Category Archives: major league team

Ballparks categorized by the major league teams that use them.

Turner Field

Turner Field, Atlanta, GA

Number of games: 2
First game:  April 12, 2005 (Nationals 4, Braves 3)
Most recent game:  April 13, 2005 (Nationals 11, Braves 4)

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

FUN THING TO DO:  Go up to a concession stand at Turner Field, preferably with someone else. 

Order lots of salty food–popcorn, nachos, french fries, hot dogs, etc.  When the concessionaire asks you what you’d like to drink, say:  “How about a Pepsi?”  See what reaction you get.  My guy, fortunately, laughed.

Turner Field came to us at the tail end of the new-retro stadium craze of the 1990s, so we can count on its quality.  It has a lot of the positive attributes of ballparks of its era, including charm in its architecture and a sense of history integrated into it.  The folks at Turner Field also make a good night’s entertainment out of the game.  Combine that with quality baseball the Braves traditionally give, and you have a fine Georgia night.

I made it all the way up from a game at Sarasota, Florida the night before, listening to sports talk radio and Les Miserables for most of the trip.  The plan was to take it easy and only attend the Wednesday afternoon game that my kid sister was flying down for, but the drive wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.  I was up in time for a Tuesday night game, and decided to get a cheap single ticket.  The ticket woman offered me a front row seat in center field, “right behind Andruw.”  I took it.  And I enjoyed a load of pre-game hype.  The Braves have one of the best drum/dance troupes out there.  As they did their big drumming and dancing routine on the center field pavilion before the game–awesome rhythmic dancing by the drummers, gyrations by the cute young women in pink–I thought they were the entertainment recruited

for just the one game.  I was wrong.  They’ve hired some excellent drummers to bang away both before and during every game, while the scantily-clad pink ladies dance around, periodically appearing on the giant scoreboard for promotions.

And oh, that scoreboard!  It is the largest LED screen in the United States.  I don’t care how much of a traditionalist you are…you’ve got to admit that’s kind of cool.  There’s enough room that the bottom 20% or so of the board can be devoted to full lineups AND statistics AND the linescore of the game, still leaving a breathtakingly large expanse for pictures and replays.  I certainly hope that the Braves have a charity auction where they team up with Xbox or Playstation or someone to sell the right to sit in center field and play video games on the big screen.  I’m not a big video game guy myself, but I would pay big bucks to do that.

The stadium itself is designed well, albeit not quite as well as others of its generation.  I’d like to be able to see the field from the concourse (like in Coors Field or Safeco Field, to name two).  I’d also like to have a view of the outside world from the upper-level concourses, like at Jacobs Field. It’s a hell of a long trip to the top of the left-field stands by the foul pole, which is the only place where spectators can get a look at the downtown skyline.  Plus, the overwhelming Coke advertising is oppressive.

Still, there were many positives.  Most notable was the wonderful concourse.  There is a nice party atmosphere to be had there, and you don’t need a ticket to be there.  Of course, you do need a ticket to get in with the drummers!  Anyone can walk in and see statues of Warren Spahn, Phil Niekro (with a perfect knuckleballers grip), Ty Cobb, and Hank Aaron (twice).  There are 6-foot-in-dia

meter baseballs representing each of the Major League clubs and several other notable baseball events.  Quite beautiful.  Also, I appreciated how the Braves did such a thorough job documenting their history.  I didn’t have a chance to visit the Braves Museum, but that’s very much the kind of thing I like in my stadiums.  I also like the Braves’ history in the concourse.  They had every single team photo since the Braves moved to Atlanta on display.  The 1995 World Champions are honored with a large mural, but even the lamentable teams in history like the 1 985 Braves have their team photos present. There is something slightly amiss in my eyes about Braves fans.  Hard to pinpoint it exactly, to be honest, but there’s just a hair of smugness about them.  Make no mistake–I enjoyed the company of a very nice man from Knoxville and his sweet daughter on the first night, and a guy who didn’t mind my sister rooting for the Nationals on the second night.  Still, it seems strange.  When I attended this ballgame in 2005, the Braves were on a string of 12 consecutive division titles, and were favored to win a 13th…but each game featured only about 20,000 fans.  What’s the deal?

Of course, the Braves suffer from a certain self-obsession that probably comes from their field’s namesake.  My kid sister Kathleen flew in from DC to join me for a Nationals/Braves game; this, the day before the

Nationals’ first home game after moving from Montreal.  She brought me a baseball cap that said “Washington DC” on it, just to force me to display allegiance to her new team.  She was very excited to pick up a Nationals hat, since Nationals Fever was so pronounced in DC at that time that she couldn’t find one there.  We wandered around the ballpark looking in the shops.  Braves hats.  Braves hats.  More Braves hats.  Come ON!  I can’t remember ever being in a ballpark that didn’t sell caps for any other MLB teams.  What’s more, I would think selling others’ caps would be good business…there are surely a few people per night who want to buy that night’s opponent’s hat, or some other rival’s hat.  So we asked a cashier:  “Where can we find hats for teams other than the Braves?”  Her answer, I swear to God, was this:  “At the other teams’ stadiums.”  Yes, she really was that snide.  Whatever…that’s $25 Ted Turner won’t be getting.

If memory serves, this is the fourth ballpark I’ve been to with Kathleen.

I casually–half-jokingly, actually–mentioned to her that I was going to go to a game in Atlanta, and that if she wanted to, she could swing by.  Much to my surprise, she obliged.  She’s a very busy first-year lawyer who is, of course, slammed with first-year lawyer work which had included flying back from observing the Djiboutian elections just a few days before taking a day off to fly to Atlanta.  (For those of you scoring at home, Ismael Omar Guelleh ran unopposed and won.)  She told some fine stories about the Djibouti City Sheraton, which, apparently, is not at all like a Sheraton.

Anyway, between her cool jet-setter stories and a big Nats win, we had loads of fun.  In fact, we had every bit as wacky a time as I do with my brother or with my buddy Rob.  Case in point:  When the Nationals got on a couple of runners, Kath and I started shouting:  “C’mon Nats! 

Bring him home!  Bring him home!”  Now, when you were raised in the house Kathleen and I were raised in, what follows will seem like normal behavior, but I recognize that it might feel downright bizarre to others.  But whenever any bit of dialogue happens to distantly remind any Hamann of any song, it instantly becomes a moral imperative to sing that song, ideally with great gusto, and with harmony if at all possible.  So I’m not sure who started it–I’m probably the guilty one–but it didn’t take long before we were singing the chorus to “Bring Him Home,” the show-stopping heart-rending climax of Les Miserables.  “Bring hiiiim hoooooooooooooome…bring him hooooooome…” High notes, schmigh notes.  Colm Wilkinson had nothing on us.  Of course, when we got to the bridge (“He’s like the son I might have known/If God had granted me a son”), it was important for me to make up wacky baseball-appropriate lyrics.  Alas, the exact lyrics are lost to time, but they probably went something like this:  “It surely would be very fun/If Jose Vidro scored a run…”  Laughing.  High notes.  We had about a three- or four-row buffer zone between us and the next fan (remember, only 20,000 were in attendance).  It wasn’t enough.  The Atlantan a few rows ahead of us turned 180 degrees around to check out the freaks.  I had on my Washington DC hat.  He probably figured I was a government weirdo.

There were a surprising number of Nationals fans at the game who, like my sister, were getting a jump, seeing their home team before they had a home game.  After enduring a ninth-inning rain delay, during

  which most of the crowd went home, the few fans who remained came up behind the dugouts to cheer.  That’s how I found myself behind the Nats’ dugout, surrounded by Nats fans, watching Nats’ pitching coach Randy St. Claire converse with umpire-in-chief Randy Marsh, watching Carlos Baerga warming up, and watching legendary Frank Robinson, who, immediately after this photo, gave a friendly wave to the guy next to me who shouted “DC loves you guys!”

So, quite a fun pair of nights.  The ballpark had positives (fun atmosphere, good sense of history) that outweighed its provincialist

negatives, and I got to do it all with my kid sister who very kindly took a day off to fly down.  Thumbs up for both the park and the experience.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Two Nationals wins, the first one quite dramatic.  The Braves led 3-1 going into the ninth inning.  Danny Kolb came on to close it out, but failed.  A walk, a hit, and a walk, and the bases were loaded with nobody out.  Kolb got a fielders’ choice and a sacrifice.  Two out, 3-2, tying run on second.  Brian Schneider up…and he spanks a double to right-center.  The Nationals lead.  The skies open up…it’s a big downpour.  Rain delay for 31 minutes.  The suddenly cold, wet night sees Chad Cordero nail down a save.

Jose Guillen homers twice in one game.  Jose Vidro and Chipper Jones also homer.

(Written April 2005.)

Tropicana Field

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL

Number of games: 1
First game:  April 10, 2005 (A’s 6, Devil Rays 1)

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

It’s a hell of a drive from Miami to Tampa, especially when a fan is trying to make a Sunday afternoon game after a Saturday night game after a Friday night red-eye flight from the opposite corner of the country.  Perhaps this was a foolhardy move, but I made it.  I zipped across Alligator Alley after midnight.  Traffic was very light…just a couple of truckers and me.  I had a hotel room set up in Naples, which I took to be about the halfway point.  As usual, very nice people guided me along the way.  I didn’t know where my hotel was, so although I wasn’t hungry, I stopped at an all-night McDonald’s off the interstate–the first exit in Naples–for fries and to ask for a phone

book.  The manager didn’t have a phone book, but he went to the back room and actually called the hotel to ask directions.  There are good people everywhere in the world.  If you’re in Naples, be sure to grab yourself an adult happy meal and thank the guy for going above and beyond.

I made it to St. Pete in plenty of time for that afternoon’s ballgame.  I met up with my ubiquitous Florida relatives.  I would be willing to bet that more people have relatives in Florida than in any other state.  I wonder if anyone has done the research on that?  My relatives are from my mom’s side and fairly big sports fans.  They were kind enough to get me a ticket and meet me at will call.  Once I got to the seats, I was met by one of their relatives, who was across the ocean from England and taking in her first baseball game. 

Gloria was her name, and I took it upon myself to teach her the game as best as I could.  I lived in England for a year in college, and while there, learned trace elements of cricket, so I could compare a few of the basics for her.  And for that, I got to hear her English-little-old-lady-accent analysis of the game.  When Joey Gathright was caught stealing in the fifth inning–this after I had explained the risks and benefits of the speedy Gathright’s imminent stolen base attempt–her analysis of the play was as follows:  “Oh!  That was dear, wasn’t it?”  I love that British use of “dear” for “expensive.”  We must try to get it to catch on in this country.

The ballpark itself certainly tried hard, but in my mind, nothing can get me past its status as an ugly dome.  It’s quite simple:  I’m from rainy Seattle, I’m on vacation in Florida–the Sunshine State, for goodness sake–and I want to spend my afternoon at a ballgame in the sun.  I asked my local aunt why they built it as a dome.  Her answer:  “Without it, we’d never get a game in.  It rains at 4:00 every afternoon.”  I didn’t point out that it was about 4:00 when I asked that…and it wasn’t raining.  At the very least, couldn’t Tampa have an open-air retractable roof like Seattle’s?  Secondly, I’m afraid the building’s interior is simply ugly…grey colored throughout, covered with advertising. There’s an annoying orange catwalk which surrounds the stadium, blocking off the leadoff hitters on the scoreboard.  It’s no wonder that this, combined with Devil Rays teams that have literally never been anything other than dismal, leads to so very many empty seats at Tropicana Field.

In spite of this, Tropicana Field has supplanted the HHH Metrodome for the dubious honor of best domed stadium I’ve ever been to.  It doesn’t have the layout of the dreaded multi-purpose stadiums…it appears to have been built for the exclusive purpose of baseball.  They use the long, skinny scoreboard that wraps around 90 degrees of the field to put long

messages about each batter; sometimes something as basic as his hometown (which I appreciate) and sometimes longer, deeper statistics.  The ushers dress up in flowery shirts–totally appropriate for the place, thus aiding in the do-you-know-where-you-are test (which the ballpark still fails).   They have a nice mosaic path of fish swimming to the stadium.  There’s even a real-life moat-like ditch spectators cross when approaching the ballpark from the south.  The field turf is the only kind of turf an indoor ballpark should be allowed to use.  Although players have complained about the full dirt basepaths (rather than the cutouts that turf ballparks usually go with), they do add to the ballpark aesthetically.  So they’re trying to make the best of a bad situation–a lousy team in a yucky dome.

After the game, I got to talk to one of the matriarchs of my family…I think she’s my oldest living relative.  She didn’t come to the ballpark, but we talked for a while after the game while I audiotaped her.  She’d recently lost a sister who was a huge Tigers fan.  Aunt Joyce.  I don’t remember meeting her…if I did, it was either a long time ago, in a room with a hundred relatives, or both…but she and I were both fans enough that the family decided that I should get her Tigers scrapbook.  Aunt Joyce was a librarian who scored the games, so I was looking forward to seeing handwritten scoresheets featuring Gehringer and Greenberg.  Turned out not to be true…her big season was the 1968 season, and rather than her scoresheets, there were meticulously clipped newspaper articles of the Tigers’ 1968 pennant and playoff run.  It was fun to see.  I was hoping I could see at least one scoresheet, as that would be the tightest link between me and this relative-I-wish-I’d-met.  I got my wish on the inside of a 1971 All-Star Game program.  She must have gone to the game at Tiger Stadium.  She gave up scoring it after the fourth inning–and I can forgive that, this being an All-Star game with a million substitutions, and the program scoresheet not being sufficient for that.  But she scored it carefully, with small, precise writing.  And she scored it for long enough to get in Reggie Jackson’s famous homer off of the light in right field.  I sincerely wish I’d gotten to talk to her.  I saw Dwayne Murphy do the same thing.

All in all–a nice afternoon with nice people in a not-so-nice ballpark.  I enjoyed it, but won’t shed any tears if this team moves on from this ballpark.  There’s nothing at all special about it.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A bit of a dull ballgame.  Oakland’s game-winning runs came on three walks, two hits, and two sacrifices.

Scott Hatteberg homered and went 3-for-5.

Aubrey Huff went 3-for-4.

(Written April 2005.)

Dolphins Stadium

Dolphins Stadium, Miami, FL

Number of games: 1
First game:  April 9, 2005 (Nationals 3, Marlins 2, 10 innings)

To the relief of all of my students who struggle with possessive apostrophes, Dolphins Stadium became Dolphin Stadium on April 6, 2006.  As of the 2009 season, however, the ballpark is called Land Shark Stadium.

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

I had never been to Florida when I traveled there over my spring break in 2005 to take care of the Southeastern United States’ major league baseball stadiums. 

This might serve as a surprise for many of you for whom Florida is a regular vacation destination, but I in fact made it to 45 states before I made it to Florida.    I had heard negative things about Miami as a tourist destination, and therefore had low expectations once I disembarked from the red-eye, lathered my pasty Seattle skin with suntan lotion, and headed out for my one-day-to-see-Miami adventure.  I had a fun day puttering around the town before fighting through God-awful traffic to get to an early-evening start at the too-distant-from-the-city-center ballpark.  All in all, the ballpark was subpar, but the wonderful fans of Miami made the night memorable.

Let’s start with the name, which gives away the main problem with the stadium.  Its original name, Joe Robbie Stadium, came from the Dolphins’ owner.  Its second name, Pro Player Stadium (which, as of the start of the 2005 season, still graced a few forgotten signs both inside and outside the stadium), was a fairly typical dull corporate name,

but when that name was gone, it reverted to Dolphins Stadium.  The name says it all:  it is a football stadium, sitting on Dan Marino Drive.  Indeed, calling this a “multipurpose stadium” is a bit kind, as baseball is quite clearly an afterthought at this ballpark.  This leads to a few problems with atmosphere that are insurmountable.  Most importantly, there’s no place in the seats where one can see outside of the ballpark.  I even went up to the top row of the top deck (quite a trip) to see what kind of views it offered.  Once there, I discovered that the wall behind the back row was about nine feet tall and could not be seen over.  And since the stadium is the same height all the way around, there’s an enclosed feeling that doesn’t work for baseball.  It’d be great for football, I’m sure…I bet that 70,000 Dolphins fans can make a lot of noise there.  But it’s terrible for baseball, where I like my eyes to be able to wander outside the ballpark during quiet times.  Additionally, the place feels empty even when it isn’t.  About 30,000 people were at the game I attended–not bad for the first Saturday of the season.  But in a football stadium, that feels desolate.  The seats’ annoying orange color doesn’t help, either.  It’s just not a very nice atmosphere.

One of the things I was most looking forward to at the ballpark was seeing the salsa dancing. 

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I happened to see a special on cable TV listing the top ten ballpark foods.  There, I learned that the Marlins have a salsa band play before Saturday night games.  Sure enough, when I got there, there was a salsa band playing.  Sort of.  By playing, I mean “mailing it in.”  For starters, although the band featured a singer, a guitar player, and a drummer, most of their noise came from a boom box which appeared to be playing karaoke versions of their salsa favorites.  Secondly, when I arrived at the ballpark, I found the drummer actually talking on a cell phone while he played.  This has to be the worst possible thing a performer can do.  Was he working on a real estate transaction?  Was he missing beats with his left hand while he played with his right?  Combine that with the yucky concrete concourse where they played, which was bad for both acoustics and atmosphere, and there wasn’t any reason to hang around and listen to them…and few people did.

One more complaint–in spite of the smallish crowd, the concession lines at Dolphins Stadium were the longest I’ve ever experienced.  I got in line a half hour before the game began, and barely made it back for first pitch.  The service was slow, but the folks made up for it by being rude.  You might not want to head to the concourse to eat, at least not on the lower level.

In spite of all of these negatives, I still had a marvelous time at Dolphins Stadium, in good part due to the wonderful fans around me. 

I met a kindred spirit seated behind me.  Jackie is about 17 years old–a senior in high school–but appeared to watch the game in the same spirit as I do.  She had a stat or an anecdote for every batter who came to the plate, not only for her beloved Marlins, but even for the Nationals.  And she had a photographic memory for the details of the game.  To be honest, I really felt like I was listening to a version of myself from 20-some years earlier.  Baseball wasn’t my sport yet–it was basketball.  I could feel myself sitting in McNichols Sports Arena, telling my dad and anyone else would would listen minutiae about Dan Issel, Alex English, Mike Evans, and any Nuggets opponents whose Statis Pro Basketball cards I remembered.  It was really wonderful to listen to her riffs.  She’d chug along in perfect English until she came to a word where Spanish would be a better match for her thoughts, at which point she’d seamlessly throw in the Spanish word.  I eavesdropped for six innings before I finally told her family how fun it was to listen to her.

Jackie’s eidetic skill was most apparent in the following exchange she had with her dad after a screaming foul ball landed not far from us:

JACKIE’S DAD:  “Remember that game we came to last year, where they guy near us got hit in the head by a foul ball?”
JACKIE:  “Yes.  That was when we saw the Braves on April 24th last year.  A Saturday game.  Brad Penny got the win, and Conine had his first homer of the year.  The foul was off of Cabrera’s bat.”

Guess what?  Every detail of that was accurate.  I checked it out.

Now that’s a fan after my own heart.  Someone asked Jackie how she knew so much about the game.  Her answer could apply to anyone who’s knowledgeable about any topic, from history to calculus to baseball to musical theater to motorcycles:  “Baseball is interesting.  I just watch, listen, and read a lot.”  Charming kid.

I also had a bizarre small-world moment after meeting a Floridian next to me.  He casually mentioned that his son played Division III baseball.  I don’t know what Division III schools are in the Southeast, so I asked where his son went to school.  His answer:  “A school called Kenyon in Gambier, Ohio.”  What a bizarre moment!  I went to Kenyon, and only missed his son by a couple of years.  The odds against that were astonishing…I’m from Seattle, so Dolphins’ Stadium is 4,000 miles away from home and 1,500 miles away from Kenyon.

As the game wore on, I grew to like these people around me, and once they started talking to me (because they figured out that I was trying to get to all of the ballparks), we got to be buds, and I started rooting for the Marlins, even though I don’t have any emotional attachment to them

at all.  It came down to the bottom of the ninth inning.  When Carlos Delgado came up with the Marlins down by one, I said to the Kenyon father:  “You know, Carlos Delgado leads the league in the very esoteric statistic of Most Home Runs in Paul’s Presence By A Non-Rockie or Mariner.”  Not surprisingly, the guy looked at me with a confused expression, but broke out of it in time to say “Well, that’s good news.  We could use the help.”  Next pitch:  Carlos hits it out.  His first homer as a Marlin.  I take full credit for that!  I high-fived all my new friends.

Points for the organist at Dolphins Stadium, for playing snippets from tangentially-appropriate songs as every Nationals’ player approached the plate–snippets that were only appropriate with some thought.  For example:

Jose Vidro–The Carpenters’ “Do You Know the Way to San Jose”
Livan Hernandez–Elton John’s “Levon”
Ryan Church–Dixie Cups’ “Goin’ to the Chapel”


Nick Johnson–“Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town”

The organist would play bits buried in the verses of the songs, too, so that I had to think ahead to future lyrics to get the jokes.  Fun stuff.

Special thanks to the Dolphins Stadium usher who saved my bacon.  I had lost my rental car key…it had fallen out of my pocket when I took my camera out to take pictures of the postgame fireworks display (always a silly idea, yet one I keep trying when I’m at a game with fireworks).  It had fallen out of my shorts pocket.  When you’re carrying a big wallet, cellphone, tickets, camera, and more in your pockets, it’s easy to lose keys when taking things in and out of them.  I was trying to figure out how I’d make the game at Tropicana Field the next afternoon, and my new friends were desperately looking for a single car key, when an usher found the key for me–and, incredibly, refused my grateful tip.  I only wish guys like him worked the concession stands.

So while I believe that there are a lot of negative aspects to Dolphins Stadium–namely, that it’s the Dolphins’ Stadium first and foremost, and that baseball isn’t meant to be there–I still had a tremendous time there with the residents of South Florida.  I continue to be impressed with how nice people are when I travel, and on this swing through Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina, the fine folks of Miami were the nicest I encountered.  Great baseball fans, all of them.  Although things don’t look good for them as I write this in May of 2005, I hope something comes through for them and that they get a stadium they deserve someday soon.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A tremendous ballgame.  Ryan Church and Vinny Castilla homer back-to-back to give Washington a 5th-inning lead, but the Marlins tie it up with Delgado’s 9th-inning homer.  Two batters later, Paul LoDuca pounds one to left field that I am convinced ends the game…I start high-fiving people again…but it turns out that, rather than a home run, it’s a single that hit six inches from the top of the tall left-field scoreboard.  The game goes to extra innings, and the Nats win it on Jose Guillen’s homer in the 10th.

(Written April 2005.)

Skydome

Skydome, Toronto, ON

Number of games:  2
First game:  July 24, 2004 (Blue Jays 4, Devil Rays 2)
Most recent game:  July 25, 2004 (Blue Jays 5, Devil Rays 3)

Skydome changed its name to the Rogers Centre for the 2005 season.
(Click on any image to view a larger version.)

CUSTOMS GUY, WINDSOR, ONTARIO:  Where are you from?
ME:  Seattle.
CG:  Where are you headed?
ME:  Toronto.
CG:  What for?
ME:  Two Blue Jays games.
CG:  Are they playing Seattle?
ME:  No.
CG:  Who are they playing?
ME:  Tampa Bay.
CG:  All right.  Have a good time.

Welcome to Canada!  I never knew that knowledge of the baseball could ever serve me well at Customs.  Since I knew the Jays were due to play the Rays, I was allowed in the country. 

A few hours later, I was inside the Skydome.

Even though Skydome was built fairly recently, in my eyes, it has a distinctively retro feel.  It was the second-to-last park built before Camden Yards revolutionized the building of ballparks, and therefore doesn’t have a good number of the attractions that we’ve grown to expect from Camden’s ilk (such as the outdoor pavilion of Jacobs or Coors Field, rides for the kids like at Comerica Park, wacky dimensions like at Minute Maid Park, statues and sculptures like in about a dozen places, and views of cities or water like just about everywhere now).  It harkens me way back to a time–all the way to the late ’80s and early ’90s!–when baseball parks’ primary purpose was to serve as a place to watch a baseball game, rather than be a massive theme park where baseball viewing is incidental.  This, to me, is a breath of fresh air, and lends Skydome a good deal of charm.

To be sure, Skydome has many of the problems as its predecessors.  I don’t care for the astroturf, of course, which gives the place a bit of a sterile feel.  But in spite of the Argonauts’ retired jerseys hanging high in the rafters, this clearly is a baseball-first ballpark–no silliness around me, just sharp baseball fans watching the game.

Even though the park is only 15 years old, I get a “futuristic retro” feel from it, sort of like at Disney’s Tomorrowland.  This is the way we used to think the future would be.  Here are some of the predictions from Skydome that felt advanced at the time, along with the verdict on whether it has caught on:

–One day, ballparks will all have hotel rooms looking out on them!  Wrong–no other ballparks have that I can think of have a hotel on site.  I do admit I like the idea…if ever I could afford it, I’d rent a room and watch the game in my bathrobe while eating room service.

–One day, all ballparks will have Hard Rock Cafe restaurants on site!  I guess Skydome did more or less start this, as it was the first ballpark to have the plexiglass linen-napkin restaurant as a part of the experience, and most ballparks opened since then have followed suit.  I’m not a huge fan of eating there during the game, but for recent trips I’ve grown to enjoy them for pre-and post-game meals.  The folks at the Hard Rock Cafe, for the record, have no idea what, if any, dishes contain MSG.  They’re polite about it, but not exactly helpful.

–One day, all ballparks will have retractable roofs!  Yup, Skydome was the first, and four have followed suit since.  As I said earlier, I don’t like the massive upper-deck that a retractable-roof-with-enclosure necessitates–I much prefer the canopy-style roof at Safeco Field, although I understand the need to shelter fans from cold Toronto

Aprils and Octobers.  The retractable roof completely encloses the stadium.  This creates a terribly tall upper deck, including a few rows along the first-base side that are actually above one of the lights–the only seats I can think of in the majors that are obstructed by lights.  At this low point in Blue Jays’ history, this leads to immense expanses of empty upper-deck seats, one of the largest negative consequences of huge multipurpose stadiums.  Still, the roof was impressive in one way.  I watched it close after the game, and I have to say that the technique for roof closure in Toronto is actually quite striking and beautiful (at least in the roof-closure department).  It’s hard to explain verbally, but here goes:  First, a not-quite-semicircle of covering (which covers perhaps a third of the surface area of the roof) extracts itself from the always-covered semicircular cap over the outfield, sweeping around the circular top of the stadium until it’s opposite where it began.  At that point, there’s an uncovered rectangle at the top of the stadium between the two coverings, and covering extends itself from the outfield side to render the entire building covered.  It was quite fun to watch, but once the roof is in place, the result is a predictably antiseptic indoor ballpark.

One nice touch–the Blue Jays

apparently let local Little Leagues play on the field when they’re not around.  Not two hours after the Jays and Rays were done, I watched from the Hard Rock Cafe while 13-year-olds (or so) played a game on the field.  This might be one advantage of Astroturf, actually–no way that the hypersensitive groundskeepers of teams who play on real grass would ever let anyone trod upon it besides major leaguers.

A quick anecdote, apropos of nothing:  on the scoreboard, the Blue Jays, acknowledging the presence of a group at the ballpark, put the following bizarre message on their scoreboard:  “Crystal Springs:  Welcome to Today’s Gamete!”

Skydome provides a unique look at the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test I give to my ballparks because it is the first baseball park I’ve visited outside the US (if you count Puerto Rico as the US).  I want there to be no question that I’m in Canada during the game.  But this leads to the inevitable question…what would Canadian baseball be like?  What the hell are Canadians all about anyway?  When I think of Canada, I think of the following things, roughly in this order:  socialized medicine, Bob and Doug McKenzie, Second City comedy, a weaker dollar, hockey, and a friendly, polite affect that is occasionally clouded by either a gentle smugness or a troubling inferiority

complex.  Fair enough, but what would this look like at a game?  I did sit in front of people from London, England via London, Ontario at one of the games, so Toronto gets credit for bringing its international and cosmopolitan flair into the ballpark.  What’s strange is that, even though Toronto is the largest city in Canada, I didn’t get anything like a big-city feel in either the ballpark or Toronto as a whole.  Sure, some of the people tried to heckle umpires, opponents, and a .205-hitting Carlos Delgado, but they lacked both creativity and passion.  I suggest you stick to politeness, Toronto…it suits you.  Also, Canadians go too far in their effort to be Canadian by making “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” the second song played during the seventh-inning stretch, after a forgettable, insipid singalong called “Let’s Play Ball.”  I don’t think it’s caving in to American cultural creep to drop “Let’s Play Ball,” or at least put it second.

Beyond those minor negatives, there is a nice Canadian feel to the park, from the advertisements for GM Canada

to the subtle-but-proud maple leafs on the outfield walls.  The ballpark’s location immediately next to the CN Tower leaves no question as to where I am.  It makes me feel as though I’m in the center of activity, and the CN Tower, along with a massive skyscraper (I think apartment buildings…only in Canada do you have people living in such large and beautiful downtown skyscraper locations) actually gives something to look at beyond the stadium’s massive upper deck.  The approach to the park is also wonderful…in spite of aggressive scalpers (and, in Toronto’s poorly-attended and losing 2004 season, quite desperate ones), there are nice gargoyles of Statler and Waldorf-like fans on the ballpark’s exteriors, including one of a guy giving a big raspberry to someone, perhaps an umpire or opponent…the only instance, I believe, of an impolite fan in stadium art.

For what it’s worth, I’m convinced I’ve found the best bang-for-the-buck for a ticket in major league baseball.  My favorite bang-for-the-buck seats in any ballpark are always in the top deck behind home plate.  It’s where my Safeco Field season tickets are…I can watch the entire play develop, have an excellent angle on top of the play, and don’t pay a lot of money.  Skydome’s top level, the 500 level, is actually closer to the field than comparable seats in other parks.  I could hear home plate umpire Larry Vanover’s every call, even the quieter ones.  I could even hear the beginning of an argument between first base umpire Sam Holbrook and Blue Jays manager Carlos Tosca that got Tosca ejected from the game.  After a couple of close plays, Tosca was obviously expressing displeasure from the dugout, and Holbrook shouted at him:  “I don’t want to hear it anymore!”  This drew Tosca out of the dugout, which led to his early dismissal.  The point is, I was very close to the action, as this photo should demonstrate:

Here’s the amazing part:  That seat was, as of 2004, $7.  Seven dollars…Canadian. If I were in Toronto, it would be very difficult for me not to buy 30-40 of those a year.

So, in the end, Skydome will land somewhere in the middle of my ballpark rankings, but I did enjoy the experience there a good deal.  There was just enough personality to shine through some of its drawbacks, and in the end, it’s the last of the ballparks that was designed as a ballpark first and a tourist destination second.  For that, I give it credit.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Carl Crawford was the hitting star in the first game, collecting three hits, scoring two runs, and stealing a base.  Still, the Jays’ Josh Towers was too much to beat.  He’s now 2-0 in my presence–this in two appearances.  I’m your man, Josh…as of that ballgame, I’d seen two of your 21 career wins, including a (sort-of) close to perfect game!  Invite me to a game, dude!

Carlos Delgado homers to collect his 1,000th career RBI.

Aubrey Huff homers.

David Bush gets his first career win.

(Written August 2004.  Revised July 2009.)

Comerica Park

Comerica Park, Detroit, MI

Number of games: 2
First game:  July 21, 2004 (Tigers 4, Royals 2)
Most recent game:  July 22, 2004 (Royals 13, Tigers 7)

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

I grew up in Denver before it had a major league team.  When the time came (as it inevitably does in any young man’s life) to select a favorite team, the Tigers were my choice, mostly due to my legions of relatives in the area.  Some of my best

childhood memories are centered around trips to Michigan in my youth…every damn summer, my parents would pile my three siblings and me into the back of a station wagon and drive the three days to my Aunt Sally and Uncle Fred on Bishop Street and Grandma Gene’s place on Lennon.  Indeed, it was with them and my two cousins that I went to my first ballgames at Tiger Stadium.  So I was excited to head back to them in 2004–returning to the original scene of the crime–to take in Comerica Park.

I had the pleasure of attending my first game back at Comerica with most of the same relatives I went to my first game with 24 years earlier.  I think my Uncle Fred was born drinking a beer and watching a ballgame…so

he’s got to be one of the top choices for partners at any ballpark.  Aunt Sally is not at all a sports fan, and yet she tagged along, offering me her unique perspectives on baseball.  (Example:  she believes that, if major league hitters were indeed the best in the world at hitting baseballs, a .600 average should be the baseline for greatness, not the paltry .300 we use as a benchmark now.)  My cousin Joe helped me remember the fourth and fifth starters for the ’84 Tigers, a problem that had dogged me for several days prior. (I thought Juan Berenguer was the #5, but he was the #4.  Dave Rozema spot started at #5.)

I was especially impressed with the art in this ballpark.  Loads of tiger statues and gargoyles festoon the exterior of the ballpark, including several with baseballs in their mouths.  Tigers guard just about every entrance

and even patrol the tops of the scoreboards, and they’re the right mixture of cute and scary.  Baseball bats serve as columns and bats crossed like swords mark the entrance.  There’s even a lovely baseball-themed fountain.  But the sculptures of past Tigers’ greats absolutely knocked my socks off.  I’ve now been to about a dozen stadiums which feature some kind of baseball player sculpture, and it’s usually one of my favorite parts of the ballpark.  Tiger Stadium’s sculptures (of  Cobb, Gehringer, Greenberg, Harwell, Horton, Kaline, and Newhouser) are immensely superior to any I have seen anywhere else, and it’s not like the other ballpark sculptures are bad.  I’m afraid my photographic skills don’t do the sculptures justice, but I gave it a try.  Here’s a look at the sculpture of Hank Greenberg.  I’m making this picture larger than I usually do so you can get a better look at it.  Check out how the artist hints at motion with the swinging bat and traveling ball.


The ballpark further adds to its local color by focusing on Tiger history in its pavilion areas, setting up exhibits focusing on the Tigers in each decade in the twentieth century.  I found my beloved 1984 team and learned a few things about earlier teams.  I even got into a brief conversation with a woman about the ’67 Tigers as well.

In spite of all this, there are a few drawbacks that, in my eyes, keep this from being a top-ten park.  First of all, Comerica Park is guilty of

outrageous excess.  I’m referring here to its carousel and its Ferris wheel.  I ask this:  why?  My Detroit relatives got a little testy when I asked this, saying something about how there needs to be something at the ballpark for the kids so that they’ll grow to like baseball.  This is, I believe, a flawed argument.  There were no amusement park rides at Tiger Stadium, and it’s not like I was bored there at age ten.  Even when I was younger, as a seven-year-old attending Denver Bears games at Mile High Stadium, I managed to make do without a Tilt-a-Whirl or an Octopus.  “But Paul,” my opponents say, “That was a different day and age.  Kids today are raised on MTV and video games.  Surely they can’t make it through a game without at least two or three visits to a carnival thrill ride.”  Baloney.  I have taken my nephews to major and minor league games when they were as young as six, and again, they have no problems.  Do we need to go walk around and burn off energy during the game?  Of course.  (And because of this, I can even handle playgrounds and slides like those at Safeco Field, PacBell Park, The Ballpark in Arlington, and a few others I’m forgetting…they give a destination less garish and silly than Comerica’s rides are.)  Do I need to provide my nephews with astonishing amounts of ice cream, hot dogs, and/or soda pop?  Yup. But we watch the game.  We get through it.  We enjoy it.  We even score it.  This, to me, is incontrovertible proof that Comerica’s carnival rides are unnecessary at best and deleterious at worst.

Speaking of deleterious, the PA announcer was the worst cheerleader PA guy I’ve ever heard.  His announcement of “Brandon Inge” made me cringe.  His voice goes up at least an octave and a half as he announces the name of any Tiger.  I can feel his vocal cords tensing to the point where they might snap.  Lighten up, buddy!  We know when to cheer.

I can’t ignore the fact, however, that beyond carnival rides and overly perky PA guys, there’s something a bit deeper about the whole experience and atmosphere of going to a game at Comerica Park that creeped me out.  I guess I see some things in Detroit now that I formerly didn’t, and those things bother me.  The city has devastating problems.

For starters, the stadium is in such a bad area that a stadium-induced neighborhood renaissance (like the ones that turned iffy warehouse neighborhoods in Baltimore and Denver into cool spots with nightclubs and brewpubs) is simply too much to ask.  There’s no feel of being in a neighborhood…spectators don’t linger before the game, don’t hang out near the ballpark, don’t go to sports bars before and after the game.  Indeed, there aren’t any sports bars there–around the ballpark, all I saw was the tony, alienatingly-exclusive, don’t-even-think-you’re-good-enough-to-belong Detroit Athletic Club, one diner, the Fox Theater, and about a half dozen court buildings and jails.  No watering holes.  No places selling Tiger merchandise.  The fantastic feeling of anticipation that comes with heading through a throng of ballpark-goers headed toward the game is replaced by people concerned for their own safety, trying to get into the ballpark (and back out to their cars) as quickly as possible so they can make it back out to the safety of Bloomfield Hills or Birmingham.  Not that I blame them–I’d do the same thing, and in fact did.  (Update 2009:  I recently read a Sports Illustrated article indicating a great sports bar opened nearby.  Possible change for the better?)

Why does this bother me in Detroit when other ballparks in terrible neighborhoods (such as Comiskey Park or Yankee Stadium) don’t trouble me as much?  In Chicago and New York, the edginess of the neighborhood makes its way into the ballpark.  Even though it scares me, I think I like that better than the freaky oasis-from-the-poor-outside-these-walls vibe at Comerica.  Plus, at Yankee Stadium anyway, the subway ride gives me atmosphere–I feel a part of the city rather than apart from it.

Additionally, as scary and depressing as the housing projects near Comiskey Park and Yankee Stadium are, they’re not nearly as depressing or scary to me as a deserted, broken downtown.  Comerica Park took a page from the new ballparks in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and elsewhere by providing a vista of downtown past the outfield wall. 

But it’s a little different in Detroit.  With the exception of the distant skyscraper that houses GM headquarters, instead of the gleaming glass-and-metal buildings I’ve grown accustomed to seeing in downtowns, the view from Comerica features old stone-and-mortar buildings–brown and tan instead of gray and reflective.  This, in and of itself, isn’t a problem–it just gives me a feeling of a retro downtown.  But things go sour for me at twilight…I learn that Detroit’s downtown isn’t retro, but instead is simply decimated.  As it got dark in Detroit, I looked out past the scoreboard and saw the skyscrapers again, and I noticed something that, to me, is nothing short of alarming:  there were literally no lights on in the skyscrapers.  It was Wednesday night, about 9PM.  Where the hell were the people?  Where was the lawyer working late, the businessman calling overseas?  Geez, where was the custodian cleaning the offices, even the staircase that’s lit 24/7?  Nothing.  The only conclusion I can reach is that these two buildings have been completely abandoned.  I turned to my relatives to ask why there aren’t any lights on downtown.  They live here, so I guess they’re accustomed to it:  I get a shrug.  “I guess nobody’s working there.”  To me, this downtown vista, intended to be a beautiful view and celebration of the city, had the opposite effect.  It scared me.  Possibly the scariest movie I’ve ever seen is This Quiet Earth, where a man wakes up to discover everyone in the world has disappeared…he wanders around the cities looking for any human contact.  The darkened downtown Detroit reminded me of that…we’re all entertaining ourselves with a baseball game surrounded by a city that’s disappeared. Comerica Park makes me wonder about how things got this broken.  It even stirs in me some predictable and passe’ white guilt, since Detroit is a city that’s about 90% African-American and I’m sitting in a crowd that’s about 90% White…and much of the other 10% are ushers, hawkers, and cleanup crew.  Simply put, this is not the best mindset in which to entertain myself, but I can’t help but feel this way.

Even during the next day’s day game, the s

adness of the urban situation interfered with the experience.  I borrowed the relatives’ car and headed downtown, making sure I did not make any turn that could put me even a half block out of my way.  I zipped to the ballpark.  Ninety minutes before the game and the streets around Comerica Park were deserted–everyone was on a beeline straight from their cars into the ballpark.  There was zero neighborhood atmosphere.  Even on the inside, while wandering around getting a feel for the park, I was attracted to two bits of graffiti on the bar in a restaurant by the Ferris wheel.  They felt to me like examples of the problems of Detroit, as hard as Comerica Park tries to keep them on the outside, pushing their way into the stadium.  Something about these words written a few feet away from a Ferris wheel–and a few more feet away from a world nobody should ever have to know–really struck me somewhere deep.

In any event, I was very much impressed by Comerica Park in all kinds of ways.  In spite of the theme-park overkill, the ballpark is quite lovely, and the art there probably better than the art at any ballpark I’ve ever been to.  They do well to focus on baseball history and on Detroit history.  But the experience was,

paradoxically, harmed by that very history.  I’m not a city planner–I don’t know what combination of social and economic factors got Detroit where it is, and I certainly can’t propose a way out.  But I sincerely hope that there comes a day when being located at the heart of downtown Detroit is an asset rather than a liability, and that I can head back one day–ten years from now?  twenty?  more?–and take a leisurely walk through a vibrant, interesting, and active stadium neighborhood.  I hope I can score a Tigers game in the ballpark without feeling just a tad guilty and callous because of the conditions all around me.  I hope that I can walk to a sports bar after the game and have some nachos and a drink, staying downtown without a second thought until the end of the West Coast games.  Somebody out there–please find a way to heal this city so that the beauty of this ballpark is the rule rather than the exception.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Mike Sweeney hit a pair of home runs–a grand slam and a three-run homer–to lead the Royals to a decisive win.

Nook Logan makes his major league debut, going an amazing 4-for-7 in the two games I see him.

Omar Infante homers twice in a game.

Indeed, I saw ten homers in two games–and many of them would have been homers at the old Comerica.  Only a couple were made homers by the then-recently-shortened left-field porch.

(Written August 2004.)

Minute Maid Park

Minute Maid Park, Houston, TX

Number of games:  1
First game:  April 15, 2004 (Brewers 6, Astros 2)

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

It’s better than the Astrodome.  But then, every ballpark I’ve ever been to is better than the Astrodome.  Since Minute Maid Park (nee Enron Field, nee Astros Stadium) was built in a better location and in a better era for ballparks, I was ready for something good.  I’m afraid I wasn’t terribly impressed with what I saw.

I admit that some of it had to be my political views.  I rarely take my bleeding-heart-liberal-thinkin’, dove-lovin’, Dukakis-votin’ political views into the ballpark.  And maybe I was just politically sensitive because of my experience earlier in the day at the George H.W. Bush Museum in College Station.  But there was something dreadfully awry about the way this ballpark was set up.  It’s especially helpful to compare this ballpark with the excellent Ballpark in Arlington because Minute Maid does wrong all of the things that The Ballpark in Arlington does right.

What do I want to see out on the exterior of a ballpark?  A celebration of baseball or local history.  What do I see on the exterior of this stadium?  In the most prominent location, a celebration of…Halliburton.  Ugh. 

It goes all the way back from their beginnings striking oil up through modern day.  And, on the day I attended the Bush museum, I couldn’t seem to escape Republicanism in Houston.  I admit that I was sort of hoping to encounter George and Barbara in the flesh on the day that I visited their museum, but alas, it was not to be.  My seats weren’t nearly good enough (I can’t afford to sit with Republicans).  But I don’t at all see the point of heroic pictures of Dick Cheney outside a ballpark.  I’d find a heroic, flag-featuring plaque of Al Gore just as silly.  George H.W. Bush?  At least he was a ballplayer.  But a celebration of Halliburton just because they helped roust up the bucks for the ballpark violates what I see as the sacredness of a shared space.  Ick.

To be sure, I tolerate corporate sponsorship at some level.  Naming rights?  Hate it, but understand it…even for Enron.  Silly advertising, like “This batter digging in is brought to you by Ace Hardware, for all your digging needs?”  Terrible, but I’ll swallow hard.  But both are preferable to this silly self-aggrandizement of a company.  How can they place Cheney in a better piece of real estate–closer to the stadium, easier to find, larger–than past Astros like Joe Morgan, Jose Cruz, and Darryl Kile?  Unacceptable.

Besides, if a noted Republican wanted to, they could always simply buy a brick, as this one did:

What a sweet little father-to-son gesture!  I agreed with very little that Bush 41 did in office, and less with his son, but still, you get a sense that it’d be fun to hang out with them at the ballpark.  Clinton, too, although he’d more likely ditch you to be with the babes.

I’m still not done with my complaints of the capitalist creep in this place.  Once on the inside, there are not one but two scoreboards (one down the third-base line at field level, the other up high by the right-field foul pole) that actually run the day’s stock ticker.  Come ON!!!  I thought “well, maybe it’s just for the pre-game.”  Nope.  It continued through the game, popping up between every inning.  I can tell you that, on April 15, 2004, Halliburton stock was up 37 cents a share.  I could also tell you the price, both current and settle, for natural gas, crude, unleaded, and heating oil.  Please!  That’s simply not acceptable.  Why not do one quick ticker at some point and have it sponsored by Charles Schwab or something?  Who the hell is going to come to the ballpark to look for stock quotes?  Isn’t a ballpark supposed to be an escape from these sorts of worldly pursuits and concerns?  If you need to check your portfolio while at the ballpark…and check it between every inning!…I urge you to trade in your tickets and use the money you save on professional help.

This issue was only one part of the generally charmless feel of Minute Maid Park.  I understand that Houston’s hot, humid summers necessitate a retractable roof that can completely enclose the stadium.  It’s better than the retractable roofs at Miller Park and Bank One Ballpark because there’s no tall wall beyond the left field stands…but still, a tall enough one to obscure potential views of downtown.  There’s no excitement to the neighborhood as there is in Baltimore or Denver…the ballpark is hemmed in between downtown on one side and freeways on the other, with all the inherent business therein (but given the Halliburton history and stock tickers, that’s probably what they have in mind for a crowd).  The concourses are sterile, with no sense of history–team records are horribly misplaced in a back stairway.  THERE ARE NO CUP HOLDERS IN THE THIRD DECK!!!!

I just kept finding new ways to be annoyed with Minute Maid Park.  Even the bits that were meant to be endearing felt more annoying to me, like the ballpark was trying too hard…sort of like a four-year-old mugging for the camera.  The wacky, jagged outfield walls…the stupid train with oranges on it…all too much, I felt.

There were a few positives:  the Biggio and Bagwell statues turning a double play outside, for instance, and the

displays of PA announcers’ words for the hearing impaired (I’d never thought of that).  I have to admit, I like the hill in center field, and the flagpole in play there.  It’s sort of like playing in a backyard, only larger and with better players.  There was a lovely scoreboard promotion for a car maintenance company that I wish I’d thought of:  “Brake for a kiss.”  The camera would focus on couples at the ballpark–all ages, races, levels of physical attractiveness–and when couples saw themselves on the screen, they were expected to kiss.  Some kissed sweetly, one woman totally jumped her date, some elderly couples got respectful, sweet applause…it was a nice bonding moment throughout the stadium, I think.  One of the best uses of the Diamondvision I’ve ever seen.  (Given the Republican slant to this ballpark, how long will it be before we see a gay couple in this promotion?  I won’t hold my breath…even in my liberal hometown of Seattle, they’d get too many complaints from the God squad.  Someday, though, I hope…)  Also, I got to spend part of the game talking about my former Louisiana home with David, the gentleman from  Elton, LA who sat next to me.  I spent 6 innings annoyed with David because he didn’t have a sense of personal space.  He sat with his legs pointed out diagonally from his body, such that his knees were interfering with my personal space.  I tried every socially acceptable method I could think of to move him back to his space…light leaning, fidgeting, etc…but to no avail.  But eventually, I asked him where Elton was (it was displayed on his hat…and maybe that’s a Southern thing…why don’t I see baseball hats with small companies that announce “Redmond, WA” on them?).  Turns out it wasn’t far from the place I taught for a couple of years…and he has relatives who went there.  A nice guy, even though (or perhaps because) he’d had a few beers by the time we talked.  He informed me that Ben Sheets is from Monroe, Louisiana, and had struck his sons out in high school ball a few times.

But on the whole, this ballpark represents all of the negatives of the new proliferation of ballparks and few of the positives.  But at least the Astros are outdoors now.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Ben Sheets pitches magnificently for five innings to pick up the win, only leaving due to an injury.

Craig Biggio homers.

(Written April 2004.)

The Ballpark in Arlington

The Ballpark in Arlington, Arlington TX

Number of games:  2
First game:  April 12, 2004 (Rangers 7, Angels 6)
Most recent game:  April 13, 2004 (A’s 10, Rangers 9)

After three years of an Ameriquest Field moniker, The Ballpark in Arlington is known as Rangers Ballpark in Arlington as of March 2007.

(Click any image to view a larger version.)

Two things I like, and will travel to see:  baseball stadiums and historic museums.  The Ballpark in Arlington enabled me to see both of them in the same day!  For this and many other reasons, The Ballpark in Arlington was a huge, pleasant surprise…big enough of a pleasant surprise to be a top-5 ballpark.

baarlingtonventura

Why didn't Ventura sign it too?

So unabashedly baseball-loving, and so unabashedly Texan!  For starters, there’s the deification of Nolan Ryan.

Of course, everybody deifies Nolan Ryan, as he is the only player in baseball history to have his number retired by three different teams.  But in Arlington, Ryan-worship is taken to the nth degree.  The ballpark is located on Nolan Ryan Drive (closer to the ballpark even than the cleverly named Pennant Drive…perhaps because, while the Rangers have had Nolan Ryan, they haven’t had a pennant).  Everywhere you look, there’s a Ryan reminder.  The statue feels right, although I’d rather it not be hidden away beyond the center field bleachers.  It deserves a spot outside the entrance.  Perhaps a little more disturbing was the signed photo for sale in the gift shop of one of the most famous pummelings in the history of sports…his facial on Robin Ventura.  Now, I normally hate bench-clearing brawls, but even I got a visceral charge out of watching him crush Ventura that night.  There was something just so, well, one-sided about it, on top of the notion that you can’t challenge God.  But would I want this on my wall?  Would I pay money to bring this into my home?  Well, maybe if I were a massive Ranger or Ryan fan, I suppose…

It’s not just Ranger or Ryan history that the ballpark celebrates.  It also is a hotspot for baseball history in general.  The ballpark is attached to the Legends of the Game Museum, which contains the largest collection of baseball memorabilia outside of Cooperstown.  I can classify the memorabilia in this museum (and, I assume, in Cooperstown) into two groups:  idol-worship and history.  The first bit–the busts, jerseys, bats, balls, and shoes–does absolutely nothing for me.  Out of all of the items in this classification, I only took a picture of one…Sparky Anderson’s shoes, worn during a game in 1990.  Seriously.

Who the hell wants to see Sparky’s shoes?  And not even from a playoff year?  It reminds me a bit of going to a church in Italy and seeing some saint’s blackened, decaying finger in a glass case.  Only nobody’s praying in front of Sparky’s shoes.  Yet.

The second classification is the numbers section.  I love seeing all of the numbers, and the folks at the Legends museum take care

of theirs with care.  Note the all-time home run leader list in this picture here.  The picture is not otherwise notable except for what’s going on with the tie for third place all-time.  Barry Bonds is tied for third with Willie Mays at 660.  The key here is that I visited the museum the afternoon of April 13, 2004.  Barry had only hit #660 the night before, and would hit #661 that night.  This means that the museum staff are updating their numbers daily!  This is quite a feat, especially when one considers that the museum didn’t just track all-time leaders in at least a dozen categories, but also active league leaders, Rangers’ all-time leaders, and Rangers’ active leaders.  There were quite a few numbers up there that the staff had to stay on top of nightly, and the net result was me feeling exactly the way I like to feel in a ballpark:  like I’m in the middle of a thousand stories that will be recorded for all of history.

Finally, the museum did an excellent job of communicating baseball history, especially local baseball history.  Their large section on Rangers history included an original scorecard of Kenny Rogers’ perfect game, and they branched out to the minor leagues with a large exhibit on Texas League history.  I like this even more than the numbers…these are stories, interesting stories I’ve never known, presented in the context of where I am and what I’m doing that night.

The sense of history continued in the walk around the stadium.  The Ballpark in Arlington has a brick display to commemorate every team in Rangers history…and every player on every team in Rangers history.  Think I’m kidding?  Check out these bricks:


Yup.  There it is, etched in stone for time immemorial:  Larry Biittner’s underwhelming numbers that were achieved, it appears, during the baseball season of 197 A.D.  Immediately, I was curious as to who I could see commemorated from my single trip to Arlington Stadium (which, by the way, I am certain NOBODY but an incredibly sentimental Texan sap misses).  The Rangers had a god-awful day…the only performance I could remember was the horrendous start by Brian Bohanon, who, along with four teammates, helped to walk Jose Canseco five times in five at-bats.  I think it was one of Bohanon’s first starts in a long and undistinguished career.  But I wanted to see him commemorated, so I walked to the 1992 team to find this:


Ouch!  What a sad diss to Mr. Bohanon.  I remember how to spell your name, Brian, even if your former employers don’t.

The exterior also gives an artistic nod to some key images in Texas history in faux-marble (at least I believe it’s faux) etchings along the building’s exterior.  Etchings include an oil gusher, the Alamo battle, astronauts, and cowboys on the range.  When you combine this with the museum and the team bricks, I’m already deeply ensconced in both baseball history and local history.  I can’t conceive of a better frame of mind to be in when I enter a ballpark in a strange city.

Once inside, my only disappointment is the center-field terraces, which seem architecturally out of place.  I assumed they were skyboxes; it turns out they’re offices, and not even just the Rangers’ offices.  (An usher informed me that Troy Aikman has an office

there.)  It seems to me that there’s no need to block off that center field view–even if it’s just of the neighborhood–just to have all offices with ads stacked on top.  But that’s quibbling…the offices don’t look too bad, particularly when there’s so much else the ballpark offers.

The tony club level has suites that are named after Hall of Fame baseball players.  I was able to wander around and check them all out because an usher was kind enough to let me in and wander around “as long as I don’t tell anyone.”  (Does this website count?)   Each suite has a big portrait of the player on the door…a portrait that’s visible to everyone on the concourse and on the ramps headed up to the upper decks.  They further celebrate baseball history–Rangers’ history–by posting plaques commemorating the key games in the Ballpark’s history on the main level…the first game,

Kenny Rogers’ perfect game, the first interleague game (I’d have left that one out…now, it’s just a weird Giants/Rangers matchup), and the first playoff game, plus perhaps one or two I’m forgetting.  The plaque contains the box score of the game as well as a brief synopsis and a picture.  It’s the only ballpark I can think of where there are box scores available for public view.  That’s a major plus.

The ballpark also passes the third-level test…the level-three concourse is open to allow for views.  I looked out on Six Flags (immediately adjacent to the park) and downtown Dallas (quite a ways in the distance). I don’t understand why more of the recent ballparks don’t incorporate third-level views.  It provides local color.  Of course, even without the view, the Ballpark had local color in spades.  For starters, there’s the friendly presence of Texans.  It doesn’t take long for me to join them in calling everyone

I encounter over a certain age “sir” or “ma’am.”  What a pleasant way to get along with each other.  And as if the Ryan-deification, view, sense of history, and trademark Southern politeness were not enough for the park to pass the “is there any question where you are” test, I heard the following actual bits of dialogue from those around me in the park:

“Is an armadillo on the side of the road spooky?  Out where we are, it’s all racoons.”

In the front row, where some fans joined me late in the game:  “Down here, you can smell the dirt.  Intoxicating!”

From a child, in the first homestand after Alex Rodriguez left Texas for New York:  “Is the white team the Yankees?”  His annoyed father should have answered:  “Not yet, son.”  The son also asked a great question about the players that got my imagination going:  “Do they live here?”  How cool would it be if they did?

Incidentally, and much to my surprise, it’s not hard to get a table in the restaurant in the upper deck of right field before the game…I walked in a half hour before the first pitch,

asked for a table by the window, and was back on the concourse before the National Anthem, and in my seat by the first pitch thanks to a speedy, reliable, and helpful waitress.  Not that I would ever want to watch a game from the restaurant, but of the three ballpark restaurants I’ve been to, this one is vastly preferable to Coors Field or Jacobs Field.  It’s simply a matter of orientation.  A two person table by the window out here in right field enables both people to watch the game while only turning 90 degrees to the field.  The same table at Coors or Jacobs, since it’s in foul territory and down the line, would require one of the people at the table to face away from the action to eat, and to make a 180 degree turn, away from the food and his/her companions, to watch the game.  Unacceptable.  (Incidentally, “open 363 days a year”?  I’ve never seen an establishment advertise that way.)

The game itself went off without a hitch.  A nice promotion lets a kid hit a home run in their wiffleball field and set off the home run fireworks.  That’s got to be a HUGE charge for a kid.  Only one little glitch…the scoreboard told me that Kevin Mench had a batting average of .360 and an on-base percentage of .346.  I’m not really a seamhead, but I know full well that’s impossible.  They didn’t fix it for future at-bats, either, leading me to believe they could use a proofreader for their scoreboard graphics.

Special mention has to go to the gentle, 60-ish usher who tossed the drunken college-aged louts who were in the front row next to me simply by saying “Sir, could you come with me?”  When the usher returned, I asked him how he pulled that off.  “He decided he’d rather go when I pointed out how many beers he’d had.”  Ballsy!  Don’t mess with the AARP usher!

On the whole, what a wonderful couple of days.  Texas history.  Baseball history.  Local color.  Kind people.  I don’t know that my travels will lead me back to Dallas…Dallas is one of those cities that business takes you to, and not much else…it’s not exactly a tourist destination.  But if I’m there, you can rest assured I’ll catch another Rangers game.  This ballpark, in my view, is simply up there with the best.  They understand exactly what a ballpark is all about.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

A couple of sloppy games.  Francisco Cordero got a save and Brad Fullmer hit a huge pinch-hit double against the Angels.

Jermaine Dye and Damian Miller went deep for the A’s, who roughed up Mickey Callaway for 6 runs in 1 1/3 innings.  Barry Zito got an underwhelming win when the Rangers’ comeback fell short.

(Originally written April 2004. Most recently revised April 2008.)

Hiram Bithorn Stadium

Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, PR

Number of games: 2
First game:  April 14, 2003 (Expos 5, Mets 3)
Last game:  April 16, 2003 (Braves 3, Expos 2)

Hiram Bithorn Stadium is no longer used for the major leagues as of the 2005 season.

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

All right–I’m officially hard-core.  What started as a way to spend the summer of 1993 had, by 2003, expanded to serious dimensions with my trip to Puerto Rico and Estadion Hiram Bithorn.  Why?  Well, because I wanted some serious street cred among the (larger than you might think) going-to-all-the-baseball-parks crowd.  Yeah, there are people who might have been to more than the 30 major league stadiums that my trip to Hiram Bithorn gave me.  But, because there were only 22 Expos games to be played at Bithorn in 2003, I figured that, even among ballpark travelers, not too many people would be able to say they’d been to Puerto Rico for a Major League game.  I think I crossed some sort of line here.  Quoth one friend:  “I can’t believe you’re flying all the way to Puerto Rico to see a baseball game.”  My response:  “No, no! 

I’m flying to Puerto Rico to see TWO baseball games!” The result, however, was very, very fun–one of my best-ever ballpark experiences.

The ballpark itself wasn’t at all special.  It’s nice that it’s small:  they expanded capacity to 19,000 for the Expos games.  More seats are good seats and there’s more opportunity for fan/player interaction.  But there was enough else wrong or missing that I can’t say Bithorn is a good ballpark.  Their replay scoreboard was so small and distant that it was very difficult to read, which made it in some ways worse than having no replay scoreboard at all.  They  didn’t read lineups before the game.  There were two pretty serious blunders in presentation as well.  First, the PA announcer, at a critical moment of the game, announced “Numero doce, Orlando Cabrera!” when Wilfredo Cordero was at the plate.  Second, and a particularly bizarre error, was a mistimed playing of music.  As soon as Jeff Liefer made contact on a fly-out to center, they began playing the music for the next batter.  So while the ball was in play, while Tsuyoshi Shinjo was in the very process of settling under the ball, we heard the opening drumbeats and

first couple of riffs of Carlos Santana’s “Smooth.”  On top of that, and worst of all–why a carpet?  Why not grass?  So my impressions of the stadium aren’t terribly good.  This is, of course, very much beside the point, as the positives of seeing a ballgame in Puerto Rico far outweigh the minor negatives of a below-average ballpark.

First of all, the fans were tremendous.  They were louder and more enthusiastic than any similarly-sized crowd that I can recall.  To be sure, not all of their cheering was for Los Expos.  They cheered for more or less any Latin player, and especially for any Puerto Rican player, regardless of the team he was playing for.  A critical at-bat by Brave Javy Lopez or Met Roberto Alomar would be greeted with

equal enthusiasm as one by Expo Jose Vidro.  Indeed, so many Puerto Ricans had connections with New York City that there was a sizeable contingent of Met fans present.  They’d start the “Let’s!  Go!  Mets” chant, but would be overpowered by the others, who would make high pitched “ooo” sounds, like children imitating ghosts.  Much to my surprise, there were even a number of Braves fans present for the Montreal/Atlanta game as well, as noted by that infernal tomahawk chop.  Does Ted Turner’s power spread over the Caribbean Sea?  At any rate, they, too, were “ooo”ed at until they couldn’t be heard.

Appropriately enough for my first ballgame outside the fifty states, there was a decidedly international feel to the ballgame.

For starters, there were three national anthems to get through before we could play ball:  Canada, Puerto Rico, and the USA.  The same guy, Angel Rosario, was responsible for singing “O Canada” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  He had a very powerful tenor voice, but screwed up the lyrics in each. At first, I thought he just blundered, but the second game, he made the exact same errors that he did the first.  That’s when it occurred to me–it’s got to be difficult to find anyone who knows the words to “O Canada” in Puerto Rico, and probably about as hard to find a “Star-Spangled Banner” singer.  I also got the sense that Angel didn’t speak English…it sounded like he was getting through the anthems phonetically.

Far be it from me to criticize anyone for not speaking English, of course.  I’m a stereotypical monolingual American.  Of all the languages I could have taken in high school and college, I chose Russian, and I regret that now.  Why not Spanish, the language I’m most likely to encounter?  Oh well…I suppose it’s not too late.  But in Puerto Rico, it didn’t matter, as just about every native I encountered had at least a little English.  Often not more than a little–but usually a little.

And that’s part of what made this such a wonderful ballpark experience.  When I remember these games, I’ll remember Juan and Efrain, the gentlemen I sat next to.  I sat next to Juan at the first game–the Mets game.  Juan had impeccable English–the result of his Army experience.  “I learned English at Fort Benning, Georgia,” he told me.  I struck up a conversation by focusing

on the three retired numbers on the wall–21 for Roberto Clemente, 30 for Orlando Cepeda, and 22 for Gomez.  Didn’t know who Gomez was, so I asked him.  Turns out he’s Ruben Gomez.  His lifetime stats aren’t too impressive, but his passion for the game seems to have been:  Juan informed me that Gomez would pitch all summer and winter, summers in the majors, winters in the Puerto Rican league.  And any way you can be mentioned with Cepeda and Clemente is impressive enough to me.  Juan also let me know that Hiram Bithorn Stadium is named for the first Puerto Rican to play in the majors.  (Indeed, there is a sculpture of him in front of the ballpark.)  I did a little more research on him…Bithorn was a pitcher for the Cubs and White Sox.  He debuted during WWII, five years before Jackie Robinson, when teams were very much in need of players.  Still, although there were a handful of Latino players on rosters, the Cubs were not eager to sign their first Latino player.  According to one account I’ve seen, Bithorn, because of his light skin and not-instantly-recognizable-as-Latino name, could pass more easily as white, which helped convince the Cubs to sign him.  In a way, that’s a very sad story.  That’s why I’m glad he led the league with 7 shutouts in 1943.

But next thing you know, and much to my surprise, I learned Juan and I share our favorite player in baseball.  Mine is Edgar Martinez, designated hitter, Seattle Mariners.  His is Edgar Martinez, third baseman, San Juan Senators.  Here I am, 5,000 miles from home, and I’m having a conversation about Edgar’s penchant for hitting doubles that bounce on the foul lines.  That blew me away.  We even got a chance to talk a little politics when two war protestors ran on the field and unfurled a banner that read “No a la guerra” and featured drawings of a gun and an oil well.  I was surprised at how negative the fan reaction was to them–for some reason I would have thought that Puerto Ricans, who don’t get a voting member in Congress, might not be so keen on that Congress sending their sons and daughters into harm’s way.  I was wrong, as Juan let me know.  “Now is not the time to protest.  We’re already at war.” (Indeed, by the time these guys ran onto the field in April of 2003, Baghdad had already fallen.)

bithornprotestor

Protestors are removed from the field--one forcibly.

As much fun as I had with Juan, I had even more fun with Senor Efrain Rodriguez, with whom I enjoyed the Braves game two nights later.  And what do you know?  It all started with my scorebook.  I’ve always liked the way that my scorebook gets people to talk to me, but I never, ever expected it to cross international cultural barriers, as it did on this night.  Senor Rodriguez (because he’s 41 years my elder, I’m a little uneasy calling him Efrain) sees me get out my scorebook, and he asks me:  “Do you do this every game?”  His English is slow and labored enough that I can tell it’s an effort to think through each sentence.  But I explain to him that yes, I do, and that I’m trying to make it to all of the baseball stadiums.  We fall into watching the game, and next thing you know, there’s an Atlanta double play.  Furcal to DeRosa to Franco.  I’m jotting it in my book when Efrain leans over.  “Six-four-three.”  Amazing!  The power of the scorebook!  The next play is a grounder to third, so I lean over to Efrain:  “Cinco-tres.”  And we’re talking, as best as we are able, about baseball.  I ask Efrain why he’s rooting for the Braves.  He tells me.  “Andruw Jones.  He is the best…eh…”  He struggles to find a word.  I try to help:  “Athlete?  Athletic?”  Efrain responds:  “Yes, but…eh…Defensive.  He is the best defensive player I’ve ever seen…”

Somewhere in the midst of this sentence it occurs to me:  this very well could be my elderly friend’s first major league game!  All those years of enjoying Puerto Rican ball, cheering for major league islanders from afar, and now, finally, a major league game in person!  I have the whole overly-romanticized picture laid out, but Efrain sets me straight before the end of the sentence:

“…and I saw Willie Mays.”

“At the Polo Grounds?”

“Yes.  Remember, I’m 73!”

And that’s how we spent the evening–trying to have conversations about baseball.  Succeeding.  Saying:  “He walked him because he wants a double play.”  Saying: “No–I think he doesn’t want Sheffield to homer again.”  Even saying: “That was a good throw.”  Typical, momentary baseball stuff.  And it was wonderful.  Two guys, two languages, two countries, and two generations, and all the differences go away with the magic words:  “Six-four-three.”  I tried to get his wife to take our picture, but alas, the result was this extremely unfortunate photo:

Yup, that’s him with his arm around me…the guy whose face is behind his wife’s lens-obstructing fingers!  What a bummer.

Anyway, I’ll never forget the end of the night.  He went to leave after the eighth inning (I must really like this guy, since I can forgive a horrendous action like that…but traffic around San Juan really was God-awful), and shook my hand.  He said “Well, brother, glad to know you.”  I’m not sure I’ve ever felt better at a ballpark than that made me feel.  Brother. What more can you ask?  Is there anywhere else where brotherhood is attained that quickly and easily?  It sounds sappy, kind of Disney-like, but the facts seem to bear it out:  baseball overcame any differences we might have had.  And I think it led me to understand a little bit better why I spend all of this time, effort, and money to go to all of these distant ballparks.  I love the opportunity for moments like this one.  I was surprised, amazed, and affirmed by the way my scorebook and baseball curiosity could strike up an international bond.

I want more of these games.  I want to go global with my ballparks.  I want to buy new scorebooks–one for each nation’s league–and score games, talk baseball, and shake hands with fans the world over.  I want to win the lottery, quit my job, and hit the Venezuelan League, comparing notes with Carlos from Caracas on Andres Galarraga, a player we’ll both love.  After a crisp DP around the horn, I want Takehisa from Tokyo to look at me and say:  “Go-shi-san.”  I want to hear Michael from Melbourne tell me about the early years of Craig Shipley, Graeme Lloyd, and Chris Snelling, all of whom I’ve seen.  Just give me some money and give me some time, and I’ll have stories from all around the world.

Indeed, as I write these words in the mild Puerto Rican night after watching a one-run ballgame with my new baseball brother, I know I won’t ever stop these trips.  I hope I am blessed with health and luck enough to be there for the opening of the first new park of the 2040s.  Maybe by then I won’t be able to go global anymore, but I’ll still be there, still be scoring.  I’ll be telling some kid next to me:  “He’s the best defensive shortstop I’ve ever seen…and I’ve seen Ozzie Smith.”  And you can rest assured I’ll be thinking of kind, welcoming baseball fans like Juan and Senor Efrain Rodriguez when I say it.  Muchos gracias, mis hermanos.

***Update April 2006: I love the internet so much sometimes.  I got a nice email from Efrain Rodriguez’s son, also named Efrain.  He said the following:

“Well, here is the deal.  My name is Efrain Rodriguez and I live in Atlanta.  My dad lives in PR and goes by the same name.  He also attended many games in that series and was 73 at the time.  I can not make the face on the posted photo but I am pretty sure you sat next to my dad.  Weird.

“A couple of weeks ago I flew to PR to watch the World Baseball Classic with him at the Bithorn. Took a photo of him celebrating a PR score with his flag.  He no longer uses glasses and is 3 years older but looks similar as in 2003.  Is this the same person you sat next to?  If so, this is a very small world.”

bithornefrainflag

Photo by Efrain Rodriguez, Jr. Used by permission.

Indeed it is, sir.  And indeed he is.  Thanks for the picture.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Javier Vazquez makes his first start in front of his countrymen.  He’s clearly stoked–strikes out the side in the first inning.  But he fades out a bit and doesn’t factor into the decision.

Vladimir Guerrero, Tony Clark, and Gary Sheffield homer.

John Smoltz picks up a save.

(Written April 2003.  Updated April 2006.)

Miller Park

Miller Park, Milwaukee, WI

Number of games:  3
First game:  April 17, 2002 (Pirates 3, Brewers 2)
Most recent game:  April 7, 2007 (Cubs 6, Brewers 3)

(Click on any image to see it in a larger size.)

When I compare stadiums with retractable roofs, there’s no question that I’ve developed a preference (if there is to be a retractable roof…I still find it highly unnecessary).  The canopy-style roof at Safeco is far preferable to me.  That way spectators can still sit in the open air and see out of the ballpark.  However, I suppose that Seattle’s temperate climate lends itself to a canopy roof better than Milwaukee and Toronto’s cold spring/falls and Arizona and Houston’s oppressively hot summers.  But Milwaukee has a decent compromise.  Although it is entirely enclosed like Bank One Ballpark, at least Miller Park puts windows past its outfield bleachers so one can look out at Wisconsin’s weather.  There are no ads on those windows, so the eye has a place to go where it’s not assaulted by advertising.  Plus, during this particular April, I could look out at a

nasty Midwestern thunderstorm.

Not that I had to.  They brought the thunderstorm in to us.  The morning of my second game at Miller, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel featured a headline that there were structural defects in Miller Park’s roof.  Miller Park has been problematic from the start, as you’ll recall, most tragically because of the deaths of three workers during the construction of its roof.  (There’s a sculpture of three workers out in front of the building that’s a very sad and poignant reminder of the accident.  The plaque reads “TEAMWORK” and lists the three men’s names.)  And I got a first-hand look at Miller Park’s problems before my second game.  There was a rough Midwestern April thunderstorm, and the allegedly closed retractable roof…didn’t.  It leaked.  And I’m not talking about drip-drip, either.   I’m talking about an Angel Falls-style deluge through one of the cracks, bouncing off of the clock in right-center field and spraying all over two sections of seats.  It was incredible.

The ushers’ solution:  allow those with seats in those two sections to sit anywhere they wanted.

This wasn’t a problem because I went to Miller Park at a nadir in Brewers’ history.  The 3-12 club was incredibly awful, and they fired Davey Lopes between the two games I watched.  A losing team, a fired manager, a broken stadium built at taxpayer expense, and even a bench-clearing brawl…it was not a happy time, and these were not happy fans, nor were they numerous.

But the ballpark still wins points for all kinds of cool things.  First off,

it’s not square like other retractable-roof parks.  It’s shaped like a giant pizza wedge.  Somehow, that feels totally appropriate.  Second, there’s something vaguely sexual about the way the roof panels come together at an angle to close above the park.  Or maybe I just needed to get out more often (this roof is the closest I got to Erotic Love on the 2002 ELABST Milwaukee trip, as Michelle, the cool and awesome girlfriend, stayed at home).  Third, as stated above, the windows beyond the center-field stands beat the hell out of the advertising at Bank One Ballpark.

Perhaps most importantly, though, in spite of its corporate feel, the park still passes the “is there any question where you are” test, as the charming-but-outdated County Stadium did.  To wit:  the immense amount of room set aside in the parking lot for tailgaters, who were numerous even in a thunderstorm before their 3-12 team played.  There was even this nun wearing a Brewers cap over her habit:


Plus, it wins points for the Polish feel throughout.  We have the sausage race between the bratwurst, Italian sausage, Polish sausage, and hot dog.  They dash from the left field corner around home plate to the finish line just past first base.  It’s vaguely disturbing to see these giant weenies run, I think, and strange how passionate people get about the race (I’m certain money changed hands).  The Italian sausage had a stereotypical Italian handlebar mustache.  The bratwurst wore traditional German lederhosen.  The hot dog had giant white American teeth, and, if I recall, sunglasses.  What stereotypes did they use for the Polish sausage?  Well, none.  They didn’t want to go there.  (Perhaps they could have had him run the wrong way?)  For the record…Polish won the first game, hot dog the second.

So, all in all, a fine ballpark, although a depressing experience in some ways.  The taxpayers had paid a bazillion dollars and three people had lost their lives to build a ballpark to generate revenue to create a competitive team in the Bud Selig/Donald Fehr Economic World.  The result?  At least in 2002, it was a God-awful team, an impending strike, and a half-empty stadium that didn’t even work as designed, leaving a good number of people wet. Nonetheless, a thumbs-up.

APRIL 2007: I got to enjoy a full Miller Park!  The bad news is that most of the fans were Cubs fans.  Rather than the spirit-war atmosphere I’ve received in similar games, this felt like drunken impending danger.  We sat next in literally

the top row of the entire ballpark next to an already-toasted Brewer fan who seemed to want to get into it (just verbally…I think) with the many, many Cubs fans surrounding us.  He didn’t know what to make of me (Mariner hat) and my wife (Cardinal hat).  When I responded with an “Ooo!” to a great Cubs hit, he sort of threateningly said to me:  “I thought you said you weren’t rooting today!”  Thankfully, he left at the end of the third inning…probably to get more bratwurst.

It may have been the drunkest game I’ve ever experienced.  Everyone appeared toasted–and most of them had to drive back home to Chicago.  Scary thought, that.  The men’s room featured ridiculous waits, shouting frat-boy]style louts, and a possibility of a West-Side-Story rumble between Cubs fans and Brewers fans.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy seeing a new era in Miller Park history.  Some smart people (including me) have predicted the Brewers to win their division in

2007, so the place just didn’t seem as sad as it did in 2002.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

My first bench-clearing brawl!  It all started when the Pirates’ David Williams hit the Brewers’ Geoff Jenkins in the second inning.  Jenkins walked very, very slowly to first base, jawing at Williams.  When the Brewers’ Ben Sheets plunked the Bucs’ Aramis Ramirez on the butt the next inning, it all got started.  Highlights included Ramirez chucking his helmet–hard–at Sheets as he approached, and Sheets responding with his glove (ouch!  that malleable leather must hurt just as bad as the hard helmet does!).  Then there was a giant pile, and Ramirez sprained his ankle.  As brawls go, this one was good, although I would have liked to have seen them resolve their differences in a non-violent manner instead.  Ramirez could have written his grievances on a paper and handed it to the catcher for delivery to Sheets.  (Ramirez was eventually suspended for 7 games, and he served the suspension while injured.)

Davey Lopes’ last game as Brewer manager, the 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh with the brawl.

Jerry Royster’s first game as interim Brewer manager, a 7-5 win over St. Louis.

Richie Sexson has all 7 Brewer RBI in the 7-5 win, with two home runs and a triple.  The NL record for most RBI that account for all of a team’s RBI in a game is 8, so that’s a heck of a game.

The Cardinals’ Darryl Kile gives up four runs in six innings and gets a no-decision about two months before his sudden and tragic death.

Carlos Zambrano shuts down the Brewers, in spite of a monstrous Geoff Jenkins home run.  Aramis Ramirez goes deep for Chicago, and Ryan Dempster picks up the save.

(Written April 2002.  Updated April 2007.)

Jacobs Field

jacobs1

Sarah Cox. Used by permission.

Jacobs Field, Cleveland, OH

Number of games:  2
First game:  October 13, 2001 (Game 3, ALDS:  Indians 17, Mariners 2)
Most recent game:  October 14, 2001 (Game 4, ALDS:  Mariners 6, Indians 2)

Jacobs Field changed its name to Progressive Field for the 2008 season.

First, the stadium.  Just gorgeous! Right up there at the very top of the list with Camden Yards and Coors Field.  I love the way that the outer concourses look out at the city.  This isn’t true in Baltimore or Colorado or even San Francisco, and only true part of the way around the stadium in Seattle.  I love the big scoreboard (and the fact that it says “Indians” on it instead of showing the awful visage of Chief Wahoo).  I love the sense of tradition the team has (even if it’s mostly a tradition of bad baseball).  On its own, Jacobs Field is worth a trip to Cleveland.  In fact, Jacobs Field and baseball are the only reasons I went to Cleveland in October 2001.

I had only been dating Sarah for about two months.  Sarah remains the only woman I have ever dated whose passion for baseball exceeds mine, and that’s a bit scary.  We were an item during the amazing 2001 Seattle Mariners season, and had worked our way up to our trip to Safeco Field by first seeing a single-A game and then a triple-A game.  Clearly, we had earned a trip to the playoffs.  When we struck out on Safeco Field tickets and found them too expensive on Ebay, we took what I thought would be a whimsical, one-in-a-million look at how expensive they would be in Cleveland.  They were surprisingly reasonable.  The next thing I know, we were cashing in some frequent flyer miles, getting great (post-September 11) deals on hotels, and heading out to see two playoff games.

See that score for the first game?  Can you imagine taking a day off and flying 2,500 miles to see that?  It was astonishing.  My college buddies Alison (a lifelong Tribe fan) and Joe drove up to see it with us and to show us a good time in the Land of Cleve.  Two images I won’t soon forget from that first game:

–A problem with standing ovations.  We spent more or less the entire game standing up to see over cheering Tribe fans, then sitting down to put entries in our scorebook while everyone else stayed standing and cheering.  I hope people didn’t feel that I was participating in the standing O–I just needed to see.

–A wild, wild walk back to the hotel.  After the 17-2 Tribe win, I found myself a part of the only massive sports celebration I’ve ever experienced.  People were honking their horns, screaming, and dancing for the entire eight blocks back to the hotel.  It was bizarre.  One driver was angry because so many pedestrians were walking in front of him, and he couldn’t get into the intersection to get home.  So he honked his horn repeatedly, but passing fans thought he was just celebrating like everyone else.  This made for a funny scene:  an angry driver gesticulating at pedestrians who would turn to him and respond with a joyous dance.  I called friends and family from the celebration.  It is a very, very strange sensation being the only person with nothing to celebrate in the midst of passionate partying.  I suppose this is what it feels like to be a Chinese person or a devout orthodox Jew on New Year’s Eve.

The Tribe fans’ celebration was premature, of course…the Mariners won games 4 and 5 to take the series. Game 4 was obviously quite a different experience from Game 3.  We actually sat next to a Mariners fan from Buffalo (how the heck does that happen?).  And we got to enjoy the Terrace Club.  We got to the ballpark over two hours early to get a table and partake of the very nice food at the Terrace Club before the game.  We got a table.  It turned out to be a fantastic idea on our part, as about a half hour after we arrived, it started to rain.  I mean, really rain.  The flag was both sopping wet and straight-out stiff.  A boy near me got scared enough to call his mom and ask if there was a tornado warning.  Everybody in the stadium with a Terrace Club Pass decided to head into the club to seek refuge from the storm.  It was to the point where people were sitting on the floor everywhere with their froofy dinners and their linen napkins.  And Sarah and I had a table!  We kept it.  We ordered our perfect sandwiches.  We had dessert.  We had more drinks.  We had appetizers.  We had even more drinks.  We watched football.  We stayed dry!  We looked down with pity on the Clevelanders huddling in their ponchos, staving off pneumonia, while we debated the merits of the key lime pie or the five-layer chocolate cake, pita chips and warm spinach-and-artichoke dip.  It’s not that I felt I was better than the folks down there…I just pitied them.

And speaking of pity, I’m developing a theory that Clevelanders want it.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I like Cleveland.  I have a lot of good memories of Cleveland during my college days.  The people of Cleveland were absolutely wonderful to Sarah and I during our trip.  I was expecting some hostility, but got none (perhaps in part because I was with Alison).  But after Game 4, Sarah and I walked past a remote broadcast from a local sports-talk guy.  He was saying that the series wasn’t over, and that the Tribe could still win Game 5 back in Seattle.  He said something like:  “Did you expect this to be easy?  What city do you live in?  Is it ever easy for us?”  The self-pity felt strange to me, maybe because I’m from the pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps West.  Clevelanders, help me out with this theory.  Am I accurate?  Is there self-pity and self-loathing associated with living in what seems to be a fine city?  You’re good people with a great stadium.  Is this about 25-years-obsolete river-on-fire jokes?  Is it about John Elway or Jose Mesa?  What’s the deal?

Again–awesome playoff games at a fantastic ballpark.  I can’t help but think of Municipal Stadium and what a big step forward this is.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Games 3 and 4 of the ALDS (which the Mariners won in game 5 back in Seattle).  The first game’s offensive explosion (and to this Mariner fan, it most certainly was offensive) by the Indians surely merited several spots in the playoff record book.  Second game:  one of my favorite ballplayers of all time, Edgar Martinez, hits the longest homer of his career:  458 feet off the walkway above the home run porch in left field.

(Written October 2001.)