Thursday, May 27, 2010

Coors Field

So I had to make a return trip to Denver to make up my rained out game, and I landed amidst a tornado warning and some pretty serious weather.  Unbelievably, the game was played and I got to see Cy Young candidate Ubaldo Jimenez smoke none other than the Arizona Diamondbacks.  So now I've seen them in San Diego, Arizona, Chicago, Atlanta, and Denver.  Unbelievable, and they've gone 0-5 in all of the games.

Location: Coors Field is located downtown in an area that reminds me a lot of Minute Maid Park, with a lot less skyscrapers.  It's on the corner of the urban district, and has some less than pretty spots, but also has some solid establishments in the area and has spurred some urban growth.  It was a 15 minute drive from my friend David Cummings' house, and we parked for free about 6 blocks from the stadium.  Another huge thank you to David, who hosted me for four days in April and took off from work again to pick me up from the airport and got up at 4:30 to drive me to the airport this morning. Huge thanks, man.

Some of the crazy weather 

Rockies in the background, view from the upper deck

Ballpark:  I wish they had the park facing the mountains, but it's still real pretty.  From the outside it has the red brick that looks a lot like MMP, and you can walk around to the upper levels and get some good views of Denver's downtown and the Rockies.  78% of the stadium was financed publicly with a 1/10% six-county sales tax increase, and the rest was financed by the Rockies' ownership group.

It's easy to walk around the stadium with its wider concourses, but there wasn't much special about it.  In that regard it reminded me a bit of AT&T Park - great location and they could have done a lot with it, but for some reason my experience fell a bit short of my expectations.

Purple line supposedly is a "mile high" line

Behind-the-plate shot

Area with memorable Rockies' moments. The guy directly below the sign was one of the worst moves in Astros' history

Food:  Your stadium staples, a burrito stand, a souped up hot dog stand, some sort of sandwich that contained BBQ brisket AND a hot link, Coors all over the place, a gluten-free stand, a salad stop, and others.  They had a pretty good variety and from what I saw, it all seemed to be pretty cheap.  David and I had pizza after he picked me up from the airport, so we didn't really indulge in anything at the game.  The largest beer was $6.50 and the hot dog was $4.50, for an SCPI of $11.

Game: Man, Ubaldo was on.  Every time he strikes someone out, they play the beginning of that Soulja Boy song where he goes "yooooooouuuuu," which was pretty cool once I noticed it.  David and I got to the park early for batting practice, and we knew the Diamondbacks were gonna get crushed when we only saw 2 home runs the entire round, which were made by the same person.  When Ubaldo left the game after the 8th, it was 7-0 and he was well on his way to his MLB leading 9th win. He's now 9-1 with a 0.88 ERA and looks like he'll be the All-Star game starter for the National League, although Halladay, Lincecum, and Wainwright are all in the mix and there's a month and a half left until the game.

"So she was all up in my face..."

Future Cy Young winner? Well he's thrown a no-hitter, at least...

Summary:  Pretty park, but could be better.  Cheap eats and a good team, plus a good game thrown by one of the game's best young pitchers.  Good company - overall a solid experience.  I would probably go back if I made it back to Denver, but there's so much to do in the surrounding area it might not fit into my schedule if there were other things I want to do.  So, it falls in the middle of the pack for me.

Location: 7.5
Ballpark: 7
Food: 7.5
Game: 8
Overall: 7.5

Record: 14-4 (10 straight - thank you Diamondbacks)
Giveaways: Still 5, hoping to pick some up on my trip to the Northeast next week.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tropicana Field

Procrastination.  It's amazing I even graduated from college and finished my Plan II thesis.  I'm sorry it's taken me over a week to get to my post on Tropicana Field, but I've been enjoying the break from traveling and had Ernst Leiss's bachelor party this weekend on Lake Travis.  But for those few of you waiting on the edge of your seats to hear about my trip to Tampa/St. Petersburg, the time has arrived.

Location:  The Trop is actually located in St. Petersburg, which is tough for the area because the majority of the population and the majority of the wealthier population reside in Tampa just across the bay.  I arrived early Sunday morning and grabbed a rental car, for which they DIDN'T charge me an underage fee, so I finally caught a fiscal break on the trip.  It was about a 20 minute drive to the stadium, and driving over the bridge from city to city was actually really pretty.  But then I got to St. Petersburg.  It's no wonder people are clamoring for a new stadium in Tampa, or at least one right next to the freeway, because the area around the stadium is pretty trashy.  Since I got there early, I spent a good amount of time walking around, and there is literally nothing to say.  Boarded up hotels, abandoned lots, etc.  Just not even close to what I was expecting.

Ballpark:  The park itself looks like it was built in the late 90s, which it was, and is the first 100% dome I've visited so far on the trip.  It was pretty cool to finally see a game in a dome because I have so many fond memories watching the Astros at the Astrodome. Except for the 1998 playoffs against the Padres. That was miserable and I hate Jim Leyritz.

The park was built in 1998, and for a park that's only 12 years old, it's a surprise taxpayers want to build a new stadium.  The recession has put a hold on any major plans, and it should have. The Trop was financed originally with $130mm of general obligation bonds and was later renovated later with 21% of the cost coming from the ballclub.

They play on field turf, which looks pretty worn to me.  It looked real patchy from my original seat in the bleachers, but the rest of the stadium is pretty nice.  The concourses are pretty dark, but they're big enough for the few fans that actually go to the games.  I got to talking to a local guy and his young son who were watching batting practice and a softball home run derby before the game, and they had to leave before the game even started, so the guy gave me his ticket which was right behind the Rays dugout about 20 rows up.  He started the conversation by remarking at how fast I could type on my Blackberry.  I was honored, but I can't say I was surprised.

 Other stadium named after an orange juice brand

Behind the plate

This is the third stadium that has tried to lay some sort of claim to Ted Williams, and I haven't even been to Fenway yet

Original seat with patchy field turf view

Scoreboard. Lots of corporate ads at the Trop


Food:  The food selection at Tropicana Field was pretty good.  They had Cubans, good hot dogs, a margarita stop, an Outback steakhouse stand where you could get steak and 'shrooms and/or a bloomin' onion if you really feel like dying earlier than you were meant to, nachos, Papa Johns, turkey burgers, garden burgers, fish tacos, and hummus.  I opted for a souped up dog, and since I was driving, passed on the good beer selection that they had.  The hot dog was $4 and the beer was $8 for a $12 SCPI.

Game: The Rays were playing former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee and the Mariners, so my winning streak was definitely shaky through the 7th inning.  Lee was throwing a gem and striking out Rays by the dozen. I got some good video of Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, and Ken Griffey, Jr. that I have posted to my Facebook profile and will link below.

I left early because I wanted to make my flight, and after leaving with the Rays down 1-0, the team put a couple of runs together and outlasted the Mariners 2-1.  My record now looks real, real good and is certainly inflating my ego and sense of self-worth.  Hopefully I can keep up my tear when I head to Denver this week.

Funny looking mascot

The contestants in the softball HR derby were hitting balls into the Party Deck way at the top of the picture

Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee

Summary:  Poor location, OK stadium, good food, and a great ball club.  I enjoyed the game, but would probably go elsewhere to see the Rays play again.  The team is really good and I wouldn't be surprised if they wound up playing for the 'ship in October/November.  Doesn't change the fact they already need a new stadium in a much better location.

Location: 5
Ballpark: 6.5
Food: 8...its one saving grace.
Game: 9
Overall: 6.75

Record: 13-4 (if you're keeping track, that's a 9-game win streak)
Giveaways: Still 5 (snuggie, Harwell memento, Rays team photo, Padres sticky calendar, Marlins mariachi).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The World of Coke and the Atlanta Aquarium

 The World of Coke was cool - I don't think anyone cares too much about the history as they do about the free Coke products at the end.  $15 for admission, and you get to go up to the 2nd level and try over 60 different Coke products from around the world.  They have some real interesting stuff, but Vanilla Coke is my favorite.

The aquarium was great, but it was a $34 ticket. Expensive, yes. Worth it? Jury's out.

From the outside

Coke bottles made from around the world for the Olympics

Think there are enough signs here?

Weird creature from the Coke commercials


Aquarium walk-through



Pretty massive crab

My favorite whale - the Beluga

Sun Life Stadium

So after my trip to Atlanta, I made a quick trip today to Miami to catch the Marlins play the Mets at Sun Life Stadium, which doubles as the Miami Dolphins home during football season.  A big thank you to my pledge brother, Chase Leshin, who picked me up from the airport early this morning (and is dropping me off again early tomorrow), took me to get some of the best fish I have ever had, and gave me a behind the scenes tour of the Miami Dolphins training facility, A.K.A Chase's office.

While there, we ran into one of Chase's co-workers who gave us great tickets to tonight's game.  I definitely got some of the best pictures of players yet, and we had a great time with the crowd around us.  This drunk guy kept shouting to an older man who had gotten a ball from Gaby Sanchez to "give it to the kiiiiiid" sitting behind him.  When he didn't, he thought it might be a better idea to start shouting it at him in Spanish, which I thought was hilarious.

Even though it doubles as a football stadium, Sun Life Stadium blew the Coliseum out of the water.

Tark's, where I had buffalo-garlic shrimp and blackened grouper smothered in garlic. GREAT hole-in-the-wall

Location:  I don't think Sun Life is located directly in Miami, but it was a short drive from Chase's apartment in Fort Lauderdale.  The stadium is really the only thing around, so the neighborhood was pretty non-existent.  I don't think you can take public transit to get there, but there is plenty of parking for $10 right next to the stadium.  One thing I haven't seen yet is a tollbooth right next to an MLB stadium.  We had to pay $0.75 to get in and out of the parking lot, which I think is an interesting financing idea instead of raising local taxes.

Ballpark: We walked in and were directed up to the suite level, which was air conditioned.  Chase and I were both wondering if we looked like somebody famous, but apparently you get in with a field box ticket.  It was really nice, had an ice bar, and some pretty good looking concession stands.  When we walked to our seats, you are engulfed by the orange and turquoise seats all around the stadium, which I must admit looked pretty cool.

It was tough to get my behind-the-plate shot here, since it IS a football stadium, too, so just to the left of home plate was the best I could get. No big deal.

The concourses are real big, but there isn't much to the stadium outside of the colored seats.  There wasn't much of a crowd, either, so we sat in the row in front of our ticketed seats (wasn't hard to find open seating) in order to get a better view of the field.  The seats were great, and I had an awesome video of David Wright's home run swing that was blocked by someone who stood up right at the end. We'll see if I can upload the videos here.

Shula statue

Club level. Really pretty cool.

Great seats, right? From the first at bat of the game.

Food: They had your typical ballpark food, plus pulled pork, turkey legs, roasted turkey sandwiches, boca burgers for you vegetarians, meatball subs, cuban sandwiches, chicken tenders and wings, coffee, cookies, ice cream pudding, and key lime pie.  I decided to try a local phenomenon, an arepa, which was a sweet corn pancake like sandwich with mozzarella cheese in the middle. It was damn good.  The beer was $7 (for a Bud Light or a premium, so I got a Yuengling), and the hot dog was $5 for a $12 SCPI.

Ice bar

Game: Man, I am on a roll.  I was worried being in Florida that my game might get rained out, and there were some ominous clouds hovering around in the afternoon.  The game went off without a hitch, and I was able to see John Maine walk the first three batters of the game on 12 pitches and lose to David Robertson of the Marlins 7-5, running my record up to 12-4. The Astros should be jealous and take notice. I am a good luck charm.

The fans were great and fun to be around, and I must say...(PARENTAL CONTROLS ON NOW) if you're a plastic surgeon you shouldn't have trouble finding business in the Miami area.

Easy to tell this ball wasn't going anywhere.


Watchu talkin' about, Willis?

Future HOFer?

Reyes, like a gazelle

Summary:  A solid game experience, despite the small crowd.  I enjoyed my Yuengling, and they had other fantastic beers on tap, my arepa was great, and I walked away with a Marlins mariachi for my 5th giveaway of the tour.  We had fantastic seats, and it was good to finally get down to Miami and see Chase.  I probably won't be back here any time soon, but I really enjoyed the game.  I take that back - the Marlins are opening a new stadium closer to Miami in a few years, so I HAVE to come back.

Location: 7
Ballpark: 7
Food: 8
Game: 7
Overall: 7.25

Record: 12-4
Giveaways: 5 (A's Snuggie, Reds team photo, Ernie Harwell memento, sticky calendar, and Marlins mariachi).

Turner Field

So I made a short trip home this week to take a breather between my lengthy Midwest leg and my incredibly short Southeast leg, which is encompassing one whole weekend.  I can't go on to my description of Turner Field without thanking my Atlanta hosts, The Banks, and my cousin, Dave Ferguson.

I was in Business Honors at UT with Taylor Banks, and I saw him again at Bailey and Simon's wedding a couple of weeks ago and he graciously offered to let me stay with his parents in Buckhead just north of Atlanta.  His parents, Marvin and Gigi, were AWESOME hosts.  They stayed up late both nights watching basketball and talking sports, making sure I had everything I needed for the next day.  Mrs. Banks even brought me a piece of white chocolate cake from "Piece of Cake," of which I was skeptical at first, but I may now be addicted to it.  It looks like an Italian Cream from the outside, but ends up being pure white chocolate decadence.  Enough about the cake...the Banks were incredibly generous hosts, and I look forward to paying back the entire family soon.

My cousin, Dave, is someone I probably see once every two years but wish I could see more.  He met me outside the Atlanta Aquarium and the World of Coke in Olympic Park, and he drove me around Atlanta to the Vortex where I had an awesome buffalo bleu burger and some epic nacho tots.  He also accompanied me to the game where we had a great time.  Dave, thanks so much for going with me, and I look forward to returning the favor if you ever make it back to Texas.

On to Turner Field -

Location: Turner Field is located just south of downtown, I think, in an OK neighborhood.  Dave and I parked for $10 at a lot about half a mile from the stadium and didn't have too much trouble getting there from Vortex.  It's located right on I-75/I-85 and is pretty close to a MARTA stop, so you can use public transit or a car to get there. It was easy to get to, but the surrounding area could have been better.

Ballpark:  It may be one of the only MLB ballparks that served as part of a summer Olympics. It was originially Olympic Centennial Stadium, and a good portion of the north side of the stadium was removed so it could be converted into Turner Field.  It cost $235mm to build and was built by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) with subsidies from NBC and other Olympic Sponsors, then the committee paid for the conversion itself.  It's probably one of the few stadiums which had no public financing, although I'm not sure if any of the original financing from ACOG came from public taxation.

Anyway, it's a pretty ballpark from the inside, and probably provided one of the best behind-the-plate shots I've gotten.  Dave took me up to section 401 and you can see the picture below.  The stadium has a ton of stuff in center field (bar, Taste of the Majors, Braves store, etc.), but besides that it kind of is just a regular ol' stadium.  The concourses actually look older than the rest of the stadium, but I guess that's OK.  I really do miss the white warning track from Fulton County Stadium, though.

Dave and I also went to the Braves Hall of Fame kind of on the third base line, which had some pretty cool history inside.  Who knew Babe Ruth was a Brave in 1935?  They weren't in Atlanta then, of course.  There's also an impeccable string of signs in the outfield that show the consecutive pennants they won from 1991-2005, excluding the 1994 strike-shortened season.  An unbelievable run.  It hurts to see that, especially as an Astros fan.  I remember the 1998 season where we FINALLY got past the Braves, only to lose to a 'roided-up Jim Leyritz and the rest of the San Diego Padres.  I thought when we got the Big Unit, we were going to be unstoppable.  Oh well, there's always 2020.

 Best behind-the-plate shot ever

Outfield shot

Cartoon Network area in center

Scoreboard on Western Night

Gross pennants

Food: Nothing really too far out of the ordinary, although one of the best things about Atlanta is that there were Chick-fil-A stores EVERYWHERE, including Turner Field.  Since I was feeling OK and had some nacho tots and some of my burger from Vortex, I passed on getting anything at the stadium.  The 16 oz. drafts were $6.75 and the dogs were $4.50, for an SCPI of $11.25.  Definitely one of the cheaper combos I've seen yet.

 Unlike MMP, they have a permanent Taste of the Majors stand


Game:  So, this was the fourth time I've seen the Diamondbacks play in my first 16 games.  They were womping the Braves 4-0 until Dave and I left in the 7th, after which they turned it on and won 5-4 in extra innings.  The D-backs really don't want me to attend another game of theirs...they're now 0-4 in games I've attended.

It was a rainy day, so I was kind of scared that another "Cleveland" was gonna happen to me, but the game ended up making it all the way through.  Nate McClouth made a great Web Gem in center field and was undoubtedly the highlight of the game.

Big thanks again to Dave for accompanying me.  I had a great time and look forward to visiting Atlanta again in the future.  I could spend a week there and still have things to do.

The saw pushed down the drill

Chipper Jones' spots in Braves' history. Sure-fire Hall of Famer

Summary:  Good stadium, not great, with moderate food variety and cheap prices.  Chick-fil-A moves them up a notch, but the location kind of takes them back another step.  The scoreboards were good - Dave said when it was built that they had the largest HD screen in the world.  Now you have the screens at UT, Yankee Stadium, and Cowboys Stadium, which might never be topped.  All-in-all a great experience, even though I thought the stadium was a little subpar.

Location: 6.5
Ballpark: 7
Food: 6.5
Game: 7
Overall: 7

Record: 11-4
Giveaways: Still 4