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 thirtyballparks.com/yellowstone
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

Mike's Review: Minute Maid Park

Here's an example of a ballpark I knew little about, and was instantly impressed by every part of it. From zero expectations of a retractable roof stadium named after the worse of the two corporate orange juice sponsors (sorry, I like that pure premium original), Minute Maid Park became an instant contender for best overall ballpark.

The Ballpark
A big concern for retractable roof stadiums is that even when the roof is open, the ballpark feels very confined and closed in. Well at Minute Maid Park in Houston, this ballpark has a feeling of openness even when the roof is closed. From our upper deck seats behind 1st base, we had a great view of the unique left field wall, the train, and the tall glass windows spanning from foul territory to the center field scoreboard – and through those tall glass windows, a great view of downtown Houston.
The field was not overcrowded with advertisements like some ballparks are. Besides the usual ads around the scoreboard, most of the other advertisements were integrated into the look of the park: Eat More Fowl could be read on the foul poles, and a "home run" gas pump is located under one of the archways in left-center. Because Minute Maid Park was built over an old train yard, trains were a big theme. The left field train is surrounded by fireworks that went off when the Astros scored the winning run in walk off fashion. What stands out the most, though, would have to be the hill in centerfield, 436 feet away from home plate. It's so far away from the batter that balls rarely travel that far, but when they do it becomes an entertaining circus watching the centerfielder try to track down what would easily be a home run in any other ballpark. We watched Astros centerfielder Michael Bourn track down one of these fly balls, fall on his back, and make a fantastic catch.
Some people don't like the hill and all of the issues that go along with fielding it. In my opinion, it's a fun addition to the ballpark as long as players aren't getting hurt, and if a center fielder really doesn't want to try the hill, then he can let the ball fall (a ball that again would travel out of any other ballpark) and try to hold the runner to a triple instead of an inside the park homer.
In addition to being a very fun place to watch a game, Minute Maid Park has a lot of food, including a restaurant under the scoreboard in center. Local Beer Highlight: Shiner Bock.
4.5 / 5


The Game and Fans
The game was slow, the fans were quiet most of the game. Houston scored one run in the first inning... and that was it until a Cubs ninth inning solo shot sent the game into extras. 4 innings later the Astros walk off with the win, 2-1 the final score. Without much offense to cheer for, the loudest the fans got came after Bourn's center field hill catch, which was really very impressive. Justin and I were thankful for the late inning home run, if nothing else to make the game a lot more interesting. The home teams are now 2-0 in extra inning games on this trip, that's always fun to see.
3 / 5


Houston is enormous, and Minute Maid Park is located right downtown, a nice walk from our hotel. Lots of bars and restaurants around, we checked out a couple crowded sports bars in the area. The only difficult part about walking around Houston in June is the heat, which is why many of the downtown buildings are connected through a network of underground tunnels and pedestrian skywalks.
Neighborhood: 4 / 5
City: 4 / 5

A long way from KC

We just left Seattle, approximately 1900 miles away from Kansas City, and we have a few days off without baseball. Because of the length of this leg of the trip, we're stopping first in Gardiner Montana tonight, and then we're spending tomorrow driving from one side of Yellowstone to the other. We'll get into Kansas City on Sunday before our next game, on Monday.

Currently we're on I-90 for about 600 miles. We'll be on I-90 a few more times on this trip, including cruising into Boston for ballpark number 30. It's kind of funny seeing the start of 90 in Seattle as it passes by Safeco Field, knowing 3,000 miles away it passes a gun control billboard alongside Lansdowne Street and Fenway Park.

So with all this free time and no baseball games to watch, Justin and I promise to catch up completely on reviews, uploading photos to the website, and updating the statistics page before we reach Kansas City. So you'll start noticing some reviews going up from games that happened a really long time ago... I'm very behind, but it'll happen.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What's wrong with this picture???

click to enlarge
This was taken on I-5 as soon as we entered Washington State after crossing the Columbia River

Justin's Review: Dodger Stadium

Ballpark Design:  With the closing of Yankee Stadium last year, Dodger Stadium is now the third oldest ballpark in baseball (having opened in 1962), and its age certainly shows in many ways.  The concourses are narrow and have very low ceilings, the ramps and escalators between levels make you feel like you're walking in to a cave, there isn’t a lot of room for concession stands, and the different seat colors look like something straight out of the seventies.  However, there definitely are some positive aspects of the stadium – most notably, the concourses on the first two levels are completely opened to the field, something I was shocked to learn, considering the stadium was built so long ago.  The pavilion seating sections out in the outfield are also among the most unique and recognizable parts of any ballpark, and the hills that serve as the backdrop behind the stadium (with big white letters on top spelling out “THINK BLUE”) provide a pretty setting, as long as you are not sitting high enough to see the miles of parking lots beneath them.  Some other unique things about Dodger Stadium – the front seating sections on the bottom level have tables in front of each seat (which looks a little bizarre); the very top deck looks very far setback, although it doesn’t stretch all the way around the stadium, limiting the number of bad seats; and the retired numbers located under the pavilion roofs ringing the outfield add a nice touch. Still, the stadium is clearly old and lacks many of the fan friendly features new parks have. C

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: The scoreboards weren’t impressive – one video screen in left field and a matrix board in right field, neither of which were quite big enough to capture all the stats we would have liked to see.  Because there isn’t enough room on the main boards, they have to use two auxiliary boards located in the outfield wall to show pitcher stats and pitch counts/speeds, forcing them to only be able to show out of town scores between innings.  While I’m glad that they prioritized information about their game over out of town scores, it’s unfortunate that they don’t have more scoreboard space.  The sound system itself wasn’t much better – all the sound came from a center field speaker tower, ala old Yankee Stadium, making it hard to hear at times.  However, what sound/music they did play, I really liked – maybe because it was a lot of the same music the Yankees have used for years in their home games (did Torre bring the Yankee Stadium sounds to LA with him?).  And most importantly, they played “Don’t Stop Believing” in the middle of the 8th inning and everybody sang along, which I loved. C

Food/Drink: Very unimpressive.  There wasn’t much room for food stands in the concourses, and what was there was not all that good.  Every stand sold very basic stadium food (hot dogs, peanuts, soda), and not much else.  The much advertised Dodger Dog was one of the worst stadium hotdogs I’ve ever had.  To make matters worse, the people working at the concession stands at each place that either of us went didn’t seem to really know what they were doing, causing long lines and delays. F

Fans:  So far, you probably don’t think I liked our Dodger Stadium experience, right?  Well, the fans alone made up for many of the negatives.  Before our visit, I had heard many bad things about Dodger fans for years – the biggest criticism being that they show up late and leave early.  Well, the first part of that was certainly true – probably only half of the capacity crowd was there when the game started, and it took until the end of the third inning before the stadium really looked full.  And a few people did leave early, although not nearly as many as I would have thought.  But when the fans were actually there, they were as involved in the game as any fans we’ve seen so far, staying loud throughout, cheering with 2 strikes, and just generally making a great atmosphere.  In that way, it reminded me more of a Yankee Stadium crowd then any other stadium I’ve ever been to.  However, it was very different in some ways as well, most notably because despite the fact that the fans were focused on the game, they were also constantly fixated on things happening within the crowd, including the wave (which started up at least once an inning) and the dozens of beach balls that were bouncing around in the stands.  I don’t see these as particularly big negatives, since it didn’t really seem to keep the fans from following the game, but it did make for a unique atmosphere. A-

City/Stadium Neighborhood: Coming from NYC, which is in so many ways its polar opposite, I may be biased, so let me put it simply: I really dislike Los Angeles.  I don’t like that it is a giant city of freeways, that you have to drive to get anywhere, that there’s no real downtown, that there is almost no walkable space in the city, that the weather never changes, that the whole city (even if its just a stereotype) has this weird beauty/celebrity obsessed culture, and so on.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m certain that there are also many positive things about living there, and I’m happy for people who like it – I just could never live there.  As Woody Allen (in Annie Hall) said about moving from NYC to LA, “I don’t want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light.”  As for Dodger Stadium itself, it suffers from all that LA lacks, being more or less only reachable by car.  That being said, it is located right in the middle of Los Angeles and is relatively easy to get to (at least by LA standards).  So that’s something. City: D/Neighborhood: C

Game: A close, tense game that stayed interesting until the final out.  What a change from our last few games!  The Oakland A’s and the Dodgers exchanged runs in the third inning (the Dodgers scoring on an Orland Hudson solo shot), before the Dodgers took the lead in the 5th.  Nomar Garciaparra tied the game in the 7th with an RBI single, and the Dodgers responded in the bottom half of the inning with a Mark Loretta RBI single to take a 3-2 lead.  The A’s threatened, getting a runner on in the bottom of the ninth, but a Ryan Sweeney double play ended the game and gave the home team the victory. B+

Overall: Despite a subpar stadium, a city I don’t like, and a lack of food options, Dodger Stadium was one of my favorite experiences yet, simply because of the energy and excitement of the fans.  With fans into it, the game never got boring, and the flaws of the actual stadium disappeared.  I guess the lesson here is that even an imperfect stadium can be a great baseball experience with a good game and great fans. B+

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On the road again

Well, after a couple days without any driving to do, we're back on the road again, heading 809 miles north to Seattle.  Unfortunately, we got a slightly later start than we were hoping for - we had some issues involving a slightly broken dryer and wet laundry.  Yes, laundry - as you might imagine, there isn't enough room in our car to pack 2 months worth of clothing (nor, for that matter, do I have 2 months worth of clothing), so we have to do laundry a few times during this trip.  We got to do some in Orlando, which was about 2 weeks ago, so we badly needed to do laundry yesterday in San Francisco.  It all worked out in the end, but like I said, some technical difficulties put us on the road a bit late.  We should be getting in to Seattle some time around 10pm local time.

So, other than doing laundry, how did we spend our day off?  We visited our friend Richard (who we were staying with) at his office at Lucasfilm, and saw a lot of cool artifacts from films that the company had worked on.  We also saw a special screening of a film called Paper Heart, which I would definitely recommended if you notice that it's playing somewhere near you.

Oh, and happy 21st birthday Grace!  Don't go too crazy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

3 Days in the Bay Area

It's wonderful to finally have three days in one place, without any driving to do.  We arrived in San Francisco early Sunday morning, after leaving L.A. at about 5:00am.  We had to leave that early because the Giants had a day game, which we just barely made it in time for.  Our review for the Giants' AT&T Park (as well as all the California parks) will be coming soon, but needless to say, I don't think that there is any park that even comes close to the beauty of the Giants' bayside stadium.

In addition to loving AT&T Park, we're having a great time in San Francisco.  I love cities that you can walk around and really explore, and San Francisco is a classic example of a walking city.  We spent the day exploring the waterfront area with a friend of mine from college, before heading across the bay to Oakland for the A's game (against San Francisco).  The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was not nearly as impressive as the Giants' ballpark (in fact, it was my least favorite stadium yet), but we still had a great time watching the A's beat their cross-bay rivals.

Tomorrow is our first day without any games or driving since June 1st, back when we were in DC.  We plan to spend it relaxing, recovering, and doing some laundry, before starting the long trek up to Seattle.

One final note - we know we are both wayyyy behind on stadium reviews.  Over the next week, we only have one baseball game to go to and a lot of time that we're going to spend driving - so by this time next week, we promise we will both be caught up!

Monday, June 22, 2009

avoiding conflicts...

Fun story.

At AT&T Park last night just before the game started, we were walking through the crowded upper deck concourse on our way to our seats. I had been taking pictures of the ballpark, the architecture, the water and the boats... It's a beautiful park and I wanted a lot of pictures (I ended up with about 85, not as many as I thought). So my camera is in my hand as we're walking through the crowds, until apparently some woman thought I was taking pictures of her. The camera was off, and I wasn't even looking at her, but that's besides the point. The boyfriend: not happy. This guy (who looked like a smaller version of Andy Pettitte [who I wouldn't want to get in a fight with]) marches towards me and yells "So you like taking pictures of people?" That was apparently all he had to say, though, and he stormed off.

Imagine if Gerlo's students ran into this guy in Europe? (Gerlo taught digital photography for Emerson's summer Kasteel program, with most assignments beginning with "go to [city name] and take portraits of the people you see")

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Justin's Review: Coors Field

Ballpark Design:  Coors Field opened in 1995, towards the beginning of the recent stadium building craze, and it’s opening date is very much reflected in the design of the ballpark.  For the most part, it is a very modern and comfortable stadium, with an open concourse on the lower level, a second deck club level, a large scoreboard, and a beautifully designed garden with fountains right over the center field wall.  However, while the park lives up to many of the standards set by other new ballparks, it isn’t quite unique enough to really be considered an interesting ballpark.  Certainly, there are some features that link it well to the city it’s located in – most notably, the mountains visible in the distance behind the field and the row of purple seats in the upper deck marking where the elevation is exactly one mile  - but much of the park feels very generic.  The seating bowl itself is uninteresting, and the one noteworthy feature, the gigantic section of bleachers located high above deep center field, is an eyesore.  Overall, it is a pleasant park, but it doesn’t clearly differentiate itself from the many other ballparks built in the past 20 years. B-

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: The primary scoreboard in left field is made up of two large video screens, which together give plenty of information about everything happening in the game.  Like a few other stadiums (but not most), it includes the pitcher’s year to date stats throughout the game, rather than just showing it at the beginning of the game or when a pitching change is made.  Ribbon boards along the railing of the second deck act as auxiliary scoreboards, and the out of town scoreboard was a large manual board located in the right field wall.  It only showed innings and scores, but the design of it looked great and was one of the few things to really add some character to the park. B+

Food/Drink: Foods stands were located throughout the ballpark and offered a good deal of variety, if not a huge amount.  There was a bar/restaurant located in right field in the lower concourse, although it did not have views of the field.  Due to a large dinner at a nearby restaurant before the game, neither Mike nor I had much to eat, although I did have a relatively good $1 hot dog using a coupon they gave us.  B

Fans:  It wasn’t a very impressive crowd, but it was decent sized for a Tuesday night game.  The fans were more in to the game then in some recent stadiums we’ve been to, but there wasn’t a lot of energy, particularly after Tampa took a big lead.  In general, the crowd felt much younger than many of the other crowds we’ve seen recently – a lot more college students and kids then in Phoenix, Houston, etc.  It definitely made for a bit of a different environment, and I suspect that with a closer game, it would have been one of the better crowds that we’ve seen. B-

City/Stadium Neighborhood:  We spent the afternoon getting lunch at a nearby restaurant/brewery, and then spent a little while before the game walking around the Lower Downtown (LoDo) neighborhood near the ballpark.  I really liked what we saw of Denver – the downtown was very walkable and lively, with dozens of restaurants and bars around and people everywhere.  After visiting a few cities with less active downtowns, it was a nice change of pace, and reminded me of east coast cities in many ways.  I’d love to go back and explore the city a bit more (and who wouldn’t love a city that close to so many ski slopes?).  The ballpark, located right in an interesting part of downtown, was one of the best yet in terms of neighborhood. City: B+; Neighborhood: A-

Game: The Rays definitely liked playing in Coors Field.  They hit five homeruns as a team, and scored 12 runs to crush the Rockies, 12-4.  Neither starting pitcher was impressive, but Jeff Niemann was just serviceable enough to get the win.  It obviously wasn’t a particularly interesting game, although watching the Rays take advantage of Coors’ thin air was enjoyable. C

Overall Experience: Coors Field is a nice place to watch a baseball game, if not a particularly unique or special place.  Being located downtown adds major points to the experience of going to a game there, simply because of the atmosphere around the stadium before and after the game.  Overall, there is little to not like at the stadium, but also not quite enough to love. B 


Saturday, June 20, 2009

California

Our first two days in California are off to a great start - we've gone to games at both Dodger Stadium and Petco Park (in San Diego) already, both of which were great, if for different reasons.  We saw a great game at Dodger Stadium, and while the stadium wasn't my favorite, it was the most well attended game we've been to since the beginning of the trip, and the fans made for a great atmosphere.  Petco Park itself was much nicer than Dodger Stadium, but it was unfortunately a very small crowd to see two mediocre teams playing.  It was fun nonetheless.

We just got back from getting an oil change this morning (gotta make sure the car can get us back to the East Coast), and we're heading out to walk around the Santa Monica beach area before tonight's Dodgers/Angels game in Anaheim, which should be one of the more exciting games we're seeing.

Yesterday was also a particularly important milestone for us, because San Diego is as far from home as we're going on this trip.  From this point on, we are (almost) always moving toward the finish line.  That being said, we still haven't hit the halfway point of the trip, either in stadium numbers or days.  Still a lot more to do!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Pacific Ocean

On June 7th we were swimming in the Atlantic Ocean off of Miami Beach before heading to a Marlins game at Land Shark Stadium. Now, over 5,000 miles since then, we are on approach into Pasadena California where we will meet up with a friend and spend the next three nights in the LA area, and the long awaited Pacific coastline.

We'll spend today in LA and go to the Dodgers game. Other than Wrigley and Fenway, Dodger Stadium is one of the oldest ballparks in MLB, so we're both excited for this game.

Tomorrow we're spending the day in San Diego and going to the Padres game, and we'll be in Anaheim on Saturday to see the Dodgers face the Angels (and Jeff Weaver face his brother Jered Weaver). That will complete California's southern trio of ballparks, and we'll need to get a very early start to head up to the bay area to see the Giants and Athletics games Sunday and Monday!

Here we go, California's five ballparks all in five days.

I'm already behind on my reviews, I promise I'll catch up completely after Seattle!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Highways and Byways

Sorry that we haven't had many posts other than reviews in recent days, it's been a busy week!  We're currently about an hour out from Las Vegas - we're driving from Denver to there, where we're going to spend the night with a friend of Mike's before heading to LA tomorrow.  We've had a lot of driving over the last few days, but it hasn't been bad - actually, the rapidly changing terrain has been amazing to watch.  Since leaving Dallas on Saturday morning, we have driven through the endless Texas prairie, the southwest deserts, the plains of northern New Mexico, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, and some of the most interesting and beautiful landscapes I've even seen in southern Utah.  It's all been pretty unbelievable - that in such a short period of time, it's possible to see so many completely different landscapes.

Anyway, here are a few pictures from our recent drives - we'll post more on the website in the coming days. (Click on them to make them larger)





Justin's Review: Chase Field

Ballpark Design:  Chase Field is without a doubt a modern ballpark – it has all the amenities that the newest ballparks have, including open concourses on the lower level, scoreboards everywhere, a restaurant overlooking the field, and good sightlines.  There is little to complain about when it comes to these specific features.  However, the ballpark as a whole, specifically the look of it, is lacking something.  It’s certainly a good place to watch a baseball game, but it almost seems too big and too impersonal.  While it is not that much bigger than other stadiums we’ve been to in terms of seating capacity, the upper deck goes up forever, creating some awful seats, and giving the stadium a football stadium feel.  The retractable roof high overhead, combined with the oversized scoreboard and advertisements in center field, add to the effect.  Additionally, the stadium feels very closed – while Houston did a great job making their retractable roof stadium feel open to the outside even with the roof closed, Chase Field really feels like you are inside.  Part of this is caused by 4 gigantic advertisements hanging over the outfield, which block the view outside of the stadium, making it feel fully enclosed.  We did learn after the game that those ads go away when the roof is open, so chances are the ballpark feels very different on those days – however, with Phoenix temperatures being what they are, I doubt roof open days are too common.  Don’t get me wrong though – this isn’t a bad stadium by any means.  It’s just that after seeing a whole bunch of friendly stadiums clearly designed around watching a baseball game, Chase Field almost feels like a throwback to the times of large, impersonal multipurpose stadiums (but not quite).  Some other things I did like about it: the outfield concourse offers great standing room views of the field, and there are a bunch of unique places to sit out there.  The upper deck isn’t too far set back, so the seats in the lower part of it are pretty good.  Also, air conditioning – as much as I don’t love the problems associated with the retractable roof, I’m very glad they have one.  The 76 degrees inside the stadium was much better than the 98 degrees outside. B-

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: The scoreboards were large, well designed, and all over the place – a big improvement from the last two stadiums we were at.  The big centerfield screen acted as both the video board and primary scoreboard, and it was easy to read and very clear.  The out of town scoreboard only gave the inning and score of other games, but showed them all at once, and, most notably, was in two different locations, ensuring that everybody in the ballpark could see one.  A-

Food/Drink: We started our day off at Chase Field by having lunch at the Friday’s inside of the ballpark, overlooking the field.  The food wasn’t particularly notable, but being able to eat at a sit down restaurant while watching batting practice was pretty cool.  The actual stadium concourses had plenty of options throughout – I had some popcorn from a stand that had four different varieties of popcorn.  There were a couple of branches of some local restaurant chains in the outfield, and the upper deck had all of the same options as the lower level, unlike many other stadiums.  Few complaints, although there wasn’t quite as much variety as we saw in Houston or Citi Field. B+

Fans:  27,000 fans showed up, which isn’t great for a Sunday afternoon game, but considering that it was a matchup between two last place teams, wasn’t awful either.  However, the general fan interest level was pretty horrible.  It was one of the quietest stadiums I’ve ever been in – almost eerily quiet at times.  Even early in the game when the Diamondback scored a few runs, it was very quiet, and once they were losing by a bunch, you could practically have heard a pin drop.  Without question, the stadium got to its loudest point when they were throwing out t-shirts between innings – never a good sign.  I realize the team hasn’t been good this year, but still an awful showing. C-

City/Stadium Neighborhood: Phoenix seemed like a likable enough city, but I did have a few problem with it, in my limited time there.  First, the downtown neighborhood wasn’t that impressive – it was very quiet and empty while we were there.  While it was Sunday, which partly explains it, Chase Field was right there, so you would expect a bit more activity from all the fans.  It just felt too much like a financial district with nothing else happening around it.  That would be more okay with me if there were other easily accessible neighborhoods around it, but Phoenix is clearly a driving city, forcing you to use a car to get anywhere interesting, something that I’m not particularly fond of.  That being said, the city was undoubtedly beautiful, with the desert mountains all around it, and we did find some fun areas – particularly in Tempe, just outside of Phoenix proper.  The stadium’s location downtown is good, but it would certainly be better if it seemed like there was more happening downtown. City: B-; Neighborhood: B

Game: Certainly not the most exciting game we’ve seen.  Houston scored 3 immediately in the first, and Arizona responded with 2 in the bottom of the inning.  After that it was all Houston, as they jumped out to an 8-3 lead and won easily.  We did see four homers (two from the home team), and I can’t say I was all that disappointed to see some offense.  But I’m ready for some more close games now. C

Overall: Chase Field is a pleasant place to watch a baseball game, but it really doesn’t strike me as anything all that special.  It feels huge, and the fans didn’t do a great job of filling that huge space, both physically and acoustically.  B-

Monday, June 15, 2009

Justin's Review: Rangers Ballpark at Arlington

Ballpark Design: Probably the most impressive thing about the design of Rangers Ballpark at Arlington is how Texas it feels. I don’t think that any stadium we’ve seen yet has done as good a job capturing the aesthetics of the state its located in through architecture as well as Arlington. The iconic office building that acts as the backdrop behind centerfield is probably the most notable example of this, with a fa├žade and balconies hanging off of it that make it look like it came right out of an old Western movie. The roof over the upper deck, the separate section of stands in right field, and even the ice cream stand in center field all make it very clear what part of the country you’re in. The stadium has other positive aspects, aside from its impressive architectural style. While the concourses are not open to the field, they are extremely wide, with picnic tables and other areas to eat scattered throughout them. The large, open area behind center field, filled with baseball related games for kids and a bunch of food stands, is well designed, with a great area to look over the visiting bullpen. The upper deck concourse was also great – like many other stadiums, it wasn’t open to the field, but unlike others, it was extremely wide and open to the outside, offering fabulous views of the surrounding area (including the Cowboys gigantic new stadium nearby). Some negatives – the upper deck was extremely far set back from the field (almost as bad as Shea Stadium used to be), and from our initial seats at the front of the upper deck near the right field foul pole, it was very hard to see the ball. The immense size of the upper deck also took something away from the overall look of the stadium – while the oufield, with the office building and everything else, had a very unique and old-town look, the largeness of the rest of the stadium contrasted and made the place feel much more utilitarian. Finally, due to the closed concourses on each level, there were few places you could stand and watch the game if you weren’t in your seats. Overall, it’s a good-looking and well designed ballpark, but a few flaws drop it from being towards the top of the list of stadiums we’ve seen so far. B+

Scoreboard/Soundtrack: Definitely the biggest flaw in this stadium. Like in Houston, the primary video screen is almost comically small. Furthermore, it’s position on the roof of the right field pavilion ensures that nobody in the right field part of the upper deck or the large right field pavilion can see it. They’ve tried to help with an extremely small video screen in the left field wall, but it’s so small that it’s nearly completely useless. The other scoreboards are not much better – the balls and strikes count, as well as the line score, are located on the matrix board directly below the main video screen, where it cannot be seen by a large part of the stadium, and where the numbers are also extremely small. The auxiliary boards that give the count are not much better, leaving us struggling to keep track of what was happening at times. Another matrix board, in straightaway centerfield above the office building, was actually pretty good, but only gave information on what players had done in previous at bats. If that were used for the line score and count instead, it would help many of the problems related to scoreboards. The sound was not much better – from our seats in deep right field, we had trouble hearing it at times, although it sounded much better when we moved behind home plate towards the end of the game. The out of town scoreboard, located in the left field wall, only showed 4 games at a time, and while it did give info about outs, who was batting and pitching, and such, it seemed to only update every 20 minutes or so. D

Food/Drink: While not quite as impressive as Houston or Tampa’s selection, there was a great variety of food at Rangers Ballpark, and the variety was scattered throughout the ballpark (including in the upper deck, where many stadiums have only the basics). One unique thing I tried was “hot peanuts”, which are more or less what they sound like. They were actually pretty good, although after about an hour, they were no longer hot and were just normal peanuts. They also had an impressive variety of beers, with “Beers of the World” and “Beers of Texas” stands scattered throughout the ballpark. B+

Fans: The fans showed up, they were loud, in to it, and clearly knowledgeable. Finally, some great fans – probably the best we’ve seen since Philly. Granted, it was a Friday night interleague matchup between two first place teams, but either way, we were impressed. Even after the Rangers took a big lead, few people left (although it was fireworks night, which may be partly responsible), and the stands stayed loud. However, they did do the wave - but they were the first fans we’ve seen to get the entire stadium to do it, which at least looks cool. B+

City/Stadium Neighborhood: Unfortunately, because of our tight schedule, we didn’t get to spend any time in Dallas, and I’ve never been there before, so I’m not going to give it a grade. The stadium itself is located in Arlington, which is clearly a suburb and makes no attempt to be a real city. Nearby is the Cowboys’ new stadium and a Six Flags (as well as the hotel we stayed at). While there’s not a lot there, it’s not completely isolated. Still, not a particularly exciting location for a stadium. City: N/A; Neighborhood: D

Game: The Rangers beat the Dodgers 6-0 in the biggest blowout we’ve seen up to this point. Hank Blalock hit the only homerun of the game, and despite the shutout, the Rangers pitching wasn’t particularly impressive. Vicente Padilla only got through 5 innings, allowing 4 hits and 3 walks, barely surviving without allowing a run. The bullpen was better, but the Rangers still only struck out 4 hitters in the whole game. The Dodgers were even less impressive, with two costly errors contributing the Rangers scoring. C



Overall Experience: There is no question that Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is a great place to watch a game. While it doesn’t quite feel as modern or fan friendly as some of the other new ballparks, the atmosphere that the stadium itself has and the energy brought by the fans makes it a great ballpark. Next time, I’d like to sit in the lower deck so I can see the ball better, but other than that, I have few complaints. B+

after driving 14 hours...

We arrive in Phoenix pretty exhausted, and even though it's 10pm local time it feels like it's midnight. Got some food, got back to the hotel, got some sleep. Some, being the operative word there.

I felt the need to wake up at 5:30 in the morning, put on some comfortable climbing shoes and sunblock, and go for a hike up Camelback Mountain a few minutes from downtown.
Worth it.

We went to the D-Backs game, saw a bunch of home runs, walked through Phoenix, drove through Scottsdale, went to three different bars/ restaurants in Tempe, watched Orlando continue their collapse and then collapsed ourselves, resigned to getting some sleep before driving to Santa Fe, New Mexico tomorrow morning. I'm probably going to go for another hike tomorrow before we leave. I love it here.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

This is appropriate...

Justin's Review: Minute Maid Park

Ballpark Design: For years, while watching games at Minute Maid Park on TV, I had felt that the park seemed overdesigned.  Between the hill in centerfield, the flagpole that’s in play, and the really short porch with the high wall in left field, it seemed like the Astros had gone overboard on making a really "different" park.  Well, there’s no doubt that the park is unique – but in the best possible way.  Unlike some of the other new ballparks that we’ve visited, there is no possible way to mistake the ballpark for any other.  Not just because of the hill and those things, but also because of things like the large wall behind the left field stands with a train sitting on top, the large glass windows high above left field that give an impressive view of downtown Houston even when the roof is closed, and the fascinating structure of the retractable roof, and so many other things.  Every bit of the ballpark impresses – the open concourse on the lower level is wide and offers great views of the field.  The large outfield wall has open arches that you can stand inside of watch the game from a unique perspective.  The upper deck overhangs enough that there are few bad seats, except for far up in left field.  Perhaps the most impressive thing is how they’ve managed to create a park that feels relatively open despite having a retractable roof, a problem that many other teams with retractable roofs haven’t solved.  The glass windows that stretch across half of the outfield leave you feeling as though you are practically outside, even as you are inside enjoying the air conditioning.  Not a lot to complain about at this ballpark – the upper deck wasn’t an open concourse, but with big windows and wide spaces, it did not feel cramped at all.  A

Scoreboard/Soundtrack:  By far my biggest complaint about the stadium was the extremely small size of the primary video board in deep centerfield.  Because of its size and extreme distance away, it was hard to see many replays or read the information on it.  A matrix board in right field somewhat made up for this, providing plenty of information about the batters and pitchers, but didn’t solve the video problem.  Auxiliary scoreboards around the rim of the upper deck and in the wall right behind third base were also helpful.  The out of town scoreboard is a manual board located in the high left field wall, with room for all games happening and the linescores for each game.  While you couldn’t get any information about what was happening in an individual game other than the score, the scoreboard was visually appealing and added a nice touch.  I was actually very impressed with the sound, mainly because it added to the “train station” theme that much of the rest of stadium is based on, with train whistles and other noises happening during rallies. B

Food/Drink: Another stadium with fantastic choices.  We did two laps around the lower level before deciding what we wanted, with choices ranging from a “Latin-influenced” stand, to a BBQ stand, to a “healthy options” stand, and of course, all the traditional stuff you would expect.  It was also surprisingly cheap, as ballpark food goes – my cheeseburger and fries were only $8 (although the fries weren’t particularly impressive).  Supposedly, there is also a stand that sells some type of food that the opposing team’s city is known for (a different one for each opposing team) – we didn’t see it, but if it does exist, that’s a very cool concept.  There seemed to be many beer choices as well – not quite the variety as some other ballparks, but more than enough.  A-

Fans:  I had a mixed reaction to the fans.  On one hand, the attendance was around 34,000, which was not bad for a Thursday afternoon game.  However, the fans simply were not that loud or in to the game – the only times they would really make noise was when prompted by a “Make Some Noise” graphic on the scoreboard, and they would get quiet very quickly thereafter.  Furthermore, the game went into extra innings, but by the end of the ninth, probably about half the fans had left.  I’m glad a lot of people showed up, but I really didn’t see the passion. B-

City/Stadium Neighborhood:  We stayed overnight in downtown Houston, only about 10 blocks from the ballpark.  Houston is a huge city that sprawls for miles, so it’s hard to judge it based on only a one day impression in one neighborhood, especially when that one neighborhood is the central business district.  Like many other cities, the financial district is completely dead after about 5pm, so the city simply didn’t seem that lively to us.  We did find a good sports bar nearby to watch the Yankees/Sox game and the basketball game, and there were definitely more people in that area, but it was still pretty quiet.  I’d definitely be happy to go back to Houston and learn more about it, but my overall impression based on our one day there is mixed.  The ballpark itself was right downtown, which makes for a great atmosphere in the neighborhood before and after games.  It looked like there were a bunch of sports bars and restaurants right around the stadium, making the whole neighborhood a destination on game days.  City: B-; Stadium Neighborhood B+

Game: Probably the best game we’ve seen so far.  Once again, we saw very little offense, but the Astros and Cubs made up for it with some late inning drama.  The Astros scored 1 run in the first, and that was it for either team until the top of the 9th, when Derrek Lee hit a game tying homerun with 1 out to tie the game.  For the next few innings, neither team mounted much of a threat, until Geoff Blum won it with a walk-off single in the bottom of the 13th.  A-

Overall Experience: Without question, this is one of the most well designed and good looking ballparks in the country.  It is great place to explore, and a fantastic place to watch a baseball game.  Despite the seeming disinterest of the fans there, I’m certain that when the Astros are good and in a heated race, the atmosphere must be amazing.  Add in good food, a ballpark right downtown, and air conditioning in Houston’s 100 degree heat, and you have a pretty close to perfect ballpark. A-