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.

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 departed Seattle, 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.