Tag Archives: indoor ballparks

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.)

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.)

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.)

Kingdome

kingdome291191

From King County website, www.metrokc.gov/stadium.

Kingdome, Seattle, WA

Number of games: 28
First game:  March 31, 1996 (Mariners 3, White Sox 2, 12 innings)
Last game:  May 30, 1999 (Devil Rays 15, Mariners 7)

The Kingdome was imploded in March of 2000.

The place was a dump, and in spite of the fact I went to so many games there, and that one might think this might breed some affection, I will never miss it.  The day they blew the damn thing up, I remember they interviewed some guy in his 30s wearing a Seahawks jersey.  He was close to tears, and they asked him for his opinions about the loss of the Kingdome, and he said it just made him sad, thinking of “watching Jim Zorn take snaps there, watching Dave Kreig take snaps there, watching Griffey, Buhner, Randy…”  Wow.  This is a man who did not cry at his own wedding (although I’d lay money that he’s never had and never will have said wedding).  I tend to be a weepy-sensitive-poet sort, and I tend to be an our-place-in-history lover of sports, but I refuse to mix the two.  I mean, every time I went into that place on a gorgeous summer night in the Pacific Northwest, no matter who I was with or how excited I was to see the game, going indoors made me think, just for a split second:  “I’m wasting my life.”  I don’t think that when I enter an outdoor stadium.  Additionally, even as indoor stadiums go, this was disgusting…grey everywhere.  In short, the ballpark itself is not worth another word here.

My first game there remains the only Opening Night I’ve ever attended.  It was two weeks after I’d moved to Seattle.  I had just moved into a scary rooming-house–didn’t yet have any kind of temp work, didn’t yet have a chance to make friends beyond my brother’s friends.  Not the best life situation, but I was still optimistic against all odds, though, which is a perfect state of mind for opening night. It was quite an opener, too:  a sold-out Kingdome the first game after the amazing ’95 playoffs.

A good balance of family and friends were always on hand to go to the Kingdome with me…I went on my own just twice, once to see David Wells get shelled but still win (final score:  16-10…ugh), and once near the end of the Kingdome’s existence, when I sat right behind Griffey in center field, to watch my last game there, where Jose Canseco and just about everybody else homered off of just about every Mariner reliever.  Went with my parents whenever they were in town…Mom’s not a huge fan, but likes “to be with my boys.”  Went with my brother and his friends. Did several games every year with David, an exceedingly kind and bookish actor/director and New Yorker who liked to watch the Yankees (but is not a Yankee fan).  Celebrated my 29th birthday with about a dozen friends watching Griffey hit a game-winning grand-slam so dramatic and perfect that friend Darcy thought it looked suspicious–she thought the whole game might have been rigged.

DeAnn was a terrible blind date I went to a game with…I hated her name (which wasn’t really DeAnn), hated her lack of intelligence, hated her not-so-hot morals, and still went out with her for as long as I could because I was new in town.   Michelle was a major winner who thought it cute when I talked about the infield fly rule.  I’ve heard she got married to the guy she dated right after me.  I’ve also heard she then got very, very sick…I certainly hope that’s not true, and that she’s out there somewhere and doing well.

***October 2004:  I wrote the above, about Michelle, in July of 2001, literally a few days before I got a letter from her reestablishing contact after 4 years apart.  She was not married and not dead. In fact, we resumed contact, became friends, started dating again…and I will marry her in July of 2005.  Yippee!  I am proud to report that she is still a “major winner” and a total babe.

Maria let me take her to a game during her week visiting me in spite of her lack of love of sports.  It still comes up every now and then, and I still explain to her that a love of sports and a love of stories are the same thing.  “I understand that,” she says–skeptically, I think.

A standout Kingdome baseball date was Kerry.  For one thing, Kerry flew all the way from Boston to go to a pair of games with me.  She counted down to her visit in criminally cute emails:  “In only five weeks you’ll be teaching me how to score.”  “Score” puns aside, that ain’t too shabby…what more could a baseball nerd want than to teach a brilliant woman how to mark a scorecard?  At one of our games, Kerry began a fixation on then-rookie Mike Sweeney, simply because she liked the sound of the name “Kerry Sweeney.”  When she pointed her binoculars at his butt, she liked him even more.  So what happens?  Sweeney clearly feels the love, and hits his first major-league home run.  Kerry’s passion for Sweeney has not waned, and in the five years since, under her good karmic graces, he’s become an all-star.  (Mike, if you read this, drop me an email…you clearly owe Kerry at least an autographed baseball.)  We laughed a lot, leaning in, very close to each other, joking quietly, especially at the expense of the stupid children next to us who kept repeating everything I yelled, causing me to shout stupider and stupider things to see exactly what I could get them to say.  These were wonderful dates.  Three years later, I would return the favor of her visit, and she would take me to two games at her home stadium, Fenway Park.

On the whole–some good baseball, a fair share of bad baseball, lots and lots of memories, all good.  I live 10 miles from the Kingdome, and I could feel the earth shake when they blew it up.  Had a lot of fun there.  Glad the place is gone.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN THERE:

Favorite player:  Randy Johnson.  I was a fan since his Montreal days, as I liked the idea of a gangly guy throwing the ball at great velocity and with unpredictable results.  I first got to see him in the opening night game, 1996.  He was long gone when the new rookie Alex Rodriguez, hitting ninth, drove in the winning run in the bottom of the 12th with his only hit in a 1-for-6 night. About a year and a half later, I saw my favorite game of Randy’s, where he gutted out a 5-4 win over Kansas City when he didn’t seem to have his stuff–still, everyone chanted his name, begging Lou Piniella not to take him out.  He struck out 16 that night.

I’ll be talking about seeing Hall-of-Famers like Johnson and Rodriguez  and Ken Griffey Jr. years down the line, I guess, saying I saw them play.  I saw Griffey hit 3 homers and score 5 runs, driving in 6, on a 4-for-4 night against the Yankees.  On the other hand, I twice saw him fail to take a step towards either left or right field on plays where his neighboring outfielder either misjudged a fly or missed making a tough catch against the wall.  Only when the ball hit the carpet did Griffey consider running to back up his teammate.  Inexcusable, just standing there like that. I’ve had people tell me that a major-league outfielder can’t be expected to run to back up every fly ball of the whole year.  My response:  yes he can.

All of these pale in comparison to The Greatest Play In Baseball History, which took place at the Kingdome in my presence on April 8, 1997.  I was way down the left-field line with my partner-in-crime Rob (with whom I have enjoyed 3 games in two stadiums, plus one spring training) when the Mariners’ bullpen was getting shelled again.  This time it was Josias Manzanillo.  Now, Josias was sprinting in from the bullpen full-speed before any of us had ever heard of John Rocker.  So he comes sprinting in and works himself into trouble:  men on second and third, one out. Manny Ramirez is up.  Ramirez absolutely crushes a scary screaming line drive up the middle, 100+ miles an hour right off of Manzanillo.  Manzanillo falls down with the impact, gets up, and throws the ball home to force Jim Thome out at the plate…then goes back down.  Quite an impact…It was only the next day that we learned that Mr. Manzanillo was not wearing a cup.  I don’t want to make light of his injury, which was serious–it ultimately cost him a testicle.  Look it up in Baseball Weekly from early that season:  “Mariner reliever Josias Manzanillo (testicles) is on the DL…”  Still, considering how hard a shot he took, and the fact that he wasn’t wearing a cup, it is indeed amazing that he got up and made the play! But wait, there’s more…once it became clear to the Mariners’ infield that Josias wasn’t mortally wounded (the seriousness of the injury wasn’t known for some time), his teammates started teasing him…”Hey, let’s see you sprint off the field now!”  The best part of the play:  he did.

(Written August 2001.  Revised 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.)

Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome

Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Number of Games:  1
First Game:  June 13, 1993 (A’s 7, Twins 6)

(The Metrodome is no longer used for baseball as of the end of the 2010 season.)

The Metrodome is the best among all of the domed stadiums I’ve seen, which is a little like being the tallest mountain in Rhode Island.  I like its location settled in so close to downtown Minneapolis, and I’m sure that Vikings fans (and, for that matter, Vikings) appreciate the protection from subzero weather in December and January, but I certainly wish that I could have been out in the sun on the Sunday afternoon I began my 1993 Erotic Love and Baseball Stadium Tour.  I drove the sixty minutes up from my sister’s college graduation from Carleton and settled into a month of crashing on friends’ floors.  (Which means, on Jennifer’s poster, the Tour begins with my sister’s name.  Sick, I know, but I didn’t know any other women in Minnesota, so my sister will have to do.)

First, a pleasant surprise:  my seat was in the second row, just a bit to the third-base side of home plate, about even with the edge of the foul ball netting.  Not too shabby…I had spoiled myself with the best seat of

the trip on the first game.  I was close enough to the action that I noticed some things I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed:  Dave Winfield is an exceptionally large and athletic man…way more impressive in person.  Also, Kirby Puckett’s chubbiness is just as evident from up close.

A couple of the Twins, including Winfield, were chatting with a sixty-ish woman in the front row, best seat in the house.  A season-ticket-holding married couple nearby told me what her story was.  She was an 81-game season-ticket holder who never, ever missed a game.  She worked as a nanny over the winters, but was finished by the spring so she could devote her summers to the Twins.  She was the most knowledgeable woman the about the Twins out there.  “She knew Hrbek was going on the DL before the media did,” they told me, amazed.  I was fairly amazed too.  Working six months out of the year to spend the other six in a dome?  I mean, Fenway, sure, but a dome?

Which leads me to a fairly obvious question, and the first thing I thought of when I saw the artificial turf.  If you had a room in your house that was as big as an indoor stadium, would this be the color of the carpet you choose?  Green grass, well, that’s pleasant.  Green carpet–that’s annoying.  Is there a rule that says the carpet in an indoor stadium has to be green?  Can we select some other color?  I suggest black–it’d be easy to pick up the ball and the foul lines, and teams could save money by cleaning and vacuuming it less often–but that might take away too much light.  Boise State University’s football stadium has blue astroturf. 

While blue is a fine color, on the rare occasions I see highlights on ESPN, I don’t think “gee, how different and daring,” I think “man, I need to adjust the tint on my TV.”  A dull red might work, but would blend in with the dirt cutouts around the bases.  Does anyone have a more attractive color than green for the few remaining astroturf fields?

One other lesson I learned…always pay attention.  I had my glove, needless to say, as I was in prime foul ball territory (and on an aisle, allowing for greater maneuverability).  Between innings, though, there was a pitching change, and I was focused on my scorepad to close the book on the previous pitcher, when–WHACK!–the side of my seat was hit by an errant throw from, I believe, the third baseman trying to get the ball back to the dugout, or maybe a left fielder. I’m proud to have been focused on the scorebook, but if I’d been looking at warmups, I surely would have seen the ball coming in, and for goodness sakes, I was wearing my glove–I should have led off the trip with a souvenir.  But I wasn’t, and I didn’t.  Buzzard’s luck…but I try to stay more focused now.

The game itself was quite fun…the first six players for Minnesota reached base, four scored, and they had a 4-1 lead after one inning before losing the lead in the top of the 6th, tying it up in the bottom, then giving up two runs in the top of the ninth and only responding with one.  Shane Mack hit two home runs.  I believe that a home run, especially a long one, looks most dramatic from behind home plate…you can really see the trajectory and respect the distance more from as close as possible to where the ball was hit.  I also have some kind of sense that, as much as I hate domes, home runs may look more dramatic indoors than out.  Something about the ball going almost all the way to the other end of a huge building is impressive…outdoors, the ball is really competing against the size of the world, or maybe against infinity.

Oh–this was the second game I ever tried to score…and the last I ever tried to score in pen.  I got a notion that it would be cool to score the whole trip with the same Minnesota Twins pen I bought at the Metrodome…but my scorepad is such a mess that I’ve used a pencil on all 100+ games since.  (Except one where I couldn’t find a pencil to buy.  Safeco Field let me down.)

I got on a plane that night…I had a game in St. Louis, where I’d left my car with relatives, the very next day.

***May 2005:  There is now a taller mountain in Rhode Island.  I like Tropicana Field more than the Metrodome.  Barely.

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Shane Mack hit two home runs.  This is especially impressive since he only hit 10 during the entire year.

Eddie Guardado starts in his first major league appearance of what is, to date, an 11-year major league career.  Lasts 3 1/3 innings in a no-decision.

Goose Gossage pitches a scoreless 1 1/3 for Oakland.  I am surprised to see him still alive and well with a 2.53 ERA (that will balloon to nearly five by the end of the season).

Dennis Eckersley gives up Mack’s second homer, deep to straightaway center, but still gets a save.

(Written August 2001.  Updated July 2005.)