8/3 – Busch Stadium: St. Louis Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers

On the way from Kansas City to St. Louis is a little old town called Hermann. It’s a small, quaint town on the Missouri River with buildings dating back to the mid-1800s. Many German immigrants settled down here, and you can see it in the culture throughout the town. We ate at the Barrel Bar, which was still standing from 1878. As if I didn’t have enough burgers the past few days, I tried their signature one topped with corned beef, red kraut, swiss, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, and thousand island dressing – all on marble rye bread. The corned beef and kraut gave it a nice reuben taste to it, and I’d say it was better than the two burgers we had in KC. There were also some bakeries and chocolate stores on the main road, where I tried a “Honeybee,” a Danish-type treat filled with pecans and coated with caramel and white frosting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we got to St. Louis we walked right over to the stadium, which is certainly one of the nicer looking parks from the outside. It’s almost all brick and concrete, with high arches and a big red “Busch Stadium” over the main gate, and from the outfield side you can see right into the park which starts your game-day experience before you even scan your ticket.

Even though this new Busch Stadium was opened in 2006, the inside has the look of a much older venue, with dark support beams and exposed pipes and ceiling framing – but that’s all part of the classic ballpark style. I love how the old Busch Stadium’s hand-operated out-of-town scoreboard is perched above the concourse, displaying the NL scores from the last day of its regular season use (it was awesome to see the Phils beating Washington 9-3, the way the world should be). The final playoff game there was a loss to the Astros on October 19 of that year.

Another way they incorporate the memories of the old stadium is by showing you where the right-field foul line was situated. If it still existed in its original location, it would be overlapping this ballpark, so the foul line would have run right through the outfield concourse and into left field. The floor of the concourse is painted white to represent where the line was before the stadium was demolished in 2005.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The video screen above the right-center field bleachers is topped with a big red Budweiser sign, matching the two cardinals sitting atop that. And underneath is the 12 retired numbers of past Cardinal greats, including Stan “The Man” Musial (leads franchise in almost every batting category), Bob Gibson (leads in almost all pitching categories), and closer Bruce Sutter (whose awesome bearded bobble head was given out to fans today). To the right is another smaller screen with their 11 World Championship banners on top. The cool part about this screen is that on the opposite side of it is a screen for the people in the outside plaza to see who’s pitching, who’s at bat, and the box score.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you get to the upper decks the view gets really nice with the city and the  630-foot-tall Gateway Arch visible through the wide-open outfield part of the park. The arch is the tallest man-made monument in the U.S.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Game:

We were in the third deck, which was pretty high up but gave us an awesome view of the whole field, the big screens, and the city right in front of us. We saw the Cards put a beating on the Rockies earlier in the week, but it was cool to see them matched up against another great-hitting ballclub in the Milwaukee Brewers, led by Ryan Braun.

After Milwaukee pitcher Randy Wolf helped out his cause with a 2-run single, the Brew Crew had a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the 4th… but Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly also had some nice hitting, topping off a 4-run inning with an RBI single. St. Louis added 5 more runs throughout the game to win it 9-3.

Here’s Matt Holliday in front of the left field wall showcasing some Cardinal greats, and a cool shot of Beltran swinging at a pitch late in the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final score: Cardinals 9, Brewers 3

Starting pitchers: Joe Kelly (W) – 5.2 IP, 10 H, 2 BB, 3 ER, 4 Ks; Randy Wolf (L) – 5.1 IP, 9 H, 1 BB, 5 ER, 2 Ks

Homers – none

The view of the arch at night was pretty amazing too:

Next stop: 8/4 Louisville Slugger Factory/Museum & Cincinnati Reds vs. Pittsburgh Pirates

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8/2 – Negro Leagues Museum, WWI Museum, & Kauffman Stadium: KC Royals vs. Cleveland Indians

Denver to Kansas City should be around a 9-hour drive straight through, but with some rest stops and a detour to Monument Rocks, it was a couple hours more. But this National Natural landmark in the heart of Kansas was definitely worth the added time. These tall chalky formations were once the floor of a vast ocean over 80 million years ago, containing fossils like shark’s teeth, vertebrae, and oysters that have been found and moved to a nearby museum. The “rocks” – which rise up to 70 feet high – have been shaped and carved by water and wind, and have been coined one of the 8 wonders of Kansas.

After a full day of traveling to Kansas City on Wednesday, we saw some of the city on Thursday before the Royals’ night game. We first checked out the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which was a very interesting and informative dedication to the history of black baseball. The Negro League was the “equivalent” to the Majors (though not as organized and obviously not as respected across the country), established in February 1920 just a couple blocks away at the Kansas City YMCA. Some of the greatest players in all of baseball were stars of the league, and many eventually made it to the Majors after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Notable players include Cool Papa Bell, who could apparently round the bases in just 12 seconds, and Josh Gibson who is known by many as the greatest hitter in the history of the sport (both white and black). He never made it to the big leagues, though, dying at the early age of 35 due to a stroke caused by a brain tumor. On display were hundreds of articles of original clothing, gear, and even baseballs signed by so many of the players from the Negro League.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another section of the museum showcased historic moments in baseball since its integration, including tape recordings of Hank Aaron’s 715th home run and Kirk Gibson’s notorious walk-off (more like hobble-off) homer in game 1 of the 1988 World Series. Some more signed memorabilia include an original Wrigley Field seat signed by long-time Cub Ernie Banks, a Willie McCovey-signed Giants jersey, Willie Mays-signed Mets jersey, and a bat signed by David Freese – 2011 World Series MVP.

We also stopped at the National WWI Museum, where we saw tons of items preserved from the war and took an elevator to the top of the 217-foot Liberty Memorial Tower, which was dedicated on November 11, 1926 for all of those that died in the “war to end all wars.”

Before the game we wanted to try some real Kansas City barbecue so we stopped at the well-known Arthur Bryant’s and sampled some brisket, turkey, and burnt ends (of smoked beef brisket). We were actually a little disappointed after high expectations – the meat was a little dry and not the most flavorful BBQ we’ve had, but I guess that’s what the different sauces are there for. In our opinion, the meat should be able to hold up without any sauce, though.

Kauffman Stadium:

For yet another last-place team, I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the stadium was. Pharmaceutical entrepreneur Ewing Kauffman played a huge role in making sure baseball stayed in Kansas City when the Athletics left for Oakland in 1968. He owned the team since they were born in ’69, all the way up to his death in 1993.  The outside reminded me a bit of Miami’s ballpark, with a very futuristic-looking exterior wall covered with huge glass windows. And from one of the parking lots you can see directly into the venue, with a clear shot at the huge video screen and the bright blue seats behind home plate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In front of the main gate is a cool walkway with plaques commemorating some historic moments in Royals’ history, like George Brett’s 3,000th hit and his .390 batting average season – highest average since the great Ted Williams’ .406 in 1941. Steve Busby is also recognized with a plaque for throwing a no-hitter in each of his first two big-league seasons (1973 &’74), something nobody has ever done.

A $250 million renovation from ’07 to ’09 far surpassed the initial price of $70 million for building the stadium in 1973, and it brought some amazing attributes to the park. An outfield plaza now contains a huge family area complete with a 5-hole mini-golf course and a carousel with hand-carved animals wearing Kansas City uniforms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another addition to the stadium was an elaborate indoor Royals Hall of Fame that houses a replica dugout where you can sit and watch a 10-minute video on a huge screen about the history and highlights of the franchise.  Along with more cool memorabilia is a huge #5 formed with 3,154 baseballs, representing each of George Brett’s career hits. On display in the center of it is both the bat he used and the ball he hit to reach the rare 3,000-hit mark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most prominent feature of Kauffman Stadium is the huge fountain stretching from center to right field. Designed by owner Ewing Kauffman himself, it sits at 322 feet wide, making it the largest publicly-funded fountain in the world. It starts with a ten-foot high waterfall from up by the outfield concourse than cascades down into 2 lower pools where the fountains shoot from. You can even stand in front of the fountain in between it and the field, feeling a little refreshing mist when the wind sends it your way. At night, multi-colored lights illuminate the water that make it one of the more extravagant ballpark elements we’ve seen all summer. Not many stadiums can compete with this attractive exhibit, especially when right beside it is MLB’s largest HD video screen. At 12 stories tall and 84 x 105 feet, it’s in the shape of the Royals’ logo, complete with a crown at the top – making it the King of all big screens. It’s also unique because it stretches vertically as opposed to most stadiums’ screens being horizontal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A great friend of Jackie Robinson’s, Buck O’Neil played in the Negro Leagues for the Kansas City Monarchs before joining the Chicago Cubs as a scout, becoming the big league’s first black coach. He also played a huge role in designing and contributing items to the Negro League Museum. After his death in 2006, the Royals organization installed a lone red seat behind the plate where he used to sit. Various types of people involved in the community are invited to view a Royals game in his honor.

The Game:

With Corey Kluber making is major league debut for the Indians, it wasn’t a very good start. His very first pitch was sent a long way by Alex Gordon for a lead-off home run, and the Royals actually batted around the lineup, including another homer by Eric Hosmer, before he got out of the inning with a 6-run deficit.

I always love when the vendors throw free food to the fans, but when the Royals’ mascot Sluggerrr shoots hotdogs from a hotdog shaped canon, that’s even better. I know it’s not really part of the game, but it was awesome.

After spreading out 6 runs in the first 5 innings, the Indians tied it up at 6, and nobody else scored until extra innings. It was the bottom of the 11th inning to be exact… after a lead-off single by Eric Hosmer, a sacrifice, and a wild pitch, Hosmer is at third with Alcides Escobar up and 2 outs.  A few pitches into the at-bat, Escobar hits a grounder just in between the 3rd baseman and shortstop, scoring Hosmer for a walk-off win! As per walk-off tradition, his teammates mob him on the field – our second time seeing it this summer (the first against our Phils in Baltimore).

Final score: Royals 7, Indians 6

Starting pitchers: Bruce Chen (ND) – 2.2 IP, 7 H, 1 BB, 4 ER; Corey Kluber (ND) – 4.1 IP, 9 H, 1 BB, 6 ER, 4 Ks

Homers: Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Carlos Santana

After the game:

We wanted to give KC another shot to prove to us their food was, but I still wasn’t amazed. We went to a 24/7 diner called Winstead’s, known for their burgers with extremely thin patties (a double pretty much sums up to your average-sized burger). It was a pretty good one, but I’d definitely try something new if I ever go back to KC. Suggestions for the future anyone?

Next stop: 8/3 – St. Louis Cardinals vs. Milwaukee Brewers

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7/31 – Coors Field: Colorado Rockies vs. St. Louis Cardinals

After a quick flight from Dallas to Denver, we headed straight downtown to grab lunch and hang out for a bit before the Rockies game. My dad heard of this American Indian food joint on the show “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives,” and he said we absolutely had to give it a try. The place is called Tocabe, and apparently it’s the only option if you want to try some local Native American food in the city. Their specialty is the Indian taco, using a base known as fry bread instead of a tortilla shell. Fry bread is what the Navajo Indians made with the flour, sugar, salt, and lard the U.S. gov’t gave them when forcing them out of their reservations in the mid-1800s. It’s a light, doughy bread that’s crispy on the ends, and when you pile on the fixin’s you have to cut it up with a knife and fork to eat it. The meat of choice is bison, either shredded or ground (they offer chicken and beef too, but you gotta keep it authentic). I got it shredded, and added on the usual lettuce, tomato, onions, shredded cheese, hot salsa, corn salsa, and chipotle sauce – and it was one of the best tasting things I’ve had all summer. We also ordered the bison ribs to share, which came with a side of homemade berry BBQ sauce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch we had some time to kill so we went to the History Colorado Center to learn a bit about Colorado’s past. My dad’s more of a history buff than I am, so my favorite part was LEGO-rado, which was a huge model of Denver completely made of LEGOs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like Fenway and PETCO Park, Coors Field is right in the middle of downtown, surrounded by dozens of bars, restaurants, and cool stores. The façade is really nice, with brick walls consisting of paned tinted windows, and big “Coors Field” signs above every entrance gate. In front of the home plate gate is a 9-foot stature called “The Player,” generally depicting all the players of the game, since the Rockies haven’t really had anyone worthy of a statue just yet (maybe Todd Helton soon?). A miniature version of this statue is known as the Branch Rickey award, given to an MLB player every year for exceptional community service. It’s named after the man responsible for breaking the color barrier, signing Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers in 1947. Last year’s recipient was Shane Victorino… who, today, was traded by our Phillies to – of course – the Dodgers. I’m literally choking up just typing this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the park is gorgeous, with a wide-open first level concourse and huge plaza in left field. Just outside the center field wall is an all-natural (unlike Anaheim’s styrofoam rocks) garden area with local Navajo sandstones and granite-marbled river boulders, various trees and shrubbery, and finally a spring that shoots water into the air with a Rockies homer or win. And here in the Mile-High City, you can make the climb to the upper deck and find Row 20, with the seats all painted purple instead of green, where you will be exactly one whole mile about sea level.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was always curious as to why the Rockies’ mascot is a purple dinosaur (no, not Barney). Turns out that during construction of the stadium, several dinosaur bones were discovered, including a 66-million-year-old, 7-foot long triceratops skull. Somebody suggested calling the stadium “Jurassic Park” because of this unearthing (which I thought would have been cool, but I guess no one else did), but the only thing that came of it was adopting a lovable triceratops mascot named “Dinger.”

The Food:

One of the trademark eats of Denver is known as Rocky Mountain Oysters: deep-fried bull testicles. I’ve seen multiple shows on the Travel and Food Channels where the host will down it with no problem, except for a moment or two of hesitation. So I went ahead and got ’em. They were about the size of chicken nuggets, but a bit softer in consistency. Not too bad though, especially with a bit of cocktail sauce (don’t worry, the face I’m making is more from the sun than the thought of eating bull testicles). And a Famous Dave’s BBQ stand is where we grabbed some chocolate covered bacon – two of my favorite things in one. It was delicious.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The views from the upper deck were amazing, especially at sunset when the Rockie Mountains in the distance glowed a yellowish hue and the wide-open Western sky showed off its colors. In the opposite direction the city looked pretty nice, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Game:

From our first-row, upper deck seats, we had an awesome view of the whole park, with the big screen and Rockie Mountains to the left, and the garden and spring in straightaway center.

With the mile-high air pressure, baseballs are supposed to just keep on flying – and that’s what happened tonight. Not quite as much as the Rangers-Angels duel last night, but with the defending World Series Champion Cardinals in town, there was a combined 15 runs and 4 homers. Pitchers never seem to catch a break here in Denver, and this was the case even with the home-team starter Jeff Francis who gave up 4 runs without even getting an out in the 1st. This included a 2-run homer from Carlos Beltran (shown below), and 7 combined runs were scored in the first inning and a half.  23-year-old Josh Rutledge was recently called up by the Rockies to play shortstop and is hitting .381 with 11 extra base hits in just 16 games (including today’s double and 3-run homer)… he’s also on my fantasy team, which has been a sweet bonus. After a total of 27 combined hits, the defending champs won it 11 to 6.

Final score: Rockies 6, Cardinals 11

Starting pitchers: Jeff Francis (L) – 4 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 2 Ks; Kyle Lohse (W) – 6 IP, 9 H, 2 BB, 5 ER, 5 Ks

Homers: Josh Rutledge, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, David Freese

Wednesday is a full day of driving from Denver to KC, next game Thursday: Cleveland Indians @ KC Royals!

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7/30 – Rangers Ballpark in Arlington: Texas Rangers vs. Anaheim Angels

We started off the morning in Austin with some famous breakfast tacos. At a local market that sells your regular convenience store items, there’s a couple women manning a grill towards the back of the shop, scrambling up eggs and adding the meat of your choice: we opted with chopped chorizo, a Mexican specialty. And with some homemade (very) hot sauce to top it off, it was an excellent appetizer to the feast we’d be having shortly. When we got to the barbecue joint known as The Salt Lick, about half an hour outside the city, the first thing we saw as we entered the restaurant was a huge grill in a stone pit covered with monstrous slabs of meat and sausage links hanging over it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We tried pretty much every type of meat they had to offer, completely ignoring the sides that were on the menu (just a waste of valuable stomach space, in my opinion). The sausage and moist brisket were both of our favorites. The skin of the sausage snapped with the first bite, and inside was soft and sweet. And the brisket had the perfect proportion of fat to meat, that just pulled apart so easily and melted in my mouth. The burnt skin was easily the best-tasting part of the meal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beef rib was huge, using much less sauce than some of the other meats, just the way we like it. Once again, the ratio of fat to meat was perfect, giving it amazing flavor. We also had the pork ribs and turkey, which were both awesome too. Definitely ranks up there with some the best BBQ I’ve ever had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A three hour ride took us to Arlington (just outside Dallas), where we dropped our stuff at the hotel and took a less than 10-minute walk to Rangers Ballpark. When people say everything’s bigger in Texas, they don’t just mean the women’s hair or the food portions (or the people). They’re definitely referring to the sports venues. A couple hundred feet away from the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium – the largest domed arena in the world – is the massive home of the Texas Rangers. Surrounded by vast green landscaping, the big brick building  expresses a very classic-looking style. All along the outside of the stadium are huge rounded archways where you can see into the concourse, and each entrance gate is flanked by tall, bell tower-like structures. From the outside, it looks like this brick building is simply a protective, decorative container for the actual ballpark. And if you took it away, the stadium would still be enormous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first level concourse is so wide, with maybe a hundred feet between the section entrances and the exterior brick wall. In this wide-open area are dozens of food stands, souvenir kiosks, and even Texas Ranger-style moonbounces for the kids. We saw so many heart-stopping food options, like a grilled split-open sausage with garlic mashed potatoes, mac n’ cheese, and chopped brisket sandwiched between the link halves. We were still pretty full from lunch, so we had to pass on food here (except for a refreshing frozen lemonade, perfect for the 98-degree weather). But we watched a very special (and nauseating) hotdog eating competition: a race between 5 people to see who could finish the 2-foot-long, 1-pound dog known as the “Boomstick,” covered with shredded cheese, chili, and sauteed onions. Some local guy downed it in about 3 and a half minutes, actually beating the nationwide record set in Milwaukee a few weeks ago. I don’t know if he had to pay for it, but it normally costs $26.

Behind the center field wall is Vandergriff Plaza, named after former Arlington Mayor Tom Vandergriff (who helped bring the Rangers to Texas from D.C. where they were originally known as the Senators). In this extravagant and decorative courtyard sits a statue of Nolan Ryan depicting the moment after he struck out the Blue Jays’ Roberto Alomar to complete his 7th no-hitter on May 1, 1991. He is the only player whose number is retired by 3 different teams: California Angels (1972-’79), Astros (’80-’88), Rangers (’89-’93). Along with holding the record for most no-hitters pitched, he’s also responsible for the most career strikeouts recorded with 5,714. He’s currently the owner, president, and CEO of the Rangers.

Heading up to our seats, we looked over the outer wall to this view. The tall building in the middle is our hotel, and you can see some Six Flags roller coasters all the way to the right (and Hurricane Harbor to the left of our hotel).

Just over the center field wall is a sloped grassy embankment (out of play, unlike in Houston). It’s called Greene’s Hill, after yet another former Arlington mayor, Richard Greene (politicians really love to get involved with sports around here). The cool thing about this is that whenever someone hits a home run that lands on the lawn, fans are allowed to scramble onto it to retrieve the ball. We saw this once today, off the bat of Nelson Cruz.

And on the other side of the plaza is the hard-to-miss 4-story office building. It’s a huge structure containing different stores, the box office, and some executive offices on 4th floor. Any old company can rent out space on the 2nd and 3rd floors, which provide some cool views from the balconies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although the stadium is only about 18 years old, the design of the Home Run Porch in right field seems to pay homage to the old-fashioned grandstands from some of the antique ballparks. That’s not necessarily a good thing though, because it includes several support beams that block the view of a good amount of seats.

The Game:

This division rivalry has always been a good one, involving two of the hardest-hitting teams in the big leagues. Entering the game, the Angels trailed the home squad by 5 games and were hoping to make up some ground in the series. And that’s exactly what they did, hitting as if they had bats the size of Texas. Roy Oswalt (shown bottom left) has been up and down in his short year with the Rangers, and today was definitely an example of down. He gave up 2 homers in the first 2 innings, including one to rookie sensation Mike Trout. And in the 6th inning we witnessed some more history! Angels’ switch-hitting DH Kendrys Morales hit a 2-run bomb before Oswalt could record an out (shown bottom right)… after a few more singles, a pitching change, a couple outs, another few singles and an intentional walk, Morales is up to the plate yet again with the bases loaded. Batting from the right side of the plate this time, he smacks it to right-center field, barely clearing the wall and the glove of a leaping Nelson Cruz. This grand slam gave Morales his 2nd homer of the inning, making him just the 3rd player in MLB history with two home runs from opposite sides of the plate in the same inning! Crazy stuff… didn’t even realize this until we got back to the hotel and put on SportsCenter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This 9-run 6th inning wasn’t the end of the scoring for the Angels, as they scored 3 more to make their run total 15. And the Rangers spread out their 8 runs, but it obviously wasn’t enough to beat the Halos. The grand slam was the first we’ve seen this summer, and the 7 total home runs are the most we’ve seen yet.

Final score: Rangers 8, Angels 15

Starting pitchers: Roy Oswalt (L) – 5.1 IP, 11 H, 8 ER, 4 Ks; Ervin Santana (W) – 5 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 3 ER, 3 Ks

Homers: Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli, Maicer Izturis, Mike Trout, Kendrys Morales (2)

Categories: 30 Ballparks, One Summer | Leave a comment

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

Austin:

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!

 

Categories: 30 Ballparks, One Summer | Leave a comment

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!

Categories: 30 Ballparks, One Summer | Leave a comment

6/24 – Marlins Ballpark: Miami Marlins vs. Toronto Blue Jays

The past few days in the Sunshine State haven’t been very sunny… pretty tropical stormy as a matter of fact. It’s been raining on and off since we got here on the 23rd, and now Tropical Storm Debby has produced strong winds, flood warnings, and even a couple tornadoes in the middle of the state. But nothing’s stopping us from seeing our baseball games! … Actually the only reason we were still able to go to the game today was because the field at Marlins Ballpark is under an 8,300-ton retractable roof made of steel. And once again – my dad and I are not holding hands in this picture…


This roof (which only takes about 14.5 minutes to open or close), along with the huge glass panels in the outfield (which are also retractable), allows the feeling of natural outdoor baseball when weather permits. And when these huge glass windows are open, you can see the downtown Miami skyline just 2 miles in the distance. I don’t know if it was because of the weather, but when these windows were closed at our game, they looked like a type of frosted glass design so we couldn’t see the city.

The shape of the stadium and the view of it from the outside give it a very contemporary, almost futuristic look, unlike some other newer ballparks that opted to go with a retro design with all brick and concrete. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria actually asked the architects at the notorious stadium-designer firm, Populous, to “make a piece of art” and he wanted his venue to be “different and experimental.” And that’s exactly what they came up with. It’s an elliptical structure – different than any stadium we’re seen so far – with ramps gradually inclining around the outer walls, and windows and glass panels of various shades of blue and green give a modern, aquatic impression very fitting for both the Miami setting and the Marlins organization.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is actually the inaugural season of the venue, and construction was only finished in March of this year. The Marlins have shared Sun Life Stadium with the NFL Miami Dolphins and the NCAA Miami Hurricanes football teams ever since they became an organization in 1993, so this is the first time they have a home of their own. And they really went all out to illustrate this point, with so many unique features all around the ballpark. For example, there are fish aquariums embedded in both sides of the wall of the backstop behind home plate. One is 34 feet long, the other is 24 feet, and both are protected by bullet-proof glass and contain a combined 1,500 gallons of seawater filled with dozens of colorful fish and coral (not my picture below).

The most prominent feature of the venue is the most loud and elaborate thing I’ve seen in all the parks so far. It’s about 70 feet tall with lights flashing blue, green, orange, and yellow; fake palm trees, flamingos, and water move around at the bottom, and 2 giant marlins circle the display whenever a home team player hits a home run (and when the team wins). I personally prefer the less flashy displays like the rocky geysers in Anaheim or the classic Big Apple that rises at Citi Field for the Mets, but the Miami locals love this presentation and I think it represents the culture of the city very well. I also thought it was pretty cool that along the concourse by the field-level entrances, each concrete pillar had a picture of one of the starting players (or the starting pitcher) of that day… which is obviously customized before every game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bobblehead Museum is an awesome touch to the concourse, too, displaying 588 different bobbleheads in a large glass display case with about 8 shelves. The figurines range from historic baseball legends, to current stars from around the league, and even to team mascots.

The Food:

With Miami being a culture significantly defined by its Hispanic roots, Marlins Ballpark offers such a wide variety of food from different Latino communities. Deep-fried, cheese-stuffed cornbread patties known as arepas are a popular Colombian and Venezuelan food available, and the Medianoche sandwich is a pork, ham, and Swiss cheese sandwich originating from Cuba and Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, we decided to go with a classic Cuban Sandwich (very similar to the Medianoche) from the “Taste of Miami” food area in left field. It was one of the blandest, tasteless Cuban sandwiches I’ve ever had, and I actually didn’t even want to finish it.

But once again, I’m going to go out on a limb and say this other food item we got was one of the best things I tasted all summer. It was the Chicharrónes, which are bits of fried pork rinds (skin and fat). They are sometimes eaten in tacos or gorditas in Mexico, but many other countries like to just cut off chunks of pork, fry them, and eat them as is. That’s how they were served here, and it was the most perfect combination of a crunchy, salty skin, along with chewy, tender meaty parts. It was amazing.

The Game:

Along with the new stadium, new name, and new team logo, the Marlins made some drastic additions to their ballclub, including all-star closer Heath Bell, mouthy manager Ozzie Guillen, and one of the best shortstops in the game (who I absolutely despise), Jose Reyes. Mark Buehrle has pitched both a no-hitter AND a perfect game in his career, and was also added to the team this year. He pitched a good game today, going 7 scoreless innings against Blue Jay Jesse Chavez whose start is just the 2nd of his big-league career. Mike… wait no, Giancarlo Stanton, is one of my favorite players in the league, as one of the hardest hitting guys out there… I don’t get how he hasn’t been in a home run derby yet. Jose Bautista led the league with 43 homers last year, and is currently leading now, so it was cool to see him play too.

Final score: Marlins 9, Blue Jays 0

Starting pitchers: Mark Buehrle (W) – 7 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 0 ER, 7 Ks; Jesse Chavez (L) – 6 IP, 7 H, 0 BB, 6 ER, 6 Ks

Homers: John Buck, Greg Dobbs

And look, we were on the jumbo tron again! Well, my dad and sister were while I was taking a picture of it… my sister’s the one with the goofy face at the top middle and my dad is to the right of her. You can sorta see my left eye to the left of the red shirt guy’s belly.

Next stop: Tampa Bay Rays 6/28

Categories: 30 Ballparks, One Summer | Leave a comment

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