Chicago, Sunday May 4th 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My scorecard from the game.

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.