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.
1 Newark NJ to St Louis MO
Our first baseball trip of 2004 took us to Missouri, the Show Me state, to see games in St Louis and Kansas City. Since this was planned as a weekend trip, there was insufficient time to drive from NJ to MO, we chose to fly. In order to catch the first pitch in St Louis at 1220 pm CDT, we needed to fly out of Newark NJ early Saturday morning.
A cold front had just passed Newark as our flight to St Louis started, so we experienced short bursts of intense turbulence as we climbed toward 10,000 feet. Once we reached cruising altitude, the turbulence subsided, but not before my stomach informed me that breakfast during the flight was probably not a good idea.
We chose to fly Midwest Airlines, a now defunct airline that featured spacious leather seats and complimentary chocolate cookies. Though the cost of the flight was a bit higher than other airlines serving St Louis, the roomy cabin was worth the extra money. Other than the bumpy climb out of Newark, the two hour flight was uneventful, bringing us into St Louis less than two hours before game time. After picking up our rental car, we headed for the stadium.
2. Busch Stadium
We arrived at Busch Memorial Stadium less than an hour before the first pitch, leaving us little time to explore the environment around the park. Instead, we headed inside upon arrival, wandering the concourses before heading to our seats. Busch Stadium was one of the cadre of multi purpose stadiums constructed from the mid 1960s into the early 1970s, housing both MLB and NFL teams playing on the then-new AstroTurf.
AstroTurf was developed as an alternative to natural grass playing surfaces, starting with the Astrodome in Houston Texas, since grass could not be grown under the dome. Laid out on a field of concrete (which provided a stable surface), the AstroTurf was an unforgiving inch thick “carpet” which often heated to 130 F during the summer. Eventually, AstroTurf was eschewed in favor of grass surfaces, which is what we found in Busch Stadium early that afternoon.
Crystal clear skies and rapidly warming temperatures greeted us as we found our seats shortly before the first pitch. Per usual, Busch Stadium was filled to near capacity, as St Louis fans are generally considered to be some of the best in the game. The opponents for the hometown Cardinals this afternoon was the New York Mets. St Louis was enjoying a strong 2004 season, with a commanding 10 1/2 game lead over the second place Houston Astros in the NL Central Division. By contrast, the Mets were battling their way through another sub .500 season, occupying the fourth spot in the NL East.
Starting for the visiting Mets was right hander Kris Benson. Making his first start for the Mets after being traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Benson was in the midst of a fairly average season, with a .500 record and an ERA over 4.00. The hometown Cardinals sent right hander Woody Williams to the mound. Williams was an 18 game winner for the Cardinals in 2003, and was still an important piece of the starting rotation for a formidable St Louis team. With the afternoon warming quickly, we were wondering if the ball would carry well at Busch Stadium this afternoon, resulting in an offensive display.
From the very start, the Cardinals fans were a force, with a loud din discernible for much of the game. Being from the Northeast, I would posit that the best fans in baseball were from the part of the USA, but the boisterous St Louis fans were slowly changing my mind. Despite the building heat, starting pitching dominated the early portion of the matinee. Each team scored a single run through six innings, and with both starters showing their best stuff, the game quickly became an old fashioned pitchers duel
As part of their playoff push, the Cardinals had acquired slugger Larry Walker from the Colorado Rockies at the trade deadline on July 31st. Walker’s first at-bat in a St Louis uniform came in the bottom of the 7th as a pinch-hitter. Looking to quench my thirst, I approached a vendor to purchase a soft drink as Walker came to the plate. Both the vendor and I paused the transaction to watch the at-bat. Walker received a standing ovation as he strode to the plate, which was understandable, as the Cardinals fans though they were welcoming a presence that would propel them through the playoff run. However, when Walker struck out, the Cardinals fans gave him another standing ovation, a highly unusual response to a strikeout. In fact, it was so unusual that the vendor pointedly asked me “have you ever seen anything like that?”.
Both starting pitchers exited that game by the end of the seventh inning, leaving the tight contest in the hands of the respective bullpens. Quite unexpectedly, a game that I thought might be one-sided because of the Mets recent struggles had become one of the best games I’d seen in person in years. The score remained tied at 1-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning, giving the Cardinals one last chance to end the game before extra innings.
Having experienced the devoted and vocal Cardinal fans first hand, I was very surprised to see them execute “the wave” during a critical portion of a tightly contested ballgame. It was almost as though the fans were not fully aware of the game situation, instead becoming lost in the moment of being at the ballpark. The Cardinal pushed across the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, securing a well-fought 2-1 victory.
We’d just witnessed one of the best ballgames I’d seen in a long time at the home of an iconic MLB franchise. Though Busch Stadium itself was a typical multi-purpose facility, a product of its time, the crowd made it feel like a great place to see a ballgame (despite their curious wave display in the bottom of the ninth). Having seen the stadium, there was no reason to return until the new ballpark was ready, which was a couple of years away. Still, it WAS fun to see a baseball game in the heartland of America.
Our destination after the game was a hotel room in eastern Kansas, before we visited Kaufman Stadium in nearby Kansas City the following afternoon. Before heading out onto Interstate 70 west, we briefly visited the Gateway Arch, the longtime symbol of the opening of the western USA. It was also my first visit to the Mississippi River, an iconic symbol of the heartland of the USA. We would see the river at several points along its journey in the coming years.
We didn’t linger long in the Gateway Arch National Park, as we had a 300 mile drive ahead of us. Light traffic heading west on Interstate 70 allowed us to reach the hotel just outside of Kansas City in less than four hours.
Wall to wall sunshine awaited us as we ventured from the hotel (following breakfast) and headed toward the Great American Ballpark. With some time before the first pitch of the (scheduled for 115 pm), we found parking near the stadium, and walked the pavilion along the mighty Ohio River.
It was clearly evident that the Ohio River was running very high, swelled by recent heavy rainfall in the area. The normally docile river was roiled by flood waters, swiftly taking sheds, large trees and assorted clutter in its muddied currents downstream. Contrasted by the sunny skies and light winds, the Ohio running out of its banks in full fury made it even more dramatic.
Not surprisingly, the beautiful late summer weather brought a large number of people to the riverfront. Most seemed to be transfixed by the state of the river, while others were simply enjoying the weather and the scenery. Strolling along the pavilion, we were treated to views of northern Kentucky, as well as the paddle wheel boats on the river. Despite the swift currents, people were enjoying the ride, and had I planned more carefully, perhaps I would have been one of those people. Instead, we enjoyed the river from dry land.
1. Great American BallPark
Following our walk along the river, we headed toward the park as the gates were opening. Unlike last night, we left ourselves plenty of time to explore Great American Ballpark. In its second season of service, the ballpark still had a “new” feel to it. More than 42,000 red seats, arranged in three decks spanning from foul line to foul line gave the ballpark a nearly overwhelming “Redness” feel.
Arriving just as the gates opened, there were few fans inside the ballpark. This allowed us to explore the park with little obstruction. While the capacity of Great American Ballpark is a bit larger than its predecessor, Riverfront Stadium, the openness of the new park made it seem much bigger than the older, multi-use colossus.
Like most newer ballparks, the concourse encircled the stadium, allowing us to take pictures from all angles. As expected, the main attraction of the park was the view of the Ohio River. From the upper deck behind home plate, we could see the river, as well as the towns and buildings of nearby northern Kentucky. Crystal clear skies and warm late summer temperatures resulted in a beautiful view from the stadium, possibly one of my favorites among MLB ballparks.
In my opinion, one of the best features of Great American Ballpark is the Smokestacks. Located just to the right of the batter’s eye in centerfield, the Smokestacks were a nod to the history of the Ohio River, when paddle wheel boats were the main mode of transport for people and produce along the length of the river.
After completing our tour of the ballpark, we went in search of a baseball lunch. Though Great American Ballpark offered a wide array of places to eat and drink, we chose to stick with the more conventional concessions. Stocked up with drinks and snacks, we headed for our seats. While Sunday matinees typically attract a smaller crowd than Saturday night affairs, good seats were difficult to obtain for this game. Just like the night before, our seats were further away from the action, though we were at least closer to the plate.
The starting pitchers for the game this afternoon were both former Mets. Chicago sent veteran left hander Glendon Rusch to the hill. Rusch was a Met in 2000-2001, and we saw him shut out the Boston Red Sox in 2001, allowing only infield single to open that contest. Starting for the hometown Reds was right hander Paul Wilson. One of the Generation K starters for the Mets in the mid 1990s, a promising trio that didn’t pan out quite as Mets fans had envisioned, Wilson showed flashes of brilliance with the Mets, but ultimately lost favor with their management and disappeared. After landing in Cincinnati, Wilson’s career experienced something of a renaissance, and 2004 for his best big league campaign.
With the Cubs still in contention for a playoff spot, this was a meaningful game for them. In contrast, the Reds were simply playing out the string toward the end of a disappointing season. Surprisingly, both starting pitchers were at the top of their games on this warm afternoon, with a scoreless tie continuing through the first six innings.
The Reds broke the tie in the bottom of the seventh inning with an RBI single by LF Adam Dunn. In the top of the eight inning, the Cubs tied the score with a sacrifice fly. By this time, both starting pitchers had exited the content, allowing one run each, and the outcome of the game was left in the hands of the bullpen. Cincinnati reliever Danny Graves allowed the final run of the game in the top of the ninth, as the Cubs squeaked out a 2-1 victory.
We were not leaving the Cincinnati area right after the game, so we took out time leaving Great American Ballpark. Aside from the amazing view of the Ohio River, the newly minted ballpark offered all the amenities found in the “newer” MLB ballparks, except for scoreboard. Most new parks feature the latest video board technology, but the video board at Great American ballpark was surprisingly small, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Overall, I was impressed with the park, with my opinion dominated by the view over the center field fence. Unlike some of the newer parks we have visited, I did not feel a level of intimacy at Great American Ballpark, though the sample size was admittedly small. Though I was impressed with the environment, I am not sure I was impressed enough to return anytime soon.
2. Paul Brown Stadium
Since direct flights from Cincinnati to Newark, NJ were not available after the baseball game, we decided to stay in the area and fly out Monday morning. With a free night available, we decided to attend an NFL game at Paul Brown Stadium, the home of the Bengals. The stadium is part of a larger complex which includes the Great American Ballpark, so we didn’t even have to move our vehicle from the parking lot.
Not realizing that the Sunday night game was the home opener for the Bengals for the 2004 season, we found securing seats to be difficult. Since pickings were fairly slim, we settled on seats in the lower level of the southern end zone. While hardly ideal for viewing the game action, the seats did allow us to be part of the experience, which was enhanced by the enthusiasm of the crowd.
Because our seats were less than desirable, we didn’t get many good pictures of the action. Instead, we enjoyed the action and environment of the NFL contest.
1. New Jersey to Cincinnati
Our second baseball trip of 2004 took us to Cincinnati, Ohio to see the Great American Ballpark, the new home of the Reds. From central New Jersey, the drive to Cincinnati was deemed to too long for a two day visit, so we decided to fly. The flight was just two hours, so flying out of the Newark-Liberty Airport in the early afternoon brought us to Cincinnati a couple of hours before the first pitch, scheduled for 710 pm EDT.
After landing at the airport, we picked up our rental car and headed to the hotel to drop off our bags. Since the Cincinnati airport is actually in Covington, Kentucky, we stayed at a hotel near by, rather than in Cincinnati itself. Following a 15 minute drive, which took us across the Ohio River from Kentucky into Ohio, we arrived at the ballpark. Great American Ballpark is located along the banks of the Ohio River, part of a larger complex which includes Paul Brown Stadium (home of the NFL’s Bengals) and the Heritage Bank Center. Not surprisingly, parking was ample throughout the complex, and after securing parking, we walked up the stadium.
2. Great American Ballpark
Having arrived about an hour or so before game time, we skipped out normal walk around the outside of the stadium and entered the ballpark (as we would have a better opportunity to explore the area the next afternoon). Soon after walking into the stadium from the centerfield gate, we discovered the best feature of the new ballpark (which opened just the year before): the view of the Ohio River.
Located adjacent to the river, the park was constructed to take full advantage of the spectacular view of the river, as well as the structures across the river in Covington and Newport. Since the game time was about 30 minutes before sunset, the encroaching darkness diminished the view to some degree, but we would get a much better look during the afternoon contest the next day.
The opponent for the hometown Reds this evening was the Chicago Cubs. With the St Louis Cardinals running away with the NL Central in 2004, the Cubs were still in contention for the wild card spot, but the Reds were limping toward the end of a disappointing campaign. Starting for the visiting Cubs was future Fall of Famer Greg Maddux. The three-time Cy Young award winner was not quite the pitcher he was just a few years earlier, but was still effective and an important part of the Cubs rotation as they pushed for a playoff spot.
Aaron Harang took the ball for the hometown Reds. For the 6 foot 7 inch right hander, 2004 was his first full year in the Reds rotation. With both pitchers having mediocre seasons (especially Maddux), we were prepared for an offensive display from both teams.
Clear skies, light winds and comfortable temperatures greeted us as afternoon faded into evening. After picking up a baseball dinner, we went in search of our seats. Though the Reds had been out of playoff contention for some time, there was a sizable crowd for the Saturday evening contest. Consequently, our seats for the game were located down the right field line in the middle deck. Further from the action that I would have liked, but the great weather made up for the distance.
Despite my expectations of an offensively dominated contest, starting pitching dominated the first half of the game, which each team scoring just a single run in the first five innings. However, as often happens in MLB games, both pitchers struggled as they made their way through the lineup for the third time. The Cubs scored three runs in the top half of the sixth inning, including a home run by LF Moises Alou. Not to be outdone, the Red erupted on Greg Maddux in the bottom half of the inning, with C Willy Mo Pena hitting his second home run of the game, giving the Reds a 6-4 lead.
A solo home run by the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa in the top of the eighth inning brought Chicago within a run. Not quite the slugger he was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he was hitting 60+ home runs a year, Sosa was still a force to be reckoned with, exuding the same enthusiasm for the game as always.
Sosa’s home run ended the scoring, as the Reds bullpen shut down the vaunted Cubs offense to secure a 6-5 Reds victory. Despite the scoring, the game was completed in two hours and 45 minutes. My initial impression of the Great American Ballpark was positive, but we would get a better chance to see the ballpark with the mighty Ohio River as a backdrop during an afternoon contest the next day.
Sunshine greeted us as we went in search of breakfast in Milwaukee. Wanting to dine quickly, we settled on a Denny’s not far from the hotel. Being a Denny’s, there was nothing particularly memorable about the place, but we did witness the apparent aftermath of an ended relationship. Two women sitting at a booth near a window at the back of the restaurant were engaged in an animated conversation. The woman sitting with with her back to us was using colorful metaphors to describe her ex, while the woman facing us smiled, realizing that much of the place was eavesdropping on her friend’s rant. Even as we were leaving, the metaphors were still flying.
We arrived at Miller Park about 1145 am, just as the gates were opening for the 105 pm contest. Approaching the stadium, we noticed that it was built at grade level (ground level). Most ballparks, especially MLB parks with retractable domes, are constructed so that the playing field is located stories below ground level. In doing so, the stadium has a lower profile, so that it does not tower above its surroundings.
Being built at ground level, Miller Park definitely towers above its surroundings, and can be seen from a considerable distance. In the light of day, we learned that the stadium was surrounded by parking lots, and not much else. Acres of parking lots made Miller Park look even more enormous, dominating the skyline.
Driving up Brewer Way, we noticed a much smaller ballpark on our right. Helfaer Field, located on the site of old County Stadium (former home of the Brewers), is a ballpark suited for youth and softball games. Equipped with a big league scoreboard, sound system and lighting, the field is available for use by the public. There were people preparing the field for use, presumably that afternoon during the Mets/Brewers game.
Unlike the night before, the weather afforded us the chance to explore the outside of Miller Park. With little else around the park, we focused on the glass, steel and brick that compromised the ballpark. The stadium was physically imposing, and after a quick trip around the park, we headed inside.
Milky sunshine allowed the roof of Miller Park to be open for the afternoon game. Unlike the cool conditions the previous night, the sunshine came along with warm and humid conditions, making it feel more like late spring in southern Wisconsin. Not surprisingly, with the roof open, Miller Park did not seem quite as cavernous, though it was still a large stadium.
Upon entering, we walked the lower concourse of the ballpark, taking us to center field. From that vantage point, we got a feel for the size of the stadium, with four tiers of seating from foul line to foul line. Walking toward the right field line gave us a great view of the retracted roof. Swinging back toward left field afforded us an up close view of Bernie’s Slide, on which the mascot descends following Brewer home runs.
Following our tour of the interior, we picked up a baseball lunch on the lower level concourse behind home plate, then headed for our seats. Once again, we were able to secure good seats in the lower level, a bit further up the first base line from the seats we had the night before. Though we were initially bathed in the milky sunshine in our seats, by the time the game started, shadowed covered the first base line.
Starting for the visiting Mets was crafty left hander Tom Glavine. A future Hall of Famer, Glavine was working through a rocky beginning of the 2005 season. Opposing Glavine for the hometown Brewers was left hander Chris Capuano, who was beginning his second season in Milwaukee. Capuano would become one of the Brewers most reliable starters in 2005, leading the staff with 18 wins.
The Brewers jumped on the Mets starter for two runs in each of the first two innings, placing the Mets in a 4-0 hole early in the contest. Following the initial onslaught, Glavine settled down (like the veteran he was), managing to last six innings, not yielding any more runs before exiting. Meanwhile, the Brewers starter held a venerable Mets offense to a lone run through six innings. Neither starter was sharp, allowing enough base runners to slow the game to a crawl at times.
Despite the sunshine and warmer temperatures, the crowd was rather sparse at Miller Park. It has been our experience that Sunday afternoon games are generally lightly attended when compared to crowds on Saturday nights. With an announced attendance of less than 18,000, Miller Park looked even bigger, with most of the fans in the lower levels between first and third base.
The Mets started to chip away at the Brewers lead, as right fielder Mike Cameron hit a two run home run in the sixth inning. A run for the Mets in the eight tied the game at four, leaving the game in the hands of the respective bullpens.
A run scoring single off the bat of JJ Hardy in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Brewers a 5-4 victory. While waiting for the thinning crowd to exit Miller Park, I took one last opportunity to look over the stadium. Overall, my opinion of the park was positive, as we got the chance to see it with the roof open. As one of the larger “new” MLB park, it seemed to lack intimacy or charm. Having only seen the park twice, I’m sure diehard Brewers fans would disagree with my assessment, and they very well could be right. However, while I was happy to visit the most recent addition to the retractable dome ranks, I’m not sure the allure is strong enough to bring me back anytime soon.
1. Newark NJ to Milwaukee WI
Our only scheduled MLB baseball trip of 2005 took us to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to visit Miller Park, the home of the Brewers. With Milwaukee lying just outside of driving range for a weekend trip, we decided to fly. Rather than use a typical domestic carrier, we chose to travel from Newark, New Jersey directly to Milwaukee via Midwest Airlines.
Flying for work, I was introduced to Midwest Airlines (a Milwaukee based carrier, now defunct) in the late 1990s. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of flying Midwest Airlines was the seating aboard the planes. Each of the seats in a Midwest Airlines plane was leather, with only two seats together alongside the aisle. In addition, each passenger received a giant chocolate chip. While the gesture could have been considered trite, the cookie was actually delicious. Though the seats cost a bit more than other domestic carriers, the roomier leather seats were worth the extra money.
Being a Milwaukee based carrier, we were able to book nonstop flights. The two and one-half hour flight out to Milwaukee was uneventful, though the weather was steadily worsening at we reached our destination. After picking up our rental car, we briefly stopped at the hotel to drop off our bags, then we headed straight to the ballpark for a 605 pm CDT first pitch.
2. Miller Park, Milwaukee
A steady rain began as we left the hotel, and by the time we arrived at Miller Park, the rain had become heavier with a few claps of thunder. Luckily for us, parking was plentiful at the stadium, and we parked as close to the stadium as possible. Typically, we tour the outside of new stadiums to take pictures of the park and its surroundings. However, the rain and cool temperatures made walking outside infeasible. In fact, as we entered Miller Park, a squall occurred outside.
Miller Park is a stadium with a retractable roof, which was very fortuitous on the rainy and cool Milwaukee evening. Otherwise, the game between the hometown Brewers and the visiting New York Mets would certainly have been a causality of the weather. With the roof closed and storms raging outside, Miller Park seemed dark, despite the lights being on.
Like most ballparks with their roofs closed, Miller Park looked cavernous, particularly with a sparse crowd during batting practice. We arrived early enough to wander about the stadium. Though we did tour much of the ballpark before the game, the dark conditions within Miller Park made taking pictures fairly difficult, so we cut the tour short (since we would get another opportunity to see the ballpark the next day).
As is the case in most of the “newer” MLB ballparks, there were myriad locations to obtain concessions throughout Miller Park. Not surprisingly, there were a number of sausage and bratwurst based dishes available, but we chose more traditional fare for our ballpark dinner. With snacks in hand, we headed toward our seats. Fortunately, we were able to secure seats in the lower level, just to the right of home plate. The seats afforded us a great view of the action, as well as a panoramic view of the stadium.
Starting the the visiting Mets was veteran right hander Pedro Martinez. Though the 33 year old future Hall of Famer was not quite the pitcher he was in his prime, Martinez was enjoying a fast start to his 2005 campaign, sporting a 4-1 record with a sub 3.00 ERA. Opposing Martinez for the Brewers was right hander Wes Obermuller, who was struggling early in the season,
Despite the bad weather, the crowd at Miller Park was impressive, with over 39,000 fans in attendance for the 605 pm CDT first pitch. Even though the pitching matchup seemed one-sided, the game remained scoreless into the fourth inning, when a solo home run by Mets third baseman David Wright put the Mets on top. The Brewers responded with a three run home run by left fielder Carlos Lee in the bottom of the fourth to take the lead.
The Mets offense struck again for runs in the fifth and seventh innings, highlighted by home runs by centerfielder Carlos Beltran (who drove in four runs for the game). However, the Brewers scored two more runs off Martinez in the seventh, ending his night. Despite surrendering five runs in seven innings, Martinez struck out 11 and left with a chance to garner a win for his efforts.
After the departure of Pedro Martinez, the Mets bullpen held the lead, securing a 7-5 victory. Even with 12 combined runs being scored, the time of the game was a reasonable two and one-half hours. Following the end of the game, we headed out into the night. Though the rain had ended, it was still damp and humid.
My first impression of Miller Park was decidedly mixed, as often happens when we see a domed stadium for the first time with the roof closed. We would get another chance to see the park Sunday afternoon, hopefully with the roof open.
We added one more baseball trip to the end of the 2005 season. For years, the Montreal Expos, a team owned by MLB, threatened to leave the Canadian city. The franchise never recovered from the baseball strike in 1994, when they were arguably the best team in the game. Since that time, attendance dwindled, and their home park, Olympic Stadium, had fallen into disrepair (which we saw for ourselves in 2001).
Finally, the franchise moved to Washington, DC, for the 2005 season. At the time, DC did not have a baseball only stadium ready for the newly renamed Nationals (ground won’t be broken on Nationals Park until 2006). In the interim, the Nationals were slated to play their home games at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium (informally known as RFK). Once the home of the MLB Washington Senators and the NFL Washington Redskins, RFK was the home of the local MLS franchise, but hadn’t hosted NFL or MLB games for some time.
As result, it had also fallen into a degree of disrepair. Still, MLB was keen to move the franchise, and the Nationals would play their games at RFK. Since the ballpark was only about a four hour drive from central NJ, we decided to make the visit a day trip. The drive was uneventful, outside of the traffic that one encounters in the DC area. Arriving at the ballpark about the time the games opened, we quickly became aware that RFK Stadium was not in one of the finer neighborhoods of DC, so we did not wander far from the ballpark.
Parking as ample, and arriving well before the first pitch, we had our choice of parking spots. A quick walk around the ballpark showed an aging multi purpose stadium that was enjoying something of a renaissance with the return of MLB action. It was clear that the park had seen better days, and from the perspective of the rebranded franchise, it was a just a place to play until their own park debuted in 2008.
Once inside, we got an idea of how long it had been since the stadium had been used extensively. Walking through the home plate gate, there were coaxial and Internet cables literally stapled to the concrete walls. Since the Nationals were only temporary tenants, it was clear that little in the way of infrastructure changes were forthcoming. Walking around RFK on the lower concourse, we were reminded of other multi purpose stadiums constructed during the same time frame (such as Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia or Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh).
Despite that, RFK seemed to have more in the way of character than the other coliseums from that time period. Unlike the other stadiums of that period, RFK seemed cozier (with a seating capacity just shy of 46,000), and sported a grass field. Like most stadiums from the 1960s, RFK was enclosed, giving it a retro feel when compared to the “newer” MLB ballparks.
Though there were not as many amenities as other ballparks, we managed to find a baseball lunch at one of the many concession stands and headed off to find our seats. Sunshine began to filter through the thick clouds (which prompted stadium officials to turn on the lights), and temperatures rebounded into the 70s, setting the stage for comfortable conditions for watching a ball game at the aging RFK Stadium.
With the season winding toward the end, and both the Mets and Nationals out of playoff contention, my attention turned to the Mets catcher Mike Piazza. Once among the most feared hitters in the game, age and nagging injuries resulted in a subpar campaign for the slugger. In the last year of his contract, it was unlikely that the Mets would try to resign him, so this game marked the last time we would see Piazza in a Met uniform in person.
Despite having nothing to play for in this game, most of the regulars were in the lineup for both teams. Starting for the Mets was right hander Kris Benson, who was completing an unspectacular 2006 campaign, his last in a Met uniform. For the hometown Nationals, the starter was right hander John Patterson, completing his season with a respectable 3.13 ERA.
Our seats, in the middle deck to the right of home plate, gave us a great view of the stadium. Soaking in the environment, RFK seemed like an anachronism, with earth tones colors reminiscent of the 1960s. Noticeably absent from the park was a large screen video board. Built long before such technology existed, the ballpark seemed almost naked without it. Reminding me of my younger days as a baseball, I found that I didn’t miss it.
Even with the clouds and threat of rain, there was a good crowd on hand for the Sunday matinee, with an announced attendance of over 29,000. It was obvious early that neither starting pitcher had his best stuff, as the Nationals and Mets traded runs through the first four innings. The scoring included a long solo home run to left field in the second inning by Mike Piazza, flashing some of the power from his heyday.
Piazza followed up his home run in the second inning with another solo home run in the fourth inning. It was almost as though he sensed the end was coming, and was rising to the occasion with a vintage Piazza power display. The teams traded runs throughout the middle innings, slowing the pace of the game to a crawl at times, as the teams made seven pitching changes.
During the down time, I took an opportunity to further examine the stadium. The outfield grass showed signs of wear, a victim of the hot and often dry DC summers, obviously neglected as the season reached its end. Though it was a relic, it reminded me of the ball games played in the “cookie cutter” ballparks I watched on TV as a kid, so there was a familiar vibe within RFK.
Hoping we would see a third home run from Mike Piazza, we were instead treated to a massive home run to deep right field by the young Mets first baseman Mike Jacobson in the eight inning. Initially, we thought the ball might clear the roof and completely exit the ballpark. Instead, it landed on the roof and careened back onto the field. The home run gave the Mets a 6-5 lead, which the bullpen protected for a victory for New York.
Filing out of RFK following the game, I reflected on our visit. Though it was fun seeing a game in a throwback ballpark with its roots in the 1960s, there was little reason to return. Our next baseball visit to DC would be to see the new ballpark, which was more than two and one-half years in the future.
Finally, the sun made an appearance in Southern California, as the low clouds and fog receded just offshore. Following a morning of exploring San Diego, I traveled up Interstate 5 to Anaheim to catch an evening game between the Seattle Mariners and Anaheim Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. The 90 minute trip was swift and uneventful, helped along by the fact it was Saturday.
Shortly after arriving at the stadium, I met up with my brother, who stayed just a block away from the park. Angel Stadium, located near the Santa Ana River, is a mere four miles from Disneyland. Had I know that at the time, I might have built in time to see the iconic amusement park before heading to the stadium. My brother stated that his hotel was boisterous, with the din caused by kids excited to visit Disneyland.
Parking was plentiful at Angel Stadium, as the field was almost completely surrounded by parking lots. By MLB standards, parking was relatively cheap ($10.00), and arriving almost two hours before the first pitch, we had our choices of spots. Since there was not much to see immediately adjacent to the ballpark, we encircled the stadium before entering through the gate behind home plate.
Angel Stadium has undergone several configuration changes since it first opened in 1966. Originally constructed with an open outfield, the stadium was completely enclosed in 1980, when the NFL’S Los Angeles Rams relocated to Anaheim. The enclosure increased the stadium’s capacity from 43,000 to over 63.000, where it remained through 1997. Following the departure of the Rams, the stadium was renovated, removing the enclosure, restoring the view of the mountains in centerfield.
Replacing the enclosure in the outfield was perhaps the stadium’s most interesting feature, the “Rock Pile”. Also known as the California Spectacular, the rock formation was adorned with real trees, fake boulders and a geyser which spouts water that cascades down the rocks. This feature is always prominently displayed during national broadcasts from Angel Field.
The “Rock Pile” was accessible via the concourse that encircled the stadium, and not surprising, it was a popular destination. Our tour of the stadium revealed it to be a former multi purpose stadium reborn into a baseball park following the renovations in the late 1990s. A large scoreboard in right centerfield was augmented by a smaller scoreboard in left centerfield, giving Angel Stadium a more modern look.
Following our trip around the stadium, we visited one of the many concession stands on the lower level to obtain our baseball dinner. Despite the Angels being a sub .500 team, the ticket demand was so high that we were only able to secure upper deck seats behind home plate. The climb was worth it; the view of the ballpark from our perch could not have been better.
The starting pitching matchup feature two journeyman right handers. Gil Meche, taking the ball for the visiting Seattle Mariners, and John Lackey, toeing the rubber for the hometown Angels, were both in the middle of mediocre seasons. Clearing skies, light winds and mild temperatures set the stage for a pleasant evening, with Lackey delivering the first pitch at 707 pm PDT.
Leading off for the Seattle Mariners was rIght fielder Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro was off to yet another great start, leading the American League in hitting at .369. In his sixth season with the Mariners, Ichiro was rapidly becoming the best hitter of his era, and a major draw while on the road. He did not disappoint this night, collecting three hits and scoring three runs. However, Ichiro grounded out to start the game, with the teams going scoreless early in the contest.
The Angels started the scoring the bottom of the second inning, with two runs via consecutive RBI singles off Mariners starter Gil Meche. The Mariners countered with three runs in the third inning. The score remained 3-2 going into the top of the fifth inning. Angels starter John Lackey intentionally walked Raul Ibanez to load the bases for Mariners 1B Richie Sexon. Sexon, a power hitter with a low batting average, deposited the next pitch over the centerfield fence for a grand slam home run. That home run ended Lackey’s night, and gave the Mariners an 8-2 lead.
Much to my surprise, despite the makings of blow out, the Angels fans stayed for the bulk of the game (so much for the stereotypical Southern California fan leaving early). The nearly full stadium generated a feel I would expect in ballparks across the Midwest or the Northeast. In addition, clear skies, light winds and temperatures in the 60s provided an enjoyable backdrop for a very pleasant baseball experience at Angel Park.
The Mariners tacked on four more runs in the seventh inning, including back-to-back home runs by Ichiro Suzuki and Andre Beltre, essentially putting the game out of reach for the hometown Angels. The Angels did respond with runs in the seventh and eighth innings, but not nearly enough to put a dent in the Mariners lead. Angels star (and future Hall of Famer) Vladimir Guerrero was quiet in this contest, managing a double in four at-bats.
Overall, my impression of Angel Stadium of Anaheim was very good, better than I expected. Good weather and a large crowd made this possibility my favorite Southern California game. At some point, I’d like to visit the area again, and would consider a return to Angel Stadium an essential part of that trip.
Following a day off from the baseball part of our trip, we visited Petco Park in San Diego on a Friday evening to see the hometown Padres take on the Florida Marlins. Staying in a hotel near San Diego, we were less than 10 minutes from the stadium.
Petco Park, located in the East Village section of San Diego, is adjacent to the historic Gaslamp District, which is a lively section of the city replete with bars and restaurants. Though there is no onsite parking at Petco Park, there are many parking garages with a 10 minute walk of the stadium. After finding suitable parking north of the ballpark, we wandered around the Gaslamp District, waiting for the ballpark gates to open.
Unfortunately, the “June gloom” was still in place, and slate gray skies greeted us as we approached the centerfield entrance of Petco Park. Passing through security to enter the gate, we were stopped after my brother’s camera bag was searched. We were informed that my brother couldn’t bring his camera into the park, since it was stadium policy to prevent people from using “professional camera equipment”.
In all of our travels, this was something we’d never heard at a ballpark. When we protested, the security agent checked with his supervisor, who stated my brother’s camera was allowed in the ballpark. In the following years, MLB has clamped down on the size of lenses allowed in stadiums.
Wandering through the park, perhaps the most noticeable sight was the construction cranes behind the centerfield fence. Like many of the “newer’ MLB stadiums, Petco Park was built amidst an urban setting. A quick walk around the ballpark suggested that the area immediately adjacent to the park was in the process of rejuvenation, with the stadium as the centerpiece.
Beside the local environment, the most noticeable attribute of Petco Park was the large outfield. In 2006, the stadium was still in its original configuration, with some of the deepest power alleys in the game. The combination of the large outfield and cool conditions resulted in Petco Park seeing the lowest number of home runs in baseball. With the cloudy and cool conditions this evening, we expected a low scoring game in this large park.
One of the features that caught my attention seeing Petco Park on TV was the Western Metal Supply Co. building located in the left field corner. The four story building was constructed in the 1880s, and remained in the McKenzie family for more than 80 years. When the building became a victim of bankruptcy, rather than tearing it down, it became a centerpiece of Petco Park, around which the ballpark was built. Within the building is the Padres Hall of Fame Bar and Grill, as well the Rail, which contained balcony seats with a great view of the action.
Following our tour of the park, we visited the concession stands on the lower level to get a baseball dinner, then headed for our seats. Sitting in the lower level down the left field line astride of third base, we gained a better a sense of how large Petco Park was. The three deck stadium has a capacity of 42,000+, including the seats in centerfield. On this cloudy and cool night, there were considerably fewer fans in the seats by the time the first pitch was thrown at 706 pm PDT.
Not to promulgate a stereotype, but the crowd did start to increase after the first pitch. By the time the ballpark lights started to have an effect, most sections of the ballpark were nearly filled, ready for Friday night baseball. Taking the mound for the hometown Padres was Chris Young. The six foot 10 inch right hander has quietly enjoying the best start of his MLB career. For the visiting Marlins, the start went to 23 year old rookie Ricky Nolasco. Thus far in 2006, Nolasco had become one of the more reliable Marlins starter, sporting a respectable 3.32 ERA.
In the lineup for the Padres was a former Mets (and future Hall of Fame) Mike Piazza. Piazza, playing his last game with the Mets in 2005, elected to pursue free agency and signed with the Padres for the 2006 season. Honestly, the site of Mike Piazza in a Padre uniform was a bit jarring, after providing so many special moments with the Mets (including a dramatic home run in the first game after 9/11). Catching and batting cleanup, Piazza was the linchpin for a fairly potent Padres lineup.
The combination of good starting pitching, cool conditions and a big ballpark conspired to keep the game scoreless early. The Marlins broke through as 1B Mike Jacobson homered in the third inning, but the Padres responded with three runs in the fifth inning, including a home run by CF Mike Cameron. Outside of these blemishes, both starters delivered quality starts, with Padres starter Chris Young striking out 12 Marlins.
Despite the close contest, fans started leaving after the seventh inning stretch. Perhaps the cool conditions had something to do with it, but the stereotypical West Coast baseball fan arrives late and leaves early, right? In any event, the game became a battle of the bullpens. The Marlins tacked on a run in the ninth against Padres closer (and future Hall of Fame) Trevor Hoffman, but the Padres held on for a 3-2 victory.
Before exiting the nearly empty stadium, I paused for a moment to take one last look at Petco Park. Despite its size, there was a certain charm to the place, and I came to enjoy it more as the game wore on. Though Dodger Stadium is certainly more iconic, seeing a game here was almost as enjoyable. During our next Southern California trip, we will make sure to stop back to see the ballpark, hopefully with better weather conditions.
Our first baseball trip of 2006 took us to Southern California to see games in Los Angeles, San Diego and Anaheim. The baseball foray was included in a longer trip covering portions of Southern California and nearby Mexico. When traveling to Northern California a few years before, I chose to go in September, when the weather is at its best. Unfortunately, I did not give the trip to Southern California the same amount of thought when we decided to go in early June.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, low clouds and fog often cover coastal sections of Southern California during June, when ocean temperatures are still fairly cool. Known as “June gloom” by the locals, the low clouds can cover the sun for days at a time, resulting in gloomy conditions. My timing for a trip to Southern California almost couldn’t have been worse, but we were determined to enjoy the trip, regardless of the weather.
Headquartered in San Diego for the week, I drove up to Los Angeles during a Wednesday afternoon. Leaving the hotel in San Diego hours before the first pitch (scheduled for 700 pm), I made good time traveling Interstate 5 north until we approached LA. Apparently I caught the beginning of the evening commute, and sat in traffic for almost an hour. The delay reminded me of traffic in NJ or Long Island NY, but at least there was some movement. Despite the delay, I arrived early enough to explore Dodger Stadium.
Wearing my black Mets jersey, I worked my way through the massive onsite parking outside the stadium, when I encountered a group of Dodgers fans just outside the park. To my great surprise, the group slowly encircled me, taunting me for wearing the Mets jersey. Being from NJ, I was well acquainted with abuse by hometown fans, but it was shocking that it was happening in LA, where I assumed fans were relatively mellow.
The incident ended quickly with no violence, and I went about my way explore the outside of the park. At no time did I feel threatened, as I believed that the fans were generally harmless. However, based on what happened to the Giants fan not long after my incident made me reflect on the encounter. Perhaps I was in more peril than I thought.
The unpleasantness behind me, I met my brother (who was staying nearby) and we wandered around the outside of Dodger Stadium. Third on the list of oldest active ballparks in MLB, this was a baseball shrine, with a long storied history. On this night, however, with low clouds and smog providing a dank environment, Dodger Stadium felt a bit less regal, almost washed out. Still, we were in the presence of a baseball cathedral, and we weren’t going to let immoderate conditions to ruin it for us.
Emerging from the tunnel from the concourse behind home plate, the smog and low clouds were clearly evident. In fact, the haze and smog were so bad that the nearby San Gabriel Mountains to the north of the park were not visible this evening. Apparently, the “June gloom” was insistent on making its presence known.
Once inside, we wandered throughout the ballpark taking pictures. To my great dismay, the clouds and smog were wreaking havoc with the cameras, forcing us to go manual with the settings. As a result, we didn’t take nearly as many useful pictures as I had hoped. Regardless, we could feel the presence generated by the place. Since I was young, watching Mets games at Dodger Stadium late at night on the East Coast, I dreamed about seeing a game at the venerable ballpark, and many years later, here we were.
After grabbing a baseball dinner at the concession stand (complete with fabled Dodger Dogs), we headed for our seats. Sitting near the top of the lower level, we had an excellent view of the playing field and the stadium. Still having a hard time believing we were actually there, we settled in for the first pitch.
Starting for the visiting Mets was veteran Tom Glavine. In his fourth year as a Met, Glavine was in the midst of his best season in New York, sporting a 9-2 record. On the hill for the Dodgers was Odalis Perez, a journeyman left hander who was struggling through a rocky start to his 2006 season. Perez’s task was even more difficult, facing a potent Mets offense that featured several All Stars.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers starter, the Mets scored four runs in the first inning, followed by a run in the second. However, the Dodgers offense jumped on Tom Glavine for a run in the first and four more in the second inning, effectively neutralizing the Mets advantage. The cool conditions did not totally stifle the offenses, with a total of three home runs hit in the game.
Two more runs for the Mets in the fourth inning ended Oadlis Perez’s night, after yielding seven runs on 11 hits in just three and two thirds of an inning. Glavine’ s night wasn’t much better, ending in the sixth inning after surrendering six runs in five and one-third innings. The game then became a battle of the bullpens.
The Mets scratched out a couple of more runs in the seventh inning, and the Dodgers responded with a run of their own in the eight. A quartet of Mets relievers held on for a 9-7 victory, as Tom Glavine earned his 10th win, despite the rocky performance. As expected, the partisan crowd filed out early, leaving a nearly deserted stadium by the time the last out was recorded.
Though I was able to fulfill a baseball dream by seeing a game at the historic Dodger Stadium, I couldn’t help but feel as though the experience was diminished to some degree by the cloudy and cool conditions. It was my own fault; my research failed to account for the apparently well known “June gloom”. Hopefully I will return when the weather is better to enjoy Dodger Stadium in all its glory.
Following a long and at times frustrating day traveling to Toronto, we decided to relax in the morning by exploring the city. Relieved that my car was still in the parking lot of arguably the worst hotel in which I’ve stayed, we went in search of breakfast. Across the street was a Tim Horton’s restaurant.
Living in Maine for a time, I was vaguely familiar with the Toronto-based chain, but I didn’t know much about it. To my great surprise, Tim Horton’s offered a wide variety of breakfast options, at a very reasonable price. Buoyed by our luck finding a good breakfast just steps away from the hotel, we were ready to start the day.
We decided to explore downtown Toronto and nearby Lake Ontario during this hazy and humid morning. Our first stop was the Waterfront Trail on the west side of Toronto. This was my first glance at Lake Ontario, and the hazy sky conditions, at times, make it difficult to determine where the sky ended and the lake began. Temperatures rising through into the 80s and higher than expected humidity made it feel more like the US Mid Atlantic than Ontario.
Lake Ontario, like the other Great Lakes I’ve visited, is so large that the opposing shore is not visible, making it seem more like the ocean. Walking along the shore, we encountered a flock of Canadian geese exiting the water and coming ashore just ahead of us. While on land, the geese are typical quiet, and as the geese passed among us as we walked by, it was almost as though they were ghosts crossing a landscape.
Haze and humidity obscured the skyline of Toronto from across the lake, almost leaving the CN Tower in a silhouette. Not surprisingly, the summer weather meant the waterfront was teeming with people, in and out of the still relatively cool water. Wandering along the waterfront, we spent a considerable amount of time enjoying the beautiful vistas the lakefront afforded. With noon approaching, we headed back toward the city in search of lunch.
Since the start time of the game was 407 pm, we parked near Rogers Centre and walked through downtown Toronto to find a place to eat. Wanting something light for lunch, we stopped at what appeared to be a makeshift deli in the basement of an office building. Being from the Northeast US, we are accustomed to fast service for lunch. To our great surprise, a single man handling the lunch rush at the deli reminded us of that type of service, pushing out sandwiches like he was from New York.
Following lunch, we wandered about downtown Toronto until the gates at the Rogers Centre opened. We decided to forgo a visit to the CN Tower, since the line for the elevator was long, and the visibility from the observation deck would likely have been limited in the hazy conditions. During our walk, the sun broke through the clouds, which allowed us to take a few pictures. With the gates opening soon, we cut short our tour of Toronto and headed toward the Rogers Centre for the game.
2. Rogers Centre
Sunshine allowed the roof of Rogers Centre to be open for the afternoon contest. Unlike many domed stadiums, the stadium appeared to be just as big as it was with the roof closed. Arriving just as the gates opened, we had much more time to explore. One of the most noticeable attributes of the stadium was the sheen created by the increasing sunshine reflecting off the field turf. In fact, at times it seemed almost blinding.
As we wandered through the ballpark, we got a true sense of the enormity of the structure. The roof towered over the center field fence, easily making Rogers Centre the largest domed stadium we’d seen, even with the roof fully retracted. Being one of the earliest “new styled” MLB parks, there were amenities that were unique when the stadium opened in 1989. Perhaps the most famous was the Renaissance Hotel Toronto Downtown (now known as the Toronto Marriott City Centre Hotel), located in centerfield, with 70 of the rooms providing a view of the field.
Rogers Centre also featured a Hard Rock Cafe (which closed after the 2009 season) . We did not partake what the Cafe had to offer, as there was too much else to see, but the Hard Rock Cafe was a popular destination for fans, based on the line to enter. There were many places to eat and drink, which was also something new when the Rogers Centre opened. It was obvious that the stadium was constructed to offer baseball fans myriad diversions while at the park, a model that was followed for many of the “newer” parks.
Following a quick tour of the upper deck, we headed back toward the main concession stand to grab a baseball lunch before finding our seats. Located in the lower level down the left field line beyond third base, the view from our seats was not nearly as good as the night before, but we didn’t have rude and obnoxious neighbors with which to deal. By the first pitch, we went from being sunbath to shade, which is always a welcome change in the summer.
For this afternoon’s matchup, the Mets sent ageless Orlando Hernandez (dubbed “El Duque”) to the mound. Hernandez, recently acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks, would become the workhorse of the Mets 2006 starting rotation, an innings eater that the staff sorely needed. Hernandez was opposed by the ace of the hometown Blue Jays’ staff, right hander Roy Halladay. Halladay was off to a 9-2 start, earning him an All Star berth, presenting the loaded Mets lineup with a formidable challenge.
The later start in the afternoon (with the first pitched scheduled at 407 pm) would provide problems with shadows for the first few innings, which might suggest a slow start for the offenses. That theory was disproved almost immediately, as the Jays pounced on El Duque for six runs in the second inning, capped by a three home run off the bat of center fielder Vernon Wells
In the wake of the home run, El Duque started running his mouth to the home plate umpire, questioning some of the ball and strike calls. That got him tossed from the game, after Hernandez surrendered six runs on four hits in just one and two-thirds of an inning. While Darren Oliver was taking his warmup pitches in relief of El Duque, Mets manager Willie Randolph continued the argument with the home plate umpire, only to be tossed from the game as well.
Meanwhile, Halladay held the vaunted Mets offense in check, surrendering runs in the fourth and fifth innings, featuring an RBI triple by third baseman David Wright, who would make his first All Star appearance in 2006. While he didn’t have his best command, Halladay showed why he was a premiere pitcher by keeping the Mets off balance. Halladay exited after seven innings, with a workmanlike performance, allowing four runs on 10 hits.
The Mets bullpen cobbled together an impressive performance after the departure of starter Orland Hernandez, allowing just a single run in six and one-third innings of relief. Though the Mets would take on an additional run in the eight inning, it was not enough to overcome the deficit, allowing the Jays to take the second game of the three game set 7-4.
As the 31,000+ fans quietly departed Rogers Centre, I reflected on the stadium. A marvel of engineering when it opened in the late 1980s, its cavernous size seemed to project a general lack of charm or intimacy, something I had noted the previous night. However, I truly understand the magic a stadium can hold for a team’s fans, having seen more than 100 games at the now defunct Shea Stadium. Having referred to that ballpark as a “toilet”, it was OUR toilet, and while I didn’t see the “magic” at Rogers Centre, I can imagine Blue Jays fans feeling quite differently.
As we pulled out of the parking lot and headed back toward NJ, I took what will likely be my last view of Rogers Centre in person. While Toronto does possess some draw for me, the stadium did not, and it is unlikely I will return there any time soon,