Category Archives: major league team

Ballparks categorized by the major league teams that use them.

[New] Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, New York

yankeeinprogress

Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, NY

Number of games: 1
First game: June 24, 2021 (Yankees 8, Royals 1)

I found the old Yankee Stadium not to be terribly special: I liked hanging out with the ghosts, but didn’t find much special about it. So when I returned to New York to see the new place, I wasn’t expecting much. Turns out I was pleasantly

surprised. The Yankees have managed to create a place where they respect the team’s history without going over the top about it.

Well, with one exception. But we’ll get to that later.

I got off the D train and turned the wrong way, thus finding myself a few blocks away from the ballpark in the Bronx. I have to say that I really like the cell phone for this reason more than any when I travel. Yeah, I look like the tourist that I am: I mean, I’m carrying a scorebook and wearing my Gwinnett Stripers hat. But instead of wandering around aimlessly, I can sit down and look like I’m just checking out my phone. As such, I got turned back west to the ballpark.

And this is how I discovered one of the things I like most about Yankee Stadium. It is totally embedded into its neighborhood. There are actual, local businesses surrounding the place, like, right across the street from it. Sure, there’s a McDonalds, but there are also sports bars and actual mom-and-pop businesses to be had. I don’t know whether this is different from how it was when I visited the old place in 1999: truthfully, I didn’t poke around

the ballpark back then, in part because of fear and in part because of time. But today, I did, and I liked it.

I especially liked Heritage Park across the street. Replacing a baseball stadium with a baseball park is nice enough: I enjoyed seeing a couple of guys hitting fungoes in the new place. The day-to-day business of life went on: I encountered a couple of day care groups walking through the park. I was wondering whether the biggest of the fields was the location

of the infield of the old place: turns out it was close, as second base on the new field is approximately where home plate was at the old stadium. It felt like they got the new park right, with lots of moments of Yankee Stadium history (games, concerts, Papal visits) embedded in stone in the ground. But I felt like, in the nine years since they had put this down, they hadn’t put enough love into it: weeds were in the outfield and the stone plaques in the ground had been trodden over enough that they were barely readable. Nonetheless, a baseball history guy like me could wander around that park for a while thinking of the ghosts. I do wonder whether the ghosts stay on the old site or if they move across the street into the new place. I suppose, as ghosts, they can do whatever they please.

I didn’t expect restraint in the way that the Yankees handled their 27 championships (all of them, incidentally, in the old place), but I found something like it. The only real reference I saw to the championships was in sets of photos ribboning

the main concourse, with every championship from 1923 to 2009 commemorated in a few photos of the teams from each year. Seeing a photo of (I think) Scott Brosius jumping high leads me to remember images I didn’t know I had stored in my brain, and looking at the old-time photos: well, seeing the joy of a championship feels timeless to me. Yankee Stadium takes advantage of that timelessness and puts it all together in one place. Even something relatively simple like the food court gives a nod to that history. Above the concession stands in the main food court, uncaptioned, are photos of great Yankees eating. There’s Reggie Jackson with a Reggie bar. There are Berra and DiMaggio eating Italian. Eating is one thing we all share, so it’s cool to see these great ballplayer humanized as I’m about to grab my popcorn. It leads to the idea of “I’m just like them,” only…well, nobody’s going to put a photo of me up on the ballpark, so I guess not.

Then, Monument Park. It was pretty much exactly what you’d expect. The monuments look exactly like they do on TV. It’s cool to be there–I took a shot of DiMaggio,

my dad’s favorite childhood player, and texted it to him. I liked watching people responding, sometimes with restrained emotion, to seeing the monuments of their favorite player.

But over it all is a MASSIVE monument to George Steinbrenner. I found it garish–offensively so. Not only is George’s monument bigger than that of all of the players–maybe four times the size–but it is even bigger to the 9/11 monument they have back there. It’s appropriate, as egotistical as the guy is: he actually thought he was better and more important than Ruth and DiMaggio and Mattingly…and the heroes who ran into the Twin Towers. I just can’t get over that. As relatively restrained as everything is in the ballpark, that’s how unrestrained George is. He ruins Monument Park.

Right above Monument Park is a place they called the Pepsi Lounge where my ticket gave me access. I didn’t choose to stay there during the ballgame, but I can see the appeal. The Pepsi Lounge is inside the batter’s eye. I had never thought of this as a location where people could sit before

(although it certainly happened before batter’s eyes were blacked out sometime around my youth). They have signs banning flash photography, which is fair enough. But to sit somewhere where I can look straight at the catcher’s glove? That might be worth a return trip.

For this trip, I perched my buddy David and me in the front row of the fourth deck. A sign helpfully said that I could not stand next to the railing, so I army-crawled to my seat to stay in compliance. (No, not really.) It was a nice seat and a fun day. I miss Bob Sheppard, but the current PA guy, Paul Olden, did fine.


I went in an off year for the Yankees. My experience there in 1999, when the Yankees were in the middle of three straight titles, was that fans were surly. I was wondering what it might be like to be in the midst of an off year: maybe instead of a kid shooting me with a water pistol, I’d experience heavier ammo. Not this time. The Yankees busted out to a big lead early, hit three home runs, and never gave their fans a chance to get mad.

Then, after the victory, Sinatra. “New York, New York.” I was departing Yankee Stadium for the last time on this trip, and I

asked David, my native companion, an important question. I know that if I make it there in New York, I’ll make it anywhere. I was at the end of my trip. Key question:

Had I made it there?

David, who is definitely not a tourist, said that yes, I had. Since I hadn’t been mugged or conned, I had made it there.

So there you have it. I can officially make it anywhere.

Nice ballpark, Yankees! I will be delighted to return one day.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Aaron Judge had the big day, going three-for-three with two walks, a double, and a home run. Luke Voit and Gary Sanchez also homered.

Jameson Taillon pitched effectively for the Yankees to get the win.

Hanser Alberto has two hits for the Royals.

Citi Field, Queens, NY

 

Citi Field, Queens, New York

First game:  June 22, 2021 (Braves 3, Mets 0)

It was 1999 when I took the 7 train to Shea Stadium. I was 29, single, and scrounging together money to travel around the country trying to conduct long-distance relationships and attend ballparks before starting a new job. I was 51 when I returned, a married dad, leaving my wonderful wife and equally-wonderful children behind for three days of solo R&R. It feels different doing this as a middle-aged man, but it’s certainly fun either way. I like the idea of having fun and heading home to my wife more than having fun and leaving behind a sort-of-but-not-really girlfriend. Man, time sure blasts on. The last time I watched a game in Queens, Ronald Acuna was in diapers. Now he’s on the field and a household name…

Some things, however, stay the same. The ballpark is still surrounded by oceans and oceans of parking lot. As a result, it’s hard to succeed at the is-there-any-question-where-this-is test. The small-but-nice Mets museum? Yes. Billy Joel singalong (10,000-plus fans singing “Piano Man” in the middle of the 8th, which sounds cool)? Wonderful–and you don’t get more Long Island than Billy Joel. And I was taken by a dilapidated muffler shop across the street, which seemed to be holding out in the middle of all of the parking lots: people were actually working in there as the fans streamed in. Loved it.

Still, there’s a little bit missing here. I got myself a nice seat with access to a swanky club behind home plate.

 I liked the super-cushy seats, but the setup was such that we were behind the press boxes and had no view of the

field: just a few of the Arthur Ashe tennis court nearby. I do admit that this was a

good place to wait out a rain-delay: probably the best way to wait out rain, as I have learned in the past. I couldn’t sit in the comfy chairs for too long: my 51-year-old self doesn’t handle red-eye flights quite as well as my 29-year-old self did, and I’d have fallen directly to sleep. But it still seems strange that someone would pay all that money to get to a ballgame and then just watch it on TV. Different strokes, I suppose. (But I can’t argue with that killer pastrami sandwich. Wow. 15 bucks and worth every penny.

I am not a huge Mets guy, but the dude checking us out at the metal detectors looked a LOT like Keith Hernandez of the 1986 World Series winners. For one thing, wearing a mustache in 2021 is way different 

from wearing one in the era of Tom Selleck. Turns out I wasn’t the only person to notice: the people in front of me told him so. He said he gets that a lot. I would imagine 

working at Citi Field is one place where that happens a ton.

I appreciated the passion of the fans for their first 3 or 4 beers. But thereafter–and especially on this night, when the team couldn’t get anything going of offense against Atlanta–it got uglier. One profane and ugly fan was letting loose a section over. (Man, have some perspective! Your team is in first place by five games! And the Yankees are having an off year!). Ushers said “sir? Sir?” to him a few times, and he stopped without leaving (it was the ninth inning anyway). I found the Mets staff to be delightful: they gave me Tylenol at the first-aid space (I headed off a red-eye headache) and the wonderfully-New-York-accented usher remembered me and asked how I was doing several times thereafter. So I got the best and the worst of this fan base.

On the whole, this was a great kickoff to a self-directed three-day NYC tourist blitz by me. I’m not sure when I will get to go back, but I’m glad I got to this one as I try to re-assemble the 30 parks again.

 

Written June 2021.

SunTrust Park

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SunTrust Park, Cobb County, Georgia

First game: August 17, 2018 (Rockies 11, Braves 5)

 

Click on any image to see a full-sized version.

After driving in from Greenville and picking up Rob at the airport, we still had a ways to go to get to SunTrust Park. That’s because the Braves no longer play in Atlanta. They fled the city for the suburbs, leaving perfectly-serviceable Turner Field behind, in 2017. It seems the half-life of a ballpark might now be only 20 years, which bugs me. I also thought about how

many Braves fans it must have bugged that the team moved 10 miles–10 miles of freeway in endlessly-terrible Atlanta traffic–outside of town. Seriously: if I lived in Forest Park or Fairburn or some other southern suburb, the move would have made it really undesirable to stay a regular customer.  If I worked downtown and lived in any county besides Cobb, it would add hours to my day to enjoy a team that is a deep part of the fabric of the city (and of many individuals who were removed from reasonably backing the team). I have heard this move associated with other kinds of White Flight from the city to the suburbs. While I won’t make any attempt to get inside the brains of those who are making these decisions, the pattern sure looks iffy.

I have no real issues with suburbs. I was raised in one. I live in one (no matter how much the good people of Vancouver, Washington might fight that they aren’t). And what I kept coming back to in my experience with SunTrust Park was all of the positives and negatives of suburban life were on display.

First, the area

where SunTrust sits is one of those manufactured sorts of areas. It’s a created space rather than one that sprung up organically, or even one that sprung up organically around a ballpark. I’m a fan of sports bars and nightlife popping up like they did around LoDo for Coors Field or SoDo for T-Mobile Park. But it feels like here they are attempting to manufacture what happens elsewhere organically. I am in no way an expert in agriculture or city planning, but I can sort of smell that difference. Sure, it was a pretty wonderful area. Rob, Matt and I played Quickword across the street from the ballpark while watching baseball. And I could see this creating a destination. 

Outside the ballpark, the Braves had tons of cool statues and exhibits like they had outside of Turner Field (indeed, many of them were simply moved north). There’s Bobby Cox!  There’s Phil Neikro throwing a knuckler!  The ballpark starts to develop a little bit of a destination feel, and I bet for big games and playoffs, it’s a heck of a spot.

Hawkers along the way, also, including the aptly-named Big Ass Fans, which offered free cooling of fans on this hot August evening.

But, for a destination, this felt the nowhereness of the suburbs. The view past the outfield is lovely: lots of skyscrapers and some neon. But where was I? Those suburban office edifices could have been anywhere at all in the US, or possibly other countries. I like my CN Tower in Toronto and my Gateway Arch in St. Louis. I like my prairies in Kansas City and my mountains in Colorado, my rivers in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and my bay in San Francisco. Here–what was that, exactly?

Inside, the Braves did one fantastic thing right.  The Braves’ Hall of Fame along the concourse was everything it should be. It was set up in a space everyone could go to, and had both cool stuff to look at and even places to stop and go a little deep into an exhibit. I have made fun of the silliness of Sparky Anderson’s shoes in the past, but I spent a good deal of time looking at the knee brace Sid Bream wore when he scored the winning run in the 1992 NLCS. That was presented lovingly and appropriately as a part of that iconic moment. In short, the photos and celebrations were right on target. That was a key point where I knew where I was. So was the Waffle House concession.

The place was gleaming and new, and that’s always fun. But it also suffered from some overkill.  SunTrust Park is, to my knowledge, the only ballpark in America with a zip line.  A: why?  B: if you’re going to have a zip line at a ballpark, why have it

tucked back behind the center field batters’ eye? Why not set it up really high, in a spot where one could watch the game while you gained velocity? I would do that.  In fact, I’d try to score the game while zip lining.  That might be a first, in fact.

Matt and Rob and I had a fine time at a good game: the Rockies and Braves were deep into a pennant race, and had hot young stars on the mound (Kyle Freeland and Sean Newcomb).  Fellow Coloradan Matt has held onto his Rockies’ allegiance where I have not, so he cheered hard. It seemed to work, as the Rockies hit the Braves so hard that they wound up using a position player to pitch the ninth–a first for me (but one that was duplicated a few months later by both teams in a Mariners/Angels blowout). 

This is a reason to stick around in a blowout by the way. Fans went kind of bonkers rooting for the position player, Charlie Culberson, to get three outs. He did, only giving up one run.  It’s a little like batting practice, except it counts.

So some mixed feelings about this one. Turner Field wasn’t perfect, but at least it was somewhere. This felt like a lovely spot, but it also felt like nowhere.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Kyle Freeland pitches beautifully for the Rockies, giving up only one run and striking out 9 in 6 innings.

Ian Desmond does most of the damage for Colorado, with 5 RBIs that include a bases-loadedd triple to give them a 3-1 lead in the third. 

Charlie Culberson gets two outs, but then gives up a double to Charlie Blackmon and a single to D.J. LaMahieu to give up a run and go down 11-2. The Braves plate three meaningless runs in the ninth with four singles and a walk.

Written June 2019.

Target Field, Minneapolis, Minnesota

 

targetinprogress

Target Field
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Number of games: 4
First Game:  August 15, 2014 (Royals 6, Twins 5)
Most Recent Game: July 6, 2016 (Twins 4, A’s 0)

Click any image to see a full-sized version.

I suspect a tradition was born in August 2014 when I got around to crossing Target Field off of my list. Since my 2006 visit to the current iteration of Busch Stadium, the moment when I had been to all 30 current ballparks, 4 new ballparks had opened: Minnesota, Miami, and two in New York. Of those, Target Field was the easiest to get away to visit, and I had college buddy Matt there to shack up with. My wife was kind enough to take sole targetcloudsparenting duties for four and a half days while I went. Matt’s wife was out of town. And fellow college buddy Rob was also released by his wife to join us. Net result: a mini reunion.  Thanks, awesome wives. In fact, Rob’s wife suggested we make it an annual event. We just might…talks are already underway to attend 2015 Arizona Fall League games. So, yeah, here’s to old friends and awesome wives who understand the value of old friends.

So I got off the plane and was at Target Field not too long thereafter, where along with Rob and Matt, I met the exceedingly pleasant Mike Menner, the founder of Fiesta Del Beisbol. Every year, I hear wonderful things about friends getting together and enjoying targetpuckettbaseball in Minnesota, and every year, I feel like I’m missing out by not going. But meeting Mike at a separate baseball event was an even better deal. He took me around Target Field with a deep knowledge of the ballpark and an approach to what makes a ballpark great very similar to mine.

That approach: love of the local. And Target Field does love of the local as well as literally any ballpark I have ever attended. Sure, there are the statues of Twins greats leading into the ballpark. I’ve seen enough statues at other ballparks that they’re almost a prerequisite. While not as beautiful as the sculptures at Comerica Park (which are amongIMG_0102 the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen), Target Field added a touch to the sculptures that seemed to localize them even more. Rather than proto-Homeric statements about heroism explaining the statues, the captions were (in most cases) simply quotes from the player depicted himself. So that’s what greets us as we enter the stadium.

Next, the Town Ball Tavern. I honestly cannot think of more lovely tribute to local baseball than that place. Rather than focusing on the Twins or on their minor league predecessors, the place focuses on local ball—American Legion-level stuff. And it is beautiful. The photos on the wall of the old, local ballparks. And the memorabilia in there is exactly the kind of thingtargetlevels I’m a sucker for. Old scorebooks and programs from amateur and barely-pro teams from Edina, Eden Prairie, Duluth, Moorhead…stories of guys I’d never heard of and fans who cared about them. And all of this happening as I stood on the basketball floor once used by the Minneapolis Lakers. If there weren’t a game going on, I’d have stared at that memorabilia for hours upon end. The ballpark hooked me there.

Also: the art. Mike took me to a somewhat off-the-beaten-path spot with art representing all 30 current MLB stadiums. The artist got it right with nearly every ballpark. I’m glad someone else noticed the coolness of the toothbrush-style lights at Progressive (nee Jacobs) Field. And I think it’s a bit of a negative that the characteristic the artist selected as the most individual about IMG_0091my home ballpark, Safeco Field, was that stupid roof—the most unappealing part of it, at least as I see it. But again, I found myself slowing down—way down—to enjoy that art. Score another for Target Field.

Two days later, I learned the benefits of having friends who persuade people for a living. Matt and yet-another college buddy, John, kinda got into a competition over who was the most silver-tongued, and I was the beneficiary. The result was almost unconscionably fun.

It all started with my own weaknesses. I wanted to see one relatively-exclusive area that my ticket would not allow me in. So I went up to the usher guarding the place.

ME: “Excuse me. Is it possible for me just to go in there and take some photos?”

USHER: “No. Sorry. This area is for only those with tickets to go there.”

ME:  “Okay. Thanks.”

This is why I cannot have a job as an attorney or (God forbid) a salesman. I just don’t have any desire to extend thattargetbrunansky conversation.

Thankfully, Matt heard what I said and proclaimed me to be comically weak. “You’ve really got to sell yourself,” he said. “I think you’re selling yourself well short.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, I think I can get you into the Delta Club.”

The Delta Club was a place that Mike had told us about two nights earlier…a place for the muckety-mucks to spend their money, a place with fabulous memorabilia—exactly what I wanted most. And Matt thought he could get me there? Well, let’s see how it works. We approached the usher. I kept my mouth shut and let Matt get to work.

“Hi! This is my friend Paul. Paul is a nationally-known baseball blogger who travels around the country writing about and photographing baseball parks. He’s here this weekend visiting Target Field. Is there any way you can let us into the Delta Club so he can take some photos?”

“Sure.”

Oh…so targetclubTHAT’S how it’s done!  I think it was in the “nationally-known.” I suppose I was. Just in that group of friends, I could prove that I was known in both Idaho and Minnesota. Plus, I know myself…that’s Washington! And who knows what state you’re in, friendly and kind reader of these words! That’s a fourth state!

Needless to say, the sorts of Twins stuff in there continued to emphasize what Target Field does best: a celebration of Minnesota baseball history. It’s no surprise to see the Hall of Famers in there:IMG_0096 Puckett, Carew, Killebrew. But I always like it a little better when I find Tom Brunansky or Gary Gaetti around there. I squinted at Puckett’s contract. I checked out a K-Tel produce for Carew. I examined Brunansky’s jersey. I photographed everything through glass cases. And my friends trailed me throughout, fellow beneficiaries of Matt’s persuasive phrase-making. It shifts the focus from baseball history to Twins history, and that’s the best I can find. In fact, the Twins history was live and in the flesh on this day: Tony Oliva was enjoying lunch before the game (no, I didn’t take a photo…felt weird and stalkerish to do that, even as a nationally-known baseball blogger).

Great night, right? Well, John couldn’t be shown up.

See, John is a lawyer, and he couldn’t let Matt (who advocates for underdogs for a living–he is one of my life role models) show him up in the persuasive-speaking department. We had targetskylineourselves a genuine, friendly competition going on (and I was the winner).

“Well, Paul, I know that the Twins’ World Series trophies are downstairs in the Champions’ Club. It’s the $500 a ticket place, but I think I can get you in.”

“Really, John?”

“I’ll just tell them that you’re a renowned baseball lifestyle blogger.”

I started laughing. “That doesn’t’ even mean anything!”

“I know it doesn’t. But it sounds good, doesn’t it?”

John went to work. He had to demonstrate Matt wasn’t the only one who could talk ballpark personnel into bending the rules for me. He headed to the Guest Services booth and asked to speak to someone from Media Relations, since he had a baseball lifestyle blogger with him. We waited a few minutes, and up walked Patrick Forsland, the affable and kind director of Guest Services for the Twins. John was ready.IMG_0099

By the way, my favorite part of what follows is the pause.

“Hi. This is my friend Paul Hamann. [Pause. A little longer than you might think.] He’s a baseball lifestyle blogger who writes about ballparks he travels to. Now, I want him to write a really good review of Target Field. You see, the last time he was in Minnesota was 21 years ago, and the Metrodome, as you see here [John produces his smartphone with my MLB ballpark ratings upon it], he has it ranked 41st out of 45. I think that Target Field is more likely to be at the top where it belongs if we could get him down to the Champions’ Club and show him the World Series trophies.”

Much to my delight, Patrick agreed. Next thing you know, we all were on the elevator headed down to the crème-de-la-crème of the Twin Cities elite, snapping photos of the World Series trophies.

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I did like the Champions’ Club. It was strikingly similar to Safeco Field’s Diamond Club, where I spent the 2011 Dads Gone Wild with my friend Andrew. I guess I don’t like the concept of having the World Series trophies in a place where only the rich can see them: there must be a better way for all Twins fans to celebrate them regardless of their annual household income. Then again, I don’t think I’ve seen actual World Series trophies in any other ballparks; maybe the Reds had their 1990 trophy in their museum and I missed it? Or is it sitting around in a glass case in the team’s offices where fans can’t see it at all? So maybe it’s actually more accessible rather than less.

But the place had a nice twist: one could watch the team take cuts in the batting cage before the game through a glass cage in the restaurant area. It was quite nice. Anyway, this baseball lifestyle blogger can thank both his silver-tongued friends and Patrick for taking him down to the Club. Yes, it didtargethrbek impact the ranking. (A reminder to ballpark staff everywhere: I absolutely, 100% can be bought.)

So all of these local touches would mean nothing if the ballpark itself weren’t part and parcel with the locality—just putting these local perks inside the lamentable Metrodome would have done absolutely nothing for the ballpark there. But Target Field is fantastic, passing the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test even if I had never left my seat. The integration of the ballpark with downtown is seamless and beautiful; it fits right in with the indoor walkways that maketargetlucy the place famous. Midwestern down-hominess prevails, from an actual 50-50 raffle (haven’t seen one of those outside of a high school event before) and donuts for sale. As I waited through a rain delay at one game and a non-delay half-inning rain shower at another, I was able to enjoy the gorgeous pink sky that only a Midwestern rainstorm at dusk can provide. Not even the terrible baseball played by a bad Twins team (I saw them defeated thrice by the Royals in a year when the Royals seemed to be putting it all together)  could counteract that.

And neither, of course, could going to games with my friends. Rob still leads the non-family division of most ballparks visited with me…Three Rivers, Wrigley, Kingdome, and now Target Field…and probably 10 minor league parks on top of that. And Matt and I sat there chatting about old times, including a spat of comparing notes on the positives and negatives (nothing disrespectful, I assure you) oftargetguardadomack our college-era exes. Matt noticed that one member of the elderly couple seated in front of us, trying not to show they were eavesdropping, wrote on her scorecard: “They’re talking about past relationships!” Ah, the Midwest. Nosy and passive-aggressive, and yet endearing in its own way.

And in the end, the positives and the pervasive Minnesota-ishness of the place carries the day. It’s one of the better ballpark experiences I’ve ever had—baseball-centered and Minnesota-centered, with all of the friendliness of the region as well as the friendliness of my actual friends. While I will be to many more ballparks with Matt and Rob and, I hope, John and new friend Mike, I’m not sure any of them will be as nice as Target Field.

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

2014 debutantes and eventual league champions Kansas City were in town for a four game series, of which I saw three.  The Royals, in the midst of their historic and memorable ascension, took all three games I saw.

Josh Willingham, who had just been traded away from the Twins, provided a crucial bases-clearing double in the first game.

Six homers in a lamentable rain-delayed 12-6 Royals win in game two–Willingham had another.

Erik Kratz–whom I had seen win MVP of the 2010 AAA All-Star game–homered twice in the series finale.

A pair of saves for Greg Holland.

On a return trip in 2016, the Twins’ Ervin Santana spins a 2-hitter to shut out the A’s.

Spring Mobile Ballpark/Smith’s Ballpark, Salt Lake City, Utah

Spring Mobile Ballpark/Smith’s Ballpark, Salt Lake City, UTAH

Number of states: 31
States to go:  19

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 4, 2010 (Tacoma Rainiers 10, Salt Lake Bees 4)
Most recent games: July 16, 2019 (Salt Lake Bees 12-6, Sacramento River Cats 5-8, doubleheader)

(Known as Spring Mobile Ballpark for my first visit, Smith’s Ballpark for my second.)
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

2010 brought about perhaps the most ambitious 4th of July Minor League Baseball Road Trip in Hamann family history.  The first couple of years brought us the nearest

ballparks–Spokane, Tacoma, Salem-Keizer.  One year we flew to northern California.  But a friend’s wedding in Montana on July 12 led us to make 2010 a huge drive–all the way to Utah.  Add a toddler to the mix and the desire not to drive more than 4-5 hours in a day, and you’ve got yourself quite a trip.  It could have backfired horribly, but it actually went very well.  Three days from Portland, we found ourselves staying in downtown Salt Lake City, just a few blocks from the gorgeous Spring Mobile Ballpark.

The ballpark’s location is as excellent as you’d want any ballpark to be.  Since Salt Lake City has the fortune of being west of the mountains, unlike its unfortunate PCL cousin in Colorado Springs, there are gorgeous Rocky Mountain panoramas

visible from every seat in the ballpark.  The setting sun reflects off the mountains, making for an excellent distraction during the game.  And its quick, accessible location from downtown SLC is also quite welcome–I was able to walk there from my hotel in about 40 minutes, but there’s a ballpark stop on SLC’s light rail system, so that walk wasn’t really necessary.  While circumnavigating the stadium, as I like to do, wasn’t possible (maybe because of fireworks setup), there was still a good atmosphere set up for the July 4 game, with people lining up outside early.

My family was among those lining up early, since for the first time in my ballpark travels, I had secured general admission seats for a game.  We didn’t know we would be doing this trip until all other seats for the big fireworks game had sold out, so we grabbed our baseball picnic blanket, a

couple layers of clothing, sun goop, and a few toys for the boy, and prepared to set up for the game.

I knew that there would be a pretty big rush for the best spots in general admission, so we got to the ballpark early.  Michelle put Steven on our monkey leash, which was admired by our line-mates.  In fact, as she let him burn off steam on his leash, one octogenarian woman approached Michelle and complimented her on the choice to use the leash. She used to get a lot of lip from strangers back in the day, she said, so she was happy to see someone using it.  (This was an especially refreshing compliment after a batty old bag said something shitty to us about the leash the previous day at the Boise Zoo.)  Anyway, all was right with the world:  we were at the front of the line, and I knew where I wanted to sit on the

outfield berm.

But then something went wrong.  About ten minutes before the gates opened, an usher came by to zap everyone’s tickets.  Ours were invalid.  Huh?  I think they sent us multiple copies of the tickets and I printed out the wrong one.  I was a little annoyed when she told us to go to the main ticket office to get everything straightened out, since we’d lose our choice spot in line that I planned ahead for.  My wife–usually the one who gets upset at customer service–told me to chill out, that I could come back tomorrow if we got a lousy seat.  So I said goodbye to my wonderful line spot and went to the ticket booth, who worked out the problem.  We then got back to the back of the line.

Here’s where I became a big fan of the fine people of Utah.

While I was in the back of the line cursing my luck just a minute or two before the gates opened, incredibly, a woman came back to us from the front of the line and told us that nobody would mind if we went back to our previous spot. 

“You earned it…you were here early,” she said.  Highly grateful, we went back there and offered to buy anybody who wanted it something to drink.  Everyone declined.

Thanks, Utah.  I deeply appreciate your generous spirit…and actively seeking us out to bring us to the spot I wanted.

We immediately zipped to exactly the spot I wanted…about halfway up the berm, about thirty feet off the foul pole.  I figured that people would eventually edge in front of us, and they did…but from their spot, they had to peer through the fence.  Had we been up higher, we would have had to deal with many, many people walking around, in, and out in front of us.  Here, we almost never did.  People mostly honored (though not always, as the photo shows) the edict to stay back from the wall, so the view wasn’t actually all that bad. 

But the atmosphere, not surprisingly, wasn’t too baseball-based out on the picnic blankets.  And, while I’d be bugged by that in the stands, I was totally fine with that out on the grass.  It was a carnival-family atmosphere there that was kind of nice, and while that might sometimes bother me, enough people watched the Bees get slaughtered that one could follow the game without appearing strange.  It felt right to watch the ballgame surrounded by families hanging out together–I got the warm fuzzies.

Which led me to another realization.  I can barely remember what I did on July 4th before Michelle and I began this tradition eight years ago.  I seem to recall two ways to celebrate.  One was watching while your crazy neighbor set off illegal fireworks while listening for the cops.  The other was

finding a sanctioned show, setting up a blanket, and killing time for several hours while the sun set, sincerely hoping that rain didn’t ruin everything.  As a kid, I found those hours mercilessly boring.  Really, going to a ballpark just gives you a game to fill all those hours in with.  It was a nice feeling.  And, this being Utah, there were a lot of kids around.  Some watched the game, and some didn’t, but all were well behaved, perhaps because those who wanted to whale on each other were segregated off to the other side of the grassy hill, out of range of both the picnic blankets and the ballgame.  So really, what the fourth of July general-admission ticket does is provides something to do for the waiting period before the fireworks.  Sold.

The Bees did a fabulous job of providing stuff to look at between innings without negatively impacting the baseball experience.  There was nothing to interrupt the baseball, which was particularly important at such a high level.  And between-innings distractions were rather rare as well.  It wasn’t until after the game that I realized how masterful the Bees were at handling fan experience.  The fireworks didn’t get started until about 15-20 minutes after the final out.  In most ballparks, they might play a little music, but they mostly just make you wait. 

At Spring Mobile Ballpark, instead, they had several fan-participation promotions during the gap.  This shows such common sense that I can’t believe more teams don’t follow suit.  At the moment that people might get bored, when there’s no baseball to be seen–that’s the best possible moment to do some silly promotions and put them on the scoreboard.  It was a splendid idea and well-executed.

Speaking of promotions, this particular game featured a marriage proposal.  Now, I’m 100% on record as being against a ballpark marriage

proposal.  But this one was a little, um, strange.  There was a competition where two people had to sing the jingle for Whipple Plumbing (which is to the tune of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song,” with “Whipple” where “Day-O” would be…I assume it’s ubiquitous in Utah for everyone to know it).  This man sang it (poorly), then a woman sang it and won.  But then it became clear that the man and woman knew each other because then the promotions guy said “Well, there’s one more thing to do…” and then let the man propose to the woman, who said yes.  I certainly wish them well…but I think they’ve set up a future problem.  When people ask them how he proposed, they’ll have to use the words “Plumbing” and “promotion” in their response.  In all honesty, even among ballpark proposals, this one is on the bottom side.  Why must all of our important life moments now be public rather than private?

Beyond this man’s marriage proposal, there were a couple ofsmall irritants I found at the ballpark.  While the stadium’s positioning next to the Rockies cements its local feel, I think they could have done better on the inside of the park to make this a place more

definitively Utahan.  For instance, they had many homages to baseball all-stars up throughout the ballpark.  But there was no connection to Utah.  I’d much prefer “Hall-Of-Famers from Utah” or “All-Stars who played in Salt Lake City.”  As it is, it felt incongruous.  More incongruous were the strange movie posters all around the joint.  I don’t care how much money they get for the posters, they didn’t fit in.  Additionally, they were for month-old movies that surely had already succeeded or failed at the box office on their own merits.  Who would go to get some nachos and decide they needed to see a film?

Still, there was much to love about this place, and its high score is richly deserved.  In fact, I loved it so much that I returned the next day, dropping $24 for a behind-home-plate ticket while my wonderful wife took care of the baby in the hotel.  But there was a major test that night…the baby was majorly cranky, and when I got a text from wife-at-her-wits-end, I left the game in the fourth inning–before it became official.  So I can only give myself credit for going to one game here, but I think I proved that, as much as I loved Spring Mobile Ballpark, I love my wife more.

I hope to return here.  It was simply gorgeous.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  7.5/10
I’d like a little more in the concourse to tell me I’m in Utah:  the baffling Hall of Fame baseball photos celebrate baseball history, but not local baseball history.  Nevertheless, you just can’t argue with that mountain view.

Charm:  4/5
Again, the view.  The ballpark itself is not terribly unique, but it’s still lovely.

Spectacle:  4.5/5
The Bees have mastered the art of well-timed promotions that do not detract from baseball.  And the fireworks show is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Team Mascot/Name:  3.5/5


“Bees” is completely appropriate to Utah.  The mascot himself, Bumble doesn’t do too much for me (dull name), but isn’t too bad, either.

Aesthetics: 4.5/5
Lovely view.  Minor deduction for the ballpark itself being not gorgeous, but with the mountains, who cares?

Pavilion:  4/5
Like the circumnagivability of the place, and the way they segregate those who want to whale on each other from those who want to watch the game.  Would like a bit more local flavor.

Scoreability:  4/5
Nodded off for a ball/strike call once, and could use some guidance on WP/PB. But fine.

Fans:  5/5
Lots of great people.  Wonderful human beings in the ticket line did my family and I a wonderful favor at absolutely no benefit to themselves.  They made their city and state look wonderful.

Intangibles:  5/5
Can’t argue with that first night there…a beautiful night, a fantastic pitching performance, and the best fireworks show I’ve seen at a ballgame (and I’ve seen a few).

TOTAL: 41/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Rainiers’ Michael Pineda, a 21-year-old making only his 3rd Triple-A start, steals the show.  He throws 6 perfect innings before getting knocked around a little in the 7th, but appears to be a stud in the making.

Chris Woodward and Mike Carp provide the lion’s share of the offense.  Woodward gets three hits–two off battered starter Fernando Rodriguez–and Carp hits a mammoth home run over our heads in right field.

Tons of offense at my 2019 visit. Jose Rojas goes 4-for-4 in the opener with two doubles and two homers. Taylor Ward CRUSHES a ball at least 460 feet past the bathrooms in left center.

Aramis Garcia hits the game-winning 2-run homer for Sacramento in the seventh (and final) inning of the nightcap.

(Written July 2010. Revised August 2019.)

Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park in One Day

Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park in One Day, Chicago, IL

April 19, 2002, afternoon:  Cubs 5, Reds 2
April 19, 2002, night:  Tigers 8, White Sox 2

When I saw I had a shot to attend baseball games in two different ballparks in the same day, I figured, hey, this is something I absolutely have to do, and if you’re reading this, you may be wondering if you can do it your own self.  Well, here’s a bit of advice.

The places you have a chance to do this (Mets/Yankees, Cubs/White Sox, Angels/Dodgers, A’s/Giants) historically have never had their teams at home at the same time.  Since the advent of interleague play, however, there are one or two weekends a year when they’re at home simultaneously, and if you pick a day when one plays an afternoon game and the other a night game, you can pull it off.

I’d highly advise you to check the weather report first, if at all possible!  April 19, 2002, the day I did the multi-stadium doubleheader, was about 40 degrees in Chicago, and dipped lower at night.  So either do your doubleheader in LA or be ready to dress in many, many layers.  I was pretty stupid–had to spend $33 on a sweatshirt at Wrigley Field.  There were people around me who were in shorts and halters!  They didn’t last long.

Have a contingency plan for rain delays or extra innings.  Which game are you willing to miss the end of or to be late to, if it comes to that?

Anyway, my April 19, while cold, provides me with a rare opportunity to compare Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park, as well as Cub fans and Sox fans.  I will now offend everyone in Chicago with the following observations:

Observation Wrigley Comiskey
Adjustments to my first impression of the ballparks: I may have been a little hard on Wrigley Field in my original review of it.  I liked it a little better the second time around.  Even though the ivy hadn’t flowered yet, making the outfield walls dingy brown, I noticed that I didn’t have a single advertisement in front of my eyes when I looked around the field.  That’s amazingly refreshing.  (But I will not adjust my ranking due to my observations of fans under “Fans” below.) When I first went to Comiskey Park in 1993, it was my favorite ballpark I’d ever been to.  Man, have I ever matured in my tastes.
Location: Trendy sports bars, but otherwise a basic neighborhood, with hardware stores and fast food…nice because it’s so mundane. I didn’t take the time to took around.  And I never will.
Scalpers: The rudest, most intrusive, aggressive scalpers I’ve ever encountered–they will not only approach you, they will ridicule you if you refuse (“Yeah, whatever, sit in the upper bowl, then.”) Scalpers at Comiskey?  You’re more likely to find scalpers at a local spelling bee.
Fans: Here’s where I get into trouble:  The fans at Wrigley do not care about baseball.  They are there to be seen.  That’s what I said–A good chunk of Cub fans at Wrigley DO NOT CARE ABOUT BASEBALL.  They mostly couldn’t tell you a single Cub besides Sammy.  This makes the Cubs’ historic lack of success irrelevant. Fans at Comiskey care about baseball because it gives them an excuse for their deep-seated anger issues.  This makes the White Sox’s historic lack of success absolutely essential to their surly personalities.
Arrival/Depature times: Cub fans arrive late and leave as soon as they realize it’s too cold. Very few White Sox fans ever show up to begin with.
How to get there: The Red Line has a stop a block from Wrigley Field.  Take the Red Line. The Red Line has a stop a block from Comiskey Park.  Take a cab.
Batting Practice: You will be treated to the screams of pre-pubescent girls scrambling for batting-practice balls that Cincinnati Reds’ players throw their way when the kids chant “Reds!  Reds!  Reds!”  (How do pre-pubescent girls perfect that ear-piercing crystal-clear insanely-high-pitched sound?) If you get a ball, get moving before the fisticuffs start. And I’m pretty sure children, at least those from the same neighborhoods as the ones below, are never taken to Comiskey by their parents.

Fifth grade girl and friends show off the ball that their intolerably piercing screams brought their way.

Fans and school:

Cub fans miss school to enjoy afternoon ballgames.

White Sox fans have never attended a school.

Fans removing shirts in windy  40-degree weather:

At Wrigley, drunken college guys remove their shirts.  At least I think they’re college guys–the guys on the right look like they’re in about junior high.  Reasonable people wonder exactly what kind of moron would even consider such an insanely stupid act.  (See below.)

At Comiskey, fans wait until the temperature drops down below 35 degrees and there’s a downpour.  Then, they remove their shirts and holler.  These fans include my cousin and his buddy–answering the question posed at Wrigley.  (See below.)

Shirtless Cub fans, probably missing their ninth-grade classes.

paulandsteve

Shirtless White Sox Fans--my cousin Steve (center) and his buddy. Both are elementary school teachers who sincerely hope the school board does not discover this web page. Note that I am wearing FIVE layers of clothing, including both a rain jacket and a winter jacket.

Response to routine fly ball to shallow left by the visiting team:

Cubs fans shout with incredible glee, as if they are on a loop-de-loop rollercoaster at Mardi Gras.

White Sox fans shout “COME AAAHHHNNN!!!” as if certain something disastrous is about to happen.  (They react this way regardless of the situation, actually.)

Wearing opposing colors:

Wear opposing colors–whatever you want.

Wear opposing colors, but accessorize with a flak jacket.

Result of game and fan reaction:

Who cares?  We were just here to be seen anyway.

The Sox lost, again, because they’re out to keep us miserable.

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW ON THIS DAY:

Matt Clement struck out 12 Reds.  Steve Sparks took care of the White Sox’s bats.

(Written April 2002.)
Observation Wrigley Comiskey
Adjustments to my first impression of the ballparks: I may have been a little hard on Wrigley Field in my original review of it.  I liked it a little better the second time around.  Even though the ivy hadn’t flowered yet, making the outfield walls dingy brown, I noticed that I didn’t have a single advertisement in front of my eyes when I looked around the field.  That’s amazingly refreshing.  (But I will not adjust my ranking due to my observations of fans under “Fans” below.) When I first went to Comiskey Park in 1993, it was my favorite ballpark I’d ever been to.  Man, have I ever matured in my tastes.
Location: Trendy sports bars, but otherwise a basic neighborhood, with hardware stores and fast food…nice because it’s so mundane. I didn’t take the time to took around.  And I never will.
Scalpers: The rudest, most intrusive, aggressive scalpers I’ve ever encountered–they will not only approach you, they will ridicule you if you refuse (“Yeah, whatever, sit in the upper bowl, then.”) Scalpers at Comiskey?  You’re more likely to find scalpers at a local spelling bee.
Fans: Here’s where I get into trouble:  The fans at Wrigley do not care about baseball.  They are there to be seen.  That’s what I said–A good chunk of Cub fans at Wrigley DO NOT CARE ABOUT BASEBALL.  They mostly couldn’t tell you a single Cub besides Sammy.  This makes the Cubs’ historic lack of success irrelevant. Fans at Comiskey care about baseball because it gives them an excuse for their deep-seated anger issues.  This makes the White Sox’s historic lack of success absolutely essential to their surly personalities.
Arrival/Depature times: Cub fans arrive late and leave as soon as they realize it’s too cold. Very few White Sox fans ever show up to begin with.
How to get there: The Red Line has a stop a block from Wrigley Field.  Take the Red Line. The Red Line has a stop a block from Comiskey Park.  Take a cab.
Batting Practice: You will be treated to the screams of pre-pubescent girls scrambling for batting-practice balls that Cincinnati Reds’ players throw their way when the kids chant “Reds!  Reds!  Reds!”  (How do pre-pubescent girls perfect that ear-piercing crystal-clear insanely-high-pitched sound?) If you get a ball, get moving before the fisticuffs start. And I’m pretty sure children, at least those from the same neighborhoods as the ones below, are never taken to Comiskey by their parents.

Nationals Park

Nationals Park, Washington DC

Number of games: 2
First game:  August 14, 2008 (Mets 9, Nationals 3)
Most recent game:  August 15, 2008 (Rockies 4, Nationals 3)

(Click on any image to view a larger version.)

In 2008, I spent a quick 3 nights in DC heading to a game in the new ballpark so I could still say I’d been to all the major league parks.  I’m going to fall behind in 2009, as the

confluence of hard economic times, two new ballparks in expensive New York City, and a brand-new baby will prevent me from doing baseball travel.  I’ll catch up as soon as I can, of course, but Nationals Park will be my last new one for at least a year.  Much of this trip was a repeat of the RFK Stadium trip from a couple of years earlier:  games on consecutive days with kid sister Kathleen and college buddy Tom.  An enjoyable time was had by all…in a far superior ballpark.

I would imagine it’s only a matter of time before the elegance and simplicity of the name “Nationals Park” goes the way of the corporate-influenced dodo.  But whateve

r shall the new name be?  As the economy began its massive collapse in August of 2008–gas was $4 a gallon, and we were but a few weeks away from the 2008 Market Meltdown–my kid sister and I considered the possibilities.  The best corporate names are so local that they blend in seamlessly with the local atmosphere (Coors Field and Tropicana Field, to name two).  What would we similarly associate with Washington DC?  Kath and I considered it, and thought about our government and its debt to foreign countries.  What if those countries agreed to forgive some of our debt in exchange for the naming rights to Nationals Park?  As much as I hate selling off stadium naming rights, I’d think it’d be worth it.  I therefore propose that Nationals Park, if it is to go coporate for its name, change its name to The People’s Republic of China Stadium.  Seriously.  Let’s consider that.  We could make a good dent in the debt that way.

Nationals Park has a lot of promise.  First of all,

among ballparks I’ve been to, Nationals Park has the best shot at matching Fenway Park‘s inimitable “experience approaching the ballpark” category.  The exit from the Metro at Navy Yard station deposited me onto a road closed-for-traffic that leads a couple hundred yards to the ballpark.  As of 2008, there were one or two hawkers along the way, but once the Nationals get established, we can look forward to a walk through baseball sights, sounds, and smells that will be as good as anywhere.  I’m not one who believes a ballpark is the cure-all for a community, but I do believe that there will be a fun atmosphere along that walk one day soon.

The ballpark itself felt like it

was in an ordinary DC neighborhood.  Apartments were across one street, the Anacostia River another, and a sewage treatment plant a third.  However, one is never far from views of the Capitol and other DC landmarks, especially from the upper deck on the first-base side.  The place does well to reflect DC baseball history, particularly in the walk up to the ballpark–the Washington Senators and Homestead Greys are commemorated nicely.

Of course, once inside the ballpark, I noticed something I hadn’t considered before.  When I see the Space Needle, I think “Seattle.” When I see the Gateway Arch, I think “St. Louis.”  But when I see DC’s most important landmarks (the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, etc.), I don’t think “Washington.”

I think “America.”  My DC-native friend Tom disagrees…those landmarks represent home to him.  But to me…well, it feels like the local is trumping the national.  I don’t know that this is bad, but when your local landmarks are, in fact, representing an entire nation, is it appropriate to claim them as local?

On top of that, since so many people in DC are government workers who are not from (and do not claim to be from) the area, Washington is at a bit more of a home-team disadvantage than other teams.  For the Mets game, especially, there seemed to be far more fans of the visitors than of the home team, although some of this is a factor of the Nationals’ horrible ballclub at the time.

These factors certainly

complicate the “is there any question where you are” test, but not by much, since Washington does the best with what it has…and sitting where one can see the US Capitol building is certainly a fine perk for the ballpark.

And make no mistake–this is a gorgeous ballpark.  Local flavor is evident in may surprising ways, from theDC-themed murals honoring past Washington Senators and other DC-area baseball heroes, to the linescore of Game 7 of the 1924 World Series behind a bar for their high-rollers (I asked to step in just for the picture, and the ushers reluctantly but kindly let me in for that purpose), to paintings of DC and other Hall-of-Famers throughout the concourse.  Nationals Park is a shrine to its city, its sport, and its nation, and it was a marvelous place to enjoy a ballgame.

In such lovely surroundings, the one slip-up sticks out a bit…the area set aside for Sony PlayStation

games that are not even baseball-related.  What the hell does Guitar Hero have to do with baseball or DC except to get a few bucks in sponsorship dough?  They even advertised an in-game  showdown…beat a Sony representative and win a prize.  Sorry…not relevant.  I could even forgive such a move if it were a baseball-related game, but Guitar Hero looks like a concession to non-baseball-lovers, who I am confident wouldn’t make it out to the ballpark in the first place.

The Nationals continue to do the Presidents’ Race, as they did at RFK Stadium, but with a wrinkle that either didn’t exist or that I didn’t notice before.  They take advantage of the situation to make fun of Theodore Roosevelt, who had never won a race that season.  While Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson run, Roosevelt gets lost on the streets of DC,

trips and falls, and generally makes a buffoon out of himself.  I’m not against slapstick comedy, but Roosevelt was a stud.  Couldn’t we add Fillmore, Buchanan, or Van Buren and make fun of him?

The first night featured oustanding seats (yay, StubHub) in the club section with my kid sister (yet another ballpark visited with her).  I knew I’d stumbled upon really expensive seats when I saw the cushions. 

Do not underestimate the value of cushioning when you are a skinny, bony-butted man like I am. Then, the second night featured upper-level seats with Tom and his new iPhone.  He broadcast to the world that he was at the ballpark via photo.  At the time, I was trepidatious, but since then, I have since joined Tom in the Facebook world.  In fact, perhaps Tom is reading this entry on the very same iPhone.  Hi, Spoon!

They’ve done very well with Nationals Park.  If ever DC gets a team worth a damn in there, this gorgeous ballpark will create fantastic atmosphere both in and around the stadium.  I enjoyed my trip this go-round, and look forward to many return trips with family and friends.
BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN THERE:

Home runs by Carlos Delgado (who ALWAYS homers when I’m in the park…), Troy Tulowitzki, and Brad Hawpe lead to two Nationals losses.

It’s all recorded on the gorgeous scoreboard (which is followed by one more photo I couldn’t fit into the text above):

(Written July 2009.)

[New] Busch Stadium

[New] Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO

Number of games: 1
First game:  April 3, 2007 (Mets 4, Cardinals 1)

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

It’s done!  It’s over!  At the age of 36, I have officially seen a game at all of the major league baseball stadiums.  A moment for reflection, if you will indulge me…

When I first did a big baseball tour in 1993, I had no idea I’d eventually get to all the ballparks, or even want to.  It

was just a way to spend one summer.  But eventually, as I knocked off a few ballparks a year, the goal of making it to all the ballparks started to look attainable.  By the time I voluntarily flew to Puerto Rico to go to ballgames, I realized this was becoming one of the central frivolous activities of my life.  I was all set to finish off all the ballparks in the summer of 2006, but my St. Louis-born Cardinal-fan wife wouldn’t let me go to Busch without her.  So, with the wife in tow (and as a birthday present, no less…for her!), I crossed the last ballpark off the list.  I will try to get back to some of them if my travels take me to town, and I will go to new ballparks as they open, but not a lot of people can say what I could honestly say for the length of the 2007 baseball season:

I’ve been to all the ballparks.  (Yay me.)

The newest incarnation of Busch Stadium seems to be a bit of an afterthought to the late-nineties stadium boom.  To be honest, I was a little disappointed.  On the one hand, I don’t miss the old Busch…the last of the four awful cookie-cutters going

the way of the dinosaur isn’t worth any tears.  But surely a baseball town as good as St. Louis could make a new ballpark that is worthy of its rich history.  Surely St. Louis deserves a ballpark on the level of Jacobs Field, the Ballpark in Arlington, PNC Park, or Oriole Park.  I’m afraid that hasn’t happened here.

What was strange about the ballpark is that I greatly preferred the exterior to the interior.  Not so much the edifice itself, although I did like it–it incorporated locally-appropriate arches into the facade, and was a darker red than most other ballparks–but a lot of the touches that help with the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test were on the outside when I’d like at least a few of them on the inside.  Cardinals’ Hall of Famers were represented in sculpture near home plate.  The sculptures

were a bit small–I don’t mind a larger-than-life depiction.  But when the representation of Bob Gibson fails to elicit blood-curdling terror, well, the sculptor hasn’t done his/her job.  The Mini-Me version of Gibson just doesn’t intimidate like the guy I imagine in the 1967 World Series.  They’d have done well to hire the sculptor from Cincinnati, Milwaukee, or–my absolute favorite–the guy in Detroit.

Also outside, the Cardinals track critical moments in their history via plaques on the sidewalk.  Many, I knew about…some, I did not.  I’d have liked it to not be interrupted–the plaques are only on the west and east sides of the ballpark, and are interrupted by an empty stretch along the north side.  However, I still walked the whole way, reading every plaque.  I can’t help but be saddened by the number of plaques devoted to Mark McGwire’s 1998 season.  I called my dad to watch the 61st home run together, and it was a special moment.  But ever since his

performance in front of the Congressional committee, I can’t get myself to feel the same magic about that day or that year.  Yeah, I know there’s no proof, but emotions can be messed with that way.  It’s like a memory of a wonderful weekend with an ex-girlfriend…who I later learn was possibly cheating on me.  I just can’t make the memory beautiful anymore, and that’s why those McGwire plaques make me sad now.

On the north side of the ballpark, there are two other snippets of St. Louis baseball history–one beautiful, and one just confusing.

Beautiful was the tribute to Jack Buck.  A large section of wall is dedicated to his memory.  While the photos are nice–particularly the one of him with son Joe–the sound of his voice is easily what carries the day.  Buck’s voice is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever listened to a baseball game, and the people of New Busch take advantage of that recognition by having tapes of some of his most famous calls on continuous loop there.  In the few minutes I lingered–and his calls make any

baseball fan want to linger–I heard Bob Forsch’s no-hitter and Mark McGwire’s 60th home run.  I can’t think of a better tribute.  I think it’s because I think it’s more common to see pictures of the dead than it is to listen to their voices.  He seems so much more alive this way.  I hope that Herb Carneal gets similar treatment in Minnesota, and that when their day comes–which I hope is a very long time from now–Vin Scully and Bob Sheppard as well.

On the sidewalk, there’s a strange painting of a yellow line with the number 402.  At first, I thought it was an extension of the foul line, with a notation of how long a home run that landed there would be.  Once I poked my head into the ballpark, however, this proved impossible–the yellow line seemed to be sticking out of center field of the new Busch.  That’s when

we made our next guess…it must be the outfield wall of the old Busch.  (That guess has been confirmed by fellow ballpark traveler Frank Albanese.)  Is it center field?  Left?  Is this the spot where I saw Andy Van Slyke break his collarbone, perhaps?  Or where Ozzie Smith’s NLCS home run left the yard?  I have no way of knowing.  There’s no label, no explanation…nada.  Just a line and a number.  I’m all for understated, but the old Busch deserves better.

Once I got inside Busch, I found a ballpark that I’d say is simply functional.  None of the history that I see in moments like the plaques or the Jack Buck tribute makes it inside the ballpark.  The best ballparks can both be functional and celebrate rich histories on the inside (Philadelphia comes to mind as an excellent example).  But there’s very little of that here.

Case in point:  I came upon an out-of-town scoreboard in the pavilion area.  “Look,” my wife said,

“the Mariners are tied up with Oakland!”  Indeed, my Mariners were playing Oakland that day, and the score showed a 3-3 tie.  It seemed strange to have the out-of-town scoreboard hidden behind an ice cream vendor and some girders, but different strokes, right?

But hold the phone…this couldn’t be right.  Didn’t the M’s game start later?  And what’s Felix Hernandez, #59, doing pitching two days in a row?  Is this score from yesterday?  Wait…the Angels aren’t playing the Rangers tonight!  What’s going on?

A few paces later, I saw a Cardinals/Reds scoreboard, and I figured it out.  This had to have been the out of town scoreboard as it appeared at the end of the last game at old Busch.  Again, like the yellow line outside, it was unexplained and

uncherished…it was just sort of thrown up there at a random place.  And again, old Busch deserved better.  Why not recreate what was on the board at a key moment in Cardinal history rather than the last day of the ’05 season?  And why not let passersby know what’s happening?

A little history was going on in front of us on this, the second night of the 2007 season:  the ’06 Cardinals were given their World Series rings.  In a nice touch, they gave their Hall of Famers World Series rings as well as the actual members of the championship team.  St. Louis deifies Stan Musial in the extreme, and even if love of sports stars feels a little idolatrous to me at times, there is something undeniably touching about such the unabashed love pouring down on an elderly man so frail that he needed help to walk out to claim his ring.  The feel-good moment continued when Scott Spiezio received his ring from his dad, Ed.  They are the only

father-son combination to win a World Series with the same club.  Love of the elderly, father-son hugs…what more could you want?  It was almost enough to make me forget Scott’s comically bad 2005 Mariner campaign.  Almost.

But the best part of the game, as always, were the Cardinal fans.  While I was a little disappointed in the number of them who left early, I can forgive it…it was a bitterly cold school night and a lackluster Cardinal performance.  But there’s something exciting about being in the middle of a sea of red.  Friendly Midwesterners chatted with us about our adventures, congratulated me on completing my set of parks, and talked about the team a little bit.  A relative of my wife even got us tickets for the day…and wouldn’t let us reimburse her!  With its downtown location and packed house, Busch creates the feel I like from Fenway of a carnival atmosphere for the ballgame, where everyone is excited and anticipating a great night while walking through the city.

Even so, I can’t help but think that Busch could have done much better.  It doesn’t quite celebrate the joy and history of such a great baseball town.  It’s just not quite enough.

And I should know.  I’ve been to all of the ballparks now.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Orlando Hernandez baffles the Cardinals with 7 innings of five-hit ball.  He also delivers a difference-making 2-RBI double.

Scott Rolen homers.

(Written August 2007.)

RFK Stadium

Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, Washington DC

First game:  August 16, 2006 (Nationals 9, Braves 6)
Last game:  August 17, 2006 (Braves 5, Nationals 0)

RFK Stadium is no longer in use for baseball as of the 2008 season.
(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

I never got to Montreal (although I did make it to San Juan).  When the Expos finally headed to DC, I admit I was grateful…for while my chances

of going to Quebec had fallen off severely, I had some excuses to visit my kid sister and other buddies of mine who congregate in DC.  If it were another city, I’d have considered waiting a few years until the big new ballpark was finally built, but any excuse for an American history lover and patriot like me to head to our nation’s capital and hang out with people I love…hey, I’ll take that.

The ballpark suffers from the same problems as other multi-purpose stadiums:  it’s simply not meant for baseball, and it shows.  Like Dolphin Stadium, this is especially football-oriented.  From the many football players honored on the wall of fame to the George Marshall plaque on the outside, it’s clear that the football memories do and always will dominate this place.

Even beyond this, RFK Stadium is simply not a nice place to watch a baseball game.  For starters, there is an expansive batch of first-level seats that are below the second deck.  Scoreboards and fly balls are invisible from here, so a good deal of the game is spent looking at the televisions hanging beneath the second deck…and their screens are so small that one cannot really see the ball-strike count.  Additionally, the PA system is almost unhearable back there.  During a hot sunny day game, I can see the appeal, but at night, I’d rather be under the stars. After about four innings, my kid sister (with whom, by the way, I have now enjoyed ballgames in four different major league ballparks…approaching the record set by my dad, but which will surely be eclipsed by my wife) and I moved up to the upper deck.  Highly recommended.  If you’re going

to go to RFK Stadium, there’s no need to spend a lot of money on the lower deck, particularly if you’re far back.  Save a few bucks and go up high.

Once up there, stretch out (there will be plenty of room) and look around to section 535.  There, find the white seat up surprisingly high. That’s the seat where Frank

Howard hit the longest home run in RFK Stadium history. On the way out, dodge the ushers (who are annoyingly eager to get everyone away after the game) and sit in the seat.  It’s a heck of a long way from home plate.

After a marvelous time with my kid sister, I returned area natives and longtime buddies Tom and Elizabeth.  I like hanging out with locals at the ballpark who might be able to tell me something about the team’s history.  Of course, the Nationals don’t have any history, so it’s a bit more of a challenge here. 

But my DC buddies got to tell me something about the ballpark’s political history.  Tom expressed intense dislike for the racist beliefs espoused by Calvin Griffith and George Marshall.  He talked about the efforts to build a new ballpark and the incredible political firestorm therein.  And all of this before the game began!  Once the game got going, I taught Elizabeth to score.  She caught on quickly, and her handwriting is in my book forever.

Of course, Tom and Elizabeth are two of the very few people who are from the DC area.  As a result, it’s tough to play the “regional feel” game.  However, RFK stadium does well.  The bust of RFK himself joins the monuments to Griffith and Marshall (perhaps serving as a liberal anchor situated between the two).  And rather than a Milwaukee sausage race or

the Pittsburgh pirogi race, Presidents race in RFK stadium.  Who to root for…Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or Teddy Roosevelt?  Why not a lesser-President race between Hayes, W.H. Harrison, Arthur, and van Buren?  Or a day when all 43 race, including Cleveland twice?  I’d love that.

On the whole, there’s not a whole lot going for RFK Stadium–it’s a charmless relic, more so even than several other multipurpose stadiums of its era.  But the company can’t be beat, and I can’t wait to take in the new ballpark with them.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Brian Schneider and Ryan Zimmerman hit home runs to lead a big Nationals assault on John Smoltz.

Oscar Villareal combines with three relievers on a 4-hit shutout for Atlanta.

Ryan Langerhans manages to walk four times in four at bats.  He scores twice.

PNC Park

PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

Number of games: 3
First game:  August 2, 2006 (Braves 3, Pirates 2)
Most recent game:  July 1, 2019 (Pirates 18, Cubs 5)

(Click to view a larger version of any image.)

First, a little tip for the baseball traveler: if you’re headed from Cincinnati through central Ohio and across to Pittsburgh on baseball-related matters,

it’s worth the time to stop in Newcomerstown, Ohio…Cy Young central.  While I would have enjoyed seeing a Cy Young museum, in some ways I liked the simplicity of what I found in Newcomerstown…a Cy memorial stone sitting on the pitcher’s mound of a miniature baseball diamond, right between a real baseball diamond and the boisterous kids splashing around in the Cy Young Pool.  Yeah, it’s not quite as good as the Jello Museum in New York, where my baseball travels once took me.  But it beats the Degenhart Paperweight Museum, which I also visited in Ohio that day.  (“Over 4,000 paperweights on display!”)  Just a couple of tips for your East Central Ohio trip planning.

I’d been looking forward to seeing a game in PNC Park since it opened.  Unlike some other ballparks, its beauty travels through the TV screen.  It appears that every seat in the park has a view of beautiful downtown Pittsburgh across the last few hundred yards of the Allegheny River.  The Roberto Clemente Bridge (which, a plaque says, won the 1928 “Most Beautiful Steel Bridge” award from the American Institute of Steel Construction…an award it would surely still win if it could run for re-election) is not only beautiful, but functional, permitting baseball lovers to park downtown and enjoy some local atmosphere on the way to the game.  Fans arriving early can

enjoy a walk along the river, then wander around the park, seeing sculptures of Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, and Roberto Clemente on the way in.

PNC Park recognizes that beauty is not enough for a ballpark.  It takes the two next steps to achieve greatness: its beauty is local. Its gorgeous panoramas would be enough for it to pass the “is there any question where you are” test.  But the second step is a focus on local baseball history, which it does successfully through its countless sculptures.  In addition to the sculptures that surround the stadium–Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell, and Roberto Clemente, who majestically looks into the park through the center field entrance–when I visited the ballpark, there was a big tribute to Negro League baseball on the inside of the ballpark as well.  With Pittsburgh such a key part of Negro League history (the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords both played there), the countless sculptures on the inside were a pleasant surprise.  I reproduce five of those here:  the three exterior sculptures, plus two former Negro Leaguers: Cool Papa Bell and Judy Johnson.



I was joined for the first of by two Pirate games by Joe and Alison, who enjoyed their second game in two nights in two states with me.  Stud fans and game-scorers, these two–and now they’re having a baby, who, based on the due

date, may have been conceived in and around (although not during…I can vouch for that much) these ballgames.  Can there be a better sign?

Thanks to Joe and Alison, I was already happy at this game, but Pirate fans made it better.  You’d think a Pirate fan at this bleak time in their history would have every reason and every right to be surly, but for the most part, we were surrounded by nice people.  Some affable (but drunk) Canadian Jason Bay fans behind us ridiculed the omnipresent (and omni-annoying) Braves fans nearby.  When the Braves fans responded by pointing out that the Pirates were an especially bad baseball team, of course, none of the Pirates fans seemed surprised.  You can’t win an insult war with someone who knows full well their team is terrible.  And fans behind us with a tiny and adorable baby kept apologizing when the baby would brush against us.  No problem, Mom and Dad…any excuse to make faces to get your baby to smile.

The second Pirate game I went to was a day game, and the fourth I saw in the midst of a dreadful heat wave that week.  Game time temperature must have been in the nineties.  For the first four innings or so, I met my first fellow member of the Network of Ballpark Collectors.  The NBC is a group that, more or less,

has two criterion for membership:  1. A desire and track record that indicates one wants to go to as many ballparks as possible.  2. (optional, but nice): A website tracking travels to said ballparks.  Well, for reasons that surely mystify the reader, I was brought into the group.  While I haven’t yet had occasion to host any NBC-ers (strangely, they don’t make it to the Pacific Northwest that often), I was pleased to meet Tim and Susan Perry at PNC Park.  They brought along a pitcher for the Frontier League team they support…the game at PNC was only a stopover on their way to a Washington Wild Things game that night.  We (surprise) talked about ballparks, and especially about the new “cookie cutter” minor league parks.  I brought up my trip to antiquated and lame-duck Greer Stadium in Nashville, and Tim remarked: “Of course, they’re moving where everyone else is moving…to a new downtown park by the river.”  Which has led me to my current stadium dilemma: do I have a philosophical problem with cookie-cutter stadiums if I like the cookie?  In any event, a shout out to Tim and Susan.  I hope I get to return the favor one day when you’re in Washington or Oregon.

I headed from Tim’s shaded row back to my expensive seat.  I bought a seat in row one behind home plate.  Of course, row one doesn’t mean the first row…it means the first row behind the Super-Duper Diamond Club or whatever it’s called.  I can handle that.  But being in the sun on this ludicrously muggy day?  That is another matter entirely.  I toughed it out…but what followed was one of the most bizarre customer service experiences in my history going to ballgames.

Apparently the Diamond Club mucky-mucks get free drinks as a part of their deal.  I can handle that.  On this particular day though, hydration was a matter of health.  So when this affable usher walked through his section shouting “Who wants water!” and then threw it…THREW it!…to the rich patrons…well, I thought that was taunting in the manner of eating a sundae in front of

the starving.  I mean…I’m SITTING here…I’m barely able to move due to the thirst…I spent fifty bucks on this seat, which is probably as high a percentage of my income as their seats are of theirs (if they didn’t get them in some corporate freebie, in which case I paid more), and not only will I not get a necessary bottle of water (which I understand…I didn’t pay for the privilege), but I will be forced to watch while it’s cavalierly thrown around just a few feet in front of me.  I don’t hold any grudges against the usher…from his perspective, he’s just doing his job and being pleasant.  In fact, when the ubiquitous Obnoxious Drunken Visiting Braves Fans in my row begged him for a water, he said he couldn’t give them one…but he returned with wet towels for their faces. I was really touched by his thoughtfulness, for which he gained absolutely nothing. Still, I was bothered by the flying water bottles.

I flagged down a passing customer service supervisor and tried to explain why I was bothered by the thrown water bottles.  I don’t think he understood my complaint.  “You could have paid to sit there,” he said, I think a bit snidely. Eventually, I think I got him to understand that it wasn’t the free water that bugged me, but the way it was tossed around in front of me. A light bulb went on. “Oh…I guess I can see where that might look like taunting on a day like today. I’ll see what I can do.” He then walked away, and I never saw him again. The usher continued to throw water through the rest of the muggy day. Down the road, I hope somebody encouraged him to be a little bit more subtle about that perk, because it seriously made me feel second-class.  Maybe I’m being hypersensitive, but a triple-digit heat index does that to my brain.

But, to PNC’s credit, they also had a fine moment of customer service as well.  The aforementioned ubiquitous visiting drunken

Braves fans?  Well, the worst offender was a mom with her family.  The son, not yet old enough to drink, decided to pelt the rich people in front of us with his water gun.  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?  (Of course, on this particular day, getting hit by a water gun was likely a welcome event.)  But that’s not what brought the usher (at left) into action.  The general loud boorishness of the drunken mom was detracting from my enjoyment and that of those around me.  I’m not certain every usher would have the skill and fortitude to step up and deal with such a situation, but this man did.  He handled the situation with uncommon dignity, grace, and firmness.  The hardest part of being in a job where one must deal with the public is…well, a significant minority of the public is very difficult to deal with.  And the fact that he did so–and successfully–earned him my respect.  Thank you, sir.

On the whole, the PNC Park experience was simply tremendous.  The mix of top-notch aesthetics and loads of local color make the upgrade from Three Rivers Stadium to this the best change a team has gone through this side of Cleveland.  I’d love it if the Pirates could be

competitive someday, but even if they’re not, the ballpark alone is well worth a trip.  If it’s a hot day, do me a favor and check out the Diamond Club’s ushers.  I’m curious as to whether my input was ignored.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Matt Diaz homers in the first game, but the Braves’ winning run comes when Edgar Renteria’s sacrifice fly scores Willy Aybar, who had reached on Jason Bay’s dropped fly ball.

Shawn Chacon makes his Pirates debut and picks up the win for Pittsburgh in the hot day game.

A CRAZY game on a return trip in July 2019. The Pirates set the record for most runs in my presence (18) led by 3 home runs by Josh Bell–only the second player after Griffey to homer three times in my presence. Insane night surrounded by gregarious fans of both teams in the best seats in the major leagues (affordable division).