Sahlen Field, Buffalo NY, July 16th 2021

Outside the Swan Street gate at Sahlen Field, Buffalo NY. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Rain threatened to wash away our baseball weekend in weather New York and northwest Pennsylvania, as the forecast was very wet and cool. My brother and I traveled from my home near Harrisburg to Buffalo on Friday, July 26th, with the intent of seeing a game on Saturday at Sahlen Field (to see the “Buffalo” Blue Jays host the Texas Rangers), then taking in a game at UPMC Field in Erie on Sunday. Since the drive to Buffalo took only five hours, we found ourselves with some time Friday afternoon to do some sightseeing. Since Niagara Falls was only 30 minutes away, we went there for our first glimpse of the natural beauty from the American side.

An overcast sky yielded occasional light showers and drizzle, which resulted in us cutting our visit to the Falls short. Before leaving, my brother suggested that we visit Sahlen Field that night, since the forecast for Saturday afternoon was bad, almost assuring a rain out. Not wanting to miss our opportunity to see an MLB game in Buffalo, we quickly purchased tickets for the game, which was slated for a 707 pm started. Since we were 30 minutes from the hotel, we raced back to change and prepare for the game, and headed by up Interstate 90 back toward Buffalo in time to make the game.

Welcome to Sahlen Field! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Though there is no onsite parking at Sahlen Field (the reason for which was obvious once we arrived), we had little trouble finding parking within a couple of blocks of the stadium. Not surprisingly, parking was generally $20 that distance from the park, and as high as $35 right next to the ballpark. It seems as though parking prices for MLB games found there way to Buffalo! Once we reached Sahlen Field, we wandered around the outside of the park taking pictures. The outfield area was largely inaccessible from the outside, due to the proximity of Oak Street in left field, and restricted parking outside centerfield and right field. However, along Washington and Swan Streets, we found what appeared to be a recently refurbished look, complete with Toronto Blue Jays signage along the way. We also discovered that this portion of downtown Buffalo contained some older buildings with some interesting architecture. If the weather was kinder than forecast on Saturday, perhaps we would investigate this area further.

Returning to the home plate entrance, we entered the ballpark. Security was unsurprisingly tighter than minor league ballparks, but the process was much smoother than most MLB parks, as the staff was cheerful and helpful. Walking through the tunnel to the interior concourse, we felt as though we were in an MLB stadium, with a large and enthusiastic crowd milling around. It was clear that the ballpark had received a significant upgrade for the MLB games played there in 2020 and 2021. Sahlen Field was covered in Blue Jay blue, from the padded outfield walls to the trim on both the lower level and the private suites.

Sahlen Field from behind home plate in the lower level. This image is featured in the Wiki page for Sahlen Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Typically, we explore the interior of a new stadium shortly after arriving, but the bustling crowd inside the inner concourse made that a bit more difficult than usual. Rather than encircle the playing field on the outer concourse (which was more challenging than other ballparks), we ducked into the tunnels between the inner and outer concourses, taking pictures, and repeating the process from the right field line back toward the left field line. Unlike some stadiums, the concourse did NOT extend around the outfield, as Sahlen Field was tucked in between streets in downtown Buffalo, leaving little room for maneuvering beyond those confines.

As we further explored Sahlen Field, we discovered that it consisted of two decks of seating. The lower deck (separated into two sections by a concrete concourse) extends from the left field foul pole behind home plate to the right field foul line, with the upper portion of the lower deck protected from the elements by the deck of red seats and private suites located above. Seats near the foul poles were angled for a better view of home plate, something we have not seen in many minor league parks, and a nice touch for fans in those locations. In total, the ballpark holds about 16,600 fans, which made it the largest minor league park we have yet visited.

A view of Sahlen Field, centered on the home plate area. This view shows the green seated lower deck, red seated upper deck, some of the private suites, the press box, and the tower at the Old Post Office in Buffalo. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Down the right field line we found the Party Zone, a multi tiered collection of picnic table style benches, covered at the top by a canvas roof. Just to the right of the Party Zone are the bullpens. Constructed shortly before we arrived, the dual leveled bullpen housed the home team on the top tier, and the visiting Texas Rangers on the lower level. Because of the alignment of Sahlen Field, there was only a short wall and a large mesh netting strung across left into centerfield, with Oak Street acting as a barrier. We would later discover that, due to the height of the netting, that it would be difficult for a home run ball to actually land on Oak Street (as its trajectory would more likely deposit in on the other side of the road).

The dual layered bullpen at Sahlen Field, Buffalo NY. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Finished with our exploration of the park, we ducked back into the inner concourse, in search of a baseball dinner. While there were many places to obtain food and drinks, all of the lines were long, as it seemed that many in the large crowd has the same idea. Skipping this option for now, we headed toward our seats. Securing seats only 90 minutes earlier, we opted for section 118, which was down the right field line; a pessimistic forecast precluded us from getting better seats, for fear of a rainout tonight AND Saturday. Though the seats we scored did not offer the best view of home plate, it did give us great sight lines for the rest of the park. As the time of the first pitch arrived, clouds continued to produce intermittent light rain and drizzle, but not enough to delay the game (which was slated for a 707 pm start).

From our seats, we could see some of the larger buildings of Buffalo, most notably the Old Buffalo Post Office. However, the scoreboard in centerfield seems to be the most prominent feature in Sahlen Field. Not quite as sophisticated as scoreboards/videoboards in MLB parks, the scoreboard/videoboard here is an upgrade from what we typically encounter in minor league stadiums (with possibly the exception of Arm&Hammer Park in Trenton, NJ). For the most part, the space was used as a scoreboard, with only a few video replays shown during the game. As mentioned earlier, there were a number of upgrades made to the park to accommodate the Blue Jays in their tenure here, including new LED lights (which are MUCH better than standard lighting), a resurfaced outfield, and the aforementioned bullpens.

The scoreboard in centerfield at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, NY. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

While not a sellout, Sahlen Field was about two-thirds full shortly after the first pitch was thrown, with intermittent light rain and drizzle (as it would for the balance of the game). In the bottom of the first inning, we were treated to a home run by Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. The Blue Jays tacked on four more runs in the third inning, with two more home runs. Rainy and cool weather at night are not normally conducive to balls flying out of the ballpark, but the smaller dimensions of this park may have been a factor in each of the home runs hit. Meanwhile, the Texas bats remained quiet for the first six innings, as the Blue Jays maintained a sizable lead through that time.

The view from our seats at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, NY. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Blue Jays put the game away in the bottom of the sixth inning, which featured another home run by Guerrero Jr. This time he blasted the ball well over the net in left field and across Oak Street to the parking lot on the other side of the road. With the Jays taking a 10-0 lead at the end of the frame, some of the fans started to file out of Sahlen Field, if for no other reason that to escape the cool and wet conditions. Like many MLB games, there were loud, intoxicated fans around us, but unlike many MLB, they were not particularly obnoxious. It was clear to me that the fans in Buffalo had accepted the Blue Jays as their own, and I noticed several “Buffalo Blue Jays” in the stadium. These signs had me wondering how the Buffalo fans would react if/when the Blue Jays returned to Toronto.

Vladimir Guerrero hitting a home run at Sahlen Field in Buffalo NY. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

During the morning hours of Saturday, the Blue Jays management issued a press release stating that the Jays would be returning to Toronto, starting with the next home stand on July 30th. Although I am sure the fans were aware of an eventual return to Toronto, I wonder if Buffalo was ready to let them go so soon. Our timing could not have been better to see an MLB game here, as waiting any longer would have meant missing a golden opportunity to see MLB players in such an intimate setting. These were my thoughts as we filed out of Sahlen Field. Leaving the building proved more difficult than I anticipated, as there were logjams at each gate. Eventually, we walked back to the car, headed back to the hotel after a long day on the road.

Sahlen Field at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

My brother’s suggestion to see the game at Sahlen Field on Friday night rather than Saturday afternoon loomed large, as heavy rainfall plagued the Buffalo area through mid to late afternoon. After visiting Niagara Falls again in the morning, we encountered flooded roads on our way back to the hotel. Not surprisingly, the game was rained out, even as the heaviest rainfall was exiting the region. Apparently the field was unplayable, and considering how much rain fell into mid afternoon, that was not a shock. Once the heavy rainfall exited, we walked around downtown Buffalo to view the architecture, and we found ourselves face to face with the ballpark. Peering through the chain link in centerfield, we got one last look at the interior of the stadium, with the tarp still firmly in place over the infield.

Puddles on the tarp over the infield at Sahlen Field on Saturday told the story; no baseball today. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Once the Blue Jays leave for Toronto, the main tenants of Sahlen Field, the Bisons, will return from their stay in Arm&Hammer Park in Trenton NJ. Buffalo has attempted to obtain a MLB team in the past, and I wonder, after hosting the Blue Jays, if there will be a clamoring from the faithful for an MLB team of their own. If that happens, and a MLB ready stadium is constructed, perhaps we will return. Otherwise, having seen Sahlen Field hosting MLB games, I am not sure we will be back.

Toronto, Ontario Saturday, June 24th 2006

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

Following a long and at times frustrating day traveling to Toronto, we decided to relax in the morning by exploring the city. Relieved that my car was still in the parking lot of arguably the worst hotel in which I’ve stayed, we went in search of breakfast. Across the street was a Tim Horton’s restaurant.

Living in Maine for a time, I was vaguely familiar with the Toronto-based chain, but I didn’t know much about it. To my great surprise, Tim Horton’s offered a wide variety of breakfast options, at a very reasonable price. Buoyed by our luck finding a good breakfast just steps away from the hotel, we were ready to start the day.


1. Toronto

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

We decided to explore downtown Toronto and nearby Lake Ontario during this hazy and humid morning. Our first stop was the Waterfront Trail on the west side of Toronto. This was my first glance at Lake Ontario, and the hazy sky conditions, at times, make it difficult to determine where the sky ended and the lake began. Temperatures rising through into the 80s and higher than expected humidity made it feel more like the US Mid Atlantic than Ontario.

Lake Ontario, like the other Great Lakes I’ve visited, is so large that the opposing shore is not visible, making it seem more like the ocean. Walking along the shore, we encountered a flock of Canadian geese exiting the water and coming ashore just ahead of us. While on land, the geese are typical quiet, and as the geese passed among us as we walked by, it was almost as though they were ghosts crossing a landscape.

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

Haze and humidity obscured the skyline of Toronto from across the lake, almost leaving the CN Tower in a silhouette. Not surprisingly, the summer weather meant the waterfront was teeming with people, in and out of the still relatively cool water. Wandering along the waterfront, we spent a considerable amount of time enjoying the beautiful vistas the lakefront afforded. With noon approaching, we headed back toward the city in search of lunch.

The CN Tower from the Waterfront Trail.

Since the start time of the game was 407 pm, we parked near Rogers Centre and walked through downtown Toronto to find a place to eat. Wanting something light for lunch, we stopped at what appeared to be a makeshift deli in the basement of an office building. Being from the Northeast US, we are accustomed to fast service for lunch. To our great surprise, a single man handling the lunch rush at the deli reminded us of that type of service, pushing out sandwiches like he was from New York.

Following lunch, we wandered about downtown Toronto until the gates at the Rogers Centre opened. We decided to forgo a visit to the CN Tower, since the line for the elevator was long, and the visibility from the observation deck would likely have been limited in the hazy conditions. During our walk, the sun broke through the clouds, which allowed us to take a few pictures. With the gates opening soon, we cut short our tour of Toronto and headed toward the Rogers Centre for the game.

The skyline of Toronto from near the Rogers Centre.

2. Rogers Centre

Sunshine allowed the roof of Rogers Centre to be open for the afternoon contest. Unlike many domed stadiums, the stadium appeared to be just as big as it was with the roof closed. Arriving just as the gates opened, we had much more time to explore. One of the most noticeable attributes of the stadium was the sheen created by the increasing sunshine reflecting off the field turf. In fact, at times it seemed almost blinding.

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

As we wandered through the ballpark, we got a true sense of the enormity of the structure. The roof towered over the center field fence, easily making Rogers Centre the largest domed stadium we’d seen, even with the roof fully retracted. Being one of the earliest “new styled” MLB parks, there were amenities that were unique when the stadium opened in 1989. Perhaps the most famous was the Renaissance Hotel Toronto Downtown (now known as the Toronto Marriott City Centre Hotel), located in centerfield, with 70 of the rooms providing a view of the field.

Rogers Centre also featured a Hard Rock Cafe (which closed after the 2009 season) . We did not partake in what the Cafe had to offer, as there was too much else to see, but the Hard Rock Cafe was a popular destination for fans, based on the line to enter. There were many places to eat and drink, which was also something new when the Rogers Centre opened. It was obvious that the stadium was constructed to offer baseball fans myriad diversions while at the park, a model that was followed for many of the “newer” parks.

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

Following a quick tour of the upper deck, we headed back toward the main concession stand to grab a baseball lunch before finding our seats. Located in the lower level down the left field line beyond third base, the view from our seats was not nearly as good as the night before, but we didn’t have rude and obnoxious neighbors with which to contend. By the first pitch, we went from sunshine to shade, which is always a welcome change in the summer.

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

For this afternoon’s matchup, the Mets sent ageless Orlando Hernandez (dubbed “El Duque”) to the mound. Hernandez, recently acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks, would become the workhorse of the Mets 2006 starting rotation, an innings eater that the staff sorely needed. Hernandez was opposed by the ace of the hometown Blue Jays’ staff, right hander Roy Halladay. Halladay was off to a 9-2 start, earning him an All Star berth, presenting the loaded Mets lineup with a formidable challenge.

The later start in the afternoon (with the first pitched scheduled at 407 pm) would provide problems with shadows for the first few innings, which might suggest a slow start for the offenses. That theory was disproved almost immediately, as the Jays pounced on El Duque for six runs in the second inning, capped by a three home run off the bat of center fielder Vernon Wells

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

In the wake of the home run, El Duque started running his mouth to the home plate umpire, questioning some of the ball and strike calls. That got him tossed from the game, after Hernandez surrendered six runs on four hits in just one and two-thirds of an inning. While Darren Oliver was taking his warmup pitches in relief of El Duque, Mets manager Willie Randolph continued the argument with the home plate umpire, only to be tossed from the game as well.

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

Meanwhile, Halladay held the vaunted Mets offense in check, surrendering runs in the fourth and fifth innings, featuring an RBI triple by third baseman David Wright, who would make his first All Star appearance in 2006. While he didn’t have his best command, Halladay showed why he was a premiere pitcher by keeping the Mets off balance. Halladay exited after seven innings, with a workmanlike performance, allowing four runs on 10 hits.

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

The Mets bullpen cobbled together an impressive performance after the departure of starter Orland Hernandez, allowing just a single run in six and one-third innings of relief. Though the Mets would take on an additional run in the eight inning, it was not enough to overcome the deficit, allowing the Jays to take the second game of the three game set 7-4.

My scorecard from the game.

As the 31,000+ fans quietly departed Rogers Centre, I reflected on the stadium. A marvel of engineering when it opened in the late 1980s, its cavernous size seemed to project a general lack of charm or intimacy, something I had noted the previous night. However, I truly understand the magic a stadium can hold for a team’s fans, having seen more than 100 games at the now defunct Shea Stadium. Having referred to that ballpark as a “toilet”, it was OUR toilet, and while I didn’t see the “magic” at Rogers Centre, I can imagine Blue Jays fans feeling quite differently.

As we pulled out of the parking lot and headed back toward NJ, I took what will likely be my last view of Rogers Centre in person. While Toronto does possess some draw for me, the stadium did not, and it is unlikely I will return there any time soon,

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

Toronto, Ontario Friday June 23rd 2006

Roy Halliday gracing the cover of the Blue Jays program.

1. New Jersey to Toronto, Ontario

Less than three weeks after returning from our trip to Southern California, we headed out for our second baseball trip of 2006. The target, located north of the border, was Toronto, Ontario, to see the New York Mets take on the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Since the trip was expected to be less than eight hours by car, we decided to drive, rather than fly. Though the travel time was longer by car, the drive afforded us a view that we won’t see from the air, and we would have familiar transportation while in Toronto.

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

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

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

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


2. Rogers Centre

Our first look at Rogers Centre.

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

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

The view from our seats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detroit, MI September 13th, 2009

Comerica Park, Detroit MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Detroit MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Statues near the Tigers Wall of Fame at Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Comerica Field from the left field concourse. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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

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.

Ricky Romero delivers a pitch in the second inning versus the Tigers at Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Rick Porcello delivers a pitch against the Blue Jays at Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Tigers win! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Goodbye Comerica Park. I hope to be back soon! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Detroit, MI September 12th 2009

Google Earth view of Comerica Park and Ford Field, Detroit MI.

1. Downtown Detroit

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.

Fox Theater in Detroit, MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Walking along Woodward Avenue toward Michigan Avenue, we saw the Michigan Soliders’ and Sailors’ Monument. A Civil War monument, the landmark was unveiled in 1872, containing the names of all Michigan residents who gave their lives for their country. The monument was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

The Michigan Soliders’ and Sailors’ Monument in Detroit, MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The FlatIron building among the skyscrapers in downtown Detroit. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The Mariners Church in Detroit, MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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

Gateway to Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad, Detroit, MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The Renaissance Center, Detroit MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. Comerica Park

A giant glove lurked behind the scoreboard in left field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The stone tiger is certainly a kid favorite. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The Detroit skyline from the upper deck at Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Tigers Wall of Fame in center field at Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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

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

Tigers Manager Jim Leyland. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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 giant scoreboard in left field tells the story. Unfortunately, with the Tigers losing, we didn’t get to see the green lasers from the tigers eyes. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

New Jersey/Canton OH/Detroit MI September 10-11th 2009

Google Maps showing the seven hour plus drive from NJ to Canton OH.

1. New Jersey to Canton, Ohio September 10th 2009

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

Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton OH. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The Dallas Cowboys exhibit in the NFL Gallery at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The signing of Joe Namath in 1965 brought instant credibility to the American Football League. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

An official WFL football, featuring orange stripes, ostensibly for better visiblity during night games. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Walter Payton immortalized in wax at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Goodbye Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hope to see you again soon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

3. Canton, Ohio to Detroit Michigan/Comerica Park

Comerica Park, Detroit MI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The Renaissance Center from just outside of Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Stone tigers lurking over Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The view from our seats of the 9/11 ceremony prior to the start of the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

This is how the action looked from our seats. The game was better attended that I expected, perhaps since the teams form a regional rivalry. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

A tiger with laser beams for eyes, prowling just to the left of the main scoreboard at Comerica Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Colorado, Sunday June 13th 2010

Coors Field, Denver CO. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Fountains in center field of Coors Field. ( Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Downtown Denver from Coors Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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

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.

Jeff Francis delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Blue Jays. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The Rockies’ LF Ryan Spilborghs scoring after the first of his two home runs. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Dinger, the Rockies’ mascot, trying to entertain the crowd on this cloudy and cool afternoon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The Coors Field scoreboard tells it all. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. Boulder Colorado

Google Maps showing the 35 minute drive from Denver to Boulder.

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)

Rolling hills at the foot of the Flatirons, looking to the east toward Boulder. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The FlatIrons, looking northeast.

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.

Sandstone boulders near the FlatIrons in Boulder. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

The FlatIrons from a distance. Goodbye for now, Boulder. Hope to see you again soon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Colorado, Saturday June 12th 2010

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The day began with cloudy skies and cool temperatures for the middle of June in Denver for the second day of our trip. Denver features 300 days of sunshine each year, making it one of the sunniest cities in the US. So it was unusual to have clouds and rain two consecutive days. It was against this backdrop that we decided to visit Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, CO.

Google Maps showing the 75 minute drive from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park.

1. Rocky Mountain National Park

Located about an hour and 15 minutes from the hotel, we passed through the foothills into the mountains via the Big Thompson Canyon, the site of devastating flash flooding in 1976. Traveling along the steep walled highway, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how dangerous this place could be when heavy rains falls in the mountains. As we gained altitude on the mountain road, the impressive topography became increasingly shrouded in the persistent cloudiness until we reached the park itself.

After checking in at the Beaver Meadows Visitors Center, we decided to follow the Trail Ridge Road. Unfortunately, clouds obscured much of the viewing along the highway, leaving us with shadows of mountains as we wound our way toward the higher peaks, in search of clearer vistas.

This view was typical of our trek through the lower elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As we drove above 10,000 feet snow became more prevalent. Along the way, we would occasionally pull to the side of the road to take pictures. We could only imagine the views we were missing as the clouds kept them out of our sight. Instead, we had to be contented with the natural beauty the park would unveil through the bleakness.

Caught between seasons at two miles above sea level, we saw fields of snow melting into alpine creeks that flooded the side of the road as we climbed ever higher in our rented Toyota Prius. Eventually, though, winter won out, and we were faced with snow covered roads, for which the Prius was clearly no match. Thwarted by conditions once again, we were forced to seek lower elevations to explore.

One of the myriad alpine streams fed by melting snow in Rocky Mountain National Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On our way back down the road, we pulled into one of the many turnouts we found along the way. Despite the dismal weather conditions, there were many people visiting the park, as evidenced by the number of cars in the turnout. The view at the turnout was no better than anywhere along the road, but the stop did provide us with a close up look at one of the parks full time residents.

A chipmunk feasting on a cashew I tossed to it. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Scurrying along the granite parking barriers was a chipmunk, one of many weaving their way through the people in the parking lot. Though there was a sign that clearly stated that we were NOT to feed the wildlife, virtually nobody was heeding that command. Stopping for snacks in Denver, we had pockets full of food for the wildlife, and in direct violation of federal law, we tossed nuts for the chipmunks. Based on the reaction of the chipmunks, they were accustomed to people flouting the rules and keeping them supplied as winter slowly changed to spring.

Once the chipmunks were sated, they scattered into the rocks and crevasses surrounding the parking lot, so we headed back down the mountain road. The view on either side of the road was dominated by fields of melting snow and cloud covered peaks. Descending the mountain was a much slower process than ascending it, as we intermittently stopped to allow the car’s brakes to cool. Failure to tend to the condition of the brakes could lead to the failure of said brakes, so we took our time dropping out of the clouds back toward the visitors center.

This view was typical of our ride back down the mountain road toward the visitor center. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As we were approaching more level ground near the visitors center, we spotted some larger wildlife along the side of the road. Just behind a row of trees that obscured a small meadow, we spotted a pair of elk. Parking the car along the side of the road, we walked toward the elk in hopes of a close up picture. Surprisingly, the elk (which appeared to be a male and a female) paid little attention to us as we slowly approached them, seemingly more interested in munching on the greenery all around them.

While my brother took pictures of the female elk, I closed in on the male. Not thinking about the danger in which I was putting myself, I got within an arm’s length of the elk, who was still paying me no particular attention. Foolishly, I leaned in with the intent of touching the elk. That movement finally got his attention. Rather than react aggressively, he simply snorted, which was enough to make me recoil.

This picture does not accurately depict how close I was to this elk before he made it clear that I was TOO close.

Thinking back, not only did I put myself in danger coming that close to the elk, I disrespected the animal. That lesson remains with me until this day, changing my approach when photographing wildlife. While we were taking pictures of the elk, others driving along the road saw what was transpiring, and stopped to get their our pictures of the elk. Of course, the increased human presence spooked the elk, who slowly but deliberately walked away, ending the encounter.

Spending more time in the park than originally anticipated, we left in search of a late lunch before heading back to the hotel to change for the game. On the way back, we passed Broncos Stadium at Mile High, the home of the NFL’s Denver Broncos. Light rain and drizzle prevented us from exploring the stadium beyond a cursory pass, after which time we headed to the hotel to dry off and relax before the game.

Broncos Stadium at Mile High on a cloudy, dismal late afternoon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. Coors Field

Coors Field on yet another cool and wet evening. (Photo credit:Jeff Hayes)

Once again, clouds, rain and drizzle put a damper of our Coors Field experience. Though the weather was more reminiscent of springtime in the Northeast US, it wasn’t so bad as to threaten the game, and we arrived not too long before the first pitch. Conditions were less than optimal for exploring the ballpark, but we did manage to wander more this evening than the previous one, allowing us a better look at the large ballpark. However, the cool raw late afternoon cut short our exploration. Looking to escape the weather, we sought a ballpark dinner in the lower concourse, then settled into our seats.

The view from behind home plate in the upper deck. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

In an attempt to get a different feel of the ballpark, we sat in the left field bleachers, in the lower level toward the fence. There was no protection from the weather here, but it afforded us some perspective when it came to the size of the outfield at Coors Field. The crowd was once again held in check by the weather, and had much of the left field section almost to ourselves.

The view from our seats in left field. (Photo credit; Jeff Hayes)

The rain stopped just before the first pitch (which occurred at 610 pm), but temperatures dropped into the 40s, giving the late afternoon/early evening a raw feel to it. Hardly feeling like baseball weather, we settled in for the second game of the three game series between the visiting Blue Jays and the hometown Rockies.

The pitching matchup for the evening’s contest featured right hander Brandon Morrow for the Blue Jays against right hander Jason Hammel for the Rockies. Both pitchers were in the midst of mediocre seasons for their respective clubs. However, the cool and damp conditions seemed as though it might dictate the scoring in the game, rather than the starting pitching. This was, of course, Coors Field, and expecting a low scoring game, even with less than ideal weather conditions, could be asking for too much.

Blue Jays’ starter Brandon Morrow warming up in the outfield before the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Both starters were sharp, mowing down the opposing lineups through the first five innings, as the game pace kept the fairly light crowd (certainly less than the announced crowd of 26,000+) engaged. The quick paced game was appreciated by those in attendance, as intermittent drizzle fell through the game, and temperatures dropped through the 40s.

The Rockies scored a single run in the bottom of the sixth, as a Todd Helton double was followed by a Carlos Gonzalez RBI single. That was the only blemish on the otherwise impressive evening for Brandon Morrow. The Rockies’ Jason Hammel was just as impressive, tossing eight shutout innings in the Rockies 1-0 victory. Following the game, the small crowd made exiting easy, and we returned to the hotel to relax after a long day.

Colorado, Friday June 11th 2010

Google Earth view of Coors Field, Denver CO.

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).

Thunderstorms bearing down on Denver, CO.

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.

Coors Field on a rainy early evening. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

While we were waiting for the rain to end, another strong thunderstorm approaching the stadium prompted this warning by the Rockies. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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 ground crew adjusting the tarp as we waited for the rain to end. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Steady rain (occasionally mixed with a little snow) kept fans under cover at Coors Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

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.

Ubaldo Jimenez delivers a pitch in the second inning at Coors Field.

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.