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Baseball Road Trip: Game 11 in Pittsburgh

Our stop in Pittsburgh was short and sweet.  We arrived just before first pitch and headed out of town after the game ended.  Such is life for us hard-core road trippers, but we were able to (mostly) enjoy PNC Park and the game between the Detroit Tigers and the host Pirates.

This stop got off to a strange start when we had to walk by the gay rights rally taking place in downtown Pittsburgh.  Then as we made our way to the box office we were greeted with a funky smell that had Nicole and I both wondering if someone lost their lunch while waiting to buy tickets.  (Insert your own joke about the Pirates poor performance here – mine sounds something like this: the fans aren’t supposed to get sick until after they see the Pirates play).

On a good note, we chose a game that included $5 off each of our tickets so we ended up with field level seats for merely $15 each.  On top of that, Chiquita received a Pirates ice cream bowl as part of the Kid’s Day promotion.  I think this is a plan to get kids thinking positively about the Pirates from a young age.  Jam your kids full of ice cream and when they are done, the Pirates logo will be waiting for them at the bottom of the bowl.

We indulged in some of Willie Stargell’s famous French fries and again found ourselves standing with a random family as we ate our lunch.  Chiquita had a great time playing with a stroller and hanging on the guard rail with a few other kids from Pittsburgh.  I attempted to buy Chiquita some cheap food from the kid’s concession stand but the line was at least three innings long so I quickly bailed and she got some of our lunch.

Unfortunately for us out-of-towners, it was Turn Back the Clock day at PNC Park.  It was bad enough that the Pirates and Tigers players didn’t have names on their jerseys, but add an old-fashioned scoreboard and you have a lot of confused fans.  Even some of the native Pittsburghites/Pittsburghians/Pittsburghlars were bummed on the lack of names.  To add to that old-fashioned feeling, all of the banner boards were turned off and the PA announcer only announced the upcoming batter so there was a strange simplicity to the game that gave us a strange feeling that we were missing something.  I guess that’s what corporate sponsors and intrusive advertising have done to sports.  While this may have normally been refreshing, it was unfortunate that our one game in Pittsburgh was on a day when no one was identifiable and there was a completely different ambiance than (we think) there normally would be.

The setting for a ballpark does not get much better than that of PNC Park.  Just beyond right field is the Allegheny River.  Beyond that is downtown Pittsburgh, which can be seen from anywhere in the ballpark with the best view coming from the upper deck behind home plate.  Although it opened in 2001, PNC Park has an intimate feel to it.  There are only two levels of seats and the press box is above the upper deck behind home plate.  This is a great design and makes for a great fan experience.

Overall our brief experience in Pittsburgh was pleasant and we hope to return there someday and get the full modern Pittsburgh baseball experience.

Here are the photos from this stop…
http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

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

Baseball Road Trip: Game 10 in Philadelphia

We followed up our visit to New York with a trip to the home of the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.  Yes, I do still harbor some hard feelings from last October when they ended the Dodgers’ playoff run, but we had to visit Citizens Bank Park since we were so close.  I now harbor some more hard feelings toward them since we experienced another ridiculous rain delay on Saturday, June 13, as they took on the Red Sox.

This was another “premium” game so we found ourselves scouring Stubhub for tickets once again.  The seats we ended up with were not bad – second row of the upper deck in right field.  However, we only stayed there for the top of the first inning.  It started pouring in the middle of the inning, which came about 40 minutes after the first pitch as the Red Sox pushed five runs across before the Phillies came to bat.

We retreated to the concourse with everyone else that didn’t have a seat under an overhang.  We eventually found our way over to the Guest Services window and waited there for updates on the weather forecast.  Our perseverance was rewarded when we were upgraded to some handicap companion seats on the field level in the center field concourse.  By the time the game started up again, we were left with only enough time to stay until the 5th inning.  This trip forced me to break my baseball purist rule of never leaving a game early a few times – stupid rain! That’s what happens when you have a two-year old in tow and a two-hour drive ahead of you.

Typically, the visiting fans are outnumbered and therefore cannot be heard over the home town fans.  Not so with “the Nation”.  Allegiance was split nearly 50-50 between Phillies and Red Sox with a slight edge going to the Phillies.  Fortunately for the Red Sox faithful, there was much to cheer about as the Sox smoked the Phils 11-6.  Once again, many beer-fueled arguments led to several fans being ejected and that was just that we could see from our seats.

Our family highlight was probably the Phillie Phanatic racing across the outfield before the game on his ATV.  Chiquita made sure we saw him on his “truck” each time he zoomed across the field to steal some sound equipment or make fun of Dustin Pedroia’s small stature.  We had to buy that $6 bowl of ice cream so we could get the souvenir bowl that it came in to commemorate Chiquita’s love for this famous mascot.

This is one of the many new parks that includes a play area for the kids.  Chiquita loves playgrounds and this one did not disappoint her.  We did not try the ballpark food (other than the aforementioned ice cream) because we stopped at Geno’s in south Philly to grab some cheese steaks before the game.  Apparently the authentic sandwiches are made with Cheez Whiz, but we opted for the provolone. Still delicious.

We were in Philadelphia just long enough to see the Liberty Bell and catch the rainy game, but we had a great time at this stop.

Here are the pictures from this leg of the journey…
http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

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

Baseball Road Trip: Game 9 at the New Yankee Stadium

Our next stop brought us to baseball’s hallowed ground in the Bronx.  Well, we were next to what used to be hallowed ground.  Of course I am referring to the New Yankee Stadium.

We timed our passage through New York perfectly as we caught the first installment of this season’s Subway Series – the first ever played at the New Yankee Stadium.  While it may come as no surprise that our most expensive stop on this trip was at the New Yankee Stadium, after talking with a couple New Yorkers, it turns out that you can usually find tickets for less than $10 at this new ballpark except when the Red Sox or Mets are in town.  We found some seats on Stubhub for $60 each and ended up in the very last row in the upper deck down the right field line.

I was excited to see the new stadium but was equally as apprehensive about meeting the replacement for the “House That Ruth Built”.  Any baseball highlight reel will no doubt include moments from the original Yankee Stadium as so many great players and teams have donned the pinstripes.

I got an eery feeling as we walked off the subway to see the shell of the old Yankee Stadium sitting empty and neglected as the new stadium was full of life.  The crypt-like existence of perhaps the most famous facility in all of sports was a sad sight for this lifelong baseball fan.  I have grown up in an era where Yankee Stadium is synonymous with October (and November) baseball.   Nicole continually asked me if I was feeling ok throughout the game as I gazed over at the grassless, seatless ballpark across the street.

As it turns out, we got our money’s worth from this game.  There was no shortage of home runs in what has become a hitter’s paradise in New York.  With the score tied 7-7 in the 8th inning, Mariano Rivera uncharacteristically yielded a run to the Mets.  Then in perhaps one of the most unlikely turn of events, the Yankees scored two runs when Mets 2nd baseman Luis Castillo dropped a routine pop fly that A-Rod hit with two outs.  As soon as the ball left the bat, most fans were standing up to gather their belongings and head for the door with the assumption that the Mets had won the game.

The ensuing scene is one that will only be replicated in movies.  We had moved down to the bottom of our section near the handicapped seating and grown men were throwing/kicking folding chairs out of joy or anger.  Every Mets fan that we passed on our way to the subway looked as if they had just been given the news of a family member’s passing.  Never have I witnessed a single play that swung the emotions of so many people in a split second.

Needless to say, our first experience at the new Yankee Stadium was amazing and the ballpark was great.  We visited Monument Park before the game started and got to witness some serious beer-fueled arguments between Yankees and Mets fans up in the nose bleeds.  Next stop, the Nation makes a visit to Philly.

Here are the pictures from Yankee Stadium…
http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

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…
http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

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…

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

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…
http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649

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…

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649