Getting a late start after returning from Vancouver in the early morning hours, we were greeted by thick clouds and a chilly rain. Weather more typical of the Pacific Northwest in the fall made the sunshine and warmer temperatures of Friday seem like a distant memory. Since conditions were not conducive for exploring Seattle further, we stayed close to the hotel before heading out to Safeco Field and the final game of the 2007 season.
The short drive to the stadium revealed just how cool and raw the day had become, and we spent as little time outside as possible before entering the stadium. Of course, the roof was closed at Safeco, and like most domed stadium, the ballpark looked and felt much bigger than with the roof open. Wandering through the concourse sheltered from the rain, we discovered more fans than I would have expected, considering that the Mariners reached the end of another season without a playoff berth.
Starting for the hometown Mariners was 21 year old Felix Hernandez, who was completing his second full MLB season in 2007. Already dubbed King Felix, he showed flashes of the Cy Young Award winner he would become just three seasons later. Opposing the Mariners budding superstar was the Rangers left hander AJ Murray, finishing up an abbreviated rookie season. Slated for a 110 pm start, there was a brief pre game ceremony capping off Fan Appreciation weekend.
The Rangers touched up Hernandez for a run in the top of the first inning, but the Mariner responded with two runs in the second and one in the third to take a 3-1 lead. With King Felix dealing, it seemed as though he would make that lead stand up. With both pitchers throwing well, the game was fast paced (for baseball). The Rangers scratched out a run in the top of the fifth inning, but that would be the end of the scoring for the visiting Rangers for the 2007 campaign.
Meanwhile, King Felix continued to mow down the Rangers lineup, taking his start into the ninth inning. One out away from a complete game victory, Hernandez was lifted from the game for the Mariners closer, JJ Putz. By recording the final out, Putz earner his 40th save of the season as the Mariners took the season finale 4-2.
Due primarily to the crisp pitching performance, and to a lesser degree that it was the ultimate getaway day, the time of the game was just under two hours. The Mariners came out for a curtain call, thanking the fans for their support throughout the season. Filing out of Safeco Field into the dreary late September afternoon, I took one last look at the ballpark. Wishing the weather had been more cooperative, I nonetheless found the ballpark to be a great place to see a game, nestled in an interesting and eclectic city I’d always wanted to see. Hopefully during my next visit I’ll be able to see more of Seattle, as well as some of the natural wonders the area has to offer.
Unlike the clear skies Friday night, Saturday morning dawned with milky sunshine fading behind thickening clouds. The lowering clouds threatened rain later in the day, so we knew we had to get out as soon as possible to see as much of Seattle as we could before the rains came. Though we had a rental car at our disposal, experience has taught us that if we wanted to get a true sense of our surroundings, a walk was our best approach.
After breakfast at the hotel (very close to the Space Needle), we walked toward downtown Seattle. The seasonably cool conditions made walking pleasant, even as the sun continued to fade over us. On the way out, we turned to admire the Space Needle. Towering above its surroundings, the iconic structure looked every bit the majestic symbol of the Pacific Northwest. We made plans to visit the Needle more closely after returning from our sojourn.
On our way, we headed down Broad Street on our way to Alaskan Avenue and the shore of the Elliot Bay. The view was somewhat reminiscent of that scene in the opening sequence of War Games, with ferries and freighters criss crossing the lower end of the Puget Sound. The clouds prevented us from glimpsing even a fleeting view of Mount Rainier, some 40 miles south southeast of us. Even during late September, Mount Rainier is snow capped, making it perhaps the most prominent feature on the skyline. However, today just wasn’t our day, and considering clouds and rain were in the forecast for the remainder of our stay, it seemed we were destined not to see it at all.
As we ambled along Alaskan Avenue, we came upon a landmark most others might dismiss. The Edgewater Hotel, as its name implies, sits on the edge of Elliot Bay. Besides a great view of the Sound, the hotel ‘s location allows guests to fish from their rooms. Hotel guests in the past include the Beatles, Neil Young and Led Zeppelin in their early trips to the Pacific Northwest. Being diehard Zeppelin fans, we felt obligated to catch a glimpse of the famous hotel, where stories of the band’s excesses may have gotten their start.
Further on up the road, we approached downtown Seattle. The view from Alaskan Avenue afforded us a different perspective of the city, which was dominated by domiciles and businesses alike. Given that the weather conditions were sliding downhill as the morning progressed, there were few people in the area. Sooner than I expected, we had reached the sports complex. We were free to walk around and between the stadiums, which provided us some insight as to how the Safeco Field dome operated. When the dome is open, it slides back over a train track, rather than retracting (like other MLB domed stadiums). This might have been a view we would have missed had we not found our way to the park on our journey.
Feeling as though we were losing in the struggle to beat the rain back to the hotel, we did not linger long around the stadiums. Both parks were physically impressive, and unfortunately our timing did not allow us to take in a Seahawks game at Qwest Field. As much fun as the fan experience was at Safeco Field, I imagine the experience is amplified during a tight Seahawk or Sounders contest at Qwest.
Picking up the pace along Western Avenue toward the hotel, we came across a place of which I had never heard: The Museum of Pop Culture. We entered the museum, not knowing what we might encounter. What we found was an eclectic assortment of art and science, arranged in a way I wouldn’t have ever considered.
My favorite was the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. Being huge science fiction fans, we were enthralled with the displays and exhibits. There was a focus on science fiction of the 1950s, which many fans of the genre (including me) consider its golden age. It was a collector’s heaven, and we spent a considerable amount of time among the treasures.
Next we explored the Sound Lab. The lab had a small recording studio, as well as various musical instruments. Being a sometimes guitarist, I jumped at the chance to play in a recording studio, and banged out the best version of Foxey Lady I could. Fortunately, the lab was nearly deserted, and the only person tortured by my rendition of the Jimi Hendrix classic was my poor brother.
Remembering that the weather was closing in on us, we left before thoroughly examining everything this strange and wonderful place. Should I find myself in the vicinity, I need to see what else the Hall has to offer.
On the way back to the hotel, we found a very unusual street sign. Just when I thought I’d seen every type of sign the US has to offer, we came upon the sign above. Clearly, the sign is trying to convey the deadly implications of not giving a wide berth to pedestrians. However, in my mind, the sign crossed a line that separates public service announcements from maudlin satire.
Following our return to the hotel, we ate a quick lunch, then headed toward the Space Needle. Perhaps the most famous landmark in Seattle, it is known worldwide and very popular with tourists. After a short wait, we were whisked up two the observation deck, some 520 feet above ground, in less than a minute.
The observation deck of the Space Needle offers a 360 degree view of its surroundings, spanning the Puget Sound, downtown Seattle, Mount Baker and Mount Rainier. The lowering cloud deck limited our field of view, and we were unable to see Mount Baker or Mount Rainier. Despite these disappointments, the view of Seattle was well worth the visit.
Though we didn’t not indulge, there were restaurants on the observation deck (which have since closed). Because our visibility was limited, we ended up spending less time there than expected. Hopefully, someday I’ll will return to get a better view of the region from Space Needle.
2. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Rather than attend the Saturday night game at Safeco Field, we decided instead to take advantage of a sports themed opportunity across the border. The BC Lions, a member of the Canadian Football League (CFL), were home that evening, hosting the Calgary Stampeders at BC Place, a multipurpose stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC). Never having seen a CFL game in person, I couldn’t resist the chance to see one.
Vancouver is about two and one-half hours from Seattle, and we set out after relaxing briefly at the hotel. A steady rain developed shortly after we departed Seattle, and the rain slowed our travel time a bit as we drove north on Interstate 5 toward the international border. The crossing was quiet, allowing us to proceed quickly (during a time when crossing the border did not require a passport). By the time we reached Vancouver, the rain turned heavy, making the city seem dark and washed out.
Parking onsite was plentiful, which fortuitous since pouring rain greeted as as we made our way into the venue. Located in a region that receives copious amounts of rain throughout the year, BC Place is a domed stadium; had it not been, the cool and wet conditions would have resulted in a miserable fan experience. Even with cover from the elements, the crowd size was surprisingly small.
At first glance, the game appeared as though it would be a one-sided affair. The Lions were generally considered the best team in the CFL’s West Division, while the Stampeders were near the bottom of that bracket. However, not knowing much about the teams, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. There are a number of differences from the NFL, including a longer and wider field, three downs to reach a first down, and a rogue, a single point play involving a kick into the end zone.
With only three downs to reach a first down, and multiple players in motion prior to the snap, the CFL game showcases a wide open offense, with more passing than rushing. The high powered Lions offense scored early and often, amassing a sizable lead before halftime. The fast paced game was highly enjoyable, even if I did not fully understand all of the rule differences in the CFL.
While I did not see any ex-NFLers on the team rosters, there were a number of former American college players on each team. Even though I am not sure my company appreciated the different take on the American game, I fully appreciated the differences. The Lions continued the offensive assault, while the defense held the Stampeders in check. With the game fully in hand, we expected to see fans leaving, but the Lions fans remained during what had become a blowout.
The fast paced game ended in less than three hours, significantly quicker than a typical NFL game. The game was not as close as the final score of the game would indicate, as the Stampeders were never really in the game. Taking one more look at the field before exiting, I thoroughly enjoyed the Canadian version of the game. Because none of the franchises are nowhere close to where I leave, I’m not sure if/when I’ll see another CFL game.
We managed to squeeze in one more baseball trip at the tail end of the 2007 season, visiting the Pacific Northwest for the first time. The trip was planned around the final series of the season for the Seattle Mariners, but we were just as interested in seeing Seattle, a place I long wished to visit. For this trip, an old friend of mine joined us, as we explored Safeco Field (now known as T-Mobile Park) and beyond.
We left from Newark NJ on a non-stop flight to Seattle-Tacoma Airport, and the six hour flight was long but uneventful. At the airport, we met up with my friend Mike, who flew in from Boston and arrived not long after us. A fellow Met fan, Mike finally took the opportunity to join us on one of our baseball excursions. We didn’t know it at the time, but being as far from the travesty that would occur in Queens NY that weekend spared us from having to witness it.
Heading toward the hotel in Seattle, we were greeted by a severe thunderstorm, something of a rarity in the Pacific Northwest, especially in late September. Luckily, the storm passed us by, leading into a clear and comfortably cool evening at Safeco Field. Finding parking at the stadium was not difficult; there were at two lots at the field, with many offsite options available with walking distance (generally less than one-half mile). However, the prices for the offsite locations were not cheap.
As is the case when we visit a stadium for the first time, we walked around Safeco Field to get a feel for the place. Though I was aware that Qwest Field (now known as CenturyLink Field) was close to Safeco, I didn’t realize that they were across the street from each other. Adjacent to Safeco Field down the street is WaMu Theatre, home to live music.
In fact, there was quite a bit to do and see around the sprawling sports complex. Even among the points of interest within walking distance, the most striking was the view of downtown Seattle. From the ballpark, the skyline was spectacular, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t considered how large Seattle was. That view stuck with me long after the trip ended.
Following our exploration of the environs, we headed into the park. Despite being a relatively new ballpark (which opened its gates for the first time in June 1999), it had a vintage look and feel, as evidenced by the rotunda that serves as the main entrance. Once inside, Safeco Field seemed huge, departing from the “newer” ballpark trend for smaller, more intimate experience. Not as large as the multi purpose colossuses from the 1960s and 1970s, it nonetheless was bigger in person that I thought seeing it on TV.
While we were able to cover much of Safeco Field via the lower level concourse, it did not allow us access to the entire field. Still, our initial impression of the stadium was largely positive, and the clear and relatively cool late afternoon/evening added to the ambiance of the park. Ducking back into the main concourse, we discovered the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame.
Celebrating the rich baseball history of the Pacific Northwest, the Hall contained multi media exhibits chronicling baseball’s beginning in the 1870s, the Seattle Pilots and their lone MLB season in 1969, as well as Mariner greats through the years. Luckily for us, the Hall was not crowded, and we were able to appreciate the understated display. While not as expansive or detailed as Halls we’ve explored in other MLB ballparks, fans will appreciate the expression of appreciation of baseball in Washington.
The Mariners hosted the Texas Rangers for the first game of the last series of the season, slated for a 710 pm start. Before heading to our seats, we went in search of baseball style dinner. As might be expected, there was myriad places to eat and drink, featuring local favorites as well as classic ballpark standards. Rather than indulge in some of the more exotic offerings, we chose the standard fare, and headed to our seats.
We witnessed something unique in my experience at the food court. Typically, the US dollar is stronger than the Canadian dollar, and I have never seen Canadian dollars accepted in US stores. However, during our visit to Seattle, the US dollar and Canadian dollar were about equal, and the food courts and team stores within Safeco Field were accepting Canadian dollars for payment.
The view from our seats was spectacular, as the weather was good enough for an open roof. As the sun was setting toward game time, the lights from the stadium were just taking effect, unveiling the beauty of Safeco Field. Much like Minute Maid Park in Houston, the massive roof towered over the right field stands. Clearing skies and seasonably cool temperatures set the stage for a great evening for taking in a ball game.
Both teams were finishing out the 2007 schedule with little to play for, other than pride. Neither team was headed to the playoffs, completing mediocre seasons. The Mariners sent veteran right hander Jeff Weaver to the hill, and the Rangers countered with 23 year Edison Volquez, making his sixth and final start of the season. Both teams sported relatively potent offenses, so a high scoring affair was in the offing, especially with the roof open.
Beyond the stadium, the main baseball attraction was Ichiro Suzuki. Finishing yet another outstanding season, Ichiro led the AL in hits and at bats, his .351 batting average second in the AL to Magglio Ordonez. Leading off and playing right field for the hometown Mariners, Ichiro was definitely THE fan favorite, receiving a rousing ovation before his at bat in the bottom of the first inning.
The Rangers struck for two runs in the top of the third inning, while Edison Volquez mowed down the Mariners through the first five innings, effectively dispelling the notion of a slugfest at Safeco Field this evening. Though the game was fairly well attended, there did not seem to be anywhere near the 31,000 plus fans announced for the game. The less than capacity crowd should have been expected, since neither team has much left to prove at the tail end of the 2007 campaign.
Volquez’ s start unraveled in the bottom of the sixth, as the Mariners scored three runs before he could record an out. A phalanx of Rangers relievers managed to contain the damage. The Rangers offense pushed two runs across on the top of the seventh to take a 4-3 lead into the seventh inning stretch.
Even with little left to play for in 2007, I was impressed by the passion of the Mariners fan. The combination of the venue and the fans instantly made this one of my favorite places to see a ball game, and we had just reached the bottom of the seventh! The Mariners bats woke up in the bottom of the eight to tie the game at 4-4, and the crowd responded according.
Mariners’ closer J.J Putz held the Rangers scoreless in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, Rangers’ pitcher Mike Wood yielded a single to Mariners 3B Adrian Beltre, then retired the next two batters, seemingly dodging a bullet. However, 2B Jeff Clement ended the game with a walk off HR to center field, giving the Mariners a 6-4 victory. The raucous hometown crowd reveled in the victory as the filed out the Safeco Field. The walk off HR was a fitting ending to the end of a highly enjoyable baseball experience at a great ballpark.
A warm and dry late summer day greeted us for the last game of the series at Comerica Park. Having seen much of what we wished to see in downtown Detroit the day before, we ate a late breakfast before heading directly to the park. However, it seemed as though the landmarks in Detroit were not quite done with us.
After parking the car in a lot away from the ballpark, we passed by a church along the way. St John’s Episcopal Church, built in 1859, was constructed in the Gothic Revival style, which we saw throughout Detroit. The belfry, the tallest section of the church, rises to 105 feet. It is the last remaining church on Woodward Avenue, an area once well known for its large number of religious buildings. The church was yet another example of the wonders I simply didn’t expect to find on this baseball trip.
As we arrived at the main gate of Comerica Park, clouds started to filter the sunshine, and there was a noticeable increase in humidity, making the early afternoon feel more like summer than early fall. The warmth and humidity did not negatively impact our exploration of the park, as we wandered throughout the stadium.
Spending more time on the outfield side of the ballpark, we got a better look at the statutes just above the Tigers Wall of Fame. All of the statues showed Tiger greats in action poses, which was much more impressive in person than the images I had seen on the Tigers website. While it was not Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, the statues were a fitting tribute to the Tiger legends.
Walking back from center field toward our seats, we got a great view of the seating area of the stadium. In order to keep the ballpark seating capacity lower, there are just three decks (including the luxury boxes and press area on the middle deck) at Comerica Park. Though not as large as some parks, the stadium had a larger feel from the outfield than from home plate.
Before finding our seats, we headed to the Big Cat Food Court for lunch. There were other food options at Comerica, such as the Brushfire Grill or Blue Moon Brewhouse, but the food court near the main entrance suited our needs quite well. Sunday afternoon games following Saturday night contests are typically not as well attended, which allowed us to procure excellent seats for the series finale. With lunch in hand, we headed to our seats and awaited the start of the game.
The pitching matchup for the Sunday matinee pitted rookies against each other. The visiting Jays sent 24 year old left hander Ricky Romero to the mound. Romero was concluding a very successful rookie season, finishing third in the 2009 Rookie of the Year balloting. His opponent for this afternoon contest was 20 year old right hander Rick Porcello. The Tiger rookie had an equally impressive rookie season, during which he compiled a 14-9 record. The matchup suggested a pitcher’s duel, despite the fact that both offenses were potent.
After a scoreless first inning, the Tigers roughed up Romero for four runs in the second and third innings. Romero settled down following the outburst, finishing his afternoon after six innings, allowing 10 hits while walking three. By contrast, Rick Porcello held the Jays scoreless through three innings before allowing a pair of runs before exiting after six innings. While the pitching matchup was not as impressive as expected, it was clear that both starters were burgeoning starts with bright futures.
Our seats gave us a great view of the playing field. Comerica Park has a strip of dirt between the mound and home plate. Known as a keyhole, Chase Field in Phoenix and Comerica Park are the only MLB parks to feature one. Additionally, the dirt area around home plate is shaped like a home plate. Both of these features are nods to the past, especially the keyhole, which was once a common feature at ballparks.
The Tigers tacked on three more runs in the eighth inning, closing the scoring and handing the Tigers a 7-2 victory. The game time as a very reasonable 2 hours and 40 minutes, in front of an announced crowd of 32,000+ fans. Taking in the ballpark all afternoon, I decided that Comerica Park had become my second favorite MLB Park (just behind PNC Park in Pittsburgh, PA). The combination of old school features and new ballpark amenities made this an ideal place to see a ballgame. Though it is a long drive (or relatively short flight) to Detroit, I hope to return here soon.
Following breakfast near the hotel, we decided to explore downtown Detroit. The few glimpses I had yesterday before the game piqued my curiosity, as the glimpses challenged my preconception of the city. Visions of Detroit from the news and the movie 8 Mile danced in my head. In our previous visit to Detroit (in 1999 to see Tiger Stadium before it closed for good), we didn’t venture from from the park, and did not see much of the city.
We found parking near the Joe Louis Arena for $5, which covered our exploration of Detroit AND the game in the evening. Rather than consult a map and plan our day, we instead started near Comerica Park and wandered from there. My initial impression was that downtown Detroit had architecture and building materials similar to those we’ve seen in Newark, NJ and Baltimore, MD.
The first landmark we encountered was across the street from Comerica Park: the Fox Theatre. One of five Fox theaters built across the US in the 1920s, the ten story theater in Detroit was completed in 1928. The theater portion of the building holds 5,000+ patrons, the largest of the original Fox theaters, and remains the lone surviving theater from the 1920s. Restored in 1988, the third through tenth floors host office space.
We walked among the skyscrapers of downtown Detroit on our way to the Detroit River, which serves as the international border between Michigan and Ontario. The buildings reminded me of older cities of the Northeast, both in architecture and age. Though I’d never been to this portion of the city, it definitely had a familiar feel.
As we headed toward the river, we encountered a building that looked very familiar. While this building was not a skyscraper (in fact, it was not even the tallest building in its vicinity), it had a very distinctive shape and coloring. Dubbed the Flatiron building of Detroit, the structure bore an amazing resemblance to its namesake in New York City. Had I not known about the building in Manhattan, I might have missed this gem.
Crossing the walkway over the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, we encountered the Mariner’s Church. Founded in 1842, it was designed as a mission for maritime travelers of the Great Lakes. Constructed of lannon stone, the design of the church was Gothic Revival (which is seen elsewhere in Detroit). The church was a stop on the Underground Railroad, the final one before former slaves reached freedom in Canada. The church was moved 880 feet to the east in 1955 to accommodate the construction of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.
We found ourselves on the Detroit Riverwalk, a concrete walkway which includes parks, plazas and pavilions that afforded a great view of the river on one side, and the skyscrapers of Detroit on the other. Located along the river was the Gateway to Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad. Dedicated in 2001, the memorial commemorates Detroit’s role in the Underground Railroad. Though I was aware that Great Lakes states were active in the Underground Railroad, I had no idea how important Detroit was in the process
Our final stop on our impromptu tour of downtown Detroit was the Renaissance Center. Often referred to as “a city within a city”, the Center is a collection of seven interconnected cylindrical buildings. Perhaps the most famous is the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center; at 73 stories, it is the largest of the seven buildings. It dominates the Detroit skyline, and is visible from a great distance.
We stopped at a cafe near the Center for lunch, sitting outside to enjoy the fantastic weather. On the walk back to the car, we passed over the Detroit-Windsor tunnel before reaching the Joe Louis Area. We barely scratched the surface when it came taking into the myriad landmarks in Detroit, yet I felt we saw so much. There was far more to see in Detroit than I could ever have imagined.
2. Comerica Park
Walking to the park from the lot near the Joe Louis Arena, we arrived just as the gates opened. Having more time to explore, we wandered around the outside of the ballpark first. Comerica Park is very much an urban ballpark, not far from the skyscrapers to east and northeast. Though there wasn’t much to see in the immediate area around the park, we did get a good look at the giant glove on the back of the left field stands.
Finding our way back to the main entrance, we were again greeted by the huge tiger. As might be expected, the tiger drew quite a bit of attention, and it was exceedingly difficult to get a picture of the feline without people in it. Normally, such things at ballparks do not impress me, but this tiger was very photogenic, and a decided fan favorite.
Once inside, we strolled through the concourse. Getting a better look at ballpark in the sunlight revealed that it had a great baseball atmosphere, one that rivaled the old Tiger Stadium. Opening in 2000, it was one of the “newer” MLB ballparks, which meant it had a slightly smaller capacity (about 41,000). The smaller capacity gave the park a more intimate feeling, which was evident almost immediately,
Like many of the newer MLB ballparks, Comerica Park was constructed to showcase the downtown area. This was evident when we toured the upper deck, where the Renaissance Center dominated the skyline of Detroit beyond center field, which reflected the setting sun to the west. Over the left field fence, the mammoth Ford Field towered over Comerica.
In left field was the massive scoreboard, which was the largest in baseball when the park opened in 2000. Roaming the top of the scoreboard were two large bengal tigers, whose eyes light up following Tigers wins. Walking toward center field, we discovered the Tigers Wall oF Fame. Retired Tigers players’ number adorn the wall in center field (except for Ty Cobb, who did not wear a number). On the concourse above the wall stood statues of the players in action.
We completed our walk at the main gate behind home plate, where we found the Big Cat Food Court. Not surprisingly, there was a wide variety of food from which to choose, with dishes from around the world. Next to the food court was a carousel, featuring bengal tigers for kids to ride. Per usual, my palette dissuaded me from experimenting, and I chose fare more typical of a baseball stadium.
From the Big Cat Food Court we went in search of our seats. For tonight’s game, we obtained better seats than the night before. Despite the regional rivalry between the teams, there were still good seats available. Sitting just to the left of home plate in the lower level, we had an excellent view of the field, as well as the skyline of Detroit.
The Tigers again hosted the Blue Jays in the second game of a three game set. Starting for the hometown Tigers was 25 year old right hander Edwin Jackson, who was reaching the end of a mostly successful 2009 campaign. On the hill for the visiting Jays was right hander Scott Richmond, who was limping toward the end of a decidedly disappointing season. Given the pitching matchup, and warm and dry evening, suggested that we could in store for an offensively driven ball game.
Sitting very near the Tigers dugout, we caught a glimpse of Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager. Leyland was a baseball legend, having led the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1980s and 1990s. Leyland took the Tigers to the World Series in 2006, where they lost to the St Louis Cardinals. Leyland briefly popped out of the Tigers dugout just before the game, allowing my brother to snap a picture of the storied Tigers skipper
As expected, the ball was carrying that night, as Curtis Granderson led off the Tigers first inning with a home run, and the offensive display was on. After the teams traded runs in the second inning, the Tigers scored three runs in the fifth inning, ending the night for the Jays’ Scott Richmond.
However, that ended the scoring for the Tigers, as the Blue Jays’ bullpen shut down the potent Detroit offense the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Jays scored in the last five innings of the game to earn an 8-6 victory.
The time of the game was a shade over three hours, which is typical of an American League game. During the content, I became enamored with Comerica Park. The ballpark has old school charm with a new ballpark feel. We would get a chance to see the park in full sunshine tomorrow afternoon, and following what I saw tonight, I couldn’t wait for the series finale.
Our lone 2009 MLB trip took us from New Jersey to Detroit, Michigan by way of Canton, Ohio from September 10th through the 13th. The first day of the trip (Thursday, September 10th) was dedicated to the drive from central New Jersey to Ohio. We assumed that we could not expect to get from New Jersey to Detroit, Michigan in one day (though we did exactly that in 1999), so we consciously chose Canton as a destination. Our plan was to stay overnight and visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame Friday morning, September 11th, before heading to Detroit for a game that evening.
The trek itself was rather non-descrip, driving along Interstate 76 for the entirety of the state of Pennsylvania. That route took us from near Philadelphia just after the morning commute across the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg (the state capital), where we could see the nuclear reactor cooling towers of the Three Mile Island facility. Following a short stop for lunch, we got back on the road.
Between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, we witnessed the heartland of America. On one side of the interstate, we saw acres and acres of corn, which was mature and ready to be harvested. On the other side, we saw acres and acres of cows standing and laying among the rolling hills. From that slice of Americana, we passed north of Pittsburgh before crossing into Ohio. After about an hour, we reached Canton, checked into our hotel, and ate a quick dinner before settling in after a long day of driving.
2. Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton Ohio, Friday September 11th 2009
Checking out of our hotel on the cloudless, relatively cool morning in Canton, we headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Arriving about the time the doors opened at the Hall, we were able to secure parking adjacent to the museum, rather than have to parking offsite and catch a shuttle bus. Having gotten there early, we had much of the Hall to ourselves, save a crew filming for a local or national news broadcast.
Our visit began in the Hall of Fame Gallery. Home of the plaques describing the current Hall members, it was reminiscent of the busts at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Since the Pro Football Hall of Fame elects new six entrants each year, there are many more members of the Pro Football Hall. Examining each plaque consumed a considerable amount of time, especially since there were a large number of members from the early days with whom I was not familiar.
Our next stop was the Hall theatre, which showed a loop of famous games and clips. The loop was interesting, but disappointingly short. Following the main presentation, we wandered into the NFL Gallery. The Gallery contained exhibits for each NFL team, as well as multimedia displays telling the history of the game. For the casual and die hard fans alike, this gallery contained the heart and soul of the game, stepping us through time as the game evolved.
In addition to the history of the NFL, the gallery chronicled the American Football League (AFL). Founded in 1960 as a rival league to the NFL, the AFL featured a more wide open offensive game, a sharp contrast to what the NFL had to offer. Despite a more exciting game, the AFL was widely derided among football fans as inferior to the NFL. However, the AFL signed Joe Namath out of Alabama in 1965. Shocked by the signing, the NFL pursued merger talks with the AFL shortly thereafter.
To my surprise, the gallery contained a small exhibit dedicated to the World Football League (WFL). Developed in the mid 1970s as a direct rival to the NFL, it featured a team in Hawaii, and encouraged NFL stars (such as Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield of the Miami Dolphins) to jump to the new league. Featuring key rule differences, the new league enjoyed a fairly successful first season, but the lack of a national TV contract and overzealous spending doomed the WFL before the end of the second season.
Perhaps the most interesting features in the gallery were the wax figures of NFL legends. Life sized versions Jim Brown, Walter Payton and Lynn Swann were among the greats immortalized in the wax museum. Finally, we walked through the Super Bowl gallery, which featured multi media displays of each Super Bowl. Being New York Jets fans, we were attracted to the Super Bowl III exhibit, as the Jets beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. That victory legitimized the AFL in the eyes of many NFL fans, and represents the lone Jets Super Bowl appearance.
All told, we spent more than two and one-half hours in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including the obligatory visit to the Hall store for souvenirs. Though I consider myself a knowledgeable pro football fan, I learned quite a bit about the game, and enjoyed the exhibits greatly. If you are just a casual fan, and you find yourself in the Canton, Ohio area, you owe it to yourself to visit the Hall. You won’t be disappointed.
3. Canton, Ohio to Detroit Michigan/Comerica Park
Following lunch near the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we hit the road for Detroit, Michigan in order to catch the game that evening against the Toronto Blue Jays. The 210 mile, three and one half our trip took us south of Cleveland, Ohio around the western edge of Lake Erie into the southeast portion of the lower peninsula of Michigan. The trip itself was uneventful, with generally light midday traffic working in our favor.
We reached our hotel south of Detroit off Interstate 75 a couple of hours before the gates opened at the ballpark, allowing us time to relax before the game. Approaching the hotel, our GPS unit informed us that the hotel was a left turn off the interstate, though visually we could see that the hotel was actually to the right of the exit. Back then, the GPS units did not often update their maps, and clearly this unit was out of date.
Arriving at Comerica Park about the time the gates opened, we had little difficulty finding parking. There were five main parking lots around the ballpark (including parking near Ford Field, located across the street), reasonably priced at about $10. Had the main lots been full, there are many parking options within a short walk (generally less than one-half mile) of the stadium, with varying prices.
Like many newer MLB ballparks, Comerica Park was located downtown. Walking around the park, we glimpsed the colossal Ford Field across the street. The domed stadium (home to the NFL Lions )dominated the skyline in this portion of Detroit, seemingly much larger than Comerica Park. On the other side of the stadium, we could see the Renaissance Center, located on the banks of the Detroit River.
The environment surrounding the ballpark was unexpected. Stories of Detroit has me expecting a war zone, yet downtown Detroit had a distinctive architecture that held a charm that exceeded my expectations. Having caught my interest, we would have to explore downtown Detroit further.
Since we were not sure that would would arrive in Detroit for the start of the 705 pm game, we did not obtain the best seats possible for the game. Instead, we sat in right center, just to the left of home plate. The view gave us a great view of the stadium, as well as an unobstructed look at home plate.
Being September 11th, the Detroit Tigers held a short but dignified ceremony marking the eighth anniversary of the attacks in 2001. To be honest, I hadn’t given the date much thought (outside of a cursory acknowledgement), so the somber ceremony caught me somewhat by surprise. Following a moment of silence to remember the fallen on that fateful day, the players took the field, with the first pitch thrown at 707 pm.
The Tigers opponent that evening was the Toronto Blue Jays, a regional rival, even though the teams are in different divisions in the American League. The Tigers held a five and one-half game in the AL Central over the Minnesota Twins, while the Blue Jays were mired in fourth place in the AL East, 26.5 games behind the division leading New York Yankees. It was against that backdrop that the Tigers sent left hander Nate Robertson against the Blue Jays starter, left hander Nate Tallet.
With the game featuring back of the rotation starters struggling through their 2009 campaigns, the circumstances seemed ripe for a slugfest, as both teams had power in their lineups. However, the score was close through the first half of the game, with the teams trading runs through the first five innings.
As the evening blended into evening, the wind died down, leading to comfortably cool conditions for the middle of September. With the Blue Jays protecting a 3-1 lead entering the seventh inning, the teams both scored three times in that frame, which ended the scoring for the contest.
Toward the end of the game, a light breeze off Detroit River brought a light fog to Comerica Park. The fog allowed for an amazing effect on the laser eyes of the bengal tigers perched on the scoreboard. The scattered light from the tiger’s eyes gave it a more menacing appearance. Fortunately, the fog remained light enough not to affect play, as the Blue Jays took the first game of the three game weekend set 6-4.
Following the game, we experienced little difficulty exiting the area before heading back to the hotel to relax after a long day that started with football and ended with baseball.
Once again, the morning dawned dark and cool across Eastern Colorado. Considering Denver enjoys 24 sunny days a month (especially during the warm season), getting three gray and wet days in a row is an unusual string of bad luck. Rather than experiencing highs temperatures in the toasty upper 70s and lower 80s (which is normal for mid June), we were “treated” to highs in the 50s under slate gray skies.
1. Coors Field
With the weather remaining uncooperative, we decided to stay close to the hotel following breakfast. The 110 pm start meant that the gates opened shortly after 11 am, and we arrived at the ballpark around that time. For the third game in a row, we were able to park onsite, as the cloudy skies and cool temperatures promised another light crowd.
Arriving early finally allowed us to explore Coors Field in more detail. The ballpark is huge, with a capacity of more than 50,000, with three decks and grandstand seating in left field. The park was designed and built during the team’s initial years in Denver, when the Rockies played at Mile High Stadium, home of the Broncos. During their tenure in that park, the Rockies set an MLB attendance record, drawing more than four million fans a year.
While the Rockies still draw well, the large crowds at Mile High Stadium didn’t translate to the new ballpark. Consequently, Coors Field lacks the intimacy of some of the newer MLB parks. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its own charm; flora and water falls in center field, as well as a purple aura throughout the park (due to the Rockies color scheme). Still, the large dimensions of the park remind me of the ballparks of the 70s, though Coors Field has more character than the multi purpose behemoths of the past.
Wandering the entire ballpark, we counted no less than two dozen places to eat and drink. As seemed to be the norm in this park of Colorado, there were several microbrews available at Coors Field, as well as a few restaurants serving specialty cuisine. Not possessing a sophisticated palette, my tastes are drawn to more standard ballpark fare, and there were no shortages of these locations. Following out trek through the stadium, we got lunch before seeking out our seats.
The small crowd for the matinee made Coors Field look nearly empty as game time approached. While skies occasionally lightened up, the sun never did make an appearance, and the crowd was dressed for a game in April, rather than June. The pitching matchup for the final game of the series featured right hander Jesse Litsch for the Jays, and left hander Jeff Francis for the home town Rockies.
The low clouds started lifting shortly after the game started, raising the prospect of a few rays of sun. Alas, that didn’t happen, but brightening skies after two days of cold and rain was a welcome respite from the conditions. The weather resulted in yet another lightly attended game, surely less that the announced crowd of 32,000 plus.
The Rockies pounced on Litsch in the first inning, batting around while scoring for four runs on five hits. The Blue Jays responded with three runs of their own in the third, drawing within a run. However, the Rockies answered with three runs of their own in the bottom of the third, ending Jesse Litsch’s afternoon. The first run of the inning came from LF Ryan Spilborghs, hitting the first of his two home runs that afternoon.
As the game went on, a few breaks in the clouds developed, helping it feel warmer on this cool afternoon. The breaks didn’t last long, as the Rockies continued their offense barrage, scoring three more runs in the sixth inning (featuring Spilborghs’ second home run of the afternoon). That outburst put the game out of reach for the Blue Jays, and capped the scoring for the game.
Despite the best conditions of the weekend, I suspect that we did not get the true flavor of Coors Field. Having spent some time in eastern Colorado in the past, my experience tells me that the clouds and rain obscured the true charm the field possesses. However, the charm was not fully present during this visit, and the smaller crowds undoubtedly had something to do with that as well.
The Rockies 10-3 victory took about three hours to complete, as the home team swept the Jays in three straight. Following the game, we decided to take a ride up to Boulder, perhaps my favorite place in Colorado.
2. Boulder Colorado
Hoping for better conditions as we headed toward Boulder, we were disappointed to discover the same clouds over Denver were present in Boulder. Professional training opportunities have allowed me to visit Boulder several times, and each time I discovered something new to appreciate. My favorite part of Boulder is the Flatirons, a rock formation in the foothills of the Rockies unique to the area. There are five flatirons in the formation, and wandering among the flatirons has always been the highlight of my trips to Boulder.
Arriving at Table Mesa in the late afternoon, we began to wander in the meadows and trees just in front of the FlatIrons. The recent rains left the area greener than I had ever seen it, which helped counteract the ever present clouds. It reminded me of the rolling green hills I’d seen over eastern Nova Scotia years before, and of picture I’ve seen of Ireland (though I have not yet been there)
The clouds obscured the top of the Flatirons, rendering the colors in the terrain almost indiscernible. Still, the majesty of the Flatirons shone through the mist. The ground immediately adjacent to the terrain was too wet to walk on comfortably (as we did not have the right shoes for the conditions). That meant we were unable to hike the trails that lead to the higher hills overlooking Boulder, and possibly catch a glimpse of a mountain lion along the way.
Not seeing another soul wandering the area for more than an hour, it seemed as though we had this part of Boulder to ourselves. The only other creatures in sight were a few deer and a noisy magpie, apparently enjoying the lack of human presence. Even with the gloom, some of the color of the region was evident. The FlatIrons are composed of conglomerated sandstones, with some of the sandstone present along the trails.
Lingering near Table Mesa in the hopes that some of the clearing we saw to the east would magically materialize over Boulder, we waited until nearly dark before heading back to Denver. This was my brother’s first visit to Boulder, and I was disappointed that he didn’t get to experience Boulder the way I have in the past. Perhaps we will return, if for no other reason that to see the FlatIrons in all their glory, and to hike the trails among the formations.
Our only MLB trip of 2010 took us to Denver, Colorado for the weekend of June 11-13th 2010, for our first visit to Coors Field, home of the Rockies. The flight from Newark, NJ to Denver CO took about three hours and 45 minutes, and after picking up our rental car, we arrived at our hotel not far from the airport around 400 pm local time.
There was a considerable amount of turbulence landing at Denver International Airport, which in itself was not unusual, as the airport is adjacent to the Rocky Mountains. Its proximity to the mountains makes the airport susceptible to strong and shifting winds, and all of my landings at Denver International Airport have been bumpy (even in good weather).
Unbeknownst to us, thunderstorms were scattered about eastern Colorado that afternoon. We became fully aware of the threat as we drove from the airport to the hotel. After checking in, we went down to the hotel bar to get sandwiches when the storms arrived. The manager of the bar came out and told us that, if necessary, we would move across the street to a bank to hunker down if a tornado was sighted.
There as an audible murmur among the few bar patrons when they were informed of the specter of fleeing ahead of a possible tornado. However, being a weather geek, I had other plans. If there was a tornado sighted, I was going outside to get pictures of the storm. Never having seen a tornado, I felt this opportunity was too inviting to let pass. Alas, the strongest part of the storm passed us by, leaving the bar patrons relieved and me disappointed.
Behind the storm, the wind picked and the air turned noticeably cooler as we headed out to Coors Field, located just outside of downtown Denver. Arriving at the park about an hour before game time, we searched for parking. There are three official parking lots at the stadium (Lots A,B and C), with prices ranging between $15 and $25. On this night, due mainly to the unsettled weather, we sought to secure a spot near the stadium. Otherwise, there are many other parking options located within a short walk from the stadium, though prices vary considerably.
With a light rain falling, we skipped our normal walk around the stadium and went into the ballpark through the first base entrance. Entering the ballpark, we were greeted by a tarp covered field. Every baseball fans knows that tarp on the field before the first pitch is a bad sign. Trying to stay optimistic, we wandered around the park in the rain as long as practical, before ducking in under cover provided by the lower level concourse.
The game time of 610 pm came and went, while the rain continued. Temperatures dropping into the 40s made a wet evening even more unpleasant, and I feared as though the game would be postponed without a single pitch being thrown. We took cover as the rain started to lighten up, giving us hope that there might be a game after all.
As the rain slackened, our hopes for a game were buoyed. After removing the tarp, it took the ground crew 45 minutes to ready the field, pushing back the game time to 855 pm. Much of the crowd left during the extensive rain delay, and there were less than 10,000 fans left in the park (which holds 50,000 fans) when the game started.
Cold and wet, we found our seats for the first pitch. Starting for the hometown Rockies was right hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who was enjoying a career year. Jimenez sported a 1.13 ERA in support of a 11-1 record. The starter for the visiting Toronto Blue Jays was left hander Ricky Romero, who we saw start for the Jays in Detroit in 2009. Not long after the first pitch, intermittent light rain returned, with the occasional snowflakes mixed in as temperatures dropped into the 30s.
The Blue Jays opening the scoring in the second with a single run, and the Rockies responded with two runs in the bottom of that inning. The Blue Jays scored two more runs in the third to retake the lead, as Jimenez was experiencing his worst outing of the 2010 campaign. The intermittent rain was becoming steadier and heavier, chasing away most of the remaining fans. Having traveled 2,000 miles to see this game, we were determined to remain util the end.
Meanwhile, the Rockies scored single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth in innings to take a 5-3 lead. Conditions continued to deteriorate, prompting umpires to call for the ground crew to cover the infield once again. Mercifully, the wait was relatively short before the game was called, handing Jimenez his league leading 12th win. With so few fans left in the building, exiting was easy. The late start and bad weather didn’t allow us to explore the park as much as we would have liked, but there were two more games in the series, so we would get another change to take in the feel of Coors Field.
Following a late night at Target Field the night before, we had breakfast at the Denny’s adjacent to our hotel, then relaxed until it was time to leave for the ballpark. Game time was 1210 pm, leaving little time to do much before arriving at the park as the gates opened.
We got a good look at Target Field during a cloudy evening, but hoped for a better look during the day. Unfortunately, the morning dawned cloudy, and remained so as we caught the Metro Blue Line from the Mall of America (which was adjacent to our hotel). Temperatures in the 40s reminded us that we were indeed in Minnesota in late September, which is a fall month this far north.
The trip took about 40 minutes, seemingly slow for the distance covered. That being said, the trip was pleasant, unlike mass transit we have seen in others cities. The Metro dropped us off right in front of Target Field, forgoing the need to drive and park at the stadium. There were few people milling around as the gates opened, suggesting that the game might be lightly attended, as the season was winding down for a team that wasn’t playing very well.
There was a distinct nip in the air at Target Field as we wandered throughout the seating areas. A gusty wind and temperatures struggling to reach 50 degrees was very different from the 80s and humidity we had been experiencing back home. In the light of day, we discovered that Target Field was quite photogenic, blunted only by the low clouds hanging over the city.
Fans passed through the turnstiles as the stadium starting waking from its early autumn slumber. After encircling the stadium taking pictures, we hit the concession stand on the lower level for hot chocolate and hot dogs, which served as our lunch. Because the Twins were playing sub .500 baseball, tickets for the matinee with the Seattle Mariners were plentiful. As result, we obtained possibly the best seats we’ve ever had at an MLB game.
The amazing seats gave us access we normally only get at minor league games. Our proximity to the field, as well as the sparse crowd, allowed us to hear chatter on the field. That is something we’ve never experienced in an MLB stadium. The announced crowd for the game was 37,000+, which was laughable. At most, there were 7500 souls in the park braving the early afternoon chill by the time the first pitch was thrown.
Leading off for the Mariners was Ichiro Suzuki. We’ve seen him a few times during our baseball travels, but never this close. Even among the Twins faithful, Ichiro was a fan favorite, receiving scattered applause as his name was announced. Ichiro was 3 for 9 in the two games we saw at Target Field, but each at bat was a thing of beauty from one of the best hitters in my lifetime.
The pitching matchup for the final game of the series featured Anthony Swarzak for the Twins and Blake Beaven for the Mariners. Both starters were in their first full season with their teams, and each had a fairly mediocre campaign. The matchup seemed to be fitting for teams that were simply playing out their 2011 schedules, with little left to accomplish save evaluating young talent for the future.
The sun made a brief appearance shortly after we arrived at Target Field, but since that time the sky maintained a slate gray overcast, ensuring little warming during the game. The Mariners scored single runs in the first and second innings to take an early lead. The Twins tied it up with runs in the third and fifth innings. Despite the starters having little MLB experience, they each performed admirably.
Breaks in the clouds after the fifth inning allowed a few rays of sun to sneak through, giving us a better view of downtown Minneapolis over the right field wall. Though there wasn’t enough sunshine to warm the air much, just seeing it through the overcast seemed to modify the fall chill firmly entrenched over the stadium.
The Twins’ and Mariners’ bullpens shut down the opponent’s offense through the Mariners’ at bat in the top of the ninth. The Twins scored with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to seal a 3-2 victory. Despite the lack of scoring in the game, the contest clocked in at about three hours, which seemed longer in the late September chill.
As we filed out of Target Field following the game, I turned around to take one final look at the ballpark. It had a clean, new feel to it, though I still couldn’t understand why a stadium in a place where snow can occur in May did not have a dome. It was a great place to see a game, and I may be back here someday, especially when the Mets are in town.
Our second MLB trip of the 2011 season took us to Minneapolis to see the Twins at Target Field. Planning the trip for late September, we knew there was a chance that the night game we would attend could be cold, with temperatures in the 30s. Circumstances dictated the timing of our visit, and we were delighted to get a chance to visit Minnesota. Though I have been to the Minneapolis airport (to change planes), this visit would be the first “real” trip to Minnesota for each of us.
In a perfect world, we would have driven to from central NJ to Minneapolis, as road trips allow us to see some much of the US. However, there simply wasn’t time, since the drive would have been 2400 miles round trip, taking 34 hours. With the drive not a viable choice, we flew from Newark, NJ to Minneapolis, MN. With the flight clocking in at two hours and 30 minutes, we arrived too late to catch the game that night (September 20th). Instead, we checked into our hotel in Bloomington and settled in for the night.
1. Minneapolis, Wednesday September 21st
The morning dawned cloudy, with temperatures in the 40s. That might not qualify as cold in September for Minnesotans, but considering we came from a place where it was still warm and humid, it felt as though we skipped fall and went straight into early winter. Luckily, we knew this was possible and dressed accordingly.
Following breakfast at the Denny’s that was part of the hotel complex, we drove to Minniehaha Regional Park, along the banks of the Mississippi River. A bucolic retreat from urban Minneapolis, the park reminded me to some degree of Central Park in New York City. A stroll along the Mississippi River in the late September chill made it feel more like football weather, but we enjoyed the fall like conditions, despite the lack of sunshine.
Based on the rock formations in the park, it seemed as though at least some of the features were carved out by glaciers. We’ve seen similar rock formations at the Delaware Water Gap on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In fact, Minniehaha Park was very reminiscent of the Water Gap, from the rocks to the forest primeval. After following the river for a while, we decided to drive further up the river, closer to downtown Minneapolis.
Parking near the locks on the Mississippi River, we walked up to Lock No. 1. Over the years, we have seen the Mississippi from different locations, but this view was special; we were near at the start of the mighty river. As we walked along the river side, we were surprised by a visitor; a bald eagle. The beautiful visitor caught us completely off guard, so we didn’t manage to get any pictures.
Even though the sun never did peek out that day, the refreshingly cool autumn air made our exploration quite enjoyable. On the way back to the car, we wandered through some of downtown Minneapolis. Despite the tall buildings, the vibe of the place was more like a medium sized city. Remarkably clean for an urban area, Minneapolis possessed a charm that cities of its size do not have back East. My first impression of Minneapolis was overwhelmingly positive.
2. Target Field
Rather than drive to Target Field and search for parking in an unfamiliar urban area, we opted to take public transportation to the game. Walking to a Metro stop from the hotel, we passed the Mall of America, which was just down the street from our hotel. Strangely, we did not visit the Mall during our stay, even though it is a top tourist destination.
Catching the Metro Blue Line near the Mall, the light rail took us to a stop just across the street from Target Field. Since the trip was on a local line with several stops, it took about 40 minutes to reach our destination. With trip being a mere 10 miles, the ride seemed fairly long, similar to that of the train ride from Manhattan to Citifield, the home of the Mets. However, that’s where comparison ends, since the light rail in Minneapolis was MUCH nicer than the New York City subway system.
After getting off the train, we got our first view of Target Field. The curves and the glass on the exterior gave the park a futuristic look, yet the brick siding exuded a more retro vibe. Walking around the stadium, we discovered several bronze statues of Twins’ legends. Each statue seemed to capture the essence of the player, from the crouched batting stance of Rod Carew to the quiet dignity of Harmon Killebrew.
My favorite, however, was the statue of Kirby Puckett. It perfectly caught the fist pump of Puckett rounding the bases following the home run that won Game Six of the 1991 World Series. Glimpsing the statue took me back to that night, reliving the moment as if it happened yesterday. In my opinion, that image epitomizes Twins baseball.
The cloudy skies that night did not afford us the best view of the interior of Target Field, though we did wander the concourse snapping pictures and taking in the atmosphere. Target Field felt like a modern ballpark, with great sight lines throughout the stadium. Though the stadium seemed bigger in person than I expected (due primarily to the four deck seating layout, which included the press level), the seating capacity is just under 40,000. Yet, despite its size, there seemed to be some sense of intimacy that does not come through at home on TV.
Following our tour of the stadium, we searched for food before heading to our seats. Like most big league parks, there were many places to grab something to eat. The featured restaurant within the park was Hrbeck’s Restaurant, named for the Twins first baseman during the glory days of the 1980s and early 1990s. Open even when the Twins aren’t playing, it seems to be popular in the community, though Yelp reviews are not particularly flattering. As is our custom, we opted for more standard baseball fare, grabbing hot dogs and sodas before finding our seats.
Sitting in our seats in the autumn chill before the first pitch, I couldn’t understand why a ballpark in Minneapolis would be an open air stadium. Having seen all of the current MLB stadiums, it is clear to me that an outdoor stadium offers a better fan experience. However, when you play baseball in a place where snow is not that uncommon into May, pragmatism may have to have some place in the decision making process. Perhaps Twins fans are accustomed to the chillier conditions, but at least some baseball fans would trade comfort for ambiance in this situation.
The Twins hosted the Seattle Mariners on this night. Both teams were limping to the finish at the conclusion of disappointing seasons, and seemed to be playing out the schedule. Starting for the Mariners was the young right hander Michael Pineda, completing his rookie year. Following the season, Pineda underwent surgery to repair a right shoulder labrum tear, and it would take two full seasons for him to return the mound. For the home team, the starter was Kevin Slowey, suffering through a brutal 2011. This would be his last season in Minnesota.
On this cloudy and cool evening, there were far fewer fans in the park than the announced crowd of 36,000 by the time the first pitch was thrown. The Twins scored runs in the first two innings off Pineda, whose night ended after four innings, and Slowey was pitching as though he would make the slim lead hold up.
The Mariners’ offense awoke in the fifth inning, scoring two runs, followed by thee more runs in the sixth. That ended Slowey’s night after six innings. Though the Twins would score single runs in the 8th and 9th innings, the Mariners held on for the 5-4 victory. Even with the scoring, the game time clocked in at about two hours and 45 minutes, which is not bad for an American League contest. We left Target Field that night with a favorable impression of the park, and we would get a look at the stadium in the daylight the following day.