Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Team, A Town, A Tour

(Photo: Christopher Nesbet [Photo and Illustration])


I didn't know much about audio documentary and production before starting this project but, with the help of  a few tech-oriented friends and good old trial-and-error, I learned a few tricks -- how to pick up ambient noise on the sly, turn my phone into a recording device, even "cold-call" craigslist ads to set up interviews. I enjoyed all of it. But, in the end, I think what I liked most was writing the scripts, tagging where a bit a sound should go to embellish the composition, conducting the thing from start to finish.

Baseball fans, I know, I know: Ebbets and the Dodgers are no longer. The field was razed in the 60's and the Dodgers now play on the west coast. All true. This was the project's main conceit: to recreate an object, place, and / or a time that no longer exists. I decided that the tour should pass the perimeter of where the field once stood -- now the paleolithic and drab Ebbets Field Apartments -- touching on various sights and landmarks as points of entry to the field, the Dodgers, and a thick slab of Brooklyn history. So, I wrote the script, marked the tour out in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, and brought in some ambient street noise and old songs (Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By," Sinatra's "There Used to Be a Ballpark") to round out the production and place it in its time.

Then I set about producing it. I used Audacity, a multi-track mixing program that's free online. Limited and clunky compared to ProTools, it works just fine for short projects like this. I recorded the narration in a storage closet at my office over a number of Saturday afternoons. The tour is broken into five parts and runs 9:40. Give yourself 20-30 minutes to complete the walk. Here's a link to the audio files, recorded and mixed October - December, 2009.

And here's the script--enjoy!



Welcome to the Ebbets Field audio walk.

You should now be on the corner of McKeever Place & Sullivan Place in Brooklyn, NY. On April 15th, 1947, no more than fifty feet from where you’re standing, Jackie Robinson bounded out of the Brooklyn Dodgers dugout along the third base line – parallel to McKeever – to become the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. Of the 26,632 people who attended the game that day, 14,000 were African-American.

Imagine being there: you sit down in your seat, tip your fedora to a familiar face in the crowd, breathe in the smells of cut grass and spilled beer as cheers rise around you, cascading down Flatbush Avenue and out over Prospect Park. Robinson pounds his hand into his glove and bends into position at second base. You’re charged with an electricity bubbling in the crowd as it witnesses history, as it sheds the skin of an old, tired era.

On this tour of Ebbets Field, home of the Dodgers until 1957, you will not see the field, which was demolished in 1960. This tour will take you along the perimeter of where the field once stood, touching on what little remains here of the team and its short but memorable history. The field was built in 1912 on a 4 ½ acre plot in Brooklyn bordered by four streets – McKeever Place, Montgomery Street, Bedord Avenue and Sullivan Place. At the time, some referred to the parcel of land as “Pigtown” because the site was filled with makeshift trash dumps where pigs would go to feed on the waste each morning. Nonetheless, the first owner of the team, Charles Hercules Ebbets, gave his name to a field serviced by nine trolley lines and a stone’s throw from Brooklyn’s main drag, Flatbush Avenue, and watched a budding community take shape around it.

Stop #1 on the tour is in the very place you’re standing, the corner of McKeever and Sullivan. Please start Track #1.



Jackie Robinson Intermediate School is ahead on your left. On April 15th, 1997, fifty years after Robinson broke the so-called “color barrier,” a mountain ash was planted in his honor at the school’s entrance. You’ll pass the tree, as well as a striking mural of Robinson painted on an outdoor wall in just a moment. But stay put for now. Position your body so when you hold our your left arm it’s flush with McKeever, and your right arm is flush with Sullivan. You’re facing where the main entrance to the field used to be, and if you were to take a few steps into the street – please DO NOT do this – you’d be inside the rotunda. And this was no ordinary rotunda: 80 feet wide, tiled with Italian marble decorated like the stiching on a baseball, and lit by a massive chandilier featuring twelve arms shaped like baseball bats. Nothing is left of the original rotunda, save a cornerstone donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame after the field was torn down. If you have a BlackBerry or iPhone, you may want to Google “Ebbets Field rotunda” to view some photos of the rotuduna in its time. For a live taste of the rotunda’s flash and elegance, you could go to CitiField in Queens , the new home of the New York Mets as of 2009, where a near-replica of the rotunda has been built.

Your next stop is on Montgomery Street, roughly halfway between McKeever Place and Bedord Avenue. You’ll simply walk along McKeever, make a right on Montgomery, then another right on Bedord until you begin to pass a row of parking spaces. As you do, you’re covering the entire breadth of the former outfield. Stop when you see a sign with familiar letter to your right. Find a way inside the parking lot, preferably through a gate. Then start Track #2.



You’ll notice the words “Ebbets Field” fitted on a wall in tall, white block letters. The words are there so plainly, without any supporting information, as if we’re to assume just beyond the words is THE Ebbets Field. Instead we see multi-storied, mammoth apartment complex with various wings and gates and walls, named Ebbets Field Apartments. All that's left of the park, in its former home, is a name and plaque (more on this shortly.)

Many of you may remember the apartments from Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 documentary, “Super Size Me,” about the health hazards of McDonald’s. Spurlock used the apartments as a backdrop when discussing the demographics McDonald’s targets with their ads. Let’s keep moving. Walk through the parking lot and stop in front of the numbers 1700 and 1720, on your right. Face them, and begin Track #3.



Walk a little closer to the numbers and you’ll see a concrete plaque embedded in the brick, low to the ground. You may need to pin back a bush to see it clearly. On the slab is an engraving with a baseball and the words “1962: This is the former site of Ebbets Field.” Are you impressed by this plaque? Do you feel it honors the field or anything about the Dodgers and what they meant to this community? I, for one, don’t. It reminds me of the kind of half-finished tombstone you’d get if you defaulted on payment. You can listen to the rest of the audio for this section where you’re standing, or pass through the gate and stand on the street corner – your choice.

Ebbets Field was built on a sloping piece of land, moving downward from this point in what was the right field corner. Working with, and against, the uneven land, the wall in right field grew prodigiously. At its zenith in 1957, the wall towered 38 feet high. The top half was a black fence through which onlookers could watch the game from the rooftop of a neighboring building, and the bottom half was a patchwork collection of local ads. At the wall’s center was a scoreboard featuring two of the more idiosyncatic sights at Ebbets – the famous Abe Stark “Hit Sign, Win Suit” ad at bottom (nearly impossible to hit, of course) and the Shaefer Beer ad, which gave the official scorer’s ruling of “hit” or “error” by lighting up the letter H or E in the sign.

One last thing about the wall. With the ads competing for space and odd topography of the ground on which it was built, there were 289 different angles built into the wall. This played havoc with any ball that struck it: a very handy home-field advantage.

Unfortunately, the concession stands were thrown out with the park, as it were, so no hot dogs, beer or cotton candy on this tour. Be that as it may, the McDonald’s on Empire Boulevard just before Franklin Street will be our final stop. Simply head back toward the Jackie Robinson School on Sullivan. Turn left at McKeever and then right on Empire. If you’ve hit Franklin, you’ve gone to far. It shouldn’t take you more than a minute or two to get to the restaurant. When you enter, please start Track #4.



If you’re feeling peckish, by all means order some food. Mine’s on the way.

The first McDonald’s wasn’t opened in New York City until 1973, fanning out into the boroughs shortly thereafter. If you lived here in the 1950’s and wanted a bite before the Dodgers game but weren’t in the mood for a hot dog from the Stahl-Meyer stand, which stood directly in front of the stadium, McDonald’s wouldn’t have been an option. When you’re ready, or when your food arrives, pass the registers and make a left, heading toward the back of the restaurant.

You’ll see a bank of black-and-white photos of Dodger players – Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese – an artist’s rendition of Ebbets Field, along with some great aerial shots of the field, city and fans. Each photo is dated, with a short caption at bottom. There’s a similar photo nook on the opposite wall. Take your time at the photos. Note especially the candid, loose nature of the locker room shots – they’re great – and when you’ve seen enough, take a seat wherever you’d like.

This is last stop on the tour. I hope you found it enjoyable and informative. If you, like me, feel the Ebbets Field site isn’t outfitted with the proper memorabilia, statues or interactive means into Dodger history, petition your local politician, and do something about it.

Thanks for listening.

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At January 25, 2010 at 5:52 AM , Anonymous Joe Marchese said...

Thanx... nice job honoring the past while living today.


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