Chicago, Saturday May 3rd 2003

1. New Jersey to Chicago

Our first baseball trip of 2003 took us to Chicago to see the Cubs and the White Sox. Originally we scheduled a trip to see the Cubs in September of 2001, but circumstances made that impossible. Since we decided to make this a weekend trip, we flew from New Jersey to O’Hare Airport in Chicago on Saturday morning, May 3rd. Luckily, Newark-Liberty Airport in Newark, NJ was not busy, allowing us to breeze through security.

For the flight, we chose Midwest Airlines (now defunct). A Milwaukee based airline, they offered flights to many locations in the Midwest, and I was first introduced to the carrier for work in the late 1990s. Each plane had leather seats, and offered fewer seats than most mid sized airlines. In addition, they offered free chocolate chip cookies. Though it sounds trite, these cookies were actually very good. Though the fares were a bit higher than most airlines flying to Chicago, the roomier plane with leather seats was well worth the extra money.

After arriving at O’Hare Airport and picking up our rental car, we headed toward Chicago. Originally, we planned to see the White Sox on Saturday night, and the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday afternoon. However, we arrived in Chicago much earlier than expected, and we realized we could catch the Saturday afternoon game at Wrigley.


2. Wrigley Field

Iconic hand operated scoreboard at Wrigley Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Making our way to the North Side, we arrived at the park shortly before game time. Parking proved to be a challenge, as it often is with urban ballparks, and we ended up parking in the lot of a local business for an exorbitant amount. Not having tickets for the game, we went in search of scalpers, who were very easy to find. We secured two seats behind first base for more than face value. As is typical when we visit a new ballpark, we quickly toured the outside of the stadium. Arriving just before game time, our tour was truncated, and after we entered the venerable ballpark, we went in search of our seats.

Once we found our seats, it was immediately clear we had been swindled by the scalper. Our seats were terrible, in the lower level down the right field line with a limited view of home plate. Of course, not knowing the ballpark well, we foolishly took the scalper at his word that the seats were good. We laughed it off, being so gullible. Just being at Wrigley Field, a baseball palace, was enough to make us forget our faux pax, and we were determined to enjoy the experience regardless of our view.

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

Not surprisingly, Wrigley Field was filled to capacity. In addition to packed bleachers, we could see what seemed like hundreds of people crammed onto rooftops of neighboring buildings. Seeing the people on the rooftops on TV doesn’t give you a true idea of how many fans actually ring the ballpark. Beyond the left field, we could see the iconic Budweiser roof, located off West WVeland Avenue. But perhaps my favorite part of Wrigley Field was the hand operated scoreboard. A throwback to a bygone era, the scoreboard defined Wrigley Field for me, and I finally got to see it for myself.

We couldn’t have asked for better day weather wise, with crystal clear skies and temperatures in the 50s. Having seen Wrigley Field on TV many, many times, I could scarcely believe we were here. Dubbed the “friendly confines” by Cubs great Ernie Banks, the cozy ballpark teemed with history. Possibly the most famous of the features of Wrigley, the ivy on the outfield wall, was conspicuously absent. Being early May, it was too soon for the ivy to bloom, so instead we were treated to brown walls devoid of flora.

View of buildings adjacent to the right field wall. Note how many people are watching from the rooftops.

For the matinee, the hometown Cubs hosted the Colorado Rockies, with the first pitch slated for 120 pm CDT. Starting for the Rockies was journeyman left hander Darren Oliver, who was in his first season with the team. Taking the mound for Chicago was right hander Carlos Zambrano, the 23 year old who was beginning to show signs of becoming a Cy Young caliber starter for the Cubs. Good starting pitching, paired with a decent breeze coming in from Lake Michigan suggested a low scoring affair.

The Cubs struck first in the bottom of the second inning, stringing together hits and walks to plate three runs. Colorado responded with three runs of their own in the top of the third, and it seemed as though we would see an offensive display in Wrigley this afternoon. Chicago reclaimed the lead into the bottom of the fourth inning, with Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano hitting a solo home run to lead off the inning. While it is rare for pitchers to hit home runs, Zambrano was a good hitting pitcher, blasting 24 home runs over his career.

The famous Budweiser roof across the street from Wrigley. Note that the famed ivy had not yet started growing.

While there was a game at the ballpark that afternoon, Wrigley Field was the star of the show. Wall to wall sunshine and pleasantly cool temperatures made our visit to this baseball palace even more enjoyable, but the environment was indescribable. In between innings, I found myself admiring all that the ballpark had to offer, immediately understanding why Wrigley Park was considered a baseball mecca. Our seats were not ideal for taking pictures of the action, but from our location, we were able to enjoy the scene.

The Rockies scored three more runs in the top of the eight inning, taking a 6-4 lead that the bullpen held for the victory. Despite our seats, we thoroughly enjoyed our surprise visit, and would get a much better look at Wrigley Field the next afternoon. Following the end of the game, we inched out way out of the parking space, and headed toward our hotel. Our stay there was brief, just long enough to check in and drop off our bags, because we were headed toward US Cellular Field for a night game between the visiting Seattle Mariners and the home town White Sox.

A VERY expensive ticket for the afternoon game at Wrigley Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

3. US Cellular Field

Outside of US Cellular Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We arrived in the South Side of Chicago about an hour before the first pitch of the game between the Mariners and the White Sox, scheduled for 605 pm. As we approached US Cellular Field (now known as Guaranteed Rate Field), it was clear that we were in a neighborhood very different than the one in which Wrigley Field is located. Parking around the ballpark was plentiful, with lots surrounding the stadium. Pulling into Lot B (across West 35th Street from the field), we asked the attendant the cost of parking. After telling us, he asked if our car was a rental, to which I said yes. As we pulled away he added “I hope it’s still here when you get back”. Not exactly what a visitor wants to hear, but we did our best not to let it affect over experience.

With little surrounding US Cellular Field but parking lots and I-94, we did not explore the outside of the park like we did for other stadiums we have visited. Entering through the home plate gate, I could not help but notice how much the outside of the ballpark reminded me of the main Yankee Stadium entrance.

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

US Cellular Field, which opened in 1991, was a replacement for Comiskey Park , the home of the White Sox from 1910 through 1990. Located across West 35th Street from US Cellular Field, Comiskey Park was razed in order to provide additional parking for the new ballpark. Opening a year before Camden Yards in Baltimore (the stadium that is generally acknowledged as the first of the “new” MLB parks), US Cellular Field had the feeling of a ballpark built in the 1970s or 1980s, generally symmetrical with three decks and bleachers almost completely ringing the outfield.

Following a quick tour of the inside of US Cellular Field, we went in search of a baseball dinner. Armed with drinks and snacks, we headed toward our seats. Surprisingly, despite the cool weather, the game was well attended, and the best seats we could procure were in the upper deck, directly behind home plate. Typically, we seek out seats in the lower level on either the first or third base side. However, when these seats are unavailable (as they were this night), we prefer to be closer to home plate when relegated to the upper deck. A long climb was rewarded with a great view of the ballpark as game time approached.

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

Though the sun was shining at the start of the game, a chill descended upon US Cellular Field, and it was evident that we were in for a cool early May evening in South Side. Starting for the visiting Seattle Mariners was right hander Freddy Garcia. The talented 26 year old was already an emerging star, yet listed as the fourth starter on a loaded Mariners rotation. On the mound for the hometown Sox was left hander Josh Stewart, who was in the first season of a brief two year MLB career. A seeming pitching mismatch favored the Mariners, who were just two season removed from a single season record of 116 wins in 2001.

The video board in centerfield at US Cellular Field. Below the scoreboard is the Fan Deck, constructed to allow fans to congregate during the game. Other teams would adapt this approach as the way fans watched the game changed. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We didn’t need to wait long for the fireworks to begin, as the Mariners pummeled Sox starter Josh Stewart for six runs in the first two innings, punctuated by two home runs in top of the first inning. Seattle tacked on four more runs in the top of the fourth inning, chasing Stewart from the game. Meanwhile, Freddy Garcia was cruising for the Mariners, putting the game out of reach fairly early.

With my attention straying from the game, I began to feel the chill more intently, as temperatures dropped into the 40s with the advent of night. Not surprisingly, the White Sox fans began to abandon what appeared to be a losing cause, steadily exiting as the home town fell further behind. As the announced crowd of 25,00+ thinned out, we noticed just how large US Cellular Field was. Unlike MLB that would follow, the stadium seemed to lack a sense of charm or intimacy, feeling more like a throwback to the past. Having said that, US Cellular Field was a comfortable place to see a game, and an upgrade to where the White Sox used to call home.

US Cellular Field at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Mariners tacked on two runs late in the game, as Freddy Garcia and a cadre of Seattle relievers held the Sox in check for 12-2 victory. Cold temperatures made the three hour 15 minute game seem even longer, and by the time the last out was recorded, I was ready to leave. Overall, US Cellular Field was a good place to see a ballgame, but generic enough not to be too memorable. While I was glad we took in a game here while in Chicago, there wasn’t enough of an attraction to being me back anytime soon.

My scorecard from the game.

Angel Stadium of Anaheim, Saturday June 10th 2006

Angel Stadium, Anaheim CA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Finally, the sun made an appearance in Southern California, as the low clouds and fog receded just offshore. Following a morning of exploring San Diego, I traveled up Interstate 5 to Anaheim to catch an evening game between the Seattle Mariners and Anaheim Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. The 90 minute trip was swift and uneventful, helped along by the fact it was Saturday.

Shortly after arriving at the stadium, I met up with my brother, who stayed just a block away from the park. Angel Stadium, located near the Santa Ana River, is a mere four miles from Disneyland. Had I know that at the time, I might have built in time to see the iconic amusement park before heading to the stadium. My brother stated that his hotel was boisterous, with the din caused by kids excited to visit Disneyland.

The exterior of Angel Stadium of Anaheim, complete with a pair of batting helmets framing the gate behind home plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Parking was plentiful at Angel Stadium, as the field was almost completely surrounded by parking lots. By MLB standards, parking was relatively cheap ($10.00), and arriving almost two hours before the first pitch, we had our choices of spots. Since there was not much to see immediately adjacent to the ballpark, we encircled the stadium before entering through the gate behind home plate.

Angel Stadium has undergone several configuration changes since it first opened in 1966. Originally constructed with an open outfield, the stadium was completely enclosed in 1980, when the NFL’S Los Angeles Rams relocated to Anaheim. The enclosure increased the stadium’s capacity from 43,000 to over 63.000, where it remained through 1997. Following the departure of the Rams, the stadium was renovated, removing the enclosure, restoring the view of the mountains in centerfield.

Following the demolition of the enclosure in the outfield, the “Rock Pile” replaced it in left centerfield. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Replacing the enclosure in the outfield was perhaps the stadium’s most interesting feature, the “Rock Pile”. Also known as the California Spectacular, the rock formation was adorned with real trees, fake boulders and a geyser which spouts water that cascades down the rocks. This feature is always prominently displayed during national broadcasts from Angel Field.

The “Rock Pile” was accessible via the concourse that encircled the stadium, and not surprising, it was a popular destination. Our tour of the stadium revealed it to be a former multi purpose stadium reborn into a baseball park following the renovations in the late 1990s. A large scoreboard in right centerfield was augmented by a smaller scoreboard in left centerfield, giving Angel Stadium a more modern look.

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

Following our trip around the stadium, we visited one of the many concession stands on the lower level to obtain our baseball dinner. Despite the Angels being a sub .500 team, the ticket demand was so high that we were only able to secure upper deck seats behind home plate. The climb was worth it; the view of the ballpark from our perch could not have been better.

The starting pitching matchup feature two journeyman right handers. Gil Meche, taking the ball for the visiting Seattle Mariners, and John Lackey, toeing the rubber for the hometown Angels, were both in the middle of mediocre seasons. Clearing skies, light winds and mild temperatures set the stage for a pleasant evening, with Lackey delivering the first pitch at 707 pm PDT.

Ichiro Suzuki leading off for the visiting Seattle Mariners. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Leading off for the Seattle Mariners was rIght fielder Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro was off to yet another great start, leading the American League in hitting at .369. In his sixth season with the Mariners, Ichiro was rapidly becoming the best hitter of his era, and a major draw while on the road. He did not disappoint this night, collecting three hits and scoring three runs. However, Ichiro grounded out to start the game, with the teams going scoreless early in the contest.

The Angels started the scoring the bottom of the second inning, with two runs via consecutive RBI singles off Mariners starter Gil Meche. The Mariners countered with three runs in the third inning. The score remained 3-2 going into the top of the fifth inning. Angels starter John Lackey intentionally walked Raul Ibanez to load the bases for Mariners 1B Richie Sexon. Sexon, a power hitter with a low batting average, deposited the next pitch over the centerfield fence for a grand slam home run. That home run ended Lackey’s night, and gave the Mariners an 8-2 lead.

Angel Stadium at night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Much to my surprise, despite the makings of blow out, the Angels fans stayed for the bulk of the game (so much for the stereotypical Southern California fan leaving early). The nearly full stadium generated a feel I would expect in ballparks across the Midwest or the Northeast. In addition, clear skies, light winds and temperatures in the 60s provided an enjoyable backdrop for a very pleasant baseball experience at Angel Park.

The Mariners tacked on four more runs in the seventh inning, including back-to-back home runs by Ichiro Suzuki and Andre Beltre, essentially putting the game out of reach for the hometown Angels. The Angels did respond with runs in the seventh and eighth innings, but not nearly enough to put a dent in the Mariners lead. Angels star (and future Hall of Famer) Vladimir Guerrero was quiet in this contest, managing a double in four at-bats.

Angels RF Vladimir Guerrero batting at Angel Stadium. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Overall, my impression of Angel Stadium of Anaheim was very good, better than I expected. Good weather and a large crowd made this possibility my favorite Southern California game. At some point, I’d like to visit the area again, and would consider a return to Angel Stadium an essential part of that trip.

Seattle, 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/Vancouver, Saturday September 29th, 2007

Ferry crossing the Puget Sound, Seattle WA.

1. Seattle

Unlike the clear skies Friday night, Saturday morning dawned with milky sunshine fading behind thickening clouds. The lowering clouds threatened rain later in the day, so we knew we had to get out as soon as possible to see as much of Seattle as we could before the rains came. Though we had a rental car at our disposal, experience has taught us that if we wanted to get a true sense of our surroundings, a walk was our best approach.

After breakfast at the hotel (very close to the Space Needle), we walked toward downtown Seattle. The seasonably cool conditions made walking pleasant, even as the sun continued to fade over us. On the way out, we turned to admire the Space Needle. Towering above its surroundings, the iconic structure looked every bit the majestic symbol of the Pacific Northwest. We made plans to visit the Needle more closely after returning from our sojourn.

Our view of the Space Needle from the hotel. The needle was beginning to blend into the cloudiness lowering and thickening behind it. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On our way, we headed down Broad Street on our way to Alaskan Avenue and the shore of the Elliot Bay. The view was somewhat reminiscent of that scene in the opening sequence of War Games, with ferries and freighters criss crossing the lower end of the Puget Sound. The clouds prevented us from glimpsing even a fleeting view of Mount Rainier, some 40 miles south southeast of us. Even during late September, Mount Rainier is snow capped, making it perhaps the most prominent feature on the skyline. However, today just wasn’t our day, and considering clouds and rain were in the forecast for the remainder of our stay, it seemed we were destined not to see it at all.

As we ambled along Alaskan Avenue, we came upon a landmark most others might dismiss. The Edgewater Hotel, as its name implies, sits on the edge of Elliot Bay. Besides a great view of the Sound, the hotel ‘s location allows guests to fish from their rooms. Hotel guests in the past include the Beatles, Neil Young and Led Zeppelin in their early trips to the Pacific Northwest. Being diehard Zeppelin fans, we felt obligated to catch a glimpse of the famous hotel, where stories of the band’s excesses may have gotten their start.

The Edgewater Hotel, Seattle WA. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Further on up the road, we approached downtown Seattle. The view from Alaskan Avenue afforded us a different perspective of the city, which was dominated by domiciles and businesses alike. Given that the weather conditions were sliding downhill as the morning progressed, there were few people in the area. Sooner than I expected, we had reached the sports complex. We were free to walk around and between the stadiums, which provided us some insight as to how the Safeco Field dome operated. When the dome is open, it slides back over a train track, rather than retracting (like other MLB domed stadiums). This might have been a view we would have missed had we not found our way to the park on our journey.

The roof at Safeco Field slides out of the way when not covering the playing field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Feeling as though we were losing in the struggle to beat the rain back to the hotel, we did not linger long around the stadiums. Both parks were physically impressive, and unfortunately our timing did not allow us to take in a Seahawks game at Qwest Field. As much fun as the fan experience was at Safeco Field, I imagine the experience is amplified during a tight Seahawk or Sounders contest at Qwest.

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

Picking up the pace along Western Avenue toward the hotel, we came across a place of which I had never heard: The Museum of Pop Culture. We entered the museum, not knowing what we might encounter. What we found was an eclectic assortment of art and science, arranged in a way I wouldn’t have ever considered.

My favorite was the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. Being huge science fiction fans, we were enthralled with the displays and exhibits. There was a focus on science fiction of the 1950s, which many fans of the genre (including me) consider its golden age. It was a collector’s heaven, and we spent a considerable amount of time among the treasures.

Cover of the map of the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Next we explored the Sound Lab. The lab had a small recording studio, as well as various musical instruments. Being a sometimes guitarist, I jumped at the chance to play in a recording studio, and banged out the best version of Foxey Lady I could. Fortunately, the lab was nearly deserted, and the only person tortured by my rendition of the Jimi Hendrix classic was my poor brother.

Remembering that the weather was closing in on us, we left before thoroughly examining everything this strange and wonderful place. Should I find myself in the vicinity, I need to see what else the Hall has to offer.

While this sign sends a serious message, I couldn’t help but see cartoonish humor in it. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On the way back to the hotel, we found a very unusual street sign. Just when I thought I’d seen every type of sign the US has to offer, we came upon the sign above. Clearly, the sign is trying to convey the deadly implications of not giving a wide berth to pedestrians. However, in my mind, the sign crossed a line that separates public service announcements from maudlin satire.

Following our return to the hotel, we ate a quick lunch, then headed toward the Space Needle. Perhaps the most famous landmark in Seattle, it is known worldwide and very popular with tourists. After a short wait, we were whisked up two the observation deck, some 520 feet above ground, in less than a minute.

The view of the Seattle skyline from the observation deck of the Space Needle. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The observation deck of the Space Needle offers a 360 degree view of its surroundings, spanning the Puget Sound, downtown Seattle, Mount Baker and Mount Rainier. The lowering cloud deck limited our field of view, and we were unable to see Mount Baker or Mount Rainier. Despite these disappointments, the view of Seattle was well worth the visit.

Though we didn’t not indulge, there were restaurants on the observation deck (which have since closed). Because our visibility was limited, we ended up spending less time there than expected. Hopefully, someday I’ll will return to get a better view of the region from Space Needle.

Safeco Field and Qwest Field from the Space Needle. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Google map depiction of the route from Seattle, WA to Vancouver, BC.

Rather than attend the Saturday night game at Safeco Field, we decided instead to take advantage of a sports themed opportunity across the border. The BC Lions, a member of the Canadian Football League (CFL), were home that evening, hosting the Calgary Stampeders at BC Place, a multipurpose stadium in Vancouver, British Columbia (BC). Never having seen a CFL game in person, I couldn’t resist the chance to see one.

Vancouver is about two and one-half hours from Seattle, and we set out after relaxing briefly at the hotel. A steady rain developed shortly after we started, and the rain slowed our travel time a bit as we drove north on Interstate 5 toward the international border. The crossing was quiet, allowing us to proceed quickly (during a time when crossing the border did not require a passport). By the time we reached Vancouver, the rain turned heavy, making the city seem dark and washed out.

BC Place on a dark and wet Saturday night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Parking onsite was plentiful, which fortuitous since pouring rain greeted as as we made our way into the venue. Located in a region that receives copious amounts of rain throughout the year, BC Place is a domed stadium; had it not been, the cool and wet conditions would have resulted in a miserable fan experience. Even with cover from the elements, the crowd size was surprisingly small.

At first glance, the game appeared as though it would be a one-sided affair. The Lions were generally considered the best team in the CFL’s West Division, while the Stampeders were near the bottom of that bracket. However, not knowing much about the teams, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. There are a number of differences from the NFL, including a longer and wider field, three downs to reach a first down, and a rogue, a single point play involving a kick into the end zone.

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

With only three downs to reach a first down, and multiple players in motion prior to the snap, the CFL game showcases a wide open offense, with more passing than rushing. The high powered Lions offense scored early and often, amassing a sizable lead before halftime. The fast paced game was highly enjoyable, even if I did not fully understand all of the rule differences in the CFL.

While I did not see any ex-NFLers on the team rosters, there were a number of former American college players on each team. Even though I am not sure my company appreciated the different take on the American game, I fully appreciated the differences. The Lions continued the offensive assault, while the defense held the Stampeders in check. With the game fully in hand, we expected to see fans leaving, but the Lions fans remained during what had become a blowout.

Action near the goal line at BC Place. Note that the uprights are flush with the goal line, meaning that the post is in play. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The fast paced game ended in less than three hours, significantly quicker than a typical NFL game. The game was not as close as the final score of the game would indicate, as the Stampeders were never really in the game. Taking one more look at the field before exiting, I thoroughly enjoyed the Canadian version of the game. Because none of the franchises are nowhere close to where I leave, I’m not sure if/when I’ll see another CFL game.

The final score of the one-sided affair in Vancouver.

Seattle, 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)

Minneapolis, Minnesota – Thursday September 22nd, 2011

Looking at home plate from right center field at Target Field as the sun broke through the clouds.

Following a late night at Target Field the night before, we had breakfast at the Denny’s adjacent to our hotel, then relaxed until it was time to leave for the ballpark. Game time was 1210 pm, leaving little time to do much before arriving at the park as the gates opened.

We got a good look at Target Field during a cloudy evening, but hoped for a better look during the day. Unfortunately, the morning dawned cloudy, and remained so as we caught the Metro Blue Line from the Mall of America (which was adjacent to our hotel). Temperatures in the 40s reminded us that we were indeed in Minnesota in late September, which is a fall month this far north.

Our trip to Target Field via light rail took us past the old home of the Twins, the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome.

The trip took about 40 minutes, seemingly slow for the distance covered. That being said, the trip was pleasant, unlike mass transit we have seen in others cities. The Metro dropped us off right in front of Target Field, forgoing the need to drive and park at the stadium. There were few people milling around as the gates opened, suggesting that the game might be lightly attended, as the season was winding down for a team that wasn’t playing very well.

There was a distinct nip in the air at Target Field as we wandered throughout the seating areas. A gusty wind and temperatures struggling to reach 50 degrees was very different from the 80s and humidity we had been experiencing back home. In the light of day, we discovered that Target Field was quite photogenic, blunted only by the low clouds hanging over the city.

View of Target Field from the upper deck behind home plate. The sun lost its battle with the clouds for this picture.

Fans passed through the turnstiles as the stadium starting waking from its early autumn slumber. After encircling the stadium taking pictures, we hit the concession stand on the lower level for hot chocolate and hot dogs, which served as our lunch. Because the Twins were playing sub .500 baseball, tickets for the matinee with the Seattle Mariners were plentiful. As result, we obtained possibly the best seats we’ve ever had at an MLB game.

Our seats for the game, which offered a view of downtown Minneapolis.

The amazing seats gave us access we normally only get at minor league games. Our proximity to the field, as well as the sparse crowd, allowed us to hear chatter on the field. That is something we’ve never experienced in an MLB stadium. The announced crowd for the game was 37,000+, which was laughable. At most, there were 7500 souls in the park braving the early afternoon chill by the time the first pitch was thrown.

Leading off for the Mariners was Ichiro Suzuki. We’ve seen him a few times during our baseball travels, but never this close. Even among the Twins faithful, Ichiro was a fan favorite, receiving scattered applause as his name was announced. Ichiro was 3 for 9 in the two games we saw at Target Field, but each at bat was a thing of beauty from one of the best hitters in my lifetime.

Ichiro Suzuki at bat against the Twins at Target Field on September 22nd, 2011.

The pitching matchup for the final game of the series featured Anthony Swarzak for the Twins and Blake Beaven for the Mariners. Both starters were in their first full season with their teams, and each had a fairly mediocre campaign. The matchup seemed to be fitting for teams that were simply playing out their 2011 schedules, with little left to accomplish save evaluating young talent for the future.

The sun made a brief appearance shortly after we arrived at Target Field, but since that time the sky maintained a slate gray overcast, ensuring little warming during the game. The Mariners scored single runs in the first and second innings to take an early lead. The Twins tied it up with runs in the third and fifth innings. Despite the starters having little MLB experience, they each performed admirably.

Mariners starter Blake Beaven delivers a pitch at Target Field.

Breaks in the clouds after the fifth inning allowed a few rays of sun to sneak through, giving us a better view of downtown Minneapolis over the right field wall. Though there wasn’t enough sunshine to warm the air much, just seeing it through the overcast seemed to modify the fall chill firmly entrenched over the stadium.

A look at skyline of downtown Minneapolis as breaks in the overcast allowed the sun to make a brief appearance.

The Twins’ and Mariners’ bullpens shut down the opponent’s offense through the Mariners’ at bat in the top of the ninth. The Twins scored with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to seal a 3-2 victory. Despite the lack of scoring in the game, the contest clocked in at about three hours, which seemed longer in the late September chill.

The hometown Twins celebrate a walk off win at Target Field.

As we filed out of Target Field following the game, I turned around to take one final look at the ballpark. It had a clean, new feel to it, though I still couldn’t understand why a stadium in a place where snow can occur in May did not have a dome. It was a great place to see a game, and I may be back here someday, especially when the Mets are in town.

Strangely enough, this sign may have been my favorite part of Target Field.

Minneapolis, Minnesota – Wednesday, September 21st 2011

Minnesota Twins scorecard from 2011.

Our second MLB trip of the 2011 season took us to Minneapolis to see the Twins at Target Field. Planning the trip for late September, we knew there was a chance that the night game we would attend could be cold, with temperatures in the 30s. Circumstances dictated the timing of our visit, and we were delighted to get a chance to visit Minnesota. Though I have been to the Minneapolis airport (to change planes), this visit would be the first “real” trip to Minnesota for each of us.

In a perfect world, we would have driven to from central NJ to Minneapolis, as road trips allow us to see some much of the US. However, there simply wasn’t time, since the drive would have been 2400 miles round trip, taking 34 hours. With the drive not a viable choice, we flew from Newark, NJ to Minneapolis, MN. With the flight clocking in at two hours and 30 minutes, we arrived too late to catch the game that night (September 20th). Instead, we checked into our hotel in Bloomington and settled in for the night.

1. Minneapolis, Wednesday September 21st

The morning dawned cloudy, with temperatures in the 40s. That might not qualify as cold in September for Minnesotans, but considering we came from a place where it was still warm and humid, it felt as though we skipped fall and when into early winter. Luckily, we knew this was possible and dressed accordingly.

Following breakfast at the Denny’s that was part of the hotel complex, we drove to Minniehaha Regional Park, along the banks of the Mississippi River. A bucolic retreat from urban Minneapolis, the park reminded me to some degree of Central Park in New York City. A stroll along the Mississippi River in the late September chill made it feel more like football weather, but we enjoyed the fall like conditions, despite the lack of sunshine.

Waterfall in Minniehaha Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Based on the rock formations in the park, it seemed as though at least some of the features were carved out by glaciers. We’ve seen similar rock formations at the Delaware Water Gap on the border of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In fact, Minniehaha Park was very reminiscent of the Water Gap, from the rocks to the forest primeval. After following the river for a while, we decided to drive further up the river, closer to downtown Minneapolis.

Rapids in Minnehaha Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Parking near the locks on the Mississippi River, we walked up to Lock No. 1. Over the years, we have seen the Mississippi from different locations, but this view was special; we were near at the start of the mighty river. As we walked along the river side, we were surprised by a visitor; a bald eagle. The beautiful visitor caught us completely off guard, so we didn’t manage to get any pictures.

The view looking north along the Mississippi River from Minneapolis. The trees in the foreground left reminded us what is was indeed autumn here. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes).

Even though the sun never did peek out that day, the refreshingly cool autumn air made our exploration quite enjoyable. On the way back to the car, we wandered through some of downtown Minneapolis. Despite the tall buildings, the vibe of the place was more like a medium sized city. Remarkably clean for an urban area, Minneapolis possessed a charm that cities of its size do not have back East. My first impression of Minneapolis was overwhelmingly positive.

Mississippi River Lock No. 1 on a cloudy autumn day. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

2. Target Field

Rather than drive to Target Field and search for parking in an unfamiliar urban area, we opted to take public transportation to the game. Walking to a Metro stop from the hotel, we passed the Mall of America, which was just down the street from our hotel. Strangely, we did not visit the Mall during our stay, even though it is a top tourist destination.

Catching the Metro Blue Line near the Mall, the light rail took us to a stop just across the street from Target Field. Since the trip was on a local line with several stops, it took about 40 minutes to reach our destination. With trip being a mere 10 miles, the ride seemed fairly long, similar to that of the train ride from Manhattan to Citifield, the home of the Mets. However, that’s where comparison ends, since the light rail in Minneapolis was MUCH nicer than the New York City subway system.

Target Field on a cloudy and cool night. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

After getting off the train, we got our first view of Target Field. The curves and the glass on the exterior gave the park a futuristic look, yet the brick siding exuded a more retro vibe. Walking around the stadium, we discovered several bronze statues of Twins’ legends. Each statue seemed to capture the essence of the player, from the batting stance crouch of Rod Carew to the quiet dignity of Harmon Killebrew.

My favorite, however, was the statue of Kirby Puckett. It caught the fist pump of Puckett rounding the bases following the home run that won Game Six of the 1991 World Series. Glimpsing the statue took me back to that night, reliving the moment as if it happened yesterday. In my opinion, that image epitomizes Twins baseball.

“We’ll see you tomorrow night”. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The cloudy skies that night did not afford us the best view of the interior of Target Field, though we did wander the concourse snapping pictures and taking in the atmosphere. Target Field felt like a modern ballpark, with great sight lines throughout the stadium. Though the stadium seemed bigger in person than I expected (due primarily to the four deck seating layout, which included the press level), the seating capacity is just under 40,000. Yet, despite its size, there seemed to be some sense of intimacy that does not come through at home on TV.

Following our tour of the stadium, we searched for food before heading to our seats. Like most big league parks, there were many places to grab something to eat. The featured restaurant within the park was Hrbeck’s Restaurant, named for the Twins first baseman during the glory days of the 1980s and early 1990s. Open even when the Twins aren’t playing, it seems to be popular in the community, though Yelp reviews are not particularly flattering. As is our custom, we opted for more standard baseball fare, grabbing hot dogs and sodas before finding out seats.

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

Sitting in our seats in the autumn chill before the first pitch, I couldn’t understand why a ballpark in Minneapolis would be an open air stadium. Having seen all of the current MLB stadiums, it is clear to me that an outdoor stadium offers a better fan experience. However, when you play baseball in a place where snow is not that uncommon into May, pragmatism may have to have some place in the decision making process. Perhaps Twins fans are accustomed to the chillier conditions, but at least some baseball fans would trade comfort for ambiance in this situation.

The Twins hosted the Seattle Mariners on this night. Both teams were limping to the finish at the conclusion of disappointing seasons, and seemed to be playing out the schedule. Starting for the Mariners was the young right hander Michael Pineda, completing his rookie year. Following the season, Pineda underwent surgery to repair a right shoulder labrum tear, and it would take two full seasons for him to return the mound. For the home team, the starter was Kevin Slowey, suffering through a brutal 2011. This would be his last season in Minnesota.

Efficient use of space in left field at Target Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

On this cloudy and cool evening, there were far fewer fans in the park than the announced crowd of 36,000 by the time the first pitch was thrown. The Twins scored runs in the first two innings off Pineda, whose night ended after four innings, and Slowey was pitching as though he would make the slim lead hold up.

The view from the lower level in left field with Ichiro Suzuki coming to the plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The Mariners’ offense awoke in the fifth inning, scoring two runs, followed by thee more runs in the sixth. That ended Slowey’s night after six innings. Though the Twins would score single runs in the 8th and 9th innings, the Mariners held on for the 5-4 victory. Even with the scoring, the game time clocked in at about two hours and 45 minutes, which is not bad for an American League contest. We left Target Field that night with a favorable impression of the park, and we would get a look at the stadium in the daylight the following day.

Goodnight from Target Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)