This blog is dedicated to the baseball travels my brother and I have taken over the past 20 years or so. Each entry will include pictures, videos (where available), scorecards and stories about our experiences on the road.
- First visit: Wednesday September 19th 2001
- Most recent visit: Sunday September 17 2006
Our first visit to PNC Park was not supposed to happen. This game was originally scheduled to be played at Shea Stadium in New York City, but following the attacks on September 11th 2001, the parking lot at Shea was used as a staging area to deal with the aftermath of the attacks. Since Shea Stadium would not be available for baseball in the near term, the games were moved to PNC Park in Pittsburgh PA. After a short break, baseball resumed on September 17th 2001, and the Mets played a three game set against the Pirates, starting on that date.
Since we had travel plans scrapped after the attacks (we were flying to Chicago to see the Pirates take on the Cubs, but the games and flights were cancelled), we both had some time off. We chose to attend the last game of the series, a Wednesday matinee on September 19th. Getting an early start from central NJ, we made the 365 mile drive in about five and one-half hours, arriving at the ballpark before noon. Because the game was supposed to be played in New York, there was not much demand for parking, which allowed us to park just across the street from the stadium for a reasonable price.
With time before the game, we briefly wandered around the park. Along the right field wall, we discovered a walking path adjacent to the Allegheny River. Dubbed Three Rivers Heritage Trail, the concrete path snakes along the river for about one and one-half miles. Given our time constraints, we did not amble nearly that far, but we did enjoy the view of downtown Pittsburgh from the riverside. Even if we were not taking in a ballgame that day, a simple trek along the river would have provided an early afternoon of peaceful vistas. Its proximity to the river enhanced the appeal of PNC Park, and we had not even seen the inside of the stadium yet!
During our exploration of the environs of the the stadium, we found a pair of Pirates greats immortalized in bronze. Both Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell were on display outside the park, with each statue larger than life. Roberto Clemente was just a bit before my time, as I was a toddler when he had his best years in Pittsburgh. Conversely, I was much more familiar with Stargell, with his trademark “windmill” bat twirl just before the arrival of the pitch. Two other statutes stood outside the ballpark (Honus Wagner and Bill Mazeroski) eluded our search, but perhaps we would view them on another visit.
PNC Park is a baseball only stadium, at the end of its inaugural season in September 2001. Since the game was not supposed to be played in PNC Park, there were few fans present was we ended our tour of the outside of the stadium before heading into the park. It seemed that, based on the number of New York jerseys we saw on people milling around near the home plate entrance, those who did attend the matinee were mainly Mets fans, making a drive similar to ours. Apparently a five hour drive did not deter the New York faithful, who seemed determined to see the game. Unfortunately, the weather was less than cooperative, with warm and humid conditions under mainly cloudy skies.
Once inside, we could immediately see that the view of downtown Pittsburgh was the focus of the new ballpark. Unlike its predecessor (Three Rivers Stadium), PNC Park was open in centerfield, providing a sweeping vista of the city and Allegheny in front of it. Rather than AstroTurf, the field was covered with Kentucky bluegrass, which looked a bit worse for wear after a hot Pittsburgh summer. As we started to walk along the lower concourse toward right field, I couldn’t tear myself away from the view beyond the centerfield wall! Beyond the ballpark, several of the bridges connecting the north shore of the Allegheny River to downtown Pittsburgh were painted Aztec gold. At the time, I did not understand why they were painted this hue, but research later indicated that the bridges connected surrounding areas to the Golden Triangle section of the city. In any case, even the overcast of the day could not hide the luster of the bridges, and I discovered that I’d found my new favorite MLB ballpark!
Following the lower concourse to the right field line brought us to the detached bleacher area, which extends from the foul pole to the 375 foot sign in right centerfield (where a hand operated scoreboard runs the length of the 21 foot high fence). Venturing up into the bleachers gave us a great view of the river and the city. Each seat provided a clean view of the action, due primarily to the elevated nature of the bleachers. Continuing counter clockwise on the lower concourse, we encountered a smaller bleacher area adjacent to the green batter’s eye in centerfield. Since the crowd was small, there were very few fans here, but given the sight lines here (as all seats in PNC Park are angled to produce the best view of home plate), these seats appear as though they would be almost as good as the seats in the right field bleachers.
Standing on the lower concourse behind the batter’s eye gave us an amazing view of the bridges and downtown Pittsburgh. Even the pictures we took on the cloudy and humid day (resulting in haze that partially obscured the city) could not do justice to the backdrop for PNC Park. Even if we did not see a game here, the view alone was worth the time and expense. Proceeding toward home plate, we got a close up view of the video board, which stood atop two tiered seating in left field. The video board seemed curiously small for a brand new park, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Light stands bracketing the video board were wrought steel, and looked similar those at Comerica Park. In fact, the placement and size of the video board at Comerica Park bore a striking resemblance to what we saw at PNC Park.
We completed the loop around the stadium on the lower concourse behind home plate, and went in search of a baseball lunch. Like most “newer” MLB stadiums, PNC Park has many places to eat, including outlets of many popular local restaurants, with premium services available in the club level provided by Levy’s Restaurant. Per my usual, I eschewed these choices, instead choosing hot dogs and drinks to bring to our seats. In keeping with the somber nature of the situation following the attacks on 9/11, there was a sense of sullenness in the crowd, and even the typically boisterous Mets fans kept their enthusiasm in check for the game. Mets players were wearing hats of the various first responder services (like the NYPD, NYFD, etc.) that gallantly answered the call during and after the attacks.
Despite the air of melancholy in the air at PNC Park that afternoon, Mets players did sign autographs and interact with the crowd. Because the game was moved to Pittsburgh with little advance notice, we were able to get seats along the right field line just beyond the Mets dugout (PNC Park is one of the few MLB parks where the home team dugout is on the third base side). Though I was mesmerized by the ballpark and its surroundings, we were there to see a game. Following a World Series berth in 2000, New York, facing a depleted Pirates squad, overcame an early deficit to win the game, 9-2. We were treated to a Mike Piazza home run, and the game time was under three hours. Facing a long drive home, we headed straight to the parking lot. PNC Park was as advertised and much more, leaving me dazzled. We would have to return, if only to the the park and its views in better weather conditions.
Our second visit to PNC Park was not as hurried, as we planned a weekend visit to Pittsburgh to once again see the New York Mets. Unlike our previous stay, clear skies and pleasantly warm and dry conditions were expected for Saturday and Sunday. Our trip from central NJ to Pittsburgh was uneventful, and we drop off our bags at the hotel before heading to the park. Leaving ourselves plenty of time to explore, we crossed the Allegheny River on one of the bridges, where my brother got some excellent shots of the stadium, with the river in the foreground. Given the great late summer weather, we strolled along the riverfront, where we encountered scores of people walking, biking and sitting along the banks of the river.
Following our extended tour of the area, we headed into PNC Park through the home plate entrance. Of course, we wandered through the ballpark, though we didn’t spend as much time doing so, as we would get a better look at the park the next afternoon. After visiting the concession stand in the lower level behind home plate for a baseball dinner, we headed to our seats. Because the Pirates were playing out a disappointing season, tickets for the game were plentiful, and we were fortunate enough to secure good seats just to the right of home plate in the lower level.
Sunshine, though decreasing with time, afforded us a better look at PNC Park and downtown Pittsburgh. The Aztec gold of the bridges crossing the Allegheny seemed more vivid in the waning daylight, and the overall feel of the park was much lighter, a stark contrast to our previous visit, when skies were gray and the country was still reeling from the attacks on 9/11. PNC Park has a two tiered seating area extending from the left field foul pole behind home plate to the right field foul pole (minus the luxury boxes and the press level). When combined with the bleachers, there were just over 38,000 seats in the ballpark (which is the second smallest capacity in MLB), and almost all of the seats in the stadium offer a view of downtown Pittsburgh.
PNC Park offers one of the smallest distances from home plate to the backstop (51 feet), giving fans nearly unprecedented closeness to the action. Clearly, the stadium was designed with a maximum fan experience in mind. When combined with the spectacular views of the city and the river, my opinion that PNC Park was the best park in MLB (though my brother would disagree, as he is partial to Comerica Park) was cemented. Even after the game started, I found myself scoping out the park and scenery beyond it, instead of paying more attention to the action on the field. More than once, I found myself envious of the Pirates home, wishing and hoping that the Mets would construct a ballpark with similar magic.
Though 25 games under .500 coming into the game, the Pirates kept pace with the visiting Mets (who were destined for a division championship and a trip to the 2006 NLCS), as evening blended into night. Surprisingly, there were few lights emanating from the buildings in downtown Pittsburgh, as I expected the coming of night might allow the downtown area to shine. That was probably the only negative we encountered on our visit to the park that evening. Had the game been a nationally televised broadcast, it is possible that the city might have obliged with more lights from the structures, producing a spectacle for the fans in attendance and those on TV.
Between the time we entered the ballpark before the game and the third inning, the crowd filled out nicely. Even the four level steel rotunda in left field, used primarily for standing room only, was filled with fans. Officially, there were more than 37,000 people in the ballpark that night (nearly a sellout), but the actual count was almost certainly less. In any event, the fans in attendance made their presence felt, and the game was deadlocked at two going into the bottom of the ninth. Pittsburgh scratched out a run in the bottom of the frame, beating the Mets and their closer, Aaron Heilman 3-2. As the jubilant Pirate fans filed out of PNC Park that night, I quickly scanned the ballpark while we waited to exit. As we left, I remember thinking that I hoped the Pittsburgh fans appreciated the park they were lucky enough to call home.
Sunday September 17 2006 was a mainly sunny and pleasantly warm late summer day, and after breakfast we headed out to PNC Park to see the finale of the series. Early morning fog was begin transformed into cumulus clouds as the sun shone over the park, and the filtered sunshine showed that we were indeed headed toward fall, despite the warm weather. We did not spend as much time outside of the park as the previous day, but we did focus our attention on the river. Much like we saw in Cincinnati in 2004, there was quite a bit of river boat traffic this Sunday morning, and it reminded me what life might have been like on the river long ago. Leftover haze gave the river and its surroundings a softer hue, and somehow this seemed to add to the appeal of the area.
Upon entering the park, we conducted one final walkthrough of the stadium with the best conditions we had seen so far. Based on the number of fans milling around outside, the crowd promised to be much smaller than the game the previous night. Our experience has taught that Sunday afternoon games were usually more lightly attended than Saturday night games, and it seemed that trend would hold for the afternoon contest. In addition, we had entered football season, which meant the part of the crowd that might have come to see a poorly performing Pirate team instead stayed home to watch gridiron action. Regardless of the reason, we expected to have more elbow room for the matinee contest.
Before getting a baseball lunch and heading for our seats, we headed up the upper deck to get some pictures of the stadium with downtown as the backdrop. From that vantage point, my brother took some of my favorite ballpark pictures, and even those picture did not do the scenery justice. Though we did not have pristine conditions, the panorama my brother constructed from those pictures qualify (in my opinion; his may vary) as his best work at baseball stadiums, and helps to shape my opinion of PNC Park being the best ballpark in MLB.
Our seats were very similar to those of the previous night, in the lower level just to the right of home plate. For the New York Mets, the game was not particularly meaningful, as they were on their way to the NL East title, but most of the regular starters were in the lineup. On the mound for the Mets was right hander John Maine, who was the number five starter in the New York rotation. For the hometown Pirates, left hander Zach Duke took the mound. Duke was the ace of the Pittsburgh staff, and we were not quite sure what to expect out of either team, with so little at stake for either team this late in the season.
Pittsburgh scored two runs against the Mets in the bottom of the first inning, and as it would turn out, that would be more than enough for Duke, who tossed eight shutout innings against a formidable New York lineup. Despite the second straight flat performance by the Mets, the game was again almost superfluous, as the fine late summer conditions made PNC Park shine even more than the night before. In between innings, I spent my time shifting my attention from one feature to the other, while my brother’s camera was busy capturing the nearly perfect baseball environment. As we suspected, the crowd was quite thin, nowhere near the announced crowd of nearly 30,00. Later I would learn that the Pirates’ attendance in 2006 was 1.8 million, which was next to last in the NL. Apparently, a poorly playing team trumped the beautiful ballpark, which had been racking up accolades since it opened its doors in 2001.
Time passed quickly during the low scoring game, which clocked in at about two hours and 30 minutes, which was shorter than the league average. Before I knew it, we were leaving this baseball palace, headed out for a five hour drive back home to central NJ (during which we would listen to the Jets lose another game). To say we thoroughly enjoyed the ballpark would be a great understatement. Though we were split as to whether we thought that PNC Park was the best MLB park, we did agree that it was a great baseball experience that we would have to repeat as soon as possible. If you find yourself near Pittsburgh during baseball season, check to see if the Pirates are home. If they are, GO! You will be glad that you did.
- First visit: Sunday April 18th 1999
- Most recent visit: Sunday May 24th 2009
Our first visit to this baseball cathedral came in April 1999. We did not arrive together; my brother came up to Boston with some friends, and I traveled south from Yarmouth ME (just northeast of Portland). For me, the trip took about two and one-half hours traveling south along Interstate 95. While the drive to Boston was uneventful, the drive through Boston was anything but. Since Fenway Park is nestled within the city, I had to navigate my way through downtown to reach it, which took longer than I expected. Having been to Fenway Park before (in 1996), I knew that there was precious little parking around the stadium, and I was not quite as shocked by the price of parking (which was about $30 back then), leaving my car in a gas station parking lot.
As expensive as the parking was for the Fenway, I was just across the street from the oldest MLB park. Not surprisingly, the neighborhood around the ballpark was packed, as vendors sold food, drinks and programs outside the park (often at greatly reduced prices). Fans milled around outside the stadium, as legions of others debarked from the “T” train (shorthand for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority or MBTA). This would be the last time I would drive to Fenway; taking the T from outside the the city to the park made so much more sense, with the Fenway Station stop a mere 500 feet from the park. If I wasn’t in a baseball mood coming up to Fenway, the sight of the venerable stadium and the buzz of the crowd would have certainly set the mood for me!
Entering the stadium from the home plate entrance, I emerged into the bright milky sunshine of Fenway Park. Much like I had seen on TV for so many years, the view of the stadium was dominated by the Green Monster. Almost a mythical presence, the Monster is one of the most recognizable ballpark features (along with the ivy in Wrigley Field) in baseball. Part of Fenway since it opened in 1912, the Monster has changed its appearance over the years, most notably adding seats at the top for the 2003 season. Beyond the Monster lies the iconic Citgo sign, another instantly recognizable feature to baseball fans. Unbeknownst to me before visiting, the sign is about one-quarter of a mile from Fenway; it looks much closer on TV.
After meeting up with my brother and his friends, we toured the ballpark. While the playing field and walls of Fenway Park are kept in good shape, the same cannot be said of the concourse stretching behind the seating areas from left field through home plate to right field. Actually, I was surprised to see how much this area has aged in comparison to the rest of the ballpark. In any event, we saw the staff at the concession stands standing with their arms crossed, not looking particularly friendly; I later read that this is a normal pose for them when not occupied. As was typical for me, I purchased hot dogs and a Coke before heading to our seats.
On that afternoon, we saw the Red Sox host the Tampa Bay Devils Rays, sitting near the right field foul pole. Though the view from the seats was not exactly fan friendly, I was just glad to be there. Sunshine and relatively light winds allowed temperatures to rise into the lower 60s (17 degrees C), which is pleasantly warm for northern New England in mid April. While the game was mostly unremarkable (as the Rays beat the Sox 5-1), my most vivid memory of the game (outside of finally visiting Fenway) was Jose Canseco’s solo home run in the top of the sixth inning. Fenway Park has short fences in both left and right field (though the Monster takes away some home runs due to its height), but no park (outside of Yellowstone) was going to hold the ball hit by Canseco. That home run was one of the longest home runs I have ever seen personally, easily clearing the top of the Monster, sailing over Lansdowne Street into the parking lot behind it.
For much of the rest of the game, I was marveling at the fact that I WAS AT FENWAY PARK! Along with Wrigley Field in Chicago, this ballpark is steeped in baseball tradition that dated back to World War I. As a kid, I watched the 1975 World Series from Fenway, which was one of the best series every played. As a young adult, I saw the New York Mets sweep the games played here in the 1986 World Series on TV as well. Many Hall of Famers called Fenway home, and over a 40 year period (from the early 1940s through the early 1980s), only three players manned left field on a regular basis, and each one of this players is in the Hall of Fame. Though some changes had been made to the ballpark since my youth, it was still very much the stadium I remember from TV for all of those years.
Our second trek to Fenway Park together occurred on Sunday, May 24th 2009, as the Red Sox were hosting the New York Mets for the final game of a weekend series. My brother was visiting me in the Maine, and we drove down to Suffolk Downs (a racetrack) outside of Boston. Parking there, we took the Green Line of the MBTA rail system to Fenway Park. Though the train ride was about 30 minutes, it was still faster (and cheaper) to park and ride than to drive to Fenway Park and attempt to find parking. As was the case a decade ago, the area outside of Fenway Station was buzzing with Sox fans, and that continued through our short walk to the ballpark. With a little more time to explore than our previous sojourn, we wandered through the neighborhood immediately around the park.
Jersey Street was reminiscent of Eutaw Street in Baltimore, with a wide variety of restaurants and food vendors near Fenway, serving practically any type of cuisine you could desire. Like Eutaw Street, we did not partake in the local food, but based on the number of people indulging, it appeared as though you could have a good afternoon simply sampling the food and drink the area has to offer. Instead, we chose to walk around the park. This time, my brother armed with his camera, we lit out, taking picture of the exterior of Fenway Park.
As we past the left field wall, we saw a cab pull up to the curb. As the occupant exited, there was an audible murmur from the people nearest the vehicle. As we got closer, we could see that it was Mets centerfielder, Carlos Beltran. It seemed odd that (a) Beltran would get to the stadium so late (as I was sure the remainder of his teammates were already in the clubhouse), and (b) that the perennial All Star, who was near the end of a seven year, $119 million contract, would opt for a cab, and not a limo. Beltran disappeared quickly, not interacting with any of the cadre of Mets fans who were at Fenway for the weekend series.
After finishing our tour of the exterior of the park, we entered Fenway through the home plate entrance. Because the Red Sox were playing so well, tickets to the park were nearly impossible to obtain outside of third party resellers, and those prices were exorbitant. A coworker offered us his standing room only (SRO) tickets for the game. Since we NEVER choose the SRO option for games, we were not aware of the potential pitfalls of those accommodations. Once you enter the park with SRO tickets, you need to stake your claim at the rail of your choice and hold onto it for the remainder of the game. Had I known what an SRO ticket entailed, I would have paid the bloated prices for seats, even if they were obstructed (as there are still obstructed seats at Fenway, most of which are blocked by support girders in the lower levels).
Though it had been a decade since our last visit, I was just as excited to be there that day, especially because the Mets were in town. We wandered the lower concourse toward right field after visiting the home plate area. It was still fairly early, but we noticed there was a fairly large contingent of Mets fans lining the right field line, which was a bit surprising considering the availability of tickets for the game. Walking to the right field bleachers, we reached the extent to which we could explore in that direction, so we headed toward the left field line and the Green Monster. We weren’t able to visit the seats of the Monster, as they section had a separate entrance from the street below.
Having explored as thoroughly as possible, it was time for us to find a place from which we would view the game on this warm and humid afternoon. Not surprisingly, most of the rails already had a couple of lines of spectators near them, which meant we would have to keeping looking for a spot, finally settling on a mediocre view of the action down the left field line. About 15 minutes before game time, a thunderstorm made its presence known north of the stadium. Though the storm was still a good distance away, it was clear that it was strong, and heading our way. Despite the clear and present danger, the decision was made to start the game, even as the ferocious storm neared.
As the Mets took the field for the bottom of the first inning, the storm struck. Gusty winds, torrential rains, vivid lightning and continuous thunder accompanied the squall, sending the sellout crowd scurrying for cover. While it was clear this storm was going to impact the stadium, the game was started anyway, and I was at a loss why the umpires would allow this to happen. A 45 minute rain delay ensued, as the fans in the tightly packed concourse waited increasingly impatiently for the storm to pass, if for no other reason than being able to get out of the concourse. When play resumed, both starting pitchers came back out, but had the rain delay lasted much longer, that might not have been the case.
In 2009, the New York Mets were on the decline, after having some success earlier in the decade, while the Red Sox were a bit more than a year removed from their latest world championship. That did not bode well for the Mets, but both starting pitchers were ineffective (due to the rain delay?), resulting in a mini slugfest through the first half of the game. After that time, the potent Sox offense feasted in the Mets bullpen, and the Mets chances faded after that point. All the while, we were relegated to viewing action from a couple of rows from the railing, which was a dismal experience. With the Mets losing, and tiring of the poor vantagepoint, we did something we have only done a handful of times in the nearly 40 years of seeing baseball games together; we left before the end of the game.
Disappointed by the bad look at the action, we headed out to catch the “T” back to Suffolk Downs. Though this experience was not as good as the first, it WAS still Fenway Park. With so many features, quirks and landmarks, it would be difficult to cover all of them in this missive. It is one of my favorite parks (even more so than Wrigley Field, its contemporary), even though it IS aging. In need of a facelift at least, perhaps it is time to consider a new home for the Sox, leaving Fenway Park in place as a living museum, a reminder of what baseball once was. This opinion does NOT align with most fans, but I would prefer that the ballpark NOT go through the same changes as Wrigley Field, which may have alter its character such that the original stadium becomes unrecognizable.
- First visit: Sunday June 8th 2008
- Most recent visit: Sunday May 20 2018
After moving from Montreal following the 2004 season, the newly minted Washington Nationals (known locally as the Nats) played their first three seasons in RFK Stadium. During that time, its replacement, Nationals Park (known locally as Nats Park), was constructed on the southeast Anacostia River waterfront, not far from the Navy Yard section of Washington DC. An ambitious construction schedule projected completion in time for the start of the 2008 baseball season, a mere 23 months after groundbreaking in May of 2006. Fortunately, weather and other circumstances were kind to the project, and Nats Park opened as scheduled in late March 2008.
Our first visit to Nats Park occurred on Sunday June 8th as the hometown Nats hosted the San Francisco Giants at 115 pm. From central NJ, the drive took about three hours, and we didn’t have much difficulty finding the stadium, after driving around DC first. Sunday morning traffic was light, so the detour did not cause any problems arriving at the park with time to spare before the first pitch. Not knowing much about the park (as it was still fairly new), we were not presented with a multitude of parking options. Finally, we parked on the site of an old foundry down the street from the stadium. During our drive through that section of DC, it was evident that just a couple of blocks north of the park, the neighborhood changed fairly drastically. This was something we would verify on subsequent trips to Nats Park.
As is our custom, we walked around the perimeter of the stadium prior to entering the ballpark. Nats Park was built on the banks of the Anacostia River, which lies beyond the first base side of the ballpark. A walking trail along the river provided excellent views of the river and the boat traffic. Due to time constraints, we did not spend much time on the banks of the Anacostia, but with what little we did see, I made a mental note to visit this spot the next time we were there.
As we rounded the right field section of the park, we saw the DC Metro station serving Nats Park. It was a short walk from the stadium, and seemingly most of the fans were arriving via the train. To this point, most of the parks we had visited did NOT have easy access to subway or rail lines (outside of the New York City, of course). Having easy access to mass transit seems to be the key to a better fan experience, and we were pleased to see that DC planned well. Once we completed our tour of the outside of the park, we entered through the home plate entrance. Being in DC, we expected security to be thorough, but it was my opinion that the security at Nats Park was aggressive, rude and surly. Because of that, getting through the security checkpoints has always been the biggest downside of seeing games there.
Strolling along the lower concourse of Nats Park, we stadium was vaguely reminiscent of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, which opened four years earlier. Each stadium as three (or four, in left field of Nats Park) tiers of seats, as well as bleacher seats near centerfield. Both parks are open in the outfield, though the view of centerfield here is MUCH nicer than Citizens Bank Park. Rather than a large videoboard in left field (as is the case in Philadelphia), the large videoboard here is in right field, though it is smaller in DC. Both ballparks have an out of town scoreboard/auxiliary videoboard running the length of the right field wall. Though it was still very early in the visit, I thought that while the views from Nats Park were FAR better than those of the Phillies home, Citizens Bank Park had an edge with respect to the interior of the park.
One of the earliest comments we had heard about Nats Park was the height of the press level. Listening to Mets broadcasters describe the TV broadcast booth as the highest they had ever seen, I was curious to see what was so different about this park. As we walked out into centerfield, we found that the press levels is indeed at the top of the stadium behind home plate. We did not appreciate the height until we climbed up to near that level to get pictures for a panorama. While not as high as some of the seats of the multipurpose monsters of the 1960s and 1970s, it was surprising that the press level was that far away from the action.
Even though the seating capacity of Nats Park is listed at 41,000+, the three tiers of seats (as well as the bleachers in the outfield) made the park seem somehow bigger. In my opinion, the size of the ballpark detracted from the intimacy of the stadium, which has become a hallmark of the “newer” MLB parks built during the 2000s/2010s. Like most of the newer parks, Nats Park featured a large array of restaurants and bars, as well as a very nice lounge area in the 200 section behind home plate. Since my tastes at the ballpark are more traditional, I did not indulge in any of the specialty eateries, relying on the more standard fare available from the concession stands.
Once we found our seats in the upper deck behind home plate (one of our favored seating locations), we discovered we could see the dome of the Capitol (an unexpected treat). Though the weather was sunny with light winds for our game, it is not hard to imagine that strong or gusty winds in the upper deck could detract from the experience, especially near the top of the stadium in cold weather. Nats Park offers great sight lines from just about all seats, and fans are much closer to the action than the old multipurpose stadiums. While not quite as intimate as Camden Yards just up Interstate 95, Nats Park provides a great place to see a game nestled within the DC city limits.
More impressed with the ballpark than I expected, the game that occurred that afternoon was almost an afterthought. Behind a strong outing by the Giants’ left hander Barry Zito, San Francisco bested the hometown Nats 6-3. Perhaps my best memory of the game was the President’s Race. Its origins reach back to RFK Stadium in 2006, as people dressed in president’s costumes engage in a foot race around the warning track, starting at a gate in centerfield and ending just before the 1st base dugout. In total, seven presidents have run in the race, which occurs in the fourth inning of each home game. There have been some bizarre endings to the race, but none more interesting than when the Easter Bunny leapt out of the crowd, disrupting the race and allowing William Taft to win.
Having a long drive home after the game, we did not take much time to further examine the ballpark. However, on the way out along the upper level concourse, we did catch glimpses of two of DC’s famous landmarks. Both the US Capitol and the Washington Memorial were clearly visible, and despite traveling across the United States a fair amount, this was my first actual look at both (though from a distance).
Living far enough away from DC to make the trip an all day affair, we did not visit Nats Park again until 2013, when I moved to Maryland, just a few miles away from the park. Living less than a mile from the Green Line of the Washington Metro, I quickly discovered that taking the train to the ballpark was cheaper (as parking near the park could cost in excess of $40) and easier than driving. In a surprise to me, the Washington Metro service stops running at 1130 PM. That relatively early shut down meant that if Nats games went into extra innings, you had to consider when you would leave the game. A miscalculation could easily result in a taxi or Uber fare of $60 or more.
Since the train ride to Nats Park was only about 20 minutes, it became my preferred location to see our favorite team, the New York Mets. Most of the games we have seen at the ballpark have been against the Mets, and as my brother reminded me, we saw plenty of games with the Mets on the losing end. Unfortunately for us, the Nats were better the Mets most years. In fact, we had the misfortune to see Bryce Harper hit a walk off home run in the 13th inning on a Thursday afternoon in August of 2014. Perhaps the most memorable game (for very bad reasons) we have seen at Nats park was April 30th, 2017.
The Nats lineup scored five runs off Mets starter Noah Syndergaard in the first inning, and his fastball was uncharacteristically flat. After facing one batter in the second inning, Syndergaard exited the game. It was clear from the expression of concern by Syndergaard and the Mets coaching staff that the injury was serious, and he ended up missing much of the remainder of the season with a torn lat muscle.
After the departure of the Mets starter, the Nats packed lineup feasted on the New York bullpen. Things got so bad for the Mets that they sent backup catcher Kevin Plawecki to the mound in the eight inning. Though he did give up a few runs, his pitching performance that afternoon was not much worse than the rest of the New York pitching staff. The Mets went down quietly in the top of the ninth, mercifully ending a 23-5 romp. In the game, the Nats Anthony Rendon went 5 for 5 with three home runs and 10 RBI. Though the defeat smarted, the loss of the fireballing Syndergaard was one from which the Mets could not recover.
Nationals Park has grown on me over the years. Once I moved to Maryland, and the park was a mere short train ride away, we visited at least a couple of time a year. However, my love for the minor leagues cut down on the number of trips to Nats Park through the 2010s, as the minor league experience is much more intimate than the MLB experience. If you plan to see a game at Nats Park, I would recommend taking mass transit, since parking is expensive, and the getaway after the game could take a considerable amount of time, especially following an afternoon game during the week.
- First visit: Sunday June 6th 1996
- Most recent visit: Wednesday August 30th 2017
Our first visit to Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore MD occurred June 6th 1999, more than seven years after the park opened. A two and one-half hour trip from central NJ, we found the ballpark with little difficulty. Parking was plentiful, with lots near the park, as well as adjacent to M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL Ravens. With plenty of time before the scheduled 135 pm start, we decided to explore the environs. After entering the ballpark area, we strolled down the south portion of Eutaw Street, which runs between stadium and the Baltimore and Ohio Warehouse. A carnival like atmosphere brought Eutaw Street alive early that afternoon, with plenty of places to eat and drink. We were STUNNED to see the prices of the offerings along the street, unaccustomed to paying that much for food or drinks near a ballpark. Rather than indulge, we kept walking, eventually surrounding the stadium on our way to the home plate entrance.
Of course, what we did not yet understand is that we were witnessing the birth of the “new” way of seeing baseball games. Oriole Park at Camden Yards (also known as Camden Yards) is generally acknowledged as the first of the new wave of MLB ballparks, and Eutaw Street was our introduction how the environment around the stadium would become a vital part of the overall experience. In fact, MLB parks that followed would adopt this approach, offering a wide variety of food and beverages, whether outside the park or inside with restaurants and bars.
Camden Yards was designed as a replacement for Memorial Park, the home of the Orioles since their arrival in 1954. Designed to vaguely emulate the new Comiskey Park in Chicago, Camden Yards was the first MLB stadium since Ebbets Field (the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers until the late 1950s) to incorporate an existing building as park of the architecture of the stadium. B&O Warehouse, extending the length of Camden Yards’ right field wall, gave the ballpark an unmistakable landmark recognizable to even the most casual baseball fan. On the way back toward the home plate entrance, we discovered statutes outside of the park. Orioles greats Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray were immortalized in bronze, as were Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver and Cal Ripken. Though new to us, this type of tribute would become nearly ubiquitous in the cadre of new MLB parks that would follow.
Once inside, we wandered the lower concourse, which wrapped around the playing field. We discovered that Camden Yards had three tiers of seats extending from left field behind home plate to right field foul pole, which comprised most of the 48,000 plus seats in the ballpark. Unlike older MLB parks, the seats near the left and right field foul poles were angled toward home plate. This simple gesture greatly increases the fan experience in these areas, and would become the norm for new stadiums during the next decade.
Walking along the lower concourse, we found the picnic area in right field, just above the auxiliary scoreboard/video board extending the length of the right field wall. This was the first dedicated fan gathering area we had seen in an MLB, and again it would serve as a model for ballparks to follow. Of course, the B&O Warehouse dominated the view in right field, becoming synonymous with Camden Yards. Just to the right of the green batter’s eye in centerfield was the main videoboard. Located atop the bleachers in centerfield, the board was surprisingly small for a new park, though in this case a smaller video board was not necessarily a bad thing. Rather than presenting an overbearing presence, the smaller videoboard was adequate as well as unobtrusive.
Continuing along the lower concourse toward the left field foul pole, we encountered the bullpen, which was composed of two levels. At the time, Camden Yards was the first MLB park to sport the two tier bullpen, and this layout would be copied by other newly constructed parks. Finally, we climbed to the upper deck behind home plate to get pictures to create a panorama of the stadium. From that vantage point, we realized that portions of the outfield wall blocked the view of downtown Baltimore. We didn’t think much about it at the time, but featuring a city skyline would become the centerpiece for stadiums that followed (most notably PNC Bank in Pittsburgh and Busch Stadium III in St Louis). Apparently, there was some criticism concerning the blockage of the view of Baltimore, but from our perspective, it did not detract from the beautiful ballpark.
We did not have a camera for our first Camden Yards visit, and I cannot recall where we sat that day. Baltimore hosted the Philadelphia Phillies for the afternoon contest. Philadelphia prevailed in what would become a slugfest, and my scorecard for the game survived the trip home. Considering that we had only visited multipurpose stadiums (as well as Yankee Stadium), digesting what we had seen at Camden Yards was almost overwhelming. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were seeing the future of MLB parks, a blueprint that was employed by other MLB clubs when planning and building their new homes.
We have returned to Camden Yards on a number of occasions during the following two decades. During one our visits, we ventured away from the park, wandering down to the Inner Harbor. Originally a shallow water port used mainly for commercial shipping, the Inner Harbor gradually transformed into a visitor’s haven, complete with recreational facilities, shopping and dining. My attraction to the Inner Harbor consisted mainly of the boat traffic in that portion of the Chesapeake Bay. On this occasion, we were fortunate to see the USS Constellation, a ship from the 19th century. She was designed and built for use in the Mediterranean Sea and Africa in the 1850s, but was summoned home during the Civil War to patrol for Confederate ships. The Constellation served various roles afterward, before finding a permanent home in the Inner Harbor. This find was particularly satisfying for me, as that trip combined two of my passions: baseball and American history.
Each visit to Camden Yards was like greeting an old friend, and quickly became one of my favorite parks in MLB. Most of our visits were on weekends, as my brother came down to visit me when I moved to Maryland in 2013. Most games were against either the Phillies or other AL teams, but to date none of the games were important to the playoff fortunes of the Orioles. One of the games that does stand out was against the Boston Red Sox in July of 2013. David Ortiz had just grabbed national headlines by assaulting a dugout phone with his bat after a called strike three with which he did not agree. During this first at-bat of the game we saw after that incident, we was booed mercilessly by the large partisan crowd. To the chagrin of the hometown fans, Ortiz hit a two run homer run in the third, as Jon Lester and relievers shut down the Orioles offense in a 5-0 Boston victory.
Needless to say, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was a trailblazer from the very start, sparking a revolution in the way ballparks were built that lasts to this day. In addition, it should be noted that the Inner Harbor is just a short walk from the park. If you find yourself within range of the ballpark during baseball season, check to see if the Orioles are in town. You won’t be disappointed!
Veterans Stadium (1987-2003)
- First visit: exact date unknown; some time in the of spring 1987
- Last visit: Wednesday July 3rd 2002
From the Jersey shore (where we grew up), Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, PA was the closest MLB park. However, we did not visit the ballpark until sometime in the spring of 1987. Our first visit came as part of a bus trip from the local high school, as driving to Philadelphia at that point was not an option. During the mid to late 1980s, the Mets teams were competitive, which made getting seats at Shea Stadium was nearly impossible. In order to see the best Mets teams in more than a decade, we had to see them at the Vet (as it was referred to often). Phillies teams during that era were becoming progressively less competitive, which meant good seats for Mets games at the Vet were much easier to obtain.
Veterans Stadium was a multipurpose behemoth, home to the Phillies and the NFL Eagles. Like most multipurpose stadiums of the time (such as Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh PA or Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati OH), the Vet was an enclosed, multi tiered park with a nearly symmetrical outfield. The Vet held over 56,000 fans for baseball (and over 65,000 for football), with many of the seats for baseball much further away from the action than “newer” MLB parks that followed in the 1990s. There were times, when sitting in the upper deck in centerfield, we would see a ball put in play by the batter, only to hear the crack of the bat a split second later. As a budding scientist, I was intrigued to discover that we were seated so far from home plate that the speed of sound was a consideration while following the action.
Debuting in 1971, the Vet featured an AstroTurf playing surface (except for the home plate area, cutouts around the bases, and the pitcher’s mound). With a thin artificial surface sitting on a concrete base (for stability), heat radiating from that surface would often exceed 110 degrees F (and sometime approach 125 degrees F) during the hottest part of the summer. In addition, the thin turf provided little protection to players on the field, and long term play on that surface caused many injuries, resulting in the shortening of players’ careers. Why did teams use AstroTurf, even with its obvious shortcomings? Like most things, it was all about the money. Two teams sharing a natural grass playing surface (like Shea Stadium) would put serious stress on both the field and the grounds crew, occasionally resulting in a subpar playing field. An artificial surface eliminated that problem.
Veterans Stadium was a generic park, with an adequate if unspectacular scoreboard and video board. Unlike ballparks that would follow, food and beverages were obtained from concession stands or wandering vendors only, with specialty foods and in-house restaurants gradually appearing toward the end of the Vet’s tenure. As mentioned earlier, there were seats that were fairly distant from the action, and engineering for optimal fan viewing was not yet available. This meant that fans down each line spent an inordinate amount of time leaning toward home plate, which could become fatiguing. However, Phillies fans were treated to possibly the best mascot in sports, the Philly Phanatic. While I found most team mascots uninteresting, the Phanatic would often push the limits of what mascots should do on the field. Luckily, most players (and at least a few umpires) were in on the joke, and would play along with the Phanatic to entertain the fans.
During our early visits to the Vet, we did NOT have a camera, so most of the information about the stadium comes from personal experience, rather than a digital record. For the most part, Veteran Stadium was a decent place to see a baseball game, though it lacked any sense of intimacy because of its immense size. We did get to see Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt toward the end of his career, as well as many battles between the Mets and Phillies. We saw Barry Sanders and the Detroit Lions take on the Eagles at the Vet in the early 1990s, and Pink Floyd, the Who and the Rolling Stones between 1989 and 2003. Perhaps the most memorable event we saw at the Vet was when Phillies shortstop Dickie Thon hit a game winning home run against the Mets Don Aase on September 12th 1989. That loss essentially ended the Mets playoff hopes for the 1989 campaign.
A discussion of Veterans Stadium would be incomplete with including details about the courtroom and jail housed within it. If you are not familiar with the sports fans in Philadelphia, they can be a raucous bunch, especially when alcohol is involved. Philadelphia fans have booed Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and have been known to be ruthless to visiting and home players alike. Through personal experience, we learned NOT to identify ourselves as fans of the visiting team, lest we incur the wrath of the hometown fanatics. Fan misbehavior became so frequent that Philadelphia County officials found it necessary to place holding cells and a courtroom within the stadium. Individuals committing offenses would be held in the jail cell, awaiting arraignment and adjudication of their misdeeds.
Perhaps the worst aspect of Veterans Stadium was parking and traffic after the game. While there was more than enough parking for the stadium around the Vet, at times finding acceptable parking was difficult. The neighborhood surrounding the park was sketchy in places, and returning to that spot after a night game had to be considered when choosing where to leave your vehicle. We never had a problem with parking, but it would not be a stretch of the imagination to believe that safety could be an issue. Once the game was over, it always felt like you were on your own exiting the area. In the early days, police did NOT direct traffic after games, and leaving became a test of wills. It was not unusual to wait more than an hour in traffic at the Vet after a game before you could get on one of the many highways out of the region. In later years, the police did direct traffic after games, and the process of leaving became much more palatable.
Veterans Stadium, like other multipurpose facilities of the time, was an acceptable place to see a ballgame, but by no means a fan friendly environment. After the completion of Citizens Bank Park, Veterans Stadium met an ignominious end, as it was imploded (on live local TV) March 21st, 2004. We frequented the Vet as often as we did because it was easier to see the Mets in Philadelphia than Queens NY. Unlike Shea Stadium, I do not miss the Vet.
Citizens Bank Park (2004-2019)
- First visit: Saturday April 17th 2004
- Most recent visit: Saturday August 31st 2019
Philadelphia authorized the construction of separate stadiums for baseball and football in the late 1990s, a significant departure from previous policy concerning spending tax dollars on ballparks. Originally slated to be constructed in downtown Philadelphia (like other new MLB ballparks during this time), protests from residents of the Chinatown section of Center City ultimately resulted in the new baseball stadium being located near the site of Veterans Stadium in South Philadelphia. Ground was broken for Citizens Bank Park (the future home for the Phillies) in June of 2001, and during our visits to the Vet, we would check on the progress of the new ballpark.
Citizens Bank Park opened its doors on April 3rd 2004, and we our first visit occurred a scant two weeks later on Saturday April 17th, as the hometown Phillies hosted Montreal (in their last season as the Expos). There was not much to see outside of the stadium quite yet, so after a cursory look around, we entered the ballpark through the home plate entrance.
Upon entering, we could immediately see that Citizens Bank Park was a vast improvement on its predecessor. Instead of a behemoth, the ballpark was smaller and more intimate, clearly designed with the baseball fan experience in mind. A wide open centerfield offered a glimpse of Center City Philadelphia, though a very unfortunately placed sign ruins the view to some degree. A three tiered seating area stretches from left field foul pole into right field, where an auxiliary scoreboard spans the length of the lower deck. Beyond the foul pole in left field was a detached bleacher section, with a very impressive videoboard above it. Obviously constructed as a signature of the newly minted ballpark, it doubles as a scoreboard, filled with any stat a diehard baseball fan could imagine.
After drinking in the new park (and its natural grass playing field, a welcome departure from the Vet), we walked along the concourse, which encircled the playing field. Lined with places to eat and shops with Phillies merchandise, the lower concourse snaked through the rear of the lower level into centerfield. From this vantage point, we got a good view of the bullpens. Arranged vertically, the Phillies bullpen, originally placed on the top, was subsequently moved to the lower level, in part to reduce the amount of heckling from rowdy Phillies fans (this is Philadelphia, after all).
Next to the bullpens was the batter’s eye in centerfield. Adorned with shrubbery amid a small field of grass, the batter’s eye featured a brick wall that was slowly being consumed by an ever expanding area of ivy. One of the quirks of Citizens Bank Park, “The Angle”, was located on the left side of the batter’s eye. It marked the deepest part of the park, a nod to the “imperfections” of ballparks from the past. Moving toward the left field foul pole, we encountered the Phillies Baseball Walk of Fame. Nearly three dozen plaques arranged on the wall paid homage to Phillies greats, labeled as the Phillies Centennial Team.
Finding our seats for our first visit to the new ballpark, I couldn’t help but feel as though the Phillies organization “got it right”. Following the template forged by Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Citizens Bank Park gave fans a much better experience, bringing them closer to the action than ever before. The open air feel to the stadium, as well as clean sight lines, made for a truly enjoyable visit. Unlike Veterans Stadium, there were myriad places to eat, with many restaurants offering virtually anything you could want to eat or drink at the ballgame.
Making a nearly clean break from the past, I did not see anything brought over the the new ballpark from the Vet, save for the Liberty Bell located outside of the stadium. However, this IS still Philadelphia, and unfortunately, unruly fans did make the trek from the old stadium to the new one. In fact, we experienced our most harrowing fan interaction at Citizens Bank Park, when a group of Phillies fans engulfed us, preventing us from exiting our seats until the remainder of the fans in that section left. Being outnumbered, we had little choice but to capitulate, reminding us that this place was NOT safe for fans of visiting teams.
Other than the less than affable Philly crowds, the only aspect of Citizens Bank Park I did not like was the small outfield dimensions. Unlike the Vet, which was cavernous, this ballpark was a “band box”, which promoted home runs. Had Mike Schmidt played in this smaller park his entire career, he might have approached Hank Aaron’s career home run record. Though home runs are appealing to most fans, from my perspective, more home runs make them less exciting.
Being much closer to central NJ than Shea Stadium (and later Citi Field), Citizens Bank Park was our first choice to see New York Mets games, even if they were the visiting team. Other than some forced quirks designed to introduce some character to the stadium, and the raucous fan base, the ballpark offers a first rate facility for baseball, and we visit as often as time and circumstance dictate.
- First visit: Saturday September 9th 1995
- Most recent visit: Saturday September 16 2017
Our first visit to Yankee Stadium took place on September 9th 1995, as the Yankees hosted the Boston Red Sox for a matinee contest. This visit was to the “second” Yankee Stadium, as the original configuration was renovated significantly in 1974 and 1975 (during which time the Yankees played at Shea Stadium, the home of the New York Mets). While still in the same physical location as the original “House That Ruth Built”, the renovations modernized the ballpark. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to visit the “old” Yankee Stadium.
Much like Shea Stadium in Queens, Yankee Stadium, located in the Bronx, is not easy to access coming from central NJ. Driving to the stadium was not deemed an option, as parking was limited and expensive, and exiting the region after the game was a nightmare. Instead, we chose to drive into Manhattan, park at the Javits Center parking lot, and hop on the C subway train to the ballpark (which took about 30 minutes). Without much to see in the immediate vicinity of the park, we entered the ballpark from the gate behind home plate.
Crossing from the darkness of the tunnel to the light of Yankee Stadium, it was instantly clear that we had entered a baseball cathedral. Seemingly immense in size, many of the landmarks I had seen on TV came within view. By this time, the outfield walls had been brought in considerably, especially in centerfield. Monument Park (an outdoor museum containing plaques and busts of Yankee greats), which was once in the playing field at the stadium, was nestled adjacent to the visiting bullpen beyond the left centerfield wall. Bleachers in left center and right field bracketed the batter’s eye in centerfield. Dubbed the “bleacher creatures”, fans in the right field bleachers at Yankee Stadium had a reputation for occasional vulgar behavior (which rattled opposing right fielders), as well as tossing D batteries at visiting players.
Perhaps the best known landmark in this hallowed ballpark was the white façade stretching atop the bleachers. Made originally of copper (which would occasionally turn green as the copper became exposed to the air), it was scrapped during the renovation in the mid 1970s, replaced by a concrete version which was in place when we visited. Even though we were not Yankees fans by any means, we could help not being overwhelmed by the air of history within this place. It is mind boggling how many Hall of Famers called Yankee Stadium home, and how many championships were won in this park.
During 1995, the Yankees were emerging from a decade long slumber during which time they did not appear in the playoffs. As the team improved with rising young stars interspersed with veterans, the attendance at Yankee Stadium rebounded. Because of this, we were often relegated to upper deck seats, particularly when the Red Sox (and later the crosstown Mets) were in town. We were surprised by how steep the seating area was in the upper deck, and there were times when I felt uncomfortable walking up and down the seemingly harrowing concrete stairs. Though it did not happen to us, I could see other battling vertigo when trying to navigate the upper deck at Yankee Stadium.
Luckily for us, we were able to catch a game during the final season of the Yankees captain, Don Mattingly. By this time, a degenerative spinal condition had eroded his once considerable skills, and during this visit to Yankee Stadium, Mattingly played first base and batted seventh. On this day, the Yankees defeated the Red Sox 9-1, with rookie lefthander Andy Pettitte securing the victory with 8 2/3 inning of one run ball. Some of the pieces in place that day would comprise the penultimate dynasty of the 1990s.
Visits to Yankee Stadium for the next decade or so were infrequent, usually scheduled when the Yankees hosted the Mets. We DID try to get tickets to the Subway Series in 2000, but not surprisingly tickets were scarce, and at that time, prohibitively expensive from resale vendors. After that time, the Yankees were perpetual contenders, as the Mets slid downhill for a few years. That downturn for the Mets made it somewhat easier to secure tickets at the stadium, though generally in the upper deck. One of my most vivid memories of Yankee Stadium occurred in 2002, when the Mets Roger Cedeno completed a straight steal of home plate (an exceedingly rare baseball event).
Fortunately for us, our upper deck seats (just to the left of home plate) gave us a fantastic view of the action. Taking a large lead off third base, Cedeno made a mad dash for the plate. Not sure of what I was seeing, I asked my brother what he was doing; it was, after all, the first straight steal of home I had seen in person. Though the Mets fortunes against the Yankees were generally disappointing, they did allow us to see Hall of Famers in pinstripes through 2008, including Derek Jeter and Wade Boggs, as well as players on the outside looking in, such as Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriquez. No matter what you may think of the last two players, Yankee Stadium was a great place to see these premiere athletes compete.
The “new” Yankee Stadium – September 16, 2017
Ground was broken for the “new” Yankee Stadium just across the street from the second incarnation of the “old” Yankee Stadium in 2006. Completed in time for the beginning of the 2009 season, the latest version of Yankee Stadium looked and felt like its predecessor. Much of the design was inspired by the original stadium, with Monument Park making the trip to the new park. After demolition of the old ballpark, the space was turned into parkland named Heritage Field.
Rather than transport the façade from the old stadium, new facade was crafted from steel instead of concrete for the new ballpark. The high definition video board in centerfield was the third largest in the world when it debuted, providing nearly twice the area of the video board in the old stadium. With fan comfort in mind, the stadium was laid out like a bowl, which made the seating more accessible, eliminating the nearly vertigo inducing steepness of the upper deck of its predecessor. Approximately 1300 pictures from various sources are scattered throughout the stadium. Dubbed “The Glory of the Yankees Photo Collection”, Yankee players and moments from the teams fabled past were featured in the photos.
All of the amenities of the new stadium were well done, creating an atmosphere similar to the old ballpark, updated for the 21st century. However, there was one huge step backward (in my opinion) with the new ballpark. In an obvious attempt to generate scoring, the outfield dimensions are smaller than the “old” stadium, giving the park the feel of a “bandbox” (a term denoting a ballpark that favored home runs). While the left and right field lines in the older versions of Yankee Stadium were (relatively) short, the remainder of the park was large enough to deter “cheap” home runs. Having the bleachers extending into left center and right center does enhance the fan experience (placing them closer to the action), but it also seems to invite more home runs. While this is typical of many “newer” MLB parks, in my opinion these changes were implemented chiefly to encourage home runs.
During our pre game tour of the new Yankee Stadium, it was clear that the organization delivered a significant upgrade to the old stadium, with this version feeling much cozier (with the capacity right around 50,000). Gone was the history of the old stadium, but the newer facilities afforded a better overall fan experience, including myriad places to eat scattered across the stadium. With the Yankees on their way to yet another playoff berth, there was large crowd in attendance to see the late Saturday afternoon contest against the Baltimore Orioles.
On this clear and seasonably warm afternoon, the hometown Yankees sent left hander Jordan Montgomery to the hill to face the young Orioles lineup. Montgomery, a prized pitching prospect, was finishing a very effective rookie season. Baltimore sent veteran right hander Jeremy Hellickson to the mound to face the potent Yankee offense, which featured right fielder Aaron Judge. Judge was putting the finishing touches on a record setting rookie campaign, which would earn him AL Rookie of the Year honors. Shadows were a factor early in the game, due primarily to the 410 PM start (presumably to accommodate the Fox broadcast).
Once the shadows crept beyond home plate and the pitcher’s mound, New York used the home run ball to score seven runs through the first five innings. Meanwhile, Yankee starter Jordan Montgomery consistently mowed down the Baltimore lineup. Montgomery left after six innings’ work, surrendering no runs on just four hits, while striking out six. His counterpart, Orioles starter Jeremey Hellickison, lasted a scant three innings, allowing six runs during his time of the mound. A trio of Baltimore relievers allowed three runs in mop up work, as the Yankees took a commanding 9-0 lead.
Despite the scoring, the pace of the game was comparatively quick, which left us little time to enjoy the atmosphere of the new ballpark. As late afternoon blended into early evening, Yankee Stadium took on a different hue. The ballpark appeared to soften under the lights, revealing that the once swelling crowd had diminished to a smattering of remaining faithful, with the game well in hand for the Bombers.
Entering the ninth inning, Yankee pitching held the young but improving Baltimore lineup in check. However, the Orioles did not go quietly, scoring three runs on a lead off home run by CF Austin Hays, followed by a series of walks, punctuated by a balk that allowed a run. Left hander Chasen Shreve, who had been enjoying a successful 2017 season as a bullpen stalwart, lost his command, giving up four walks before exiting the game. Those that remained for the top of the ninth became frustrated, audibly moaning and screaming after each walk. Finally, Yankee fans were treated a merciful end to the top of the ninth, as New York claimed a 9-3 victory. As quickly the first part of the game passed, the last three innings were that slow, with the ninth inning requiring nearly 30 minutes to complete.
In total, the game time was in excess of three and one-half hours, leaving just a few thousand fans to file out of Yankee Stadium into the streets around it. As we exited, I reflected on the new stadium. Overall, we were impressed by the stadium, (minus the smaller dimensions than its predecessor), as the organization successfully recreated the feel of Yankee Stadium, while updating it to make the ballpark more modern. Being in just about the same location as the old ballpark, it remains difficult to access from central NJ, so even though we enjoyed the atmosphere, I am not sure how often we will visit in the future.
Shea Stadium (1982-2008)
- First visit: Sunday August 15th 1982
- Last visit: Thursday September 25th 2008
For much of my life as a baseball fan, the New York Mets (my favorite squadron) were bad or awful, and 1982 was no exception. Though I was a lifelong Mets fan, I had not been to the venerable Shea Stadium. My MLB baseball experiences to that point had been relegated to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia PA and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY. Since we did not have access to a car in the early days, we took bus trips to see MLB games, and until 1982, we did not find any bus tours to Shea.
My brother and I decided to change that, and arranged to see the Chicago Cubs against the hometown Mets on August 15, 1982. Not having a car, and with no bus tours available for that game, we concocted what I now recognize as a risky plan to get to Shea Stadium. We took a NJ Transit bus from our hometown on the Jersey Shore to Port Authority in Manhattan. From there, we walked around the corner to catch the Number 7 train to Shea Stadium. Though this doesn’t seem particularly risky, I should add that I was 17 years old, and my brother was 10. Neither of us had ever ridden the subway, so we learned as we went. Of course, even at 17 I did not realize the precariousness that I placed both of us in with the trip. It was until many years later that my brother told me that I told our mother that we were taking a bus tour to Shea, so she had NO idea what we were doing. Mom would have NEVER allowed us to do anything so foolhardy, and I assume that’s why I lied to her.
Upon arrival, I was stunned by the size of Shea Stadium, as it was MUCH larger in person than on TV. We walked around a bit before looking for our seats. Not having a good idea of how the stadium was laid out, we found the correct seats numbers, but after consulting with an usher, we found that we were on the wrong level. Instead of the Loge, we were in the Mezzanine, one level up. We marveled at the fact that were were actually there, after talking about it for so long. By that time, Shea Stadium was 18 years old, and was beginning to show its age. The Mets were still sharing Shea with the New York Jets, and maintaining cleanliness within the stadium itself was a monumental challenge. Despite that, the playing field was in great shape, and we were set to enjoy the game.
Back in those days, Sunday afternoon games typically started at 130 PM, and we were a bit perplexed as to why this game was starting at 100 PM. We discovered that the Cubs and Mets would play a doubleheader that day, with Banner Day occurring in between games. My brother asked if we could stay for both games; from my perspective, we were doing fine, and I said yes without first checking to make sure we could make the necessary connections to get us back home. Though the Mets were stumbling toward the end of yet another dismal season, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Shea Stadium was a multipurpose facility that was built as a home for the New York Mets and New York Jets. Opening in 1964, it underwent MANY changes from that time to our first visit some 18 years later. When we first saw Shea in 1982, it was already looking a bit haggard, and at times unkempt. With a seating capacity of over 56,000, Shea was an open air behemoth. Because of its size, it lacked the intimacy and accessibility of the “newer” parks. When the team was bad (which was often), the place seemed empty, only amplifying the hugeness of the venue. However, Shea Stadium housed our favorite team, and when the Mets were playing well, the place would literally SHAKE, making it feel like home.
At times, when Shea looked more drab and lifeless than usual, I would refer to it as a “toilet” (which the smell would occasionally bear out). But it was OUR toilet! While the ushers were helpful and generally polite, the same could NOT be said of the concession staff. Aramark was the vendor at Shea for many years, and seemingly each and every member of that team was surly and uncooperative. That feeling was verified when we began traveling, finding that the behavior of the vendors at Shea was unique to that park. Conversely, the vendors that hawked the food and beverages through the seating areas were typically more helpful. Hearing the calls of the beer vendors at Shea on TV was one of my first baseball memories (BEER HERE!).
Located a mere three miles from LaGuardia Airport on the shore of Flushing Bay, players and fans alike were subjected to the seemingly unending air traffic during games. As winds turned to the south across western Long Island, the air traffic was routed directly over the stadium. That switch resulted in the roar of departing aircraft every minute or so (at least during the day). When this occurred, it was not unusual for players (especially visitors) to step out of the batter’s box and step off the pitching rubber to let the cacophony subside before resuming play. After a while, at least as a fan, you could begin to filter out the noise, or at least become accustomed to it; that was just a part of the experience.
We did not often go to big games in Mets history. Early on, just getting the Shea was difficult, and when the Mets were good, tickets were either difficult to come by, or we were priced out of the market. However, a few moments do jump out at me. Perhaps one of my very favorite memories was watching Tom Seaver strike out Pete Rose (then playing with the Philadelphia Phillies) to open the 1983 season. Others include seeing Kevin McReynolds hit not one but two walk off grand slam home runs, as well as the Mets winning the last game for us at Shea in 2008, keeping their slim playoff hopes alive. Much of my joy was just seeing the games in a place I grew to love, even though my team was not good very often.
Of course, I could write an endless story when it comes to Shea Stadium. Far from the nicest ballpark we have visited, it grew on us over the years, and by the time it was ready to be replaced, I lamented its loss. Fans were unruly, stadium staff could be unpleasant, early season night games were almost interminably cold, and the team was not very good for much of the time we visited. Even with all of that, it maintains a special place on my heart. It WAS a toilet, but it was OUR toilet. RIP Shea Stadium!
Citi Field (2009-2015)
- First visit: Saturday May 9th 2009
- Most recent visit: Sunday August 16th 2015
Our first visit to the newly minted Citi Field (built in the parking lot of Shea Stadium) came on Saturday, May 9th 2009, about a month after the doors opened for the first time. While wandering around the ballpark, we noticed that the Mets denoted the locations of the mound, home plate and each of the bases of the recently departed Shea Stadium with plaques in the Citi Field parking lot. Featuring a much nicer exterior than Shea, it seemed as though New York Mets baseball had finally joined the 21st century. Entering the ballpark through the rotunda (which was a replica of the rotunda that adorned Ebbets Field), the Mets Hall of Fame was located to the right of the spiral staircase. A quick visit revealed various displays and exhibits, including a couple of Tom Seaver’s Cy Young Awards, as well as a nod to the 1969 and 1986 World Champions.
Following our excursion to the Mets Hall, we headed out to explore the new park. Unlike Shea Stadium, the lower concourse of Citi Field encircled the ballpark, allowing us unfettered access to the park. One of the most notable features of the stadium was Shea Bridge, located beyond the center field wall. Named as a tribute to William Shea, the driving force behind the return of National League baseball to New York City, the wrought iron bridge was immediately a fan favorite . Just below the Shea Bridge were the bullpens, with the Mets bullpen covered from the elements. In centerfield there were bleachers, something Shea never had, and above the bleachers was an impressive video board. Obviously designed as a Citi Field centerpiece, the video board was a significant upgrade to the video system located behind the left field wall at Shea Stadium. Completing the circuit along the lower concourse, we crossed behind the left field stands moving toward home plate.
Rather than follow the trend of the “newer” MLB parks, Citi Field was built with four decks extending from foul line to foul line. Accommodating these decks robbed the ballpark of intimacy, though many of the seats were closer to the field than Shea. In addition, only a portion of center field was open, with the remainder of the park enclosed by seats. To be fair, there isn’t much to see outside of the ballpark, but enclosing the stadium made it feel confined, reminiscent of the multi purpose stadiums of the 1960s and 1970s.
After reaching the rotunda once again, we climbed the staircase to the 300 level, where we had seats just to the left of home plate. Not surprisingly, there was a good crowd for the Saturday matinee, and it appeared as though most of the 42,000 seats were occupied before the first pitch. While waiting for the start of the game, I was surprised to see all of the seats across the park were forest green. While I didn’t expect to find the seats colored by section (as Shea did), it might have been better to have Mets blue for the seat color. It then struck me that there was not a clear indication that Citi Field was the home of the Mets. Citi Field’s size and lack of character was disappointing. Clearly, this was our first glimpse of the Mets new home, but I was NOT impressed.
Unbeknownst to me, the first pitch that afternoon was going to be thrown by a member of Howard Stern’s SiriusXM crew. Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate was representing an autism awareness group, and graciously agreed to throw the first pitch before the start of the 110 PM contest. Dell’Abate confidently strode to the mound, toed the pitching rubber, and delivered the pitch. Unfortunately, the toss was VERY wild, hitting the home plate umpire, who was a few feet to the left of the plate. At first, I believed that Gary had intentionally thrown the ball that way, for comedic effect. Based on the reaction of the umpire, as well as the players on the field, it quickly become evident that the pitch was no joke. Dell’Abate appeared to shrug off the bad throw, waving to fans as he departed the playing field.
Thinking that the poor first pitch would be confined to Citi Field, Gary would later be horrified to discover that the pitch would become fodder for mainstream media. Any Howard Stern fan would tell you that Dell’Abate would receive the worst of the teasing from his compatriots, and that pitch is still celebrated on the show, more than a decade later.
While the ballpark was something of a disappointment (at least compared to Nationals Park in DC and Citizen Bank Park in Philadelphia), it was a breath of fresh air for Mets fans, and hopefully a harbinger of good things to come. However, almost immediately I found myself missing Shea Stadium, as Citi Field lacked anything with which I could easily connect. The stadium felt almost sterile at times, and we found ourselves less drawn to this place as we were to its predecessor.
At first, we managed to attend a handful of games at Citi Field each year. As time passed, with little in the way of attraction to the ballpark, our visits became less frequent. Getting to Shea Stadium/Citi Field from NJ was never an easy task. Driving was far more trouble than it was worth, and taking the train to Manhattan, then catching the Number 7 subway to the ballpark often required three plus hours to complete (each way). Thus, a visit to Citi Field was a significant investment in time and energy, and eventually we would make the trek once a year (preferring to see the Mets in Philadelphia, which was closer and arguably offered a better baseball experience within the confines of Citizen Bank Park).
Our most recent visit to Citi Field was Sunday, August 16th 2015, to see the Mets host the Pittsburgh Pirates. As can happen during the summer, the game was marred by weather delays, as storms developed over the ballpark itself (providing an alarmingly close look at the lightning!), requiring us to take shelter several times during the game. We DID have tickets to Game 5 of the 2015 National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, but quite unexpectedly the Mets swept the Cubs, and the game didn’t happen. Since then, we decided that the time and effort to see the Mets at home was not worth it, and have not been back.
Our only baseball trip of 2000 took us to western PA and northeast OH in late May. Since the trip by car was in excess of five hours from central NJ, we drove out to northeast OH on Friday, May 19th, staying just outside of Cleveland for the night.
Saturday, May 20th dawned cloudy and chilly, much cooler than one might expect in late May across northeast OH. With a few hours before the 105 PM contest between the visiting New York Yankees and the hometown Indians, we decided to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located adjacent to the southern shore of Lake Erie. Uncharacteristically, we visited the Hall without a camera, so we don’t have a visual record of our visit.
To my delight, the crowd at the Hall was thin, perhaps due to the weather and the relative early hour (as the doors opened at 1000 AM). As a result, we were treated to nearly unobstructed views of the myriad exhibits. Though we moved fairly quickly through the artifacts, we were able to appreciate the history of rock and roll (as well as pop music). Not surprisingly, the Beatles exhibit was the largest in the Hall, and our favorite band, Led Zeppelin, was well represented.
Not wanting to miss an opportunity to explore Jacobs Field, we left the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after about 90 minutes. Even with the limited time spent there, we were impressed by the museum, and plan to return in the future for a better look. If you are a rock and roll fan, and plan to be in the vicinity of the Hall, leave yourself some time for a visit: you won’t be disappointed.
1. Jacobs Field
Venturing back out in the cool and breezy conditions, we completed the short drive from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Jacobs Field. Had the weather been better, we might have walked the distance, but the cool and damp conditions ruled that out. We were able to secure parking just across the street from the ballpark in a private lot at a reasonable price.
We performed our typical tour around the outside of the park, but the weather curtailed our walk. Ducking inside the stadium at the home plate entrance, we were greeted by a nearly empty park. Once inside, we had access to the entire seated area, exploring while taking pictures. Unfortunately, the low overcast made the stadium appear drab, but the images capture the conditions on the cool and cloudy early afternoon perfectly.
Since both teams were playing well, tickets for the Saturday matinee were scarce, and our seats were located in the last row of the upper deck on the first base side of the field. Just before game time, temperatures hovered in the 40s, and the persistent breeze off the lake made it feel even colder. Despite an announced crowd of 42,000+, the unseasonably cool weather held the actual attendance far below that number.
Starting for the visiting New York Yankees was veteran right hander David Cone. Thus far in 2000, Cone was struggling (with an ERA over 5.50), though he was less than a season from his perfect game in 1999. On the mound for the Indians was left hander Chuck Finley, and six foot six inch Finley was in his first campaign for the Tribe. Each team featured a potent offense, but the combination of good starting pitching and cool weather raised the specter on a low scoring contest.
New York scratched out a single run in the first inning against Finley, then tacked on another run in the fourth inning (with Yankee right fielder Paul O’Neill driving in the run with a single), giving the visitors a 2-0 lead. Meanwhile, David Cone kept the Cleveland bats at bay through the first six innings. Each pitcher worked deliberately, slowing their approaches with runners on base. In spite of the lack of scoring, the pace of the game was glacial, punctuated by the cold and damp conditions.
During the slow play, we were able to get a better feel for Jacobs Field. Dreary weather made the six year old stadium seem drab, with little contrast between the field and the slate gray overcast that seemingly encased it. Because of the conditions, Jacobs Field did not shine, and the lack of fans made the ballpark seem larger than it appeared on TV. Clearly we were not seeing the park at its best. Though the crowd was sparse, one of the more memorable parts of our visit was the persistent drumming in the left field stands. With a typical crowd, the drumming may not have been as noticeable, but with little else happening in the largely empty stadium, it echoed almost to the point of distraction.
Cleveland broke through against David Cone in the bottom of the seventh inning, as Richie Sexson led off the frame with a solo home run. Scoring another run in the seventh, the Indians tied the game, while simultaneously knocking the Yankees starter out of the game. Each bullpen then kept the game tied heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. Yankees Jeff Nelson surrendered four walks during the frame, forcing in the winning run with two outs to give the Indians a 3-2 victory.
Despite the low scoring affair, the nine inning contest took three hours and 38 minutes to complete, which seemed even longer in the cold and wind. We filed out Jacobs Field quickly, as we planned to attend a game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburg that evening. Disappointed that we didn’t get to experience the ballpark in better weather, we would have to return in the future to get a better feel for the stadium and environs.
2. Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh PA
Spending more time at Jacobs Field than expected, we were left with about two and one-half hours to get to Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Though it would be tight, we were optimistic that, with light traffic, we would arrive before the first pitch at 710 PM. However, events would conspire to make arriving on time impossible. A bit more than an hour into the trip, we encountered thunderstorms that hampered our progress. As we got closer to Pittsburgh, traffic slowed to a crawl.
Finally, we reached the parking lot next to the ballpark, located on the north shore of the Allegheny River (north of downtown Pittsburgh). Arriving well after the first pitch, we parked in a dark area under an overpass of Interstate 385. While there were plenty of fans in the area, it seemed fairly remote, and I had an uneasy feeling about leaving the car there.
Because we arrived in the second inning, we had no time to wander and explore as we normally would at a new stadium. Instead, we rushed to our seats to enjoy the game. As we travelled from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, we went from early spring weather to early summer weather, as very warm and humid greeting us at Three Rivers Stadium. While there were storms in the area, they managed to avoid us during the game.
Unfortunately, we did not take pictures at the stadium, as we left the camera in the car in our haste. Three Rivers Stadium was a typical multipurpose stadium, nearly identical to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. This season would be the last for the Pirates at this ballpark, and its condition seemed to reflect that fact. However, it was a pleasant place to see a Saturday night ballgame.
Pittsburgh hosted the St Louis Cardinals, who scored early and often. St Louis scored six runs in the first four innings, the scored 13 runs in the last three frames, on the way to a 19-4 drubbing of the hometown Pirates. With the game out of hand for the Pirates, they sent catcher Keith Osik to the mound to pitch the top of the ninth inning. As might have been expected, Osik fared poorly, surrendering five runs on five hits. This outing marked Osik’s second MLB pitching performance. In 1999, he also pitched an inning during a blow out, and his performance then was only slight better than this night.
Even with the high scoring, the game took less than three hours, a stark contrast to the affair in Cleveland. Fortunately, my car was still there following the game, and because of the late game finish, we stayed at nearby a nearby hotel, driving home Sunday morning.
1. Shea Stadium (Queens NY) to Plattsburgh NY
After seeing a Saturday afternoon game at Shea Stadium (where the Mets beat the Boston Red Sox), we headed toward Montreal, Quebec, where we would see a game between the Expos and the Red Sox at Olympic Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Weaving our way through New York City traffic, we eventually arrived at Interstate 87 North (also known as the New York State Thruway). Once out of New York City, the drive was fairly straightforward and uneventful.
During our drive toward Montreal, we noticed an unusually high number of vehicles with Massachusetts license plates traveling northward on the Thruway. At the time, it was a curiosity, but I didn’t give it much thought. Following a four hour drive, we decided to find lodging on the US side of the border with Quebec. My concern was that we would have difficulty communicating with people in Quebec, especially late at night, so we secured accommodations in a hotel in Plattsburgh for the night.
2. Plattsburgh NY to Montreal
While checking out of the hotel and moving our bags to the car, we saw many vehicles with Massachusetts plates in the parking lot. It dawned on me that there were Red Sox fans doing exactly what we were doing: going to see a ballgame at Olympic Stadium. Following breakfast, we crossed the Canadian border, stopping to exchange currency for our day in Montreal. As we crossed the border, we saw a very interesting road sign.
The sign stated 100 = 65, to remind American drivers that speed limits posted in Quebec were in kilometers per hour, NOT miles per hour. Part of me could not help but wonder how many Americans received citations in Quebec before these signs were posted. The trip from the hotel to Montreal took about an hour, meaning we arrived well before game time. Since we did not plan to stay following the game, we spent some time conducting a driving tour of Montreal.
Not having been to France at that time, I couldn’t help but believe the Montreal was modeled after Paris. The “newer” portion of Montreal was clearly modern, not unlike many American cities we had visited. However, during our tour through Old Montreal, I couldn’t help but feel as though we were in a French city. The architecture reminded me of pictures I’d seen of Paris, especially along the Montreal River, with some structures dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
3. Olympic Stadium
As fascinating as the tour of Montreal was to me, it was soon time to head toward Olympic Stadium to catch the game. Though we had directions to the park, I was surprised to find that it was located immediately adjacent to a residential neighborhood. Parking was located under the stadium, with several decks offering tight parking spaces. Snaking our way out of the underground lot, we wandered around the park taking pictures.
The Montreal franchise was in trouble, a victim of the 1994 baseball strike. During that season, the Expos sported the best record in the league before the work stoppage prematurely ended the season. While the rest of MLB slowly recovered from the damaging strike, baseball in Montreal never recovered. By 2001, with ownership struggling to make payroll, MLB took stewardship of the franchise, actively seeking to move the team. Not surprisingly, attendance at Olympic Stadium steadily declined, with average game attendance bottoming out at about 5,000 fans.
On this Sunday, attendance was MUCH higher than average, due mainly to the influx of Red Sox fans. During the 2001 season, the Red Sox were playing well, and it was exceedingly difficult to get seats for home games at Fenway Park. Apparently, Red Sox fans thought that a road trip to Montreal would afford them better seats than they could get in Boston. As a result, the attendance for the game was 32,500, or about six times normal. The large crowd overwhelmed the staff at Olympic Stadium, who were struggling with not only the crush of visitors, but the language barrier as well.
Arriving early, we discovered that a carnival was in place at the stadium, and fans were welcome to come onto the field to enjoy the festivities. Stepping onto the artificial surface of the domed stadium marked the my first time on a MLB field, which I found exhilarating. Activities for the fans were set up in the outfield (the infield was roped off), and there was a sizable crowd enjoying the opportunity to walk on the playing field. Rather than engage in the activities, we wandered the outfield. It was clear that stadium maintenance was not a priority to the struggling franchise, and we saw many flaws in the turf.
Spending so much time on the field, we left ourselves little opportunity to tour the remainder of the stadium. After leaving the field, we headed to the concession stand, seeking a baseball lunch. Despite being in Montreal, we were able to secure standard baseball fare. With snacks and drinks in hand, we headed to the register. Despite the language differences, we were able communicate well enough to complete our transaction, then headed toward our seats. It seems as though our timing to grab concessions was fortuitous; we later heard that it took people an hour to get hot dogs and beer, as the concession staff was completely overwhelmed by the unexpectedly large crowd.
Getting our tickets as early as we did, we had great seats just a few rows behind home plate. Other than the protective netting in front of us, our seats were amazing, providing an unfettered view of the entire park. Soon after reaching our seats, it was obvious that the lighting in Olympic Stadium was not up to the task. In fact, the ballpark seemed dank, and much of the stadium beyond the playing field seemed dark and distance. Originally designed with a retractable roof, cables suspended from a 175 meter toward were used to open and close the roof as weather dictated. Difficulties with the design of the roof proved insurmountable, and eventually the roof was closed permanently, resulting in a dark fan experience.
For the 135 pm start, the Boston Red Sox sent right hander Hideo Nomo to the mound. Due to a rotator cuff injury to Boston ace Pedro Martinez, Nomo became the de facto number one starter for the Red Sox. Boston was in the midst of a pennant race with the AL East leading Yankees, trailing New York by one-half game in the standings. Starting for the host Montreal Expos was 6 foot 4 inch right hander Mike Thurman, the third starter in a struggling Montreal rotation. In contrast to the Red Sox Sox fortunes, the Expos were deeply mired in a losing season, 13 and one-half games behind the NL East leading Philadelphia Phillies. Given the difference in the trajectory of the teams, we expected a fairly easy Boston victory this afternoon.
Unlike the vast majority of Expos home games, there was a raucous energy within Olympic Stadium this afternoon. Perhaps it was the unexpected energy that allowed Montreal to take a two run lead in the first inning, courtesy of a two run home run by second baseman Jose Vidro. However, the Expos lead was short-lived, as Boston scored runs in the second and third inning to take the lead. A run in the bottom of the fourth brought Montreal back even with the Red Sox. It was clear early that neither starting pitcher was particularly sharp, and that we were in for a more competitive game than originally anticipated.
Though the Expos were struggling through a rough 2001 campaign, there were All Stars in the starting lineup. Right fielder Vladimir Guerrero was a bona fide superstar, a true five tool player capable hitting 40 home runs and stealing 40 bases in an given season. However, he languished in relative obscurity in Montreal. Playing anywhere else in MLB, he would have been hailed as one of the top players in the game. In this contest, Guerrero was fairly quiet, managing a single and a run scored in five plate appearances.
Boston erupted for three runs in the fifth inning, stringing together several hits to retake the lead. The seesaw contest saw the Expos answer with two runs in the sixth inning. By this time, the starting pitchers for both teams had exited the game, putting the outcome of the game in the hands of the respective bullpens. With the number of Red Sox fans far outnumbering the Expos fans in Olympic Stadium, it was almost like being at Boston home game. Given the dankness of the ballpark, I could only imagine how depressing the stadium must be with the typical small Montreal crowds.
The Red Sox tacked on two more runs in the seventh inning (as 3B Chris Stynes homered) to pad their lead, and Red Sox closer Derek Lowe shut the door on the Expos, earning his 17th save. As we filed out of the ballpark into the parking deck below, I realized that the future of baseball in Montreal was in serious jeopardy. After years in limbo, the franchise moved to Washington in 2005, rechristened the Nationals. While I was glad we visited Montreal to see a game, there was clearly no reason to come back for MLB baseball.
4. Montreal to New Jersey
After working our way through Montreal traffic, we headed back toward New Jersey. Just before US border, we stopped at the duty free store to get something to drink. We were astounded by the number of people loading up on alcohol before heading back into New York State. More than a few vehicles were stuffed nearly full with cases of Molson beer, which has nearly twice the alcohol level of Molson sold in the US. Once through the checkpoint, we stopped in Plattsburgh for lunch before heading home.
Hoping to get a quick fast food meal for the road, we were instead faced with crowded eateries with long lines, as people heading back to Massachusetts had the same thought. In one of the restaurants, servers were crying when confronted with the massive influx of patrons. Eventually, tiring of the wait, we obtained what we could at an Arby’s before heading south on Interstate i7 toward New Jersey.
While on vacation in San Francisco, my brother and I took in a Sunday afternoon baseball game at Pac Bell Park (now known as Oracle Park), where the Giants hosted the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks. From our hotel near Union Square, we decided to walk to Pac Bell Park, since the weather was crystal clear with temperatures in the 60s. Our walk took about 25 minutes (covering about one and one-quarter miles), mostly on 3rd Street. For those old enough to remember, we walked a path that was part of the famous car chase in the movie Bullitt (1968).
Though we chose to walk, there was plenty of parking available, almost all of which was across Mission Bay on 3rd Street (about one-quarter of a mile from the ballpark). Upon arriving at Pac Bell Park, we explored the area immediately surrounding it. Our first stop was McCovey Cove, located just beyond the right field wall. Famous for home run balls that plunk into the Cove, it was named for Giants great Willie McCovey, a power hitting left hand batter who would have deposited many baseballs into it, had he played in Pac Bell Park. Though there was nobody in the cove when we passed, it is common for people in kayaks to hang out there, awaiting baseballs to retrieve.
Walking past the centerfield wall, we arrived at the South Beach Yacht Club. Massive in size, there were more than 100 yachts moored at the club, though there did not appear to be many sailing before noon. Continuing our exploration, we wandered along Pier 40 before making our way back toward the stadium. While the Mission Bay area had some points of interest within walking distance of the park, we decided to invest our time wandering the inside of Pac Bell Park before game time.
Entering the ballpark through the gate behind home plate, we were greeted by a nearly deserted stadium. We arrived about 90 minutes before game time, and while there were a few fans milling around outside the ballpark, there were almost none inside. That left us plenty of time and room to explore. Moving toward centerfield, we encountered something I did not expect. Little Giants Park, a 50 foot by 50 foot replica of Pac Bell Park, was designed for young people to hit whiffle balls and run the bases. Designed for kids 42 inches or shorter, playing in the “ballpark within the ballpark” would have been a dream come true for a much younger me.
Just to the left of the Little Giants Park was the iconic Coke Bottle, located beyond the left field wall. With a length of 47 feet, the bottle rises up behind the stands in left field, and is home to two slides, which fans 14 and under use to “slide” into home plate at the base of the bottle. Located next to the Coke Bottle is the Glove. Created as a replica of 1927 four fingered glove used by the New York Giants, it is instantly recognizable as soon as you enter the ballpark. Thirty two feet wide and 26 feet tall, the glove lies about 501 feet from home plate, and a prodigious blast would be required to reach it.
Crossing over the walkway located on the right field fence, we were treated to a great view of Mission Bay, and the Navy vessels moored in the Port of San Francisco. As fans filtered into the ballpark, the walkway became quite popular, which caused us to move along. We headed toward the home plate area to get a picture of the stadium from the upper deck. Sunshine reflecting off Mission Bay gave the water a light blue hue behind the centerfield fence.
Working our way back along the right field line, we ducked into the concourse is search of a baseball lunch. While there was quite a variety of cuisine choices available, we opted for more standard fare. With snacks and drinks in hand, we went in search of our seats.
Today’s game between the visiting Diamondbacks and the hometown Giants had implications for the playoff race. Arizona was leading the NL West, with the Giants in third place, five and one-half games behind. Even without the added interest in the Sunday matinee, Pac Bell Park routinely sells out, which made obtaining good seats for the game very difficult. We settled for seats down the right field line in the lower level, adjacent to the Diamondbacks bullpen (unlike most new ballparks, the bullpens at Pac Bell were located down the left and field lines).
Though not ideal for a good look at the home plate action, our seats did give us a great view of the remainder of the stadium. Pac Bell Park, with three decks of seats from foul line to foul line, as well as bleachers in left and center field, had a capacity of about 41,000, and a full house was expected this afternoon. Open spaces in the outfield (except for the Coke Bottle, Glove and modestly sized video board) made the stadium feel uncluttered, with great sight lines through the park.
Starting for the visiting Diamondbacks was left hander Brian Anderson. Arizona’s fifth starter, Anderson was struggling through the 2002 campaign, which was sandwiched in between good 2001 and 2003 seasons. On the mound for the hometown Giants was right hander Russ Ortiz, the number two starter in a respectable but unspectacular San Francisco rotation. On the surface, this seemed to be a pitching mismatch after favoring the Giants, in what was an important game for both teams.
Arizona scored a run in the top of the first inning, employing “small ball” to take an early lead. The starters traded scoreless frames until the bottom of the fourth inning, when Barry Bonds led off the bottom of the inning with a solo home run. Fittingly, the home run left Pac Bell Park, splashing down in McCovey Cove. Though we didn’t see it firsthand, a replay of the home run on the video board showed fans in kayaks on the Cove frantically scurrying for the ball. Plating another run in the bottom of the inning, the Giants took a 2-1 lead.
Diamondbacks starter Brian Anderson’s afternoon ended after the Giants scored in the bottom of the fourth inning, and was followed a quartet of relievers that kept the vaunted Giants lineup in check. Meanwhile, Giants starter Russ Ortiz was cruising, allowing only the one run in the first inning. With the action on the field slowing in the middle innings, my attention wandered to the ballpark itself. Opening in 2000, Pac Bell Park was a precursor to the wave of “newer” MLB parks, which were designed to be smaller and more intimate to foster a better fan experience.
Though the ballpark is simpler than the new parks, its simplicity is a large part of its charm. For example, the centerfield scoreboard/video board was unpretentious yet functional, an unobtrusive feature that some stadiums cannot claim. Pace Bell’s asymmetric design, complete with a “see through” section within the right field wall, makes this stadium unique among the MLB offerings. When coupled with the wall to wall sunshine that afternoon, Pac Bell Park grew on me during the game, becoming one of my favorite parks thus far,
Sitting along side the Arizona Diamondbacks, we witnessed six pitchers warm up before entering the game. When Diamondbacks left hander Greg Swindell was warming up in the bottom of the sixth inning, we witnessed something I did NOT expect from San Francisco fans. As Swindell tossed his warm up pitches, Giants fans started peppering him with rude comments concerning his weight. While Swindell was a big guy, he didn’t strike me as someone who was significantly overweight. Still, Giants fans assailed him with insults I would expect to hear in New York or Philadelphia, not San Francisco. This was shocking to me, hearing baseball fans in California as obnoxious as any I’d seen back East.
San Francisco tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, and the Giants closer, right hander Robb Nen, shut down the Diamondbacks in the top of the ninth inning to secure a 3-1 victory. Though the game time was a bit more than three hours, the beautiful ballpark and spectacular weather made the time fly by. We were very impressed with Pac Bell Park, to say the least,. We would have seen more games during our stay in the area, but the Giants went on the road following the afternoon contest.