tooth fairy found him but only gave him some candy. As you’ll find out later, I had no coins on me.)
As smoothly as everything had gone up to that point in the day, things got a little rocky at night. After grabbing some Chipotle for dinner, John’s request, we headed right back to the stadium for Game 2, which was much more heavily attended due to it being a night game and a special Ryan Zimmerman number retirement ceremony with t-shirt giveaway. Our seats were in nearly the same spot, this time even closer to the field, right behind the ball girl down the third base line. On the first batter of the game, the ball girl got a foul ball and raced over to hand it specifically to John, who she had had a nice conversation with before the game, and obviously unaware that he of all kids was least deserving of yet another baseball. We had brought one of our own baseballs with us to try to get signed, so it appeared we had two from this game already. The beer vendor saw this and started screaming every chance he got “THIS KID HAS TWO BALLS! YOU SIT YOUR BUTT DOWN!” He was wrong—that ball was our own—but at the same time he was correct that we should not be given any more baseballs. He watched us like a hawk all game long from near and far, screaming at every turn for us to sit down. We weren’t even trying to get any more baseballs, we simply stood up between innings for one reason or another and he screamed across the stands at us. It was almost as bad as last summer’s Round Rock fiasco with the angry usher. I could just let it go, but I think I’ll still complain to Guest Services at some point. John was nearly in tears at the mean beer man.
As if we hadn’t seen enough baseball that day, the game went into extra innings, and we again left early. The Phillies won after the fact. By the time we got back to the hotel and cleaned up and ready for bed, John had been awake for almost 22 straight hours. He didn’t seem much worse for wear, at least.
The second day of the trip was set aside as a sightseeing day in Washington, DC. The only time I’ve ever seen any of DC was in 2007, when Nick Sandbulte and I visited Uncle Brian and briefly saw a few places on the National Mall. So it would mostly be new to me, too. And it was a glorious day for it. The heat moved out and the high temp was only 72º with a strong breeze… what a relief!
Our morning started with me realizing my phone hadn’t been charging overnight and was at only 40%, not great considering how reliant I needed to be on it to get us around. But I looked at it perhaps as an opportunity to instead put it on airplane mode when unneeded and be more present. After free hotel breakfast, it was a short Uber ride over to the Lincoln Memorial. My plan was to walk across the Potomac on a pedestrian bridge to the Arlington Cemetery so John could say he’d been to Virginia, then walk back and do all the stuff on the Mall, but it quickly became clear that would never work. John got so exhausted walking the half-mile over the bridge, he crumpled to the ground in utter despair. He does this thing that’s real but also feels so over the top where he literally drops to his knees, mouth agape, and falls to the ground with his hands over his head and cries when the mere idea of walking any distance is discussed. I know he’s only 7, but his total lack of stamina is really concerning. We made it to Virginia and got a quick pic to prove it, then John’s “reward” for walking was to get an Uber to the Smithsonian Zoo and save all my boring stuff for later. Zoos are something the kids can only do with me, as Lauren refuses to go into them due to unethical treatment of animals, so it was probably now or never.
The zoo wouldn’t normally be such a big deal to John either, but his second grade class studied a particular hornbill bird named Karl that lives there and has a 3D printed beak. John was very excited to see him and tell his former teacher about it. The zoo was free and a fun time, but as you can guess, a ton of walking, much to John’s chagrin. The number of times we had to stop while he rested on benches would rival that of any senior citizen with a walker. Twenty rests and a Dip’n Dots detour later, we did eventually find Karl, and it was a joyous moment. We spent nearly three hours at the zoo before taking an Uber to the opposite end of the Mall to grab lunch near the capitol building at a place called Hamilton’s Bar & Grill. John chose it off Google Maps because he has a friend by that name. It was a rustic little hole in the wall with a bitterly angry server and horrible service, but it sufficed.
After lunch we saw the Capitol (from a distance, John wasn’t about to walk all the way up to it) and a few other sites including a sculpture park and that famous pool. But our main destination was The Smithsonian Museum of American History. We spent three hours in it and saw every last exhibit and had a lot of fun. John forgot all about how much walking it actually was! After that, we went all the way to the base of the Washington Monument. John was having a lot of fun and no longer complaining, but then something awful happened. We ordered an ice cream cone from a truck, and it started to melt all over John’s hands! Not only that, but after being handed our ice cream the vendor informed us he only accepts COINS. Yes, coins. I obviously had none, and I left with the promise I’d come back with $20 in quarters later, which I did not. Maybe I’ll try to find him online and pay somehow. But the real drama was John got extremely sticky… hands, arms, hair, face, even legs. He was absolutely freaking out, but there was nowhere to clean up. We walked and walked and walked in the direction of the hotel, hoping for a bathroom or water fountain or even a pond… nothing. At 2% battery, my phone was acting a fool and thought we were miles from where we were, making it impossible to get an Uber. We finally stumbled into the International Spy Museum and used the bathroom, and a nearby hotel had a taxi cab waiting, giving us a ride back to our hotel. The cabbie was trying to make conversation with us. He said he’d been living in DC for 17 years. I said “You like it, huh?” He replied “That is a bad question. That is a terrible question. Why waste your breath asking me that! You think I would live somewhere I don’t like for 17 years? Stupid, stupid!” Man, DC folks were pretty brutal at most turns! That night we ate dinner at a place called Circa, and went back to the hotel room and watched a movie together. All in all, a very good, memorable day, minor hiccups aside. And nice not to have it fully revolve around baseball.
It was time to say goodbye to Washington and move on to Baltimore. We Uber’d back up north 30+ miles and got dropped off at our hotel, right across the street from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. We arrived well before 9am, so unsurprisingly our room wasn’t ready. They took our luggage and we wandered around the ballpark for a while. It became quickly evident the biggest difference between Washington and Baltimore was the niceness and kindness of everyone. I had never heard this being a thing, and maybe we just lucked out, but every last person we encountered in Baltimore was so pleasant. We were greeted by smiling stadium workers as we circled the park, many eager to learn about our trip, almost all wishing Happy Father’s Day to me.
With nothing else to do and nowhere really to go, we visited the Babe Ruth childhood home and museum. We spent about an hour there and saw every last exhibit. A must-visit for any baseball fan! The only meltdown there was John for some reason needing to have a Mets cap from the gift shop. He was already wearing a cap, and has never mentioned liking the Mets before, but he had to have that cap. So, I bargained with him that he could have the cap, but no souvenirs from the stadium to which he happily agreed, and I quickly forgot about, later buying him lots of souvenirs.
There was a festive pregame atmosphere near the ballpark, with a few historic old bars right by our hotel opening their patios to the masses. We sat down and had lunch and a few drinks, waiting for the gates to open. Again, just surprisingly friendly servers and top notch service from absolutely everyone. I had 3 pregame beers, stepping it up from my relatively stark lack of alcohol on the trip to that point, what with the ER visit and all. Be sure to visit Pickle’s and Sugarmore if you’re ever going to an Orioles game!
Finally the gates opened and it was time for the Orioles-Rays game. I had found a steal of a deal on tickets, $90 for fifth row seats directly behind home plate. I figured hey, it’s Father’s Day, it’s a gorgeous 70º day out, let’s splurge and go for it. Opening in 1992, Oriole Park has long been known as baseball’s best stadium. It was the first modern ballpark to deviate from the cookie-cutter shape and be built with a retro architecture not seen in many decades. It absolutely lived up to the hype, quickly becoming #1 on my list of MLB stadiums visited. Every last detail was so intricate and well-done.
Despite our great seats, John couldn’t see. The rise in rows was so gradual, John couldn’t see over the head of the man in front of us in Row 4. I asked the usher, and true to Baltimore form, he happily led us up to the second row. That move got us onto TV, we would soon find out. Sitting in Row 2, we were completely visible the entire telecast. (Yes, I checked MLB.TV repeatedly on my phone to verify.) Being seen on TV is still fun to me, maybe less to others. As I sipped on my “Steady Eddie” Murray IPA, cracked peanuts, basked in the sun on a beautiful day, chit-chatted with a kind stranger from Cleveland, watched a random Orioles-Rays game from mere feet away with my baseball-crazed son at my side on Father’s Day, and was repeatedly met with nothing but overwhelmingly friendly Baltimore folk, I realized I was in baseball heaven. The Orioles won a tight one, 2-1, highlighted by quite a few defensive gems, and after the game ended, the home plate umpire handed John a baseball on his way off the field. What more could you ask for at the ballpark?! I may go so far as to deem this a top 5 experience of my life.
We went back to the hotel for a bit to unwind. We decided to explore a little and walked over to the Inner Harbor for dinner in the midst of ships and paddleboats. After a stop at a candy store, we returned to the hotel and watched another movie together before going to bed. My only previous Baltimore knowledge really came from The Wire, and I guess we were in a different area of town because this was nothing like that.
As much fun as John was having, and wishing we could stay longer, it became evident he wanted to simply stay in the dark, cold hotel room, eat junk food and watch Spongebob on Nick, rather than face the return to reality. Let’s face it, as much as I tried to lather him in sunscreen and force water down his throat and make sure he was eating some semblance of healthy food, it was still a far, far cry from home. Our flight wasn’t til 1:35, so we had time to kill. I forced the poor lad out of the room and tried to walk downtown, but he had simply had enough and refused to budge. I offered him a piggyback ride to no avail. He was simply done using his legs to get from one point to another. Finally, after yet another bribe of 30 final minutes of TV in the hotel room, I got him to walk 0.4 miles from the hotel to M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens. He refused to be in any pictures, but took my photo next to a Ray Lewis statue and then slunk back, stopping at every bench along the way.
By my count, we really did walk over 30 miles during the trip. That’s no doubt a lot for a 7-year-old. If he had gone along with my every whim of walking somewhere, we’d have easily topped 40.
John, a boy of few words, says he had fun, wished it lasted longer, wants to do it again, and his favorite part was the Orioles game. He would like to go to Pittsburgh next time.
I know this post may seem I gave the boy a hard time about his frequent complaining about walking and such, but he was really very good on the trip about everything else. Very agreeable and happy and we had lots of fun bonding together. Definitely a trip I’ll never forget, and not just because I took nearly 200 pictures! Maybe he really does have a leg issue… we’ll get it looked at.
Lauren has talked about doing a similar trip with John in August to Anaheim. I told Edie if they do that, we can go somewhere. She wants to “go swimming”. Easy enough! But we have a lot before that. Alex, Ann and girls are here to visit this week, and a week later we leave for our “month” up north, where we’ll work remotely from South Dakota and Minnesota and let the kids get in a lot of cousin time on both sides of the family. I’ll be driving up alone on the front end, while Lauren and the kids fly into Sioux Falls. I’ll pick them up at the airport and we’ll spend a week on the farm, then two weeks in Minneapolis. So, it’s no longer really a whole month. And unfortunately, Lauren does have to leave to go back to a work event in Houston for a few days, cutting into the trip. On the way home, John may ride back with me and space it out over the course of 4-5 days, so as to avoid having to enroll him in another summer camp. We could conceivably hit up more major and minor league baseball then, with Omaha, Kansas City, Wichita, Tulsa and Dallas on the way. We’ll see what happens!