Arizona, Friday, May 4th 2007

Our first baseball trip of the year took us to the Desert Southwest, a part of the country I had not yet seen, to see the New York Mets take on the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. Hoping to avoid the searing heat of Arizona, we chose to visit in early May, before the days when high temperatures regularly top 100 F would arrive.

We decided to take our Mom along on the trip, so she could get a taste of this part of the country. The trip began quite ominously, as we missed our flight from Newark, NJ to Phoenix, AZ because a dump truck full of sand left us immobile on the Garden State Parkway. We normally arrive at the airport two hours before the flight to avoid problems like this, but we were stuck in the same place (literally) for more than two hours.

Realizing we would miss our flight because of the dump truck incident, we quickly made reservations for a later flight while still locked in traffic. Fortunately there were seats for Phoenix available, and we found ourselves flying out in the mid afternoon. Arriving in Phoenix close to dinner time, we checked into the hotel and decided to eat at the nearby Waffle House. Following a disappointing meal in the greasy restaurant, we retired to the hotel to rest after a VERY long travel day.


1. South Mountain Park, Phoenix

Huge cacti in South Mountain Park, Phoenix, AZ

Following our harrowing travel to Phoenix, we spent the morning and early afternoon hours at South Mountain Park. The largest municipal park in the USA at 16,000 acres, South Mountain Park offer trails for hiking and sweeping views of Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun. Fortunately for us, high cloudiness dimmed the sun to some degree, keeping temperatures in the 80s, along with low humidity levels.

A warm breeze greeted us as we started our visit at the South Mountain Environmental Education Center. After learning about the park there, we headed toward Dobbins Lookout. From the 2300 foot elevation, we could see the entire Valley of the Sun, as well as the mountains north of Phoenix. Unbeknownst to me at the time, there was a semi present haze over the Valley, which made viewing the city more difficult than expected. Still, the vantage point gave us an amazing view of Phoenix.

Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun from Dobbins Lookout at South Mountain Park.

From Dobbins Lookout, we wandered among the cacti, rocks and vegetation nearby. Having a fascination with cacti, this was my first up close encounter, and I was not disappointed. Being the middle of the day, the wildlife was well hidden, but the birds and the flora were fantastic. This portion of the park reminded me of pictures I had seen of the High Desert of northwest Arizona, though there was much more in the way of trees and bushes here.

Driving along the highway through the park, we stopped at various locations to get better views of our surroundings. Being from the Northeast, the rock formations vaguely reminded me of the rocks deposited by glaciers throughout the Delaware Water Gap. Scattered among the rocks and scrub brushes, I remained transfixed by the cacti. Ignorant of the different types of cacti, I wandered among them, taking picture after picture.

Cacti scattered among the rocks and scrub brush in South Mountain Park.

Engrossed in my environment, I lost track of time, and we ended staying in the park FAR longer than intended. At the behest of my companions, we left South Mountain Park in search of lunch in Phoenix. Having investigated only a small part of the park, I fully intended to come back during our visit. The park became an instant favorite, and we had only been here for less than a day!

Goodbye for now, South Mountain Park. See you again very soon!

2. Chase Field, Phoenix

Chase Field with the roof closed, Phoenix AZ. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following lunch and some time relaxing at the hotel, my brother and I headed out to Chase Field to catch the game between the Mets and the Diamondbacks. Slated for a 640 pm start (which seemed like an odd starting time for an evening game, but we would find out later that the Colorado Rockies often start evening games at that time), we arrived about two hours before game time (just as the gates to the stadium were opening). Unlike many other MLB parks, we found few fans milling around the park this early. This might be attributed to not having much else in the vicinity to do before heading into the park.

Surprisingly, there was little in way of parking at the stadium itself, but there was ample parking within a couple of blocks of the ballpark. Since we arrived early, we parked down the street for about $10, which was a bargain compared to some other MLB parks. As is our custom, we walked around the park shortly after arriving. There wasn’t much in the immediate vicinity of Chase Field, so after taking a few pictures, we went inside.

Walking up to Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

When we entered the park, the roof of Chase Field was open with mainly clear skies, light winds and temperatures in the 70s. Our first impression of Chase Field was that is was huge, even for a domed stadium. Holding 48,000 plus fans, the stadium featured the largest capacity of the “newer” ballparks we had visited. The concourse allowed us access to much of the lower level, and we encircled the playing field, taking pictures.

Chase Field with the roof open. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We briefly stopped in right centerfield (not far from the pool) to take in some batting practice, as Mets players shagged fly balls in the outfield. As batting practice ended, we continued the tour of Chase Field on our way to our seats. Despite ideal weather conditions, we noted that the roof was closing. In the short time since we entered the park, the wind picked up outside, and the Diamondbacks management decided that wind was a hazard with the roof open. By the time we reached the upper deck to get a picture of the park from behind home plate, the roof had closed.

Strong winds were the cause of the roof closing at Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Like most MLB parks, there were no shortage of places to eat, with a large variety of Southwest based entrees and ballpark favorites. Before heading to our seats, we ducked into the lower concourse to grab a baseball dinner. During our tour of the ballpark, we noticed Randy Johnson warming up in the bullpen. A sure fire Hall of Famer, Johnson was still at the top of his game in 2006, a formidable opponent for the surging Mets.

While Randy Johnson often dominated opponents, his record against the Mets was rather pedestrian, especially in the playoffs. So, while the Mets were facing one of the best pitchers of the era, their high powered offense might just be a match for Johnson. The Mets sent right hander John Maine to the mound, who was enjoying the best stretch of his young career. Coming into this start, Maine was 5-0 to start the season, with a sterling 1.32 ERA.

Randy Johnson warming up in the bullpen prior to his start at Chase Field versus the New York Mets. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Given the starting pitching matchup, we thought we might witness a low scoring game, though we did not know the characteristics of Chase Field, especially with the roof closed. We got our answer early, as the Mets scored a run off Johnson in the first, followed by two more runs in the second to take a 3-0 lead. It seems as though the Mets would continue their mastery of Randy Johnson.

Meanwhile, the Mets John Maine was cruising, extending his streak of good starts in the desert. During the game, we got a much better look at Chase Field. The first thing we noticed was the size of the crowd, which seemed disappointingly small for a Friday night. There were fewer fans in the park than the announced crowd of 26,000, making the park look that much larger.

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

The Mets John Maine threw six effective innings at the Diamondbacks, leaving a 5-1 lead for the bullpen. Though the Mets relievers allowed a pair of runs in the eight inning, closer Billy Wagner shut down the Diamondbacks in the ninth to preserve the 5-3 victory. Despite the number of runs scored, the game was played in a very economical two and one-half hours.

During that time, I feel we got a good sense of Chase Field. My initial impression remained with me through the game; the ballpark is HUGE, especially with the roof closed (like most stadiums with a retractable roof). Its size did not project any sense of intimacy, a seemingly important attribute of “newer” MLB ballparks. Of course, a stadium with a roof is a necessity in the Valley of the Sun, for the benefit of fans and players alike.

The swimming pool in right center field at Chase Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

However, the necessity appears to make Chase Field somewhat less charming, in my opinion. We would be back the next night, giving us another opportunity to explore the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Florida Baseball Trip 2014 – Miami

Google Earth view of Marlins Park in Miami, FL.

Our only Major League Baseball trip of 2014 was focused on the teams in Florida (Miami and St Petersburg). We chose early May for the trip, since it is just before the heat and humidity typically descend on the Peninsula. Because we were starting the trip in New Jersey (which is just out of range for a road trip, given the time constraints we had for the visit), we chose to fly to Miami, our first stop.

1. New Jersey to Miami, Tuesday May 6th 2014

While preparing for the trip, we discovered that it was more economical to fly into Ft Lauderdale, then drive to Miami, than to fly into Miami International Airport. In addition to being a cheaper flight, there were many more flights to Ft Lauderdale than Miami on the day we wished to travel. This could be due to the fact that Ft Lauderdale is a major port for cruise ships.

We chose to fly out the afternoon before the game in Miami. Even including the nearly three hour flight from New Jersey to Ft Lauderdale, we believed we’d built in enough time to get to Marlins Park before the 705 pm first pitch.

The view from our seats at Marlins Park in Miami, FL. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

However, shortly after boarding the flight, our carefully planned (and admittedly tight) timing was derailed by a problem with the plane. We have encountered mechanical issues with planes before, but the problem with this plane was new: toilet malfunction. Both toilets in economy were unavailable, though the first class toilet was functional. With just one toilet available for a nearly three hour flight, we were forced to deplane and wait for a replacement.

The delay ensured that we would miss the first pitch in Miami. Disappointed but undaunted, we eventually left New Jersey more than an hour late. After landing in Ft Lauderdale, we rushed to pick up our rental car and sped toward the park. Slackening evening traffic allowed us to get to the park in under 30 minutes. Parking was ample (after all, this WAS a Marlins home game), but still we arrived in the top of the second inning.

Bartolo Colon delivers a pitch against the Miami Marlins on May 6th, 2014. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The weather in Miami was delightful, with clear skies, temperatures in the 70s and low humidity (at least for Miami). The weather afforded us a view of Marlins Park with the roof open. Built in an area where thunderstorms are common (typically peaking right around 700 pm), getting to see a game with the roof open was a treat. There had been controversy concerning the roof, as the Marlins apparently had a much better record against the Mets with the roof closed. Tonight, however, that was not an issue.

The Marlins’ opponent for this evening was the New York Mets, and the starting pitcher for the Mets was ageless Bartolo Colon. The Marlins scored two runs against Bartolo before we had arrived, but he settled down for the next few innings. Meanwhile, the Mets offense sputtered against Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez III (who had thrown a no-hitter in 2013).

Giancarlo Stanton (going by Mike Stanton at the time) standing in against Bartolo Colon. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Overall, it wasn’t a bad appearance for Colon, who allowed three runs in seven innings. However, the Mets were no match for Alvarez, who tossed a six hit shutout in a 3-0 Marlins win. With both pitchers throwing efficiently, the time of the game was a mere two hours and eight minutes, one the shortest games we had seen in years.

Our late arrival did not allow us any time to explore the park, and the speed of the game kept our attention on the field, not the park itself. The initial impression of the park was that is was perfect for South Florida, with warm colors and an Art Deco feel. Fortunately, we would have much more time to investigate the park and it surroundings the next afternoon. Shortly after the end of the game, we headed to the hotel and settled in for the night.


2. Miami, Wednesday May 7th 2014

Outside Marlins Park, Miami, FL. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following breakfast at the hotel just outside Miami, we headed to the ballpark early to explore the area. Unbeknownst to me, Marlins Park was constructed on the site of the former Orange Bowl, in Little Havana just west of downtown Miami. Unlike the trend in ballparks of the past couple of decades, Miami eschewed the “retro” look in favor of a more contemporary feel. From my perspective, the outside of the park was more reminiscent of an art gallery than a ballpark, but seems to fit in well in Miami

Strolling around the ballpark, we quickly discovered that there wasn’t much in the vicinity, outside of parking garages. However, the combination of architecture and landscaping (replete with palm trees) provided a very attractive environment, perhaps one of the finest we’d visited. Waiting outside for the gates to open, it seemed many of the fans we encountered were Mets fans, no doubt some of them transplants from the New York City metro area.

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

Walking into the park, it became evident that the roof was closed. Like most ballparks with retractable roofs, Marlins Park looked cavernous with the roof closed. It wasn’t clear why the roof was closed; sunshine and temperatures in the 70s made for an ideal early May afternoon in Miami. There was a breeze, but it didn’t seem as though the wind was strong enough to warrant closing the roof. The fact that the Marlins were again hosting the Mets for the Wednesday matinee may have been part of the decision. While I’m not sure there is enough evidence to implicate the Marlins in unsportsmanlike conduct, it DOES make a Mets fan like me wonder.

Arriving well before the first pitch, we had plenty of time to explore Marlins Park. Walking the concourse in the upper deck, we ran into a uniformed Florida State trooper, presumably working security. Since we were walking alone near centerfield, I thought he might give us trouble. After asking us what we were doing, he then followed us halfway across the concourse toward home plate, talking baseball.

Marlins Park from the upper deck in centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following our tour of the inside of Marlins Park, we hit the concession stand on the lower level before finding our seats. As might be expected, there were more than a dozen eateries and bars scattered throughout the park, not counting the more traditional concession stands. Perhaps the most famous is the Clevelander in left center field, adjacent to the Marlins bullpen. Not surprisingly, there was a fair amount of Cuban and Hispanic food available, but we stuck closer to the standard fare for ballparks.

The view from our seats behind the first base dugout. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The closed roof changed the feel of the park, robbing it of whatever charm it possessed the previous night with the roof open. It seemed dark against the light streaming through the glass behind the left field wall, giving Marlins Park an almost drab feeling. It was against this backdrop that the Marlins hosted the Mets for an early afternoon game. The contest was a lightly attended affair, with far less than the announced crowd of 18,000 actually in the park.

On the mound for the Mets right hander Zack Wheeler, who was in the midst of his first full season with the Mets. A highly touted prospect acquired from the San Francisco Giants in 2011, Wheeler finally joined a promising Mets rotation. Unfortunately, after a encouraging 2014, Wheeler underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015. Recovery from the surgery, and subsequent setbacks, took over two years.

Zack Wheeler delivering a pitch at Marlins Park on May 7th, 2014. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On this day, however, Wheeler was on top of his game. Wheeler threw six shutout innings, striking out seven but walking five, reaching 100 pitches before exiting. Not to be outdone, Marlins starter Tom Koehler matched Wheeler nearly pitch for pitch in what evolved into a classic pitcher’s duel.

Interestingly, the best play of the day was not made by a Met or a Marlin. During the top of the third, the Mets’ Reuben Tejada lined a fastball down the left field line. With the ball headed toward the seats in foul territory , a Marlins ball boy made a lunging catch of the screaming liner, diving into the seats to make the outstanding grab. The catch seemed even better in person, and the sparse crowd gave the kid a warm ovation.

A sea creature themed mascot race during the seventh inning stretch at Marlins Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The score remained tied 0-0 going into the bottom of the ninth of the briskly paced game, with each team mustering only two hits. The Marlins scored with one out in the ninth on a sacrifice fly, a seemingly fitting end to a game dominated by pitching (or was it inept offense?).

The Marlins celebrating their 1-0 walk off win over the Mets. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As the crowd filed out of the stadium following the game, the roof was opened. The timing was curious, which made me wonder further about the conspiracy involving the closed roof and Mets’ losses. Marlins Park was a nice place to see a game, though the closed roof put a damper on its feel. While there was not enough to make me want to visit again in the future, Marlins fans should be thankful they have such a good home ballpark.

The roof of Marlins Park opening AFTER the game ended. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following the game, we made a quick trip to South Beach. Ocean Drive, the main strip along the beach, was lined with bars and restaurants on one side, and a white sandy beach on the other. The ocean was rough that late afternoon, preventing people from entering the water. The setting sun and refreshing sea breeze made the visit enjoyable, but we left before the area got too crazy.

To my great dismay, neither my brother or I could locate our pictures of South Beach. Surely those pictures would have told a better story than me about the area.