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.

Colorado, Friday June 11th 2010

Google Earth view of Coors Field, Denver CO.

Our only MLB trip of 2010 took us to Denver, Colorado for the weekend of June 11-13th 2010, for our first visit to Coors Field, home of the Rockies. The flight from Newark, NJ to Denver CO took about three hours and 45 minutes, and after picking up our rental car, we arrived at our hotel not far from the airport around 400 pm local time.

There was a considerable amount of turbulence landing at Denver International Airport, which in itself was not unusual, as the airport is adjacent to the Rocky Mountains. Its proximity to the mountains makes the airport susceptible to strong and shifting winds, and all of my landings at Denver International Airport have been bumpy (even in good weather).

Thunderstorms bearing down on Denver, CO.

Unbeknownst to us, thunderstorms were scattered about eastern Colorado that afternoon. We became fully aware of the threat as we drove from the airport to the hotel. After checking in, we went down to the hotel bar to get sandwiches when the storms arrived. The manager of the bar came out and told us that, if necessary, we would move across the street to a bank to hunker down if a tornado was sighted.

There as an audible murmur among the few bar patrons when they were informed of the specter of fleeing ahead of a possible tornado. However, being a weather geek, I had other plans. If there was a tornado sighted, I was going outside to get pictures of the storm. Never having seen a tornado, I felt this opportunity was too inviting to let pass. Alas, the strongest part of the storm passed us by, leaving the bar patrons relieved and me disappointed.

Coors Field on a rainy early evening. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Behind the storm, the wind picked and the air turned noticeably cooler as we headed out to Coors Field, located just outside of downtown Denver. Arriving at the park about an hour before game time, we searched for parking. There are three official parking lots at the stadium (Lots A,B and C), with prices ranging between $15 and $25. On this night, due mainly to the unsettled weather, we sought to secure a spot near the stadium. Otherwise, there are many other parking options located within a short walk from the stadium, though prices vary considerably.

While we were waiting for the rain to end, another strong thunderstorm approaching the stadium prompted this warning by the Rockies. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

With a light rain falling, we skipped our normal walk around the stadium and went into the ballpark through the first base entrance. Entering the ballpark, we were greeted by a tarp covered field. Every baseball fans knows that tarp on the field before the first pitch is a bad sign. Trying to stay optimistic, we wandered around the park in the rain as long as practical, before ducking in under cover provided by the lower level concourse.

The ground crew adjusting the tarp as we waited for the rain to end. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The game time of 610 pm came and went, while the rain continued. Temperatures dropping into the 40s made a wet evening even more unpleasant, and I feared as though the game would be postponed without a single pitch being thrown. We took cover as the rain started to lighten up, giving us hope that there might be a game after all.

Steady rain (occasionally mixed with a little snow) kept fans under cover at Coors Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

As the rain slackened, our hopes for a game were buoyed. After removing the tarp, it took the ground crew 45 minutes to ready the field, pushing back the game time to 855 pm. Much of the crowd left during the extensive rain delay, and there were less than 10,000 fans left in the park (which holds 50,000 fans) when the game started.

Cold and wet, we found our seats for the first pitch. Starting for the hometown Rockies was right hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who was enjoying a career year. Jimenez sported a 1.13 ERA in support of a 11-1 record. The starter for the visiting Toronto Blue Jays was left hander Ricky Romero, who we saw start for the Jays in Detroit in 2009. Not long after the first pitch, intermittent light rain returned, with the occasional snowflakes mixed in as temperatures dropped into the 30s.

Ubaldo Jimenez delivers a pitch in the second inning at Coors Field.

The Blue Jays opening the scoring in the second with a single run, and the Rockies responded with two runs in the bottom of that inning. The Blue Jays scored two more runs in the third to retake the lead, as Jimenez was experiencing his worst outing of the 2010 campaign. The intermittent rain was becoming steadier and heavier, chasing away most of the remaining fans. Having traveled 2,000 miles to see this game, we were determined to remain util the end.

Meanwhile, the Rockies scored single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth in innings to take a 5-3 lead. Conditions continued to deteriorate, prompting umpires to call for the ground crew to cover the infield once again. Mercifully, the wait was relatively short before the game was called, handing Jimenez his league leading 12th win. With so few fans left in the building, exiting was easy. The late start and bad weather didn’t allow us to explore the park as much as we would have liked, but there were two more games in the series, so we would get another change to take in the feel of Coors Field.

Minneapolis, MN 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, MN 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 went straight 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 crouched batting stance of Rod Carew to the quiet dignity of Harmon Killebrew.

My favorite, however, was the statue of Kirby Puckett. It perfectly 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 our 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)

Florida Baseball Trip 2014 – St Petersburg

Google Earth view of Tropicana Field, St Petersburg, FL.

1. Miami to St Petersburg, Florida Thursday May 8th 2014

The next and final stop of our 2014 MLB tour was St Petersburg, Florida, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. The three hour and 45 minute drive led us across the northern portion of the Everglades National Park, as well as the Big Cypress National Preserve. Never having seen an alligator in the wild (not many gators in the Northeast), we welcomed the opportunity to seek them out in their natural habitat.

Google Maps showing the drive from Miami to St Petersburg FL.

As might be expected, each stop along the way yielded no gator sitings. Granted, we did not venture far from the road, as we were not prepared to trek into the swamp. This greatly reduced our chances of seeing gators in the water. Disappointed, we abandoned our attempts and followed Interstate 75 North toward St Petersburg.

Along the way, we stopped shortly after crossing the Sunshine Skyway to get pictures of the bridge. While taking pictures along the waterline, we caught the attention of the local wildlife. A great egret, standing tall on a wooden pallet, made no attempt to hide her contempt for our presence near HER shallows. Even while taking pictures of her, she did her best to intimidate us. Not wanting to aggravate her further, we left as soon as we were finished with our picture taking.

A great egret looking us over with a jaundiced eye while perched on a wooden pallet near St Petersburg, FL. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Arriving at our hotel in St Petersburg well ahead of the 705 pm first pitch at Tropicana Field, we relaxed at the hotel before heading out to the ballpark.

2. Tropicana Field

Tropicana Field, St Petersburg, FL. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We arrived at Tropicana Field about 90 minutes before game time, just as the gates were opening. There was ample parking in the general vicinity of the stadium, much of which is one-quarter of a mile or less from the stadium. On this night, with a fairly light crowd expected, parking was $15, but parking can vary between $15 and $30.

Upon arriving at the park, we walked around the stadium. Being a domed stadium, there was not much to see outside. Entering the park behind home plate, the brightness outside was replaced by the dimness of the translucence of the roof of Tropicana Field. Having seen what appeared to be a drab interior on TV, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that is was not as dark nor dank as I imagined. Fun fact; Tropicana Field is the only remaining MLB Park with a fixed roof.

The roof of Tropicana Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the roof is that is slants from home plate down toward center field. While the slant is discernible from outside, it is much more exaggerated inside the park. Suspended from the roof are catwalks. They are part of the support structure of the roof, specifically the lighting and speaker system. There are four rings of catwalks, some of which are in play. Many times over the years, the catwalks have giveth and taketh away, resulting in confusion and loathing. Because of this, the catwalks have been a lightning rod for criticism since the opening of the park.

With plenty of time before the scheduled 710 pm start, we wandered inside the stadium. Outside of the roof, the stadium was a nondescript domed ballpark. Like most domed stadiums, the place seemed cavernous, with three levels of seats spanning from foul pole to foul pole. Much of the stadium was accessible via concourses, allowing us to take pictures of virtually the entire park.

Tropicana Field from the upper deck behind home plate. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Wandering the lower level in center field, we discovered the fabled ray tank. Arriving as early as we did, there was almost nobody around the tank, meaning we were able to pet the rays at will. Knowing very little about rays, I was unsure whether they were bothered by human contact. Of course, the rays are probably accustomed to the interaction, and petting them likely did not cause any additional stress. However, in deference to the animals, I chose not to pet them, instead admiring them from a respectful distance.

Viewing the ray tank at Tropicana Field from above. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Like most major league ballparks, there were more than a dozen locations from which food was available, including standard concession stands. Despite the large selection available, we chose to indulge in more standard ballpark fare before seeking out our seats for the game.

David Price delivering a pitch at Tropicana Field. (Photo credit:Jeff Hayes)

The Rays hosted the Baltimore Orioles this evening, the last game in a three game set. The announced crowd for this game was just over 11,000, which made Tropicana Field (with its 42,735 seat capacity) seem almost empty. The Orioles sent Umbaldo Jimenez against the Rays’ David Price in what promised to be a pitcher’s duel. Our seats for the contest were behind the Orioles dugout in the lower level.

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

The Rays opened the scoring with a run in the bottom of the first, with the Orioles scoring in the second and third innings to take a 3-1 lead. That was the extent of the scoring, as both starters and respective bullpens kept the promise of a potential pitcher’s duel. Despite being a low scoring affair, the game clocked in at just over three and one-half hours.

Front end of a double play at Tropicana Field. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

The extra time have us the opportunity to take in the feel of the park. While Tropicana Field was not as dungeon-like as I expected (based on what I’d seen on TV), the park lacked any significant charm or presence. It’s no wonder the franchise has been seeking another home, one that might provide fans with a warmer environment.


1. St Pete Beach, Friday May 9th 2014

St Pete Beach under sunny skies. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Following breakfast at the hotel, we had plenty of time to explore the region ahead of the 705 pm game time at Tropicana Field. Our first stop was St Pete Beach. Located on Long Key, a barrier island a few miles west of St Petersburg, St Pete Beach is consistently voted one of the top beaches in the United States.

Wall to wall sunshine and temperatures climbing into the 80s during the late morning resulted in a perfect beach day. The white sandy beach reminded me of those we saw at South Beach the day before. However, unlike the rougher surf we saw near Miami, the crystal clear waters along St Pete Beach were nearly calm.

Black skimmers walking along St Pete Beach.

Though the weather was conducive for beach going, there were surprisingly few people on the beach, and none in the water. However, there were plenty of birds on the sand and fishing in the shallow water of the Gulf. In fact, there were many more black skimmers (a bird I’d never seen before) than people on the beach that morning. Great egrets roamed the surf, occasionally pulling a fish out of the water.

Strolling along the beach, we saw much of the architecture had some connection to Art Deco, much like we noticed in Miami. Though it was only early May, the sun angle was high enough to give me a mild sunburn. As the temperature headed toward 90 degrees, we cut short our walk along the beach to find some shelter and lunch.

The Gulf of Mexico along St Pete Beach.

2. Sawgrass Park

Following lunch, we headed into St Petersburg. We happened upon Sawgrass Park, which looked like a good place to spend some time before riding back to the hotel to relax before the game.

Almost immediately after leaving the car, we became acutely aware of the lizard population. Brown anoles were everywhere; in fact, I had to actively avoid the lizards for fear of stepping on them. We started our exploration of the park near Sawgrass Lake, following a dirt path to an elevated boardwalk. Along the way, we passed a large variety of birds forging in the marshes.

A great egret using some ingenuity to catch fish in the marshes of Sawgrass Park. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

We stopped to watch a great egret stomping his way through marshes along the dirt path leading to the boardwalk. At first, it wasn’t clear why the egret was stomping. However, after stomping a few times, the egret pulled a fish out of the marsh. The bird was stomping until it found a fish and pounced on it. We watched this happen a few times before moving on.

Following the elevated boardwalk brought us to a viewing platform on the edge of the lake. A sign posted in the gazebo covering the viewing platform warned that we were in gator country. Gazing out across the lake, it seemed as though there were no alligators to be found. Being early to mid afternoon, I thought they were basking in the sunshine elsewhere, someplace less conspicuous.

Baby alligators lounging in the mud on the edge of the lake. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

My brother signaled to me that he found something in the mud on the edge of the lake; baby alligators. The hatchlings were partially submerged in the mud, numbering about a dozen (though there could have been others deeper in the mud). Despite being small and arguably cute, the hatchlings possess little but sharp teeth that could inflict some pain, if harassed.

Lurking not far offshore we finally spotted the mama gator. Like mothers of other species, this cow was keeping a sharp eye on her babies. Though she was a distance away, I had no doubt that if her young were threatened, she would take swift and definitive action to protect them. It seemed, though, that she was not particularly agitated, as if she had become accustomed to people being close to her young.

Mama alligator maintaining a watchful eye on her hatchlings. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Spending far more time in the park than anticipated, we left the park shortly after finding the gators, and headed back to the hotel to relax before the game. Wanting to see alligators while in Florida, I didn’t expect to find them in a park in St Petersburg. If you find yourself with some time near Sawgrass Park, I’d recommend a visit, if only to track down some gators.

3. Tropicana Field

Tropicana Field from the third base side. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Having been to Tropicana Field the night before, we did not arrive as early for this contest. With little to see outside the park, and exploring much of the park with the Orioles in town, we arrived about an hour before the first pitch, scheduled for 710 pm. The Rays’ opponent this evening was the Cleveland Indians, who were beginning a weekend series in St Petersburg.

For this game, our seats were on the first base side behind the Rays’ dugout in the lower levels. Once again, the announced crowd of 17,455 for the series opener seemed like an overestimate. The sparse crowd made the domed stadium feel nearly empty. Granted, the Rays were not playing well so far this season, but without fan support, the environment almost felt drab.

Our seats for the series opener against the Cleveland Indians. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Starting for the home team was right hander Jake Odorizzi, and right hander Corey Kluber took the ball for the visiting Indians. For Corey Kluber, 2014 was a breakout season which ended with him winning his first Cy Young award. Odorizzi was in his first full season with the Rays, and tonight’s matchup was promising to be a pitcher’s duel.

The game started out just that way, with both pitchers tossing three scoreless innings. The Rays scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings, and as well as Odorizzi was pitching, two two runs looked as though they might be enough to ensure a Rays’ victory.

The Tribe completing a double play supporting the outstanding start made by Corey Kluber. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Jake Odorizzi struck out 11 Indians in five innings of work, but in doing so, threw over 100 pitches. With Odorizzi out of the game, the Indians torched the bullpen for a run in the sixth and five runs in the seventh. That outburst was more than enough to support Kluber, who struck out nine in six innings of work.

By the seventh inning stretch, the sparse crowd began to file out, all but assured of yet another Rays’ loss. A team with promise at the start of the season, a loss would drop them six games under the .500 mark. The Rays’ managed to score a run in the bottom of the ninth, but it wasn’t enough to prevent an Indians’ 6-3 win.

The Tropicana Field scoreboard tells the tale of an Indians victory. (Photo credit: Jeff Hayes)

Leaving Tropicana Field, I understood why some refer to this stadium as the least attractive in MLB. While the place lacks an discernible charm, and seems almost tomblike with small crowds in the cavernous building, it was not the dungeon I imagined it to be. Having said that, I get why fans stay away; should they return, they deserve a better home for their team.