When I opened the blinds of our room at Hyatt Place and saw the beautiful summer Sunday just starting to come into its own around PNC Park, I was tempted to buy tickets to the game. My kids and I had attended the previous evening’s contest and I really wanted to wash the taste of that debacle out of my mouth. The draw became almost visceral as we walked across the parking lot to take our leave of the Steel City.
Man, am I glad I decided to just get in the car and drive home.
I have neither a TV nor a satellite hookup in my car, and I wasn’t really able to listen to it very well given the spotty cell coverage throughout West Virginia and rural Eastern Ohio. Nonetheless, the first half finale was probably my favorite game of the season thus far.
The last few weeks of Cubs baseball have been a little painful and there was a legitimate fear that they were going to limp into the break on a six-game losing streak. It was like watching a world-class hurdler fire out of the blocks and guide effortlessly over the first few obstacles before tripping over the final few fences. Except that even the best hurdlers wouldn’t maintain a sizable lead after such a display.
Timely hitting hasn’t exactly been the order of the day (or week, or month) for the Cubs, but after getting a go-ahead single from Kris Bryant in the top of the 8th they can re-write the narrative a bit. Sure, plenty of fans are still going to be plenty worried. It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, though, and the lately feels pretty good.
You know what else felt good? Hearing Albert Almora smack a go-ahead hit of his own, a two-run homer to left in the 4th inning. I’ve had an unrepentant prospect crush on Almora for a while now, so to see — or, more accurately, hear — him lift the team up like that was really cool. It helped that I was pretty much floating on a cloud by then.
Note to readers: here’s the point where I get all personally anecdotal and write about stuff that has zero bearing on baseball whatsoever. Just wanted to give you the chance to bail so you don’t feel that I’ve stolen those few minutes of your life that you could have devoted to other manners of frivolity. If, however, you like reading about families experiencing small slices of Americana, stick around.
I fly a lot for my real job, the one that pays me slightly more than the bounty I command from Google Adsense, so I really prefer to drive whenever possible for personal trips. Not only can I avoid the clamor of America’s various airports, but I’m free to stop and experience things as I please. More than once have I been lured to an upcoming exit by promises made by an interstate billboard. And no, I’m not talking about one of those Lion’s Den spots.
On our way back from Disney World a couple years back, I dragged my wife and kids to a Farmall museum that I had noticed a sign for our on way down to Orlando. My dad and Grandpap had always run Farmalls and International Harvesters, so it was a pretty cool experience for me. My dad even got the chance to visit the following year and really enjoyed it. Where was I again?
Oh yeah, so we’re heading back from Pittsburgh and nearing the West Virginia border when I see this sign for the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum. It’s only 15 miles ahead, but I’m really wanting to get home in the early evening and at least one of my kinds is asleep. Besides, the sign said it’s at Exit 5, and that’s coming right up and we really haven’t been on the road that long.
I tried to tell myself to just keep pressing and not even think about it, just don’t tell the kids and it’s be no big deal. Wait, where was Exit 5? Did I miss it? Then it dawns on me that the sign had said that the place was in 15 miles, which means the exit is in Mountaineer country and not in Pennsylvania. So now we’re coming up the turn-off and I’m in the left lane and I ask my son if he thinks it’d be a cool place to stop. I think he sounds pretty non-committal and I’m ready to keep left, until he reiterates his desire to go and I cut right to exit.
The museum is only about a half-mile from the interstate, so I figure it’s not much of a detour even if the place is closed on Sunday. That certainly appears to be the case as we pull up to the converted school house with approximately zero cars in the parking lot. The sign says it’s open every day from 9am – 4pm, though, and I’m generally not one to argue with signs. We park and head to the front door, my apprehension growing with each step.
And then we step into what was easily one of the most unexpectedly awesome places I’ve ever experienced. Far from fancy, the museum was pretty much exactly as advertised. Tons of toys and model trains of all shapes and sizes, mostly what you’d call vintage. I’d have enjoyed the place plenty even had I been alone, but with my kids there? That, my friends, was heaven.
There were interactive exhibits with RC vehicles, free pinball machines, a massive K’nex amusement park, train sets, slot cars, doll houses. Seeing my kids running from room to room, eyes bugged out of their heads and just radiating joy, completely justified the decision to pull over. And that was just in the first 30 seconds. The Cubs were playing a baseball game that I could have been watching in person or on a TV, or at least listening to, and here I was spotting various random figures in a model train diorama. And I was loving it.
At the risk of sounded hollow and cliche, this was truly a place in which the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The rooms were filled to bursting with what seemed like millions of toys, so much so that my attempts to further describe the scene would no doubt fall short. Besides, to be painstaking in my retelling of the story would be akin to explaining how a magic trick works. There are some things best left to suspended reality and soft-focus recollection. Not to mention I’d probably bore you even more than I already have.
After a few encores with the various exhibits, we hit the gift shop and reluctantly made our way back to the homeward trek and an audio feed of the game that kept cutting out and prompting the auto-play of my iTunes. I think my children were both either asleep or absorbed in their tablets when the game went final, so I celebrated silently with a fist pump that would have met even Craig Strand’s approval. And then I to a little John Fogerty, set the cruise, and chewed up a couple hundred miles of I-70.
Earlier in the morning, I had asked Ryne and Addison* about their favorite part of the trip and both had said they enjoyed the game most of all. Even though the Cubs had lost, they said, it was fun to see them get an early lead and try to fight back later. Before we had even gotten back on the road, though, my son had revised his choice. My daughter soon followed.
I suppose some dads might feel a little conflicted about this after having planned such a trip out for several months, only to have the intended crown jewel usurped by an impulse prompted by a billboard, but I could hardly disagree with my kids. Funny thing is, not going to the game ended up what made it my favorite contest of the season so far. Colored as it was by that rabbit trail excursion, my memory of it will remain far longer than most.
If you’ve ever got occasion to be driving through Wheeling, West Virginia, I highly recommend making a stop at the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum. Even if it means missing some of the game to do it.
*If there was ever any doubt that my daughter is more like me than I sometimes care to admit, her deadpan sarcasm during Saturday’s gave erases it. When Josh Bell — whom we have seen play a few times for the Indianapolis Indians — hit a grand slam to effectively put the game out of reach, she looked over and said, “No wonder he got called up.” And when Jordy Mercer followed with a solo shot, she goes, “Well, at least the bases weren’t loaded.”