Ballpark Reviews · Baseball Games · Baseball Road Trippin' · The Majors

Baseball Road Trip: Game 8 in NYC (Mets)

The 2009 season marked the opening of two brand new ballparks for the New York teams. Overshadowed by the publicity surrounding the “House that George Built” up in the Bronx, Citi Field can definitely hold its own as a first-class facility. This $850 million home of the Mets sits adjacent to the site Shea Stadium occupied up through last season.

Our stop at Citi Field marked the first of three consecutive nights of marquee matchups – not coincidentally, we forked over the most dough for these three games on Stubhub.  This Thursday night matchup renewed a great NL East rivalry as the defending World Series champs Philadelphia Phillies were in town finishing up a 3-game series.  After a long day of traveling from upstate New York, checking into our hotel, and catching the right subway, we arrived at Citi Field shortly after the first inning was underway.

We were uncertain about whether the game was going to be started on time since it had rained off and on for most of the day.  The rain held off but most of the game was played in a fog that made the game feel like it was being played in a swamp.  Fog did not dampen (get it, dampen?) the spirits of fans of either team.  There was much bantering between the few Phillies fans that made the trip and the Mets faithful.  Most of the exchanges went something like this:

Phillies fan decked out in 2008 World Series gear emerges from stairwell with beer and hot dog in hand and makes his way up the stairs to his seat.

Mets fans: “Phillies suck!”, “Go back to Philly”, or “Cheese steaks are a high-calorie snack completely void of nutrition.”

Phillies fan: “Worlds Champs, buddy.  Thanks for choking again last season.”

Mets fan shouts more of the same as the Phillies fan takes his seat and points to the World Series logo on his hat.

Aside from these friendly exchanges, there were some good eats at Citi Field.  I thoroughly enjoyed the grilled sweet Italian sausage and Nicole was pleased with her selection of clam chowder.  We experienced a beautiful moment while again eating our dinner at a shared table with some Mets fans.  While describing our road trip to one of our meal buddies, he referred to us as his hero.  You heard it right, we are baseball heroes!  Ok, maybe he didn’t mean that literally, but we were flattered that someone else thought our endeavor was awesome.

The game turned out to be just as great as the atmosphere and the food.  Much to Nicole’s dismay, the game went to extra innings tied at 3.  We decided that Chiquita’s sleep was more important than seeing the end of the game so we took off at the end of the 9th inning.  Raul Ibanez hit a three-run jack in the 10th and the Phillies took the series from the Mets (I saw it on Sportscenter later that night.)

The Mets have a beautiful new ballpark and the next stop on our grand tour will be in the Bronx at the new Yankee Stadium.  Here are the photos from the Mets/Phillies experience…

Ballpark Reviews · Baseball Games · Baseball Road Trippin' · The Majors

Baseball Road Trip: Game 7 in Baltimore

Our visit to Baltimore’s beautiful ballpark marked the seventh stop on our trip and the second of eight consecutive games to finish our trip.  Oriole Park at Camden Yards was the trend setter for all the new downtown stadiums that have popped up in the majors in the last couple decades.  After visiting, we can see why the idea caught on in other baseball cities.

Just a few blocks from the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore, the stadium sits among the downtown buildings right next to the large B & O warehouse.  This large brick building serves as the backdrop behind the right field fence and concourse and also houses the Orioles offices.  We entered in the center field gate and made our way down Eutaw Street, a wide concourse that runs between the warehouse and the right field seats.

We hit up the famous Boog’s BBQ in right field – we had the pork and beef sandwich platters which were pretty reasonably priced and tasted great.  They were even better once we found the BBQ sauce.  As we did many times throughout our trip, we shared a picnic table with other fans enjoying their dinner before the game.  We had some fun conversations over dinner with other random fans (more to come on this in our write up of the Mets game).

For the second night in a row, we scored front row seats.  This time we were in the front row in the right field seats.  The Orioles were playing the Mariners so we had a front row view of Ichiro and all of his stretching.  It is no coincidence that we were surrounded by many Asian fans and Ichiro even turned around a few times to all the chants of “Ichiro” coming from our section.  There were no home runs hit in our direction but a ball was hit about 10 feet to our left that caromed off the out-of-town scoreboard.

We had to make our exit in the top of the 8th inning to get on the road – we had a 5 hour drive to NY ahead of us so we had planned to leave at 9 pm before the game even started.  Camden Yards is a great place to catch a game and it is very high on our list of stadiums to revisit in the future.

Up next are the new parks in the Big Apple.  Here are the photos from Baltimore…

Ballpark Reviews · Baseball Games · Baseball Road Trippin' · The Majors

Baseball Road Trip: Game 6 in Washington D.C.

We switched gears from Canadian baseball played on fake grass to the just-opened Nationals Park in Washington D.C. for our sixth stop on this roadie.  Having just opened its doors and field for play at the beginning of the 2008 season, this is one of the most beautiful parks we have seen on this trip.  You might be thinking that it just seemed nice since we had just come from Toronto, but this place was great.

We ended up at this park on Tuesday, June 9, the same day as the MLB first-year player draft.  So we were greeted with free Draft Party 2009 shirts as we walked in the gates.  Leave it to the perennial cellar dwellers to have a party for the draft.  We were right at the gate as they announced Stephen Strasburg as the first pick, by the Nationals of course.

Unfortunately, we caught our nation’s capital on a bad night.  There were heavy thunderstorms rolling through from about 5 o’clock until around 8:30.  First pitch was delayed from 7:05 to 8:50 so we had plenty of time to check out the features of this new park.  There was a great kids area complete with hitting and pitching activities and a display for us nerds on the physics of baseball.  They also had a SingStar game set up (basically video game karaoke) which we could have done without, but overall, if you have to be stuck in a rain delay, this is a good place for it.

We scored from half price tickets that night through a twitter friend’s tip (thanks @khudak11 and @Teddy26Nats ) so when the game finally got started we got to enjoy our front row seats on the field level.  We ended up just on the foul side of the left field foul pole.  We didn’t get any action down there as far as foul balls go, but we had to leave after the 5th inning so Chiquita could get her beauty sleep so we could have missed something in one of the later innings.  Overall this ballpark is high on the list of fan-friendly venues.  Although it is unfortunate that the team has played so poorly, as it would be nice to see this facility getting some good use, it’s nice to see America’s Pastime finally at home in such a nice ballpark in our nation’s capital.

Oh yeah, in addition to baseball, there are a few other things to see while you are in DC – some old buildings, museums, and tons of security guards and police officers.

Here’s our photos from this game…

Ballpark Reviews · Baseball Games · Baseball Road Trippin' · The Majors

Baseball Road Trip: Game 5 in Toronto

Our visit to Comerica Park and the Tigers was followed by a whirlwind day of driving from Detroit to Toronto to Niagara Falls to Williamsport, PA.  Technically we can say that we visited Toronto, but we were only there long enough to park the car, buy food and tickets, and watch the game between the Royals and Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre (Canadian spelling of course).

A typical baseball game at the Rogers Centre is played indoors.  However, we attended a weekend day game and were treated to an open roof complete with a view of the CN Tower – Toronto’s version of the Space Needle.  It is no shock that the word “blue” is in the team name, because just about everything inside the stadium except for the fake grass and dirt is blue.  This color scheme mixed with the height of the stadium on all sides of the field makes for a pretty lifeless feel to the ballpark.

The stadium was built in 1989 but they must have redone some of the concourses since then because the field level concourse had some nice areas.  We ended up buying food outside the ballpark but we pulled up a table inside the stadium right next to a quaint market style food court.  Other highlights include a sports card vending machine and a playground of which Gigi could not get enough.

My life is a little closer to being complete after catching my first foul ball at this game.  We were standing at the top of the field level section in Fastball Alley – Vin Scully’s name for the sections between home and first that get all the foul balls from hitters who can’t quite catch up to the heater.  Gigi had run off towards the next section over and a ball bounced into the concourse just as I reached her so I snagged it.  Not very dramatic but totally awesome anyways.

Next stop, our nation’s capital.  Here are some snapshots from our trip to see the Jays, eh…

Ballpark Reviews · Baseball Games · Baseball Road Trippin' · The Majors

Baseball Road Trip: Game 4 in Detroit

The Motor City.  Motown.  Rock City.  Our fourth stop on our 13-game circuit was Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. We arrived at the stadium just as the gates opened and made our way to the Beer Hall where we had some dinner.  We each had our first ever beer at a baseball game and as good as they were, we will probably never have another one in the interest of saving eight bucks a pop.

Comerica Park was one of the most family-friendly parks that we have seen so far.  Chiquita even got a ball from one of the ushers – he told us that Curtis Granderson hit it out of the park in batting practice.  For baseball purists, the game was a great one.  Ervin Santan of the Angels and Justin Verlander of the Tigers kept the game scoreless for the first 8 innings.  The Angels pulled it off 2-1 and then we were treated to a Friday night fireworks show – which were launched from center field.

From Detroit we headed to Toronto (more on this game coming up) and then we are off for a couple days in Washington DC as we begin a stretch of 8 days/games in a row starting on Tuesday.

Here are the pictures from Detroit…

Baseball Games · Baseball Road Trippin' · The Majors

Baseball Road Trip: Game 3 in Chicago (White Sox)

Unfortunately, Chiquita did not recover as quickly as we had hoped from being sick. After taking her to urgent care and getting a prescription in Chicago on Monday just before the game, we decided that only I (David) would go to the White Sox game (a little late) and check out US Cellular Field.

I took the Red Line (train) down to the south side of Chicago and arrived at the game in the top of the 5th – I was surprised that the game was so far along for only being an hour old. At that point the A’s were up 2-1, but I got to experience the exploding scoreboard in the bottom of the 5th when A.J. Pierzynski hit a solo home run. The brain child of Bill Veeck, the scoreboard looks like something straight from the Barnum and Bailey Circus but it is quite a sight when a Sox player goes deep. Jim Thome lit the scoreboard again in the bottom of the 8th with a three-run homer. This broke the 2-2 tie and prevented extra innings – which turned out to be a great development for the fans as a light rain started to fall as the last out of the game was made.

Monday is a great night to catch a White Sox game as most of the tickets are half price. I took in the last few innings as I made my way around the field level and watched the wave travel around the park at least 5 times. White Sox fans seem to be pretty passionate which was good and bad for the players. Alexei Ramirez was booed heavily for not getting a sacrifice bunt down, but Jim Thome was given a hero’s welcome as he circled the bases after his game-winning blast.

US Cellular did not have near the same feel as Wrigley Field, but it was a nice place to catch a ballgame. The next leg of our journey war canceled due to Chiquita’s infection. We were supposed to head on to St. Louis on Monday, but instead we decided head back to Indiana a little early to hang out with family for a few days. Luckily, we were planning on being in Indiana after going to St. Louis so we will only miss one game.

Here are a few pictures from my night on the south side…

Baseball Games · College Ball

Waiting for Strassy

Last Friday (the 13th), we ventured out to take in some college ball down at Tony Gwynn stadium on the campus of San Diego State.  While we consider ourselves serious baseball fans, we may not have attended this particular game had it not been for all the hype surrounding SDSU’s starting pitcher, Stephen Strasburg.

Stephen Strasburg

Strassy – as Strasburg is affectionately known at the ballpark – was selected as a preseason All-American before this, his junior, season after being Mountain West pitcher of the year following his sophomore campaign.  (Check out his bio page on the SDSU Athletics website for a complete list of his many impressive accomplishments and accolades).  We had seen the reports of him striking out 18 batters in 8 innings against the University of San Diego the previous week so we felt inclined to make the trip south and catch a glimpse of this hard-throwing righty.

After settling into our seats (near the end of first inning, but more on that later), we quickly realized that Strasburg was the real deal.  We did not have a radar gun but we heard rumors that he had hit 101 mph with one of his pitches during the early part of the game.  Throughout his seven innings of work, Strasburg left several UNLV batters looking very foolish as they swung late at his high-90s fastball and were left with the bat on his shoulder when he dropped his curveball in for called strike 3.  He ended up with 14 strikeouts before calling it a night, but not before putting on a show for the 2,000+ fans in attendance.

While Strasburg’s performance was worth the price of admission (only $7 for adults and $5 for seniors over 55), the overall ballpark experience left much to be desired.  We arrived on campus (what we thought would be) early enough to park, buy some tickets, and find some seats in time to catch the first pitch at 6 pm.  The waiting started with the 20-person deep line at the parking permit dispenser in the garage.

After twenty minutes of buying the permit, putting it in the car, and walking to the ballpark we were greeted with a box office line that literally stretched the width of a football field (the stadium borders a football practice field so this measurement is very accurate).  While waiting in line, we could see the outfield scoreboard light up with a large “K” three times in the top of the first inning.  After another twenty minutes we finally made it to the ticket window.

It was the bottom of the first inning when we finally found some seats down the third base line.  Most of the seats at Tony Gwynn Stadium are general admission so we were able to find some seats at the rear of a section that allowed us to park Chiquita’s stroller nearby.  This was probably the only high point as far as the stadium operations were concerned.  The long lines for the parking garage and box office were supplemented by only two open concession stands and one BBQ booth (which ran out of tri-tip just as Nicole was at the front of the line).

We should have arrived earlier to the ballpark in anticipation of a larger crowd.  Having never been to a game at SDSU, we weren’t exactly sure what to expect.  According to one of the security guards, the games are only this crowded when Strassy is on the mound.  The bottom line is that the stadium operations personnel were totally understaffed and unprepared for a Friday night crowd with their star pitcher on the mound.  Apparently we are not the only fans with these sentiments.  Check out this article from the San Diego Union-Tribune to hear their take on how the evening went.

We ended up taking in a good baseball game and the atmosphere was definitely family-friendly.  I suppose a combination of better planning on our part and theirs will make for an even better experience if we venture down to SDSU again.

View our photo album from the game.

Strasburg 14 Strikeouts

Spring Training

Would You Rather… (March Baseball Edition)

In high school, some friends and I got our hands on a book called “Would You Rather…” that contained tons of silly scenarios where you were forced to choose between two odd items.  It would ask things like,”Would you rather run a marathon in wooden shoes or ride 200 miles on a bike with no seat?” or “Would you rather be in extreme heat or extreme cold?”  Not exactly life’s greatest conundrums, but these questions made for very good conversations between bored high school boys.

Today I would like to present an early season version of Would You Rather…  Here it is:

Would you rather attend spring training for your favorite team or the World Baseball Classic?

First off, you may be wondering why there is a choice.  Why can’t I just go to both?  Well, the assumption is made here that the average baseball fan is not bursting at the seams with money to spend on tickets for every game within 100 miles.  If money were no object, I’d have Dodgers season tickets and a downtown loft to stay in so I wouldn’t have to drive home after every game.  Anyways, let’s take a look at what each event has to offer.

For some fans spring training signals the start of another uncertain campaign as they wait for the young talent on their favorite team to bring it all together and turn in at least a winning season.  And for the lucky few, spring training serves as a reunion of sorts for last year’s victorious squad.  But regardless of last year’s results, this year’s spring training is always brimming with hope for the season that is about to unfold.  There are new acquisitions to observe and young talent to check out.

While spring training games are not nearly as competitive as the regular season, there is no ballpark in the major leagues that will allow fans the type of access to the players that is achieved at spring training facilities.  Autograph seekers and camera-wielding fans alike are often sent home happy as players are much more open to posing for pictures and signing an autograph or two.

Every three years, a handful of big leaguers from each team is pulled from their respective team and asked to compete for their country in the World Baseball Classic.  The only catch is that the Classic is right in the middle of the spring training schedule.  With representatives from professional leagues around the world, the intensity of this competition has proved to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from spring training games.  I was fortunate to be living in Orange, CA three years ago when the WBC came through Angel Stadium in Anaheim.  My wife an I attended a game between Japan and the USA.  With so many great players on both teams, the game nearly had a playoff atmosphere.

I have attended both events so my answer to the question is anything but a no-brainer.  However, this year I bought Dodgers spring training tickets for games played in Arizona (a five and a half hour drive) when I could buy WBC tickets for games played at Petco Park in San Diego (about an hour from my house).  There is still a chance that I will break down and buy some tickets to the WBC, but for now my baseball bucks will go to spring training.  Being closer to the action during the game and seeing the players up close is a big draw for someone like me sho is used to sitting in the top deck at Dodger Stadium.

Now it’s your turn. Spring Training or a WBC game?

Editorial Thoughts

Mannywood Act II

As a regular, working stiff, I can only dream of how I would spend $45 million.  But for the Dodgers, they may have just bought themselves a second consecutive National League West pennant for that exact price.  After four months of deliberation, the Dodgers and Manny Ramirez agreed to a 2-year deal worth $45 million.

While the arguments will continue on whether or not Manny’s services are worth the price the Dodgers have paid, this contract could be considered a small victory for teams that have the unfortunate experience of dealing with Scott Boras, Ramirez’s agent.  When the negotiations began last fall, the initial offer the Dodgers made to Manny’s camp was a 2-year deal for $45 million with an option for a third year.  Scott Boras initially scoffed at this offer, indicating that he was waiting for “serious offers” to come in.  In the end, the Dodgers called Boras’ bluff and signed Manny for the original amount offered.

As an avid Dogers fan, I can only hope that the well-behaved Manny from August, September, and October of last year is the one that shows up this year.  He is a proven hitting savant and his on-field contributions during the Dodgers’ postseason run in the fall of 2008 left Dodgers fans everywhere longing for more Manny-mania.  There is no doubt that the Dodgers will sell more tickets and merchandise as a direct result of this signing.  Even Chiquita got into the act last year when we attended a Dodgers/Rockies game at Coors Field.

Baby Manny wig

Now that the negotiations are over and Manny has returned to the Dodgers, the focus will (hopefully) shift from business to baseball.  I look forward to watching Manny mash as the Dodgers attempt to defend their NL West title and ultimately win a World Series.