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American 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.

Tropicana Field

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

Scott Hatteberg homered and went 3-for-5.

Aubrey Huff went 3-for-4.

(Written April 2005.)

Skydome

Skydome, Toronto, ON

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

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

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

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

A few hours later, I was inside the Skydome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One nice touch–the Blue Jays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

Aubrey Huff homers.

David Bush gets his first career win.

(Written August 2004.  Revised July 2009.)

Comerica Park

Comerica Park, Detroit, MI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

Omar Infante homers twice in a game.

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

(Written August 2004.)

The Ballpark in Arlington

The Ballpark in Arlington, Arlington TX

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

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

(Click any image to view a larger version.)

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

baarlingtonventura

Why didn't Ventura sign it too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

Jacobs Field

jacobs1

Sarah Cox. Used by permission.

Jacobs Field, Cleveland, OH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

(Written October 2001.)

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.)

[Old] Yankee Stadium

ys_stadium_ext

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 is no longer in use as of the 2009 season.

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

fenway

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.

fenway2

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.