Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Saturday June 10th 2006

Angel Stadium, Anaheim CA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The exterior of Angel Stadium of Anaheim, complete with a pair of batting helmets framing the gate behind home plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Following the demolition of the enclosure in the outfield, the “Rock Pile” replaced it in left centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Ichiro Suzuki leading off for the visiting Seattle Mariners. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Angel Stadium at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Angels RF Vladimir Guerrero batting at Angel Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Petco Park San Diego, Friday June 9th 2006

Petco Park, San Diego CA (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Petco Park, from near the home plate entrance. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

We entered the ballpark through the centerfield gate, passing through the grass field known as the “park in the park”. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The Western Metal Supply Co. building serves as a cornerstone of Petco Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Mike Piazza at the plate for the Padres. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Fans filling in the centerfield bleachers and the “park in the park”. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The Padres celebrating their 3-2 victory over the Marlins. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Dodger Stadium, Wednesday June 7th 2006

Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles CA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

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.

Rising stars for the Dodgers adorn the wall outside of Dodger Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The smog nearly obscured the view of downtown LA, a mere three miles from Dodger Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The cloudy and cool weather held down attendance, certainly less than the announced crowd of 44,000. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Dodger Stadium at night. Note the effect of the smog, as the light showed just how thick it was this evening. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A nearly empty Dodger Stadium shortly after the game ended. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

My scorecard from the game.

Toronto, Ontario Saturday, June 24th 2006

Rogers Centre from the upper deck with the roof open. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.


1. Toronto

Sailboats on Lake Ontario at Toronto on a hazy and humid morning in late June.

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.

A flock of geese making an amphibious landing on the shore of Lake Ontario.

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.

The CN Tower from the Waterfront Trail.

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.

The skyline of Toronto from near the Rogers Centre.

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.

The sheen created by sunshine on Rogers Centre caused a glare that was almost blinding at times. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A close up view of the massive retractable roof at Rogers Centre. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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

Orlando Hernandez and his unconventional windup. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Roy Hallady toeing the rubber for the Blue Jays against the New York Mets at Rogers Centre. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Mets third baseman David Wright driving in the Mets first run with a triple in the fourth inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

My scorecard from the game.

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,

The view of Rogers Centre is Toronto, Ontario. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Toronto, Ontario Friday June 23rd 2006

Roy Halliday gracing the cover of the Blue Jays program.

1. New Jersey to Toronto, Ontario

Less than three weeks after returning from our trip to Southern California, we headed out for our second baseball trip of 2016. The target, located north of the border, was Toronto, Ontario, to see the New York Mets take on the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Since the trip was expected to be less than eight hours by car, we decided to drive, rather than fly. Though the travel time was longer by car, the drive afforded us a view that we won’t see from the air, and we would have familiar transportation while in Toronto.

The drive started well, and before we knew it, we were stopping for lunch in central New York State. However, after that time, the combination of weather and traffic slowed our progress considerably. Our border crossing near Niagara Falls was painfully slow, and the mounting delays were threatening to make us late for the first pitch at Rogers Centre, slated for 707 pm.

Google Maps depiction of our route from central NJ to Toronto.

After crossing the border, we faced an additional 60 to 90 minutes of driving before reaching the ballpark, which included a quick stop at our hotel in neighboring Mississauga. Unfortunately, the delays placed us squarely in the Toronto evening commute, during which our approach slowed to a crawl. Bumper to bumper traffic on Queen Elizabeth Way doomed our hopes of catching the first pitch, and now we were just hoping to see most of the game.

Dejected, we reached Rogers Centre near 730 pm, and luckily did not have much difficulty locating parking. To my great surprise, we caught some attitude from Blue Jays fans as we walked up to the ballpark, wearing our Mets jerseys. Toronto was the LAST place I expected to see behavior more closely associated with sports fans in the New York City or Philadelphia metro areas. We did our best to stay out of trouble that was clearly provoking us, and settled into our seats in the top of the second inning.


2. Rogers Centre

Our first look at Rogers Centre.

Due to inclement weather in the vicinity, the roof of Rogers Centre was closed. Like most MLB stadiums with retractable roofs, the ballpark looked huge with the roof closed. Despite all lighting banks operating nominally, Rogers Centre appeared dark. With no time to tour the ballpark, we got to our seats as quickly as possible. Still irritated by our late arrival, we were confronted with unruly Mets fans two rows behind us.

Two couples from the New York City area were behaving almost as badly as the Blue Jays fans outside the ballpark just minutes before. Loud, rude and obnoxious, these ‘fans” were acting as though they were at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York, not in Toronto. Calling Canadian money “Monopoly money”, we were embarrassed for them (and us). Doing our best to ignore the distractions, we picked up the game with the Mets at bat.

The view from our seats.

On the mound for the New York Mets was veteran Tom Glavine. At 10-2, Glavine was off to one the best starts of his storied career, leading the NL in wins. Casey Janssen was the starter for the Blue Jays, scuffling his way through a rough 2006 season. Mets third baseman David Wright slugged a three run home run in the third inning, adding to the early Mets lead.

Meanwhile, Glavine kept the Blue Jays offense in check, ultimately tossing seven innings and allowing just a single run. Clearly the ace of an otherwise unremarkable Mets starting rotation, Glavine was tasked with leading a team that was built to win now, supported by a stacked offense and good bullpen. He fulfilled his role admirably that night, turning over a sizable lead to the said bullpen.

Mets starter Tom Glavine toeing the rubber at Rogers Centre, Toronto ON.

During the game, we studied the Rogers Centre from our seats. My initial impression, that the stadium was huge, remained with me. The first MLB Park with a retractable roof, it was, at the time of its inauguration, an engineering marvel, and more than 15 years later, remained impressive. Like many domed stadium, it felt as though it lacked character, though to be fair we saw only a small part of the stadium. Though not a sell out, there was a good sized crowd in attendance, which seemed to make the place feel a bit more intimate.

The scoreboard tells the tale. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Glavine and a trio of Mets relievers kept the Blue Jays mostly in check, allowing the visitors to take the opening game of the weekend series. Leaving the ballpark presented no particularly problem, but we did get lost headed back toward our hotel (taking us straight through the heart of the red light district of Toronto). Upon reaching our hotel, we experienced the final surprise of our mostly forgettable day on the road.

Rather than stay at the Renaissance Hotel in the Rogers Centre (as the cost seemed exorbitant), I chose a cheaper hotel outside of the city. As we pulled into the parking lot, I realized I’d made a big mistake opting for the cheaper solution. Located in a dilapidated section of Mississauga, the environment was intimidating, and I seriously wondered if my car would still be in the parking lot in the morning. Being much too late to make other arrangements, we settled in and hoped for the best.

Arizona Saturday, May 5th 2007

Flowers in downtown Phoenix

1. Downtown Phoenix

Following breakfast near the hotel, we set out to explore downtown Phoenix ahead of the evening baseball game at Chase Field. Wall to wall sunshine greeted us as we began our outing, with temperatures in the 70s and low humidity. On this nearly perfect morning, we focused on our attention on Copper Square, nestled in the middle of downtown Phoenix.

Since it was relatively early on a Saturday, we had little difficulty finding parking, with most lots charging about $10. A quick walk around revealed that the Square consisted of attractions and various places to eat. Taking the place at face value, we wandered about taking pictures. Like most of our travels through cities with MLB franchises, we found an old church. Saint Mary’s Basilica, founded in 1915, is the oldest Roman Catholic church in the greater Phoenix area. The Spanish Colonial Revival architecture was unique in my experience, and fit in seamlessly with its surroundings.

A commemoration of the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1985

Wandering around the Square, we encountered interesting sculptures encompassing a fairly large area. At first glance, the bronze statues appeared to be nude, but upon closer inspection, the statues were indeed scantily clad. There was not much in the way of context for the statutes; in fact, there did not seem to be any obvious reason the sculptures were on the streets of downtown Phoenix.

All told, we saw about a dozen of the statues, in various states of repose, scattered about the Square. My initial impression is that the statutes were intended as art, but seemed out of place in a normally conservative portion of Arizona. Other than the statutes, and a quick glimpse of one of the entrances to Arizona State University, the area was unimpressive, but the pleasant temperatures and cooling breeze made the morning into early afternoon quite pleasant.

Statues in Copper Square, Phoenix AZ

2. Chase Field

Chase Field, Phoenix AZ. Note the narrow dirt path between the mound and home plate. Dubbed a “keyhole”, Chase Field is one of only two MLB parks to feature one (Comerica Park in Detroit is the other). (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following lunch at the Copper Square, we retired to the hotel for a break before the evening game at Chase Field. The Saturday evening matchup, slated again for a 640 pm first pitch, would be played with the roof closed. Once again, gusty winds presented enough of a hazard to play under the dome, despite sunshine and seasonably cool temperatures. This was disappointing, as we would not get the opportunity to see a game at Chase Field under the stars.

Having seen the ballpark last evening, we arrived about 40 minutes before game time. Parking was once again plentiful and relatively cheap, and with little to see outside the park, we headed into the stadium. Crossing from bright sunshine to the relative darkness of the roof covered Chase Field, it took a few moments to adjust to the changes in lighting. My first impression of the park was confirmed; though it was a “newer” ballpark, the closed roof made the place look and feel immense.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

After grabbing a typical “baseball” dinner at at nearby concession area, we found our seats. Even though the crowd was sparser than typical for a Saturday night, we could not manage to acquire lower level seats for the contest. However, our second level seats down the third base line afforded us a good view of the ballpark and the action.

Starting for the hometown Diamondbacks was Brandon Webb. the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. Webb was off to a good start in 2007, one of the stalwarts of the Diamondbacks’ starting staff. Webb would win 18 games in 2007, then lead the NL in wins 2008 with 22. Following his string of outstanding campaigns, Webb suffered a series of rotator cuff injuries, which brought his career to a untimely end.

Diamondbacks starter Brandon Webb delivers a pitch at Chase Field, Phoenix AZ (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Mets starter was Jorge Sosa. A veteran pitcher acquired from the Atlanta Braves at the end of the previous year, Sosa was coming off a rough 2006 season. Thus far in 2007, Sosa sported a 2.48 ERA, yet was in search of his first win of the young season. With a pair of right handers squaring off against each other this evening, we felt as though we might witness a pitcher’s duel in the desert.

The blossoming Mets offense struck first, scoring a pair of runs in the second inning (courtesy of a Shawn Green two run home run). Aside from that, both starters were on top of their games, keeping the opposing offenses in check through the first five innings. The quick pace of the game brought us to the sixth inning just under the two hour mark.

Cavernous Chase Field with the roof closed, again. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

In the top of the sixth inning, the Mets offense erupted for four runs, ending Brandon Webb’s night. The Mets’ Sosa threw six and one-third innings, giving up two runs before exiting game in the seventh inning. A trio of Mets relievers shut down the Diamondbacks the rest of the way, preserving a 6-2 victory for the Mets, with Sosa earning his first win of the year.

Leaving Chase Field shortly after the Mets win, I looked around for what might be the last time. We would forgo the series finale Sunday afternoon in favor of a trip to the Grand Canyon, so I’m am not sure if/when I’ll see the ballpark again. While it was certainly worth the visit, I’m not sure my impression of the park was high enough to ensure a return in the future.

Diamondbacks program for the series with the Mets.

Arizona, Friday, May 4th 2007

Our first baseball trip of the year took us to the Desert Southwest, a part of the country I had not yet seen, to see the New York Mets take on the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. Hoping to avoid the searing heat of Arizona, we chose to visit in early May, before the days when high temperatures regularly top 100 F would arrive.

We decided to take our Mom along on the trip, so she could get a taste of this part of the country. The trip began quite ominously, as we missed our flight from Newark, NJ to Phoenix, AZ because a dump truck full of sand left us immobile on the Garden State Parkway. We normally arrive at the airport two hours before the flight to avoid problems like this, but we were stuck in the same place (literally) for more than two hours.

Realizing we would miss our flight because of the dump truck incident, we quickly made reservations for a later flight while still locked in traffic. Fortunately there were seats for Phoenix available, and we found ourselves flying out in the mid afternoon. Arriving in Phoenix close to dinner time, we checked into the hotel and decided to eat at the nearby Waffle House. Following a disappointing meal in the greasy restaurant, we retired to the hotel to rest after a VERY long travel day.


1. South Mountain Park, Phoenix

Huge cacti in South Mountain Park, Phoenix, AZ

Following our harrowing travel to Phoenix, we spent the morning and early afternoon hours at South Mountain Park. The largest municipal park in the USA at 16,000 acres, South Mountain Park offer trails for hiking and sweeping views of Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun. Fortunately for us, high cloudiness dimmed the sun to some degree, keeping temperatures in the 80s, along with low humidity levels.

A warm breeze greeted us as we started our visit at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center. After learning about the park there, we headed toward Dobbins Lookout. From the 2300 foot elevation, we could see the entire Valley of the Sun, as well as the mountains north of Phoenix. Unbeknownst to me at the time, there was a semi present haze over the Valley, which made viewing the city more difficult than expected. Still, the vantage point gave us an amazing view of Phoenix.

Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun from Dobbins Lookout at South Mountain Park.

From Dobbins Lookout, we wandered among the cacti, rocks and vegetation nearby. Having a fascination with cacti, this was my first up close encounter, and I was not disappointed. Being the middle of the day, the wildlife was well hidden, but the birds and the flora were fantastic. This portion of the park reminded me of pictures I had seen of the High Desert of northwest Arizona, though there was much more in the way of trees and bushes here.

Driving along the highway through the park, we stopped at various locations to get better views of our surroundings. Being from the Northeast, the rock formations vaguely reminded me of the rocks deposited by glaciers throughout the Delaware Water Gap. Scattered among the rocks and scrub brushes, I remained transfixed by the cacti. Ignorant of the different types of cacti, I wandered among them, taking picture after picture.

Cacti scattered among the rocks and scrub brush in South Mountain Park.

Engrossed in my environment, I lost track of time, and we ended staying in the park FAR longer than intended. At the behest of my companions, we left South Mountain Park in search of lunch in Phoenix. Having investigated only a small part of the park, I fully intended to come back during our visit. The park became an instant favorite, and we had only been here for less than a day!

Goodbye for now, South Mountain Park. See you again very soon!

2. Chase Field, Phoenix

Chase Field with the roof closed, Phoenix AZ. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following lunch and some time relaxing at the hotel, my brother and I headed out to Chase Field to catch the game between the Mets and the Diamondbacks. Slated for a 640 pm start (which seemed like an odd starting time for an evening game, but we would find out later that the Colorado Rockies often start evening games at that time), we arrived about two hours before game time (just as the gates to the stadium were opening). Unlike many other MLB parks, we found few fans milling around the park this early. This might be attributed to not having much else in the vicinity to do before heading into the park.

Surprisingly, there was little in way of parking at the stadium itself, but there was ample parking within a couple of blocks of the ballpark. Since we arrived early, we parked down the street for about $10, which was a bargain compared to some other MLB parks. As is our custom, we walked around the park shortly after arriving. There wasn’t much in the immediate vicinity of Chase Field, so after taking a few pictures, we went inside.

Walking up to Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

When we entered the park, the roof of Chase Field was open with mainly clear skies, light winds and temperatures in the 70s. Our first impression of Chase Field was that is was huge, even for a domed stadium. Holding 48,000 plus fans, the stadium featured the largest capacity of the “newer” ballparks we had visited. The concourse allowed us access to much of the lower level, and we encircled the playing field, taking pictures.

Chase Field with the roof open. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We briefly stopped in right centerfield (not far from the pool) to take in some batting practice, as Mets players shagged fly balls in the outfield. As batting practice ended, we continued the tour of Chase Field on our way to our seats. Despite ideal weather conditions, we noted that the roof was closing. In the short time since we entered the park, the wind picked up outside, and the Diamondbacks management decided that wind was a hazard with the roof open. By the time we reached the upper deck to get a picture of the park from behind home plate, the roof had closed.

Strong winds were the cause of the roof closing at Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Like most MLB parks, there were no shortage of places to eat, with a large variety of Southwest based entrees and ballpark favorites. Before heading to our seats, we ducked into the lower concourse to grab a baseball dinner. During our tour of the ballpark, we noticed Randy Johnson warming up in the bullpen. A sure fire Hall of Famer, Johnson was still at the top of his game in 2006, a formidable opponent for the surging Mets.

While Randy Johnson often dominated opponents, his record against the Mets was rather pedestrian, especially in the playoffs. So, while the Mets were facing one of the best pitchers of the era, their high powered offense might just be a match for Johnson. The Mets sent right hander John Maine to the mound, who was enjoying the best stretch of his young career. Coming into this start, Maine was 5-0 to start the season, with a sterling 1.32 ERA.

Randy Johnson warming up in the bullpen prior to his start at Chase Field versus the New York Mets. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Given the starting pitching matchup, we thought we might witness a low scoring game, though we did not know the characteristics of Chase Field, especially with the roof closed. We got our answer early, as the Mets scored a run off Johnson in the first, followed by two more runs in the second to take a 3-0 lead. It seems as though the Mets would continue their mastery of Randy Johnson.

Meanwhile, the Mets John Maine was cruising, extending his streak of good starts in the desert. During the game, we got a much better look at Chase Field. The first thing we noticed was the size of the crowd, which seemed disappointingly small for a Friday night. There were fewer fans in the park than the announced crowd of 26,000, making the park look that much larger.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Mets John Maine threw six effective innings at the Diamondbacks, leaving a 5-1 lead for the bullpen. Though the Mets relievers allowed a pair of runs in the eight inning, closer Billy Wagner shut down the Diamondbacks in the ninth to preserve the 5-3 victory. Despite the number of runs scored, the game was played in a very economical two and one-half hours.

During that time, I feel we got a good sense of Chase Field. My initial impression remained with me through the game; the ballpark is HUGE, especially with the roof closed (like most stadiums with a retractable roof). Its size did not project any sense of intimacy, a seemingly important attribute of “newer” MLB ballparks. Of course, a stadium with a roof is a necessity in the Valley of the Sun, for the benefit of fans and players alike.

The swimming pool in right center field at Chase Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

However, the necessity appears to make Chase Field somewhat less charming, in my opinion. We would be back the next night, giving us another opportunity to explore the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Seattle, Sunday September 30th, 2007

Google Earth View of T-Mobile Park (previously known as Safeco Park) in Seattle, WA

Getting a late start after returning from Vancouver in the early morning hours, we were greeted by thick clouds and a chilly rain. Weather more typical of the Pacific Northwest in the fall made the sunshine and warmer temperatures of Friday seem like a distant memory. Since conditions were not conducive for exploring Seattle further, we stayed close to the hotel before heading out to Safeco Field and the final game of the 2007 season.

The short drive to the stadium revealed just how cool and raw the day had become, and we spent as little time outside as possible before entering the stadium. Of course, the roof was closed at Safeco, and like most domed stadium, the ballpark looked and felt much bigger than with the roof open. Wandering through the concourse sheltered from the rain, we discovered more fans than I would have expected, considering that the Mariners reached the end of another season without a playoff berth.

Safeco Field from the upper deck behind home plate, looking much larger with the roof closed. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Starting for the hometown Mariners was 21 year old Felix Hernandez, who was completing his second full MLB season in 2007. Already dubbed King Felix, he showed flashes of the Cy Young Award winner he would become just three seasons later. Opposing the Mariners budding superstar was the Rangers left hander AJ Murray, finishing up an abbreviated rookie season. Slated for a 110 pm start, there was a brief pre game ceremony capping off Fan Appreciation weekend.

Our seats for the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Rangers touched up Hernandez for a run in the top of the first inning, but the Mariner responded with two runs in the second and one in the third to take a 3-1 lead. With King Felix dealing, it seemed as though he would make that lead stand up. With both pitchers throwing well, the game was fast paced (for baseball). The Rangers scratched out a run in the top of the fifth inning, but that would be the end of the scoring for the visiting Rangers for the 2007 campaign.

“King” Felix Hernandez delivering a pitch against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Meanwhile, King Felix continued to mow down the Rangers lineup, taking his start into the ninth inning. One out away from a complete game victory, Hernandez was lifted from the game for the Mariners closer, JJ Putz. By recording the final out, Putz earner his 40th save of the season as the Mariners took the season finale 4-2.

The final score for the final game of the 2007 season at Safeco Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Due primarily to the crisp pitching performance, and to a lesser degree that it was the ultimate getaway day, the time of the game was just under two hours. The Mariners came out for a curtain call, thanking the fans for their support throughout the season. Filing out of Safeco Field into the dreary late September afternoon, I took one last look at the ballpark. Wishing the weather had been more cooperative, I nonetheless found the ballpark to be a great place to see a game, nestled in an interesting and eclectic city I’d always wanted to see. Hopefully during my next visit I’ll be able to see more of Seattle, as well as some of the natural wonders the area has to offer.

Goodbye, Safeco. Hope to see again soon! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Seattle/Vancouver, Saturday September 29th, 2007

Ferry crossing the Puget Sound, Seattle WA.

1. Seattle

Unlike the clear skies Friday night, Saturday morning dawned with milky sunshine fading behind thickening clouds. The lowering clouds threatened rain later in the day, so we knew we had to get out as soon as possible to see as much of Seattle as we could before the rains came. Though we had a rental car at our disposal, experience has taught us that if we wanted to get a true sense of our surroundings, a walk was our best approach.

After breakfast at the hotel (very close to the Space Needle), we walked toward downtown Seattle. The seasonably cool conditions made walking pleasant, even as the sun continued to fade over us. On the way out, we turned to admire the Space Needle. Towering above its surroundings, the iconic structure looked every bit the majestic symbol of the Pacific Northwest. We made plans to visit the Needle more closely after returning from our sojourn.

Our view of the Space Needle from the hotel. The needle was beginning to blend into the cloudiness lowering and thickening behind it. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On our way, we headed down Broad Street on our way to Alaskan Avenue and the shore of the Elliot Bay. The view was somewhat reminiscent of that scene in the opening sequence of War Games, with ferries and freighters criss crossing the lower end of the Puget Sound. The clouds prevented us from glimpsing even a fleeting view of Mount Rainier, some 40 miles south southeast of us. Even during late September, Mount Rainier is snow capped, making it perhaps the most prominent feature on the skyline. However, today just wasn’t our day, and considering clouds and rain were in the forecast for the remainder of our stay, it seemed we were destined not to see it at all.

As we ambled along Alaskan Avenue, we came upon a landmark most others might dismiss. The Edgewater Hotel, as its name implies, sits on the edge of Elliot Bay. Besides a great view of the Sound, the hotel ‘s location allows guests to fish from their rooms. Hotel guests in the past include the Beatles, Neil Young and Led Zeppelin in their early trips to the Pacific Northwest. Being diehard Zeppelin fans, we felt obligated to catch a glimpse of the famous hotel, where stories of the band’s excesses may have gotten their start.

The Edgewater Hotel, Seattle WA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Further on up the road, we approached downtown Seattle. The view from Alaskan Avenue afforded us a different perspective of the city, which was dominated by domiciles and businesses alike. Given that the weather conditions were sliding downhill as the morning progressed, there were few people in the area. Sooner than I expected, we had reached the sports complex. We were free to walk around and between the stadiums, which provided us some insight as to how the Safeco Field dome operated. When the dome is open, it slides back over a train track, rather than retracting (like other MLB domed stadiums). This might have been a view we would have missed had we not found our way to the park on our journey.

The roof at Safeco Field slides out of the way when not covering the playing field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Feeling as though we were losing in the struggle to beat the rain back to the hotel, we did not linger long around the stadiums. Both parks were physically impressive, and unfortunately our timing did not allow us to take in a Seahawks game at Qwest Field. As much fun as the fan experience was at Safeco Field, I imagine the experience is amplified during a tight Seahawk or Sounders contest at Qwest.

Just outside Safeco Field, Seattle WA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Picking up the pace along Western Avenue toward the hotel, we came across a place of which I had never heard: The Museum of Pop Culture. We entered the museum, not knowing what we might encounter. What we found was an eclectic assortment of art and science, arranged in a way I wouldn’t have ever considered.

My favorite was the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. Being huge science fiction fans, we were enthralled with the displays and exhibits. There was a focus on science fiction of the 1950s, which many fans of the genre (including me) consider its golden age. It was a collector’s heaven, and we spent a considerable amount of time among the treasures.

Cover of the map of the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Next we explored the Sound Lab. The lab had a small recording studio, as well as various musical instruments. Being a sometimes guitarist, I jumped at the chance to play in a recording studio, and banged out the best version of Foxey Lady I could. Fortunately, the lab was nearly deserted, and the only person tortured by my rendition of the Jimi Hendrix classic was my poor brother.

Remembering that the weather was closing in on us, we left before thoroughly examining everything this strange and wonderful place. Should I find myself in the vicinity, I need to see what else the Hall has to offer.

While this sign sends a serious message, I couldn’t help but see cartoonish humor in it. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On the way back to the hotel, we found a very unusual street sign. Just when I thought I’d seen every type of sign the US has to offer, we came upon the sign above. Clearly, the sign is trying to convey the deadly implications of not giving a wide berth to pedestrians. However, in my mind, the sign crossed a line that separates public service announcements from maudlin satire.

Following our return to the hotel, we ate a quick lunch, then headed toward the Space Needle. Perhaps the most famous landmark in Seattle, it is known worldwide and very popular with tourists. After a short wait, we were whisked up two the observation deck, some 520 feet above ground, in less than a minute.

The view of the Seattle skyline from the observation deck of the Space Needle. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The observation deck of the Space Needle offers a 360 degree view of its surroundings, spanning the Puget Sound, downtown Seattle, Mount Baker and Mount Rainier. The lowering cloud deck limited our field of view, and we were unable to see Mount Baker or Mount Rainier. Despite these disappointments, the view of Seattle was well worth the visit.

Though we didn’t not indulge, there were restaurants on the observation deck (which have since closed). Because our visibility was limited, we ended up spending less time there than expected. Hopefully, someday I’ll will return to get a better view of the region from Space Needle.

Safeco Field and Qwest Field from the Space Needle. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Google map depiction of the route from Seattle, WA to Vancouver, BC.

Rather than attend the Saturday night game at Safeco Field, we decided instead to take advantage of a sports themed opportunity across the border. The BC Lions, a member of the Canadian Football League (CFL), were home that evening, hosting the Calgary Stampeders at BC Place, a multipurpose stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC). Never having seen a CFL game in person, I couldn’t resist the chance to see one.

Vancouver is about two and one-half hours from Seattle, and we set out after relaxing briefly at the hotel. A steady rain developed shortly after we started, and the rain slowed our travel time a bit as we drove north on Interstate 5 toward the international border. The crossing was quiet, allowing us to proceed quickly (during a time when crossing the border did not require a passport). By the time we reached Vancouver, the rain turned heavy, making the city seem dark and washed out.

BC Place on a dark and wet Saturday night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Parking onsite was plentiful, which fortuitous since pouring rain greeted as as we made our way into the venue. Located in a region that receives copious amounts of rain throughout the year, BC Place is a domed stadium; had it not been, the cool and wet conditions would have resulted in a miserable fan experience. Even with cover from the elements, the crowd size was surprisingly small.

At first glance, the game appeared as though it would be a one-sided affair. The Lions were generally considered the best team in the CFL’s West Division, while the Stampeders were near the bottom of that bracket. However, not knowing much about the teams, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. There are a number of differences from the NFL, including a longer and wider field, three downs to reach a first down, and a rogue, a single point play involving a kick into the end zone.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

With only three downs to reach a first down, and multiple players in motion prior to the snap, the CFL game showcases a wide open offense, with more passing than rushing. The high powered Lions offense scored early and often, amassing a sizable lead before halftime. The fast paced game was highly enjoyable, even if I did not fully understand all of the rule differences in the CFL.

While I did not see any ex-NFLers on the team rosters, there were a number of former American college players on each team. Even though I am not sure my company appreciated the different take on the American game, I fully appreciated the differences. The Lions continued the offensive assault, while the defense held the Stampeders in check. With the game fully in hand, we expected to see fans leaving, but the Lions fans remained during what had become a blowout.

Action near the goal line at BC Place. Note that the uprights are flush with the goal line, meaning that the post is in play. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The fast paced game ended in less than three hours, significantly quicker than a typical NFL game. The game was not as close as the final score of the game would indicate, as the Stampeders were never really in the game. Taking one more look at the field before exiting, I thoroughly enjoyed the Canadian version of the game. Because none of the franchises are nowhere close to where I leave, I’m not sure if/when I’ll see another CFL game.

The final score of the one-sided affair in Vancouver.

Seattle, Friday September 28th, 2007

Safeco Field, Seattle WA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We managed to squeeze in one more baseball trip at the tail end of the 2007 season, visiting the Pacific Northwest for the first time. The trip was planned around the final series of the season for the Seattle Mariners, but we were just as interested in seeing Seattle, a place I long wished to visit. For this trip, an old friend of mine joined us, as we explored Safeco Field (now known as T-Mobile Park) and beyond.

We left from Newark NJ on a non-stop flight to Seattle-Tacoma Airport, and the six hour flight was long but uneventful. At the airport, we met up with my friend Mike, who flew in from Boston and arrived not long after us. A fellow Met fan, Mike finally took the opportunity to join us on one of our baseball excursions. We didn’t know it at the time, but being as far from the travesty that would occur in Queens NY that weekend spared us from having to witness it.

Strong storms just missing Safeco Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Heading toward the hotel in Seattle, we were greeted by a severe thunderstorm, something of a rarity in the Pacific Northwest, especially in late September. Luckily, the storm passed us by, leading into a clear and comfortably cool evening at Safeco Field. Finding parking at the stadium was not difficult; there were at two lots at the field, with many offsite options available with walking distance (generally less than one-half mile). However, the prices for the offsite locations were not cheap.

As is the case when we visit a stadium for the first time, we walked around Safeco Field to get a feel for the place. Though I was aware that Qwest Field (now known as CenturyLink Field) was close to Safeco, I didn’t realize that they were across the street from each other. Adjacent to Safeco Field down the street is WaMu Theatre, home to live music.

The view of Seattle from just outside Safeco Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

In fact, there was quite a bit to do and see around the sprawling sports complex. Even among the points of interest within walking distance, the most striking was the view of downtown Seattle. From the ballpark, the skyline was spectacular, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t considered how large Seattle was. That view stuck with me long after the trip ended.

Following our exploration of the environs, we headed into the park. Despite being a relatively new ballpark (which opened its gates for the first time in June 1999), it had a vintage look and feel, as evidenced by the rotunda that serves as the main entrance. Once inside, Safeco Field seemed huge, departing from the “newer” ballpark trend for smaller, more intimate experience. Not as large as the multi purpose colossuses from the 1960s and 1970s, it nonetheless was bigger in person that I thought seeing it on TV.

Safeco Field from on high. Note the roof over right field, and Qwest Field beyond the left field seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

While we were able to cover much of Safeco Field via the lower level concourse, it did not allow us access to the entire field. Still, our initial impression of the stadium was largely positive, and the clear and relatively cool late afternoon/evening added to the ambiance of the park. Ducking back into the main concourse, we discovered the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame.

Celebrating the rich baseball history of the Pacific Northwest, the Hall contained multi media exhibits chronicling baseball’s beginning in the 1870s, the Seattle Pilots and their lone MLB season in 1969, as well as Mariner greats through the years. Luckily for us, the Hall was not crowded, and we were able to appreciate the understated display. While not as expansive or detailed as Halls we’ve explored in other MLB ballparks, fans will appreciate the expression of appreciation of baseball in Washington.

Edgar Martinez and his classic stance on display at the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Mariners hosted the Texas Rangers for the first game of the last series of the season, slated for a 710 pm start. Before heading to our seats, we went in search of baseball style dinner. As might be expected, there was myriad places to eat and drink, featuring local favorites as well as classic ballpark standards. Rather than indulge in some of the more exotic offerings, we chose the standard fare, and headed to our seats.

We witnessed something unique in my experience at the food court. Typically, the US dollar is stronger than the Canadian dollar, and I have never seen Canadian dollars accepted in US stores. However, during our visit to Seattle, the US dollar and Canadian dollar were about equal, and the food courts and team stores within Safeco Field were accepting Canadian dollars for payment.

The view from our seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The view from our seats was spectacular, as the weather was good enough for an open roof. As the sun was setting toward game time, the lights from the stadium were just taking effect, unveiling the beauty of Safeco Field. Much like Minute Maid Park in Houston, the massive roof towered over the right field stands. Clearing skies and seasonably cool temperatures set the stage for a great evening for taking in a ball game.

Both teams were finishing out the 2007 schedule with little to play for, other than pride. Neither team was headed to the playoffs, completing mediocre seasons. The Mariners sent veteran right hander Jeff Weaver to the hill, and the Rangers countered with 23 year Edison Volquez, making his sixth and final start of the season. Both teams sported relatively potent offenses, so a high scoring affair was in the offing, especially with the roof open.

Safeco Field with the Seattle skyline as a backdrop. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Beyond the stadium, the main baseball attraction was Ichiro Suzuki. Finishing yet another outstanding season, Ichiro led the AL in hits and at bats, his .351 batting average second in the AL to Magglio Ordonez. Leading off and playing right field for the hometown Mariners, Ichiro was definitely THE fan favorite, receiving a rousing ovation before his at bat in the bottom of the first inning.

Ichiro Suzuki leading off in the Mariners half of the first inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Rangers struck for two runs in the top of the third inning, while Edison Volquez mowed down the Mariners through the first five innings, effectively dispelling the notion of a slugfest at Safeco Field this evening. Though the game was fairly well attended, there did not seem to be anywhere near the 31,000 plus fans announced for the game. The less than capacity crowd should have been expected, since neither team has much left to prove at the tail end of the 2007 campaign.

Volquez’ s start unraveled in the bottom of the sixth, as the Mariners scored three runs before he could record an out. A phalanx of Rangers relievers managed to contain the damage. The Rangers offense pushed two runs across on the top of the seventh to take a 4-3 lead into the seventh inning stretch.

Safeco Field at night with the roof open. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Even with little left to play for in 2007, I was impressed by the passion of the Mariners fan. The combination of the venue and the fans instantly made this one of my favorite places to see a ball game, and we had just reached the bottom of the seventh! The Mariners bats woke up in the bottom of the eight to tie the game at 4-4, and the crowd responded according.

Mariners’ closer J.J Putz held the Rangers scoreless in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, Rangers’ pitcher Mike Wood yielded a single to Mariners 3B Adrian Beltre, then retired the next two batters, seemingly dodging a bullet. However, 2B Jeff Clement ended the game with a walk off HR to center field, giving the Mariners a 6-4 victory. The raucous hometown crowd reveled in the victory as the filed out the Safeco Field. The walk off HR was a fitting ending to the end of a highly enjoyable baseball experience at a great ballpark.

The Mariners celebrate a walk off victory! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)