Author Archives: phantasticphans

8/16-7 – Miller Park: Milwaukee Brewers vs. Philadelphia Phillies

Last stadium of the summer! We finish our 30-ballpark tour seeing our Phils play two days in a row in Beer Country USA – aka Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s only fitting that a venue known as Miller Park is home to the baseball organization called the Brewers. And it was definitely a great ballpark to conclude our road trip with, ranking up there as one of my favorites. The structure uses a nice combination of classic and modern styles, with brick forming the exterior walls and huge glass windows situated all around the building. And on both sides of the main gate where it says “Miller Park” are two gigantic rounded windows that look almost like bug eyes from the front.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This stadium utilizes one of the coolest retractable roofs out of the 6 ballparks that have one, opening up from the center in the direction of both foul lines, with its panels stored above the “bug-eyes.” The roof was open both nights we went to a game here, but you can tell that these two over-sized windows – along with the big rectangular ones flanking the scoreboard in center field – let in so much sunlight when it’s closed that I’m sure it still feels almost like an outdoor game. That’s one of the things I didn’t like about Rogers Centre in Toronto – the roof was closed and there were no big windows letting light in so it just felt like an indoor game (the artificial turf didn’t help the cause there either).

Outside the main entrance are a few statues of Milwaukee baseball legends. The first is Hank Aaron, who I’ve definitely mentioned multiple times this summer. He’s known by many to be the greatest to ever play the game. After playing only a year for the Negro League Indianapolis Clowns (and leading them to a Championship victory that year), he was signed by the Milwaukee Braves in 1952. He played for them from until 1974, moving with them to Atlanta in 1965, then was traded back to the city of Milwaukee to join the new hometown-squad Brewers for the final 2 years of his career. I’m sure I’ve highlighted some of his amazing achievements already, but just to refresh your memory: he has hit the second-most home runs history (755) behind the juiced-up Barry Bonds (but he’s still the home run king to me). He holds 4 MLB career records: total bases, RBIs, extra-base hits, and consecutive seasons with 150+ hits (17). He was selected to the All-Star team 21 times out of his 23 seasons in the big leagues, won 2 batting titles, 4 home run titles, and 3 Gold Gloves. He’s the statue below to the right.

The other statue depicts “Rockin” Robin Yount, who played his entire 20-year career for the Brewers from 1974 to ’93. He holds franchise records for career hits (3,142), runs (1,632), doubles (583), triples (126), homers (251), RBIs (1,406), and walks (966). And the third statue is of Bud Selig, who bought the Seattle Pilots in 1970 and moved them to Milwaukee to become the Brewers and begin a new era of Milwaukee baseball. He is now the commissioner of MLB.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around the main concourse are a few cool displays. One is the Milwaukee Braves Honor Roll, paying homage to the first professional baseball organization in the city, who were a beloved team in the community for 13 seasons (1953-’65), never finishing a season with a losing record. Plaques and banners commemorate the best players from this era, including Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn, 4-time All Star Johnny Logan, and power hitting duo Eddie Mathews & Hank Aaron. A plaque also honors the 1957 team, who beat the Yankees to deliver the city’s first World Series Championship.

Down the hall is Autograph Alley, displaying dozens of baseballs signed by some baseball immortals like Casey Stengel, Ty Cobb, Mel Ott, Joe DiMaggio, and Bob Feller. Other stars like Mohammed Ali even have signed balls here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milwaukee is proud to be the birthplace and home of the Harley Davidson motorcycle company,  and Miller Park shows this pride with an entire Harley-Davidson Deck over the left-center field bleachers, complete with a buffet for a party of up to 42. Your gang is even reserved access to the exclusive Harley Parking Lot for bikes only. Three Harley models sit up on the beam above that, which you can see from pretty much any seat in the park, and the ceremonial game ball is even delivered via motorcycle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Probably the most well-known feature of Miller Park is the huge slide that the mascot, “Bernie,” slides down after Brewer homers and wins. He hangs out it his little perch high above left field when the Brew Crew is up to bat, jumps down the slide with his arms high in the air, and waves a big Brewers flag when he gets to the bottom. And Hall of Fame broadcaster (and former Milwaukee catcher) Bob Uecker is known for his home run catch-phrase, which is displayed above Bernie’s Dugout and lights up with a Brewer blast: “Get up, get up, get outta here.. Gone!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Food:

Milwaukee is a city known for it’s meat. And more specifically: its brats. The sausages at Miller are widely claimed to be the best in the big leagues, so we couldn’t pass up tasting them for ourselves. We decided to try the chorizo first. The skin had the perfect snap, breaking with the first bite, and the meat inside was so juicy, tender and flavorful. And with a little sauerkraut and hot mustard to add some heat, it was easily much better than any dog we’ve had all summer. And around the 6th inning we went back to try the Italian, which was a little more burnt with a charred flavor – just the way I like it. Also available were Polish brats (like kielbasa), and something known as the “Giant Slugger”: a 1-pound, 2-foot-long hot dog topped with nacho cheese, chili, grilled onions, and jalapenos. I’d have to starve myself all day to even attempt this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First night’s game:

We saw Cliff Lee pitch for the Phillies on the 4th of July against the Mets, and earn his first win of the season (extremely late in the year for such a great pitcher). Up until today, he’s only won a single game since then. And it didn’t look too promising early, giving up back-to-back homers to Ryan Braun (shown below) and Aramis Ramirez in the first inning. Then in the fourth, Braun came up and smashed a second home run to make the score 3-1. But in the top of the 5th, the Phils put together a rare 2-out rally for themselves with a single, a walk, and another single to load the bases for third baseman Kevin Frandsen – who’s only played about 15 games all year since replacing the injured Placido Polanco. He ripped a ball into the left-center field gap to score all three baserunners and take the lead 4-3. If they could hold on to this lead for 4 more innings, Lee could finally get another win! In the bottom of the 8th inning, Lee gets 2 quick outs, but Brewer second baseman Rickie Weeks reaches on a throwing error by – how ironic – third baseman Kevin Frandsen. Lee is taken out of the game, and reliever Josh Linblom (who we got from the Dodgers for Shane Victorino a few weeks ago) intentionally walks Ryan Braun.. smart move.. but then UNintentionally walks Aramis Ramirez, bringing up slugger Corey Hart with the bases loaded. A few pitches into the count, Hart blasts a shot just over the right-center field wall, barely out of the reach of Domonic Brown.. who barely even left the ground. He’s 6’5” and can probably jump over a car if he wanted to. Man I hate him so much right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final score: Brewers 7, Phillies 4

Starting pitchers: Marco Estrada (ND) – 5 IP, 8 H, 3 BB, 4 ER, 1 K; Cliff Lee (ND) – 7.2 IP, 5 H, 4 R (3 ER), 12 Ks

Homers: Ryan Braun (2), Aramis Ramirez, Corey Hart (GS)

Second day in Milwaukee, final day of the trip:

With a full day before the 7 o’clock game, we explored the city a bit, walking around the Historic District and ending up in the Milwaukee Public Market. It’s not as big as the Reading Terminal Market we go to all the time in Philly (where you have to get a pork sandwich at DiNic’s if you ever go), but definitely had a wide variety of foods at dozens of stands and counters. We were in a seafood mood so got some oysters and a shrimp/sausage gumbo. I would never expect Milwaukee to have great seafood (does Lake Michigan have sea animals? I have no clue, don’t judge me), but these oysters were fresh and plump and sooo tasty. And the gumbo was awesome too.

With some more time to kill, we found a little German neighborhood in town with tons of bars and cheese shops with lots of samples (as if we didn’t eat enough today). We stopped at a bar called Mader’s and got a sausage and cheese platter to go with our genuine German beers. Bratwurst, knockwurst, Swiss, and Cheddar. Yum.

After a day of eating and mozying, we headed to our final game of the summer. And if you read my Anaheim post back in June, you might remember us sitting next to a newlywed couple, Ben and Sara, who were touring the California ballparks for their honeymoon – after getting married on home plate of Miller Park! Anyway, we got in touch when we came into town, and Sara was actually going to tonight’s game with some family and was nice enough to show us around a bit. They have season tickets in the club level, so we got to see the beautiful indoor lounges, complete with a buffet and even a grand piano player. Haven’t seen that in any other stadium. And if it weren’t for Sara, we wouldn’t have even noticed Craig Counsell walking right by us! He played in the majors for 15 years, finishing his career with 4 years here in Milwaukee. Thanks for the tour Sara!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think we had some bad luck here at Miller – not only because of how the Phils played – but because of the annoying fans around us. Kept getting up and leaving mid-at bat (hate that), and this one guy had to have been the world’s worst heckler… “Hey Rickie, you’re dreads are too heavy!….. I’m saying that because you just swung and missed as if they were weighing you down!” But I can confidently say that these fans put together the coolest “wave” I’ve ever seen at a sporting event. It started off normally, taking a couple tries to get everyone into it. But when it caught on, it went around the stadium a couple times, then we noticed that it was coming back around in slow motion! I’ve never seen this before so I was a little confused, but when it got closer to us, we saw that everyone was just very slowly moving to standing up and raise their arms in the air. And once the slow-motion wave went all the way around once, it was time for a high-speed one. I don’t know how they choreographed this, but nobody missed a beat – it hit a certain section, then took off.. it looked so cool from across the stadium. Definitely giving you Brewer fans props on putting that together. Very impressive.

Later in the game was the Famous Sausage Race. A brat, Polish sausage, Italian sausage, hot dog, and Chorizo all race around the warning track wearing clothing and facial hair. The fans just eat it up.

Our Last Game:

We wanted nothing more than to conclude our epic summer trip with a victory from our Phillies. They gave us a little hope by striking first with a Ryan Howard RBI-double in the fourth inning. But we were quickly frustrated in the bottom half of the inning when Brewer speedster Nyjer Morgan knocked a ball towards the right-center field gap with 2 men on base. Domonic Brown ran a long way and got to the ball, but it hit right off his glove… way to miss another chance to prevent some scoring. Then after an intentional walk, Milwaukee pitcher Yovani Gallardo even gets in on the hitting action, slapping the ball to right and scoring 2 more. Philly starter Vance Worley is replaced by BJ Rosenberg (who we saw blow the extra-inning game all the way back in Baltimore for his major league debut) in the 5th, who gives up a 2-run homer to Ryan Braun – his 3rd homer in the past 2 nights. The Phils managed to scrap in another run in the 9th, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Final score: Brewers 6, Phillies 2

Starting pitchers: Yovani Gallardo (W) – 7 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 1 ER, 9 Ks; Vance Worley (L) – 4.2 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 4 ER, 3 Ks

Home runs: Ryan Braun

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8/14 – Frontenac State Park & Target Field: Minnesota Twins vs. Detroit Tigers

Frontenac State Park, SE Minnesota

Another drive along the banks of the Mississippi River led us to another cool hiking spot in Minnesota. This one started maybe 100-feet high above the river and led us down about 2 miles of some really steep trails through thick woods all the way to the banks of the water. The trails were definitely less-developed than the other ones we’ve done but it was a much more natural atmosphere with some really awesome views.

Minneapolis:

When we got to Minneapolis we had some sushi before the Twins game which was so good. You all know what sushi looks like, but I wanted to show you the fried oysters and age dashi (lightly fried) tofu. The tofu was soft as usual on the inside, but with this crispy skin it was a great texture. I want to learn how to make it… but will most likely just continue to buy and eat it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After dinner we headed straight to Target Field, the second newest stadium in the majors (2010) behind Miami. And it looks almost as modern as Marlins’ Stadium too, with a lot of glass and steel giving it a cool futuristic look. It wasn’t the boring old round shape like in Miami, but had so many unique design features instead. For example, to balance out the modern glass and metal look, most of the walls (exterior and interior) are composed of the same yellowish Kasota limestone that Pittsburgh’s PNC Park used.

Another interesting thing they did with the stadium was number the gates after the ex-Twins whose numbers have been retired by the team: Gate 3 for Harmon Killebrew (most homers in Twins history: 559), 6 for Tony Oliva (most extra base hits in single season for twins: 84), 34 for Kirby Puckett (only Twin to have 6 hits in a game – and did it twice), 29 for Rod Carew (highest career Twins BA: .334), and 14 for Kent Hrbek (2nd-most career homers & RBIs for Twins: 293 & 1,086).

And by the main entrance is a huge wall of about 51,000 aluminum flaps that spin with the wind patterns, a pretty cool artsy feature outside the ballpark.

Here’s another comparison to Marlins Ballpark. Remember that huge, crazy, light-up, moving display in center field in Miami? I thought it was a little over-the-top, but here in Minnesota is something a little less loud and a little more meaningful. High above the center field bleachers is the Twins’ logo: the Minnesota state outline, with two men – known as Minnie and Paul – in baseball uniforms, shaking hands over a bridge and a water stream. Minnie has the letter “M,” and Paul has “S.T.P” on his jersey, representing the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul (clever names, I know). The river is meant to be the Mississippi, and the hand-shaking symbolizes the joining of the Twin Cities. This big sign lights up and moves in different ways when things go the Twins ways. Strobe lights trace the state line, Minnie and Paul’s hands shake up and down, and the river lights up and moves as if it’s flowing.

From 3rd-base line seats like ours, you get a great view of downtown Minneapolis, with the NBA’s Timberwolves’ Target Center in front (with the cute Target dog mascot wagging its tail, looking right down at the ballgame).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Game:

From our 3rd-level seats we had that awesome view of the city and could see every point of the park, from the Budweiser porch high up by the left field foul pole, to the bleacher section that actually protrudes over right field by about 8 feet – which I feel like could really cause some complaints from right-fielders who start lining up for fly balls just to watch them land in the 1st row right above their heads.

The Twins threw lefty Brian Duensing who hasn’t been pitching too well this year with a 2-7 record coming into the game, against the Tigers’ Doug Fister who we’re seeing just 5 days after watching him pitch at home in Detroit. It didn’t start off very well for Duensing, allowing 4 runs in the first 2 innings. But after two Detroit errors in the bottom of the 3rd, Twins clean-up hitter Josh Willingham blasted a 3-run homer to tie the game at 4. None of these runs were counted as earned, so Fister technically threw 8 innings of shut-out baseball. And with 4 more runs to back him up, including 2 in the 9th, the Tigers took the win 8-4, the 6th time in a row the away team has beaten the home squad on our road trip. There’s this little thing Tigers’ closer Jose Valverde does with his catcher when he finishes a game, where they close their fingers and touch them together. It’s weird but I got a pretty funny shot of it.

Final score: Twins 4, Tigers 8

Starting pitchers: Brian Duensing (L) – 6 IP, 8 H, 2 BB, 5 ER, 4 Ks; Doug Fister (W) – 8 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 4 R (0 ER), 7 Ks

Homers: Josh Willingham, Andy Dirks

LAST STOP: Milwaukee Brewers vs. Phils, 8/16 & 17

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8/13 – Mini Wrigley, Field of Dreams, and Effigy Mounds

Little Cubs Field:

With another day off in between ballparks, we made a few stops between Chicago and Minneapolis. The first was in the small town Freeport, Illinois. In 2008, this miniature version of Wrigley Field – known as “Little Cubs Field” – was unveiled to the public. It was built by countless volunteers from the area, and is a pretty amazing model of the real Wrigley. It’s complete with an almost identical scoreboard above center, ivy all over the outfield walls, a big red marquee sign, and even a (wooden) statue of Harry Caray. Under the scoreboard is a hand-painted mural depicting a crowd of Cubs fan – an awesome addition. The field is available for rent for little league games (or T-ball, kickball, etc.) or even an event like a wedding or fundraiser – for just $45/hour! Probably cheaper than hosting a Bar Mitzvah at the big-league Wrigley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Field of Dreams:

A couple hours West brought us to Dyersville, Iowa – where the movie “Field of Dreams” was shot. It’s been pretty much intact since the movie was shot in 1988, and looks just like it did in the film – the corn fields past the outfield grass, the wooden bleachers next to the field, and even the white house belonging to the Kinsella family from the movie. In real life, the farm and house has belonged to the Lansing family for generations, and they were happy to allow 14 months of movie shooting – without any type of payment at all. There were a bunch of kids playing ball on the field, and I got really jealous we didn’t bring our gloves to throw around for a bit. But it was a great experience, and a true field of dreams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Effigy Mounds:

Our final stop of the day was a hiking trail through an area that was occupied by people up to an estimated 12,000 years ago. But archaeologists have found that more recently – around 1000 B.C. – Native tribes that lived here buried their dead in huge mounds of land. There are about 195 mounds within this 2,500-acre wooded area, ranging from circular and linear formations to shapes of animals like bears and birds. The different shapes are believed to have been used for different rituals with various meanings. They ranged from 2 to 8 feet high, and some of the larger animal-shaped mounds stretched from 40 to a a couple hundred feet wide. One bird mound has a wingspan of 212 feet, and the Great Bear Mound measures 137 feet long and 70 feet wide at the base. All filled with the dead of their close-knit communities… a little eerie but very cool to see. The grass surrounding the mounds are mowed so you can see where they are located throughout the park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were also some great views of the Mississippi River from the edge of the trails.

After the day of sightseeing and a little more driving, we stayed the night in the small town of La Crosse, Iowa where we went to a local German bar called Stolpa’s Stein Haus for some amazing brats (sausages, not rebellious teenage girls). There were dozens of flavors and infused ingredients it was so hard to choose. We decided on 3 to try: the “Munich” – seasoned with parsley, chives, salt, & pepper; “Da Bear” – stuffed with honey, blueberries, and cheddar cheese; and the “Black & Blue” – stuffed with bleu cheese and black pepper. All three were amazing… so juicy and flavorful I wanted to try 3 more.

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8/12 – Wrigley Field: Chicago Cubs vs. Cincinnati Reds

A day after visiting South Side Chicago for the Sox, we took the L the opposite direction into Wrigleyville, home to some of the most loyal fans you’ll ever meet. Wrigley Field was probably the stadium I was looking forward to seeing more than any other. It’s been around since 1914, making it only 2 years younger than the oldest yard in the country (Fenway). But in some ways, it felt even older and more vintage because of the way they’ve kept it over the years – I’ll get into details later in the post.

Just as we got off the train at the Addison stop, we could see in between a few apartment buildings and see the stadium just on the other side. But these apartments were something cool in themselves, with bleacher seats installed on their roofs! When we walked around to the street side of the buildings, we could see that these seats really weren’t far from the field because the outfield bleachers in the stadium were very narrow, and the street wasn’t very wide. These rooftop seats were actually closer than some outfield seats at bigger ballparks. There’s even a mini yellow foul pole to let the fans sitting there feel like they’re really in home run territory (but I highly doubt any homers have made it that high over the street).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We took a walk around the park and saw some cool statues of Cubs legends like Ron Santo (9x All-Star, 5x Gold Glove), Billy Williams (6x All-Star, 1969 Rookie of the Year, ’72 batting title), Ernie Banks (first black Cub; 14x All-Star, 2x NL MVP), and my favorite: broadcaster Harry Caray – who’s known for leading the fans with singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the 7th-inning stretch, with his distinct radio voice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wrigley neighborhood is similar to some other stadiums, with a popular restaurant/bar area just a few steps away in one direction… but the apartments surrounding every other side of the park were definitely unique, and you can tell pretty much everyone who lives in them were die-hard Cubs fans. As I mentioned in the last post, the Cubs are currently enduring the longest World Championship drought in baseball history. They haven’t won the Series since back-to-back years in 1907-’08.

We made our way to the main gate, with the famous Wrigley Field marquee sign still there since 1934. It’s gone through some changes since then, including being painted from blue to red in the ’60s, and adding an electronic message board in 1982… but it’s still a trademark of the history of Wrigley. The venue has a very distinct image, with the gray exterior walls lined with dark green framing.

When we entered the stadium there was no DJ playing loud music, or big flashy lights drawing the crowds in. The concourse was packed with pure baseball lovers, not worried about finding fun things to do before the game. All they wanted to do was grab some food, head to their seats, and enjoy some good ol’ baseball. There wasn’t even a video screen above the outfield seats playing dramatic highlights or listing the teams’ lineups, which made the experience feel even more like the 20s. Back then, all they wanted to do was watch the game with their fellow Cubbie fans.

The bathrooms even make you feel like you’ve traveled back to the early 1900s, offering the option for men (and maybe women, I didn’t see for myself) to urinate into a long metal trough. I was going to snap a picture for you guys but didn’t want to get beat up.

One of the coolest parts of the field is the original hand-operated scoreboard above the center field bleachers, where most venues have installed a huge HD video screen. It’s been there since 1937, and was actually marked as a historical landmark in 2004, meaning it can never be altered in any way. It was changed a little bit before this, with small electronic numbers in the center displaying pitch count, outs, hits, and the batter’s uniform number, but that’s about it. They didn’t even add room to fit all 15 out-of-town game scores (there’s only space for 12 at a time). I love how you can see the operators watching the game through the number slots.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the most distinctive feature of Wrigley has got to be the ivy-covered outfield wall. Before 1937, it was just a bare brick wall… but General Manager Bill Veeck decided to add ivy for some natural charm and maybe some cushioning for players crashing into the wall. It really doesn’t help much though, as some players have still been injured after running into it.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few minutes into the 2nd inning, I look to my right and see a very familiar-looking guy walking in the aisle below our section, but I couldn’t put a name to the face. I turn to my dad for some help, and he immediately looks and yells to the man, “Artie! Hey, Artie!” And Artie Lange turns to see my dad waving at him, so he quickly smiles and waves right back. I took this picture right as he turned, so he wasn’t smiling just yet… I promise, he did though. And after the game my dad got to take a picture with him. Classic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Game:

The Reds – the best team in baseball (record-wise) – came into town to take on the Cubs. We were pretty lucky to see their ace Johnny Cueto pitch, who came into the game with a 2.57 ERA, 4th-lowest in the league. He was matched up against Brooks Raley of Chicago, who was only making his second big-league start (he was roughed up 5 days ago, allowing 7 runs in just 4 innings). Raley started off great, not allowing anyone on base until the 5th inning. But when he did give up this single, it was followed by a 2-run homer by Cincinnati slugger Jay Bruce (shown below), and a solo homer by Ryan Ludwick the next inning. This was all the run support Johnny Cueto needed, going 8 scoreless innings allowing just 3 hits.

During the game, a small band known as The Chicago Cubs Quintet travels to all the sections and plays songs for the fans. Led by 77-year-old trumpeter Ted Butterman, they’ve been entertaining fans at every home game since 1982 (Butterman hasn’t missed one game since then).

Final score: Cubs 0, Reds 3

Starting pitchers: Brooks Raley (L) – 6 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 3 ER, 2 Ks; Johnny Cueto (W) – 8 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 3 Ks

Homers: Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick

After the game:

When the game was over, I wanted to visit the seat where the infamous events of the 2003 NLCS occurred. On October 14, 2003, the Cubs were up 3 games to 2 against the Marlins, were winning Game 6 by a score of 3-0, and were just 5 outs away from making it to the World Series for the first time since 1945. But with 1 out in the 8th inning, Marlins batter Luis Castillo popped a ball into left-field foul territory, where Cubs left-fielder Moises Alou was apparently in a good position to make the catch for the 2nd out of the inning. Instead, Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached over the wall to catch the ball, knocking it down and blocking Alou from making the catch (Alou was extremely angry at this moment, throwing his glove to the ground and yelling at Bartman). This interference allowed Castillo to continue batting and eventually draw a walk, beginning a huge rally of 8 runs for the Marlins. They went on to win the game 8-3, and won Game 7 the next day – eliminating the Cubs from the playoffs. Everyone blamed Steve Bartman for the Cubs losing that Game 6, and he actually had to receive police protection for a while due to the overwhelming amount of threats he was getting from Cubs fans. He’s really just a scapegoat for this bad loss, since there were a few other opportunities to end the inning before losing the lead to Florida, but this event still went down as one of the most dramatic and controversial moments in baseball history. Here’s me sitting in the exact seat Bartman was sitting in almost 9 years ago… my dad obviously couldn’t wait ’til I was done talking to take the picture.

 

And here’s an interesting tidbit about the ball Steve Bartman interfered with: a few months after “the incident,” Grant DePorter (who owns and manages the Harry Caray restaurant in town) bought the ball at an auction for $113,824.16. He put it on display in the restaurant for a few weeks, but decided it must be destroyed in order to break the curse that has been keeping the Cubs out of the playoffs for almost 60 years. So DePorter hired special effects expert Michael Lantieri (who worked with Steven Spielberg a few times) to blow it up right on the street in front of the restaurant. But the Cubs blew their playoff chances that year too, so he decided to take the remains of the ball – basically just some lace and a bit of leather – soak them in Budweiser and vodka, and put them in a spaghetti sauce to be ingested by 746 very willing Cubs fans. But even still, the curse lives on, and the Cubs have only made the playoffs twice since then (2007 & ’08), being knocked out before reaching the World Series both times. Will the baseball Gods just give Wrigleyville some help?!

Categories: 30 Ballparks, One Summer | Leave a comment

8/11 – US Cellular Field: Chicago White Sox vs. Oakland A’s

After an 8-hour drive from Toronto, we made it to the Windy City and grabbed a couple of Jimmy John’s sandwiches on the way to the stadium. We got the basic Italian sub, but the meat was much better than most sandwich places around, and with some hot peppers to top it off it was a great pregame lunch.

We took the “L” (elevated train) from downtown, and got to US Cellular Field in just about 20 minutes. And the first thing we saw was a parking lot full of huge McDonald’s tents, where they were giving away free samples of new smoothies and mocha shakes – haven’t seen this in other stadium lots, but it was an awesome way to start off a day of baseball. The 20-year old stadium looked very modern, with the majority of the main entrance composed of a huge glass window. The rest is made of concrete walls, and to the right you can see the ramps that lead to the upper levels within the park.

We entered through a big gift shop which had some huge TV screens showing different Chicago sports channels (one of them was playing the 1992 NBA Finals between the Bulls and Trailblazers – a famous matchup between Michael Jordan and Clyde Drexler). Throughout the store were a bunch of display cases with different memorabilia signed by Chicago athletes, including current and former White Sox, and a basketball signed by 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose.

As you know, we’ve been exploring every ballpark inside and out, finding all the unique features and what not. But when we were finished checking out the store, we took the escalator to what we thought was the main concourse, but instead learned some pretty upsetting news… we were’t allowed to see the whole stadium!

We did get a good view of downtown Chicago from up here… but it doesn’t make up for the fact that the White Sox neglected us of our basic human rights… come on already, it’s the 2000s! Civil rights!

We actually went to guest services to convince them to let us down to the main level, and a nice guy named Jack told us he’d take us down there around the 7th inning. But I was still amazed at the rules they have here, why wouldn’t they allow all of their fans to see their favorite team’s stadium? Anyway, we went to our seats and they really weren’t as bad as what we were expecting from the 500-level title. They were actually about the same distance away as some 200-level seats at other ballparks.

In dead center field is an ivy-covered wall as the batter’s eye, with a big video screen surrounded by advertisements – very standard among baseball stadiums. But the unique part of this scoreboard was the 7 colorful lollipop-looking wheels on top, which light up, spin, and shoot fireworks with White Sox homers and wins. And over the left field bleachers were banners portraying the team’s 3 World Series championships: 1906 over the crosstown rival Cubs, 1917 over the (then) New York Giants, and 2005 with a sweep over the Houston Astros. 2005 ended the second-longest Championship drought for any major league team (the Cubs haven’t won an October classic since 1908, and are still waiting).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I guess they didn’t leave us nosebleed-squatters completely without some cool stuff to see, because the entire wall of the concourse illustrated countless White Sox highlights since the organization’s birth in 1900. Here’s a section of it, showing Eddie “Cocky” Collins who helped win the 1917 World Series and hit over a .319 batting average in each of 8 consecutive seasons (1919-’26), and pitcher Ted Lyons who played all 21 big-league seasons for the Sox and holds the team’s wins record with 260. We could also see down into a little picnic area just on the other side of the right field fence, where you can literally spill a drink onto the warning track (but you’d probably be kicked out).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Food:

Before the game, I saw a cart serving Chicago-style hot dogs – beef franks topped with mustard, chopped white onions, a spear of a dill pickle, tomato slices, sport peppers, sweet relish, and celery salt, all on a poppy seed bun. I was planning on getting one a little later on when I was hungrier, but when I left my section with money in hand… the cart was gone. I stopped short, very confused, and people were looking at me as if I had the face of a baby who’s candy just got snatched away. I walked about 5 minutes down the concourse looking for the cart, and eventually asked somebody where I could find the Chicago dogs, who responded with “The cart’s on wheels, I have no idea.” I didn’t want to miss too much of the game though, so I settled for a normal beef frank with a little too many grilled onions. Not bad, but I still wanted my taste of Chicago.

We finally made it downstairs:

As promised, Jack gave us an all-access elevator pass which we used to get down to the main concourse. Scattered around were a bunch of life-size bronze statues of White Sox legends, including shortstop Luis Aparicio (13x All-Star, 9x Gold Glove, 1956 Rookie of the Year) and second baseman Nellie Fox (15x All-Star, 3x Gold Glove, 1959 MVP), who played together for 7 years. They’re portrayed facing each other, with Fox underhanding a ball to Aparicio, something very fitting since they were one of the best middle infield duos in the game’s history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other statues include Harold Baines, Billy Pierce, Minnie Minoso, Carlton Fisk, and owner Charles Comiskey who moved his Minnesota team to Chicago, becoming the White Stockings… then the White Sox (I like Sox much better than Stockings). Frank Thomas is also honored in bronze, showing him in his very fitting backswing pose. He leads the White Sox in 16 career batting categories, including homers (448), doubles (447), RBIs (1,465), on-base %, slugging %, runs, walks, and at bats per home run (15.5).

The White Sox’s old stadium, Comiskey Park (used from 1910 to 1990), had a very unique feature installed in its outfield concourse in 1976: a shower. Fans loved using it to cool off on the hot summer days… I wasn’t sure what they wore when they used it, though. It’s still operating, sponsored by The Plumbing Council of Chicagoland, so I decided to take advantage (but not really, I just stood in it).

 

We even got access to the basement of the stadium, where the 2005 AL Championship and World Series trophies are on display – along with a Championship ring and the 2011 Commissioner’s Award for Philanthropic Excellence.

 

The Game:

Since being traded from Minnesota, Francisco Liriano was set to make just his third start for the White Sox – against A’s pitcher Travis Blackley (who we saw get the win at home in Oakland back in June). But today, neither one of them pitched very well. The White Sox scored 2 in the 2nd, and the A’s responded by scoring 5 runs in the 3rd inning – all with 2 outs – and another in the 4th (now up 6-2). But after an RBI single for the Sox in the 4th, a 2-run homer by Kevin Youkilis in the 5th (shown below), a game-tying solo homer by Tyler Flowers in the 6th, and an RBI single in the 7th, Chicago made a comeback and took a 7-6 lead.

 

But the hit-a-thon continued for the A’s too, with Jonny Gomes homering and Brandon Inge (who dislocated his shoulder earlier in the game) hitting an RBI-single in the 8th… and a 9th run in the 9th inning topped it all off. Reading this was probably a bit hard to follow, but if you didn’t catch it – a team scored at least a run in every inning except for the first. Classic American League game.

Final score: White Sox 7, A’s 9

Starting pitchers: Francisco Liriano (ND) – 3.1 IP, 7 H, 3 BB, 6 ER, 5 Ks; Travis Blackley (ND) – 5 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 5 ER, 6 Ks

Homers: Kevin Youkilis, Tyler Flowers, Jonny Gomes

Next stop: Heading crosstown for the Cubs tomorrow 8/12 (vs. Cincinnati Reds)

Categories: 30 Ballparks, One Summer | Leave a comment

8/10 – Rogers Centre: Toronto Blue Jays vs. New York Yankees

After crossing the Canadian border and driving a few more hours, we arrived in Toronto to see the Yankees play on back to back days – this time against the Blue Jays. But before we went to Rogers Centre where they play, we visited the CN Tower: the tallest free-standing structure in the Western hemisphere (1,815.4 feet).

We took an elevator to the observation deck (not even the highest one, though), which was 1,135 feet high. Climbing at about 15 miles/hour, we got there in just under a minute. On a clear day you could apparently see 100 miles into the distance, but today was pretty cloudy. We still saw so much though, from Great Lake Ontario on one side, to the roofs of some skyscrapers waaaaay below us all around. We could see the top of the domed Rogers Stadium, and a glass floor allowed us to look straight down to the ground which was pretty cool too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I’m not too sure what this meant, but I’m pretty sure they don’t allow dancing this high up for some reason.

Rogers Centre:

Literally right at the base of the CN Tower is Rogers Centre, previously known as SkyDome (until Rogers Communication bought the Blue Jays in 2005). It has a big gray concrete exterior, but large windows of different shades of blue help to make it look pretty nice. Plus there’s a humongous white retractable roof that makes it actually look like some sort of futuristic spaceship. When this venue opened up in 1989, it was the first American stadium with a fully retractable roof. And this rare technology was expected to cause many other teams to follow with similar designs, but they surprisingly didn’t until almost a decade later (Chase, Safeco, and Minute Maid appeared between ’98 and ’00). So it was definitely a unique ballpark for quite a while… and still is, since it’s now the only major league stadium located out of the country.

Once inside, the narrow first-level concourse really wasn’t the most attractive we’ve seen, as we were just surrounded by concrete walls with a gigantic air vent a few feet above us. We could tell the local anchors were sure enjoying it though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The coolest part about Rogers Centre was the connected Renaissance Hotel that has 70 rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows that look right into the stadium from the outfield!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to see the roof open because it was rainy all day, so it was basically a closed dome like Tropicana Field in Tampa. And I guess the plan was to have the roof closed most of the time, since they decided to use artificial AstroTurf instead of real grass on the field. Two negatives in my book, but I guess it’s the price you have to pay when you play ball in Canada.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Food:

There were many different food options, like a Canadian Smoked Meat sandwich (similar to corned beef) or a sirloin sandwich, but the smell of the grilled onions lured me to the footlong hotdog stand. Grilled peppers also topped the dog along with the onions, and the frank was perfectly grilled so the skin was nice and crispy. It was pretty hard to pick up, but I eventually figured it out and it was delicious.

The Game:

We followed the Yanks from Detroit here to Toronto (except we drove through hours of rain and they didn’t), and it was another display of New York’s powerful lineup. They scored 3 runs off Jays starter Ricky Romero, and 7 more in the final 2 innings (including yet another homer by Mark Teixeira, and a two-run double by Ichiro – both shown here with my awesome picture-taking timing).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yanks pitcher Freddy Garcia was pretty good today too, allowing just 2 runs in 6 innings. Towards the end of the game, one of the Blue Jays fans was so fed up by his team’s performance, he threw a roll of toilet paper from the upper deck and it unraveled and landed on one lucky woman’s lap. Another first for us this summer!

Final score: Blue Jays 4, Yankees 10

Starting pitchers: Ricky Romero (L) – 7 IP, 4 H, 3 BB, 3 R (2 ER), 2 Ks; Freddy Garcia (W) – 6 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 4 Ks

Homers: Kelly Johnson, Mark Teixeira

Next stop: 8/11 Chicago White Sox (vs. Oakland A’s)

Categories: 30 Ballparks, One Summer | Leave a comment

8/9 – Comerica Park: Detroit Tigers vs. New York Yankees

It was pouring all the way to Detroit, and our hopes weren’t being raised by any of the forecasts. It was raining on and off by the time we got to the city, so instead of entering Comerica Park right away we decided to grab food right next door at Elwood Grill. I got a delicious turkey sandwich with roasted red and yellow peppers and Swiss cheese melted into the toasted rye. It was awesome. It wasn’t too crowded when we first sat down at this popular bar/grill, but by the time we were done eating it was packed with both Tiger and Yankee fans, hovering over us waiting for us to vacate the table.

The rain let up to a drizzle so it was looking a little better for the game to start. We walked around to the main entrance of Comerica Park, noticing dozens of stone tiger heads (with baseballs in their mouths) protruding from the top of the brick wall in between each of the tall windows. The main gate had a huge tiger statue in front, with more oversized tigers perched on top of the wall with some pretty mean-looking stances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once inside, we walked around the concourse and saw a bunch of tall diorama-type structures composed of different objects and pictures commemorating each of the decades of Tigers baseball, beginning in the early 1900s. That first era was dominated by Ty Cobb, who to this day still holds the lifetime batting average record of .367.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a couple of features catered to the kids that I really wished I was small enough to take advantage of. First was a big carousel with dozens of colorful tigers to ride (yes, white tigers included), and the other was a 50-foot-tall Ferris wheel where you can sit in oversized baseballs. Both were out of service because of the weather, but I’m sure they’re usually huge attractions for the kids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the left field brick wall you can see 6 statues of Detroit legends, including Willie Horton (4x All Star), Ty Cobb, Hank Greenberg (2x AL MVP), Charlie “The Mechanical Man” Gehringer (hit .371 in 1937), Hal Newhouser (won pitching triple crown in 1945 – most wins, strikeouts, and lowest ERA), and Al Kaline (18x All Star, 10x Gold Glove). They reminded me of the statues in Washington, showing the players in motion with a sort of blurry movement following a swing or a batted ball (shown below to the right in Greenberg’s statue). I actually can’t stress how dominant Ty Cobb was, so I’ll just list some of his achievements… you can skip this if you’re not a baseball fan. Then again, if you’re not a baseball fan you’re probably just looking at the pictures anyway. Cobb has the MLB batting average record of .367 (winning 12 batting titles, including 9 in a row), MLB record for steals of home (54), second all-time with both runs scored and stolen bases, and led the American League with a .350 batting average at age 20 – second youngest in history. Wow that was a lot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Game:

The weather held up, so the game started just a half-hour late. From our third-level seats you can see the whole city of Detroit right over the outfield bleachers with the big scoreboard all the way by the left field foul pole. And even more tigers were perched on top of the scoreboard (they really found every spot possible to showcase their team mascot).

A great pitching matchup between the Yanks’ Hiroki Kuroda and Detroit’s Doug Fister was set, and with two heavy-hitting lineups it was bound to be a close game. New York started the scoring early in the second when ex-Phillie Raul Ibanez hit an RBI triple and Ichiro followed with a single to score him. After that inning, Fister didn’t allow another run, and was backed by a 3-run Tigers 5th inning (2-run homer by Alex Avila and RBI double by Andy Dirks). The double by Dirks led to some controversy though, when it landed just on the left field line (clearly fair). The third-base umpire immediately put his arms up as if calling it a foul ball, but then quickly pointed to the right to change his call to “fair.” Yankee manager Joe Girardi came out and argued for quite a while with the ump, most likely claiming he can’t change his initial call. He’s right, but was still thrown out of the game for yelling and carrying on and getting in his face. I tried to get a picture of the umpire giving Girardi the signal to get out, but it just looks like he’s poking his co-worker in the head and Girardi is saying, “hey stop that!”

The call was held, so going into the 8th inning the Yankees are down 3-2. But Mark Teixeira blasts a homer to right field to tie the game… and on the very next pitch Eric Chavez went deep to left to take a 4-3 lead. A lead switch on 2 home runs in just 2 pitches – definitely the first time we saw that this summer. And in the bottom of the 9th, down by 1, everyone gets pumped with “Eye of the Tiger” playing (and the eyes of the tigers on the scoreboard actually glowing), anticipating a comeback.

But even after a lead-off double followed by a single (which would normally score the man from 2nd, but he was pretty big and slow), the Tigers lined out to second, popped out to short, then flied out to end the game.

Final score: Tigers 3, Yankees 4

Starting pitchers: Doug Fister (ND) – 6.1 IP, 8 H, 1 BB, 2 ER, 4 Ks; Hiroki Kuroda (ND) – 6.1 IP, 10 H, 3 ER, 5 Ks

Homers: Mark Teixeira, Eric Chavez

After the game we tried some Lebanese food at a restaurant near the hotel (where we later saw some Detroit Lions, who were staying there before their preseason game the next day). I never tried Lebanese before, so the waiter recommended a beef Gallahba dish which was awesome.

 

Next stop: 8/10 Toronto Blue Jays (vs. Yanks again)

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8/7-8 – Progressive Field: Cleveland Indians vs. Minnesota Twins, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Heinz History Center/Sports Museum:

Before leaving Pittsburgh, we visited the Heinz History Center & Sports Museum right across the street from our hotel. It’s the biggest history museum in Pennsylvania with six floors of exhibits ranging from the French and Indian War to the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers and other western-Pennsylvania sports. Some really cool items are on display here, like the cleats Franco Harris was wearing when he made the “Immaculate Reception” to win the Steelers’ first playoff game in 1972. Also shown is Josh Gibson’s earliest known signature from 1930, on his Westinghouse Air Brake employment card, who he joined in order to play for their baseball team… which was where he was recruited by the Homestead Grays to become one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progressive Field:

The home of the Cleveland Indians has a very unique style, with pretty much no brick or concrete on the exterior. From the outside, all you see are white metal support beams and some glass windows hidden between them. It’s a really modern style compared to most of the other stadiums built around its time (1994), like Camden Yards in Baltimore and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

The organization moved from Michigan in 1900, but wasn’t called the Indians until the 1915 season – honoring Native American Louis Sockalexis who played just 3 seasons for them from 1897-’99 (when they were called the Spiders). This, along with other interesting facts and team records are displayed around the first-level concourse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The coolest feature of the stadium is called Heritage Park, in the concourse behind the center field wall that used to just be a picnic area. In 2007 a $1.1 million project turned it into an area of monuments and plaques dedicated to the greatest players in the history of the organization. An entire wall pays tribute to Bob Feller, the best pitcher the Indians have ever had – and one of the best to ever the play the game. The timeline describes the highlights of his career, including being signed at age 16 for $1 and an autographed ball in 1935, striking out 15 in his first start and breaking the AL strikeout record with 17 Ks in the same year (at age 17), and throwing the only Opening Day no-hitter in baseball history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shortstop Ray Chapman is also honored with a bronze plaque. In 1920, he became the first (and only) player to die from an injury sustained during the game. He was hit in the head with a pitch by Yankee Carl Mays, apparently not even seeing the ball as it was coming – back then, pitchers almost always dirtied up the ball with spit and dirt, changing its weight and shape making it much harder to see. Chapman ranks 5th all-time with 334 sacrifice bunts, and led the American League in both walks and runs in 1918.

 

When we got to our seats on field level, a few Minnesota Twins were signing autographs by the first row. I couldn’t get Justin Morneau’s because there were too many little kids crowded around, but I got Denard Span’s! Yes, I still get autographs… we’re all little kids at heart. I won’t be selling it on eBay like those 10-year-old punks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Food:

The Food Network has Signature Steak Sandwich stands at 9 ballparks now, serving two different kinds. The Signature is seared steak with Maytag blue cheese and a sweet and spicy peppadew pepper mayo on a rustic roll, which is served everywhere. But each city has its own signature that’s served too. The Cleveland Steak Sandwich is the seared steak topped with sauerkraut and spicy brown mustard, which the city is famous for. We got one of each and split them, and they were both awesome.. the blue cheese one was my favorite, though. The steak was grilled and seared perfectly, still very juicy, and the rustic roll soaked up the blue cheese flavor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Game:

Again we had some great seats on field level on the first base side, and they were much wider than any seats we’ve sat in so far, so we weren’t rubbing knees the whole time (unfortunate, I know). You can see the city right through left and center field openings, on either side of the big scoreboard.

Under the scoreboard sits the Indians’ number 1 fan. High up in the bleachers, this guy beats a drum that echoes throughout the whole stadium, getting the crowd into big moments of the game. It’s a stereotypical “Indian” drum sound, but it’s not as bad as doing the tomahawk chop in Atlanta.

 

We saw Indians pitcher Corey Kluber get roughed up in his debut in Kansas City last week – giving up 6 runs in the first – so the fans were anticipating a much better outing from him. And Cleveland has lost their last 10 games… 2 more losses would tie the franchise record of 12 straight. Kluber gave up 1 run in the first, and was pretty good through 6 innings. Going into the 7th the Indians led 5-1, but 2 errors in the inning led to 3 Minnesota runs to make it 5-4. This tight lead was held into the top of the 9th, until closer Chris Perez comes in for the save. After a single and stolen base, yet another error – this time by first baseman Casey Kotchman – allowed the runner to score and tie the game at 5. The fans were really angry at this point, having their first win in almost 2 weeks completely snatched away. Then a double by Ryan Doumit and a sac fly by Nishioka (shown below) gave Minnesota the lead, and they’d score one more to steal the victory right from the hands of the Indians. I can’t repeat some of the words that were being yelled from the crowd, but let’s just say they did not go home very happy.

 

Final score: Indians 5, Twins 7

Starting pitchers: Corey Kluber (ND) – 6 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 3 R (1 ER), 3 Ks; Sam Deduno (ND) – 4 IP, 5 H, 5 BB, 4 ER, 3 Ks

Home run: Shelly Duncan

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

We decided to stay in Cleveland for another day so we could visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. It was a huge, 6-story exhibit with movies and displays that took us almost 7 hours to get through. The evolution of rock was described in such detail, with thousands of artifacts and stories to go along with it. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the memorabilia, but I snuck a picture of a couple of my favorite things: the couch from Jimi Hendrix’s childhood home where he sat and played guitar for hours on end almost everyday, and a sign from the Yasgur Dairy Farm in Bethel, NY where Woodstock was held in ’69. This is only 2 of the countless items on display, along with hand-written lyrics, clothing many artists wore, and even one of Elvis Presley’s first cars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of full-length films took up a lot of time, one of them being a 3-D U2 concert from Buenos Aires which was awesome, and the other went through each of the dozens of Hall of Fame inductees, starting in 1986 when it opened. If you’re a fan of any kind of music, I would definitely recommend stopping here if you’re ever in Cleveland.

Next stop: Detroit 8/9 (vs. Yanks)

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8/6 – PNC Park: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

Hocking Hills State Forest:

With an off day in between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, we went to Hocking Hills State Forest in south-western Ohio. Starting near “Old Man’s Cave,” which is a huge rock structure where a man lived in the 1800s, we hiked over 5 miles alongside naturally eroded gorges and tall rocky cliffs within the vast forest. With a creek to our right, we followed trails over these rocky formations and through the heavily wooded hills with some beautiful sights and sounds along the way. Here’s Old Man’s Cave on the left, and apparently this “old man” named Richard Rowe is buried somewhere beneath a cave ledge in the woods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When my dad began the morning by saying, “a day without baseball is like a day without sunshine,” he didn’t realize how right he would be… it rained for a good amount of our trek. But it was still a great way to spend our day off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PNC Park:

With yet another ballpark situated just feet from Downtown, we walked from our hotel underneath “The Three Sister” bridges along the Allegheny River, and climbed the steps to cross the third one: the Roberto Clemente Bridge (formerly called the Sixth Street Bridge), with PNC Park just on the other side. You can see right into the stadium from the bridge, so we were excited to see what the views were like from inside the park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the other side of the bridge, in front of the right field gate of the stadium, is a huge statue of Clemente, who’s basically considered a God here in Pittsburgh (pretty much all around the baseball world, too). Today’s actually the 39th anniversary of his Hall of Fame Induction, which was just months after his outstanding career was cut short in a plane crash, while he was bringing relief supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve in 1972.  In his 18 years as a Pirate, he was a 15-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glove winner (consecutive years ’61-’72), 4-time batting champion, collected exactly 3,000 hits, and had a career batting average of .317. And he wasn’t even done playing. His number 21 was retired at the beginning of the ’73 season, and PNC Park’s right-field wall is 21-feet high in his honor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around the stadium are a few other statues of Pirate legends, including Willie Stargell, Honus Wagner and Bill Mazeroski, whose statue depicts one of the most amazing moments in baseball history. In Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, the Pirates and Yankees were tied 9-9 in the bottom of the 9th when “Maz” led off the inning with a blast over the 406-ft sign on the outfield wall to win the Championship – the only time any World Series ended with a walk-off homer.

Behind this statue is an awesome view of the city over the river, with the bright yellow Clemente Bridge to the left.

Inside one of the entrance gates is Legacy Square, where stars of the Negro League are honored with bronze statues and interactive screens highlighting their achievements. Pittsburgh was home to two of the greatest Negro League teams, and was considered the hub of black baseball in the early 1990s. We definitely appreciated this exhibit more because of our stop at the Negro League Museum in Kansas City. Here’s Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, two of the most talented players to ever play the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another cool tribute to a Pittsburgh great is a bronze casting of Ralph Kiner’s hands holding a bat. He ranks 2nd on the club’s home run list with 301, and in each of his 7 years with the Bucs – from 1946 to ’52 – he either won or shared the National League home run title, the longest streak in all of baseball to this day. It was sort of a weird placement for this display, though, right in front of these dumpster bins.

We were early enough to watch some batting practice from the left field wall, which was so low to the ground and gave us our first glimpse of the city views from PNC. And when we went upstairs to the middle deck, the view was even better.

The Food:

For some reason, Pittsburgh is known for pierogies, which are a Polish, potato-filled ravioli-type food. My dad got them with some sour cream on the side, but I got them on top of a pulled pork sandwich on a pretzel bun with a sweet onion marmalade… which was amazing. And we tried a sandwich from the famous Primanti Bros. Sandwich shop, which was roast beef topped with french fries and cole slaw. Not the best sandwich, but a good idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pierogies are so loved around this city, they even race around the field during one of the breaks:

The Game:

The Pirates haven’t made the playoffs, or even had a winning season since 1992, which is why our field-level seats were so cheap. We were behind the visitors’ dugout (which was down the 1st base line instead of 3rd, probably because the Pirates want the awesome view of the city), and only about 10 rows back.

But from our side, the views were amazing still, especially as the sun started to set.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year, Pirates starter Erik Bedard hasn’t been as good as he has been in the past, with an ERA around 4.5 and a 5-12 record. But today he pitched a gem, allowing just 2 hits through 7 innings and not letting anyone ever touch third base. He outpitched D’Backs All-Star pitcher Wade Miley, who allowed an unearned run in the 4th after speedy Andrew McCutchen took advantage of 2 errors on the same play, ending up on third with a would-be single.

Final score: Pirates 4, D’backs 0

Starting pitchers: Erik Bedard (W) – 7 IP, 2 H, 5 Ks; Wade Miley (L) – 6 IP, 6 H, 1 BB, 1 R (0ER), 2 Ks

Homers – none

Before, during, and after games, the Roberto Clemente Bridge is closed to vehicles so everyone walks right down the middle of the bridge with a cool nighttime view of the city. And walking down the riverside, looking back at the stadium was really nice too.  Overall, definitely some of the best views out of all the ballparks we’ve visited.

Categories: 30 Ballparks, One Summer | Leave a comment

8/4 – Louisville Slugger Factory/Museum & Great American Ballpark: Cincinnati Reds vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

 

Before heading to Cincinnati, we stopped in Louisville, Kentucky to visit the Louisville Slugger Factory & Museum, where pretty much all of MLB’s bats come from. They didn’t let us take pictures in the actual factory  to prevent us from stealing their secrets, but we learned about the extensive process involved in creating the hundreds of thousands of bats they’ve been providing to big leaguers every year (the average player will order between 80 and 120 bats a season) since 1890. Their machines must be distinctively calibrated according to each player’s specifications, and everyone who has a contract with the Louisville Slugger company has these exact measurements stored in the factory’s computer system so it’s easy to adjust. Different types of trees, including ash and maple, are cut into long cylindrical “billets” and shipped here, where they are transformed into bats of all shapes, sizes, weights, and even colors.

The museum part of the factory was awesome, with so many different exhibits and items on display. My favorite was one of the actual bats Babe Ruth used during the 1927 season where he hit a then-record 60 home runs, and carved a little notch around the “Louisville Slugger” logo on the barrel every time he hit a homer. This one has 21 notches in it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we got to Cincinnati we walked over to Great American Ball Park, which sits right on the bank of the Ohio River with Kentucky just on the opposite side. It reminded me a bit of AT&T Park because of this waterside view, but I’d have to say San Francisco provides much more beautiful scenery. Opened in 2003, this modern-looking stadium doesn’t have one bit of brick showing in the main structure, unlike the majority of places we’ve seen so far. White steel trusses are complimented with large glass windows, and the backside of the middle deck seats are painted red to show the team’s colors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once inside the concourse, two huge tile murals depict some very historic teams in not just Reds’ history, but all of major league baseball. One is called “The First Nine,” representing the very first professional baseball team known as the Cincinnati Red Stockings, making this franchise the oldest in the game (and they never moved cities, which is something else pretty amazing). This particular team was something special, going undefeated in its entire first season of 57 games (winning its first game 45-9), and not losing a game until 25 games into the next season. The other painting is called “The Great Eight,” showing the 1975 team known as “The Big Red Machine.” Many baseball fans consider this the best team to ever play the game, fielding players like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez. The World Series between these Reds and the Red Sox is also considered by many to be the greatest October Classic ever played, with a Game 7 resulting in a 3-run deficit erased and a 9th-inning single winning it for Cincinnati.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the center field fence is huge replica riverboat, paying tribute to the busy trade and transportation history of the city. Through the dark tinted windows of the boat, which act as the batter’s eye, is a big private party room which can hold up to 150 people, giving them an awesome view of the game from center field. To the right of the boat is a pair of 64-foot-tall smokestacks which shoot flames and fireworks with home-team strikeouts, homers, and victories. Again, much cooler than Citi Field.. sorry Mets fans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another unique part of the park is a trio of vertical video screens over the right-field bleachers that show various statistics during the game, including standings throughout the league, batter/pitcher stats, team records, etc. It was just great to look up and be reminded of the NL East standings (that was sarcasm for those of you who don’t know the standings).

The Food:

Along with the usual Great American burgers and dogs, Great American Ball Park offers a bunch of different types of sausage, including brats, Italians, and something called the “Big Red Smokey.” We tried Big Red, which lived up to its name. It was a big, skinless sausage with a smokey, spicy bite to it. So tasty we each got seconds.

The Game:

Our 3rd deck seats down the left field line seemed a lot lower and closer to the field than 3rd level seats in other ballparks, and gave us a sweet view of the river over the bleachers in right, and the entire field without having to turn our heads.

Unfortunately for the Reds (and my fantasy team), one of the best hitters in baseball, Joey Votto, has been out of the game for a couple weeks because of surgery on his knee. But the runs still came, starting in the 1st when the Reds scored 2 on a single by ex-Phillie Scott Rolen. After 2 more runs by the Reds in the 3rd, and the NL Central rival Pirates scoring a run in each of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th innings, the game was tied at 4. But Scott Rolen triples to lead off the bottom of the 8th (only his 2nd this year) and scores on a ground out, bringing in Reds’ closer Aroldis Chapman in the 9th, who holds the MLB-record for fastest recorded pitch: 105.1 mph. But I guess he wasn’t bringing his “A” game tonight, because he only threw 101.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And for the first time all summer, there was somebody even cooler than me at the game… yes, Charlie Sheen.

 

Next stop: 8/6 – Pittsburgh Pirates (vs. D’backs )

Categories: 30 Ballparks, One Summer | Leave a comment

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