Toronto, Ontario Friday June 23rd 2006

Roy Halliday gracing the cover of the Blue Jays program.

1. New Jersey to Toronto, Ontario

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

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

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

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

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


2. Rogers Centre

Our first look at Rogers Centre.

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

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

The view from our seats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 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 force 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.

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.

Seattle, WA Sunday September 30th, 2007

Google Earth View of T-Mobile Park (previously known as Safeco Park) in Seattle, WA

Getting a late start after returning from Vancouver in the early morning hours, we were greeted by thick clouds and a chilly rain. Weather more typical of the Pacific Northwest in the fall made the sunshine and warmer temperatures of Friday seem like a distant memory. Since conditions were not conducive for exploring Seattle further, we stayed close to the hotel before heading out to Safeco Field and the final game of the 2007 season.

The short drive to the stadium revealed just how cool and raw the day had become, and we spent as little time outside as possible before entering the stadium. Of course, the roof was closed at Safeco, and like most domed stadium, the ballpark looked and felt much bigger than with the roof open. Wandering through the concourse sheltered from the rain, we discovered more fans than I would have expected, considering that the Mariners reached the end of another season without a playoff berth.

Safeco Field from the upper deck behind home plate, looking much larger with the roof closed. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Starting for the hometown Mariners was 21 year old Felix Hernandez, who was completing his second full MLB season in 2007. Already dubbed King Felix, he showed flashes of the Cy Young Award winner he would become just three seasons later. Opposing the Mariners budding superstar was the Rangers left hander AJ Murray, finishing up an abbreviated rookie season. Slated for a 110 pm start, there was a brief pre game ceremony capping off Fan Appreciation weekend.

Our seats for the game. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Rangers touched up Hernandez for a run in the top of the first inning, but the Mariner responded with two runs in the second and one in the third to take a 3-1 lead. With King Felix dealing, it seemed as though he would make that lead stand up. With both pitchers throwing well, the game was fast paced (for baseball). The Rangers scratched out a run in the top of the fifth inning, but that would be the end of the scoring for the visiting Rangers for the 2007 campaign.

“King” Felix Hernandez delivering a pitch against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Meanwhile, King Felix continued to mow down the Rangers lineup, taking his start into the ninth inning. One out away from a complete game victory, Hernandez was lifted from the game for the Mariners closer, JJ Putz. By recording the final out, Putz earner his 40th save of the season as the Mariners took the season finale 4-2.

The final score for the final game of the 2007 season at Safeco Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Due primarily to the crisp pitching performance, and to a lesser degree that it was the ultimate getaway day, the time of the game was just under two hours. The Mariners came out for a curtain call, thanking the fans for their support throughout the season. Filing out of Safeco Field into the dreary late September afternoon, I took one last look at the ballpark. Wishing the weather had been more cooperative, I nonetheless found the ballpark to be a great place to see a game, nestled in an interesting and eclectic city I’d always wanted to see. Hopefully during my next visit I’ll be able to see more of Seattle, as well as some of the natural wonders the area has to offer.

Goodbye, Safeco. Hope to see again soon! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Seattle WA, Friday September 28th, 2007

Safeco Field, Seattle WA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We managed to squeeze in one more baseball trip at the tail end of the 2007 season, visiting the Pacific Northwest for the first time. The trip was planned around the final series of the season for the Seattle Mariners, but we were just as interested in seeing Seattle, a place I long wished to visit. For this trip, an old friend of mine joined us, as we explored Safeco Field (now known as T-Mobile Park) and beyond.

We left from Newark NJ on a non-stop flight to Seattle-Tacoma Airport, and the six hour flight was long but uneventful. At the airport, we met up with my friend Mike, who flew in from Boston and arrived not long after us. A fellow Met fan, Mike finally took the opportunity to join us on one of our baseball excursions. We didn’t know it at the time, but being as far from the travesty that would occur in Queens NY that weekend spared us from having to witness it.

Strong storms just missing Safeco Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Heading toward the hotel in Seattle, we were greeted by a severe thunderstorm, something of a rarity in the Pacific Northwest, especially in late September. Luckily, the storm passed us by, leading into a clear and comfortably cool evening at Safeco Field. Finding parking at the stadium was not difficult; there were at two lots at the field, with many offsite options available with walking distance (generally less than one-half mile). However, the prices for the offsite locations were not cheap.

As is the case when we visit a stadium for the first time, we walked around Safeco Field to get a feel for the place. Though I was aware that Qwest Field (now known as CenturyLink Field) was close to Safeco, I didn’t realize that they were across the street from each other. Adjacent to Safeco Field down the street is WaMu Theatre, home to live music.

The view of Seattle from just outside Safeco Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

In fact, there was quite a bit to do and see around the sprawling sports complex. Even among the points of interest within walking distance, the most striking was the view of downtown Seattle. From the ballpark, the skyline was spectacular, and it dawned on me that I hadn’t considered how large Seattle was. That view stuck with me long after the trip ended.

Following our exploration of the environs, we headed into the park. Despite being a relatively new ballpark (which opened its gates for the first time in June 1999), it had a vintage look and feel, as evidenced by the rotunda that serves as the main entrance. Once inside, Safeco Field seemed huge, departing from the “newer” ballpark trend for smaller, more intimate experience. Not as large as the multi purpose colossuses from the 1960s and 1970s, it nonetheless was bigger in person that I thought seeing it on TV.

Safeco Field from on high. Note the roof over right field, and Qwest Field beyond the left field seats. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

While we were able to cover much of Safeco Field via the lower level concourse, it did not allow us access to the entire field. Still, our initial impression of the stadium was largely positive, and the clear and relatively cool late afternoon/evening added to the ambiance of the park. Ducking back into the main concourse, we discovered the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame.

Celebrating the rich baseball history of the Pacific Northwest, the Hall contained multi media exhibits chronicling baseball’s beginning in the 1870s, the Seattle Pilots and their lone MLB season in 1969, as well as Mariner greats through the years. Luckily for us, the Hall was not crowded, and we were able to appreciate the understated display. While not as expansive or detailed as Halls we’ve explored in other MLB ballparks, fans will appreciate the expression of appreciation of baseball in Washington.

Edgar Martinez and his classic stance on display at the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Mariners hosted the Texas Rangers for the first game of the last series of the season, slated for a 710 pm start. Before heading to our seats, we went in search of baseball style dinner. As might be expected, there was myriad places to eat and drink, featuring local favorites as well as classic ballpark standards. Rather than indulge in some of the more exotic offerings, we chose the standard fare, and headed to our seats.

We witnessed something unique in my experience at the food court. Typically, the US dollar is stronger than the Canadian dollar, and I have never seen Canadian dollars accepted in US stores. However, during our visit to Seattle, the US dollar and Canadian dollar were about equal, and the food courts and team stores within Safeco Field were accepting Canadian dollars for payment.

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

The view from our seats was spectacular, as the weather was good enough for an open roof. As the sun was setting toward game time, the lights from the stadium were just taking effect, unveiling the beauty of Safeco Field. Much like Minute Maid Park in Houston, the massive roof towered over the right field stands. Clearing skies and seasonably cool temperatures set the stage for a great evening for taking in a ball game.

Both teams were finishing out the 2007 schedule with little to play for, other than pride. Neither team was headed to the playoffs, completing mediocre seasons. The Mariners sent veteran right hander Jeff Weaver to the hill, and the Rangers countered with 23 year Edison Volquez, making his sixth and final start of the season. Both teams sported relatively potent offenses, so a high scoring affair was in the offing, especially with the roof open.

Safeco Field with the Seattle skyline as a backdrop. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Beyond the stadium, the main baseball attraction was Ichiro Suzuki. Finishing yet another outstanding season, Ichiro led the AL in hits and at bats, his .351 batting average second in the AL to Magglio Ordonez. Leading off and playing right field for the hometown Mariners, Ichiro was definitely THE fan favorite, receiving a rousing ovation before his at bat in the bottom of the first inning.

Ichiro Suzuki leading off in the Mariners half of the first inning. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Rangers struck for two runs in the top of the third inning, while Edison Volquez mowed down the Mariners through the first five innings, effectively dispelling the notion of a slugfest at Safeco Field this evening. Though the game was fairly well attended, there did not seem to be anywhere near the 31,000 plus fans announced for the game. The less than capacity crowd should have been expected, since neither team has much left to prove at the tail end of the 2007 campaign.

Volquez’ s start unraveled in the bottom of the sixth, as the Mariners scored three runs before he could record an out. A phalanx of Rangers relievers managed to contain the damage. The Rangers offense pushed two runs across on the top of the seventh to take a 4-3 lead into the seventh inning stretch.

Safeco Field at night with the roof open. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Even with little left to play for in 2007, I was impressed by the passion of the Mariners fan. The combination of the venue and the fans instantly made this one of my favorite places to see a ball game, and we had just reached the bottom of the seventh! The Mariners bats woke up in the bottom of the eight to tie the game at 4-4, and the crowd responded according.

Mariners’ closer J.J Putz held the Rangers scoreless in the top of the ninth. In the bottom of the ninth, Rangers’ pitcher Mike Wood yielded a single to Mariners 3B Adrian Beltre, then retired the next two batters, seemingly dodging a bullet. However, 2B Jeff Clement ended the game with a walk off HR to center field, giving the Mariners a 6-4 victory. The raucous hometown crowd reveled in the victory as the filed out the Safeco Field. The walk off HR was a fitting ending to the end of a highly enjoyable baseball experience at a great ballpark.

The Mariners celebrate a walk off victory! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Detroit, MI September 13th, 2009

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

A warm and dry late summer day greeted us for the last game of the series at Comerica Park. Having seen much of what we wished to see in downtown Detroit the day before, we ate a late breakfast before heading directly to the park. However, it seemed as though the landmarks in Detroit were not quite done with us.

After parking the car in a lot away from the ballpark, we passed by a church along the way. St John’s Episcopal Church, built in 1859, was constructed in the Gothic Revival style, which we saw throughout Detroit. The belfry, the tallest section of the church, rises to 105 feet. It is the last remaining church on Woodward Avenue, an area once well known for its large number of religious buildings. The church was yet another example of the wonders I simply didn’t expect to find on this baseball trip.

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

As we arrived at the main gate of Comerica Park, clouds started to filter the sunshine, and there was a noticeable increase in humidity, making the early afternoon feel more like summer than early fall. The warmth and humidity did not negatively impact our exploration of the park, as we wandered throughout the stadium.

Spending more time on the outfield side of the ballpark, we got a better look at the statutes just above the Tigers Wall of Fame. All of the statues showed Tiger greats in action poses, which was much more impressive in person than the images I had seen on the Tigers website. While it was not Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, the statues were a fitting tribute to the Tiger legends.

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

Walking back from center field toward our seats, we got a great view of the seating area of the stadium. In order to keep the ballpark seating capacity lower, there are just three decks (including the luxury boxes and press area on the middle deck) at Comerica Park. Though not as large as some parks, the stadium had a larger feel from the outfield than from home plate.

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

Before finding our seats, we headed to the Big Cat Food Court for lunch. There were other food options at Comerica, such as the Brushfire Grill or Blue Moon Brewhouse, but the food court near the main entrance suited our needs quite well. Sunday afternoon games following Saturday night contests are typically not as well attended, which allowed us to procure excellent seats for the series finale. With lunch in hand, we headed to our seats and awaited the start of the game.

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

The pitching matchup for the Sunday matinee pitted rookies against each other. The visiting Jays sent 24 year old left hander Ricky Romero to the mound. Romero was concluding a very successful rookie season, finishing third in the 2009 Rookie of the Year balloting. His opponent for this afternoon contest was 20 year old right hander Rick Porcello. The Tiger rookie had an equally impressive rookie season, during which he compiled a 14-9 record. The matchup suggested a pitcher’s duel, despite the fact that both offenses were potent.

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

After a scoreless first inning, the Tigers roughed up Romero for four runs in the second and third innings. Romero settled down following the outburst, finishing his afternoon after six innings, allowing 10 hits while walking three. By contrast, Rick Porcello held the Jays scoreless through three innings before allowing a pair of runs before exiting after six innings. While the pitching matchup was not as impressive as expected, it was clear that both starters were burgeoning starts with bright futures.

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

Our seats gave us a great view of the playing field. Comerica Park has a strip of dirt between the mound and home plate. Known as a keyhole, Chase Field in Phoenix and Comerica Park are the only MLB parks to feature one. Additionally, the dirt area around home plate is shaped like a home plate. Both of these features are nods to the past, especially the keyhole, which was once a common feature at ballparks.

Tigers win! (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Tigers tacked on three more runs in the eighth inning, closing the scoring and handing the Tigers a 7-2 victory. The game time as a very reasonable 2 hours and 40 minutes, in front of an announced crowd of 32,000+ fans. Taking in the ballpark all afternoon, I decided that Comerica Park had become my second favorite MLB Park (just behind PNC Park in Pittsburgh, PA). The combination of old school features and new ballpark amenities made this an ideal place to see a ballgame. Though it is a long drive (or relatively short flight) to Detroit, I hope to return here soon.

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

Detroit, MI September 12th 2009

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

1. Downtown Detroit

Following breakfast near the hotel, we decided to explore downtown Detroit. The few glimpses I had yesterday before the game piqued my curiosity, as the glimpses challenged my preconception of the city. Visions of Detroit from the news and the movie 8 Mile danced in my head. In our previous visit to Detroit (in 1999 to see Tiger Stadium before it closed for good), we didn’t venture from from the park, and did not see much of the city.

We found parking near the Joe Louis Arena for $5, which covered our exploration of Detroit AND the game in the evening. Rather than consult a map and plan our day, we instead started near Comerica Park and wandered from there. My initial impression was that downtown Detroit had architecture and building materials similar to those we’ve seen in Newark, NJ and Baltimore, MD.

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

The first landmark we encountered was across the street from Comerica Park: the Fox Theatre. One of five Fox theaters built across the US in the 1920s, the ten story theater in Detroit was completed in 1928. The theater portion of the building holds 5,000+ patrons, the largest of the original Fox theaters, and remains the lone surviving theater from the 1920s. Restored in 1988, the third through tenth floors host office space.

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

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

We walked among the skyscrapers of downtown Detroit on our way to the Detroit River, which serves as the international border between Michigan and Ontario. The buildings reminded me of older cities of the Northeast, both in architecture and age. Though I’d never been to this portion of the city, it definitely had a familiar feel.

As we headed toward the river, we encountered a building that looked very familiar. While this building was not a skyscraper (in fact, it was not even the tallest building in its vicinity), it had a very distinctive shape and coloring. Dubbed the Flatiron building of Detroit, the structure bore an amazing resemblance to its namesake in New York City. Had I not known about the building in Manhattan, I might have missed this gem.

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

Crossing the walkway over the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, we encountered the Mariner’s Church. Founded in 1842, it was designed as a mission for maritime travelers of the Great Lakes. Constructed of lannon stone, the design of the church was Gothic Revival (which is seen elsewhere in Detroit). The church was a stop on the Underground Railroad, the final one before former slaves reached freedom in Canada. The church was moved 880 feet to the east in 1955 to accommodate the construction of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.

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

We found ourselves on the Detroit Riverwalk, a concrete walkway which includes parks, plazas and pavilions that afforded a great view of the river on one side, and the skyscrapers of Detroit on the other. Located along the river was the Gateway to Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad. Dedicated in 2001, the memorial commemorates Detroit’s role in the Underground Railroad. Though I was aware that Great Lakes states were active in the Underground Railroad, I had no idea how important Detroit was in the process

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

Our final stop on our impromptu tour of downtown Detroit was the Renaissance Center. Often referred to as “a city within a city”, the Center is a collection of seven interconnected cylindrical buildings. Perhaps the most famous is the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center; at 73 stories, it is the largest of the seven buildings. It dominates the Detroit skyline, and is visible from a great distance.

We stopped at a cafe near the Center for lunch, sitting outside to enjoy the fantastic weather. On the walk back to the car, we passed over the Detroit-Windsor tunnel before reaching the Joe Louis Area. We barely scratched the surface when it came taking into the myriad landmarks in Detroit, yet I felt we saw so much. There was far more to see in Detroit than I could ever have imagined.

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

2. Comerica Park

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

Walking to the park from the lot near the Joe Louis Arena, we arrived just as the gates opened. Having more time to explore, we wandered around the outside of the ballpark first. Comerica Park is very much an urban ballpark, not far from the skyscrapers to east and northeast. Though there wasn’t much to see in the immediate area around the park, we did get a good look at the giant glove on the back of the left field stands.

Finding our way back to the main entrance, we were again greeted by the huge tiger. As might be expected, the tiger drew quite a bit of attention, and it was exceedingly difficult to get a picture of the feline without people in it. Normally, such things at ballparks do not impress me, but this tiger was very photogenic, and a decided fan favorite.

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

Once inside, we strolled through the concourse. Getting a better look at ballpark in the sunlight revealed that it had a great baseball atmosphere, one that rivaled the old Tiger Stadium. Opening in 2000, it was one of the “newer” MLB ballparks, which meant it had a slightly smaller capacity (about 41,000). The smaller capacity gave the park a more intimate feeling, which was evident almost immediately,

Like many of the newer MLB ballparks, Comerica Park was constructed to showcase the downtown area. This was evident when we toured the upper deck, where the Renaissance Center dominated the skyline of Detroit beyond center field, which reflected the setting sun to the west. Over the left field fence, the mammoth Ford Field towered over Comerica.

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

In left field was the massive scoreboard, which was the largest in baseball when the park opened in 2000. Roaming the top of the scoreboard were two large bengal tigers, whose eyes light up following Tigers wins. Walking toward center field, we discovered the Tigers Wall oF Fame. Retired Tigers players’ number adorn the wall in center field (except for Ty Cobb, who did not wear a number). On the concourse above the wall stood statues of the players in action.

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

We completed our walk at the main gate behind home plate, where we found the Big Cat Food Court. Not surprisingly, there was a wide variety of food from which to choose, with dishes from around the world. Next to the food court was a carousel, featuring bengal tigers for kids to ride. Per usual, my palette dissuaded me from experimenting, and I chose fare more typical of a baseball stadium.

From the Big Cat Food Court we went in search of our seats. For tonight’s game, we obtained better seats than the night before. Despite the regional rivalry between the teams, there were still good seats available. Sitting just to the left of home plate in the lower level, we had an excellent view of the field, as well as the skyline of Detroit.

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

The Tigers again hosted the Blue Jays in the second game of a three game set. Starting for the hometown Tigers was 25 year old right hander Edwin Jackson, who was reaching the end of a mostly successful 2009 campaign. On the hill for the visiting Jays was right hander Scott Richmond, who was limping toward the end of a decidedly disappointing season. Given the pitching matchup, and warm and dry evening, suggested that we could in store for an offensively driven ball game.

Sitting very near the Tigers dugout, we caught a glimpse of Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager. Leyland was a baseball legend, having led the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1980s and 1990s. Leyland took the Tigers to the World Series in 2006, where they lost to the St Louis Cardinals. Leyland briefly popped out of the Tigers dugout just before the game, allowing my brother to snap a picture of the storied Tigers skipper

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

As expected, the ball was carrying that night, as Curtis Granderson led off the Tigers first inning with a home run, and the offensive display was on. After the teams traded runs in the second inning, the Tigers scored three runs in the fifth inning, ending the night for the Jays’ Scott Richmond.

However, that ended the scoring for the Tigers, as the Blue Jays’ bullpen shut down the potent Detroit offense the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Jays scored in the last five innings of the game to earn an 8-6 victory.

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

The time of the game was a shade over three hours, which is typical of an American League game. During the content, I became enamored with Comerica Park. The ballpark has old school charm with a new ballpark feel. We would get a chance to see the park in full sunshine tomorrow afternoon, and following what I saw tonight, I couldn’t wait for the series finale.

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

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

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

Our lone 2009 MLB trip took us from New Jersey to Detroit, Michigan by way of Canton, Ohio from September 10th through the 13th. The first day of the trip (Thursday, September 10th) was dedicated to the drive from central New Jersey to Ohio. We assumed that we could not expect to get from New Jersey to Detroit, Michigan in one day (though we did exactly that in 1999), so we consciously chose Canton as a destination. Our plan was to stay overnight and visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame Friday morning, September 11th, before heading to Detroit for a game that evening.

The trek itself was rather non-descrip, driving along Interstate 76 for the entirety of the state of Pennsylvania. That route took us from near Philadelphia just after the morning commute across the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg (the state capital), where we could see the nuclear reactor cooling towers of the Three Mile Island facility. Following a short stop for lunch, we got back on the road.

Between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, we witnessed the heartland of America. On one side of the interstate, we saw acres and acres of corn, which was mature and ready to be harvested. On the other side, we saw acres and acres of cows standing and laying among the rolling hills. From that slice of Americana, we passed north of Pittsburgh before crossing into Ohio. After about an hour, we reached Canton, checked into our hotel, and ate a quick dinner before settling in after a long day of driving.


2. Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton Ohio, Friday September 11th 2009

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

Checking out of our hotel on the cloudless, relatively cool morning in Canton, we headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Arriving about the time the doors opened at the Hall, we were able to secure parking adjacent to the museum, rather than have to parking offsite and catch a shuttle bus. Having gotten there early, we had much of the Hall to ourselves, save a crew filming for a local or national news broadcast.

Our visit began in the Hall of Fame Gallery. Home of the plaques describing the current Hall members, it was reminiscent of the busts at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Since the Pro Football Hall of Fame elects new six entrants each year, there are many more members of the Pro Football Hall. Examining each plaque consumed a considerable amount of time, especially since there were a large number of members from the early days with whom I was not familiar.

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

Our next stop was the Hall theatre, which showed a loop of famous games and clips. The loop was interesting, but disappointingly short. Following the main presentation, we wandered into the NFL Gallery. The Gallery contained exhibits for each NFL team, as well as multimedia displays telling the history of the game. For the casual and die hard fans alike, this gallery contained the heart and soul of the game, stepping us through time as the game evolved.

In addition to the history of the NFL, the gallery chronicled the American Football League (AFL). Founded in 1960 as a rival league to the NFL, the AFL featured a more wide open offensive game, a sharp contrast to what the NFL had to offer. Despite a more exciting game, the AFL was widely derided among football fans as inferior to the NFL. However, the AFL signed Joe Namath out of Alabama in 1965. Shocked by the signing, the NFL pursued merger talks with the AFL shortly thereafter.

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

To my surprise, the gallery contained a small exhibit dedicated to the World Football League (WFL). Developed in the mid 1970s as a direct rival to the NFL, it featured a team in Hawaii, and encouraged NFL stars (such as Larry Csonka and Paul Warfield of the Miami Dolphins) to jump to the new league. Featuring key rule differences, the new league enjoyed a fairly successful first season, but the lack of a national TV contract and overzealous spending doomed the WFL before the end of the second season.

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

Perhaps the most interesting features in the gallery were the wax figures of NFL legends. Life sized versions Jim Brown, Walter Payton and Lynn Swann were among the greats immortalized in the wax museum. Finally, we walked through the Super Bowl gallery, which featured multi media displays of each Super Bowl. Being New York Jets fans, we were attracted to the Super Bowl III exhibit, as the Jets beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts. That victory legitimized the AFL in the eyes of many NFL fans, and represents the lone Jets Super Bowl appearance.

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

All told, we spent more than two and one-half hours in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including the obligatory visit to the Hall store for souvenirs. Though I consider myself a knowledgeable pro football fan, I learned quite a bit about the game, and enjoyed the exhibits greatly. If you are just a casual fan, and you find yourself in the Canton, Ohio area, you owe it to yourself to visit the Hall. You won’t be disappointed.

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

3. Canton, Ohio to Detroit Michigan/Comerica Park

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

Following lunch near the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we hit the road for Detroit, Michigan in order to catch the game that evening against the Toronto Blue Jays. The 210 mile, three and one half our trip took us south of Cleveland, Ohio around the western edge of Lake Erie into the southeast portion of the lower peninsula of Michigan. The trip itself was uneventful, with generally light midday traffic working in our favor.

We reached our hotel south of Detroit off Interstate 75 a couple of hours before the gates opened at the ballpark, allowing us time to relax before the game. Approaching the hotel, our GPS unit informed us that the hotel was a left turn off the interstate, though visually we could see that the hotel was actually to the right of the exit. Back then, the GPS units did not often update their maps, and clearly this unit was out of date.

Arriving at Comerica Park about the time the gates opened, we had little difficulty finding parking. There were five main parking lots around the ballpark (including parking near Ford Field, located across the street), reasonably priced at about $10. Had the main lots been full, there are many parking options within a short walk (generally less than one-half mile) of the stadium, with varying prices.

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

Like many newer MLB ballparks, Comerica Park was located downtown. Walking around the park, we glimpsed the colossal Ford Field across the street. The domed stadium (home to the NFL Lions )dominated the skyline in this portion of Detroit, seemingly much larger than Comerica Park. On the other side of the stadium, we could see the Renaissance Center, located on the banks of the Detroit River.

The environment surrounding the ballpark was unexpected. Stories of Detroit has me expecting a war zone, yet downtown Detroit had a distinctive architecture that held a charm that exceeded my expectations. Having caught my interest, we would have to explore downtown Detroit further.

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

Since we were not sure that would would arrive in Detroit for the start of the 705 pm game, we did not obtain the best seats possible for the game. Instead, we sat in right center, just to the left of home plate. The view gave us a great view of the stadium, as well as an unobstructed look at home plate.

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

Being September 11th, the Detroit Tigers held a short but dignified ceremony marking the eighth anniversary of the attacks in 2001. To be honest, I hadn’t given the date much thought (outside of a cursory acknowledgement), so the somber ceremony caught me somewhat by surprise. Following a moment of silence to remember the fallen on that fateful day, the players took the field, with the first pitch thrown at 707 pm.

The Tigers opponent that evening was the Toronto Blue Jays, a regional rival, even though the teams are in different divisions in the American League. The Tigers held a five and one-half game in the AL Central over the Minnesota Twins, while the Blue Jays were mired in fourth place in the AL East, 26.5 games behind the division leading New York Yankees. It was against that backdrop that the Tigers sent left hander Nate Robertson against the Blue Jays starter, left hander Nate Tallet.

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

With the game featuring back of the rotation starters struggling through their 2009 campaigns, the circumstances seemed ripe for a slugfest, as both teams had power in their lineups. However, the score was close through the first half of the game, with the teams trading runs through the first five innings.

As the evening blended into evening, the wind died down, leading to comfortably cool conditions for the middle of September. With the Blue Jays protecting a 3-1 lead entering the seventh inning, the teams both scored three times in that frame, which ended the scoring for the contest.

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

Toward the end of the game, a light breeze off Detroit River brought a light fog to Comerica Park. The fog allowed for an amazing effect on the laser eyes of the bengal tigers perched on the scoreboard. The scattered light from the tiger’s eyes gave it a more menacing appearance. Fortunately, the fog remained light enough not to affect play, as the Blue Jays took the first game of the three game weekend set 6-4.

Following the game, we experienced little difficulty exiting the area before heading back to the hotel to relax after a long day that started with football and ended with baseball.

Colorado, Sunday June 13th 2010

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

Once again, the morning dawned dark and cool across Eastern Colorado. Considering Denver enjoys 24 sunny days a month (especially during the warm season), getting three gray and wet days in a row is an unusual string of bad luck. Rather than experiencing highs temperatures in the toasty upper 70s and lower 80s (which is normal for mid June), we were “treated” to highs in the 50s under slate gray skies.

1. Coors Field

With the weather remaining uncooperative, we decided to stay close to the hotel following breakfast. The 110 pm start meant that the gates opened shortly after 11 am, and we arrived at the ballpark around that time. For the third game in a row, we were able to park onsite, as the cloudy skies and cool temperatures promised another light crowd.

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

Arriving early finally allowed us to explore Coors Field in more detail. The ballpark is huge, with a capacity of more than 50,000, with three decks and grandstand seating in left field. The park was designed and built during the team’s initial years in Denver, when the Rockies played at Mile High Stadium, home of the Broncos. During their tenure in that park, the Rockies set an MLB attendance record, drawing more than four million fans a year.

While the Rockies still draw well, the large crowds at Mile High Stadium didn’t translate to the new ballpark. Consequently, Coors Field lacks the intimacy of some of the newer MLB parks. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its own charm; flora and water falls in center field, as well as a purple aura throughout the park (due to the Rockies color scheme). Still, the large dimensions of the park remind me of the ballparks of the 70s, though Coors Field has more character than the multi purpose behemoths of the past.

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

Wandering the entire ballpark, we counted no less than two dozen places to eat and drink. As seemed to be the norm in this park of Colorado, there were several microbrews available at Coors Field, as well as a few restaurants serving specialty cuisine. Not possessing a sophisticated palette, my tastes are drawn to more standard ballpark fare, and there were no shortages of these locations. Following out trek through the stadium, we got lunch before seeking out our seats.

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

The small crowd for the matinee made Coors Field look nearly empty as game time approached. While skies occasionally lightened up, the sun never did make an appearance, and the crowd was dressed for a game in April, rather than June. The pitching matchup for the final game of the series featured right hander Jesse Litsch for the Jays, and left hander Jeff Francis for the home town Rockies.

The low clouds started lifting shortly after the game started, raising the prospect of a few rays of sun. Alas, that didn’t happen, but brightening skies after two days of cold and rain was a welcome respite from the conditions. The weather resulted in yet another lightly attended game, surely less that the announced crowd of 32,000 plus.

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

The Rockies pounced on Litsch in the first inning, batting around while scoring for four runs on five hits. The Blue Jays responded with three runs of their own in the third, drawing within a run. However, the Rockies answered with three runs of their own in the bottom of the third, ending Jesse Litsch’s afternoon. The first run of the inning came from LF Ryan Spilborghs, hitting the first of his two home runs that afternoon.

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

As the game went on, a few breaks in the clouds developed, helping it feel warmer on this cool afternoon. The breaks didn’t last long, as the Rockies continued their offense barrage, scoring three more runs in the sixth inning (featuring Spilborghs’ second home run of the afternoon). That outburst put the game out of reach for the Blue Jays, and capped the scoring for the game.

Despite the best conditions of the weekend, I suspect that we did not get the true flavor of Coors Field. Having spent some time in eastern Colorado in the past, my experience tells me that the clouds and rain obscured the true charm the field possesses. However, the charm was not fully present during this visit, and the smaller crowds undoubtedly had something to do with that as well.

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

The Rockies 10-3 victory took about three hours to complete, as the home team swept the Jays in three straight. Following the game, we decided to take a ride up to Boulder, perhaps my favorite place in Colorado.

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

2. Boulder Colorado

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

Hoping for better conditions as we headed toward Boulder, we were disappointed to discover the same clouds over Denver were present in Boulder. Professional training opportunities have allowed me to visit Boulder several times, and each time I discovered something new to appreciate. My favorite part of Boulder is the Flatirons, a rock formation in the foothills of the Rockies unique to the area. There are five flatirons in the formation, and wandering among the flatirons has always been the highlight of my trips to Boulder.

Arriving at Table Mesa in the late afternoon, we began to wander in the meadows and trees just in front of the FlatIrons. The recent rains left the area greener than I had ever seen it, which helped counteract the ever present clouds. It reminded me of the rolling green hills I’d seen over eastern Nova Scotia years before, and of picture I’ve seen of Ireland (though I have not yet been there)

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

The clouds obscured the top of the Flatirons, rendering the colors in the terrain almost indiscernible. Still, the majesty of the Flatirons shone through the mist. The ground immediately adjacent to the terrain was too wet to walk on comfortably (as we did not have the right shoes for the conditions). That meant we were unable to hike the trails that lead to the higher hills overlooking Boulder, and possibly catch a glimpse of a mountain lion along the way.

The FlatIrons, looking northeast.

Not seeing another soul wandering the area for more than an hour, it seemed as though we had this part of Boulder to ourselves. The only other creatures in sight were a few deer and a noisy magpie, apparently enjoying the lack of human presence. Even with the gloom, some of the color of the region was evident. The FlatIrons are composed of conglomerated sandstones, with some of the sandstone present along the trails.

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

Lingering near Table Mesa in the hopes that some of the clearing we saw to the east would magically materialize over Boulder, we waited until nearly dark before heading back to Denver. This was my brother’s first visit to Boulder, and I was disappointed that he didn’t get to experience Boulder the way I have in the past. Perhaps we will return, if for no other reason that to see the FlatIrons in all their glory, and to hike the trails among the formations.

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

Colorado, Saturday June 12th 2010

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

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

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

1. Rocky Mountain National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Coors Field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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