Category Archives: major league

Major League ballparks.

Target Field, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Target Field
Minneapolis, Minnesota

targetinprogressNumber of games: 3
First Game:  August 15, 2014 (Royals 6, Twins 5)
Most Recent Game: August 18, 2014 (Royals 6, Twins 4)

Click any image to see a full-sized version.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ME:  “Okay. Thanks.”

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

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

“What do you mean?” I asked.

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

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

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

“Sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Really, John?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

targetpatricktargettrophy

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

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

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

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

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

A pair of saves for Greg Holland.

Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park in One Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fans and school:

Cub fans miss school to enjoy afternoon ballgames.

White Sox fans have never attended a school.

Fans removing shirts in windy  40-degree weather:

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

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

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

paulandsteve

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

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

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

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

Wearing opposing colors:

Wear opposing colors–whatever you want.

Wear opposing colors, but accessorize with a flak jacket.

Result of game and fan reaction:

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW ON THIS DAY:

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

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

Nationals Park

Nationals Park, Washington DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ballpark itself felt like it

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

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

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

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

These factors certainly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Written July 2009.)

[New] Busch Stadium

[New] Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

Scott Rolen homers.

(Written August 2007.)

RFK Stadium

Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, Washington DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

PNC Park

PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

Number of games: 2
First game:  August 2, 2006 (Braves 3, Pirates 2)
Most recent game:  August 3, 2006 (Pirates 3, Braves 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

Great American Ball Park

Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, OH

Number of games:  1
First game:  August 1, 2006 (Dodgers 10, Reds 4)

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

Man, does I ever love me a baseball museum, especially one that is local in scope and attached to a stadium.  I love

getting prepped for a night of baseball by immersing myself in baseball history, as one is able to do in Texas and in Atlanta.  If you’re like me, when you visit Great American Ball Park, you’re going to want to get there early.  The Reds museum is worth a couple of hours of your time.

I’m not really a Reds fan, but you can’t argue against their history.  Pro baseball began in Cincinnati, after all, in 1869–and the museum accounts for pretty much all of the key moments since then.  While I was there, the highlighted exhibit focused on the World Championship team of 1919…yeah, the other team in that World Series.  How much would it suck to win a championship and always be

remembered for having the other team lose it?  I’d never really thought of that until seeing the story from the Reds’ perspective in the museum. Speaking of gamblers, the museum has a fine way of commemorating Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits:  they have 4,256 baseballs displayed against a wall…about 10-15 yards across and four stories high, behind a staircase and a glass wall.  Quite lovely.  Tributes to past ballparks, past teams, and the best moments in Reds history are there.  My favorite highlights are reproduced here:  a scorecard from Tom Browning’s perfect game, lots of statues, including this one of Sparky Anderson, the pennant from the 1981 team which was denied the postseason during the strike-interrupted year, and the Reds Hall of Fame, where they honor pretty-good-but-not-really-great players from the team’s past.  Every team should have a place to honor its Mario Sotos.

The ballpark itself, I’m afraid, doesn’t live up to the experience of the museum. I do like its location right on the river and the fact that, unlike at Riverfront Stadium (on which GABP, for all its faults, is still an improvement), one can actually see the river from the upper deck. And the history I so enjoyed in the museum appears in the ballpark proper as well,

with sculptures, murals, and even a scoreboard feature of “past Reds to wear this number.”  (Ed Armbrister got a ballpark mention this way.)  But in the final analysis, there was just too much kitsch and too many stinking amenities.  The ballpark simply tries too hard.

I mean, the notion that the ballpark looks like a steamboat from the outside is sort of cute, I guess, but is entirely unnecessary.  Seriously:  isn’t a ballpark beautiful because it is a ballpark?  Why bother trying to make it impressive looking with this sort of extra effort?  It’s like too much makeup on a beautiful woman–it leaves

me wanting less. Also, from my seat, I looked down into a spot sponsored by a furniture store where the mucky-mucks could sit on cushy furniture and not watch the game.  I wanted to mark up that leather sofa with cotton candy.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the baseball is secondary at GABP: it certainly beats abominations like Detroit (with its amusement park rides) and Houston (with its damn stock quotes).  Still, I felt there was too much effort to distract.  All the distraction I need is in the river, with the barges and speedboats passing by.  I didn’t need more.  Even what the ballpark did well–like have lineups displayed on the concourse, minor-league style–had flaws (like the misspelling of Wilson Betemit’s name).

Longtime friends and fantasy baseball rivals Joe and Alison joined me for the game.  The live in rural Central Ohio…about a 3-hour haul from

Cincinnati.  Alison is a lifelong Tribe fan; Joe is partial to the Nationals.  But both did me the honor of joining me for this one, and even headed across to PNC Park the next night.  Add to that the playoff ballgame in Cleveland in ’01, and you have among the league leaders in Seeing Major League Ballparks With Paul.  (First place is still my dad, but my wife is catching up fast!)  Needless to say, a fine time was had by all of us.  We headed up high into the upper deck…the better to have silly conversations without worrying about being overheard.  The topics of those silly conversations?  Well, they’re lost to history–I seem to remember trying to figure out what industries still use barges along the Ohio–but I do know I’m grateful to have friends that are willing and able to decimate a week driving all over Ohio to hang at ballgames with me, and also willing to lug me back to their place for lodging.  Appreciated as always, folks.  I’d love to return the favor for you and your family whenever you get to the West Coast.

So, in the end, the ballpark is somewhere in the middle–or a hair below it–when compared with its contemporaries.  Nonetheless, the quality hardly mattered to me.  The museum was fantastic, and the friends even better.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

The Dodgers win a key wildcard matchup.  Wilson Betemit channels his obvious anger at his misspelled name into a 2-run homer, and Rafael Furcal knocks in four runs.

Adam Dunn and David Ross homer for the Reds.

In the first game after the 2006 trade deadline, I see Julio Lugo make his debut for the Dodgers, and Rheal Cormier and Kyle Lohse for the Reds.

(Written August 2006.)

PETCO Park

PETCO Park, San Diego, CA

Number of games:  1
First game:  April 5, 2006 (Giants 3, Padres 1)

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

Oh it never rains in Southern California/But it pours/Man, it pours.

The last time the San Diego Padres had been rained out at home was in April of 1998.  Somebody powerful obviously knew, however, that I was returning to

San Diego to check out the new ballpark, because on April 4, 2006, I flew over a thousand miles to check out a ballgame.  So, of course, it was inevitable that I’d head to the ballpark for the first rainout in PETCO Park history and the first in San Diego in eight years.  Unbelievable.  And to add insult to injury, I had that damn song in my head for 48 hours.  (Now I bet you will too).

Part of me was upset.  I’m from Seattle, and we picnic in the little drizzle that was coming down that day.  Sure, it’s cold.  Sure it’s a little wet.  Play ball!  They’re playing it as nearby as Los Angeles…let’s just play ball.  The Padres felt otherwise, and rescheduled the game for July.  I wasn’t going to be in San Diego in July, and when they announced that my ticket could either be redeemed for the July game or exchanged for any other Padres game that year, I figured

I was out thirty bucks.  Not so.  When I went to the very kind ticket people and told them I was from out of town, they told me that if I visited the Padres’ website, I could get a refund.  I was surprised by this…I’m not sure all teams would have such a generous policy.

I felt like Charlie Brown, with a rain cloud hanging over me.  It was a gorgeous April day in Seattle while I sat in the cold and wet on my vacation in San Diego.  There is also precedent for me traveling long distances for rained-out sporting events.  Recently, I missed out on a ballgame at Toledo’s gorgeous Fifth Third Field, and another at Camden Yards, but longer ago (and more tragically), at the end of the year I studied in England, I missed the opening day of Wimbledon. I’ll never forget that day…taking the Tube south of town, queuing up early, scoring tickets to Court One (which was to feature Lendl, Connors, and Cash), only to watch it rain all day.  The next day, I flew back home to America.  Wimbledon’s rainout policy?  I could exchange my ticket for an opening day ticket the next year.  Gosh, thanks, guys.

That’s 23 quid down the drain.

My resentment isn’t as strong in San Diego, because I did get in one of my scheduled two games.  It was an interesting moment in baseball history, as

it was the San Francisco Giants’ second game of the season, and their second game since a book came out with specific accusations regarding Barry Bonds’ steroid use.  The atmosphere was ugly.  A fan had thrown a needle-less syringe onto the field near Bonds on opening day, and the Padres responded by closing the area near left field where fans could congregate.  The booing was intense and merciless, including chants of “Cheater!  Cheater!”  (I’d have enjoyed an extension…a variation on “liar liar pants on fire.”)

PETCO Park itself felt middle-of-the-road to me.  As I see it, it simply isn’t as attractive as other ballparks of its generation.  Inside the ballpark, there are an awful lot of white beams, and even in the two-year-old ballpark, some yucky browns were starting to show through the paint.  The location didn’t really blow me away–it’s sort of near downtown, but sort of not really.  A few sports bars and hotels and stuff were starting to crop up on one side of the stadium, but it’s not exactly an interesting neighborhood.  Not yet, anyway.  There are a few nice views from the upper deck, which helps with the “only in San Diego” feel, but there’s nothing terribly special that sets PETCO apart.

Even when PETCO tries, it falls

just a hair short.  The center-field bleacher area wants to be call to mind a beach–in fact, they call it “The Beach.”  At the base of the bleachers, they’ve set down some light sand where they want people to patrol for home run balls.  But it doesn’t look or feel like a beach…it looks and feels more like a litter box, and spectators there don’t use it like a beach. Instead of chilling out, playing catch, or whatever, they’ll stand with their fingers through a chain-link fence, blocking the $8 bleacher seats behind them.  Why not reverse it?  Put the bleachers up to the fence, and put The Beach” up high behind it, add some picnic tables and sandbox toys, and let people hang out there?  Particularly mammoth home runs that clear the bleachers (unlikely in this pitchers’ paradise) could be said to “make the beach.”  How about it?

PETCO is still a fine ballpark overall, however, in spite of these negatives. 

The integration of the Western Metal Supply Company building into the ballpark is simply brilliant.  It takes Camden Yards’ integration of a warehouse and raises it to a new level…it makes the warehouse part of the ballpark.  (Check out how the corner of the building serves as the foul pole.)  The seats on top of the warehouse and on the balconies are an especially nice stuff.  PETCO also integrates an aspect from many minor-league ballparks I like…the grounds take up far more acreage than just the edifice of the stadium.  It incorporates a lot of space past center field, space which includes a walkway (K Street), a grassy hill, and a Wiffle ball field.  The grassy hill is especially nice, since it’s a casual spot to watch the game on a picnic blanket.  It’s a very large, baseball-themed open space, something I like greatly in ballparks.

On the whole, I do like PETCO Park.  It’s an improvement from old Qualcomm Stadium (which wasn’t bad for a multipurpose ballpark), but nevertheless, I don’t think it’s on the same level as the best of the most recent generation of parks.  There’s too much missing; not enough of a sense of Padres history, baseball history, or a California feel…and I don’t think it was just the rain.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Barry Bonds goes 0-for-1.  He is hit by a pitch (off the massive elbow protector), walks, and reaches on an error.

Adrian Gonzalez homers for the Padres.

Matt Morris picks up the win for the Giants.

(Written April 2006.)

Citizens Bank Park

Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA

Number of games:  1
First game:  June 12, 2005 (Phillies 6, Brewers 2)

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

Work brought me to Citizens Bank Park for the first time–taking student debaters to the National tournament in Philadelphia.  I’m glad it did, too.  Citizens Bank Park isn’t derivative of the 1990s new wave of ballparks; it didn’t exactly remind me of Coors or Jacobs or Camden Yards.  I was glad to see that–by the time this ballpark debuted in 2004, to copy those ballparks, as beautiful and wonderful as they are, would have felt like a cop-out.  Citizens Bank Park is its own park, and a gorgeous one.  It is unquestionably a top-ten ballpark.

There are subtle but significant differences between it and the others–differences that make the ballpark unique and charming.  For starters, there’s the red brick.  Yes, a lot of ballparks are made of red brick–San Francisco’s comes to mind.  However, the red brick isn’t central to the decor as it is in Philadelphia.  And, for reasons I can’t communicate properly, red brick is gorgeous in a ballpark.  Second, Citizens Bank Park has bucked a recent trend towards baseball green seats.  Don’t get me wrong–I love the baseball green.  But it’s been duplicated enough lately that the deep blue seats in Philadelphia are a refreshing, character-giving change.

Philadelphia also has an interesting reversal in design compared to Coors Field, Safeco Field, and probably a couple of ballparks I’m forgetting.  At Coors and Safeco, fans can look out onto the field from the concourse…but only on the first level.  The upper concourse is enclosed behind the seats, and fans can’t see the interior of the ballpark from there.  At Citizens Bank Park, this is reversed.  The lower levels are enclosed, and it is difficult to see the field from there.  On the third level, one can see the field.  It’s a refreshing difference–giving the folks in the

cheap seats a panorama of both the field and downtown Philadelphia wherever they are on the level.  (“Cheap seats” is a relative term, I’m afraid…the cost of a third-level seat at Citizens Bank Park was well above the cost at any park I’ve ever been to.  There are not “cheap seats” there.  Can we work on that, Phillies?)

Another creative touch in design is that fans can look directly down on the bullpen while looking at a sign that provide information about what various pitches look like.  It’s a nice touch, also, to be able to watch bullpen warm-ups from such a nearby vantage point, with no fence barrier.  All in all, the design of Citizens Bank Park is beautiful.  It integrates the texture of the game.

I was a little bit troubled by the atmosphere back in the kids’ corner…the carnival games were in danger of becoming flashy and distracting like those at Comerica Park.  But in

Philadelphia, it’s a little bit different…a carnival game (like the giant pinball game or the competition where kids–or adults–run in place as fast as they can to manipulate a player icon around the bases) is participatory in a way that a carousel or Ferris wheel is not.  For whatever reason, it felt like a celebration of baseball rather than an escape from it, so I don’t view it as a strike against the ballpark.

Part of the reason is that Citizens Bank Park celebrates baseball in a wonderful way throughout its center field pavilion.  There are plaques dedicated to great Phillies at each position.  There are bricks in the ground commemorating Phillies’ all-stars at each position.  There is a mini-museum behind

the brick wall in center field about Phillies and Philadelphia Negro League history.  “Ashburn Alley” is an excellent example of an open outfield pavilion area, all surveyed by a statue of Richie Ashburn.  Perhaps best of all is the bullpen.  This is consistent with the ballpark’s sense of history throughout…there’s a statue of Connie Mack outside the ballpark, put up by a group dedicated to promoting Philadelphia A’s history (what there is of it, anyway).

In addition to the design, the atmosphere in Citizens Bank Park further adds to its charm.  I’ll admit I had a preconception of Philadelphia and its fans coming into my visit.  I was expecting the fans to be rude and surly throughout.  It was in Philadelphia, after all, that Santa Claus was booed, J.D. Drew risked bodily harm, and even Mike Schmidt faced chants of “Choke!  Choke!”…from his child’s classmates on a school bus. So, when my smart and smart-alecky debater boy decided this would be a good place to root for the visiting team, I let him know he was doing so at his own risk.  It didn’t turn out to be a problem…we didn’t get a cross look all day.  Maybe it’s because the Phils were playing Milwaukee that day, and nobody could reasonably expect any human being to actually root for the Brewers.  They knew my student was faking it.  But I don’t think so.  I

think, quite simply, that these were genuinely cool baseball fans surrounding me on this unconscionably muggy Sunday afternoon.  Case in point:  As I walked to my seat, I passed a couple of Phillies fans talking on cell phones.  Usually, in other cities, this turns me off–I hear snippets of business deals or stupid “Yippee!  I’m at the ballpark!” talk.  Both of the individuals I passed at Citizens Bank Park were talking baseball…the day’s pitching matchups, the Phillies’ recent hot streak, and the like.  It was a fine group of intelligent, engaged, dare-I-say pleasant fans.  I hate to blow Philadelphia’s hard-earned reputation, but I’ve got to call it like I see it.

So, all in all, an excellent day at a fine ballpark surrounded by good baseball fans.  Who could possibly cry over the loss of Veterans Stadium when they have this gorgeous ballpark to replace it?

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.)