Nationals Park, Washington DC

Exterior panorama of Nationals Park in 2008. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)
  • First visit: Sunday June 8th 2008
  • Most recent visit: Sunday May 20 2018

After moving from Montreal following the 2004 season, the newly minted Washington Nationals (known locally as the Nats) played their first three seasons in RFK Stadium. During that time, its replacement, Nationals Park (known locally as Nats Park), was constructed on the southeast Anacostia River waterfront, not far from the Navy Yard section of Washington DC. An ambitious construction schedule projected completion in time for the start of the 2008 baseball season, a mere 23 months after groundbreaking in May of 2006. Fortunately, weather and other circumstances were kind to the project, and Nats Park opened as scheduled in late March 2008.

Our first visit to Nats Park occurred on Sunday June 8th as the hometown Nats hosted the San Francisco Giants at 115 pm. From central NJ, the drive took about three hours, and we didn’t have much difficulty finding the stadium, after driving around DC first. Sunday morning traffic was light, so the detour did not cause any problems arriving at the park with time to spare before the first pitch. Not knowing much about the park (as it was still fairly new), we were not presented with a multitude of parking options. Finally, we parked on the site of an old foundry down the street from the stadium. During our drive through that section of DC, it was evident that just a couple of blocks north of the park, the neighborhood changed fairly drastically. This was something we would verify on subsequent trips to Nats Park.

A panorama of Nationals Park from the upper deck behind home plate in 2008. Note the dome of the US Capitol visible behind the left field fence. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As is our custom, we walked around the perimeter of the stadium prior to entering the ballpark. Nats Park was built on the banks of the Anacostia River, which lies beyond the first base side of the ballpark. A walking trail along the river provided excellent views of the river and the boat traffic. Due to time constraints, we did not spend much time on the banks of the Anacostia, but with what little we did see, I made a mental note to visit this spot the next time we were there.

The destroyer USS Barry docked in the Washington Navy Yard on the Anacostia River, just outside Nationals Park (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As we rounded the right field section of the park, we saw the DC Metro station serving Nats Park. It was a short walk from the stadium, and seemingly most of the fans were arriving via the train. To this point, most of the parks we had visited did NOT have easy access to subway or rail lines (outside of the New York City, of course). Having easy access to mass transit seems to be the key to a better fan experience, and we were pleased to see that DC planned well. Once we completed our tour of the outside of the park, we entered through the home plate entrance. Being in DC, we expected security to be thorough, but it was my opinion that the security at Nats Park was aggressive, rude and surly. Because of that, getting through the security checkpoints has always been the biggest downside of seeing games there.

A view of the US Capitol from outside Nationals Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Strolling along the lower concourse of Nats Park, we stadium was vaguely reminiscent of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, which opened four years earlier. Each stadium as three (or four, in left field of Nats Park) tiers of seats, as well as bleacher seats near centerfield. Both parks are open in the outfield, though the view of centerfield here is MUCH nicer than Citizens Bank Park. Rather than a large videoboard in left field (as is the case in Philadelphia), the large videoboard here is in right field, though it is smaller in DC. Both ballparks have an out of town scoreboard/auxiliary videoboard running the length of the right field wall. Though it was still very early in the visit, I thought that while the views from Nats Park were FAR better than those of the Phillies home, Citizens Bank Park had an edge with respect to the interior of the park.

One of the earliest comments we had heard about Nats Park was the height of the press level. Listening to Mets broadcasters describe the TV broadcast booth as the highest they had ever seen, I was curious to see what was so different about this park. As we walked out into centerfield, we found that the press levels is indeed at the top of the stadium behind home plate. We did not appreciate the height until we climbed up to near that level to get pictures for a panorama. While not as high as some of the seats of the multipurpose monsters of the 1960s and 1970s, it was surprising that the press level was that far away from the action.

The press level at Nationals Park, sitting nearly atop the stadium, outlined in red. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Though the seating capacity of Nats Park is listed at 41,000+, the three tiers of seats (as well as the bleachers in the outfield) made the park seem somehow bigger. In my opinion, the size of the ballpark detracted from the intimacy of the stadium, which has become a hallmark of the “newer” MLB parks built during the 2000s/2010s. Like most of the newer parks, Nats Park featured a large array of restaurants and bars, as well as a very nice lounge area in the 200 section behind home plate. Since my tastes at the ballpark are more traditional, I did not indulge in any of the specialty eateries, relying on the more standard fare available from the concession stands.

A panorama of Nationals Park from centerfield, providing a good look at most of the seats in the ballpark. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Once we found our seats in the upper deck behind home plate (one of our favored seating locations), we discovered we could see the dome of the Capitol (an unexpected treat). Though the weather was sunny with light winds for our game, it is not hard to imagine that strong or gusty winds in the upper deck could detract from the experience, especially near the top of the stadium in cold weather. Nats Park offers great sight lines from just about all seats, and fans are much closer to the action than the old multipurpose stadiums. While not quite as intimate as Camden Yards just up Interstate 95, Nats Park provides a great place to see a game nestled within the DC city limits.

More impressed with the ballpark than I expected, the game that occurred that afternoon was almost an afterthought. Behind a strong outing by the Giants’ left hander Barry Zito, San Francisco bested the hometown Nats 6-3. Perhaps my best memory of the game was the President’s Race. Its origins reach back to RFK Stadium in 2006, as people dressed in president’s costumes engage in a foot race around the warning track, starting at a gate in centerfield and ending just before the 1st base dugout. In total, seven presidents have run in the race, which occurs in the fourth inning of each home game. There have been some bizarre endings to the race, but none more interesting than when the Easter Bunny leapt out of the crowd, disrupting the race and allowing William Taft to win.

Our view of the President’s Race on a Sunday afternoon, when the presidents wear their “Sunday Best” and run the race down the left field warning track. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Having a long drive home after the game, we did not take much time to further examine the ballpark. However, on the way out along the upper level concourse, we did catch glimpses of two of DC’s famous landmarks. Both the US Capitol and the Washington Memorial were clearly visible, and despite traveling across the United States a fair amount, this was my first actual look at both (though from a distance).

Views of the Washington Monument (left) and the dome of the US Capitol (right) from the upper level of Nationals Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Living far enough away from DC to make the trip an all day affair, we did not visit Nats Park again until 2013, when I moved to Maryland, just a few miles away from the park. Living less than a mile from the Green Line of the Washington Metro, I quickly discovered that taking the train to the ballpark was cheaper (as parking near the park could cost in excess of $40) and easier than driving. In a surprise to me, the Washington Metro service stops running at 1130 PM. That relatively early shutdown time meant that if Nats games went into extra innings, you had to consider when you would leave the game. A miscalculation could easily result in a taxi or Uber fare of $60 or more.

Since the train ride to Nats Park was only about 20 minutes, it became my preferred location to see our favorite team, the New York Mets. Most of the games we have seen at the ballpark have been against the Mets, and as my brother reminded me, we saw plenty of games with the Mets on the losing end. Unfortunately for us, the Nats were better the Mets most years. In fact, we had the misfortune to see Bryce Harper hit a walk off home run in the 13th inning on a Thursday afternoon in August of 2014. Perhaps the most memorable game (for very bad reasons) we have seen at Nats park was April 30th, 2017.

Mets starter Noah Syndergaard (left) tore his lat muscle and wound up missing most of the remainder of the season. As the game got out of hand in the late innings, New York sent backup catcher Kevin Plawecki to the mound. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Nats lineup scored five runs off Mets starter Noah Syndergaard in the first inning, and his fastball was uncharacteristically flat. After facing one batter in the second inning, Syndergaard exited the game. It was clear from the expression of concern by Syndergaard and the Mets coaching staff that the injury was serious, and he ended up missing much of the remainder of the season with a torn lat muscle.

After the departure of the Mets starter, the Nats packed lineup feasted on the New York bullpen. Things got so bad for the Mets that they sent backup catcher Kevin Plawecki to the mound in the eight inning. Though he did give up a few runs, his pitching performance that afternoon was not much worse than the rest of the New York pitching staff. The Mets went down quietly in the top of the ninth, mercifully ending a 23-5 romp. In the game, the Nats Anthony Rendon went 5 for 5 with three home runs and 10 RBI. Though the defeat smarted, the loss of the fireballing Syndergaard was something from which the Mets could not recover.

My scorecard of the carnage at Nationals Park on April 30th, 2017.

Nationals Park has grown on me over the years. Once I moved to Maryland, and the park was a mere short train ride away, we visited at least a couple of time a year. However, my love for the minor leagues cut down on the number of trips to Nats Park through the 2010s, as the minor league experience is much more intimate than the MLB experience. If you plan to see a game at Nats Park, I would recommend taking mass transit, since parking is expensive, and the getaway after the game could take a considerable amount of time, especially following an afternoon game during the week.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore MD

Oriole Park at Camden Yards shortly before the first pitch on August 30th, 2017. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)
  • First visit: Sunday June 6th 1996
  • Most recent visit: Wednesday August 30th 2017

Our first visit to Orioles Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore MD occurred June 6th 1999, more than seven years after the park opened. A two and one-half hour trip from central NJ, we found the ballpark with little difficulty. Parking was plentiful, with lots near the park, as well as adjacent to M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL Ravens. With plenty of time before the scheduled 135 pm start, we decided to explore the environs. After entering the ballpark area, we strolled down the south portion of Eutaw Street, which runs between stadium and the Baltimore and Ohio Warehouse. A carnival like atmosphere brought Eutaw Street alive early that afternoon, with plenty of places to eat and drink. We were STUNNED to see the prices of the offerings along the street, unaccustomed to paying that much for food or drinks near a ballpark. Rather than indulge, we kept walking, eventually surrounding the stadium on our way to the home plate entrance.

Of course, what we did not yet understand is that we were witnessing the birth of the “new” way of seeing baseball games. Oriole Park at Camden Yards (also known as Camden Yards) is generally acknowledged as the first of the new wave of MLB ballparks, and Eutaw Street was our introduction how the environment around the stadium would become a vital part of the overall experience. In fact, MLB parks that followed would adopt this approach, offering a wide variety of food and beverages, whether outside the park or inside with restaurants and bars.

Eutaw Street near Oriole Park at Camden Yards, with the B&O Warehouse to the left. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Camden Yards was designed as a replacement for Memorial Park, the home of the Orioles since their arrival in 1954. Designed to vaguely emulate the new Comiskey Park in Chicago, Camden Yards was the first MLB stadium since Ebbets Field (the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers until the late 1950s) to incorporate an existing building as park of the architecture of the stadium. B&O Warehouse, extending the length of Camden Yards’ right field wall, gave the ballpark an unmistakable landmark recognizable to even the most casual baseball fan. On the way back toward the home plate entrance, we discovered statutes outside of the park. Orioles greats Jim Palmer and Eddie Murray were immortalized in bronze, as were Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver and Cal Ripken. Though new to us, this type of tribute would become nearly ubiquitous in the cadre of new MLB parks that would follow.

Jim Palmer (left) and Eddie Murray (right) immortalized in bronze at Camden Yards. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Once inside, we wandered the lower concourse, which wrapped around the playing field. We discovered that Camden Yards had three tiers of seats extending from left field behind home plate to right field foul pole, which comprised most of the 48,000 plus seats in the ballpark. Unlike older MLB parks, the seats near the left and right field foul poles were angled toward home plate. This simple gesture greatly increases the fan experience in these areas, and would become the norm for new stadiums during the next decade.

Walking along the lower concourse, we found the picnic area in right field, just above the auxiliary scoreboard/video board extending the length of the right field wall. This was the first dedicated fan gathering area we had seen in an MLB, and again it would serve as a model for ballparks to follow. Of course, the B&O Warehouse dominated the view in right field, becoming synonymous with Camden Yards. Just to the right of the green batter’s eye in centerfield was the main videoboard. Located atop the bleachers in centerfield, the board was surprisingly small for a new park, though in this case a smaller video board was not necessarily a bad thing. Rather than presenting an overbearing presence, the smaller videoboard was adequate as well as unobtrusive.

Panorama of Camden Yards from the upper deck behind home plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Continuing along the lower concourse toward the left field foul pole, we encountered the bullpen, which was composed of two levels. At the time, Camden Yards was the first MLB park to sport the two tier bullpen, and this layout would be copied by other newly constructed parks. Finally, we climbed to the upper deck behind home plate to get pictures to create a panorama of the stadium. From that vantage point, we realized that portions of the outfield wall blocked the view of downtown Baltimore. We didn’t think much about it at the time, but featuring a city skyline would become the centerpiece for stadiums that followed (most notably PNC Bank in Pittsburgh and Busch Stadium III in St Louis). Apparently, there was some criticism concerning the blockage of the view of Baltimore, but from our perspective, it did not detract from the beautiful ballpark.

We did not have a camera for our first Camden Yards visit, and I cannot recall where we sat that day. Baltimore hosted the Philadelphia Phillies for the afternoon contest. Philadelphia prevailed in what would become a slugfest, and my scorecard for the game survived the trip home. Considering that we had only visited multipurpose stadiums (as well as Yankee Stadium), digesting what we had seen at Camden Yards was almost overwhelming. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were seeing the future of MLB parks, a blueprint that was employed by other MLB clubs when planning and building their new homes.

My scorecard for our first game at Camden Yards on June 6th, 1999.

We have returned to Camden Yards on a number of occasions during the following two decades. During one our visits, we ventured away from the park, wandering down to the Inner Harbor. Originally a shallow water port used mainly for commercial shipping, the Inner Harbor gradually transformed into a visitor’s haven, complete with recreational facilities, shopping and dining. My attraction to the Inner Harbor consisted mainly of the boat traffic in that portion of the Chesapeake Bay. On this occasion, we were fortunate to see the USS Constellation, a ship from the 19th century. She was designed and built for use in the Mediterranean Sea and Africa in the 1850s, but was summoned home during the Civil War to patrol for Confederate ships. The Constellation served various roles afterward, before finding a permanent home in the Inner Harbor. This find was particularly satisfying for me, as that trip combined two of my passions: baseball and American history.

The USS Constellation moored in the Inner Harbor, Baltimore MD (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Each visit to Camden Yards was like greeting an old friend, and quickly became one of my favorite parks in MLB. Most of our visits were on weekends, as my brother came down to visit me when I moved to Maryland in 2013. Most games were against either the Phillies or other AL teams, but to date none of the games were important to the playoff fortunes of the Orioles. One of the games that does stand out was against the Boston Red Sox in July of 2013. David Ortiz had just grabbed national headlines by assaulting a dugout phone with his bat after a called strike three with which he did not agree. During this first at-bat of the game we saw after that incident, we was booed mercilessly by the large partisan crowd. To the chagrin of the hometown fans, Ortiz hit a two run homer run in the third, as Jon Lester and relievers shut down the Orioles offense in a 5-0 Boston victory.

David “Big Papi” Ortiz hitting a home run at Camden Yards on July 28th 2013. This is one of my favorite baseball pictures taken by my brother, (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Needless to say, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was a trailblazer from the very start, sparking a revolution in the way ballparks were built that lasts to this day. In addition, it should be noted that the Inner Harbor is just a short walk from the park. If you find yourself within range of the ballpark during baseball season, check to see if the Orioles are in town. You won’t be disappointed!

See you soon Camden Yards! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Veterans Stadium/Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia PA

Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, PA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Veterans Stadium (1987-2003)

  • First visit: exact date unknown; some time in the of spring 1987
  • Last visit: Wednesday July 3rd 2002

From the Jersey shore (where we grew up), Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, PA was the closest MLB park. However, we did not visit the ballpark until sometime in the spring of 1987. Our first visit came as part of a bus trip from the local high school, as driving to Philadelphia at that point was not an option. During the mid to late 1980s, the Mets teams were competitive, which made getting seats at Shea Stadium was nearly impossible. In order to see the best Mets teams in more than a decade, we had to see them at the Vet (as it was referred to often). Phillies teams during that era were becoming progressively less competitive, which meant good seats for Mets games at the Vet were much easier to obtain.

Veterans Stadium was a multipurpose behemoth, home to the Phillies and the NFL Eagles. Like most multipurpose stadiums of the time (such as Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh PA or Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati OH), the Vet was an enclosed, multi tiered park with a nearly symmetrical outfield. The Vet held over 56,000 fans for baseball (and over 65,000 for football), with many of the seats for baseball much further away from the action than “newer” MLB parks that followed in the 1990s. There were times, when sitting in the upper deck in centerfield, we would see a ball put in play by the batter, only to hear the crack of the bat a split second later. As a budding scientist, I was intrigued to discover that we were seated so far from home plate that the speed of sound was a consideration while following the action.

The Phiily Phanatic (with his ATV) entertaining fans at Veterans Stadium. Not a big fan of mascots, the Phanatic may have been the best mascot I’ve seen. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Debuting in 1971, the Vet featured an AstroTurf playing surface (except for the home plate area, cutouts around the bases, and the pitcher’s mound). With a thin artificial surface sitting on a concrete base (for stability), heat radiating from that surface would often exceed 110 degrees F (and sometime approach 125 degrees F) during the hottest part of the summer. In addition, the thin turf provided little protection to players on the field, and long term play on that surface caused many injuries, resulting in the shortening of players’ careers. Why did teams use AstroTurf, even with its obvious shortcomings? Like most things, it was all about the money. Two teams sharing a natural grass playing surface (like Shea Stadium) would put serious stress on both the field and the grounds crew, occasionally resulting in a subpar playing field. An artificial surface eliminated that problem.

Veterans Stadium was a generic park, with an adequate if unspectacular scoreboard and video board. Unlike ballparks that would follow, food and beverages were obtained from concession stands or wandering vendors only, with specialty foods and in-house restaurants gradually appearing toward the end of the Vet’s tenure. As mentioned earlier, there were seats that were fairly distant from the action, and the engineering for optimal fan viewing was not yet available. This meant that fans down each line spent an inordinate amount of time leaning toward home plate, which could become fatiguing. However, Phillies fans were treated to possibly the best mascot in sports, the Philly Phanatic. While I found most team mascots uninteresting, the Phanatic would often push the limits of what mascots should do on the field. Luckily, most players (and at least a few umpires) were in on the joke, and would play along with the Phanatic to entertain the fans.

Veterans Stadium during batting practice. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

During our early visits to the Vet, we did NOT have a camera, so most of the information about the stadium comes from personal experience, rather than a digital record. For the most part, Veteran Stadium was a decent place to see a baseball game, though it lacked any sense of intimacy because of its immense size. We did get to see Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt toward the end of his career, as well as many battles between the Mets and Phillies. We saw Barry Sanders and the Detroit Lions take on the Eagles at the Vet in the early 1990s, and Pink Floyd, the Who and the Rolling Stones between 1989 and 2003. Perhaps the most memorable event we saw at the Vet was when Phillies shortstop Dickie Thon hit a game winning home run against the Mets Don Aase on September 12th 1989. That loss essentially ended the Mets playoff hopes for the 1989 campaign.

A discussion of Veterans Stadium would be incomplete with including details about the courtroom and jail housed within it. If you are not familiar with the sports fans in Philadelphia, they can be a raucous bunch, especially when alcohol is involved. Philadelphia fans have booed Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and have been known to be ruthless to visiting and home players alike. Through personal experience, we learned NOT to identify ourselves as fans of the visiting team, lest we incur the wrath of the hometown fanatics. Fan misbehavior became so frequent that Philadelphia County officials found it necessary to place holding cells and a courtroom within the stadium. Individuals committing offenses would be held in the jail cell, awaiting arraignment and adjudication of their misdeeds.

Fans were permitted on the field for a fireworks display in 2002. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Perhaps the worst aspect of Veterans Stadium was parking and traffic after the game. While there was more than enough parking for the stadium around the Vet, at times finding acceptable parking was difficult. The neighborhood surrounding the park was sketchy in places, and returning to that spot after a night game had to be considered when choosing where to leave your vehicle. We never had a problem with parking, but it would not be a stretch of the imagination to believe that safety could be a concern. Once the game was over, it always felt like you were on your own exiting the area. In the early days, police did NOT direct traffic after games, and leaving became a test of wills. It was not unusual to wait more than an hour in traffic at the Vet after a game before you could get on one of the many highways out of the region. In later years, the police did direct traffic after games, and the process of leaving became much more palatable.

Veterans Stadium, like other multipurpose facilities of the time, was an acceptable place to see a ballgame, but by no means a fan friendly environment. After the completion of Citizens Bank Park, Veterans Stadium met an ignominious end, as it was imploded (on live local TV) March 21st, 2004. We frequented the Vet as often as we did because it was easier to see the Mets in Philadelphia than Queens NY. Unlike Shea Stadium, I do not miss the Vet.


A panorama from Citizen Bank Park in 2004. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Citizens Bank Park (2004-2019)

  • First visit: Saturday April 17th 2004
  • Most recent visit: Saturday August 31st 2019

Philadelphia authorized the construction of separate stadiums for baseball and football in the late 1990s, a significant departure from previous policy concerning spending tax dollars on ballparks. Originally slated to be constructed in downtown Philadelphia (like other new MLB ballparks during this time), protests from residents of the Chinatown section of Center City ultimately resulted in the new baseball stadium being located near the site of Veterans Stadium in South Philadelphia. Ground was broken for Citizens Bank Park (the future home for the Phillies) in June of 2001, and during our visits to the Vet, we would check on the progress of the new ballpark.

A view of the new ballpark under construction near the site of Veterans Stadium and the Spectrum. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Citizens Bank Park opened its doors on April 3rd 2004, and we our first visit occurred a scant two weeks later on Saturday April 17th, as the hometown Phillies hosted Montreal (in their last season as the Expos). There was not much to see outside of the stadium quite yet, so after a cursory look around, we entered the ballpark through the home plate entrance.

Upon entering, we could immediately see that Citizens Bank Park was a vast improvement on its predecessor. Instead of a behemoth, the ballpark was smaller and more intimate, clearly designed with the baseball fan experience in mind. A wide open centerfield offered a glimpse of Center City Philadelphia, though a very unfortunately placed advertisement sign ruins the view to some degree. A three tiered seating area stretches from left field foul pole into right field, where an auxiliary scoreboard spans the length of the lower deck. Beyond the foul pole in left field was a detached bleacher section, with a very impressive videoboard above it. Obviously constructed as a signature of the newly minted ballpark, it doubles as a scoreboard, filled with any stat a diehard baseball fan could imagine.

Panorama of Citizen Bank Park from the upper deck behind home plate. Note the sign blocking a portion of the view of Center City Philadelphia. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

After drinking in the new park (and its natural grass playing field, a welcome departure from the Vet), we walked along the concourse, which encircled the playing field. Lined with places to eat and shops with Phillies merchandise, the lower concourse snaked through the rear of the lower level into centerfield. From this vantage point, we got a good view of the bullpens. Arranged vertically, the Phillies bullpen, originally placed on the top, was subsequently moved to the lower level, in part to reduce the amount of heckling from rowdy Phillies fans (this is Philadelphia, after all).

Citizens Bank Parks’ bullpens in centerfield, with the visitors bullpen on top and the hometown pen on the field level. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Next to the bullpens was the batter’s eye in centerfield. Adorned with shrubbery amid a small field of grass, the batter’s eye featured a brick wall that was slowly being consumed by an ever expanding area of ivy. One of the quirks of Citizens Bank Park, “The Angle”, was located on the left side of the batter’s eye. It marked the deepest part of the park, a nod to the “imperfections” of ballparks from the past. Moving toward the left field foul pole, we encountered the Phillies Baseball Walk of Fame. Nearly three dozen plaques arranged on the wall paid homage to Phillies greats, labeled as the Phillies Centennial Team.

Phillies Baseball Walk of Fame at Citizens Bank Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Finding our seats for our first visit to the new ballpark, I couldn’t help but feel as though the Phillies organization “got it right”. Following the template forged by Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Citizens Bank Park gave fans a much better experience, bringing them closer to the action than ever before. The open air feel to the stadium, as well as clean sight lines, made for a truly enjoyable visit. Unlike Veterans Stadium, there were myriad places to eat, with many restaurants offering virtually anything you could want to eat or drink at the ballgame.

Making a nearly clean break from the past, I did not see anything brought over the the new ballpark from the Vet, save for the Liberty Bell located outside of the stadium. However, this IS still Philadelphia, and unfortunately, unruly fans did make the trek from the old stadium to the new one. In fact, we experienced our most harrowing fan interaction at Citizens Bank Park, when a group of Phillies fans engulfed us, preventing us from exiting our seats until the remainder of the fans in that section left. Being outnumbered, we had little choice but to capitulate, reminding us that this place was NOT safe for fans of visiting teams.

The Philly Phanatic overseeing the exchange of lineup cards at Citizens Bank Park on April 30th, 2011. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Other than the less than affable Philly crowds, the only aspect of Citizens Bank Park I did not like was the small outfield dimensions. Unlike the Vet, which was cavernous, this ballpark was a “band box”, which promoted home runs. Had Mike Schmidt played in this smaller park his entire career, he might have approached Hank Aaron’s career home run record. Though home runs are appealing to most fans, from my perspective, more home runs make them less exciting.

Being much closer to central NJ than Shea Stadium (and later Citi Field), Citizens Bank Park was our first choice to see New York Mets games, even if they were the visiting team. Other than some forced quirks designed to introduce some character to the stadium, and the raucous fan base, the ballpark offers a first rate facility for baseball, and we visit as often as time and circumstance dictate.

Yankee Stadium, Bronx NY

Yankee Stadium from the upper deck behind home plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)
  • First visit: Saturday September 9th 1995
  • Most recent visit: Saturday September 16 2017

Our first visit to Yankee Stadium took place on September 9th 1995, as the Yankees hosted the Boston Red Sox for a matinee contest. This visit was to the “second” Yankee Stadium, as the original configuration was renovated significantly in 1974 and 1975 (during which time the Yankees played at Shea Stadium, the home of the New York Mets). While still in the same physical location as the original “House That Ruth Built”, the renovations modernized the ballpark. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to visit the “old” Yankee Stadium.

Much like Shea Stadium in Queens, Yankee Stadium, located in the Bronx, is not easy to access coming from central NJ. Driving to the stadium was not deemed an option, as parking was limited and expensive, and exiting the region after the game was a nightmare. Instead, we chose to drive into Manhattan, park at the Javits Center parking lot, and hop on the C subway train to the ballpark (which took about 30 minutes). Without much to see in the immediate vicinity of the park, we entered the ballpark from the gate behind home plate.

The view from our seats at Yankee Stadium in 2004. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Crossing from the darkness of the tunnel to the light of Yankee Stadium, it was instantly clear that we had entered a baseball cathedral. Seemingly immense in size, many of the landmarks I had seen on TV came within view. By this time, the outfield walls had been brought in considerably, especially in centerfield. Monument Park (an outdoor museum containing plaques and busts of Yankee greats), which was once in the playing field at the stadium, was adjacent to the visiting bullpen beyond the left centerfield wall. Bleachers in left center and right field bracketed the batter’s eye in centerfield. Dubbed the “bleacher creatures”, fans in the right field bleachers at Yankee Stadium had a reputation for occasional vulgar behavior (which rattled opposing right fielders), as well as tossing D batteries at visiting players.

Perhaps the best known landmark in this hallowed ballpark was the white façade stretching atop the bleachers. Made originally of copper (which would occasionally turn green as the copper became exposed to the air), it was scrapped during the renovation in the mid 1970s, replaced by a concrete version which was in place when we visited. Even though we were not Yankees fans by any means, we could help not being overwhelmed by the air of history within this place. It is mind boggling how many Hall of Famers called Yankee Stadium home, and how many championships were won in this park.

A look at a portion of Monument Park at Yankee Stadium from the right field upper deck seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

During 1995, the Yankees were emerging from a decade long slumber during which time they did not appear in the playoffs. As the team improved with rising young stars interspersed with veterans, the attendance at Yankee Stadium rebounded. Because of this, we were often relegated to upper deck seats, particularly when the Red Sox (and later the crosstown Mets) were in town. We were surprised by how steep the seating area was in the upper deck, and there were times when I felt uncomfortable walking up and down the seemingly harrowing concrete stairs. Though it did not happen to us, I could see other battling vertigo when trying to navigate the upper deck at Yankee Stadium.

Luckily for us, we were able to catch a game during the final season of the Yankees captain, Don Mattingly. By this time, a degenerative spinal condition had eroded his once considerable skills, and during this visit to Yankee Stadium, Mattingly played first base and batted seventh. On this day, the Yankees defeated the Red Sox 9-1, with rookie lefthander Andy Pettitte securing the victory with 8 2/3 inning of one run ball. Some of the pieces in place that day would comprise the penultimate dynasty of the 1990s.

My scorecard for the game.

Visits to Yankee Stadium for the next decade or so were infrequent, usually scheduled when the Yankees hosted the Mets. We DID try to get tickets to the Subway Series in 2000, but not surprisingly tickets were scarce, and at that time, prohibitively expensive from resale vendors. After that time, the Yankees were perpetual contenders, as the Mets slid downhill for a few years. That downturn for the Mets made it somewhat easier to secure tickets at the stadium, though generally in the upper deck. One of my most vivid memories of Yankee Stadium occurred in 2002, when the Mets Roger Cedeno completed a straight steal of home plate (an exceedingly rare baseball event).

Fortunately for us, our upper deck seats (just to the left of home plate) gave us a fantastic view of the action. Taking a large lead off third base, Cedeno made a mad dash for the plate. Not sure of what I was seeing, I asked my brother what he was doing; it was, after all, the first straight steal of home I had seen in person. Though the Mets fortunes against the Yankees were generally disappointing, they did allow us to see Hall of Famers in pinstripes through 2008, including Derek Jeter and Wade Boggs, as well as players on the outside looking in, such as Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriquez. No matter what you may think of the last two players, Yankee Stadium was a great place to see these premiere athletes compete.

Actions shots of Yankee Stadium during series with the Mets. On the left, Mets left hander Al Leiter delivers a pitch, and on the right, Derek Jeter (2) and Alex Rodriquez (13) interact after a play. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The “new” Yankee Stadium – September 16, 2017

The view of the “new” Yankee Stadium from just behind the home plate entrance. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Ground was broken for the “new” Yankee Stadium just across the street from the second incarnation of the “old” Yankee Stadium in 2006. Completed in time for the beginning of the 2009 season, the latest version of Yankee Stadium looked and felt like its predecessor. Much of the design was inspired by the original stadium, with Monument Park making the trip to the new park. After demolition of the old ballpark, the space was turned into parkland named Heritage Field.

Rather than transport the façade from the old stadium, new facade was crafted from steel instead of concrete for the new ballpark. The high definition video board in centerfield was the third largest in the world when it debuted, providing nearly twice the area of the video board in the old stadium. With fan comfort in mind, the stadium was laid out like a bowl, which made the seating more accessible, eliminating the nearly vertigo inducing steepness of the upper deck of its predecessor. Approximately 1300 pictures from various sources are scattered throughout the stadium. Dubbed “The Glory of the Yankees Photo Collection”, Yankee players and moments from the teams fabled past were featured in the photos.

The “new” Yankee Stadium from the upper deck behind home plate. Note the white steel facade adorning the upper deck in left and right field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

All of the amenities of the new stadium were well done, creating an atmosphere similar to the old ballpark, updated for the 21st century. However, there was one huge step backward (in my opinion) with the new ballpark. In an obvious attempt to generate scoring, the outfield dimensions are smaller than the “old” stadium, giving the park the feel of a “bandbox” (a term denoting a ballpark that favored home runs). While the left and right field lines in the older versions of Yankee Stadium were (relatively) short, the remainder of the park was large enough to deter “cheap” home runs. Having the bleachers extending into left center and right center does enhance the fan experience (placing them closer to the action), but it also seems to invite more home runs. While this is typical of many “newer” MLB parks, in my opinion these changes were implemented chiefly to facilitate home runs.

The transported Monument Park in its new home in centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

During our pre game tour of the new Yankee Stadium, it was clear that the organization delivered a significant upgrade to the old stadium, with this version feeling much cozier (with the capacity right around 50,000). Gone was the history of the old stadium, but the newer facilities afforded a better overall fan experience, including myriad places to eat scattered across the stadium. With the Yankees on their way to yet another playoff berth, there was large crowd in attendance to see the late Saturday afternoon contest against the Baltimore Orioles.

On this clear and seasonably warm afternoon, the hometown Yankees sent left hander Jordan Montgomery to the hill to face the young Orioles lineup. Montgomery, a prized pitching prospect, was finishing a very effective rookie season. Baltimore sent veteran right hander Jeremy Hellickson to the mound to face the potent Yankee offense, which featured right fielder Aaron Judge. Judge was putting the finishing touches on a record setting rookie campaign, which would earn him AL Rookie of the Year honors. Shadows were a factor early in the game, due primarily to the 410 PM start (presumably to accommodate the Fox broadcast).

Yankee right fielder Aaron Judge in the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Once the shadows crept beyond home plate and the pitcher’s mound, New York used the long ball to score seven runs through the first five innings. Meanwhile, Yankee starter Jordan Montgomery consistently mowed down the Baltimore lineup. Montgomery left after six innings’ work, surrendering no runs on just four hits, while striking out six. His counterpart, Orioles starter Jeremey Hellickison, lasted a scant three innings, allowing six runs during his time of the mound. A trio of Baltimore relievers allowed three runs in mop up work, as the Yankees took a commanding 9-0 lead.

Despite the scoring, the pace of the game was comparatively quick, which left us little time to enjoy the atmosphere of the new ballpark. As late afternoon blended into early evening, Yankee Stadium took on a different hue. The ballpark appeared to soften under the lights, revealing that the once swelling crowd had diminished to a smattering of remaining faithful, with the game well in hand for the Bombers.

The view from our seats as night fell at Yankee Stadium. After the New Yok offensive outburst, the crowd thinned out considerably in the later innings. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Entering the ninth inning, Yankee pitching held the young but improving Baltimore lineup in check. However, the Orioles did not go quietly, scoring three runs on a lead off home run by CF Austin Hays, followed by a series of walks, punctuated by a balk that allowed a run. Left hander Chasen Shreve, who had been enjoying a successful 2017 season as a bullpen stalwart, lost his command, giving up four walks before exiting the game. Those that remained for the top of the ninth became frustrated, audibly moaning and screaming after each walk. Finally, Yankee fans were treated a merciful end to the top of the ninth, as New York claimed a 9-3 victory. As quickly the first part of the game passed, the last three innings were that slow, with the ninth inning requiring nearly 30 minutes to complete.

In total, the game time was in excess of three and one-half hours, leaving just a few thousand fans to file out of Yankee Stadium into the streets around it. As we exited, I reflected on the new stadium. Overall, we were impressed by the stadium, (minus the smaller dimensions than its predecessor), as the organization successfully recreated the feel of Yankee Stadium, while updating it to make the ballpark more modern. Being in just about the same location as the old ballpark, it remains difficult to access from central NJ, so even though we enjoyed the atmosphere, I am not sure how often we will visit in the future.

Goodnight from the “new” Yankee Stadium! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Shea Stadium/Citi Field Queens, New York

Shea Stadium from the subway platform across Roosevelt Boulevard. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Shea Stadium (1982-2008)

  • First visit: Sunday August 15th 1982
  • Last visit: Thursday September 25th 2008

For much of my life as a baseball fan, the New York Mets (my favorite squadron) were bad or awful, and 1982 was no exception. Though I was a lifelong Mets fan, I had not been to the venerable Shea Stadium. My MLB baseball experiences to that point had been relegated to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia PA and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY. Since we did not have access to a car in the early days, we took bus trips to see MLB games, and until 1982, we did not find any bus tours to Shea.

My brother and I decided to change that, and arranged to see the Chicago Cubs against the hometown Mets on August 15, 1982. Not having a car, and with no bus tours available for that game, we concocted what I now recognize as a risky plan to get to Shea Stadium. We took a NJ Transit bus from our hometown on the Jersey Shore to Port Authority in Manhattan. From there, we walked around the corner to catch the Number 7 train to Shea Stadium. Though this doesn’t seem particularly risky, I should add that I was 17 years old, and my brother was 10. Neither of us had ever ridden the subway, so we learned as we went. Of course, even at 17 I did not realize the precariousness that I placed both of us in with the trip. It was until many years later that my brother told me that I told our mother that we were taking a bus tour to Shea, so she had NO idea what we were doing. Mom would have NEVER allowed us to do anything so foolhardy, and I assume that’s why I lied to her.

Shea Stadium from the upper deck behind home plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Upon arrival, I was stunned by the size of Shea Stadium, as it was MUCH larger in person than on TV. We walked around a bit before looking for our seats. Not having a good idea of how the stadium was laid out, we found the correct seats numbers, but after consulting with an usher, we found that we were on the wrong level. Instead of the Loge, we were in the Mezzanine, one level up. We marveled at the fact that were were actually there, after talking about it for so long. By that time, Shea Stadium was 18 years old, and was beginning to show its age. The Mets were still sharing Shea with the New York Jets, and maintaining cleanliness within the stadium itself was a monumental challenge. Despite that, the playing field was in great shape, and we were set to enjoy the game.

Back in those days, Sunday afternoon games typically started at 130 PM, and we were a bit perplexed as to why this game was starting at 100 PM. We discovered that the Cubs and Mets would play a doubleheader that day, with Banner Day occurring in between games. My brother asked if we could stay for both games; from my perspective, we were doing fine, and I said yes without first checking to make sure we could make the necessary connections to get us back home. Though the Mets were stumbling toward the end of yet another dismal season, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.


The Shea Stadium scoreboard, complete with the Manhattan skyline on the top. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Shea Stadium was a multipurpose facility that was built as a home for the New York Mets and New York Jets. Opening in 1964, it underwent MANY changes from that time to our first visit some 18 years later. When we first saw Shea in 1982, it was already looking a bit haggard, and at times unkempt. With a seating capacity of over 56,000, Shea was an open air behemoth. Because of its size, it lacked the intimacy and accessibility of the “newer” parks. When the team was bad (which was often), the place seemed empty, only amplifying the hugeness of the venue. However, Shea Stadium housed our favorite team, and when the Mets were playing well, the place would literally SHAKE, making it feel like home.

At times, when Shea looked more drab and lifeless than usual, I would refer to it as a “toilet” (which the smell would occasionally bear out). But it was OUR toilet! While the ushers were helpful and generally polite, the same could NOT be said of the concession staff. Aramark was the vendor at Shea for many years, and seemingly each and every member of that team was surly and uncooperative. That feeling was verified when we began traveling, finding that the behavior of the vendors at Shea was unique to that park. Conversely, the vendors that hawked the food and beverages through the seating areas were typically more helpful. Hearing the calls of the beer vendors at Shea on TV was one of my first baseball memories (BEER HERE!).

A Spirit Airlines flight passing just beyond the upper deck in left field of Shea Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Located a mere three miles from LaGuardia Airport on the shore of Flushing Bay, players and fans alike were subjected to the seemingly unending air traffic during games. As winds turned to the south across western Long Island, the air traffic was routed directly over the stadium. That switch resulted in the roar of departing aircraft every minute or so (at least during the day). When this occurred, it was not unusual for players (especially visitors) to step out of the batter’s box and step off the pitching rubber to let the cacophony subside before resuming play. After a while, at least as a fan, you could begin to filter out the noise, or at least become accustomed to it; that was just a part of the experience.

We did not often go to big games in Mets history. Early on, just getting the Shea was difficult, and when the Mets were good, tickets were either difficult to come by, or we were priced out of the market. However, a few moments do jump out at me. Perhaps one of my very favorite memories was watching Tom Seaver strike out Pete Rose (then playing with the Philadelphia Phillies) to open the 1983 season. Others include seeing Kevin McReynolds hit not one but two walk off grand slam home runs, as well as the Mets winning the last game for us at Shea in 2008, keeping their slim playoff hopes alive. Much of my joy was just seeing the games in a place I grew to love, even though my team was not good very often.

My brother posing next to the spot where Tommie Agee hit what was reputed to be the longest home runs in the history of Shea Stadium. Personally, I believe Dave Kingman hit a few balls further, but most of his titanic blasts landed in the parking lot, and were not measured.

Of course, I could write an endless story when it comes to Shea Stadium. Far from the nicest ballpark we have visited, it grew on us over the years, and by the time it was ready to be replaced, I lamented its loss. Fans were unruly, stadium staff could be unpleasant, early season night games were almost interminably cold, and the team was not very good for much of the time we visited. Even with all of that, it maintains a special place on my heart. It WAS a toilet, but it was OUR toilet. RIP Shea Stadium!

A view of the nearly complete Citi Field behind Shea Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes


Panorama of Citi Field on Saturday, August 24th 2013. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Citi Field (2009-2015)

  • First visit: Saturday May 9th 2009
  • Most recent visit: Sunday August 16th 2015

Our first visit to the newly minted Citi Field (built in the parking lot of Shea Stadium) came on Saturday, May 9th 2009, about a month after the doors opened for the first time. While wandering around the ballpark, we noticed that the Mets denoted the locations of the mound, home plate and each of the bases of the recently departed Shea Stadium with plaques in the Citi Field parking lot. Featuring a much nicer exterior than Shea, it seemed as though New York Mets baseball had finally joined the 21st century. Entering the ballpark through the rotunda (which was a replica of the rotunda that adorned Ebbets Field), the Mets Hall of Fame is located to the right of the spiral staircase. A quick visit revealed various displays and exhibits, including a couple of Tom Seaver’s Cy Young Awards, as well as a nod to the 1969 and 1986 World Champions.

Following our excursion to the Mets Hall, we headed out to explore the new park. Unlike Shea Stadium, the lower concourse of Citi Field encircled the ballpark, allowing us unfettered access to the park. One of the most notable features of the stadium was Shea Bridge, located beyond the center field wall. Named as a tribute to William Shea, the driving force behind the return of National League baseball to New York City, the wrought iron bridge was immediately a fan favorite. Just below the Shea Bridge were the bullpens, with the Mets bullpen covered from the elements. In centerfield there were bleachers, something Shea never had, and above the bleachers was an impressive video board. Obviously designed as a Citi Field centerpiece, the video board was a significant upgrade to the video system located behind the left field wall at Shea Stadium. Completing the circuit along the lower concourse, we crossed behind the left field stands moving toward home plate.

Shea Bridge at Citi Field, located just above the Mets bullpen. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Rather than follow the trend of the “newer” MLB parks, Citi Field was built with four decks extending from foul line to foul line. Accommodating these decks robbed the ballpark of intimacy, though many of the seats were closer to the field than Shea. In addition, only a portion of center field was open, with the remainder of the park enclosed by seats. To be fair, there isn’t much to see outside of the ballpark, but enclosing the stadium made it feel confined, reminiscent of the multi purpose stadiums of the 1960s and 1970s.

After reaching the rotunda once again, we climbed the staircase to the 300 level, where we had seats just to the left of home plate. Not surprisingly, there was a good crowd for the Saturday matinee, and it appeared as though most of the 42,000 seats were occupied before the first pitch. While waiting for the start of the game, I was surprised to see all of the seats across the park were forest green. While I didn’t expect to find the seats colored by level (as Shea was), it might have been better to have Mets blue for the seat color. It then struck me that there was not a clear indication that Citi Field was the home of the Mets. Citi Field’s size and lack of character was disappointing. Clearly, this was our first glimpse of the Mets new home, but I was NOT impressed.

The Big Apple made the trip from Shea Stadium to Citi Field, perched in the batter’s eye in centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Unbeknownst to me, the first pitch that afternoon was going to be thrown by a member of Howard Stern’s SiriusXM crew. Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate was representing an autism awareness group, and graciously agreed to throw the first pitch before the start of the 110 PM contest. Dell’Abate confidently strode to the mound, toed the pitching rubber, and delivered the pitch. Unfortunately, the toss was VERY wild, hitting the home plate umpire, who was a few feet to the left of the plate. At first, I believed that Gary had intentionally thrown the ball that way, for comedic effect. Based on the reaction of the umpire, as well as the players on the field, it quickly become evident that the pitch was no joke. Dell’Abate appeared to shrug off the bad throw, waving to fans as he departed the playing field.

Thinking that the poor first pitch would be confined to Citi Field, Gary would later be horrified to discover that the pitch would become fodder for mainstream media. Any Howard Stern fan would tell you that Dell’Abate would receive the worst of the teasing from his compatriots, and that pitch is still celebrated on the show, more than a decade later.

Howard Stern producer Gary Dell’Abate delivering the infamous first pitch at Citi Field on May 9th 2009. Note starting pitcher John Maine standing behind the mound. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

While the ballpark was something of a disappointment (at least compared to Nationals Park in DC and Citizen Bank Park in Philadelphia), it was a breath of fresh air for Mets fans, and hopefully a harbinger of good things to come. However, almost immediately I found myself missing Shea Stadium, as Citi Field lacked anything with which I could easily connect. The stadium felt almost sterile at times, and we found ourselves less drawn to this place as we were to its predecessor.

At first, we managed to attend a handful of games at Citi Field each year. As time passed, with little in the way of attraction to the ballpark, our visits became less frequent. Getting to Shea Stadium/Citi Field from NJ was never an easy task. Driving was far more trouble than it was worth, and taking the train to Manhattan, then catching the Number 7 subway to the ballpark often required three plus hours to complete (each way). Thus, a visit to Citi Field was a significant investment in time and energy, and eventually we would make the trek once a year (preferring to see the Mets in Philadelphia, which was closer and arguably offered a better baseball experience within the confines of Citizen Bank Park).

The skyline from the scoreboard at Shea Stadium also made the trip to Citi Field, mounted above the Shake Shack. Great food is available at the Shack, but wait times are often prohibitive. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Our most recent visit to Citi Field was Sunday, August 16th 2015, to see the Mets host the Pittsburgh Pirates. As can happen during the summer, the game was marred by weather delays, as storms developed over the ballpark itself (providing an alarmingly close look at the lightning!), requiring us to take shelter several times during the game. We DID have tickets to Game 5 of the 2015 National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs, but quite unexpectedly the Mets swept the Cubs, and the game didn’t happen. Since then, we decided that the time and effort to see the Mets at home was not worth it, and have not been back.

Panorama view of Citi Field at twilight. This may be my favorite picture of Citi Field from my brother’s collection. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Cleveland OH/Pittsburgh PA, Saturday May 20, 2000

Welcome to Jacobs Field!

Our only baseball trip of 2000 took us to western PA and northeast OH in late May. Since the trip by car was in excess of five hours from central NJ, we drove out to northeast OH on Friday, May 19th, staying just outside of Cleveland for the night.

Saturday, May 20th dawned cloudy and chilly, much cooler than one might expect in late May across northeast OH. With a few hours before the 105 PM contest between the visiting New York Yankees and the hometown Indians, we decided to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located adjacent to the southern shore of Lake Erie. Uncharacteristically, we visited the Hall without a camera, so we don’t have a visual record of our visit.

To my delight, the crowd at the Hall was thin, perhaps due to the weather and the relative early hour (as the doors opened at 1000 AM). As a result, we were treated to nearly unobstructed views of the myriad exhibits. Though we moved fairly quickly through the artifacts, we were able to appreciate the history of rock and roll (as well as pop music). Not surprisingly, the Beatles exhibit was the largest in the Hall, and our favorite band, Led Zeppelin, was well represented.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity to explore Jacobs Field, we left the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after about 90 minutes. Even with the limited time spent there, we were impressed by the museum, and plan to return in the future for a better look. If you are a rock and roll fan, and plan to be in the vicinity of the Hall, leave yourself some time for a visit: you won’t be disappointed.

1. Jacobs Field

Venturing back out in the cool and breezy conditions, we completed the short drive from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Jacobs Field. Had the weather been better, we might have walked the distance, but the cool and damp air ruled that out. We were able to secure parking just across the street from the ballpark in a private lot at a reasonable price.

We performed our typical tour around the outside of the park, but the weather curtailed our walk. Ducking inside the stadium at the home plate entrance, we were greeted by a nearly empty park. Once inside, we had access to the entire seated area, exploring while taking pictures. Unfortunately, the low overcast made the stadium appear drab, but the images capture the conditions on the cool and cloudy early afternoon perfectly.

Jacobs Field from the upper deck behind home plate.

Since both teams were playing well, tickets for the Saturday matinee were scarce, and our seats were located in the last row of the upper deck on the first base side of the field. Just before game time, temperatures hovered in the 40s, and the persistent breeze off the lake made it feel even colder. Despite an announced crowd of 42,000+, the unseasonably cool weather held the actual attendance far below that number.

Starting for the visiting New York Yankees was veteran right hander David Cone. Thus far in 2000, Cone was struggling (with an ERA over 5.50), though he was less than a season from his perfect game in 1999. On the mound for the Indians was left hander Chuck Finley, who was in his first campaign for the Tribe. Each team featured a potent offense, but the combination of good starting pitching and cool weather raised the specter on a low scoring contest.

Indians starter Chuck Finley featured on the cover of the scorecard/magazine.

New York scratched out a single run in the first inning against Finley, then tacked on another run in the fourth inning (with Yankee right fielder Paul O’Neill driving in the run with a single), giving the visitors a 2-0 lead. Meanwhile, David Cone kept the Cleveland bats at bay through the first six innings. Each pitcher worked deliberately, slowing their approaches with runners on base. In spite of the lack of scoring, the pace of the game was glacial, punctuated by the cold and damp conditions.

During the slow play, we were able to get a better feel for Jacobs Field. Dreary weather made the six year old stadium seem drab, with little contrast between the field and the slate gray overcast that seemingly encased it. Because of the conditions, Jacobs Field did not shine, and the lack of fans made the ballpark seem larger than it appeared on TV. Clearly we were not seeing the park at its best. Though the crowd was sparse, one of the more memorable parts of our visit was the persistent drumming in the left field stands. With a typical crowd, the drumming may not have been as noticeable, but with little else happening in the largely empty stadium, it echoed almost to the point of distraction.

The view from our seats. Note that the tops of the buildings were obscured by low clouds.

Cleveland broke through against David Cone in the bottom of the seventh inning, as Richie Sexson led off the frame with a solo home run. Scoring another run in the seventh, the Indians tied the game, while simultaneously knocking the Yankees starter out of the game. Each bullpen then kept the game tied heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. Yankees Jeff Nelson surrendered four walks during the frame, forcing in the winning run with two outs to give the Indians a 3-2 victory.

Despite the low scoring affair, the nine inning contest took three hours and 38 minutes to complete, which seemed even longer in the cold and wind. We filed out Jacobs Field quickly, as we planned to attend a game at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburg that evening. Disappointed that we didn’t get to experience the ballpark in better weather, we would have to return in the future to get a better feel for the stadium and environs.

My scorecard for the game

2. Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh PA

Google Maps depiction of the route from Cleveland to Pittsburgh.

Spending more time at Jacobs Field than expected, we were left with about two and one-half hours to get to Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Though it would be tight, we were optimistic that, with light traffic, we would arrive before the first pitch at 710 PM. However, events would conspire to make arriving on time impossible. A bit more than an hour into the trip, we encountered thunderstorms that hampered our progress. As we got closer to Pittsburgh, traffic slowed to a crawl.

Finally, we reached the parking lot next to the ballpark, located on the north shore of the Allegheny River (north of downtown Pittsburgh). Arriving well after the first pitch, we parked in a dark area under an overpass of Interstate 385. While there were plenty of fans in the area, it seemed fairly remote, and I had an uneasy feeling about leaving the car there.

Because we arrived in the second inning, we had no time to wander and explore as we normally would at a new stadium. Instead, we rushed to our seats to enjoy the game. As we travelled from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, we went from early spring weather to early summer weather, as very warm and humid conditions greeting us at Three Rivers Stadium. While there were storms in the area, they managed to avoid us during the game.

Unfortunately, we did not take pictures at the stadium, as we left the camera in the car in our haste. Three Rivers Stadium was a typical multipurpose stadium, nearly identical to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. This season would be the last for the Pirates at this ballpark, and its condition seemed to reflect that fact. However, it was a pleasant place to see a Saturday night ballgame.

Pittsburgh hosted the St Louis Cardinals, who scored early and often. St Louis scored six runs in the first four innings, the scored 13 runs in the last three frames, on the way to a 19-4 drubbing of the hometown Pirates. With the game out of hand for the Pirates, they sent catcher Keith Osik to the mound to pitch the top of the ninth inning. As might have been expected, Osik fared poorly, surrendering five runs on five hits. This outing marked Osik’s second MLB pitching performance. In 1999, he also pitched an inning during a blow out, and his performance then was only slight better than this night.

Even with the high scoring, the game took less than three hours, a stark contrast to the affair in Cleveland. Fortunately, my car was still there following the game, and because of the late game finish, we stayed at nearby a nearby hotel, driving home Sunday morning.

Montreal Quebec, Sunday July 15th 2001

Olympic Stadium, Montreal Quebec.

1. Shea Stadium (Queens NY) to Plattsburgh NY

After seeing a Saturday afternoon game at Shea Stadium (where the Mets beat the Boston Red Sox), we headed toward Montreal, Quebec, where we would see a game between the Expos and the Red Sox at Olympic Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Weaving our way through New York City traffic, we eventually arrived at Interstate 87 North (also known as the New York State Thruway). Once out of New York City, the drive was fairly straightforward and uneventful.

During our drive toward Montreal, we noticed an unusually high number of vehicles with Massachusetts license plates traveling northward on the Thruway. At the time, it was a curiosity, but I didn’t give it much thought. Following a four hour drive, we decided to find lodging on the US side of the border with Quebec. My concern was that we would have difficulty communicating with people in Quebec, especially late at night, so we secured accommodations in a hotel in Plattsburgh for the night.

Google Maps depiction of our drive from Shea Stadium to Plattsburgh, NY

2. Plattsburgh NY to Montreal

While checking out of the hotel and moving our bags to the car, we saw many vehicles with Massachusetts plates in the parking lot. It dawned on me that there were Red Sox fans doing exactly what we were doing: going to see a ballgame at Olympic Stadium. Following breakfast, we crossed the Canadian border, stopping to exchange currency for our day in Montreal. As we crossed the border, we saw a very interesting road sign.

A sign much like the one we saw crossing the border from NY to Quebec, reminding Americans that speed limits there are posted in kilometers per hour.

The sign stated 100 = 65, to remind American drivers that speed limits posted in Quebec were in kilometers per hour, NOT miles per hour. Part of me could not help but wonder how many Americans received citations in Quebec before these signs were posted. The trip from the hotel to Montreal took about an hour, meaning we arrived well before game time. Since we did not plan to stay following the game, we spent some time conducting a driving tour of Montreal.

Not having been to France at that time, I couldn’t help but believe the Montreal was modeled after Paris. The “newer” portion of Montreal was clearly modern, not unlike many American cities we had visited. However, during our tour through Old Montreal, I couldn’t help but feel as though we were in a French city. The architecture reminded me of pictures I’d seen of Paris, especially along the Montreal River, with some structures dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

A view of Olympic Stadium from the sidewalk in a residential neighborhood.

3. Olympic Stadium

As fascinating as the tour of Montreal was to me, it was soon time to head toward Olympic Stadium to catch the game. Though we had directions to the park, I was surprised to find that it was located immediately adjacent to a residential neighborhood. Parking was located under the stadium, with several decks offering tight parking spaces. Snaking our way out of the underground lot, we wandered outside the park taking pictures.

The Montreal franchise was in trouble, a victim of the 1994 baseball strike. During that season, the Expos sported the best record in the league before the work stoppage prematurely ended the season. While the rest of MLB slowly recovered from the damaging strike, baseball in Montreal never did. By 2001, with ownership struggling to make payroll, MLB took stewardship of the franchise, actively seeking to move the team. Not surprisingly, attendance at Olympic Stadium steadily declined, with average game attendance bottoming out at about 5,000 fans.

Fans enjoying the carnival on the outfield turf at Olympic Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On this Sunday, attendance was MUCH higher than average, due mainly to the influx of Red Sox fans. During the 2001 season, the Red Sox were playing well, and it was exceedingly difficult to get seats for home games at Fenway Park. Apparently, Red Sox fans thought that a road trip to Montreal would afford them better seats than they could get in Boston. As a result, the attendance for the game was 32,500, or about six times normal. The large crowd overwhelmed the staff at Olympic Stadium, who were struggling with not only the crush of visitors, but the language barrier as well.

Arriving early, we discovered that a carnival was in place at the stadium, and fans were welcome to come onto the field to enjoy the festivities. Stepping onto the artificial surface of the domed stadium marked the my first time on a MLB field, which I found exhilarating. Activities for the fans were set up in the outfield (the infield was roped off), and there was a sizable crowd enjoying the opportunity to walk on the playing field. Rather than engage in the activities, we wandered the outfield. It was clear that stadium maintenance was not a priority to the struggling franchise, and we saw many flaws in the turf.

Patches sown together with thread were used to keep the turf at Olympic Stadium in one piece.

Spending so much time on the field, we left ourselves little opportunity to tour the remainder of the stadium. After leaving the field, we headed to the concession stand, seeking a baseball lunch. Despite being in Montreal, we were able to secure standard baseball fare. With snacks and drinks in hand, we headed to the register. Despite the language differences, we were able communicate well enough to complete our transaction, then headed toward our seats. It seems as though our timing to grab concessions was fortuitous; we later heard that it took people an hour to get hot dogs and beer, as the concession staff was completely overwhelmed by the unexpectedly large crowd.

Tower above Olympic Stadium, with attached cables originally designed to lift and close the retractable roof. Due to mechanical issues, the roof was eventually closed permanently. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Getting our tickets as early as we did, we had great seats just a few rows behind home plate. Other than the protective netting in front of us, our seats were amazing, providing an unfettered view of the entire park. Soon after reaching our seats, it was obvious that the lighting in Olympic Stadium was not up to the task. In fact, the ballpark seemed dank, and much of the stadium beyond the playing field seemed dark and distance. Originally designed with a retractable roof, cables suspended from a 175 meter toward were used to open and close the roof as weather dictated. Difficulties with the design of the roof proved insurmountable, and eventually the roof was closed permanently, resulting in a dark fan experience.

The view from our seats, as Montreal RF Vladimir Guerrero strides to the plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

For the 135 pm start, the Boston Red Sox sent right hander Hideo Nomo to the mound. Due to a rotator cuff injury to Boston ace Pedro Martinez, Nomo became the de facto ace of the Red Sox staff. Boston was in the midst of a pennant race with the AL East leading Yankees, trailing New York by one-half game in the standings. Starting for the host Montreal Expos was 6 foot 4 inch right hander Mike Thurman, the third starter in a struggling Montreal rotation. In contrast to the Red Sox Sox fortunes, the Expos were deeply mired in a losing season, 13 and one-half games behind the NL East leading Philadelphia Phillies. Given the difference in the trajectory of the teams, we expected a fairly easy Boston victory this afternoon.

Unlike the vast majority of Expos home games, there was a raucous energy within Olympic Stadium this afternoon. Perhaps it was the unexpected energy that allowed Montreal to take a two run lead in the first inning, courtesy of a two run home run by second baseman Jose Vidro. However, the Expos lead was short-lived, as Boston scored runs in the second and third inning to take the lead. A run in the bottom of the fourth brought Montreal back even with the Red Sox. It was clear early that neither starting pitcher was particularly sharp, and that we were in for a more competitive game than originally anticipated.

Vladimir Guerrero gracing the cover of the Expos Souvenir Magazine.

Though the Expos were struggling through a rough 2001 campaign, there were All Stars in the starting lineup. Right fielder Vladimir Guerrero was a bona fide superstar, a true five tool player capable hitting 40 home runs and stealing 40 bases in any given season. However, he languished in relative obscurity in Montreal. Playing anywhere else in MLB, he would have been hailed as one of the top players in the game. In this contest, Guerrero was fairly quiet, managing a single and a run scored in five plate appearances.

Boston erupted for three runs in the fifth inning, stringing together several hits to retake the lead. The seesaw contest saw the Expos answer with two runs in the sixth inning. By this time, the starting pitchers for both teams had exited the game, putting the outcome of the game in the hands of the respective bullpens. With the number of Red Sox fans far outnumbering the Expos fans in Olympic Stadium, it was almost like being at Boston home game. Given the dankness of the ballpark, I could only imagine how depressing the stadium must be with the typical small Montreal crowds.

The Red Sox tacked on two more runs in the seventh inning (as 3B Chris Stynes homered) to pad their lead, and Red Sox closer Derek Lowe shut the door on the Expos, earning his 17th save. As we filed out of the ballpark into the parking deck below, I realized that the future of baseball in Montreal was in serious jeopardy. After years in limbo, the franchise moved to Washington in 2005, rechristened as the Nationals. While I was glad we visited Montreal to see a game, there was clearly no reason to come back for MLB baseball.

My scorecard from the game.

4. Montreal to New Jersey

After working our way through Montreal traffic, we headed back toward New Jersey. Just before US border, we stopped at the duty free store to get something to drink. We were astounded by the number of people loading up on alcohol before heading back into New York State. More than a few vehicles were stuffed nearly full with cases of Molson beer, which has nearly twice the alcohol level of Molson sold in the US. Once through the checkpoint, we stopped in Plattsburgh for lunch before heading home.

Hoping to get a quick fast food meal for the road, we were instead faced with crowded eateries with long lines, as people heading back to Massachusetts had the same thought. In one of the restaurants, servers were crying when confronted with the massive influx of patrons. Eventually, tiring of the wait, we obtained what we could at an Arby’s before heading south on Interstate 87 toward New Jersey.

San Francisco, CA Sunday September 8th 2002

Google Maps image of Pac Bell Park (now known as Oracle Park)

While on vacation in San Francisco, my brother and I took in a Sunday afternoon baseball game at Pac Bell Park (now known as Oracle Park), where the Giants hosted the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks. From our hotel near Union Square, we decided to walk to Pac Bell Park, since the weather was crystal clear with temperatures in the 60s. Our walk took about 25 minutes (covering about one and one-quarter miles), mostly on 3rd Street. For those old enough to remember, we walked a path that was part of the famous car chase in the movie Bullitt (1968).

Though we chose to walk, there was plenty of parking available, almost all of which was across Mission Bay on 3rd Street (about one-quarter of a mile from the ballpark). Upon arriving at Pac Bell Park, we explored the area immediately surrounding it. Our first stop was McCovey Cove, located just beyond the right field wall. Famous for home run balls that plunk into the Cove, it was named for Giants great Willie McCovey, a power hitting left hand batter who would have deposited many baseballs into it, had he played in Pac Bell Park. Though there was nobody in the cove when we passed, it is common for people in kayaks to hang out there, awaiting baseballs to retrieve.

Looking along the walkway adjacent to McCovey Cove. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Walking past the centerfield wall, we arrived at the South Beach Yacht Club. Massive in size, there were more than 100 yachts moored at the club, though there did not appear to be many sailing before noon. Continuing our exploration, we wandered along Pier 40 before making our way back toward the stadium. While the Mission Bay area had some points of interest within walking distance of the park, we decided to invest our time wandering the inside of Pac Bell Park before game time.

There was a large mix of sailboats and yachts moored in the South Beach Yacht Club. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Entering the ballpark through the gate behind home plate, we were greeted by a nearly deserted stadium. We arrived about 90 minutes before game time, and while there were a few fans milling around outside the ballpark, there were almost none inside. That left us plenty of time and room to explore. Moving toward centerfield, we encountered something I did not expect. Little Giants Park, a 50 foot by 50 foot replica of Pac Bell Park, was designed for young people to hit whiffle balls and run the bases. Designed for kids 42 inches or shorter, playing in the “ballpark within the ballpark” would have been a dream come true for a much younger me.

Little Giants Park, located beyond the left field wall at Pac Bell Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Just to the left of the Little Giants Park was the iconic Coke Bottle, located beyond the left field wall. With a length of 47 feet, the bottle rises up behind the stands in left field, and is home to two slides, which fans 14 and under use to “slide” into home plate at the base of the bottle. Located next to the Coke Bottle is the Glove. Created as a replica of 1927 four fingered glove used by the New York Giants, it is instantly recognizable as soon as you enter the ballpark. Thirty two feet wide and 26 feet tall, the glove lies about 501 feet from home plate, and a prodigious blast would be required to reach it.

The Fan Deck containing both the Coke Bottle and the Glove, two prominent features in Pac Bell Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Crossing over the walkway located on the right field fence, we were treated to a great view of Mission Bay, and the Navy vessels moored in the Port of San Francisco. As fans filtered into the ballpark, the walkway became quite popular, which caused us to move along. We headed toward the home plate area to get a picture of the stadium from the upper deck. Sunshine reflecting off Mission Bay gave the water a light blue hue behind the centerfield fence.

Working our way back along the right field line, we ducked into the concourse is search of a baseball lunch. While there was quite a variety of cuisine choices available, we opted for more standard fare. With snacks and drinks in hand, we went in search of our seats.

Pac Bell Park from behind home plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Today’s game between the visiting Diamondbacks and the hometown Giants had implications for the playoff race. Arizona was leading the NL West, with the Giants in third place, five and one-half games behind. Even without the added interest in the Sunday matinee, Pac Bell Park routinely sells out, which made obtaining good seats for the game very difficult. We settled for seats down the right field line in the lower level, adjacent to the Diamondbacks bullpen (unlike most new ballparks, the bullpens at Pac Bell were located down the left and field lines).

A ticket from the game.

Though not ideal for a good look at the home plate action, our seats did give us a great view of the remainder of the stadium. Pac Bell Park, with three decks of seats from foul line to foul line, as well as bleachers in left and center field, had a capacity of about 41,000, and a full house was expected this afternoon. Open spaces in the outfield (except for the Coke Bottle, Glove and modestly sized video board) made the stadium feel uncluttered, with great sight lines throughout the park.

The view from our seats, with a great look at the Coke Bottle and the Glove. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Starting for the visiting Diamondbacks was left hander Brian Anderson. Arizona’s fifth starter, Anderson was struggling through the 2002 campaign, which was sandwiched in between good 2001 and 2003 seasons. On the mound for the hometown Giants was right hander Russ Ortiz, the number two starter in a respectable but unspectacular San Francisco rotation. On the surface, this seemed to be a pitching mismatch after favoring the Giants, in what was an important game for both teams.

Arizona scored a run in the top of the first inning, employing “small ball” to take an early lead. The starters traded scoreless frames until the bottom of the fourth inning, when Barry Bonds led off the bottom of the inning with a solo home run. Fittingly, the home run left Pac Bell Park, splashing down in McCovey Cove. Though we didn’t see it firsthand, a replay of the home run on the video board showed fans in kayaks on the Cove frantically scurrying for the ball. Plating another run in the bottom of the inning, the Giants took a 2-1 lead.

A view of the right field fence, McCovey Cover beyond, and the Port of San Francisco in the distance. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Diamondbacks starter Brian Anderson’s afternoon ended after the Giants scored in the bottom of the fourth inning, and was followed a quartet of relievers that kept the vaunted Giants lineup in check. Meanwhile, Giants starter Russ Ortiz was cruising, allowing only the one run in the first inning. With the action on the field slowing in the middle innings, my attention wandered to the ballpark itself. Opening in 2000, Pac Bell Park was a precursor to the wave of “newer” MLB parks, which were designed to be smaller and more intimate to foster a better fan experience.

Though the ballpark is simpler than the “newer” parks, its simplicity is a large part of its charm. For example, the centerfield scoreboard/video board was unpretentious yet functional, an unobtrusive feature that some stadiums cannot claim. Pace Bell’s asymmetric design, complete with a “see through” section within the right field wall, makes this stadium unique among the MLB offerings. When coupled with the wall to wall sunshine that afternoon, Pac Bell Park grew on me during the game, becoming one of my favorite parks thus far.

Pac Bell Park scoreboard in centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Sitting along side the Arizona Diamondbacks, we witnessed six pitchers warm up before entering the game. When Diamondbacks left hander Greg Swindell was warming up in the bottom of the sixth inning, we witnessed something I did NOT expect from San Francisco fans. As Swindell tossed his warm up pitches, Giants fans started peppering him with rude comments concerning his weight. While Swindell was a big guy, he didn’t strike me as someone who was significantly overweight. Still, Giants fans assailed him with insults I would expect to hear in New York or Philadelphia, not San Francisco. This was shocking to me, hearing baseball fans in California as obnoxious as any I’d seen back East.

San Francisco tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, and the Giants closer, right hander Robb Nen, shut down the Diamondbacks in the top of the ninth inning to secure a 3-1 victory. Though the game time was a bit more than three hours, the beautiful ballpark and spectacular weather made the time fly by. We were very impressed with Pac Bell Park, to say the least. We would have seen more games during our stay in the area, but the Giants went on the road following the afternoon contest.

My scorecard from the game.

Wrigley Field, Chicago Sunday May 4th 2003

Panorama of the outside of Wrigley Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

During our overnight stay in Chicago, low clouds and fog descended from Lake Michigan onto the North Side. We awoke to a steady easterly wind and drizzle, with temperatures in the 40s. Following breakfast near the hotel, we headed out to Wrigley Field. Arriving just as the gates opened, we once again overpaid for parking at a lot near the stadium. Unlike the day before, we left ourselves plenty of time to explore the neighborhood surrounding the vaunted ballpark.

Our first stop was West Waveland Avenue, located behind the left and centerfield walls of Wrigley Field. Over the years, we saw MANY baseball fly out of the ballpark on TV, landing here or further down the road. For most Cubs games, there are hundreds of fans sauntering on the street, waiting for home run balls. Had we more time in Chicago, it might have been a unique fan experience to see a game from this perspective; perhaps some day I will do just that.

The view of West Waveland Avenue behind field at Wrigley Field. Throngs of fans congregate here during games, waiting for the home run balls. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We continued our journey around Wrigley Field, wandering down North Sheffield Avenue past the right field wall. While there were some fans waiting to gain entrance to the stadium, there was not nearly as many people here as there were on West Waveland Avenue. During our walk, we got a first hand look at the buildings surrounding the ballpark, and the seats in place on the rooftops. It was obvious that the streets ringing Wrigley Field were every bit as much of the park as the stadium itself.

North Sheffield Avenue behind right field of Wrigley Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Completing our tour of the exterior of Wrigley Field, my brother got the image of iconic red signage above the home plate entrance featured above. Even with the cold early spring weather, the majesty of the stadium and its environs shone through. Though there were fans milling around outside the ballpark, there were few people inside, allowing us unfettered access to nearly the entire stadium. We visited the left field bleachers, where we had seen many opponents’ home runs balls land, only to be tossed back into the field of play.

From left field, we got a very good look at some of the seats on the building rooftops along West Waveland Avenue. From modest beginnings, these rooftop seats became quite organized, with some of the rooftops holding as many as ten rows with four or five seats per row. Despite occasional objections by the Cubs management, it doesn’t seem as though these seats were diverting much revenue from the park, considering that Wrigley Field often sells out during the season.

One of the better organized rooftop seatings outside of Wrigley Field, a mere 460 feet from home plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

At the end of our tour of the inside of Wrigley Field, we wound up behind home plate, where my brother got his best picture of Wrigley Field. Lake Michigan, the second largest of the Great Lakes (and the only one completely within the US), is a mere five miles from Wrigley Field, and has a large influence on the weather at the ballpark. On this afternoon, wind off the still cold Great Lake funneled clouds and fog across the field, resulting in a cold and damp visit. The image perfectly captures the environment just before game time.

Panoramic view of Wrigley Field on a cloudy and foggy day. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On this cloudy and cool afternoon, the visiting Colorado Rockies sent the ace of their starting rotation, right hander Jason Jennings, to the hill. Awarded the NL Rookie of the Year in 2002, Jennings won 16 games that year. On the mound for the hometown Cubs was right hander Kerry Wood. Featured on the Cubs’ scorecard for the month of May, the tall Texan was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1998, during which he tied the nine inning single game record with 20 strikeouts. Wood underwent Tommy John surgery the following year, taking the next couple of campaigns to recapture his best stuff.

Given the strength of the starting pitching and the cool and breezy conditions, we expected a low scoring affair. Unlike the previous afternoon, which featured crystal blue skies, Wrigley Field blended into the background of cloud and fog. This environment was not conducive to picture taking, leaving the park looking washed out and drab. Temperatures near 50 degrees at the first pitch felt even colder, reminding me that it was still early spring in the Midwest.

Today’s Cubs starting pitcher on the cover of the Cubs May Scorecard. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following our tour of the interior of Wrigley Field, we obtained some snacks and hot chocolate before heading for our seats. Though the weather was far from ideal, the afternoon affair was well attended, and our seats were not much better than the day before. Nestled down the left field line between third base and the left field line, our seats once again did not have a good view of the plate, so we spent much of the game with our heads turned to the right, straining to see the action.

It didn’t take long for the scoring to begin, as the Rockies put up three runs on Kerry Wood in the top of the first inning. Chicago scored two runs of their own in the bottom of the first, and it appeared as though offense might carry the game, despite the inhospitable weather conditions. However, both starters settled down after the early outbursts, keeping the opposition scoreless into the middle innings. Though scoring was an a premium after the first innings, hits wand walks resulted in many baserunners, slowing the pace of the game to a crawl at times. Typically, slow paced games are not a problem for me, but given the cool and wet conditions, I found myself becoming impatient.

The view of our seats, complete with Cubs stater Kerry Wood long tossing before the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Chicago scored a run in the bottom of the sixth to tie the score, followed by the Rockies taking the lead in the top of the seventh. With the game in the hands of the bullpen, the score remained tied going into extra innings. With one out in the bottom of the tenth inning, Chicago SS Alex Gonzales homered off Rockies reliever Steve Reed to give the Cubs a 5-4 victory. Three hours and 15 minutes in the raw conditions seemed even longer, and by the end of the contest, I was ready to find a warmer and drier place.

Even with the adverse weather conditions, I thoroughly enjoyed our time at Wrigley Field. A proud throwback to a bygone era of baseball, the simple layout and lack of large and obtrusive video boards was a refreshing departure from what MLB parks were becoming. Since our visit some 17 years ago, much has changed at Wrigley Field. Incremental additions at the park, including video boards in left and right fields, has detracted from the charm the stadium once had, making it more like more “modern” MLB parks. The changes make me feel fortunate to have visited when the park was closer to the original configuration, and the changes make me believe that I will not visit again anytime soon.

My scorecard from the game.

Chicago, Saturday May 3rd 2003

1. New Jersey to Chicago

Our first baseball trip of 2003 took us to Chicago to see the Cubs and the White Sox. Originally we scheduled a trip to see the Cubs in September of 2001, but circumstances made that impossible. Since we decided to make this a weekend trip, we flew from New Jersey to O’Hare Airport in Chicago on Saturday morning, May 3rd. Luckily, Newark-Liberty Airport in Newark, NJ was not busy, allowing us to breeze through security.

For the flight, we chose Midwest Airlines (now defunct). A Milwaukee based airline, they offered flights to many locations in the Midwest, and I was first introduced to the carrier through work in the late 1990s. Each plane had leather seats, and offered fewer seats than most mid sized airlines. In addition, they offered free chocolate chip cookies. Though it sounds trite, these cookies were actually very good. Though the fares were a bit higher than most airlines flying to Chicago, the roomier plane with leather seats was well worth the extra money.

After arriving at O’Hare Airport and picking up our rental car, we headed toward Chicago. Originally, we planned to see the White Sox on Saturday night, and the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday afternoon. However, we arrived in Chicago much earlier than expected, and we realized we could catch the Saturday afternoon game at Wrigley.


2. Wrigley Field

Iconic hand operated scoreboard at Wrigley Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Making our way to the North Side, we arrived at the park shortly before game time. Parking proved to be a challenge, as it often is with urban ballparks, and we ended up parking in the lot of a local business for an exorbitant amount. Not having tickets for the game, we went in search of scalpers, who were very easy to find. We secured two seats behind first base for more than face value. As is typical when we visit a new ballpark, we quickly toured the outside of the stadium. Arriving just before game time, our tour was truncated, and after we entered the venerable ballpark, we went in search of our seats.

Once we found our seats, it was immediately clear we had been swindled by the scalper. Our seats were terrible, in the lower level down the right field line with a limited view of home plate. Of course, not knowing the ballpark well, we foolishly took the scalper at his word that the seats were good. We laughed it off, being so gullible. Just being at Wrigley Field, a baseball palace, was enough to make us forget our faux pax, and we were determined to enjoy the experience regardless of our view.

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

Not surprisingly, Wrigley Field was filled to capacity. In addition to packed bleachers, we could see what seemed like hundreds of people crammed onto rooftops of neighboring buildings. Seeing the people on the rooftops on TV doesn’t give you a true idea of how many fans actually ring the ballpark. Beyond the left field, we could see the iconic Budweiser roof, located off West Waveland Avenue. But perhaps my favorite part of Wrigley Field was the hand operated scoreboard. A throwback to a bygone era, the scoreboard defined Wrigley Field for me, and I finally got to see it for myself.

We couldn’t have asked for better day weather wise, with crystal clear skies and temperatures in the 50s. Having seen Wrigley Field on TV many, many times, I could scarcely believe we were here. Dubbed the “friendly confines” by Cubs great Ernie Banks, the cozy ballpark teemed with history. Possibly the most famous of the features of Wrigley, the ivy on the outfield wall, was conspicuously absent. Being early May, it was too soon for the ivy to bloom, so instead we were treated to brown walls devoid of flora.

View of buildings adjacent to the right field wall. Note how many people are watching from the rooftops.

For the matinee, the hometown Cubs hosted the Colorado Rockies, with the first pitch slated for 120 pm CDT. Starting for the Rockies was journeyman left hander Darren Oliver, who was in his first season with the team. Taking the mound for Chicago was right hander Carlos Zambrano, the 23 year old who was beginning to show signs of becoming a Cy Young caliber starter for the Cubs. Good starting pitching, paired with a decent breeze coming in from Lake Michigan suggested a low scoring affair.

The Cubs struck first in the bottom of the second inning, stringing together hits and walks to plate three runs. Colorado responded with three runs of their own in the top of the third, and it seemed as though we would see an offensive display in Wrigley this afternoon. Chicago reclaimed the lead into the bottom of the fourth inning, with Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano hitting a solo home run to lead off the inning. While it is rare for pitchers to hit home runs, Zambrano was a good hitting pitcher, blasting 24 home runs over his career.

The famous Budweiser roof across the street from Wrigley. Note that the famed ivy had not yet started growing.

While there was a game at the ballpark that afternoon, Wrigley Field was the star of the show. Wall to wall sunshine and pleasantly cool temperatures made our visit to this baseball palace even more enjoyable, but the environment was indescribable. In between innings, I found myself admiring all that the ballpark had to offer, immediately understanding why Wrigley Park was considered a baseball mecca. Our seats were not ideal for taking pictures of the action, but from our location, we were able to enjoy the scene.

The Rockies scored three more runs in the top of the eight inning, taking a 6-4 lead that the bullpen held for the victory. Despite our seats, we thoroughly enjoyed our surprise visit, and would get a much better look at Wrigley Field the next afternoon. Following the end of the game, we inched out way out of the parking space, and headed toward our hotel. Our stay there was brief, just long enough to check in and drop off our bags, because we were headed toward US Cellular Field for a night game between the visiting Seattle Mariners and the home town White Sox.

A VERY expensive ticket for the afternoon game at Wrigley Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

3. US Cellular Field

Outside of US Cellular Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We arrived in the South Side of Chicago about an hour before the first pitch of the game scheduled for 605 pm. As we approached US Cellular Field (now known as Guaranteed Rate Field), it was clear that we were in a neighborhood very different than the one in which Wrigley Field is located. Parking around the ballpark was plentiful, with lots surrounding the stadium. Pulling into Lot B (across West 35th Street from the field), we asked the attendant the cost of parking. After telling us, he asked if our car was a rental, to which I said yes. As we pulled away he added “I hope it’s still here when you get back”. Not exactly what a visitor wants to hear, but we did our best not to let it affect our experience.

With little surrounding US Cellular Field but parking lots and I-94, we did not explore the outside of the park like we did for other stadiums we have visited. Entering through the home plate gate, I could not help but notice how much the outside of the ballpark reminded me of the main Yankee Stadium entrance.

A ticket to the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

US Cellular Field, which opened in 1991, was a replacement for Comiskey Park , the home of the White Sox from 1910 through 1990. Located across West 35th Street from US Cellular Field, Comiskey Park was razed in order to provide additional parking for the new ballpark. Opening a year before Camden Yards in Baltimore (the stadium that is generally acknowledged as the first of the “new” MLB parks), US Cellular Field had the feeling of a ballpark built in the 1970s or 1980s, generally symmetrical with three decks and bleachers almost completely ringing the outfield.

Following a quick tour of the inside of US Cellular Field, we went in search of a baseball dinner. Armed with drinks and snacks, we headed toward our seats. Surprisingly, despite the cool weather, the game was well attended, and the best seats we could procure were in the upper deck, directly behind home plate. Typically, we seek out seats in the lower level on either the first or third base side. However, when these seats are unavailable (as they were this night), we prefer to be closer to home plate when relegated to the upper deck. A long climb was rewarded with a great view of the ballpark as game time approached.

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

Though the sun was shining at the start of the game, a chill descended upon US Cellular Field, and it was evident that we were in for a cool early May evening in the South Side. Starting for the visiting Seattle Mariners was right hander Freddy Garcia. The talented 26 year old was already an emerging star, yet listed as the fourth starter on a loaded Mariners rotation. On the mound for the hometown Sox was left hander Josh Stewart, who was in the first season of a brief two year MLB career. A seeming pitching mismatch favored the Mariners, who were just two season removed from a single season record of 116 wins in 2001.

The video board in centerfield at US Cellular Field. Below the scoreboard is the Fan Deck, constructed to allow fans to congregate during the game. Other teams would adapt this approach as the way fans watched the game changed. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We didn’t need to wait long for the fireworks to begin, as the Mariners pummeled Sox starter Josh Stewart for six runs in the first two innings, punctuated by two home runs in top of the first inning. Seattle tacked on four more runs in the top of the fourth inning, chasing Stewart from the game. Meanwhile, Freddy Garcia was cruising for the Mariners, putting the game out of reach fairly early.

With my attention straying from the game, I began to feel the chill more intently, as temperatures dropped into the 40s with the advent of night. Not surprisingly, the White Sox fans began to abandon what appeared to be a losing cause, steadily exiting as the home town fell further behind. As the announced crowd of 25,00+ thinned out, we noticed just how large US Cellular Field was. Unlike MLB that would follow, the stadium seemed to lack a sense of charm or intimacy, feeling more like a monument to the past. Having said that, US Cellular Field was a comfortable place to see a game, and an upgrade to where the White Sox used to call home.

US Cellular Field at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Mariners tacked on two runs late in the game, as Freddy Garcia and a cadre of Seattle relievers held the Sox in check for 12-2 victory. Cold temperatures made the three hour 15 minute game seem even longer, and by the time the last out was recorded, I was ready to leave. Overall, US Cellular Field was a good place to see a ballgame, but generic enough not to be too memorable. While I was glad we took in a game here while in Chicago, there wasn’t enough of an attraction to being me back anytime soon.

My scorecard from the game.