Monthly Archives: July 2012

7/29 – Minute Maid Park: Houston Astros vs. Pittsburgh Pirates… (and a night in Austin)

A 4:30am wake-up call is nothing fun after a night in NOLA, but we had to do it in order to make the 1pm game in Houston. It was about a 5 hour drive to Minute Maid Park, and it was impossible to miss since it’s huge retractable roof was completely visible from literally feet away from the I-10 ramp. This ballpark replaced the Astrodome – the first domed stadium in baseball – in 2000, and it’s definitely one of the nicer venues we’ve seen so far (too bad the team is one of the worst in the league). The green steel used in the structure is unique to any other stadium, but the amount of brick used is crazy. An old brick railroad station from 1911, Union Station, has been converted to a children’s play area, team store, and some executive offices (shown below to the right). I love when teams build their venues around a historic landmark of the city, like San Diego did with the Western Metal Supply Building and Baltimore did with the B&O Warehouse. It really adds a nice charm to the stadium, giving it a special relationship with the city, no matter how new the venue may be.








Even though the stadium is smaller than the other parks with retractable roofs, its roof reveals a larger opening than any other can when it’s opened. It uses 3-panel technology like Safeco Field in Seattle, spans over 6 acres, and weighs over 18 million pounds. But unlike Seattle, the roof closes completely air-tight to maintain the comfy air-conditioned temperatures and keep the horrible humidity out. The huge, 50,000 sq. foot glass window in left field actually retracts too, sliding all the way to center field, opening up a view of downtown Houston.

The first-level concourse contains some pretty cool attractions, including Home Run Alley where Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio have some honorable displays. Bagwell played all 15 years for the Astros, holding club records for career home runs (449) and RBIs (1,529) among others, along with single-season records for batting average (.368), homers (47), and almost every other category as well. Biggio is one of only 28 players in the 3,000 hit club, and recorded the first hit at Minute Maid. He also became the first player in history to play an entire 162-game season without hitting into a single double play. An oversized Conoco gas pump – known as the Home Run Pump – is also situated on the concourse, but right next to the left-center field railing so it’s in clear view from almost every seat. It contains a small electronic display of the number of Astros’ home runs that have been hit in Minute Maid Park since it opened in 2000 (which after today’s game is at 1,150).









Another unique aspect of the ballpark is on the field. In straightaway center is a rising 20-degree sloped embankment, known as Tal’s Hill after former longtime team president and general manager Tal Smith. This, along with the flagpole that rises out of it (yes, there is a flag pole on the field in play) certainly offer some dangerous obstacles for a center fielder, but nobody’s been injured by them just yet. The fact that they’re about 430 feet from home plate definitely helps this cause.

The home run celebration here is much cooler than the big rising apple at Citi Field. Paying homage to the locomotive history of Houston (and to the Minute Maid sponsors), a 50,000-pound replica 19th century train engine towing a coal car filled with fake oranges big enough to be pumpkins chugs along an 800-foot track from center field to left whenever an Astro hits a long ball. A real conductor actually operates it, waiting for his moment of glory throughout every bottom-half inning. The HD video screen is also something spectacular, sitting above the right field bleachers as the 2nd largest in the majors (behind KC) at 124 feet wide by 54 feet high. Sitting in the nosebleeds behind home plate, you can see the pimples on the players’ faces when they’re featured on this monstrosity.









The Food:

The ballpark food ranged generally stayed along the southern BBQ theme, ranging from a variety of different dogs to a barbecue stuffed potato loaded with cheddar, pulled pork, bbq sauce, sauteed onions, and jalapenos. But we decided to go to the Southside Carvery stand, where my dad got a sliced turkey sandwich and I got a beef brisket sandwich, both topped with sweet bbq sauce and served with kettle chips and a pickle on the side.









The Game:

Our tickets were for the front row of the upper deck, but our row was completely packed with people while almost every other section in the entire stadium was almost empty… so we moved back and spread out and pretty much had a section of our own.

As I said before, the Astros have been one of the worst teams in baseball for the past few years, and are the oldest big-league team to never win a World Series. Coming into this game, they’ve lost 12 straight – a franchise high – going up against a surprisingly good Pirates ballclub (who haven’t finished a season in 2nd place since 1997, but are currently just 3 games behind first). The Astros threw Lucas Harrell, their most consistent starter this season, against the Pirates’ James McDonald who has been struggling bad since the All-Star Break. Down by 1, the Pirates’ Garrett Jones hit a 2-run 455-ft. bomb to right field, but was followed by Jordan Schafer’s 2-run long ball in the next half-inning (shown below) to give the lead right back to the ‘stros. I would also like to point out the Schafer is the guy who was completely robbed of a hit by Gregor Blanco during Matt Cain’s perfect game we attended earlier in the summer.

The pitchers continued to struggle, allowing 23 combined hits, 11 combined walks, and 14 combined runs. Definitely a fun game to watch, and very surprising with some usually bad teams.

Final score: Astros 9, Pirates 5

Starting pitchers: Lucas Harrell – 5.2 IP, 5 H, 3 BB, 2 ER, 5 Ks; James McDonald – 5 IP, 6 H, 7 BB, 5 ER, 5 Ks

Homers: Garrett Jones, Jordan Schafer


Right after the game, we headed straight to Austin about 3 hours away to stay the night. We picked up my friend Matt who goes to the University of Texas, and met a friend of my dad’s at a place called by Moonshine for dinner. I had Pecan Crusted Catfish, with a side of baked mac n’ cheese, which were both awesome.

Arlington tomorrow for a division rival game between the Texas Rangers and the LA Angels!

Categories: 30 Ballparks, One Summer | 1 Comment

7/28 – The Road to New Orleans

What better way is there to start off an 8-hour driving day with a Waffle House breakfast. It was our first time at this predominantly southern diner, and we were not disappointed one bit. You may call me crazy, but I didn’t get a waffle (I tried my dad’s, and it was great)… instead I got scrambled eggs with toast and crispy hash browns, accompanied by a seasoned cutlet of grilled chicken that was so tender and juicy. I may be getting carried away describing a pretty common breakfast, but it was definitely better than most diner meals I’ve had at home. If anyone knows of a Waffle House in Jersey, please let me know.

Almost half way to New Orleans, we saw a sign for the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site, so we took a half-hour detour to take in some history. The Tuskegee Institute is the most well-known black college in America, initially due to George Washington Carver’s agricultural experiments performed there. But this is also where the first black aviation cadets had to complete preflight training, and would then move on to primary training here at Moton Field, built during WWII. This was the most difficult phase of training, but the men who made it through would proceed to basic and advanced flight training back at Tuskegee Institute. Finally, they would be considered the first African-American military pilots for the U.S. Army Air Corps, and this led to the desegregation of the U.S. military.









After a bit more driving, we stopped at The Original Oyster House just outside Mobile, Alabama for lunch. This place was actually featured on the Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food, where Adam Richman created his own platter, now available to try for yourself: bourbon glazed ahi tuna, shrimp scampi, fried oysters, stuffed crabs, and fried crawfish tails. We didn’t attempt this challenge, but we obviously got some raw oysters to start off the meal. They were a bit bigger than what we see up north, and definitely plumper and tastier than what we’re used to, also. My dad then got a seafood salad with shrimp and crab meat which he said was pretty good, but I was amazed at how good my blackened sutchi po’ boy was. I’ve never heard of sutchi before, but it’s a white fish pretty similar to Mahi Mahi. It was a huge filet seasoned and blackened perfectly, with just the right combo of flakiness and juiciness, and topped with lettuce, pickles, and sliced cherry tomatoes on a toasted bun, it was amazing.









We finally made it to Nawlins, dropped our luggage and car at the hotel downtown, and walked over to the notorious French Quarter just a couple blocks away. We passed by a small brass band, consisting of about 7 or 8 guys in street clothes taking turns soloing with their trumpets and trombones… a very distinct sound of the city. And then there’s Bourbon Street, famous for its party-all-night atmosphere and insane Mardi Gras celebrations. Walking through the busy streets of The Quarter was an experience in itself, seeing tons of street performers (if painting your whole body in gold or silver paint is considered performing) and hearing live bands play in almost every bar we pass.

















Most of the buildings date all the way back to the early 1800s with Creole, French, and Greek inspirations, and have kept pretty much all of the same structural components over the years, like the second-story balconies, wrought iron railings, and steep rooftops.









We met up for some drinks with Dad’s friend Jordan, and watched the day turn to night from one of the balconies over Bourbon. We also watched a man get arrested for an undisclosed reason (most likely being too drunk), and saw some very diverse groups of people come out to enjoy the nightlife. After a little while we headed out to grab some dinner at Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, where I got an open-faced Roasted Duck BLT which used applewood smoked bacon, arugula, cherry tomatoes, and a brown garlic dijon sauce on homemade sourdough bread. The meat was tender and sweet, the skin was still nice and crispy, and the soft bread balanced out the chewy duck and crunchy lettuce perfectly.

Unfortunately we couldn’t stay as long as I’d hoped in the jazz capital of the world, as we had to make a 1:00 day game about 5 hours away in Houston the next day. But I’ll be back!


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7/27 – Turner Field: Atlanta Braves vs. Philadelphia Phillies

After an hour flight delay because a flight attendant was late to the airport, we finally made it to Atlanta around 3pm, dropped our luggage at the hotel, and headed out for some grub before the game. We were contemplating between Fat Matt’s for world-famous ribs, or The Varsity for some drive-in chili dogs. We decided on Fat Matt’s, which my dad says he remembered being there 20 years ago, and it was an excellent decision. The country-style ribs glazed with the original Fat Matt’s BBQ sauce were so tasty and tender, the meat fell right off the bone. We got a full slab of these bad boys, along with sides of beans baked in a unique rum sauce and amazing mac n’ chesse. We also got a glimpse of how friendly everyone around here is (even with our Phillies shirts on).








After wet-wiping our hands, arms, and faces, we headed to Turner Field for the 7:30 game. My dad prepaid for parking in the Green Lot, which we soon learned was the grounds of the old Fulton County Stadium, where the Braves played from 1966-’96. A huge, blue wall circles a portion of the lot, indicating where the borders of the old stadium were, and towards the middle of the lot sits an amazing piece of baseball history. A small piece of green wall, maybe 20 feet wide by 15 feet high, is the portion of the left field wall that Hank Aaron hit his 715th career home run over, breaking the record previously held by Babe Ruth. Hank  hit this historic homer on his first swing of the 1974 season, and the moment was made even more memorable when 2 college kids ran onto the field and celebrated with him during his trot, patting him on the back as he rounded second base. The asphalt parking lot also contains brick where the infield dirt and warning track were located in the old stadium, accompanied by metal plates where the bases were.

The Stadium:

Turner Field has an interesting combination of the old-fashioned brick structure, along with a multitude of modern aspects throughout the park. The courtyard outside the gate is known as Monument Grove, and contains 4-foot number statues for some Braves greats, including John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddux. Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro, and Warren Spahn not only have their numbers depicted this way, but have statues showing them in action, too. Spahn (shown below) holds the record for most wins by a left-handed pitcher, with a career record of 363-245.









I wasn’t sure of the significance of this, but a drum line of young locals wearing Braves jerseys marched from Monument Grove, through the gates, and performed in the open plaza inside the ballpark. Maybe it was a continuation of the politically incorrect atmosphere provided by Braves’ nation? They got rid of Chief Noc-A-Homa and the “Big Victor” totem pole a while back, but the good old tomahawk chop is still very much present among the crowd.









Once inside, there is an overwhelming amount of activities and shops and attractions to visit. There was a cool mini baseball diamond where smaller kids were allowed to wait in line to hit foam balls pitched from an employee into the field where other kids ran around and chased them. This one staff member was having way too much fun pegging the children with the ball as they ran around the bases, but it was very fun to watch.

There was also a Scouts Alley area, where original scouting reports were on display, including ones for Greg Maddux and Dale Murphy. Several kiosks contained cool memorabilia for sale, with the usual signed balls and bats, but one had the huge Philadelphia Phillies flag that hung above the stadium last year on sale for just $125 – unfortunately we didn’t buy it. The walls of the concourse are covered in different types of murals and other artwork, and had a cool timeline of the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, shown below.

From our seats we could see the Sky Field deck in left field, where a 38-foot Coca-Cola bottle made out of baseball equipment (gloves, bats, balls, shoes, helmets, etc.) sits and lights up throughout the game. The Coca-Cola company has pledged to give $1 million to a fan who catches a home run atop this porch. This is very unlikely, however, seeing that it’s 475 feet from home, 80 feet from the ground, and mostly in foul territory. To the right is the giant Chik-fil-a cow holding up a sign reading “Chop on, chikin loverz, chop on.” And to the right of that is yet another giant stamp of  industry with the Delta Airlines sign.

The Game:

We had 200-level seats, but they weren’t elevated like most other stadiums, so we were still pretty much at field level. They were right behind the Phillies dugout and we had a great view of the whole field, from home plate to the left field fence.

Cole Hamels has been one of the best pitchers in the league this year, and the Phils were riding a 4-game win streak heading into this game (including a few dramatic come-from-behind wins). For Atlanta, Ben Sheets came back to action a couple weeks ago after missing a year and a half with Tommy John surgery, and after 2 starts this season has gone 12 innings without allowing a run. The Phils got to him early, scoring a run before he even recorded an out, but that was all they’d score all game. And Hamels allowed a career-high 6 walks leading to 5 runs allowed, including a 3-run shot by Brian McCann.

Late in the game was an excellent distraction from our Phillies losing in ugly fashion: The Home Depot Tool Race. Even weirder than giant foam-headed dead presidents, this race consists of a hammer, a drill, a paint bucket, and a paint brush racing around the warning track, fighting and tackling each other on the way. I don’t remember who won, but I wanted to include my picture of the hammer on the ground after being violently knocked into the wall by the drill.









As I said before, the run in the 1st inning is the only one scored by the Phils all game. But it was cool to see Ryan Howard finally play, after he missed almost the whole first half of the season because of the Achilles he ruptured on the last pitch of last season. With the Braves’ victory, fireworks shot out of the giant Coke bottle, and everyone around us did the tomahawk chop while we sat quietly, taking in the opposing team’s victorious atmosphere… something the Phillies have been doing all season long.

Final score: Braves 6, Phillies 1

Starting pitchers: Ben Sheets (W) – 6 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 4 Ks; Cole Hamels – 5 IP, 4 H, 5 R (3 ER), 6 BB, 7 K

Homer: Brian McCann

After the Game:

We didn’t grab anything to eat in the ballpark, so we decided to try out The Varsity, which can accommodate up to 600 cars and 800 people at once as the world’s largest diner. We didn’t see the inside though, because we pulled into a drive-in space where a waiter came up to our window and took our order immediately. My dad and I both got the famous Chili Dog topped with mustard, which was pretty tasty. But the onion rings were the best part. The batter was so light and crispy, and the multi-layered onion inside was juicy and sweet. And my dad got a shake called the Orange Frost, similar to an orange cream taste, but in milkshake form… so good.

Tomorrow morning takes us on an 8-hour drive to New Orleans for the night, then on to Houston for the Astros vs. Pirates on Sunday!

Categories: 30 Ballparks, One Summer | 5 Comments

7/4 – Citi Field: New York Mets vs. Philadelphia Phillies

I know this is long overdue, but here’s your chance to see how much of a procrastinator I am… I waited literally 3 weeks to write this blog post, and we have a game in Atlanta tomorrow. But it’s okay, it’s only the Mets so you haven’t been missing anything that special. Actually, the stadium was pretty nice… but that’s about it.


If you take away the dozens of sketchy auto shops completely surrounding the parking lots, it’s not a bad sight from the outside. The stadium has the classic brick and concrete structure, along with big glass windows that make it very similar to the old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, where the Dodgers played until the late ’50s. But the homage to the Dodgers doesn’t stop there.. not for a long shot. Mets owner Fred Wilpon (who played high school baseball with Sandy Koufax) was born and raised in Brooklyn, and isn’t afraid to express the loyalty to his hometown (and hometown team). For example, the main entrance leads into the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, consisting of a giant blue #42 statue in the middle of the floor, black and white pictures of Robinson, and huge, elaborate archways are topped with quotes by Jackie himself, including: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” There are even two big video monitors continuously playing clips of Jackie throughout his career.


Right next to the rotunda is the Mets Hall of Fame and Museum, which has a lot of cool memorabilia from Mets history. Johan Santana just threw the first Mets no-hitter on June 1st, and a signed picture and game-used ball have been put on display here.










Also on display are original yearbook covers from every year of the Mets organization (starting in 1962). I’m not so sure what they were thinking in ’62, but there are a lot of pretty cool pictures on past front pages.










The Mets’ two World Series Trophies from ’69 and ’86 are also kept here in the museum, along with original hand-written scouting reports and notes by the Mets’ first manager Casey Stengel.

On our way to the food we ran into the Pin Man, who I learned (after some Googling) began collecting pins in 2006 and now has over 10,000.. should I believe everything I read on the internet? He stopped for a photo and told us we were very nice Phillies Fans, unlike the Yankee fans he met a couple weeks earlier. Ha!


I wasn’t sure where to express my criticisms of the Mets franchise in this blog, so I’ll just list them here: first of all, they have the dumbest mascot in all of sports – a guy with a giant baseball for a head?! Named Mr. Met?! Let’s get him in the ring with the Phillie Phanatic… nobody messes with an anteater from the Galapagos Islands. Second of all, the home run celebration at Shea was a big apple rising up out of a top hat? Very original, a big apple in The Big Apple… and now in Citi Field it’s an even bigger apple… 4 times as big actually. Just leave the apple in the garden in the parking lot and think of something better. It actually looks nice there… except for the ugly Mets fans smiling and laughing and being happy and possibly making the playoffs. God, I hate being in last place.


Oh and do the billboards really have to be that big? The video board looks minuscule compared to the hot sauce and Goya beans ads.


The Food:

Some recommendations led us to the lobster roll at the “Catch of the Day” counter, where we also got a grilled shrimp po’ boy. The lobster roll was a bit small for about $18, but pretty tasty with a lot of nice-sized chunks of lobster meat (I couldn’t get a picture before my dad took a big bite out of it, though). And the po’ boy was alright, just needed a little more shrimp… and flavor.










The Game:

Cliff Lee has started 13 games this season, and has not won one yet (5 losses, 8 no decisions). And you can’t blame him when the Phils have been playing the way the Mets have for the past few years (zing)… but if he were to lose today, he would have tied the Major League Baseball record for most starts to begin a season without a win. Maybe Chase Utley’s return could help provide some run support for him? Today is only Utley’s 6th game this year, recovering from surgery on his bad knees. And in the 7th inning, with the Phils down 2-0, Utley hits a 2-run homer to right field to tie the game. Then Carlos Ruiz hits a homer to left on the very next pitch! And over the next 2 innings, the Phils score 6 more runs to make it 9-2 for Cliff Lee’s glorious first win of the season. And the first Phillies win that we’ve seen all summer!

Final score: Mets 2, Phillies 9

Starting pitchers: Chris Young – 7 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 3 Ks; Cliff Lee – 8 IP, 7 H, 1 BB, 2 ER, 9 Ks

Homers: Scott Hairston, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Ty Wigginton

Here are pictures of Utley and Chooch after hitting their back-to-back homers in the 7th:










Next stop: 7/27 – Atlanta Braves vs. our Phils!



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6/28 – Tropicana Field: Tampa Bay Rays vs. Detroit Tigers

Before the 7 o’clock Rays game, we stopped in a little historic neighborhood in Tampa known as Ybor City. In the 1880s, cigar manufacturers and thousands of immigrants from Italy, Cuba, Spain, Romania, and Germany founded the district, and it quickly grew into a bustling, diverse community, producing millions of cigars a year. But after The Great Depression, cigars became less popular as people started buying cheaper cigarettes, so the factories started shutting down… and by the 1960’s the town was almost completely abandoned.  But in the early ’80s, musicians and artists started moving into the old buildings, and after just a few years, the district became full of restaurants, bars, and clubs. One Spanish restaurant called Columbia was founded in 1905, and actually made it through all the troubles of the city, and remains open as the oldest Spanish restaurant in America. But we decided to eat at a two-month-old chophouse called Carne instead, where we split a few appetizers and a sandwich for lunch.

I’m not usually a big deviled egg fan, but these were pretty good, with a bite of bacon sticking out of the middle of it to add a nice salty crunch. The Oyster Rockers were good too, which were filled with Andouille sausage, corn, tomatoes, and topped with a spinach and cheddar cheese crust.









The best appetizer was the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella, and the prime rib sandwich was also pretty good, but needed a little more horseradish mayo to bring out the flavor… the hoagie roll was perfectly toasted though.









I also want to mention that the girls at the table next to us had the cutest pitbull puppy I have ever seen…

After lunch we took the ride into St. Petersburg to arrive about two hours early for the game so we could walk around and maybe catch some batting practice. There was a nice walkway from the parking lot leading to the main gate, with a painted ground mural depicting an underwater scene with different types of fish (didn’t see any rays, though) and coral, flanked by rows of palm trees, with the ballpark in the background.









Turns out, they don’t even let people into the stadium until about an hour and a half before first pitch, so we had to wander the gift shop for a few minutes until they kicked us back outside to wait in a crowded courtyard until opening the gates. But when they finally did, we made our way straight to the Rays Touch Tank outside the right-center field wall. This 35-foot, 10,000-gallon open tank contains a couple dozen cow nose rays, which a group of up to 50 fans at a time are allowed to see and even touch for up to a 10-minute visit. They were much faster swimmers than I thought, so it was hard to pet their wings without another ray swimming up and brushing against my forearm without me thinking it was going to bite me or sting me or whatever they do. And we didn’t do this, but for just a $5 donation, anyone can feed the rays by holding a piece of fish underwater, “like an ice cream cone” as our guide described it, and a ray will swim over your hand and suck it right up. Also, if any player hits a home run into the tank (which is about 370 feet from home), the Rays organization will donate $2,500 to the Florida Aquarium, and another $2,500 to that player’s charity of choice. Luis Gonzalez is the only hitter to do this, which was in 2007.









Ted Williams Museum & Hitters Hall of Fame:

This is probably my favorite exhibit in all of the parks so far: The Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame. The downstairs entrance has a room filled with memorabilia of both past and present stars, including autographed baseballs and game-used bats of members of the 500-home run club and gear signed by current players. But the 7,000-square-foot room upstairs is really something amazing. Williams retired to Florida after the greatest hitting career in the history of the game (and some  years of coaching too), and this museum depicts so many aspects of his life – from signed baseballs and game-used jerseys and mitts, to stuffed fish that he caught himself, to even a boxing glove given to him by Muhammad Ali that’s signed, “To Ted Williams THE GREATEST from Muhammad Ali THE GREATEST.” The ball shown below was signed by both Teddy and Babe Ruth in 1946.









But this is just the beginning… the other side of this huge upstairs room is filled with rows of glass cases dedicated to dozens of the game’s best hitters. Teddy himself designed this exhibit in 1994, and chose the 20 initial members to be inducted based on what he called a “secret formula.” The top-ten honorees include Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Rogers Hornsby, Joe DiMaggio, Ty Cobb, Stan Musial, Joe Jackson, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays, in order. And the memorabilia on display for each of these majestic men varies greatly, but the coolest item in my opinion is Babe Ruth’s very first contract, signed on January 6, 1916 for a salary of $2,625.00 by the Boston American League Baseball Club (Red Sox). Yes, the actual contract that he sat beside owner and president Joseph Lannin and signed to officially begin his glorious baseball career at the age of 21. If you’re like me and want to read every word of this document, you can click on it for a larger picture.

Some of my other favorite cases were of Wade Boggs, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Bench, Tony Gwynn, and Phillie greats Mike Schmidt and Richie Ashburn (which Ashburn Alley is named after, if you remember from my Philadelphia post a while back). Each of these had similar items like used jerseys and cleats and signed baseballs, but some unique pieces too, like a magazine with the player featured on the cover from his day.










The Stadium:

I’m sure most fans would agree with me that baseball should be played outdoors, with the midday sun beating down on the fresh-cut grass. But Tropicana Field doesn’t provide any of these opportunities. It is the only current MLB stadium with a fixed, domed roof, and is accompanied by an Astroturf playing surface (otherwise known as “GameDay Grass”). But it’s no real grass, and there’s no sun shining through any parts of the stadium. The dome is made of Teflon-coated fiberglass, and looks like similar material to the workout bubble at my high school (West Orange High, NJ). It ranges from 225 feet above 2nd base to just 85 feet above the center field wall, and is supported by 180 miles of cables connected by 4 catwalks at different heights. The catwalks are so low that they’re hit pretty often and there are rules about what happens if a ball strikes one on the fly: if one of the two lowest catwalks is struck in fair territory, the result is a home run; if one of the two higher catwalks is struck in fair territory, then the ball is in play and can be caught or fall foul  or reach the stands for a ground rule double.

There aren’t many other unique aspects to the ballpark, except for a cool arcade game section and a minute-to-minute timeline of the final day of last year’s regular season (easily the most dramatic day in my baseball fanhood life). For anyone who doesn’t know, the Red Sox led the AL Wild Card by 9 games on September 4th with 24 games left to play in the season. That’s a pretty big playoff advantage, with statistical calculations giving them a 99.78% chance of making the postseason. But the team collapsed in the last month of the season, and on the last day they were tied for the Wild Card spot with the Tampa Bay Rays. If the Sox lost their game against the Orioles and the Rays beat the Yankees, the Rays would be in the playoffs (and vice versa: if the Rays lost and the Sox won, the Sox would be in the playoffs). Papelbon enters the bottom of the 9th inning with a 3-2 lead, blows just his 3rd save opportunity all season, then loses the game on back-to-back doubles for a walk-off win by the Orioles. Meanwhile here in Tampa Bay, the Rays came back from being down 7-0 after 7 innings against the Yankees and tied the game, forcing extra innings (amazing in itself). And literally 2 minutes after the Red Sox lose their game, Evan Longoria of the Rays hits a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th inning, winning the game 8-7, sending them into the 2011 playoffs and knocking the Red Sox out of contention, completing one of the most historic comebacks in the history of baseball. Sorry for my readers who aren’t the biggest baseball fans and don’t really get any of this, but it was such an amazing day of baseball that I felt I had to include it somehow. And for those of you who would learn better pictorially than from reading this very detailed description, here’s a graph from the end of the timeline in Tropicana showing the Red Sox and Rays chances of reaching the playoffs last year:

The Game:

The food we had before the game was too good to follow up with the hot dog we had at Tropicana Field, which really wasn’t that special (still better than the Dodger Dog, though). So I’ll skip a food section and just talk about the game. We’ve seen both teams already this summer (the Tigers in Boston and the Rays in New York), but we got to see Max Scherzer pitch against James Shields, who have both been two of the game’s more consistent pitchers over the past few years. And seeing Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera is always fun, seeing how they’re two of the biggest and strongest hitters out there. Shields gave up 14 hits and 4 runs, but still lasted almost 8 innings; and Scherzer had a great game, giving up only 2 runs on 4 hits in 6 innings.

DJ Kitty was definitely an interesting part of the game entertainment, who’s apparently a secondary mascot (after Raymond the Ray) for the organization… maybe because of the catwalks? I really don’t know, but he shows up on the huge videoboard during the late innings wearing a sideways baseball cap, Rays jersey, and gold chain, scratching a record to some interesting remixed rally song… and the fans love it. Well, the few fans that are ever at the games.

Final score: Rays 2, Tigers 5

Starting pitchers: James Shields (L) – 7.2 IP, 14 H, 1 BB, 4 ER, 6 Ks; Max Scherzer (W) – 6 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 2 ER, 7 Ks

Home run: Miguel Cabrera

Next stop: 7/4 – Citi Field for the New York Mets against our Phillies who will probably lose once again!

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