Veterans Stadium/Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia PA

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

Veterans Stadium (1987-2003)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Citizens Bank Park (2004-2019)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yankee Stadium, Bronx NY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My scorecard for the game.

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

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

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

The “new” Yankee Stadium – September 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Louis MO, Saturday August 7th 2004

Busch Stadium, St Louis MO. Note the cranes in the background, aiding in the construction of the “new” Busch Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

1 Newark NJ to St Louis MO

Our first baseball trip of 2004 took us to Missouri, the Show Me state, to see games in St Louis and Kansas City. Since this was planned as a weekend trip, there was insufficient time to drive from NJ to MO, we chose to fly. In order to catch the first pitch in St Louis at 1220 pm CDT, we needed to fly out of Newark NJ early Saturday morning.

A cold front had just passed Newark as our flight to St Louis started, so we experienced short bursts of intense turbulence as we climbed toward 10,000 feet. Once we reached cruising altitude, the turbulence subsided, but not before my stomach informed me that breakfast during the flight was probably not a good idea.

We chose to fly Midwest Airlines, a now defunct airline that featured spacious leather seats and complimentary chocolate cookies. Though the cost of the flight was a bit higher than other airlines serving St Louis, the roomy cabin was worth the extra money. Other than the bumpy climb out of Newark, the two hour flight was uneventful, bringing us into St Louis less than two hours before game time. After picking up our rental car, we headed for the stadium.

2. Busch Stadium

Busch Stadium with the Gateway Arch and the buildings of downtown St Louis in the background. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We arrived at Busch Memorial Stadium less than an hour before the first pitch, leaving us little time to explore the environment around the park. Instead, we headed inside upon arrival, wandering the concourses before heading to our seats. Busch Stadium was one of the cadre of multi purpose stadiums constructed from the mid 1960s into the early 1970s, housing both MLB and NFL teams playing on the then-new AstroTurf.

AstroTurf was developed as an alternative to natural grass playing surfaces, starting with the Astrodome in Houston Texas, since grass could not be grown under the dome. Laid out on a field of concrete (which provided a stable surface), the AstroTurf was an unforgiving inch thick “carpet” which often heated to 130 F during the summer. Eventually, AstroTurf was eschewed in favor of grass surfaces, which is what we found in Busch Stadium early that afternoon.

Busch Stadium shortly before game time. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Crystal clear skies and rapidly warming temperatures greeted us as we found our seats shortly before the first pitch. Per usual, Busch Stadium was filled to near capacity, as St Louis fans are generally considered to be some of the best in the game. The opponents for the hometown Cardinals this afternoon was the New York Mets. St Louis was enjoying a strong 2004 season, with a commanding 10 1/2 game lead over the second place Houston Astros in the NL Central Division. By contrast, the Mets were battling their way through another sub .500 season, occupying the fourth spot in the NL East.

Starting for the visiting Mets was right hander Kris Benson. Making his first start for the Mets after being traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates, Benson was in the midst of a fairly average season, with a .500 record and an ERA over 4.00. The hometown Cardinals sent right hander Woody Williams to the mound. Williams was an 18 game winner for the Cardinals in 2003, and was still an important piece of the starting rotation for a formidable St Louis team. With the afternoon warming quickly, we were wondering if the ball would carry well at Busch Stadium this afternoon, resulting in an offensive display.

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

From the very start, the Cardinals fans were a force, with a loud din discernible for much of the game. Being from the Northeast, I would posit that the best fans in baseball were from the part of the USA, but the boisterous St Louis fans were slowly changing my mind. Despite the building heat, starting pitching dominated the early portion of the matinee. Each team scored a single run through six innings, and with both starters showing their best stuff, the game quickly became an old fashioned pitchers duel

As part of their playoff push, the Cardinals had acquired slugger Larry Walker from the Colorado Rockies at the trade deadline on July 31st. Walker’s first at-bat in a St Louis uniform came in the bottom of the 7th as a pinch-hitter. Looking to quench my thirst, I approached a vendor to purchase a soft drink as Walker came to the plate. Both the vendor and I paused the transaction to watch the at-bat. Walker received a standing ovation as he strode to the plate, which was understandable, as the Cardinals fans though they were welcoming a presence that would propel them through the playoff run. However, when Walker struck out, the Cardinals fans gave him another standing ovation, a highly unusual response to a strikeout. In fact, it was so unusual that the vendor pointedly asked me “have you ever seen anything like that?”.

Larry Walker in his first at-bat with the St Louis Cardinals. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Both starting pitchers exited that game by the end of the seventh inning, leaving the tight contest in the hands of the respective bullpens. Quite unexpectedly, a game that I thought might be one-sided because of the Mets recent struggles had become one of the best games I’d seen in person in years. The score remained tied at 1-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning, giving the Cardinals one last chance to end the game before extra innings.

Having experienced the devoted and vocal Cardinal fans first hand, I was very surprised to see them execute “the wave” during a critical portion of a tightly contested ballgame. It was almost as though the fans were not fully aware of the game situation, instead becoming lost in the moment of being at the ballpark. The Cardinal pushed across the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, securing a well-fought 2-1 victory.

A tribute to the venerable St Louis Cardinals franchise at Busch Memorial Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We’d just witnessed one of the best ballgames I’d seen in a long time at the home of an iconic MLB franchise. Though Busch Stadium itself was a typical multi-purpose facility, a product of its time, the crowd made it feel like a great place to see a ballgame (despite their curious wave display in the bottom of the ninth). Having seen the stadium, there was no reason to return until the new ballpark was ready, which was a couple of years away. Still, it WAS fun to see a baseball game in the heartland of America.

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

Our destination after the game was a hotel room in eastern Kansas, before we visited Kaufman Stadium in nearby Kansas City the following afternoon. Before heading out onto Interstate 70 west, we briefly visited the Gateway Arch, the longtime symbol of the opening of the western USA. It was also my first visit to the Mississippi River, an iconic symbol of the heartland of the USA. We would see the river at several points along its journey in the coming years.

The Gateway Arch in St Louis. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We didn’t linger long in the Gateway Arch National Park, as we had a 300 mile drive ahead of us. Light traffic heading west on Interstate 70 allowed us to reach the hotel just outside of Kansas City in less than four hours.

Our scorecard for the game.

Milwaukee Wisconsin, Sunday May 8th 2005

Welcome to Miller Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Sunshine greeted us as we went in search of breakfast in Milwaukee. Wanting to dine quickly, we settled on a Denny’s not far from the hotel. Being a Denny’s, there was nothing particularly memorable about the place, but we did witness the apparent aftermath of an ended relationship. Two women sitting at a booth near a window at the back of the restaurant were engaged in an animated conversation. The woman sitting with with her back to us was using colorful metaphors to describe her ex, while the woman facing us smiled, realizing that much of the place was eavesdropping on her friend’s rant. Even as we were leaving, the metaphors were still flying.


Miller Park

We arrived at Miller Park about 1145 am, just as the gates were opening for the 105 pm contest. Approaching the stadium, we noticed that it was built at grade level (ground level). Most ballparks, especially MLB parks with retractable domes, are constructed so that the playing field is located stories below ground level. In doing so, the stadium has a lower profile, so that it does not tower above its surroundings.

Being built at ground level, Miller Park definitely towers above its surroundings, and can be seen from a considerable distance. In the light of day, we learned that the stadium was surrounded by parking lots, and not much else. Acres of parking lots made Miller Park look even more enormous, dominating the skyline.

Helfaer Field, located on the site of the old County Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Driving up Brewer Way, we noticed a much smaller ballpark on our right. Helfaer Field, located on the site of old County Stadium (former home of the Brewers), is a ballpark suited for youth and softball games. Equipped with a big league scoreboard, sound system and lighting, the field is available for use by the public. There were people preparing the field for use, presumably that afternoon during the Mets/Brewers game.

Unlike the night before, the weather afforded us the chance to explore the outside of Miller Park. With little else around the park, we focused on the glass, steel and brick that compromised the ballpark. The stadium was physically imposing, and after a quick trip around the park, we headed inside.

Miller Park, Milwaukee WI. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Milky sunshine allowed the roof of Miller Park to be open for the afternoon game. Unlike the cool conditions the previous night, the sunshine came along with warm and humid conditions, making it feel more like late spring in southern Wisconsin. Not surprisingly, with the roof open, Miller Park did not seem quite as cavernous, though it was still a large stadium.

Upon entering, we walked the lower concourse of the ballpark, taking us to center field. From that vantage point, we got a feel for the size of the stadium, with four tiers of seating from foul line to foul line. Walking toward the right field line gave us a great view of the retracted roof. Swinging back toward left field afforded us an up close view of Bernie’s Slide, on which the mascot descends following Brewer home runs.

The roof on Miller Park, fully retracted. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following our tour of the interior, we picked up a baseball lunch on the lower level concourse behind home plate, then headed for our seats. Once again, we were able to secure good seats in the lower level, a bit further up the first base line from the seats we had the night before. Though we were initially bathed in the milky sunshine in our seats, by the time the game started, shadowed covered the first base line.

Starting for the visiting Mets was crafty left hander Tom Glavine. A future Hall of Famer, Glavine was working through a rocky beginning of the 2005 season. Opposing Glavine for the hometown Brewers was left hander Chris Capuano, who was beginning his second season in Milwaukee. Capuano would become one of the Brewers most reliable starters in 2005, leading the staff with 18 wins.

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

The Brewers jumped on the Mets starter for two runs in each of the first two innings, placing the Mets in a 4-0 hole early in the contest. Following the initial onslaught, Glavine settled down (like the veteran he was), managing to last six innings, not yielding any more runs before exiting. Meanwhile, the Brewers starter held a venerable Mets offense to a lone run through six innings. Neither starter was sharp, allowing enough base runners to slow the game to a crawl at times.

Mets starter Tom Glavine delivers a pitch (with shortstop Jose Reyes in the background) at Miller Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Despite the sunshine and warmer temperatures, the crowd was rather sparse at Miller Park. It has been our experience that Sunday afternoon games are generally lightly attended when compared to crowds on Saturday nights. With an announced attendance of less than 18,000, Miller Park looked even bigger, with most of the fans in the lower levels between first and third base.

The Mets started to chip away at the Brewers lead, as right fielder Mike Cameron hit a two run home run in the sixth inning. A run for the Mets in the eight tied the game at four, leaving the game in the hands of the respective bullpens.

Carlos Beltran scores ahead of Mike Cameron’s home run in the sixth inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

A run scoring single off the bat of JJ Hardy in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Brewers a 5-4 victory. While waiting for the thinning crowd to exit Miller Park, I took one last opportunity to look over the stadium. Overall, my opinion of the park was positive, as we got the chance to see it with the roof open. As one of the larger “new” MLB park, it seemed to lack intimacy or charm. Having only seen the park twice, I’m sure diehard Brewers fans would disagree with my assessment, and they very well could be right. However, while I was happy to visit the most recent addition to the retractable dome ranks, I’m not sure the allure is strong enough to bring me back anytime soon.

Perhaps my brother’s best picture of Miller Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Milwaukee Wisconsin, Saturday May 7th 2005

Miller Park with the roof closed. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

1. Newark NJ to Milwaukee WI

Our only scheduled MLB baseball trip of 2005 took us to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to visit Miller Park, the home of the Brewers. With Milwaukee lying just outside of driving range for a weekend trip, we decided to fly. Rather than use a typical domestic carrier, we chose to travel from Newark, New Jersey directly to Milwaukee via Midwest Airlines.

Flying for work, I was introduced to Midwest Airlines (a Milwaukee based carrier, now defunct) in the late 1990s. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of flying Midwest Airlines was the seating aboard the planes. Each of the seats in a Midwest Airlines plane was leather, with only two seats together alongside the aisle. In addition, each passenger received a giant chocolate chip. While the gesture could have been considered trite, the cookie was actually delicious. Though the seats cost a bit more than other domestic carriers, the roomier leather seats were worth the extra money.

Being a Milwaukee based carrier, we were able to book nonstop flights. The two and one-half hour flight out to Milwaukee was uneventful, though the weather was steadily worsening at we reached our destination. After picking up our rental car, we briefly stopped at the hotel to drop off our bags, then we headed straight to the ballpark for a 605 pm CDT first pitch.


2. Miller Park, Milwaukee

A steady rain began as we left the hotel, and by the time we arrived at Miller Park, the rain had become heavier with a few claps of thunder. Luckily for us, parking was plentiful at the stadium, and we parked as close to the stadium as possible. Typically, we tour the outside of new stadiums to take pictures of the park and its surroundings. However, the rain and cool temperatures made walking outside infeasible. In fact, as we entered Miller Park, a squall occurred outside.

Miller Park with the roof closed and the lights on. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Miller Park is a stadium with a retractable roof, which was very fortuitous on the rainy and cool Milwaukee evening. Otherwise, the game between the hometown Brewers and the visiting New York Mets would certainly have been a causality of the weather. With the roof closed and storms raging outside, Miller Park seemed dark, despite the lights being on.

Like most ballparks with their roofs closed, Miller Park looked cavernous, particularly with a sparse crowd during batting practice. We arrived early enough to wander about the stadium. Though we did tour much of the ballpark before the game, the dark conditions within Miller Park made taking pictures fairly difficult, so we cut the tour short (since we would get another opportunity to see the ballpark the next day).

A closeup of the retractable roof at Miller Park from the second level in right field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As is the case in most of the “newer” MLB ballparks, there were myriad locations to obtain concessions throughout Miller Park. Not surprisingly, there were a number of sausage and bratwurst based dishes available, but we chose more traditional fare for our ballpark dinner. With snacks in hand, we headed toward our seats. Fortunately, we were able to secure seats in the lower level, just to the right of home plate. The seats afforded us a great view of the action, as well as a panoramic view of the stadium.

Starting the the visiting Mets was veteran right hander Pedro Martinez. Though the 33 year old future Hall of Famer was not quite the pitcher he was in his prime, Martinez was enjoying a fast start to his 2005 campaign, sporting a 4-1 record with a sub 3.00 ERA. Opposing Martinez for the Brewers was right hander Wes Obermuller, who was struggling early in the season,

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

Despite the bad weather, the crowd at Miller Park was impressive, with over 39,000 fans in attendance for the 605 pm CDT first pitch. Even though the pitching matchup seemed one-sided, the game remained scoreless into the fourth inning, when a solo home run by Mets third baseman David Wright put the Mets on top. The Brewers responded with a three run home run by left fielder Carlos Lee in the bottom of the fourth to take the lead.

Mets starter Pedro Martinez delivers a pitch in the first inning at Miller Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Mets offense struck again for runs in the fifth and seventh innings, highlighted by home runs by centerfielder Carlos Beltran (who drove in four runs for the game). However, the Brewers scored two more runs off Martinez in the seventh, ending his night. Despite surrendering five runs in seven innings, Martinez struck out 11 and left with a chance to garner a win for his efforts.

Carlos Beltran hit two home runs and drove in four runs for the visiting New York Mets. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

After the departure of Pedro Martinez, the Mets bullpen held the lead, securing a 7-5 victory. Even with 12 combined runs being scored, the time of the game was a reasonable two and one-half hours. Following the end of the game, we headed out into the night. Though the rain had ended, it was still damp and humid.

My first impression of Miller Park was decidedly mixed, as often happens when we see a domed stadium for the first time with the roof closed. We would get another chance to see the park Sunday afternoon, hopefully with the roof open.

Washington DC, Sunday September 25 2005

Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, Washington DC. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We added one more baseball trip to the end of the 2005 season. For years, the Montreal Expos, a team owned by MLB, threatened to leave the Canadian city. The franchise never recovered from the baseball strike in 1994, when they were arguably the best team in the game. Since that time, attendance dwindled, and their home park, Olympic Stadium, had fallen into disrepair (which we saw for ourselves in 2001).

Finally, the franchise moved to Washington, DC, for the 2005 season. At the time, DC did not have a baseball only stadium ready for the newly renamed Nationals (ground won’t be broken on Nationals Park until 2006). In the interim, the Nationals were slated to play their home games at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium (informally known as RFK). Once the home of the MLB Washington Senators and the NFL Washington Redskins, RFK was the home of the local MLS franchise, but hadn’t hosted NFL or MLB games for some time.

RFK Stadium from the parking lot. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As result, it had also fallen into a degree of disrepair. Still, MLB was keen to move the franchise, and the Nationals would play their games at RFK. Since the ballpark was only about a four hour drive from central NJ, we decided to make the visit a day trip. The drive was uneventful, outside of the traffic that one encounters in the DC area. Arriving at the ballpark about the time the games opened, we quickly became aware that RFK Stadium was not in one of the finer neighborhoods of DC, so we did not wander far from the ballpark.

Parking as ample, and arriving well before the first pitch, we had our choice of parking spots. A quick walk around the ballpark showed an aging multi purpose stadium that was enjoying something of a renaissance with the return of MLB action. It was clear that the park had seen better days, and from the perspective of the rebranded franchise, it was a just a place to play until their own park debuted in 2008.

Welcome to RFK Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Once inside, we got an idea of how long it had been since the stadium had been used extensively. Walking through the home plate gate, there were coaxial and Internet cables literally stapled to the concrete walls. Since the Nationals were only temporary tenants, it was clear that little in the way of infrastructure changes were forthcoming. Walking around RFK on the lower concourse, we were reminded of other multi purpose stadiums constructed during the same time frame (such as Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia or Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh).

Despite that, RFK seemed to have more in the way of character than the other coliseums from that time period. Unlike the other stadiums of that period, RFK seemed cozier (with a seating capacity just shy of 46,000), and sported a grass field. Like most stadiums from the 1960s, RFK was enclosed, giving it a retro feel when compared to the “newer” MLB ballparks.

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

Though there were not as many amenities as other ballparks, we managed to find a baseball lunch at one of the many concession stands and headed off to find our seats. Sunshine began to filter through the thick clouds (which prompted stadium officials to turn on the lights), and temperatures rebounded into the 70s, setting the stage for comfortable conditions for watching a ball game at the aging RFK Stadium.

With the season winding toward the end, and both the Mets and Nationals out of playoff contention, my attention turned to the Mets catcher Mike Piazza. Once among the most feared hitters in the game, age and nagging injuries resulted in a subpar campaign for the slugger. In the last year of his contract, it was unlikely that the Mets would try to resign him, so this game marked the last time we would see Piazza in a Met uniform in person.

Mike Piazza in one of his final at bats as a New York Met. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Despite having nothing to play for in this game, most of the regulars were in the lineup for both teams. Starting for the Mets was right hander Kris Benson, who was completing an unspectacular 2006 campaign, his last in a Met uniform. For the hometown Nationals, the starter was right hander John Patterson, completing his season with a respectable 3.13 ERA.

Our seats, in the middle deck to the right of home plate, gave us a great view of the stadium. Soaking in the environment, RFK seemed like an anachronism, with earth tones colors reminiscent of the 1960s. Noticeably absent from the park was a large screen video board. Built long before such technology existed, the ballpark seemed almost naked without it. Reminding me of my younger days as a baseball, I found that I didn’t miss it.

RFK’s version of a large screen video board. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Even with the clouds and threat of rain, there was a good crowd on hand for the Sunday matinee, with an announced attendance of over 29,000. It was obvious early that neither starting pitcher had his best stuff, as the Nationals and Mets traded runs through the first four innings. The scoring included a long solo home run to left field in the second inning by Mike Piazza, flashing some of the power from his heyday.

Piazza followed up his home run in the second inning with another solo home run in the fourth inning. It was almost as though he sensed the end was coming, and was rising to the occasion with a vintage Piazza power display. The teams traded runs throughout the middle innings, slowing the pace of the game to a crawl at times, as the teams made seven pitching changes.

One of the many mound visits that slowed the pace of the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

During the down time, I took an opportunity to further examine the stadium. The outfield grass showed signs of wear, a victim of the hot and often dry DC summers, obviously neglected as the season reached its end. Though it was a relic, it reminded me of the ball games played in the “cookie cutter” ballparks I watched on TV as a kid, so there was a familiar vibe within RFK.

Hoping we would see a third home run from Mike Piazza, we were instead treated to a massive home run to deep right field by the young Mets first baseman Mike Jacobson in the eight inning. Initially, we thought the ball might clear the roof and completely exit the ballpark. Instead, it landed on the roof and careened back onto the field. The home run gave the Mets a 6-5 lead, which the bullpen protected for a victory for New York.

Filing out of RFK following the game, I reflected on our visit. Though it was fun seeing a game in a throwback ballpark with its roots in the 1960s, there was little reason to return. Our next baseball visit to DC would be to see the new ballpark, which was more than two and one-half years in the future.

Dodger Stadium, Wednesday June 7th 2006

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

Our first baseball trip of 2006 took us to Southern California to see games in Los Angeles, San Diego and Anaheim. The baseball foray was included in a longer trip covering portions of Southern California and nearby Mexico. When traveling to Northern California a few years before, I chose to go in September, when the weather is at its best. Unfortunately, I did not give the trip to Southern California the same amount of thought when we decided to go in early June.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, low clouds and fog often cover coastal sections of Southern California during June, when ocean temperatures are still fairly cool. Known as “June gloom” by the locals, the low clouds can cover the sun for days at a time, resulting in gloomy conditions. My timing for a trip to Southern California almost couldn’t have been worse, but we were determined to enjoy the trip, regardless of the weather.


Headquartered in San Diego for the week, I drove up to Los Angeles during a Wednesday afternoon. Leaving the hotel in San Diego hours before the first pitch (scheduled for 700 pm), I made good time traveling Interstate 5 north until we approached LA. Apparently I caught the beginning of the evening commute, and sat in traffic for almost an hour. The delay reminded me of traffic in NJ or Long Island NY, but at least there was some movement. Despite the delay, I arrived early enough to explore Dodger Stadium.

Dodger Stadium

Wearing my black Mets jersey, I worked my way through the massive onsite parking outside the stadium, when I encountered a group of Dodgers fans just outside the park. To my great surprise, the group slowly encircled me, taunting me for wearing the Mets jersey. Being from NJ, I was well acquainted with abuse by hometown fans, but it was shocking that it was happening in LA, where I assumed fans were relatively mellow.

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

The incident ended quickly with no violence, and I went about my way explore the outside of the park. At no time did I feel threatened, as I believed that the fans were generally harmless. However, based on what happened to the Giants fan not long after my incident made me reflect on the encounter. Perhaps I was in more peril than I thought.

The unpleasantness behind me, I met my brother (who was staying nearby) and we wandered around the outside of Dodger Stadium. Third on the list of oldest active ballparks in MLB, this was a baseball shrine, with a long storied history. On this night, however, with low clouds and smog providing a dank environment, Dodger Stadium felt a bit less regal, almost washed out. Still, we were in the presence of a baseball cathedral, and we weren’t going to let immoderate conditions to ruin it for us.

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

Emerging from the tunnel from the concourse behind home plate, the smog and low clouds were clearly evident. In fact, the haze and smog were so bad that the nearby San Gabriel Mountains to the north of the park were not visible this evening. Apparently, the “June gloom” was insistent on making its presence known.

Once inside, we wandered throughout the ballpark taking pictures. To my great dismay, the clouds and smog were wreaking havoc with the cameras, forcing us to go manual with the settings. As a result, we didn’t take nearly as many useful pictures as I had hoped. Regardless, we could feel the presence generated by the place. Since I was young, watching Mets games at Dodger Stadium late at night on the East Coast, I dreamed about seeing a game at the venerable ballpark, and many years later, here we were.

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

After grabbing a baseball dinner at the concession stand (complete with fabled Dodger Dogs), we headed for our seats. Sitting near the top of the lower level, we had an excellent view of the playing field and the stadium. Still having a hard time believing we were actually there, we settled in for the first pitch.

Starting for the visiting Mets was veteran Tom Glavine. In his fourth year as a Met, Glavine was in the midst of his best season in New York, sporting a 9-2 record. On the hill for the Dodgers was Odalis Perez, a journeyman left hander who was struggling through a rocky start to his 2006 season. Perez’s task was even more difficult, facing a potent Mets offense that featured several All Stars.

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

Unfortunately for the Dodgers starter, the Mets scored four runs in the first inning, followed by a run in the second. However, the Dodgers offense jumped on Tom Glavine for a run in the first and four more in the second inning, effectively neutralizing the Mets advantage. The cool conditions did not totally stifle the offenses, with a total of three home runs hit in the game.

Two more runs for the Mets in the fourth inning ended Oadlis Perez’s night, after yielding seven runs on 11 hits in just three and two thirds of an inning. Glavine’ s night wasn’t much better, ending in the sixth inning after surrendering six runs in five and one-third innings. The game then became a battle of the bullpens.

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

The Mets scratched out a couple of more runs in the seventh inning, and the Dodgers responded with a run of their own in the eight. A quartet of Mets relievers held on for a 9-7 victory, as Tom Glavine earned his 10th win, despite the rocky performance. As expected, the partisan crowd filed out early, leaving a nearly deserted stadium by the time the last out was recorded.

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

Though I was able to fulfill a baseball dream by seeing a game at the historic Dodger Stadium, I couldn’t help but feel as though the experience was diminished to some degree by the cloudy and cool conditions. It was my own fault; my research failed to account for the apparently well known “June gloom”. Hopefully I will return when the weather is better to enjoy Dodger Stadium in all its glory.

My scorecard from the game.

Toronto, Ontario Saturday, June 24th 2006

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

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

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


1. Toronto

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

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

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

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

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

The CN Tower from the Waterfront Trail.

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

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

The skyline of Toronto from near the Rogers Centre.

2. Rogers Centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My scorecard from the game.

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

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

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

Toronto, Ontario Friday June 23rd 2006

Roy Halliday gracing the cover of the Blue Jays program.

1. New Jersey to Toronto, Ontario

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

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

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

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

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


2. Rogers Centre

Our first look at Rogers Centre.

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

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

The view from our seats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arizona Saturday, May 5th 2007

Flowers in downtown Phoenix

1. Downtown Phoenix

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

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

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

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

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

Statues in Copper Square, Phoenix AZ

2. Chase Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diamondbacks program for the series with the Mets.