Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mike's Top Five Ballparks

While I'm working on a full list of one through thirty, the ballparks we visited in order from best to worst, I thought I'd post a top five to let everyone following know we're still alive. It's also the most frequently asked question, so I might as well put this up for all to see.

My top five list of the best ballparks in Major League Baseball are based on ballpark design, view, neighborhood, and the overall atmosphere.

Number FIVE:
Safeco Field, Seattle Mariners (1999)

An easy walk from downtown Seattle, Safeco Field sits next to Quest Field, the home of the football Seahawks. The pair sit perfectly next to each other, with the matching curved shape of the retractable roofs the forefront image when entering Seattle on I-90. From the umbrella style roof to the left field bleachers that sit in front of the Seattle skyline, Safeco Field is a great place to watch a baseball game from any seat.

Number FOUR:
Minute Maid Park, Houston Astros (2000)

Here is the MLB's best example yet of what makes a perfect indoor outdoor stadium. Minute Maid Park offers a retractable roof that fully encloses the stadium, allowing it to be air conditioned in the Houston summer, while opening for some cooler evening games. What Houston does better than any other ballpark of its kind is that it feels very open. Giant windows spanning from left field to beyond the hill in center provide a great view of downtown Houston. And did I mention that hill? The Astros have a very unique ballpark - it's small, quirky, and a lot of fun to visit.

Number THREE:
Citi Field, New York Mets (2009)

All of my other top ballparks are in exciting neighborhoods and have great views. Citi Field doesn't have either of those things going for it, but the stadium design itself is so well done that it can stand alone and be one of the best. Enter through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and walk across the bridge in right center field to enter the scoreboard concourse. Walk towards your seats with a great view of the field from the open concourses and take in everything this ballpark has to offer – even the lighting towers bend in the shape of a bridge. The Mets thought out every inch.

Number TWO:
PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates (2001)

A small, intimate ballpark with the best view in baseball sits on the Allegheny River and overlooks downtown Pittsburgh. Outfield seats are almost nonexistent letting in an awesome panorama of the city skyline. Connecting the ballpark and downtown is the Roberto Clemente (6th Street) Bridge, open only to pedestrian traffic during games.

Number ONE, the best ballpark in baseball:
AT&T Park, San Francisco Giants (2000)

Located on the bay in San Francisco, everyone attending a Giants game is sitting right on the water. You can watch yachts and kayaks float by beyond Levi's Landing, or spend an inning or two standing on the landing for a great view of the field. Everywhere you look in AT&T Park there is something beautiful, like the Bay Bridge beyond the Coke bottle in left field, not to mention a great view of the diamond from every seat and stand in the ballpark.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday Morning

It's Monday, July 20th, at 1:45 AM - and I should be asleep. We're driving back to New York City in the morning, passing through many hours worth of upstate New York. The Blue Jays game was fun, although I always hate seeing my team get completely shut down offensively. Roy Halladay pitched another one of his many complete games, this time holding the AL East leaders to only one run - and doing the Blue Jays a huge favor by showing off his utter dominance to every GM around the league.

Justin pointed out that we may have witnessed Roy Halladay's last home start ever for the Jays. He has one more start at home before the July 31st trading deadline, this Saturday verse the Rays.

After the game we checked out the Hockey Hall of Fame here in T.O. A very interactive place, they had goalie simulators that kids (or adults) could test their skills blocking rubber pucks that shoot out of a video screen. They have a large room dedicated to international hockey. And they have trophies. Lots of them. I definitely recommend the Hockey Hall of Fame if you ever find yourself in Toronto.

I've now been to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown. Not to mention the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Every one of those places is well worth the admission price, a necessary pilgrimage for every sports fan (or music fan, as the case may be). The only big one in sports that I've missed is the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but that's in Springfield Massachusetts... I think I can manage it. Does soccer have anything worthwhile like that, in this country or overseas?

Time to head back to the city where we kicked this whole thing off. Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Fenway Park on Friday.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Justin's Review: Busch Stadium

Ballpark Design:  The new Busch Stadium, which opened in 2006, is, for the most part, very similar to many of the other new ballparks built in the past 15 years, while at the same time having enough unique features and looks to distinguish it from other parks.  Like most new parks, it has an irregular field with angled outfield walls, a set back upper deck that allows views of the whole field from every seat, large scoreboards and video screens, wide concourses, and no shortage of exclusive clubs and party areas.  In large part because it incorporates so many typical features without really adding a unique touch to any of them, the stadium looks very generic when you are watching a game from the stands – with the huge exception of the gigantic Gateway Arch looming above centerfield.  That view alone saves the ballpark from being “just another” retro ballpark – with no stands or scoreboards blocking the view, the St. Louis skyline acts as a wonderful backdrop to the game.  There are some other great unique features of the ballpark – there is a bar (open to anybody) located on the second level past the left field foul pole that is as a great place to watch the game if you want to leave your seats.  For that matter, there are a bunch of very cool standing room areas throughout the stadium to watch the game from, such as the gap in the upper deck behind third base.  The upper deck concourse itself is great – for the most part, it is open on both sides, allowing great views of the field as well as of the area around the ballpark, and it is extremely wide, preventing overcrowding.  The lower level concourse is decidedly less impressive – Busch Stadium is one of the few new ballparks in which the lower concourse is not open to the field, meaning that you can’t watch the game while getting food or drinks.  A few other notes: the ballpark looks deceptively huge, with four completely separate levels of seating, giving it a stadium look that you normally would see at football stadiums.  The 10 World Championship flags above the right field video screen look great, and are a constant reminder that you’re watching the most successful team in the National League.  In the end, Busch Stadium is a nice stadium with some interesting areas to watch the game from – however, it fails to match up to some of the other new ballparks that have opened in the past decade. B

Scoreboards/Soundtrack: The primary scoreboard is a large video board, with three smaller black and white boards, located in right center field.  It shows both lineups and the line score at all times, plus all the at bat information, etc.  Another video screen immediately to its right acted as the out of town scoreboard – it showed all games at once, but, frustratingly, only had details (such as outs, people on base, etc) for four out of town games – and it didn’t rotate which games had details.  Small boards above each bullpen gave pitcher info, as well as saying who was warming up in the bullpen.  In general, the scoreboards were fairly typical – they weren’t amazing, but they provided all the necessary info. B+

Food/Drink:  While there may not have been quite as much as in other new ballparks, the food options weren’t bad at Busch Stadium.  There was no shortage of stands selling typical stadium food, and there were a bunch of other options (including a very large Hardee’s in the upper deck).  As mentioned before, there was a big bar in left field that looked like it had a lot of options, and there were a lot of different types of stands on the lower level.  Options in the upper deck were slightly fewer. B

Fans:  Everybody has heard good things about Cardinals fans, and most of it is true.  The game was almost sold out (despite being a weekday night), and the fans were definitely paying attention to the game.  However, the fans were not quite as loud or boisterous as I’m used to in other big baseball cities, and despite how close the game was, there were wasn’t a lot of spontaneous cheering or extended noise.  To a certain extent, I’m probably holding Cardinals fans to a higher standard – if we had this crowd in many other cities, I probably would have been more impressed.  But when you consider how good a baseball city St. Louis is, there seemed to be a lack of energy in the crowd. B

City/Stadium Neighborhood:  We had a pretty good time exploring downtown St. Louis the night before and the day of the game.  While downtown is definitely a business district first and foremost, we found some cool sports bars and some other places around Laclede’s Landing (which was a pretty cool looking area).  Probably the coolest thing about the city, however, is how it feels as if the entire city is revolving around the baseball game once it starts – I don’t think there’s any city where you see as many people just walking around in team colors as in St. Louis.  While it certainly is a small city, it’s not totally dead like some other cities we’ve seen.  And the ballpark, located right downtown, practically under the Gateway Arch, is definitely one of the best ballpark locations we’ve seen yet.  City: B-/Neighborhood: A

Game:  Probably the best pitchers' duel of the trip: the Giants’ Matt Cain and the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright matched each other pitch for pitch.  Both allowed one run, with Wainwright going nine innings.  However, the game was decided in the 11th inning – with Colby Rasmus up, Pablo Sandoval dropped a popup in foul territory, giving Rasmus new life and allowing him to hit a walkoff home run, the first we’ve seen on this trip.  It was a great game, with drama, incredible pitching, and a few great plays. A

Overall Experience:  Busch Stadium is a perfectly nice new stadium, if not particularly distinctive.  However, having the stadium located right downtown, with almost always capacity crowds watching a good team and, of course, the best player in baseball, makes for an all around great experience.  Everybody should see a game in St. Louis at some point in their life. A-

Too many innings

We've had quite the variety of games on this trip - we've been to a bunch of blowouts (in Detroit and Colorado, to mention a few), some close offensively loaded games, and a few great pitcher's duel.  However, one type of game that we've seen a shockingly high numbers of times is the 1-1 extra inning.  After last night, we've been to FOUR games that have gone to extra innings with the score tied at one (NY Mets, Houston, St. Louis, and now Pittsburgh).  What are the chances of that? 

Last night's game was great - after a 50 minute or so rain delay before the game started, we were treated to a great pitchers duel between Pittsburgh's Paul Maholm and the always dominant Tim Lincecum of San Francisco.  Pittsburgh scored in the first on a long home run by Garrett Jones, and nobody scored again until San Francisco tied it on a rather silly error by the Pirates.  For the 5th time on this trip, we had a game go into extra innings, and for the 2nd time in 2 weeks, we were treated to the always fun "14th Inning Stretch", and a second rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame".  Luckily, the same Garrett Jones hit an even longer home run in the bottom of the 14th (which landed in the Allegheny River) to end the game.  After the game, we passed by a couple guys near the river who were completely soaked head to toe - they had jumped in the river to try to get the HR ball (unsuccessfully).  All in all, it was a fun night, and a great way for Mike to spend his 23rd birthday.

Right now, we're getting our passports ready to cross the border.  We're at the game in Toronto tomorrow afternoon, and then it's back to NYC on Monday!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

All Star Break adventures

Justin and I are staying here in Cleveland with my brother and sister-in-law, and the four of us spent All Star Tuesday BBQing on the beach at Lake Eerie. It was a great time, despite lighting the corn on fire, and we brought baseball gloves and had a catch on the beach.

At the same time, N.E.R.C. was having a picnic in the same area. What is N.E.R.C.? We had no idea... but a search of likely acronyms told us the group was most likely a group of runners. They decided to have an egg toss... my brother and I ended up joining them... and we didn't do very well...

Well we're watching the all star game, here we go AL!! It's good to see that we have a president who isn't afraid to root for a baseball team. He was afraid to predict a world series winner though... smart move. I'm not, but I'm not as smart as Obama. My All Star Break predictions will go up at the conclusion of tonight's game...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Justin's Review: Kauffman Stadium

Ballpark Design: From 1973 until 2008, Kauffman Stadium, from what we’ve been told, was a nice stadium to see a baseball game in, but nothing particularly special (other than some cool fountains in the outfield). Well, starting in 2009, because of brilliant off-season renovations, Kauffman Stadium is one of the best and most fan friendly stadiums in baseball (and without a doubt the best ballpark that’s been around for more than 20 years). The biggest addition is the new outfield concourse (before the renovations, there was no seating and no concourse past either foul pole). The new concourse is extremely wide, and leads to new seating sections that offer some of the coolest outfield views in all of baseball, a bunch of food stands, a bar/grill overlooking right field, and the Royals Hall of Fame. Most notably, it surrounds the fountains, which remain the defining feature of the whole ballpark. The renovation also widened the concourses in the rest of the ballpark, making them easy to get around and great places to stand and watch the game since the ballpark has open concourses. But perhaps my favorite thing about the ballpark is something that is not new at all – how open it feels. As soon as you approach the stadium, you notice that it’s different from most others – it looks like half a stadium, almost as if it’s a minor league park with an upper deck. Because there are no stands in the outfield (other than the low profile new stuff they added), the ballpark is completely open to the sky and the area surrounding it. When you sit in the main concourse and look out, you can almost imagine that you are watching a softball game in your neighborhood park (and with the way the Royals have played the past decade or so, it doesn’t take that much imagination). Of the other ballparks we’ve been to, only Dodger Stadium comes even close to having a similar feeling, and it really isn’t that similar at all. There are a few negatives to Kauffman Stadium – it certainly feels old in some respects, from the drab concrete that the park is built out of, to the very utilitarian and not welcoming exterior of the park. Also, the renovations, while keeping most of the fountains, took away from the charm of the park by removing some of the fountains, causing the outfield to look somewhat lopsided and asymmetrical (and not in a particularly good way). However, other than these few design flaws, Kauffman is a completely unique and beautiful stadium – while it may not be new, the renovations did such a great job that it’s no wonder the Royals are calling it “the New K”. A-

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: The primary scoreboard is a video screen that is one of the biggest in baseball – a truly gigantic vertically oriented board capped with a golden crown on the top. And they use the scoreboard quite well, with the lineup of the at bat team, the players stats, a graphic of the current defensive team, past at bat results, and all the game status info in one place. Furthermore, when they do the fan cam and other video stuff, it’s pretty impressive seeing everything so large. Strip scoreboards on top of the Royals Hall of Fame in left and the bar in right gave the stats and pitch counts for the home and away pitchers respectively, and were probably the best pitcher info scoreboards that we’ve seen yet. The out of town scoreboards were located on video boards inbedded in the left and right field walls – they gave plenty of information, but unfortunately did not show every game at once and sometimes were used for something other than out of town scores. Still, this was one of the best scoreboard systems we’ve seen in terms of the presentation of information. A-

Food/Drink: Another thing that probably benefited from the renovation. There were choices everywhere – the new outfield concourse was chock full of stands, including Kansas City’s signature food: barbeque. The variety was similar throughout the stadium, although there wasn’t a ton of other unique food. Still, simply because of the quantity, there was little to complain about. B+

Fans: Surprisingly (for us), a lot of fans showed up, and they were as loud and in to the game as almost any ballpark we’ve seen. We’ve got to hand it to KC – despite having truly awful teams for over a decade now, the fans still truly care about the team and show up, even on a Monday night. While there were certainly a lot of fans there rooting for the visiting Twins, they were easily outnumbered and outmatched by the home fans. It may not have been the best crowd that we’ve seen yet, but I now know why Kansas City has always been considered a big baseball city – when (if?) this team gets good, those fans will rival those in any Northeastern baseball city. A-

City/Stadium Neighborhood: Kansas City was probably the city that we visited on this trip that I knew the least about before visiting, and I left with a pretty positive impression. We didn’t get to see a ton of the city, but we spent most the afternoon prior to the game in the Plaza, a very commercial neighborhood outside of downtown. While it was clearly the glitzy, high-end area of town, it made for a nice walking area that seemed like a good place to live. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the city seemed much more sprawled out and more suburban – but at the very least, we know that it does have some very urban neighborhoods. Kauffman Stadium is located a good distance outside of the city center, and, like most stadiums built in the 60s and 70s, is located in a large parking lot right next to a football stadium. It gets points for not being completely outside of the city, but it certainly did not seem to be easily accessible without a car. City: B-/Neighborhood: C-

Game: The game against the Minnesota Twins was marked by some costly errors by the visiting team, big home runs by the home team, and some great pitching by Kansas City’s Luke Hochevar. Hochevar went 7 innings without allowing a run (although he walked 4), getting the win after Kansas City took a 4-0 lead, with two of the runs coming on back to back homers by Alberto Callaspo and Miguel Olivo. Justin Morneau got two of the runs back for the Twins in the 8th before Joakim Soria came in and shut the door for the Royals win. B+

Overall: Kauffman Stadium was, without a doubt, the single biggest surprise of our trip. I went in thinking it would be similar to Dodger Stadium or one of the other ballparks built in that era, but, in large part thanks to the renovations, it is one of the prettiest, most unique, and most fan friendly ballparks in baseball. The great fans added to the experience, and it didn’t seem like anybody (other than a few Twins fans) left the game unhappy. Truly one of the nicest and most well-rounded ballpark experiences we’ve visited yet. A

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Justin's Review: Safeco Field

Ballpark Design:  The first and most obvious thing that you notice about Safeco Field, even before you walk in, is the roof.  Safeco Field has a retractable roof that is different from those at any other ballpark – not only because it looks completely different (it has very cool looking arches and trusses sticking out of the top of it), but also because it acts very differently than others.  While ballparks such as Houston and Arizona use their roofs to make their stadiums fully enclosed, allowing them to both stop the rain and air condition the ballpark, Seattle’s roof doesn't enclose the stadium; rather, it acts as an umbrella, working to simply keep the rain away.  Because of this, Safeco Field does not have the problem that others do, where the ballpark feels enclosed even when the roof is open.  While the relative openness of the ballpark is one great thing, there is a lot more to love at Safeco Field too.  It has all the important features that make other new ballparks so great – open concourses, good sightlines, and so on.  One of my favorite areas was the centerfield bar, open to anybody, and located at field level with awesome views of the bullpens and the field.  It’s definitely one of the cooler views in baseball, and having a place like that where people can meet for drinks and mingling before the game is very cool.  What else?  The rotunda that you enter behind homeplate is very cool looking, with a very bizarre sculpture made out of glass bats hanging above it.  The views of the city behind left field are nice, if not quite as impressive as in some other cities.  All in all, the stadium is just very well designed – the field itself might not have the same uniqueness and recognizablility as those in other new parks, but there is little else you can criticize about the park. A-

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: The main scoreboard hanging over right field has an average sized video screen and a larger matrix board, which combine to give all the primary information about the game, lineups, and individual batters.  A manual line score board in the wall in left field adds a nice touch (although I will say that I’m getting tired of teams trying to make stadiums seem “older” simply by adding manual board somewhere in the outfield wall).  The out of town scoreboard appears on a matrix board in left center field, and while I like the look of it, it was one of those frustrating boards that sometimes switches to just graphics after something happens in the game.  B+

Food/Drink:  Food options galore, with stands located all around the concourses, and all kinds of specialty food – garlic fries, sushi, barbeque, Mexican food, and plenty of coffee (of course).  We didn’t check out the upper deck, so no idea if the food options are as good up there, but at least on the lower deck you didn’t have to wander too far to find something good.  A bar featuring tons of beer options behind third base was also good (and the two bartenders, one a Yankees fan and one a Red Sox fan, were fun to talk to). A

Fans:  Unsurprisingly for a Thursday afternoon game, the crowd wasn’t huge – around 27,000 people showed up.  While it wasn’t the most energetic crowd ever, the stadium wasn’t quiet or dispassionate, unlike those at some other low attendance games we’ve been to.  While I can’t say it was a particularly impressive crowd, it’s easy to picture how, with a consistently good team, Mariners fans would be a big part of making Safeco a great place to watch a game. B-

City/Stadium Neighborhood: We spent two nights (and one full day) staying right in downtown Seattle and had a good time.  On one hand, downtown is definitely a business district first and foremost (we had a lot of trouble finding any place open to grab food after arriving at 10pm on a Wednesday night).  However, we spent quite a bit of time walking around on Thursday, and saw a lot of other people out and about and found a few cool places.  It certainly doesn’t have the same downtown vibrancy as New York or San Francisco, but there’s not doubt that it’s a very active and seemingly very fun city.  Safeco Field itself is located just outside the center of downtown, and is an easy walk from much of the center city.  Furthermore, it’s location right next to a train station appears to make getting to the ballpark from the outer parts of the city and region easier. City: B+/Neighborhood: B+

Game:  Ichiro started off the Mariners offense with a leadoff homer, and the team never looked back, scoring 4 runs in the first en route to a 9-3 victory.  It was never close, but 4 hit games by both Ichiro and Mike Sweeney gave us something to cheer for and kept the game entertaining throughout.  Not the best game, but it was fun to watch some really good hitters do their thing. B-

Overall:  Safeco Field is without a doubt one of the gems of the recent ballpark building boom, and going to a game on a beautiful day with the roof open was perfect.  Hopefully the Mariners can put a good team together soon, because going to a sold out game there is probably one of the better experiences in baseball. Even without a full house, it was one of my favorite stops on our tour. A-

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My kind of town...

We're relaxing in Chicago after a busy few days traveling around the Midwest.  We left Cincinnati Monday and drove up to Milwaukee (managing the bypass the Chicago area without hitting too much traffic, amazingly enough).  We had fun in Milwaukee - we spent Monday evening in downtown, and spent most of the afternoon on Tuesday at the park that's right on Lake Michigan.  I spent a summer in Milwaukee a few years ago, so it was fun going back and seeing the place again (even if it's not my favorite city in the world).  We went to the Brewers game last night - they were playing the Cardinals, who were just ahead of them in the division, so it was an important game.  Unfortunately, the Brewers didn't get the memo, and were shut out by some brilliant pitching by Adam Wainwright.

Now we're here in Chicago.  We went to the Sox game tonight, and we're going to spend the day exploring the city tomorrow.  Hard to believe that we're getting so close to the end of this - only 7 stadiums left to see, and we're going to be back in New York in only 11 days.  I'm going to be sad to be done visiting ballparks, but I'm definitely almost ready for some rest and relaxation at home.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Justin's Review: Oakland Coliseum

Ballpark Design:  The Oakland Coliseum opened in 1966 as a multi-purpose stadium, designed to host both baseball and football games.  Like the other dual use stadium we’ve already seen on this trip (in Miami), the Coliseum’s multiuse design renders the ballpark impersonal, ugly, and unfit for baseball.  However, while Miami’s stadium is actually not the worst looking place ever, just about everything in Oakland feels cold and almost prison-like.  From the pedestrian bridge covered in chainlink fence that leads from the subway to the  ballpark, to the dimly lit concrete concourses, to the monstrous section of stands looming above center field (which are closed for baseball games), the stadium just does not seem like a place that you would go to watch a baseball game.  Maybe it’s appropriate for football, but when compared to the intimate and friendly parks that most teams have, such as the one right across the bay in San Francisco, the Coliseum is clearly inferior.  Now, there certainly are a few positive aspects to the ballpark – for example, there is a club located on the second level right behind home plate, clearly used as an exclusive members-only club during football games, which the A’s have opened to all fans.  It offers tables that have amazing views immediately behind home plate, along with food options and a long bar.  We bet having an area like that to get away from the dreariness of the rest of the stadium makes coming to the Coliseum regularly much more tolerable for A’s fans.  Additionally, the field itself is not awful – unlike in Miami, it doesn’t look like a baseball field crammed onto a football field.  The dimensions look fairly normal, and there are no eyesores such as folded up football seats or fake walls.  It’s hard to really improve the overall feeling of the ballpark, but things like this make it borderline tolerable as a baseball stadium.  Finally, the stadium simply feels gigantic, and the fact that the upper deck is always closed for baseball games makes the ballpark feel empty even when it’s full. F

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: Like in Miami, the scoreboards are clearly designed to be located over the end zones during football games.  Unlike in Miami, however, they are angled in towards the infield of the baseball diamond, and are more or less in appropriate places for baseball.  Each one has a video screen and matrix board – neither is large, but both are at least adequate for providing information.  Short strip matrix boards along the facing of the upper deck act as auxiliary scoreboards.  The out of town scoreboards are manual boards located in the left and right field walls – while they don’t give a ton of information, the old-fashioned quality of them is one of the few things to give any true baseball character to the ballpark. B-

Food/Drink:  The stadium has only two concourses, and only the lower one had a significant number of concession stands open.  I didn’t eat much, but from what I saw, it looked like there was certainly a bit of variety.  However, the fact that only 2 stands in the upper concourse were open made the lower one extremely crowded.  C

Fans:  Despite normally not showing up in great numbers, it’s pretty clear that the Oakland fans who do go to games regularly (and there are a lot of them) are very passionate fans.  This particularly game was certainly not representative of most games at the Coliseum – the A’s were playing the crossbay rival San Francisco Giants, so the stadium was almost sold out, and there were a significant number of Giants fans (although not nearly to the degree that we saw Dodgers fans in Anaheim).  The fans were in to the game, if not as loud or energetic as some others we’ve seen.  Most notably, the fans really created their own atmosphere in a way you don’t see often, with large groups of people waving flags, a guy drumming in left field, and plenty of cheering that wasn’t prompted by the scoreboard. B+

City/Stadium Neighborhood:  I can’t say I’ve actually spent time in Oakland, other than driving and taking the train through it, and I don’t want to expound assumptions that I don’t know for sure to be true.  But from what we saw and heard, Oakland did not seem like the loveliest or most exciting city.  The stadium neighborhood itself does not seem to be located near much, but is easily accessible from the BART subway system, which is great.  City: C-/Neighborhood: B-

Game:  The game wasn’t particularly interesting, as the A’s came out swinging and won the game 5-1.  The Giants opened up the scoring in the second with a home run from Travis Ishikawa - the only long ball of the game.  The A's took the lead with 2 runs in the 4th, and tacked on insurance runs in both the 6th and 8th.  The Giants couldn't put together a rally at the end of the game, and Oakland held on to win.  B-

Overall:  It’s unfortunate for Oakland fans, who clearly are passionate about their team, that the complete awfulness of their stadium is causing the franchise to consider moving out of the area.  For the sake of those fans, as well as for the sake of everybody who ever wants to go to an A’s game, I hope they find a way to build a new ballpark somewhere in the Bay Area.  But for now, we can’t say it’s a place we’d recommend going to see a game. C-

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July

We're spending independence day in the car, driving from Minneapolis to Cincinnati. We should make it there in time to see the fireworks show tonight. Reds game tomorrow vs the Cardinals. Between the two teams playing, and the fact that MLB is wearing red hats all weekend... this should be a very red game.

The drive has been pretty uneventful so far. Justin pointed out 4 buses from the Philadelphia public transit system driving around the middle of Wisconsin. We were slightly confused by that.

Speaking of strange things... we passed one and a half pickup trucks on I-80 in Nebraska.
Between fireworks and pickup trucks towing halves of pickup trucks, the Northeast is missing out!

Anyway, the Twins game was awesome last night. All five hours and 16 innings of it. The Twins never had the lead, but they came back from being down 6 runs early to tie the game with 5 runs in the sixth, and then no one scored for awhile (7 innings). The Tigers took a one run lead in the top of the 14th, and then the Twins tied it up again in the bottom half. The Tigers then took a 3 run lead in the 16th - the Twins came back with one and almost tied it up again, but the game ended with the tying run at bat. Twins fans were great though, and many of them stuck around to see the final out.

Photos of all five California ballparks are up. Check 'em out.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Welcome to the Midwest

Over the last 5 days or so, the scenery that we're passing by has dramatically changed.  Gone are the mountains and cliffs of the west, replaced by never ending fields.  I can't say it's quite as interesting, but it certainly makes driving a bit easier and faster.

The last few days have been great - we visited the two Missouri stadiums, and had a great time in both Kansas City and St. Louis.  Kansas City was a brand new city for me - and probably the city that I knew least about of all the cities we are visiting.  I actually liked it much more than I was expecting to - we spend the afternoon walking around "the plaza", we had fantastic barbeque for lunch, and then went to the Royals game in the evening.  The Royals' Kauffman Stadium was perhaps our biggest surprise of the trip - the renovation's they just completed have turned the stadium into one of the nicest and fan friendliest in all of baseball.

St. Louis was a lot of fun as well.  We were able to stay in hotel right in the middle of downtown, only a block away from the ballpark (and with amazing views of the Gateway Arch).  Yesterday afternoon, we went up to the top of the Arch, which requires you to ride in a "tram" which is actually an incredibly small little capsule that they stuff five people into.  Luckily, it's a short ride to the top, where you get some cool views of downtown.  Busch Stadium was great, but more on that when we get to our reviews!

Right now, we're in the middle of Iowa.  We're making a pitstop at the Field of Dreams movie site to have a quick catch, and then it's on to Minneapolis.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Justin's Review: AT&T Park

Stadium Design:  At the beginning of this trip, San Francisco’s AT&T Park was one of the stadiums I was most looking forward to visiting.  Having seen countless games on TV there, with the beautiful San Francisco Bay in the background, it looked like a great park, and it did not disappoint at all.  The water is, of course, the first thing you notice as you enter – the ballpark looks like it is literally surrounded by water.  We sat in the upper deck of the stadium, and views were pretty incredible – if you don’t feel like watching the game for some reason, you can spend hours just watching boats sail by or staring at the gigantic Bay Bridge out past left field.  The Giants have done a fantastic job incorporating the surrounding Bay into the actual design of the ballpark as well.  Everybody has seen balls go flying over the right field wall into McCovey Cove, but watching on TV you don’t realize is how cool it is to stand at the top of that wall, with the field about 15 feet in front of you and the water 15 feet behind you.  It is truly one of the most unique places to sit (not to mention one of the best standing room areas) in any ballpark.  The water jets that shoot out over the right field walkway whenever the Giants hit a homerun are a great added touch, as is the area located under the right field wall where anybody walking by on the street can peek into the park and watch the game for free.  The open concourse on the lower level is very well designed, and the upper concourse, while not open to the field, was wide and offered great views of downtown San Francisco.  In short, there really is nothing not to love about AT&T Park.  It is, simply put, the prettiest and most well designed ballpark in baseball. A

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: The primary scoreboard is located in centerfield and has a giant screen that always has both lineups on it plus all the stats you could need and the line score at the bottom.  One of my favorite things about the scoreboard was how well they used it to further incorporate the “water” theme of the ballpark.  Before the game, as well as between some innings, rather than just have a graphic on the screen or a random video playing, the screen would just show live shots of either the bay bridge or boats passing by outside, adding to the bayside feeling of the ballpark.  The out of town scoreboard is a series of manual boards located within the right field wall, and adds perfectly to the old-time feel of that whole part of the ballpark. A-

Food/Drink:  Another area where this ballpark excels.  The only real problem was that there weren’t many options on the upper deck – we had to go down to the bottom level concourse to find food variety.  But when we did get there, boy was there a lot – a stand selling pub style food, an Italian food station, a deli, and so on.  I ended up getting fish and chips, which were pretty good – unfortunately, I ate too much and didn’t have any room to try the famous garlic fries afterwards.  There were also a bunch of other options that we didn’t really check out located behind the centerfield scoreboard – it would have taken us a long time to see all the food choices available.  Well done.  A-

Fans:  The game looked sold out, and the fans seemed to be having a great time watching the game and just enjoying the sun on a Sunday afternoon.  While Sunday games usually draw pretty good crowds, it’s impressive that the Giants, who have had mediocre seasons the last few years, still draw so well.  Part of it has to be the ballpark – with such a great place to spend an afternoon (and in such an easily accessible location), who would pass up going to a game?  The crowd wasn’t as loud as some of the other sellouts we’ve been too (weekend afternoon games tend to be quieter in general), but the atmosphere was great.  A-

City/Stadium Neighborhood:  San Francisco is one of my favorite cities that I’ve ever been too.  It’s a small, compact city that’s very walkable, and a good (if slightly confusing) public transportation system makes it easy to get around.  The city is just a fun place, and we had a great couple of days exploring it.  AT&T Park makes great use of the city by being located within easy walking distance from downtown, and being located right on one of the subway lines.  City: A-; Neighborhood: A-

Game: The Giants won the game 3-2 - it was a great game, but the real story was Barry Zito.  After walking two batters in the first inning, Zito proceeded to pitch lights out baseball, and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before a 2-run homer by Andruw Jones broke it up.  The Jones homer tied the game at 2, but the Giants quickly took back the lead on a Randy Winn RBI single in the bottom half of the seventh, and held on to win.  In the end, Zito finished with only 2 hits allowed in seven innings (although he also walked 4), and a well deserved win – probably one of the best pitching performances we’ve seen thus far.  A-

Overall Experience:  AT&T Park is the best ballpark we’ve seen yet, and it’s hard to imagine anything will top it.  We saw a great game, had beautiful weather, and ate some good food – I can’t imagine many more perfect ways to spend a Sunday. A

Monday, June 29, 2009

Justin's Review: Angel Stadium of Anaheim

Ballpark Design:  Angel Stadium of Anaheim opened in 1966, but has had two extensive renovations – the first turned it into a much larger, football sized stadium, and the second reverted it back to a more intimate baseball-only facility.  To a certain extent, it’s history certainly shows – the outfield lacks much of the charm and unique design that many other new ballparks have, and it’s one notable feature, the rocks with waterfalls in centerfield, looks almost out of place, as if it was part of an attraction at next door Disneyland.  The ballpark also feels older, with some of the narrowest and ugliest concourses we’ve seen yet.  That being said, when you’re actually watching a game there, the ballpark doesn’t look half bad.  The quirky dimensions, for whatever reason, feel more natural here than at many other new ballparks.  The high wall in right centerfield and the really low walls near both foul poles add some real character, and the stacked bullpens in left center give it a different look than many other ballparks.  The Angels have also done a good job making the ballpark look better on the outside.  The stadium is located in the middle of a parking lot, but by adding features such as two gigantic Angels hats and a huge “A” logo around the outside, it makes it clear who plays there.  Unfortunately, we did not have much of a chance to explore the rest of the ballpark (particularly the outfield concourses) because we arrived later than we would have liked, due to (what else) LA traffic.  But from what I did see, Angel Stadium is an older park that is doing an adequate job of making the best of what it has.  B-

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: With two large video screens, one above each left field and right field, the Angels provide plenty of information about all aspects of the game.  Strip boards along the facing of the upper deck act as auxiliary boards, and the out of town scoreboard is located on a screen embedded in the right field wall.  But of course, no mention of scoreboards at Angel Stadium can be without mention of the horrible/ridiculous/hilarious rally monkey, the furry creature that appears on the video boards to get the crowd going during big moments in the game.  While the gag itself is a bit overplayed (can you believe that people actually go to baseball games holding stuffed monkeys?), the ways in which the Angels have him “appear” are pretty funny, placing the monkey in the middle of dramatic scenes from famous movies (they used Ghostbusters while we were there).  It probably gets old after a while, but at least for the first time, it's pretty amusing. B+

Food/Drink:  Being an older stadium, there was less room for food stands in the concourses than in new stadiums, however, the Angels, for the most part, did a good job providing some options that differed from the usual ballpark fare.  In our very brief walk through the lower concourse, we saw a bunch of different stands, and the upper deck also seemed to have options other than hot dogs etc, something that is not true of many ballparks.  Both Mike and I had Chinese food from a stand in the upper deck right near where we were sitting, which was pretty good.  Only complaint – there was no TV anywhere near the Chinese food place, so we had no clue what was going on in the game while we were waiting there.  B

Fans:  It was very hard to truly judge what the stadium is usually like, simply because of the nature of a game between cross-town rivals.  As you would expect, there were many Dodgers fans there in addition to Angels fans (I’d say it was just about 50-50).  Both fan bases were very much in to the game, egged on by fans of the other team.  After the first few innings, when the Dodgers took a sizable lead, the place quieted down a bit, but for the most part the energy was very high.  B+

City/Stadium Neighborhood:  Go read what I wrote about LA in my Dodgers review.  Then remember that this stadium is located in Anaheim, in Orange County, which makes it all the more awful. City: D; Stadium Neighborhood: F

Game:  The highlight of the game was the pitching matchup: Jeff Weaver vs. Jered Weaver (they’re brothers).  Despite being the less successful of the two over the past few years, Jeff Weaver won the intrafamily duel, pitching 5 innings and allowing only two hits.  While the first few innings of the game were exciting, the Dodgers blew the game open with 3 runs in the fifth and another in the sixth.  The final score of 6-4 in favor of the Dodgers makes it seem closer than it was, as only a 2-run homer with 2 outs in the ninth by Gary Matthews Jr. made it a close game.  Still, a fun game if only because of the battle between brothers and between teams from the same city. B

Overall Experience:  In terms of the ballpark alone, Angel Stadium probably will not rate towards the top of my list – it’s a perfectly adequate place to watch a game, but lacks anything truly special.  However, we had a great time watching a game between two good teams with a lot of clearly passionate fans.  B

Sunday, June 28, 2009

ten thousand miles, ten thousand photos

We reached the 10,000 mile notch in Council Bluffs, Iowa... after a lot of Nebraska and Wyoming... We've almost reached Kansas City, where we will be staying with a friend of Justin's.

Some funny things, we saw a pick-up truck towing just the bed of another pickup truck, propped up on its back wheels. (Looks ridiculous, I'll upload a picture soon.) Apparently the state of Wyoming cares about the dangers of secondhand smoke, with a billboard that reads "DING DONG THE WITCH IS SECONDHAND SMOKED." Apparently there is another one that reads "TILL SECONDHAND SMOKE DO US PART."

I've uploaded photos of Chase Field and Coors Field. Some reviews are still missing, but I'll try to get those, as well as the rest of the photos through Safeco Field in Seattle up tonight and tomorrow.

Oh, and Yellowstone National Park is beautiful, and totally unreal. Geysers, boiling water bubbling up out of the ground... they're examples of something I thought only existed on alien planets. We took a ton of pictures, some of which are up on Picasa, which you all can check out by going to
We packed sandwiches and spent the day navigating the park going north to south – I highly recommend it to anyone driving cross country in that area...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Justin's Review: Petco Park

Ballpark Design: Petco Park is without a doubt one of the most unique and cool looking ballparks we’ve been to yet.  When you walk in the left field gate, one of the first things that strikes you is how much space there is behind centerfield.  There is a large area – the size of half a city block – called the “park at the park” behind centerfield, where people can sit on the grass and just watch the game (or sit in the sand located right behind the center field fence and pretend they’re at the beach).  That alone adds a unique feeling to the park when you look at the field from the stands, making it feel as though the actual playing field is just one baseball diamond within a much larger urban park.  The other obviously unique feature of the park is the large Western Metal Supplies building that acts as part of the stands in left field (the corner of which is also the left field foul pole).  In many ways, it is reminiscent of the B&O Warehouse at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, because like the Orioles, the Padres turned a preexisting building into one of the defining features of their ballpark.  As much as I loved the look of the field, with the park behind it and the old building in left field, it was the concourses of Petco Park that really were most interesting and unique.  While many teams have done a good job of making the interiors of stadium concourses look good, the Padres created some truly beautiful areas within the ballpark.  The open concourses on the lower level were the best looking, with brick and limestone walls and green vines hanging down from the upper levels.  Right behind home plate was a gigantic fountain with majestic steps leading up from the street level to the main concourse on either side of it.  The upper concourse were just as pretty, with views of the city in all directions and more plants and flowers all around.  One final thing I loved about the ballpark was how all the buildings around it felt almost as if they were a part of the ballpark.  You could just imagine during the playoffs or a World Series people standing on every balcony in sight, making it feel as if literally the entire city had its eyes on the ballpark.  There was very little that I didn’t like about the ballpark – I suppose if I had to mention something, I would point out that some parts of the upper deck felt a bit far from the field, or the fact that the upper concourse wasn’t open to field.  But really, there is little to dislike, it’s truly a beautiful park. A

Scoreboard/Sountrack: The main scoreboard was located next to the Western Metal Supply Co building in left center field, and was big enough to provide all the information and replays you could need.  The out of town scoreboard, located in the right field wall, was effective as well, showing the score and inning of every game at once, although not giving more than that.  An auxiliary scoreboard located in the left field wall gave information on the pitch (including speed and pitchcounts), and strip scoreboards along the facing of the upper deck offered another place to find the count and score. A-

Food/Drink: We had just eaten a big dinner before the game, so neither of us had much to eat at the ballpark.  However, our tickets did come with a coupon for a free soda and hot dog each, so I did eat a hot dog, which was fine, if not particularly delicious.  There did seem to be a wide selection of food, however, particularly on the lower levels, although nothing in particular stood out to me. B

Fans: This stadium was almost the complete opposite of Dodger Stadium – the ballpark itself was beautiful, but the fans were among the worst (if not the worst) that we’ve seen yet.  Despite it being a Friday night in the summer, the stadium was nearly empty (only 20,000 in attendance) and the few fans that were there didn’t appear to be watching the game.  It was so bad that the team sent out their cheerleaders and various mascots into individual sections holding signs prompting the section to chant different things – and even then, people barely responded.  There was one group of fans that were pretty loud though – the visiting A’s fans.  While they were clearly the vast minority of all the fans there, the Oakland fans were much easier to hear and clearly much more behind their team than the Padres’ fans.  Certainly, some of this has to do with the lack of success San Diego has had the last couple years, but there is still no excuse for such a poor showing on a Friday night.  F

City/Stadium Neighborhood: We spent the whole day in San Diego, and ended up liking it very much.  We spent the afternoon at Ocean Beach, one of San Diego’s bigger beaches, and had a great time walking around both the beach and the surrounding area.  Then, we spent a few hours before the game exploring the Gaslamp Quarter, the fun area of downtown right near Petco Park filled with bars and restaurants.  We would have loved to stay in the area after the game to see what it was like on a weekend night, but simply from what we saw in the late afternoon, we really liked it.  While much of San Diego is a spread out, driving city, it was nice to see such a large downtown with so much to do all in one place.  Additionally, having the ballpark located in the middle of a vibrant downtown was great, and adds a lot to the park both when you’re in it and when you are entering and leaving it.  City: B+/Neighborhood: A

Game:  Not that you could tell based on the interest of the fans, but we actually saw a pretty good game in San Diego.  Each team scored 3 runs in the first 4 innings, one of which (for the Padres) came off of a Chase Headley homer to deep left field.  The Padres took the lead in the 6th inning off of a 2 run Kevin Kooooooooouzmanoff single, but their bullpen couldn’t hold it.  Down by 2 in the eighth, the Padres scored three runs (off of hits by Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera) to take the lead.  Despite getting 3 batters on in the eighth, the Padres could not score (mainly because of a double play hit into by gritty David Eckstein), and the A’s held on to win 7-5. B+

Overall Experience:  I loved the ballpark, the stadium neighborhood, and had a good time watching the game.  However, the disinterest of the fans certainly took a lot away.  I really want to go back to Petco sometime when the Padres are in the playoffs and see what it’s like then. B

Mike's Review: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington

We arrive in Arlington Texas to find a temperature of 100 degrees. It's a dry heat, so it could have been worse. Unlike their neighbors to the east, the Ballpark in Arlington does not have a roof and air conditioning. We were fine for this game, but I don't know how they play 81 games a year during the Texas summer.

The Ballpark
The Texas Rangers have a stadium that is very appropriate for their name, and definitely fits the state of Texas. While the stadium fits in well in Arlington, it would look out of place in, say, Philly. The Ballpark in Arlington is a Stadium – it's enormous, it carries the feeling that you're watching a grand stage. The tall two tiered bleachers behind right field resemble the stands you'd find alongside race tracks. The office building in center field has a balcony on every floor, lined with the facade that matches the rest of the stadium. Even without the stars that are built into every part of the architecture, it is pretty clear this ballpark belongs in Texas. It looks great, it's unique, and with fans in cowboy hats it's a fun place to watch Rangers baseball.
Around the upper deck is a large open air concourse. While you can't see what's happening on the field when you're in line for beer and hot dogs, you do have a fantastic view of the sunset, which is pretty amazing in Texas. There was a lightning storm miles away from Arlington during our game, and you could see a mix of a lightning show next to the sunset over the new Cowboys stadium behind first base. I was looking forward to the Ballpark in Arlington from what I've seen on TV, and it's unique local flare exceeded my expectations. Despite the heat, the Ballpark is a great place to catch a game. Local Beer Highlight: ZeigenBock
4 / 5

The Game and Fans
The Rangers shutout the NL West leading Dodgers to win 6-0. The matchup was a good one, both teams leading their western divisions, but the game was sloppy and the scoring one sided. The teams combined for three errors and the Dodgers barely showed up to play – but the Rangers fans made a lot of noise as they eagerly watched their first place team. Although it was a distraction from the game, there were loud crowd reactions at every impressive bolt of lightning that shot across the sky around the ballpark, and only a few people felt they needed to depart from the upper deck.
2.5 / 5

We didn't get a chance to see Dallas or Fort Worth, but Arlington is not a bad place for a ballpark at all. Unlike other cities that have ballparks nowhere close to a big downtown area, Arlington is still a place people would want to go to. Although I would definitely prefer a downtown surrounded by bars and restaurants to see a ballgame, Arlington does have the original Six Flags over Texas.
City: (Arlintgon?) 1.5 / 5
Neighborhood: 2.5 / 5