Category Archives: major league team

Ballparks categorized by the major league teams that use them.

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 several name changes from their beautiful original name, the ballpark has been known as Globe Life Field in Arlington since 2014.

(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/Progressive Field

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Jacobs Field, Cleveland, OH

Number of games:  3
First game:  October 13, 2001 (Game 3, ALDS:  Indians 17, Mariners 2)
Most recent game:  August 6, 2021 (Indians 6, Tigers 1)

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

Click any image to see a larger version.

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.

UPDATE AUGUST 2021: It took 20 years, but I made it back to Cleveland before the Mariners made it back to the playoffs. The 12-year-old trip for my elder took me there. He wanted to spend a good long time in Cleveland (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Classic Park, and here), and so we did. And I found this ballpark to still be one I liked quite a bit. I did look around and remember that playoff trip with the old girlfriend, but the guy who took that trip and wrote those words above feels like as long gone as those two decades would indicate.

First off–no more Chief Wahoo, thank God; and at this point, I was seeing some of the last games the Cleveland Indians would play before they became the Guardians. I did cross the bridge under the watchful eye of the Guardians of Transportation earlier that day, and found it made me like the game even more. We settled into the game under a gorgeous dusk and watched the Indians pretty much pound the Detroit Tigers. I was a little edgy: the stadium was a little more crowded than I was comfortable with given the rising Delta variant of COVID. But we managed.

Steven reports three things. One (and to my most impressed parental self), Steven declined to order the hot dog with bacon, pimento mac and cheese, and Froot Loops. Maturity–the kid is becoming a man! Second, the Indians mascot refused to high-five Steven because Steven was wearing an Ichiro jersey. Perhaps the remembers the playoff series loss Ichiro put on him at the time of my first visit. Finally, we invented a really spectacular game. When any player is announced (comes to bat, in from the bullpen…), guess the players full name (including middle name) and hometown. He absolutely CRUSHED it by guessing that the Tigers’ Derek Hill was born in Des Moines.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Games 3 and 4 of the 2001 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.

Cal Quantrill controls the game for 7 innings in 2021, striking out 10. Myles Straw has three hits, driving in two.

Des Moines’ own Derek Hill goes 0-for-3.

(Written October 2001. Updated August 2021.)

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD

Number of games:  2
First game:  August 11, 2001 (Orioles 4, Red Sox 2)
Most recent game:  August 20, 2006 (Blue Jays 9, Orioles 2)

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

I’m not bitter.  I flew 3,000 miles to go to two baseball games at Camden.  I planned way, way ahead, buying seats to Friday night and Saturday games.  And then my Friday night game was rained out and not immediately rescheduled.  Hey, who can control the rain?  Who can control the lightning?  Who can control the

fact that the only way to get there from DC is in a rented car on impossible freeways?  Nobody, I say.  So before I talk about how much I liked Camden Yards, I offer you this:

Things To Do During A Long Rain Delay

Go to a nearby convention for a Japanese role-playing game/cartoon.  We (my dad, my brother-in-law, and I) ducked in for shelter on our way to the game, and saw all kinds of adolescents dressed in full regalia practicing skits and playing their chosen card game.  They seemed to be having a good time, but I was bothered by the 13-14 year-old girls wearing the supersexualized outfits.  Also, I kept wondering…where are everyone’s parents?  Still, if you happen to have a nearby role-playing game convention during your rain delay, go there.  The three of us fit right in, I’m sure.

If you’re coming back to the stadium anytime soon (as I was the next day), avoid watching the video on the scoreboard.  I think they showed every video display they had, or

at least close to it.  So the next day I’d seen them all.  They lose something on their second viewing.  (But thumbs-up to the Camden scoreboard people, who have looked for–and, I believe, found–every reference to baseball in TV and film history.  It was quite a baseball-and-pop-culture lesson, I dare say.)

Read Baseball Weekly. If you’re like me, you’ve brought your copy, and if you’re like me, you aren’t likely to have read the articles.  Kind of like Playboy magazine, I bet, only instead of naked women to distract me, there are up-to-date baseball statistics.  The rain delay gives a rare opportunity to read the articles.

Avoid concessions.  I bet that Peter Angelos, the owner of the Orioles (whom I will later tell you is a jerk), loves rainouts.  It’s a chance to add a home date and all kinds of beer and Boog’s BBQ sales without the

hassle of actually offering entertainment on the field.  They’ll let you take bottled drinks into the stadium.  Drink those.

Do the wave.  I never, ever do the wave during a game.  If I were to stand up to do the wave, or to glance sideways to concentrate on the wave’s coming, I would surely miss the greatest play in baseball history.  But during a rain delay, I’m willing to waive my no-wave rule.  And besides, you’ve got to do something.

Ignore the PA announcer when he tells you:  “We are monitoring the situation and will keep you updated.”  He’s lying.  He’s not keeping you updated.  Why not show, every five minutes or so, the National Weather Service’s radar for the area instead of the 1966 World Series?  It seems to me that’s what everybody in the joint wants to know, and yet they’re not showing it to us, nor telling us what the forecast is.  They’re not keeping us updated at all.

I had to make up these rules on the spot, since both of my home parks in Seattle have had roofs.  But the rules seem effective.  Following them got me through 90 minutes of delay before the Friday night rainout, and 45 minutes of delay during my Saturday game.

Now, the ballpark:  fantastic.  Second only to PacBell among new parks (a little better, even, than Coors Field and Jacobs Field, and that’s saying something). (Note:  In 2006, PNC Park passed it as well.) I love the pavilion in right field above the scoreboard.  I wish the wall before the field weren’t so high.  I’m 6’3″, and it came up to my shoulders.  But I guess, since it’s 30 feet or so to the ground, that they don’t want people lunging for balls and falling.  I stood at the scoreboard for batting practice.  I liked how, when a Boston batter hit the scoreboard, you could feel the vibration. 

I liked how everyone started hollering when a batting practice homer came in.  “Here it comes!”  People settled under the ball, but random passersby usually got it.  Oh, and the easiest practical joke:  just go to the pavilion and shout out “Heads up!” at some random point.  People will recoil and look up.  The joke is so easy that I would be ashamed to perpetrate it, like the guys who did it and got me to flinch.

My favorite part of that pavilion:  the little plaque baseballs in the pavement, commemorating who hit the longest homers to right and right-center.  The longest I found:  Ken Griffey, Jr., followed by Henry Rodriguez.  All that’s missing is the pitcher who gave

it up.  But I guess that would be embarrassing, especially since it looked to my eyes like visitor homers outnumbered Oriole homers.

Getting there from DC is difficult because Peter Angelos is a jerk.  There used to be a special commuter train that ran every game day from Union Station in DC directly to Camden Yards.  But Peter Angelos pulled his part of the funding away, so they don’t run it anymore on weekend games.  I suppose he doesn’t need to run the train to make money or to sell out, but if you’re presenting a  product, why would you want to make it difficult for people to see it?  Why not make it easy?  Why would you want to alienate your audience?  Why would you want to make me rent a car, spend a lot of money, and belch a whole lot of dangerous carcinogens into the atmosphere?  Why not keep the train running, make people like you, and do your bit for the environment?  Peter Angelos, in removing this service, is a jerk.  He has no idea how to be a good host.

Speaking of good hosts, major, major thanks to Chris, my wonderful host in DC.  She actually slept on her hardwood floor so that she would hear me knock at my 2 AM arrival.  I was unbelievably touched…she didn’t even sleep on the couch, since she didn’t want to mess it up for me.  I went ahead and confessed a long-ago crush.  Anybody who has any idea why I do that so often, please drop me a line.  But my confession started an interesting discussion about some long-ago crises in our lives.  It was nice to get to know her so much better.  And it’s especially nice to know there’s still another beautiful woman out there who will voluntarily sleep on the floor and be the stop on yet another tour; the 2001 Baltimore-Only Erotic Love and Baseball Stadium Tour.

About Red Sox and Orioles fans…I will grant you that I caught the Orioles in a bad year and the Red Sox while they were still in the wild card race…but what’s the deal with Red Sox fans outnumbering Orioles fans?  When I saw the Orioles play at Fenway Park, there were more or less no O’s fans that made the trip up (although, to be fair, that was a weeknight, while the Baltimore game was a weekend).  It made for quite a loud game.  There were two homers, both by Boston, and both led to huge cheers…that were then almost drowned out by Baltimore boos…that in turn escalated the Boston cheers.  It was quite an even split.  In the ninth inning, when the BoSox got the tying run to the plate, things were very interesting since so many local fans had apparently gone home during the rain delay.  It felt like a high school spirit war, with Boston fans doing the traditional “Let’s-go, Red-Sawx (clap, clap…clap-clap)” while Baltimore fans futilely responded with their three quarter notes and a rest of “Let’s, Go, O’s! (rest).”

And I saw a very strange sight…a Boston fan wearing a Roger Clemens jersey; this in the men’s room surrounded by other Boston fans.  “You’d better lose that shirt, pal,” they said to him, and he responded by saying “He was a Red Sawx.  That’s all I have to say.”   I trailed the guy for a little bit, and heard even random ten-year-olds in Red Sox hats yelling to him “Clemens sucks!”

At any rate, it’s a heck of a ballpark; lots of fun to be in, especially as a neutral Mariners fan.  I’ll try to make it back to get in the game I missed next time around.

January 2007: I did make it back on a muggy Sunday afternoon in August 2006.  There’s still not a train, dammit.  I managed to get there from DC by taking the Metro up to the last stop in Maryland, then take a bus the rest of the way.  The bus driver didn’t exactly win over my confidence when she couldn’t figure out how to get out of the Metro parking lot, but she managed to get us there.  She also rescued me from the most talkative guy I’ve ever been marooned at a bus stop with.  He was a good guy, and when he offered me the seat next to his for half price, I was tempted, but I said “Well, let me see how I feel when I get there…just in case it rains, I might want to get a super-cheap ticket.”  Great move.  I wouldn’t have been able to endure a full game next to him.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Cal Ripken goes 3-for-3 during his final season, including two perfect hit-and-run singles.

Trot Nixon and Manny Ramirez homer.

Josh Towers comes (sort of) close to pitching a perfect game.  He only allowed one baserunner through five innings, this a fourth-inning fly ball that center fielder Larry Bigbie misjudged, had to dive for, and didn’t get–ruled a hit.  If Bigbie had caught that like he should have, and if the umpires had called the game in the fifth for the lightning (and there was quite a bit), we would have had a perfect game in the record books.  Okay, it’s not as close to a no-hitter as what I saw Roger

Clemens pitch at Safeco Field, but it still gave me something to think about…even a way to root for a rainout.

In 2006…another (sort of) near perfect game.  Roy Halladay retires the first 16 batters he faces, letting only three balls leave the infield…completely dominating the Orioles.  He gives up a run in the sixth, however, and the Blue Jays bring on relievers to get the blowout win.

(Written August 2001.  Revised January 2007.)

Pacific Bell Park/Oracle Park

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Pacific Bell Park/Oracle Park, San Francisco, CA

Number of games:  3
First game:  August 7, 2000 (Giants 8, Brewers 1)
Most Recent Game:  July 7, 2019 (Giants 1, Cardinals 0)

 
This park was known as Pacific Bell Park for my first visits in 2000, then as Oracle Park for my visit in 2019. The writing is from 2001 unless noted.
Click on any photo to see a larger version.

They totally got this one right.  I sat in the third deck near the left-field foul pole one game, and in the front row behind home plate (when you buy single seats to meaningless weekday afternoon games months in advance, you can sometimes get lucky) for the other game.  I love the notion of being able to watch the game for free, from a suitably crappy vantage point,

just by meandering along the public walkway between the bay and the stadium.  I love that every cheap seat has a view of something beautiful.  I love the quirkiness of the outfield dimensions and the height of the walls.  This is the best of the new parks I’ve visited–made even better by the knowledge that every dime that went into it was private money.  If the garish Coke bottle beyond the left-center field wall is the price for avoiding taxpayer money for ballparks, to me, that’s a reasonable tradeoff.  Even the new SBC name, which I dislike greatly, is fine with me if it keeps the taxpayers out of it.

As much as I enjoyed the night game hanging out with a friend in the upper deck,

I must admit the prospect of sitting front-and-center for any game in PacBell’s inaugural season really got me psyched.  I entered through the Diamond Club, which has its own private concession stands (God forbid we share them with the unwashed commonfolk who have to pay the puny $19 to sit in the upper deck).  Not that I would ever use said concession stand:  I had my own menu to wave at an usher, who would run to get my my hot dog and popcorn if I so desired.  In fact, for a few extra bucks, I bet I could get him to raise the food to my lips for me.  Such is the life of the upper-crust like me.  People surrounding me were asking me “So, how do you enjoy your season tickets?”  I said:  “I don’t have season tickets.”  They couldn’t believe I’d gotten this ticket the old-fashioned way:  from TicketMaster.  They told me that similar seats were going for several hundred dollars on eBay, way more than the reasonable $35-ish I’d paid for mine. But the front row of the section behind home plate in PacBell Park has nine seats.  The four on either aisle are season-ticket holders.  As of 2000, the one in the middle was up for grabs to nomadic loners like me.  Try for it next time you’re in San Francisco on your own.

It wasn’t the separation from the lower classes that I most enjoyed about being in the front row.  It was, of course, being close to the game.  Fieldin Culbreth was the home plate umpire that afternoon, and it was fun to hear his calls so

clearly.  After the game, it was also nice to see him give the contents of his ball bag to a youngster in the front row.  I enjoyed watching the players in the on-deck circle surveying the pitchers.  And my favorite vantage point for watching home runs remains right behind the catcher.  Something about the distance looks more impressive.  Bill Mueller’s shot to right…well, it’s got to stay way up high to make those couple of rows of seats out there.  From where the ball is hit, it’s easier to sense just what kind of shot is necessary, and how hard it must be to do, than from anywhere else.  I got to see promotions up close, too, as the national anthem singer, ceremonial first pitcher, and everybody else walked out right in front of me.  They let a kid be PA announcer for the first three batters of a half inning, and that kid was close enough to me that I could see the mix of nerves and delight as she said “The pitcher, number 46, Kirk Rueter” into a microphone that blasted her nine-year-old voice over these thousands of people and out into the bay.  “Way to go, Katie!!!”  I shouted…I made it a point to remember her name so I could congratulate her.

Both games were dogs, but the ballpark, like any good ballpark, redeemed them.  It’s not fair to compare a wonderful new park like this to a wonderful old park like Fenway.  But this ballpark is absolutely fantastic.  I’d pay for plane tickets down just to catch a weekend series.  Even if I have to sit with commoners.

2019 UPDATE:  Still merits its extremely high score. Went this time with family, and we had a fantastic time.

I noticed a ton more Giants’ history that I hadn’t seen the first time: every team should honor its Johnnie LeMasters, and the Giants do so with tons of plaques on the exterior of the park as well as photos on the third-deck concourse. Steven, my then-ten-year-old, was stoked about an ice cream sandwich with cookies as the bread and sprinkles around the outside: totally worth it, he says. And these Lego guys were a bit hit on the concourse, as were the three World Series trophies they keep out on the concourse, where anyone can see (nice going, Giants).

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Not too much [in 2000].  Livan Hernandez pitches a heck of a game, throwing over 140 pitches, but can’t quite hang on for a shutout or a complete game.

Jeff Kent homers during his MVP year.

As dull as the 2000 games were, that’s how awesome the 2019 game was. Jeff Samardzjia and Jack Flaherty have a massive pitcher’s duel. Flaherty breaks up Samardzjia’s no-hitter in the fifth, but holds on to his own until the 7th. But that’s when Evan Longoria blasts a mistake into left field. The San Francisco bullpen makes it stand, and the Giants win 1-0.

(Written August 2001.  Revised July 2019.)

 

Qualcomm Stadium

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From the “Ballparks of Baseball” website. Used by permission.

Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA

Number of games:  2
First game:  July 31, 2000 (Padres 4, Phillies 1)
Last game:  August 1, 2000 (Padres 10, Phillies 9, 10 innings)

Qualcomm Stadium is no longer in use for baseball as of the 2004 season.

I never knew why the Padres were called the Padres until I got to San Diego and visited the Mission there (recommended) a few hours before my first game at Qualcomm.  Duh!  The ballpark is in the Mission District!  So it’s not that they believed that priests were somehow intimidating (although I’ve known a few who are), it’s more a local historical nickname, which I think are the best kind.

Qualcomm–this name is an abomination.  It is especially offensive in light of the switch from Jack Murphy Stadium, named from the sportswriter who lobbied so hard to bring pro sports to San Diego…and yes, I know it’s “Qualcomm Stadium at Jack Murphy Field,” but that seems to be a weak and lefthanded tribute to Murphy, which actually makes it worse.

The stadium, however, was a pleasant surprise.  Given that it’s a multipurpose stadium of the era of Busch, Riverfront, Three Rivers and the Vet, I was expecting it to be bland and boring.  While it faces some of the problems of multipurpose stadiums (namely the expanses of empty upper-deck seats), it wasn’t nearly as charmless as all of those.  I like the grass, I like the warm dry air, I like the huge out-of-town scoreboard in right field, and I like the immediacy and doggedness with which they report pitch speed and type of pitch on the left field wall.  I especially like the good-looking laid-back fans who show a lot of skin because it’s so warm in Southern California–it was a fine place to kick off the 2000 Erotic Love And Baseball Stadium West Coast Swing (which was, alas, completely devoid of erotic love).  In short, I guess I like San Diego and its ballpark.

Only one guy talked to me during the games, teasing me about my Mariners hat.  He said, after a highlight video between innings:  “Dude!  [Okay, maybe he didn’t say dude.]  There weren’t any Mariners in those great plays.”  I said “Stan Javier was in there.  He’s the guy who made that juggling catch at the outfield wall.  If you’re going to make fun of me, that’s fine, but you’re going to have to get your facts right.”  His response.  “Okay.  Game on!”  I waited for him to challenge me again, but he obviously knew he was in over his head.  He never spoke to me again.

Before game one, I committed an absolute atrocity.  I was lingering in right field, trying my luck in getting a batting practice ball.  The right field pavilion is a good 20-25 feet above the ground, so players cannot hand kids balls (the best technique in getting kids a ball…adults too often muscle kids aside to get thrown balls).  Anyway, I’m there waiting when Randy Wolf arcs a ball our way.  I settle under it, reach up with my 6’3″ body and freakishly long arms, and I’ll be damned, I caught a real-live major league baseball! I felt good about myself for about three-tenths of a second until I looked behind me and saw the 12-year-old I was standing in front of.

Here’s where my mind started to go haywire.  I instantly felt a strong wave of Catholic guilt for stepping in front of him…and this on the day I visited the Mission!…and in my mind, I heard:  “you should give the kid the ball…you were far taller and in front of him.” As I was thinking this, a group of bitchy junior high girls standing in front of me, between me and Randy Wolf, girls who don’t even have gloves, said “He was throwing us the ball!  Give us the ball!  He was throwing us the ball!” Something about the combination of these two factors–the mind saying “give the kid the ball” and the girls saying “give us the ball” led to the worst possible outcome.  I gave the girls the ball.  I should have either kept the ball  (it’s not like I bumped the kid aside or reached over him, I was in front of him all along, and there’s no way Randy had an intended receiver so far away) or else given it to the short kid I inadvertently blocked out.  I did neither.  And the stupid girls didn’t even thank me.  I should have ripped the damn thing back from them.  Won’t make that mistake again.  But yes…I caught a ball.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Phillies and Padres were both bad teams in 2000, but I saw two good games…

I saw Woody Williams battle Bruce Chen in quite a pitchers’ duel…Woody had a 3-hit shutout until Pat Burrell homered with two out in the 8th.

The 10-9 game was amazing.  The Pads took a 9-1 lead through 6 innings…then blew it before winning in the 10th.  I don’t have a Padre record book handy (indeed, or at all), but I wonder if that’s the biggest lead they’ve ever blown…or does it count as a blown lead if you win anyway?

John Mabry homered in his first at-bat for the Padres after being traded from Seattle the night before.

Trevor Hoffman took the mound with a 9-7 lead for the 9th…it really is cool when they play “Hell’s Bells” as he comes in…got two outs, then gave up back-to-back homers to Scott Rolen and Burrell to blow the save.  The crowd couldn’t believe it. Neither could I.

(Written August 2001.  Revised July 2005.)

Shea Stadium

 

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Carl Semencic, from http://www.li.net/~semencic/beetles.htm. Used by permission.

Shea Stadium, Queens, NY

Number of games:  1
First and last game:  July 24, 1999 (Mets 2, Cubs 1)

Shea Stadium was destroyed in 2009.

I finished off the 1999 Erotic Love And Baseball Stadium Tour of Boston and New York by taking the #7 train to Flushing Meadow; this, the summer before John Rocker made an ass out of himself and made the #7 the most talked-about subway route in the world.  For the record, on the way to and from Shea Stadium I saw none of Rocker’s “queers with AIDS” or “welfare mothers with six kids.” (At least not to my knowledge.  I did not take the time to interview my fellow passengers:  “Has your HIV become symptomatic?” “How many people do you have to support on your welfare check?”)   I also saw no “kids with purple hair”: at least not that I could see underneath their Mets caps.  I did hear a few different languages spoken, however, as Rocker found so offensive.  So John batted .250 in his assessment of the #7 train, which doesn’t exactly going to get him into the Subway Description Hall of Fame.  It did, however, make him look like a complete idiot.

In fact, I had a little bit of a bumpy experience aboard the #7 the middle of Queens.  There was construction on my track, so they made everybody get out of the train and switch over to another train.  I had to improvise in Queens!  But the woman from the Transit Authority was very kind and helpful (in that unemotional New York way) in saying that yes, the train that was going to Main Street/Flushing was also going to Shea Stadium.  I even heard her start saying “this way to Shea Stadium” over her bullhorn after I left her.  That was my good deed for the folks going to the game–getting the Transit woman to say “Shea Stadium” for them.

If you’re going to attend a baseball game in New York, especially at Shea, be certain to dramatically overeat prior to your arrival at the ballpark.  “I’ll just pick up lunch at the ballpark” is a bad idea.  The concession stands are overpriced even by New York standards, and the food is quite typical.  There are cheap delis and pizzerias near wherever you’re staying.  There are corner markets that can sell you food that I bet you can easily sneak in.  Do that–don’t eat at the park.  At Shea, it won’t be long before loan offices open next to the concession stands so that you can talk to someone about whether you can afford a slice of pizza and a Coke.

The stadium itself is in the middle of the pack of stadiums, I’d say…charming, but not really special.  The fans weren’t so choked with anger as their counterparts in the Bronx.  I sat next to a family who were enjoying the game and even permitting their kids to root for Sammy Sosa when he was at bat, provided they rooted for the Mets the rest of the time.  It was kids’ day, so I got to watch the Mets play wiffle ball with their kids.  Its amazing how early you can tell a kid is going to be an athlete, as so many of these kids clearly take after their fathers.

All in all, it was a nice afternoon at a good-looking and, thanks to the #7, easily-accessible ballpark.  There’s nothing wrong with this ballpark.  Nothing special about it either, except for everything that’s already special about an afternoon watching baseball–and in the end, that’s enough.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Sammy Sosa homers.  I saw him take the little hop.

Edgardo Alfonzo and Robin Ventura homer.  All the runs come on solo homers.

Steve Trachsel pitches very well, but takes the loss to drop to 3-14.  Ouch.

[Old] Yankee Stadium

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Photo courtesy of NYCTourist.com. Used by permission.

[Old] Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NY

Number of games:  1
First and last game:  July 22, 1999 (Yankees 5, Devil Rays 4)

Old Yankee Stadium was knocked down in 2009 and 2010.

Dad–relax!  Yes, I took the subway, but I was with a friend, and I went to a day game.  I was never in any kind of physical danger.  Well, maybe once, but we’ll get to that later.

The stadium itself isn’t at all beautiful or special in architecture, but I think people’s love of Yankee Stadium (including mine) comes not from what is there but from what has happened there.  To me, there’s exactly one thing that ties me to Mantle and Maris and Guidry and, somehow, even to Ruth…Bob Sheppard.  The man has this wonderful and timeless voice, and I don’t understand why more people who share his job don’t emulate him.  Those long, long pauses between each word can make everything sound so beautiful, majestic, important, historic, even if you know he’s just saying the name of some Tampa Bay Devil Ray you’ve never heard of before and will never hear of again, a guy about to strike out in the second inning of a completely routine game on a chilly, rainy July afternoon, a game between a first-place team and a last-place team.  “The center fielder……….number fifty…….Terrell……….Lowery.”   And all I can think is…my GOD…it’s Terrell Lowery!  How critically important a moment this is!  Bob Sheppard makes this happen.  Not only does he talk slowly by pausing between each word, he pronounces the name just slowly enough so that he–and everyone listening–can absolutely savor every syllable, every phoneme.  This is a man who loves words and loves names to the point where Sports Illustrated once published his all-time favorite and least favorite baseball names to pronounce.  (The best:  Salome Barojas.  He loves the Hispanic names.  The worst:  Mickey Klutts.)

Other PA announcers don’t have the same style, and would probably be fired if they did.  I think this is a terrible shame.  Think of the difference between the way “The shortstop…number three…Alex Rodriguez” is pronounced if Alex is on the home team or on the visiting team.  I find this difference to be ridiculous and borderline offensive.  Is it the PA announcer’s job to tell me when to cheer?  I can tolerate organ playing, music, even a little of the infernal rhythmic clapping…but are fans such morons that the PA announcer has to tell us, through vocal inflection, which are the good guys and which are the bad?  I’m certainly not.  (Incidentally, I feel the same way about scoreboards which say “Noise Now” or “On Your Feet” or other instructional tips for fans.  I will make noise when I am moved to make noise…not because The Man is telling me to.)

Bob Sheppard can’t do what he does for too much longer–he has been doing it day in and day out for close to 50 years–and I’ll miss him when he’s gone, because it will mean the cheerleader PA announcer will have won out over his wonderful voice and classy technique, same for home and visitor.

Yankee fans, frankly, scare the hell out of me.  This game is in 1999, mind you, so the Yankees are in first place and in a stretch of World Series victories.  They never trail Tampa Bay in the game I watch, although it’s a close game.  And they are absolutely ruthless to their home team.  Andy Pettitte gets it for giving up a couple of runs and a homer, Bernie Williams gets it for a groundout with a runner in scoring position (even though Bernie had homered earlier), others get it for other small sins…the negative energy in the place was amazing.

Oh–about that possible near-death experience…it had been a drizzly afternoon, and my high-school buddy and I were a little chilly and were occasionally getting specked by individual drops of water.  Is the rain starting up again?  Are we under a wet stadium light?  After a few innings, I finally catch it…there’s a ten-or-eleven year old kid up there, about eight rows above us, spraying random people with a water gun.  I know how to handle this…I’ve taught sixth grade, so I know what to do with boys who misbehave.  I give him my stern teacher glare and say “Knock it off!”  Game over, I’m sure.  But just as soon as the words are out of my mouth, the instant it’s too late to take them back, I notice that his dad is next to him, egging him on.  What the hell’s the deal with that?  A dad encouraging his son to spray strangers at a ballgame?  Amazing.  Good old New York.  So as soon as I give the kid a glare, I’m worried that the dad is going to come after me, and there’s gonna be a huge fight, and I’ve never been in a fight, and this dad probably is in one every weekend, and the New Yorkers will side with him, and I’ll be in some hospital in the Bronx, and I won’t make it to my Saturday game at Shea…Well, it didn’t happen.  The kid stopped his water gun, at least with me.  Score one for the teacher glare.

So, to review–the historic nature of the grass that Gehrig and Ruth and the rest of them ran on is palpable and impressive, and is aided by Bob Sheppard’s voice…I hope he is not replaced with a cheerleader.  The teams are usually so good that they’re worth the trip.  In short, like New York itself, Yankee Stadium is a wonderful place to visit, and I look forward to visiting again (maybe for a night game…eeek!) but it scares me a little with its negative karma, and I’m glad it’s not my home stadium.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Bernie Williams and Fred McGriff homer.

Bryan Rekar, who I saw make his first major league start (a win) in Colorado in 1995, gets the loss.

Wade Boggs pinch-hits in what I believe to be his last appearance in Yankee Stadium.  He grounds to second.

(Written August 2001.  Revised July 2009.)

Fenway Park

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Larry Copeland. Used by permission.

Fenway Park, Boston, MA

Number of games: 2
First game:  July 19, 1999 (Marlins 10, Red Sox 7)
Most recent game:  July 21, 1999 (Orioles 6, Red Sox 1)

You don’t need me to tell you the historic nature of this place, or its importance, or the sad, sick personality disorders of lifelong Red Sox fans.  I attest to and love all of those things, but I don’t feel they need to be repeated here.  If you’re looking for writing about that, pop in a tape of Ken Burns’ Baseball and put the continuous loop on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s speeches.

What I will attest to, and try to describe in the next couple of paragraphs, are the place’s physical beauty and ambience.  I don’t know what I was expecting when I walked in that July night–quirkiness?  charm?–but I know I wasn’t expecting the place to be so beautiful.  Clearly, they take care of Fenway the way some families take care of antiques.  The image I most remember is the fresh red paint on the turnstiles, for goodness’ sake.  I loved the green of the facades, the pillars, the Monster–it’s not the darker green of the new retro parks, but has faded just enough to make it look venerable, loved, well-used.  I loved the angles of the seats, even though they made me torque my body from my seat (just to the foul side of Pesky’s pole and six rows back) to see the batter–otherwise, I would have spent all night looking at right fielders Trot Nixon and Mark Kotsay.  I kept on wondering–am I just carried away?  But the more I looked at the place, the more I realized:  nope, I’m not carried away…this place really is that beautiful.  Even a baseball-illiterate dropped in from Borneo would find the colors and shapes fascinating.

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Larry Copeland. Used by permission.

As gorgeous as the place is, its ambience trumps its beauty.  Starting with the walk from the T station…you’re not more than ten yards from the exit when you see the guy hawking hats in that inimitable Boston accent.  He mutters every word except the “Red” in “Red Sox,” which he shouts out at five times the volume and an octave and a half higher:  “RED sawx caps heah…lower than stadium prices…we’re gonna beat the Orioles today…get your RED sawx caps heah…”  This gets me psyched for the walk across the bridge, across Landsdowne Street, past the Citgo sign, even to the sports bar where my friend Larry and I waited out a rain delay (and where we accidentally left our tickets…thanks to the waitress for fishing them out of the wastebasket when we desperately ran back…her tip suddenly tripled!)  Then in the park, no tapes of rhythmic clapping telling fans when to get excited.  Just a game.  When the seventh inning stretch comes, nobody shouts out “All right, up on your feet!”  The organ plays “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” and everybody knows what to do.  Unlike Wrigley Field, they have installed a scoreboard with stats and pictures, and I’m just young enough to view that as close to mandatory when it’s used to add to the game (and not, for instance, to tell fans when to cheer).  The neighborhood, the park, the rabidness of the fans (maybe some year I’ll make it in for a Yankee series)–it’s all perfect.  Fenway was so wonderful that it overcame two cold nights, an interleague opponent, a rain delay, and lackluster play by the Sox.

Kerry, my favorite Kingdome baseball date, was kind enough to get me tickets and go to the games with me.  Clearly, I should have anticipated disappointment.  Three years and a few relationships later, I set my sights on having as much fun as we did in Seattle in ’96, but she was into trumpeting her independence that summer.  She was no longer in need of outside esteem-boosters like me, and made it a point to show me that at every opportunity.  She even made certain to rip on me repeatedly–it seems, during my three-day outing in New York, that I had gotten her a low-quality Yankee hat.  “I would have paid for the nice wool one.  You should have just spent the money.”  Four apologies and two “knock-it-offs” later, she was still needling me for that one.  Well, if you’re going to be catty and snide, I guess baseball cap quality is as good a place as any to do it.   The deal-breaker was when she didn’t show up to the Oriole game until the fifth inning.  (“I was busy at work, and I don’t have a clock in my office, and I got carried away.”)  I mean, I’m fine and all–I’m at a baseball park–Fenway Park.  But I wanted to be there with her, and it upsets me that she didn’t put in a little more effort to be there.  It’s sad, really.  I told her I felt far closer to her while writing emails from opposite coasts than I did while sleeping in the same bed as her in Boston.  And maybe I’m to blame for trying to recreate moments from an obsolete time and place (hey, we all do it).  But nevertheless, I’m sad at the results.  We were very close before the trip, but we haven’t been the same since I was there, buying her the wrong hat, feeling far away from her, and, perhaps most telling, watching five innings of a ballgame next to her empty seat.  We don’t talk much anymore.  And in whatever proportion the blame for that should be dealt out, that end result is a shame.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

No homers over the Monster.  In fact, the only homer in the two games was to the deepest part of the ballpark, straightaway center, by Preston Wilson.

Tomokazu Ohka makes his first major league start, and gets roughed up pretty severely by the Marlins, lasting only one inning.

A good pitchers’ duel between Bret Saberhagen and Mike Mussina that the Red Sox bullpen (most notably Derek Lowe) blows late, giving up 6 runs in the seventh and eighth innings.