Monday, June 28, 2010

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

So it's taken me a long, long while to get these posts done.  For those of you who put off breathing until I post about a baseball stadium, I really apologize.  I'm now in sunny California and have put off writing about my last four stadiums for way too long, so it is TIME TO UNLEASH THE BEAST!!!!

My trip to Camden Yards was unusual to say the least.  Unusual because I have awesome friends who are unbelievably generous - so generous that I didn't really get to enjoy the entire ballpark.  Thanks to Will Beatson, I was able to procure two tickets for Ryan Atlas and me to the Yankees-Orioles game at Camden...IN A SUITE!  A big thanks to Will (who has helped me out tremendously on this entire voyage), Ryan for coming to the game with me, and the most unbelievable hostess in Major League Baseball - Christine Taylor. OOPS. I mean Jennifer Burns.  When you see the pictures from the game, you'll understand what I mean.  It really was such a great experience I feel like I have to go back to truly "see the stadium" like I have on the entire trip.  Well, I must describe to you my elitist experience at Camden with Ryan, Jenn, and two other guys (Anthony and....?) who were in our suite with us.

I must thank Ryan again, not only for attending the game with me, but for hosting me the three days I was in Baltimore and DC.  He freed up his schedule, set me up with a local gym, and gave me some good tips on where to eat.  Another huge thank you to Will, who gave me numerous places to eat, set me up with the tickets, and would have gone to the game with me on Tuesday had I not bailed on him for Stephen Strasburg's debut. Both gentlemen, and both scholars.

Location:  Camden Yards is located in downtown Baltimore, right next to the Ravens stadium - much like the set up in Philadelphia.  It was easy to get to from Ryan's apartment in Canton - about a 20 minute cab ride.  I took the freeway in the cab because of downtown traffic and it wasn't really a problem at all. I think you can also take a light rail from Penn Station and from other parts of Baltimore if you want to save some cash,  The area around the stadium seemed to be more of a business district than I was expecting.  It was actually quite nice, especially since I hadn't heard many good things about Baltimore as a city.  All in all, I would love to go back to the city for an extended trip.  It really is a cool area.

Ballpark:  Oriole Park at Camden Yards was built in 1992 to replace the old Camden Yards and hosted the All-Star Game in 1993.  It's a beautiful, red-brick park that is open air.  I would compare it a bit to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, but it seems smaller and cozier.  It may be the large red building in right field that encloses the stadium view, but I've grown fond of smaller parks.  It has concrete concourses that were really, really big.  Another huge plus.

I'm also a huge fan of the retired silver numbers outside the stadium.  The Orioles have a hell of a history, and it's a real classy way to celebrate the franchise's best players.

There doesn't seem too much to do outside of the stadium, which is kind of a downer, but most everything you would want to do is a close cab ride away.

 Behind the plate

Outside the stadium

Cool outside view

Native Baltimorean, George Herman Ruth

Brooks Robinson, the original Hoover

Jim Palmer

Eddie Murray plus creepy dude between the "3"s

Cal Ripken, Jr.

Food:  Well I only ate in the suite, so I was treated to crab cakes, chips and 7-layer dip, some brats with all the fixins', and an open bar.  Camden does it right. I wasn't able to get an SCPI during my visit, but I look forward to heading back to Baltimore during my training in NYC to finish the job.  Oh, the food was great, by the way. A million thank yous to Jenn for setting that up.

Game:  Well, the Orioles were playing the Yankees, so I wasn't expecting the Orange-birds to come out with a victory at all. Things were looking good as they scored 2 runs early, but the Yanks put 3 on the board in the 6th and 7th to win the game 4-2.  It was a good game for a Yankees fan, and there were plenty of them there.  The Orioles aren't exactly playing well, so it was easy to see why they were heavily outnumbered in the crowd during the rainy game.  I was actually really surprised to see how empty Camden was, especially for a game against a team like the Yankees.  I guess when your franchise is struggling as bad as they are, it is to be expected.

Even though the game could have been better, the experience could not have.  It was good to hang out with Ryan, especially since he cut out from work to go to the game with me, Jenn was amazing, and we had good chats with Anthony and his friend.  The games really are better when you have good company, and this was one of the best.  Many thank yous to everyone involved, and a sincere sorry to Will for changing my mind about the game a couple of days before.  You're the man.

Robby Cano, future MVP?

Me, Jenn, Ryan

It's a bird...!

Mo pitching to Miggy

Overall: The game could have been better and more crowded, and I wish I could have seen more of the rest of the stadium. I wish I could give Camden an incomplete and go back, but I feel like I have to rate it as I saw it. So, it understandably gets high marks, especially since it was real high on my anticipation list before I started the tour.  I would definitely go back to Camden, and I really hope the franchise is able to turn its on-the-field product around sometime soon.

Location: 7
Ballpark: 8.5
Food: 8.5
Game: 7.5
Overall: 8

Record: 17-6
Giveaways: Jenn arranged for Al Bumbry to come into the suite, and he signed some large cards that he was carrying around with him.  He was a cool guy, and it was even cooler to get his autograph. Thanks, Jenn! The tally is at 7 now.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nationals Park

After that game, I wouldn't be surprised if someone buys the naming rights to Nationals Stadium.  Yes, I went to see the most hyped baseball player in recent memory debut in the major leagues, and the most amazing part was that Stephen Strasburg lived up to expectations. Maybe even exceeded them.  I don't think anyone would have suggested he could have thrown a no-hitter in his first start, but a 7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, and 14K performance certainly validated the hype and should give the entire city of Washington something to root for over the next decade.

With Ryan Zimmerman, Strasburg, Willingham, a rejuvenated Pudge Rodriguez, and a solid roster, the Nationals are actually in the playoff chase in mid-June.  Plus, they have Bryce Harper coming up in a few years.  If they can hold onto all of those players, the Nats could be good for a long time.

The game atmosphere was absolutely amazing - it felt like it did before the World Series last year.  The park was crowded, Strasburg jerseys were everywhere, and all anyone wanted to talk about was how FILTHY his pitches were. Well, I guess I have to review the stadium, too.

Location:  Nationals Park is located close to Navy Yard, kind of east of all the major DC landmarks.  It was a 20-minute walk from my pledge brother's, David Sawyer's, apartment just south of the Capitol.  Most of the entrants seemed to come from the same center field gate, and that's really the only complaint I have logistically.  It was really crowded in center field even an hour and a half before the game.  The area around the park isn't all that bad, either.

Ballpark: Nationals Park is actually the first LEEDS-certified green major professional sports stadium in the US and was built in time from Opening Day 2008. It's got a pretty expansive spot in center field with a Build-a-Bear, where you can build your own Screech (Nats mascot), a PlayStation area, and an Exxon kids zone.  It's got some sort of ivy in center field, which pretty much every park has now, and a rooftop bar that you can go to watch the game.  It was relatively easy to navigate, as well, which I have come to find is a huge bonus when attending a park.

Josh Gibson statue

Behind the plate


View from the seat

Food: The food actually lags a little bit here - they offer a Ben's Chili Bowl, which is a local hot dog and chili spot that's REAL good, but outside of that, they don't offer anything special.  The SCPI was $12.50 ($4.50 dog and $8 beer), kind of on the mid to high end of where I expect the final index to be.  I had a half smoke on Sunday (a split chili dog all the way) that was really good, but didn't have anything yesterday.

Game: Best game I've been to so far.  It had everything - the hype, the pitching, a come-from-behind win, and a cream pie at the end to top it all off.  I also love the Nationals' take on the Miller Park dog races, in which they have larger-than-life Presidents running around the field.  The crowd favorite is Teddy Roosevelt, who always seems to start out strong but always loses.  From what I hear, I'm not sure he's ever won.

Well Strasburg got through the first unscathed and hit 100 mph on his fastball a couple of times, but what is really awesome about his repertoire is a sick curve ball that he throws about 80-82 and a 90-92 mph changeup.  Not sure stuff like that has been around since Nolan Ryan.  After he gave up a 2-R HR in the 4th, he got some run support via a 2-R Adam Dunn HR and the Nats never looked back.

Strasburg's first pitch

A closer look

Post home run. Stras ready to go again.


Honest Abe



After his first MLB strikeout and the end of the first

First at-bat. Turned out to be a really awkward play.

Summary:  Big thanks to David Sawyer, who made it out to the park with me.  The game had so much hype, I was worried it wouldn't play out well, but I guess I shouldn't worry with Strasburg on the mound.  His performance continued to play into one of the most memorable first halves MLB has ever had.  I'm excited about going to the Orioles-Yanks tonight at Camden, but the Nats stadium and the game last night certainly have left an indelible mark on the memories of this baseball fan.  I look forward to coming back and would love to see the Nationals in the playoffs this year.

Me and Soy Sauce. I need to shave.

Location: 8.5
Ballpark: 8.5
Food: 7
Game: 10
Overall: 8.5

Record: 17-5
Giveaways: 6

Monday, June 7, 2010

Citizens Bank Park

Time to officially catch up.  I went to the Washington Nationals game on Sunday with Alex Weaver, Ryan Atlas, David Sawyer, and David Terry, but I won't be posting about their park until after I go to Stephen Strasburg's MLB debut on Tuesday.  He's supposed to be a pitching prodigy and is making one of the most highly anticipated debuts in MLB history this week.

But, to catch up, I have to give my review of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.  I was down here for the World Series as a Yankees fan and didn't give the team or the park that much credit.  The fans in Philly are still despicable, as you have seen in the news recently, but after watching a game there by myself I have come to realize they may be a little misunderstood.  To have fans that passionate is something of which the city of Houston can only dream. They love the Phillies and have a great team and a beautiful park.

A big thank you to Joe Wolf, a friend from the Yanks and resident Philadelphian, and Sam Gross, with whom I met up at the game and grabbed a beer afterwards.

Location:  I think the park is located south of the stadium, and it was an easy metro trip on the Broad Street Line from my hotel in downtown Philly.  The NHL was setting up shop at my hotel for the Stanley Cup Finals, so I knew it was legit.  When I arrived in Philly early Sunday, I headed to the Reading Street Market where I had some AWESOME gumbo, but they have a ton of other shops and the most crowded always seemed to be the ones run by Quakers.

The coolest thing about the stadium's location is that Lincoln Financial Field (the Link, home of the Eagles), and the Flyers Stadium are all on the same plot of land.  It's all real easy to get to, so Phillies fans can heckle as much as possible.

Outside view

Ballpark:  The ballpark is definitely in my top tier.  It was crowded as hell, and has a lot of the red brick aesthetic I like so much in a lot of the other parks.  It's easy to navigate, even when crowded. They have a Phillies history section in center field which I enjoy and wish more parks had with regards to their own team.  It seems pretty cozy, which I always like.  Can't really say there's much wrong with the park at all, except that it's full of Phillies fans.

Behind the plate

View from left field, where my seats were during the World Series

Shot from right

Shot from dead center rooftop

Another shot from center


Bell that moves and cracks when the Phillies score/hit a HR

History of the Phillies
Phillies Hall of Fame

Centennial Team

Food: The food here was great.  I had a Tony something's cheesesteak which was OK (the best cheesesteak I've had still resides in NYC), and some crab fries from this place called Chickie and Peete's.  They also had a vegan hot dog, ices, tenders, garlic fries, and a South Philly dog that had broccoli rabe, provolone, and spicy roasted peppers on it.  Should have tried it but I didn't really want any more food. They had a place called Bull's BBQ as well, pictures of the pit below.  The SCPI was $10.50 ($3.75 dog and $6.75 beer).

Game:  I missed Roy Halladay by a game, but the Phillies actually hit the game I went to and won 6-2 against the Padres.  I didn't see much of the game and never even sat in my seat in the upper deck, I had too much fun walking around the lower concourse.  I also met up with a friend from the Yankees, Sam Gross, who is from Philadelphia and was conveniently at the game. I got back to 10 games over .500 with this trip, so I was glad to have gone.  I saw a fan's shirt that said "Got drunk, got high, got tasered..just another day at the ballpark."  Certainly not classy, but that's what I've come to expect from my experiences at Citizens Bank.

Summary:  Beautiful park, great food, raucous fans, and a winning baseball team.  What else could a baseball fan ask for?  I had a great time in Philly and this is one of the parks I would definitely go back to.  If you're planning on going, make sure you get a ticket in advance because they have sold out some insane number of games in a row.

Location: 9
Ballpark: 9
Food: 9
Game: 9
Overall: 9

Record: 16-5
Giveaways: Still 6

PNC Park

Sorry for the delay in getting my trip to Pennsylvania up here.  Lots of Yuengling made me kind of tired, plus the frustration of having to wait two hours through rain in Pittsburgh diminished my interest in making that post.

The game in Pittsburgh was a perfect example of how frustrated I can become with the powers that be in Major League Baseball.  I sat through a downpour from 7-9 until I called it quits and left, but I was able to see enough of the stadium to decide it wasn't worth it to go back.  They really do have a nice stadium, I just wish I could have seen a pitch that night.

Location: PNC Park is located right across the Allegheny and was a 15 minute walk from my hotel, the William Penn Omni.  The Omni was really nice, and you take a trip over the Roberto Clemente bridge which they close down before the games for pedestrians.  It was a cool walk over the river, and you can see the pictures below.  Downtown Pittsburgh is kind of depressing - it's a microcosm of what America used to be, and is a lesson to major cities to diversify your industry. Thank goodness Houston has energy AND healthcare.

The bridges

View from the bridge

Back down the bridge towards downtown

Ballpark:  The view from behind home plate is amazing.  Downtown Pittsburgh, from that view, looks really beautiful  It was a little tough to navigate from center field, where my seat was, because you have to go up a level to get to the field box seats.  My seat was a perfect home run seat, so I was hoping to grab my first home run/foul/batting practice ball of the trip.

View from center


Behind the plate

Food: They had gourmet burgers, BBQ, waffle cones, buffalo tenders, the same wing place as they did in Toronto (called Quaker Steak and Lube), a Reuben dog, perogies, and gyros.  I had a couple Yuengling's and grabbed a pastrami sandwich on my way back to the hotel drenched from the rain.  The SCPI was $10.25 because they had a $2.50 hot dog option - the large draft was $7.75.

Game: Well the game got started about an hour after I left, and the Pirates lost late in the game to the Giants 6-4.  I can't imagine the game was that fun to play, especially for the outfielders.  I did score my 6th giveaway of the season - a Pirates hat I probably will never wear.  Still, kind of cool.  I also talked baseball with a recent college grad and his father, who worked game days at the stadium.  It was good to talk to some locals and I gave them compliments on their park.

View from my seat

Summary: Wish I could have seen a game, and maybe I'll come back when I start training for my job in NYC.  I haven't made up my mind yet.  The giveaway plus the beautiful stadium, the food selection and the beer choices give PNC high marks - it's definitely in the top tier thus far.

Location: 8
Ballpark: 8
Food: 8
Game: 5 (not the Pirates fault)
Overall: 8

Record: 15-5
Giveaways: 6 (Pirates hat, Padres sticky calendar, A's Suggie, Marlins mariachi, Tigers Harwell memento, Reds team picture)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rogers Centre

Wow. What a day for baseball.  First you have one of the greatest players I have ever seen, Ken Griffey, Jr., announce his retirement from the game to which he's given 22 amazing years of his life.  I know every baseball fan around the age of 8 wanted to be him growing up, especially seeing how bad @$$ he was in Little Big League.  That over the wall catch was great, but the one thing I remember from that movie is how awkwardly tall Randy Johnson is jumping after they clinch the division.

Anyway, the other big story was the near-perfect game thrown by Armando Galarraga, who was completely bushwhacked by umpire Jim Joyce.  Everyone has handled the game well after the fact, but we have yet to see what Bud Selig will do.  He's supposedly considering overturning Joyce's safe call on the 27th out, and there is in fact precedent for this in MLB.  But knowing Selig, he'll probably screw it up somehow.

Well, I began my Northeast leg yesterday by flying to Toronto, which my dad said is supposedly a cleaner version of Houston.  It's definitely a sprawling city because it was gonna cost me $100 Canadian to get from my hotel near the airport to the Rogers Centre and back, so I opted for the $6 round trip using the bus and subway public transit combo.  It took me an ice age to get there (nearly 2 hours), but I guess I can say I'd rather have the $94 extra Canadian dollars in my pocket. Or maybe not. Isn't this stuff play money?  Just kidding. I love Canadians.

Location:  If you're in downtown Toronto, the location is great.  If you're not relatively close, it's a pretty big hassle to get there.  I took the bus from my hotel for about an hour and fifteen minutes, then a twenty minute subway ride, then a ten minute walk from Union Station to the Rogers Centre.  The area around the Rogers Centre is great - it's right on the edge of downtown with lots of urban development and skyscrapers.  I think the sprawling layout of Toronto and the city's effective use of subway/bus routes has me convinced something like this can work in Houston.

Here's my idea: one major rail hub downtown that runs express along the major freeways in Houston to Loop 610, then again to the Beltway.  So that's 2 stops per freeway both ways, and I'm thinking on I-10, I-45, and 59 are my prime targets.  Then within 610 you have shorter routes that can stop every so often, creating like a wheel and spoke system.  One route going along Memorial stopping at 610 on either Woodway/Memorial, where buses await, another going South (wait, that's the original line, isn't it?), one going north with stops I don't know where, and one going all the way east to Hobby airport.  I think it could work.

And for people who say Houston is too close to sea level - I'm not buying.  Manhattan is an island and has one of the most successful subway systems in the world.

Enough with the aside.

View down the skywalk from Union Station to the Rogers Centre

Ballpark: Since Rogers Centre is a multi-purpose facility, it's tough to give it any special amenities that make it spark and flash.  The blue seats did really pop out at me, though.  I couldn't get any pictures from outside the stadium because the weather was ABYSMAL, so you're just gonna have to deal with what I had inside.  It opened in 1989 and was formerly known as the Skydome, and has some pretty sweet memories from when the Blue Jays used to be good. Its construction cost $600mm (CAD) and was financed by a group of federal, provincial, and municipal governments, along with a consortium of corporations.  Bon Jovi is playing 2 concerts here in a couple of weeks so you know it's a good venue.

The field turf was a lot better looking than the turf I saw at Tropicana Field, but as an avid baseball game watcher, the rest of the stadium just suffers from the fact it is a multi-use facility, and for that I have to dock it.

Behind the plate

Jeff Niemann, former Lamar Redskin

The Bullpen - literally 10 feet from my front row bleacher seat

View from my seat


Respectable scoreboard, especially with Crawford's mug

Food:  The food was pretty good.  I had a set of wings that were real good, and they had your typical baseball fare plus a Mediterranean stop for some healthy eating, BBQ, a carvery, and others.  I'd have to say the food is the best part about the experience at Rogers Centre.  The SCPI was $15.50 CAD, which equates to $14.88 American, by far the most expensive of the trip thus far.  I didn't get the dog so I don't know if it was worth it, and they didn't even have Molson to wash it down with.  MLB must pay them good money to keep American beers as the main staple.

Decided to try the local bottled water, which wasn't even a twist off. Never again.

Game: I don't know where to begin.  The attendance was miserable (official was 13,517, but was probably less), the fans weren't into the game, the usher next to me would yell loudly right in front of me (video at the bottom), there was a heckler who was AWFUL at heckling Carl Crawford (who is a fellow Houstonian)...just an atrocious experience.  I don't know what's more embarrassing than a heckler who can't heckle.  He was making some weird references that often didn't make sense to Crawford being gay.  I have video of it, but I won't play it it's so damn awful.

To top it off, the Jays, who were playing really well most of the game, completely took off the 9th inning and cost me my 10-game win streak.  I'm not happy about it.  Also, I was tired from my early wake up and monumental commute to the park.  Probably the worst game experience I've had thus far. Period.

View into the bullpen before the game. #28 is Shawn Marcum, the starter.

Summary:  The game experience just drops the Rogers Centre down here, plus the fact that it doesn't really offer much.  It's a good looking stadium in a good location with good food, but no one really cares about the game there, so this specific experience was one of the worst I've ever had. Blame Canada.

Watching "Sportscentre" later that night was quite funny.  Lots of "aboot"s, "soory"s, "agane"s, etc.

Location: 7
Ballpark: 6.5
Food: 8.5
Game: 4.5
Overall: 6

Record: 14-5
Giveaways: Still 5; didn't expect anything from the Canadians. I feel like I got hosed everywhere I went. An expensive trip.