Category Archives: national league

National League ballparks.

Minute Maid Park

Minute Maid Park, Houston, TX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

Craig Biggio homers.

(Written April 2004.)

Hiram Bithorn Stadium

Hiram Bithorn Stadium, San Juan, PR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bithornprotestor

Protestors are removed from the field--one forcibly.

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

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

“…and I saw Willie Mays.”

“At the Polo Grounds?”

“Yes.  Remember, I’m 73!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bithornefrainflag

Photo by Efrain Rodriguez, Jr. Used by permission.

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

Vladimir Guerrero, Tony Clark, and Gary Sheffield homer.

John Smoltz picks up a save.

(Written April 2003.  Updated April 2006.)

Miller Park

Miller Park, Milwaukee, WI

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

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

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

nasty Midwestern thunderstorm.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Written April 2002.  Updated April 2007.)

Pacific Bell Park

pacuse

From the "Ballparks of Baseball" website. Used by permission.

Pacific Bell Park, San Francisco, CA

Number of games:  2
First game:  August 7, 2000 (Giants 8, Brewers 1)
Most Recent Game:  August 9, 2000 (Giants 9, Brewers 3)

Pacific Bell Park changed its name to SBC Park before the 2004 season, then to AT&T Park before the 2006 season.

They totally got this one right.  I sat in the third deck near the left-field foul pole one game, and in the front row behind home plate (when you buy single seats to meaningless weekday afternoon games months in advance, you can sometimes get lucky) for the other game.  I love the notion of being able to watch the game for free, from a suitably crappy vantage point, just by meandering along the public walkway between the bay and the stadium.  I love that every cheap seat has a view of something beautiful.  I love the quirkiness of the outfield dimensions and the height of the walls.  This is the best of the new parks I’ve visited–made even better by the knowledge that every dime that went into it was private money.  If the garish Coke bottle beyond the left-center field wall is the price for avoiding taxpayer money for ballparks, to me, that’s a reasonable tradeoff.  Even the new SBC name, which I dislike greatly, is fine with me if it keeps the taxpayers out of it.

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

It wasn’t the separation from the lower classes that I most enjoyed about being in the front row.  It was, of course, being close to the game.  Fieldin Culbreth was the home plate umpire that afternoon, and it was fun to hear his calls so clearly.  After the game, it was also nice to see him give the contents of his ball bag to a youngster in the front row.  I enjoyed watching the players in the on-deck circle surveying the pitchers.  And my favorite vantage point for watching home runs remains right behind the catcher.  Something about the distance looks more impressive.  Bill Mueller’s shot to right…well, it’s got to stay way up high to make those couple of rows of seats out there.  From where the ball is hit, it’s easier to sense just what kind of shot is necessary, and how hard it must be to do, than from anywhere else.  I got to see promotions up close, too, as the national anthem singer, ceremonial first pitcher, and everybody else walked out right in front of me.  They let a kid be PA announcer for the first three batters of a half inning, and that kid was close enough to me that I could see the mix of nerves and delight as she said “The pitcher, number 46, Kirk Rueter” into a microphone that blasted her nine-year-old voice over these thousands of people and out into the bay.  “Way to go, Katie!!!”  I shouted…I made it a point to remember her name so I could congratulate her.

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

Jeff Kent homers during his MVP year.

(Written August 2001.  Revised April 2006.)

Qualcomm Stadium

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From the "Ballparks of Baseball" website. Used by permission.

Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

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

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

(Written August 2001.  Revised July 2005.)

Shea Stadium

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

Shea Stadium, Queens, NY

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

Shea Stadium is no longer in use as of the 2009 season.

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

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

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

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

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

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

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

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

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

Bank One Ballpark

BOB
Rob Edsall. Used by permission.

Bank One Ballpark, Phoenix, AZ

Number of games: 1
First game: June 16, 1999 (Diamondbacks 12, Marlins 6)

BankOne Ballpark changed its name to Chase Field before the 2006 season.

I have to admit, I was quite excited when my job took me to Phoenix in the summer of 1999…I made it a point to play hooky and get myself to BankOne Ballpark.  The quirky outfield, the pool…I was excited to see this place.  Alas, I was disappointed.

I understand the need to keep the place closed all day–the day I went to the ballpark, the high was 111 Fahrenheit.  The lows on those days are in the 90s, and even a hard-core fan like me will skip the ballpark and go to a Karaoke bar if given the chance on a night like this.  So I’m not saying they shouldn’t have built the roof (as I feel about Safeco Field).  But the necessity of making the place enclosed means that you can forget any views.

Consider the outfield, for instance.  You can forget looking out at downtown skyscrapers, like you can at Safeco Field, for instance, even when the roof is closed (because the roof isn’t so much a roof as a canopy).  Look beyond the outfield fence and all there is to see are two huge 12-14 story walls meeting at a right angle beyond center field.  Since there can be no place anywhere in a baseball park not covered by advertising, they’ve put several neon corporate logos on the wall…and that’s all you’re able to look out at if ever your eyes wander.  It’s not as bad in foul territory, where the third deck goes up high–very high, and at a wonderfully steep angle–and that’s what blocks your view of the outside world.  But those walls past centerfield?  Necessary for comfort, but this doesn’t mean I have to like it.

When the roof is closed, the place feels more like an airplane hangar than anything else.  Maybe it’s the square shape…as much as I dislike the Astrodome, Metrodome, and Kingdome, (and don’t get me wrong, the BOB is far better than these), I never felt like they were hangars, I think because they’re round.  But I think that BOB is like the building they build the Space Shuttles in, only we’ve got tiny little baseball players playing down at the bottom of it, like ants in an abandoned can of Fresca.

They play this hugely majestic music as they open up the roof at game time.  Somehow it doesn’t work for me because the roof is moving almost imperceptibly slowly.  Not nearly as impessive-looking as they want you to think it is.  Also, after they’ve air-conditioned the hell out of the place all day to make it tolerable at night, I’m pretty sure they keep the air-conditioning running during the game to keep you comfortable…thereby air-conditioning the surrounding neighborhood as well.  I appreciate the effort to keep me cool, but I couldn’t help thinking of the terrible waste of energy this all was.  I wonder what their energy bill for the year is compared to, say, Kauffman or Busch or Dodger Stadium or somewhere else that can be hot, but where people are left to fend for themselves.

I’m likely to go to a few more games here, since my good friend Rob now resides in Tempe.  Maybe it’ll grow on me.

The game?  Not at all memorable.  A good D-backs team beating the snot out of a bad Marlins team.  I went with a co-worker who I had a crush on.  She came along with the following statement: “I don’t want to go, and I’d even pay for the ticket, but I don’t think you should have to go alone.”   Perhaps she could have said this to me before I offered to buy her a ticket.  Worst of all, she read a book during the game.  She could have walked around, she could have compelled me to buy her endless concessions, she could have asked stupid questions all night…but reading a book?  Yuck. I no longer had a crush on her at the end of the game.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Arizona had a 4-6-3 double play that I wrote in my scorecard thusly:  “Bell-Fox-Lee.”  I challenge anyone to come up with an infield DP combination in baseball history that is fewer than 10 total letters.  I mean, Mark Grudzielanek or Doug Mientkiewicz have that beat all by themselves.

Matt Williams hit a home run.

The D-backs scored 3 separate runs on Marlin wild pitches.  It was that ugly.

(Written August 2001.  Updated July 2005.)

Coors Field

Coors Field, Denver, CO

Number of Games:  15
First Game:  May 10, 1995 (Rockies 8, Giants 5)
Most Recent Game:  August 9, 2008 (Padres 8, Rockies 3)

Straight up:  I love Coors Field.  This may be sentimentally impacted by the fact I grew up in Denver or the way I’ve seen it change downtown Denver from a place that everyone deserted every night to a place that I can actually go hang out with friends.  I have fun memories of meeting my mom at her work and walking the two blocks

to the game–serious, serious family outings.  But I suspect I’d love it anyway.  The pine trees in the bullpen, the pavilion in left field, the views of the mountains…you could be nowhere other than Denver when watching a game.

The talk has died down recently, but in the first few years of the Rockies’ existence, and in 1995, Coors’ first year, a lot of people talked about offensive statistics in Coors Field being somehow illegitimate.  I remember Mark Grace predicting that the person to break Roger Maris’s home run record would probably be a Rockie.  He was wrong, but that’s not the point–the point is the uproar it caused among some media and fans.  Well, before I continue, I would like to defend Coors Field and the statistics of the players who play there.

–First off, you never hear people talking in reverse, about the horribly deflated pitchers’ statistics of Astros or Cardinals or Marlins or Dodgers or whatever. 

“Sure, Nolan Ryan pitched 7 no hitters, but they were all at sea level.”  “Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA in 1968 isn’t legit.  Do you think he could have done that if he’d played in Atlanta or Yankee Stadium?”  “Sandy Koufax did all of that in a pitchers’ park!  Let’s add a point to his ERA before we truly compare.”  Ridiculous.

–Second, a whole lot of players have inflated batting statistics from hitting in bandboxes.  The Polo Grounds was only 257 feet down the right field line.  Mel Ott’s career numbers are therefore unfairly high, and Ott would not have succeeded as well in another ballpark.  Should we give him an asterisk?  No.  Neither should we tinker with Andre Dawson’s 1987 MVP award for the Cubs or Jim Rice’s career home run numbers.  You play where you play, and you can’t penalize a player for exploiting his environment.

–Third, Coors Field already has very, very deep dimensions…over 330 down the lines and quite deep in the alleys, 5-10% more than most other stadiums.  Scientists tell us the ball travels 5-10% farther at a mile high than at sea level.  I will grant that people will hit the ball more often at Coors, because curves

don’t curve as much, sliders don’t slide as much, and knucklers basically don’t knuckle at all.  But what are you going to do, back the foul poles up to 360 or 370?  Make Coors lead the league in triples and inside-the-parkers instead of in traditional homers?  Again, ridiculous.

–Finally, let’s take the case of Andres Galarraga.  Some believe Coors saved his career.  Remember when Galarraga hit a home run of over 500 feet, way up into the third deck (and still rising), that original estimates put as the longest homer ever, longer than Mantle’s?  So do I.  It was at sea level.  In Florida.  Off of one of the best in the biz at the time, Kevin Brown.

So let’s stop talking about this altitude crap, okay?  Okay.  (UPDATE 2009:  The use of the humidor has totally removed all relevance from this argument I wrote so testily in 2001, of course.)

Now that that’s

off my chest, let’s talk about Coors again…

Dad had season tickets the year of my semi-obligatory Overeducated Generation X Member’s Return To The Parental Home.  I sold bets at a dog track (yes, really) and generally was surly and eagerly awaiting saving the money to get out of the folks’ basement.  The trips to Coors were among the few bright spots of that year.

We sat in the 25th row, just to the first-base side of home plate most days, right behind what clearly were seats set aside for family and friends of the visitors.  Somebody’s cousin from Colorado Springs or somebody’s buddy from Boulder was always in front of us, silently rooting for the opposition. 

One group was having a lot of fun.  It was the brother of an opposing infielder I won’t name and all his friends.  They asked us all to shout Happy Birthday to him simultaneously.  I did it.  I mean, what the hell.  But they were mostly boorish creeps.  When I’d see this player on TV later, I’d tell my dad this was the guy whose brother he hated.  He’d roll his eyes at the memory.

Twice we got foux-foux tickets in wonderful places.  Dad got tickets from the hospital in the second deck, right at first base, which included–honest to God–a buffet.  So I assembled a ham and cheese sandwich on a sourdough roll and settled into my seat, where an usher let me know that if I wanted anything else, I should just wave a menu.  Dad arrived a few minutes later and asked me what I thought of the seats.  I announced that the quality of the seats had convinced me to go to medical school.

Another time Dad’s testosterone got the best of him at a charity auction, and he outbid all comers for a set of four three-rows-behind-home-plate seats and restaurant privileges for a game against the Reds.  I took Jennifer, the namer of the original Erotic Love and Baseball Stadium Tour.  Jennifer elected not to tell the then-boyfriend that she was going to a game with me, which made me feel special–like a threat.  Dad took Mom (as usual–at least I never saw him with another date).  I love being behind home plate, and hated leaving it for the middle innings to dine behind plexiglass near the top of the right-field foul pole.  Who the hell wants to watch a (live) baseball game at a restaurant?  You can’t really cheer, even home runs, since everyone’s having conversations at their table.  The plexiglass makes the game seem like just a rumor.  There’s nowhere on the table to put my scorecard.  (I announced that I was going to “score under the table.”  Dad said I could do that if I wanted, but it was best not to share such personal information with him.)  In the stands, I engage in long, blissful, not-baseball-related conversation with whomever I’m with, all while both of us look forward at the game.  In the restaurant, this feels rude…I feel like I should make eye contact with the people at the table while talking to them, so my equally unappealing options are to ignore my friends and family to watch the game, or to miss the game to talk to my friends and family.  I’m anal enough about scoring that this is actually a fairly tough call.

Lots of memories from just 12 games, lots of family and friends, and lots–I mean lots–of home runs.

All in an unmistakably Rocky Mountain setting.  It’s a great ballpark:  one of my favorites.

UPDATE 2008:  After a 10-year hiatus, I returned to Coors for a few games in 2008 as I introduced my wife to the locations of my Colorado youth.  It is interesting to re-visit this park with new eyes; all of my previous visits had been before this website existed.  The ballpark remains one of my favorites.  The way that downtown Denver peeks up beyond

the home plate stands and that the mountains are visible in the distance makes this an unquestionably Colorado experience.  The home runs have been reduced since MLB gave the Rockies permission to keep their baseballs in a humidor (soggy baseballs don’t fly as far).

I noticed some stuff in the ’00s that I would have missed when I was a regular in the ’90s.  First of all, they’ve added some art (or at least I’ve noticed it for the first time).  My favorite piece was a mural behind the batter’s eye that depicts what life might have looked like on the site of Coors Field from Native American times to the first pitch in 1995.  It’s a cool progression of history.   They’ve also added a plaque to commemorate the 1998 All-Star Game, including winning manager “Jim Hargrove,” who I guess was a last-minute replacement for then-Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove. The purple row–row 20–near the very top of the

ballpark which marks exactly 5280 feet of elevation remains in place and remains a highly distinctive touch to the ballpark.  I got to do one of those big circle-comes-to-a-close moments with Jennifer when we tried to attend a rained-out ballgame with my wife and her live-in-love-of-her-life.  The namer of the Erotic Love and Baseball Stadium Tour meets the woman who will love me forever, erotically and baseball-wise!  Great time there.

And, incidentally, if anyone wonders where Santa works during the summer, it’s in the Coors Field elevator by the left-field foul pole.  Here he is with my wife, who is both naughty and nice (after all, she’s 3 month pregnant for this photo).  Check it out…his name tag actually says “Santa–North Pole” and co-workers actually call him that.  “Ho, ho, ho!  Only 136 days left!” he told us.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Game 1 of the 1995 NLDS.  Braves 5, Rockies 4.  Chipper Jones hits two homers, including the game-winner in the ninth. The Braves turn four double plays. The Rockies do just enough to Greg Maddux to stay in the game–including a Vinny Castilla home run.  But Don Baylor goes to his bench too often, so that by the time the bases are loaded with two out in the ninth and the pitchers’ slot due up, nobody is left to pinch hit.  He uses Lance Painter, a pitcher, as a pinch-hitter, and he strikes out against Mark Wohlers to end the game.

Bryan Rekar wins in his major-league debut.

Andres Galarraga goes 6-for-6 in a game against Houston.

I see a game in which opposing pitchers, Kevin Foster and Marvin Freeman, homer off of each other.

Barry Bonds homers.

In my 2008 return, Lastings Milledge hits two home runs in one game for the Nationals.

Greg Maddux picks up a win for the Padres–13 years after I watch him pitch here in a playoff game for the Braves.

(Written July 2001.  Most recently updated July 2009.)

Mile High Stadium

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

Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO

Number of minor league games:  A dozen or so (no stats or results survive–just a few memories)
First minor league game:  Probably late summer 1978 (Denver Bears 8, Wichita Aeroes 5)
Last minor league game:  Probably August 1991 (Denver Zephyrs vs. Iowa Cubs)

Number of Major League Games:  4
First Major League Game:  June 5, 1994 (Pirates 4, Rockies 3)
Last Major League Game:  June 28, 1994 (Padres 11, Rockies 3, 11 innings, 2nd game of doubleheader)

Mile High Stadium was demolished in 1999.

It has been destroyed along with so many other multipurpose stadiums, but I’d have to say Mile High Stadium is probably the best multipurpose stadium I’ve ever seen.  It’s because of those awesome movable East Stands, which actually glided on water to move from a cozy football position to a more distant baseball position.  And for a time, after Coors Field opened, there were a few people bemoaning the loss of Mile High, which averaged more in attendance than Coors could seat.  But those third-deck seats in Mile High were really, really up there–quite far away, especially if you were down the lines.  And those seats in center field…my, but they were a million miles away (although I liked that they sold them for a buck).  So Coors is a definite improvement, but I don’t think there was too much wrong with Mile High.  It was wonderfully quirky, in fact…homers to left were insanely easy, but homers to right were very difficult (I think it was something like 370 feet down the right field line, and the wall quite high.)

My very first pro baseball experiences were here.  The first pro game I ever attended would have been in the late summer of my 2nd or 3rd grade year…likely 1977 or 1978.  My T-ball team headed there one night to see the Montreal-affiliated Denver Bears beat the Wichita Aeroes 8-5.  I’m 99% sure that’s the score because I remember the linescore:

Wichita 050 000 000
Denver   111  111   02X

There was a bell to signify how many runs the Bears scored in each inning, so we kept hearing “The toll for the inning…[ding!]…one run.”  All else I remember from that night was missing a home run while in the bathroom, being uncomfortably near a foul ball, and being amazed that I was out at the ungodly hour of 10PM.

I recall snippets from the next 16-17 years of American Association baseball, through Expos, White Sox, Reds, and Brewers affiliations: a ceremony to honor Tim Raines’ record 77 stolen bases in a year (1980), Lloyd McClendon hitting for the cycle, several “let’s impress the major league teams and show that we love baseball by having a bunch of people show up at the park” nights, and singing the national anthem with my high school show choir.  Darryl Hamilton was signing autographs before the game on that anthem night, and I remember how game he was, signing whatever words we asked (I had him write “thanks for the tips!”, fellow HS singer Sheila had him write an elaborate love note along the lines of “you are my life…”) and how gracefully he handled it when Sheila asked him to prom.

Those minor league memories set the table for my major league experiences at Mile High, which were exclusively during the 1994 season.

I enjoyed one of these games with friends Michelle and Robby.  Robby scores the games too, but he uses wacky hieroglyphics only decipherable to him.  Archeologists could unearth my scorebook in ten thousand years, and would have no trouble whatsoever determining exactly what Eric Young did in the eighth inning that June day.  If they unearth Robby’s scorecard…well…they’ll probably think it’s some failed architectural plan.

Mile High was also host to my only-ever scheduled doubleheader.  I figured, hey, how could it get any better than this?  A doubleheader with dad.  That there is some father-son bonding.  But there’s a problem…Rockies pitching.  The doubleheader lasted absolutely forever.  It resulted in one of only two times in my life I’ve been compelled to leave a game early…the damn 11th inning of the damn second game was positively–and unprecedentedly (see below)–endless.  So I took pity on my Dad sometime during the eighteenth pitching change of the eleventh inning and let him take me home.

As much as I like the idea of the doubleheader, and as much as I laud suggestions that scheduled doubleheaders should be made more commonplace (this will never happen, however, as owners need each of the 81 games of revenue), I have a suggestion:  schedule no doubleheaders between teams whose earned run averages, when added together, are higher than 9.  We can’t handle that many walks and hits.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

In the first game of the June 28 doubleheader, the Rockies come back from an 8-run deficit to win, a Rockies record at the time (over the year and a half they’d existed).

The Padres set a record in the second game for most runs scored in an 11th inning (since 1900), lighting the Rockies up for nine.  It’s the only 11-3 pitchers’ duel I’ll ever see.

(Written July 2001.  Last updated July 2009.)

Astrodome

From astrosconnection.com.

Astrodome, Houston, TX

Number of games:  3
First game:  July 26, 1993 (Reds 6, Astros 1)
Last game:  May 18, 1994 (Astros 4, Giants 2)

The Astrodome is no longer in use as of the end of the 1999 season.

The Astrodome might be the eighth wonder of the world, but it’s the worst of all the baseball stadiums I’ve been to.  I’ll grant that, by the time I saw the Astrodome, it was 30 years old, and the original ooohs and aaahs (look!  they’re playing baseball indoors!  how cool!  and look!  the scoreboard explodes!) were passe’ and even quaint.  And I’ll grant you that, even for baseball, air-conditioning might be better than sitting in a muggy Texas afternoon or night.  But here’s what I remember about the Astrodome–it smelled like mold.  All three times I walked into the place, I thought the same thing.  I never was in a crowd that reached even 20,000, so it always felt terribly cavernous, even more so than other multi-purpose stadiums.

All three visits were during my two years living and teaching sixth graders in the sticks of west central Louisiana, which is another memoir entirely.  Loved the teaching, hated west central Louisiana.  Me and my fellow young visiting-teacher friends would drive the three hours down to see whatever ballgame was on–once, even on a school night.  We were that desperate to escape.

My first trip, however, was solo…heading down from my place during the summer to make the Astrodome the tenth stadium in the original Erotic Love and Baseball Stadium tour…the only stop without a connection to any woman.  Well, a guy needs a break sometimes.  I remember three things from this game–a suddenly-not-hot Darryl Kile getting shelled, but nevertheless getting a standing ovation when he was pulled; a very impressive Chris Sabo home run, and my second encounter in a week with Kevin Wickander.

As I told you back in the Riverfront game, Wickander lost his good buddies Steve Olin and Tim Crews in a boat accident that March at Cleveland’s spring training, and had been traded to Cincinnati in the hope that new surroundings would get him back on track.  And I felt for the guy.  His public struggle with grief was breaking my heart, especially after I saw him throw eight pitches without a strike at Riverfront.  So, for my second consecutive game, I shouted wild support when Wickander entered the game, this time with a 6-1 lead to close it out in the ninth.  “All right, WICK!!!” I shouted, as the few Astros fans who were left wondered why I was hollering in support of the enemy.  If they’d asked, I’d have told them, and we’d have seen what kind of empathy they had.  Anyway, at least Wick got an out in this one, getting Ken Caminiti to fly to center.  Indeed, at least he threw a strike in this one.  But after Caminiti’s fly out, Wickander walked the next two batters and was pulled.  It was awful.  Again, I was stuck watching a guy go through horrendous personal grief in a public venue.  He had an awful year; his ERA was close to 7.  But, giving baseball-reference.com a look, it looks like there may be a happier ending to this story…he wasn’t in the majors in 1994 (minors?  mental health?) but came back to have a strong year (ERA under 2) for Detroit and Milwaukee in 1995.  He struggled a bit more for the Brewers in 1996, and doesn’t appear to have been in the majors since, but by then, I’d hope it was due to mechanics or injuries and not due to the broken heart that was so clearly dogging him when I watched him pitch the summer of 1993.

**April 2003…I have received two separate emails about Kevin Wickander’s life since his retirement from baseball, one from a college and minor-league teammate of Wick’s and another from a distant relative.  I’m afraid his life hasn’t developed as positively as I thought/hoped…it appears he developed a drug problem, has endured a divorce, and is now in prison for drug-related offenses.  I appreciate the people who sent me the update, although in some ways, I wish I didn’t know the sad truth.

My choice to drive to that game alone left me driving the three hours home all alone until 2 in the morning, very tired, picking up distant sports talk stations, even stopping and looking for rural payphones considering a call in.  The topic was low morals among athletes.  I don’t remember what jerk du jour the guy was worked up about, but I wanted to point out that there are good guys even in New York sports, like Jim Abbott and Anthony Young.  But then it occurred to me…I was choosing two guys in the middle of bad seasons, and Young was in the middle of a record-setting losing streak.  I might unintentionally have made the point that you have to be a jerk to win.  When it occurred to me–maybe you do.  Which made me depressed as well as tired on the trip.  Kids–don’t try this drive at home.  If I had to do it again, no matter how broke I was at the end of my tour, I would have stopped for accommodation in Livingston or Woodville.

At another game, I went with two friends, one of whom, blessed with magazine-cover looks, said “Well, I don’t like baseball, but I once dated a Montreal Expo, so this game (against Montreal) will be especially appropriate.”  We watched Mark Portugal warm up just a few feet away from us, and when I stepped away for some food, buddy Dan got Astros’ pitching coach Bob Cluck to autograph my program.  “Hey, this’ll be great, can you sign this for my friend???”  Thanks, Dan and Bob.  And I remember Mark Portugal failing to lay down a sacrifice in the fifth inning, and just as he was running by us down the first-base line, he shouted out the loudest f-word I’ve ever heard.  Mark!  There are kids here!

Was it worth making the six-hour round trip on a school night to sit at this terrible indoor stadium?  Yes.  But I’m glad they finally opened the new place.  It’s not my favorite, but it’s far better than this was.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Darryl Kile has a nine-game winning streak snapped.

Mark Portugal, in one of his last starts for the Astros, sets personal career high with his 14th win and 8th in a row.

Mark Portugal, in his first start in Houston against the Astros, loses to Doug Drabek.

(Written August 2001.  Revised July 2005.)