Monday, July 30, 2007

Day 37: Security Services Field

All photos of Colorado Springs and Security Services Field available on Flickr.

After being spoiled by a weekend of fine accomodations, we spent last night doing what we do best - sleeping at a truck stop. Figuring that Kansas would be just as boring during the day as it was at night, we drove about 5.5 hours across the whole state until we entered the Mountain Time Zone, being guided by the unusually bright shine of the moon the entire way. We finished the remaining 2 this morning, arriving in Colorado Springs around 10:30. The game ended up being at 12:35 and not 12:05, so we were a bit early, but it gave us plenty of time to meet up with Ira Liebman, the marketing director of the Sky Sox who scored us free seats and a table inside the stadium for fundraising. The best part of getting to fundraise inside is that regardless of whether or not people donate, there are always tons more people who are interested in hearing about our story and the trip than if we were to just set up on the street. We met a lot of interesting characters and the staff was also very friendly. We made $20, which is an excellent total, considering it was another kids day.

The park is a typical minor league park - 10 sections of seats, bleachers down the lines, and a grass GA area near the poles, with the outfield walls laden with advertising. At this point, I've kind of come to expect a little bit more from AAA stadiums, since we've seen quite a few nice ones already, particularly in Louisville and Memphis. Besides the Coors skybox area in right field, it wasn't really anything special here in Colorado Springs. I certainly enjoyed the game though because we had awesome seats and the food there was excellent, not to mention the fact that the Omaha Royals 1B Ryan Shealy tossed us each a ball between innings. The view from the park is one of the more interesting ones we've seen so far. It is surrounded by about 100' of pasture, and then gabled roofs and blue siding as far as the eye can see. Driving into Colorado Springs from the east was surreal - it was like one giant subdivision that extended for miles in all directions with no straight roads.

The game was seemingly out of hand for the Sky Sox (AAA affiliate for the nearby Rockies) very quickly when Royals 1B and former Kansas City Royal Ryan Shealy cranked a grand slam in the third to make the game 6-2. However, the Sox put together a little comeback in the 7th, most notably on a 2-run double by Jayson Nix, brother of Brewers' minor leaguer Laynce Nix. In the end though, it was the Royals' game as Royals closer Ryan Braun (no relation to Brewers Ryan Braun) tossed a dominant ninth to secure the victory.

Tonight we have a bit of time to relax at our hotel that has a nice view of the mountains before heading out to a local bar for the evening. Colorado Springs seems like a relatively affluent area, so it should be interesting. Tomorrow it's off to Orem, which is just outside of Provo in Utah for a Rookie League game. After this game, we will have seen every level of ball except high school on the tour so far - college, R, low-A, short season-A, high-A, AA, AAA, pro, independent - and even some little league ball at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown!

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 3
views from park - 5
view to field - 9
surrounding area - 2 (suburbia)
food variety - 8
nachos - 8 (would be 10 if there was more cheese)
beer - 8 (great variety of local beer, would be a 10 if they didn't feature Coors products)
vendor price - 3 (very pricy for minors)
ticket price - 10 (ours were free)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 2
parking price/proximity - 10 (on the lot, free)
concourses - 2
team shop - 3

best food - BBQ bacon cheddar burger
most unique stadium feature - Coors deck in right
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - Sox the Fox harasses fans with water gun

field dimensions - 350/400/350
starters - Nick Hoelscher (OMA) v. Jorge De Paula (CLS)
opponent - Omaha Royals
time of game - 2:44
attendance - 5355
score - 9-5 L
Brewers score that day - off

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Day 36: Kauffman Stadium

All photos of Kansas City and Kauffman Stadium available on Flickr.

Today was a very important day for us. Not only was it Induction Sunday in Cooperstown, in which Tony Gwynn and Erik's favorite player Cal Ripken Jr. were inducted, but it was the start of week 6 and the midway point of the tour! We left St. Louis around 8 and arrived in KC around 11:30. It was my turn to drive today, which meant another hefty nap for Erik. As expected, we made a lot of money quickly fundraising, but got kicked out right away because we were on team property; we really didn't have much of an option since the park is in the middle of nowhere. The Royals' park and the Chiefs stadium are side by side in the Truman Sports Complex, which is about 10 miles east of the city.

We were both fairly impressed with Kauffman Stadium. It was built in the mid '70s in between the "cookie-cutter" phase and the retro-style phase of stadium building, and it has a style entirely different of any other park in the majors. It has a concrete structure accented with white posts and fixtures, making it appear very streamlined and least it was when it was built 30+ years ago. The most notable feature of this park are of course the fountains all throughout center field. Kansas City's nickname is "Fountain City" due it its extraordinary number of fountains throughout the city and its suburbs. Between innings, the fountains shoot up in an array of patterns and it's pretty awesome. The scoreboard is also really cool, in the shape of the Royals' crown logo. There are two decks and it has a very simple circulation pattern. Overall, it was one of my favorite parks so far, and I hope the team continues to fight to keep the stadium from moving downtown.

What we expected was a low attendance and lots of between-inning novelties. What we didn't expect was a 10-0 whomping by the home team. Ross Gload and Mark Teahen each had three hits and pitcher Nunez tossed 6 and picked up his first win in the Royals victory. Despite the large margin of victory, Peralta picked up a save out of the bullpen since he tossed 3 in relief. And what better to follow up an action-packed game then.....all fans run the bases! Every Sunday the Royals allow ALL fans, not just children, to run the bases, and it was pretty exhilerating. Erik and I both really wanted to slide into home but thought better of it since we have a long drive ahead of us tonight and we are both relatively clean at the moment.

After the game, we went to John's parents house in the city and took care of some blog and laundry stuff, as well as some dinner. Tonight we plan on driving a good chunk of the way to Colorado Springs so that we don't have to get up too early tomorrow to catch the 12:05 start for the Sky Sox.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 7
views from park - 9 (freeway behind, but the fountains are awesome)
view to field - 6
surrounding area - 1
food variety - 4
nachos - 4
beer - 4 (not much variety, expensive)
vendor price - 6
ticket price - 8 ($8 upper deck)
atmosphere - 3
walk to park - 2
parking price/proximity - 7 (on property, but $9 is steep for the Royals)
concourses - 6
team shop - 7

best food - polish w/ kraut
most unique stadium feature - fountains
best jumbotron feature - "Base Hit" animation
best between-inning feature - "And the Oscar goes to..." segment with players

field dimensions - 330/410/330
starters - Kameron Loe (TEX) v. Leo Nunez (KC)
opponent - Texas Rangers
time of game - 2:50
attendance - 15640
score - 10-0 W
Brewers score that day - 9-5 L

Day 35: Busch Stadium

All photos of Busch Stadium available on Flickr.

Today was a very exhausting day and a disappointing day for the Brewers, who were playing the Cardinals in a doubleheader. We had been looking forward to this day since the start of the trip, but as luck would have it, the Crew lost both games, and ended up losing 3 of 4 in the series. The bullpen has blown about 5 of the last 7 games and hopefully the Brewers can turn it around sometime soon. Anyways, we had to leave Erik's friend's house in Tulsa around 5:45 to make it into St. Louis for first pitch of Game 1 at 12:10. Our seats for the first game were up on the sky, in the 4th deck in left field, but the good part about it was that we were one of the few rows in the shade. The Brewers mounted a 6-0 lead early, largely behind a 2-run single by pitcher Manny Parra and a 3-hit day from Ryan Braun. However, the bullpen ended up surrendering 4 runs, including a blown save by Francisco Cordero, and lost 7-6 in the 9th.

The ballpark itself is nice, but certainly not one of my favorites. Its huge perk is the amazing view from the inner seating bowl of downtown, the city courthouse, and the Gateway Arch - probably the best park view since Pittsburgh. However, it is incredibly difficult to navigate. It has a strange entry sequence that enters you below the main concourse, and we got lost getting to our seats for both games due to poor circulation design and an odd section numbering system. It is definitely an improvement over old Busch Stadium though, which is now only a crater next door to New Busch. I couldn't really locate any local foods or things that make the stadium entirely unique besides the view. It was just a nice place to watch a ballgame, elegant in its simplicity. It was probably the most full park we'd been in since Boston too - the Cards have sold out all 145 games since the park opened last April.

Between games, we hit up a local tavern and killed about an hour drinking silos of Pabst and dealing with drunk Cards fans pointing out our out-of-town apparel. We also did our fundraiser and made close to $50. For Game #2, we had seats in the right field bleachers under one of the scoreboards. The game was considerably less exciting than the first, for two reasons. Firstly, the Brewers were never really in the game at all, and secondly, we were both exhausted from getting only a couple hours of sleep the night before. Chris Capuano got a quality start, giving up 3 over 6.1 and striking out 6, but the 'pen gave up another two runs and the Crew could only muster two hits off of starter Anthony Reyes, who obtained his first win of the season and is now an impressive 1-10. It was sad 18 innings of ball for our home team, but there's nothing better than a doubleheader, and it was cool to be a part of.

Johnny was nice enough to put us up in the Airport Hilton in town for the night, and we all passed out immediately upon our arrival. It was a comfy bed and a hot shower, both precious commodities these days. Tomorrow, hopefully after a good night's sleep, we're off to Kansas City.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 6
views from park - 10 (downtown/Arch)
view to field - 8
surrounding area - 9 (downtown)
food variety - 4
nachos - 10 (excellent! salsa, cheese, sour cream, beef)
beer - 1 (only Busch products)
vendor price - 5
ticket price - 4
atmosphere - 8
walk to park - 7
parking price/proximity - 8 (4 blocks away for $5)
concourses - 3 (confusing)
team shop - 6

best food - nachos
most unique stadium feature - view
best jumbotron feature - Budweiser clydesdales video in 8th inning
best between-inning feature - Fredbird shoots hot dogs out of hot dog-shaped cannon

field dimensions - 330/400/330
starters - Brad Thompson (STL) v. Manny Parra (MIL); Anthony Reyes v. Chris Capuano
opponent - Milwaukee Brewers
time of game - 3:12; 2:30
attendance - 45090: 45830
score - 7-6 W; 5-2 W
Brewers score that day - 7-6 L; 2-5 L

Friday, July 27, 2007

Day 34: Bricktown Ballpark

All photos of Oklahoma City and Bricktown Ballpark available on Flickr.

Today was another early start with a long drive. The day started with an oil change and tire rotation in Hunstville, Texas at 8 AM, which went smoothly. From Huntsville, we had about a 6 hour drive to Oklahoma City. We got there early enough that we had time to walk around the ballpark and check out some of the city. We first explored the area the ballpark was in, a neighborhood called Bricktown. It was a very cool little part of the city that featured tons of coffee shops, sports bars, restaurants, and night clubs. I also really wanted to see the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial, and we drove there next. For many, this event is antiquated since the 9/11 tragedy, but the memorial is still very humbling and heavy. I'll leave any political or personal commentary on this memorial out of this blog, but it is definitely worth seeing for anyone in this area. Overall, Oklahoma City was way cooler than I expected, and I guarantee it is a much better city than most non-Southern people would have a mental image of, myself included. I don't know how I would feel about living in the Sun Belt, but OKC is definitely a very rapidly growing city that is moving in a positive direction, and has made many strides in the past 10 years. I was very impressed with what little we did get to see.

The ballpark is home to the Oklahoma Redhawks, the AAA affiliate of the Rangers, and it is pretty nice park aesthetically speaking. There are a few nuances I didn't care for, such as seating angles, no programs, and vending issues, but it certainly wasn't a bad experience. The outside and the concourses feature tributes to great Oklahoman athletes such as Johnny Bench, Paul Waner, Joe Carter, Jim Thorpe, and perhaps the most famous, Mickey Mantle. The Mick has a steakhouse across the street and a statue outside of the front gate, not to mention the street that the ballpark is on is named after him. Prices were very reasonable and the outfield lawn berms were a really nice touch and provided a nice area for kids to frolic around in. Of course, the ballpark is laden with ads (as most minor league parks are) and is now technically referred to as "AT&T Bricktown Ballpark," but it still has a very comfortable, community feel on the inside.

We found a good spot for fundraising across the street from this urban ballpark, right outside of what we determined was probably the Sonic Headquarters, but we only made $10. What ever happened to Southern Hospitality!? As for the game, it was rather close until reliever Ezequiel Astacio came in and surrendered seven runs on three tape-measure shots that pretty much put the game out of reach. The Redhawks mounted a small comeback in the 9th inning with a couple of RBI doubles and an RBI single by Ian Kinsler, who is on rehab assignment for the big club, but it was too little too late, as they ended up losing to Portland 12-4. The game was also a "Faith & Fireworks Friday." Alliteration is great and all, and I fully support spreading the word of God, but the 5-minute "rappin 'bout Christ" session we heard from an inspirational teen speaker after the game seemed to be out of place at the ballpark. The fireworks were also lackluster, but I suppose were the best we could expect for a homemade "Radio Flyer o' explosives" show.

After the game, we drove about 90 minutes east to Erik's friend's John's house in Tulsa, who actually met us at the game in OKC. After this blog and some laundry, it's up at the crack of dawn to head out to St. Louis for a doubleheader against the Crew!

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 4
view to field - 5 (seats not angled properly)
surrounding area - 9 (Bricktown)
food variety - 7 (they have an awesome stand that features sausages from around the country)
nachos - 6 (decent taste, but cheese poured over chips instead of a dip cup)
beer - 6 (good price, no variety)
vendor price - 10
ticket price - 9 ($6 GA)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 7
parking price/proximity - 9 (2 blocks away on street for free)
concourses - 6
team shop - 6

best food - pizza
most unique stadium feature - statues outside park
best jumbotron feature - Jason Botts' profile picture as Chewbacca when batting
best between-inning feature - playing of Oklahoma! in 5th inning

field dimensions - 335/400/325
starters - Mark Thompson (POR) v. Mike Wood (OKC)
opponent - Portland Beavers
time of game - 3:07
attendance - 9635
score - 12-4 L
Brewers score that day - 12-2 W

Day 33: Minute Maid Park

All photos of Minute Maid Park available on Flickr.

Today was a very short drive into Houston since we drove most of the way last night, only about a hour. I knew from weather reports from the past week and just general knowledge of the city that it's pretty much either 95 degrees or pouring rain in Houston, and we found the latter to be true on this particular day. We arrived into gloomy downtown a little after noon and took care of the previous day's blog, and also worked on flyers for the evening's game and made another deposit. We have now raised close to $900 - a bit behind schedule for our goal, but still a good amount. We would be unable to raise any money tonight since the Astros are only allowing us to pass out leaflets, but we already received a $20 contribution from our friend Brent to put towards Houston HFH.

They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and this was true in every sense of the word in Houston as well. The freeway is 12 lanes wide, there are two downtowns, and the stadium is HUGE - it takes up nearly six city blocks, is 436' to center field, and the roof is enormous. It even engulfs some of the old Union Station, which is where we met Rayna Gonzalez around 4 PM to get set up for fundraising. Being at the park so early allowed us to walk around the stadium a bit and catch some BP. Each of us got a BP homerun and we got to look at all the Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio display cases around the park. We successfully handed out all of the flyers at our booth about a half hour early and spent some time chatting it up with the Operation School Supplies and Houston Zoo people who were next to us before first pitch rolled around.

We took our free "GA" seats in the right field bleachers and had a pretty decent view of the field. The park has a lot of interesting amenities and features. The field itself has tons of jogs and nooks and even has a hill in center field, making it definitely one of the more uniquely shaped parks in the country. The Crawford Boxes and Home Run Alley in left field are both great places to watch the game. There is the infamous train that runs back and forth on a 100' track in left field, which symbolizes the founding of the west via the railroad. There are also tons of team shops and every kind of food you could possibly imagine - I myself had hot dog that measured about 2" in diameter and close to a foot long. The one thing you notice right away of course, both here and in Arlington, is the prominence of the Texas flag and just a general loyalty and love of the state that is unmatched anywhere else in the country. A contingency of Texas joining the union after it was briefly its own republic was that it has the right to fly the Texas flag at the same height as the American flag, if the Stars and Stripes is even flown at all. From tattoos to flags to apparel, there is a special connection here with the people and their state, and this could not be more evidenced than in the singing of "Deep in the Heart of Texas" during the 7th inning stretch, from which the clapping is always deafening and in unison.

The game was one-sided from the very onset. David Wells, who we were both very excited to see pitch, was apparently feeling the affects of his recent diet change and did not seem to be on his A-game. He surrendered 7 runs in 3 IP, including homeruns by Biggio, Lee, and Ensberg. Fan-favorite Craig Biggio, who recently announced his retirement after this season, collected two more hits and brought his total up to 3,019. Berkman and Biggio both also made spectacular plays in the field in support of Wandy Rodriguez, who gave up only 5 hits through 7 IP. Mike Cameron provided the lone run with an RBI double in the 1st inning.

Tonight was night #2 at the same rest stop, and we both look forward to showering and shaving on Friday. Tomorrow we make a quick stop for oil change #2, and then start our trek back north and are making a stop in Oklahoma City to see a AAA game before heading to Missouri for the weekend.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 9
views from park - 3 (can't really see out except a bit in left)
view to field - 6
surrounding area - 5 (relatively close to downtown)
food variety - 9
nachos - 9 (many crushed chipin's at the bottom)
beer - 5 (decent variety, souvenir bottles, but high price)
vendor price - 5
ticket price - 10 (ours were free)
atmosphere - 6
walk to park - 3
parking price/proximity - 8 (parked three blocks away on the street for free)
concourses - 8
team shop - 9

best food - steak dog
most unique stadium feature - train
best jumbotron feature - teammates interview each other
best between-inning feature - "Deep in the Heart of Texas" at 7th inning stretch

field dimensions - 315/434/320
starters - David Wells (SD) v. Wandy Rodriguez (HOU)
opponent - San Diego Padres
time of game - 2:19
attendance - 33720
score - 7-1 W
Brewers score that day - 6-5 L

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Day 32: Rangers Ballpark

All photos from Rangers Ballpark are available on Flickr.

Shaking off another night on Beale Street, we got an early start on the road to Texas. passing over the Mississippi River into Arkansas, I promptly feel asleep. When I woke up Peter told me that I had missed Hope, the home of President Bill Clinton. We made another quick stop at Waffle House and headed for the Lone Star State.

We had planned to meet up with our college buddy Brent and have a good Wisconsin tailgate, but an factory explosion in Dallas shut down the freeway and delayed us. We arrived in Arlington at 5:45 PM, paid $15 to park at the Sheraton a bit away from the ballpark and set up our fundraising effort near the Arlington Convention Center. Rangers fans were far more responsive than those in Memphis, despite it being dollar dog night, and we raised $52.

After waiting in the worst ticket line ever, we made it into the park in time to get some dogs and grab some seats in the Left Field bleachers. Rangers Ballpark is very nice. It was one of the first retro-style parks built and has a brick exterior with concrete panels depicting great moments in Texas history. The concourses are very wide and there are a lot of different concession stands, several of which were unfortunately closed. One bad thing about the park is that the bathrooms are hard to find and located far apart and there are not enough of them. Additionally, the outfield seats are very close to the field, located almost directly behind a 10 foot fence, not a level above the field as in most of the newer parks.

The game ended up to be a barn-burner between two last place teams. The lead changed hands several times and the Rangers ended up pulling it out with a 2-run homer by Ramon Vazquez in the bottom of the 8th. There were many highlights for Peter and I. Sammy Sosa, an old Brewers foe, now lays for the Rangers and has over 600 Home Runs for his career. He struggled tonight though, going hitless. The always exciting Ichiro Suzuki got his typical infield hit. But the best part of the game came in the bottom of the second when 40 year old Rangers CF Kenny Lofton went deep.

After the game we strolled the Center Field plaza and stopped in the team store. We then jumped into Old Yeller and drove 2/3 of the way to Houston to our home for the night - a roadside rest area. Tomorrow, we'll be passing out flyers inside Minute Maid Park in Houston.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 7 (outside very massive, but inside is gorgeous)
views from park - 3 (can only see Six Flags from park)
view to field - 7
surrounding area - 6 (Six Flags and new Cowboys Stadium)
food variety - 7 (everything's bigger in Texas)
nachos - 5 (chips broke easily, cheese was runny)
beer - 7 (a decent variety, bonus points for souvenir cups)
vendor price - 7
ticket price - 9 (GA $6)
atmosphere - 8
walk to park - 2
parking price/proximity - 4 (quite a hike for $15)
concourses - 8
team shop - 9

best food - garlic fries
most unique stadium feature - centerfield walkways and pavilion
best jumbotron feature -
best between-inning feature - Dot race

field dimensions - 335/400/345
starters - Miguel Batista (SEA) v. Brandon McCarthy (TEX)
opponent - Seattle Mariners
time of game - 3:16
attendance - 34850
score - 7-6 W
Brewers score that day - 7-4 L

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Day 31: AutoZone Park

All photos of Memphis and AutoZone Park available on Flickr.

Erik and I had a very busy day today in Memphis! I had been to Memphis previously last year and was anxious to see more of the city, but we of course started the day by heading over to Graceland because Erik had never been there. It was pricy so we didn't actually go in, but we walked around the property and hit up a diner and some gift shops nearby. Next, it was off to the legendary Sun Studios on Union Avenue. This is generally known to be the studio where rock & roll was invented and first recorded in 1952, and artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, and Elvis Presley have all recorded there. We were led around the studio by an awesome tour guide named Slim. He was a young guy who didn't look like he would know much about the place, but ended up being an genuine source of information - and he used the word "cat" quite often, which was awesome. It is still operational today, even though founder Sam Phillips passed away four years ago, and it is the only recording studio in America that is on the National Register of Historic Places. We then made our way over to the Civil Rights Museum, but it was closed. It is built next to the hotel where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and the hotel remains in tact to this day with a memorial on site. Lastly, we walked past the Gibson guitar factory and the Rock & Soul Museum on the way back to Beale St. for a quick drink before we headed over to the game.

The stadium is located downtown on Union Avenue, so we thought we would make a lot of money, since we generally have good luck at urban ballparks. However, today was not our day, as we only made around $10. The park itself is gorgeous, and is generally considered by most to be the finest minor league stadium in the country. It was built in 2000 and is home to the AAA Memphis Redbirds, affiliates of the Cardinals since 1998. It is a typical retro-brick structure and seats around 18000. The team shop, concourses, and entry pavilion were all very awesome, and the view from the field are pretty cool - we both immediately noted that there were condominiums across the street from which residents could watch free ball at every home game.

The game was a pretty lackluster effort by the Redbirds. I figured going in that since the Cardinals pitching staff is horrible, that their AAA affiliate would probably be even worse and that it would be an offensive game. Unfortunately, the Redbirds did not really reciprocate with many runs of their own. The star of the game that we were both looking forward to seeing was pitcher-converted-to-outfielder Rick Ankiel, who had a whopping 27 homeruns on the season going into the ballgame, and hit another one out this evening. The game feature a lot of surrendered homeruns, hit batsmen, and bases-loaded walks by the home team, and was not very action packed. J.J. Furmaniak had 4 hits and starter Mike Madsen went 8 innings for the winning Sacramento team. AutoZone Park was a nice park and a very nice night for baseball (once again), and the much-anticipated BBQ Nachos did not disappoint one bit. We look forward to returning for a Civil Rights Game in the near future.

After the game, we returned to the Rum Boogie Cafe once again on Beale to see the band we saw yesterday, Dixie Highway, do another set. I decided to suck it up and purchase a CD and got it autographed by the band. I ended up talking to them for a bit and found out the bass player was from Milwaukee and went to Washington High, which was pretty cool. We had a great time in Memphis and I hope to return a third time someday! The rest of the city aside from downtown seemed kind of dumpy, so I am not sure if I could ever fathom residing in Memphis, but it is definitely worth the visit for anyone who loves music and drinking. Every bar on Beale is open 7 days a week with live bands every night, and is an amazing atmosphere to experience. Tomorrow, it's off to Texas to watch the Rangers.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 7
views from park - 7
view to field - 9
surrounding area - 10 (Beale St. and Peabody Place a couple blocks away)
food variety - 6
nachos - 10
beer - 9 (good variety, souvenir cups)
vendor price - 8 (very good except for the 'chos)
ticket price - 9 (GA $6)
atmosphere - 6
walk to park - 8 (downtown)
parking price/proximity - 9 (we parked on the street for free 2 blocks away)
concourses - 7
team shop - 10

best food - BBQ nachos
most unique stadium feature - condos across the street with view of game
best jumbotron feature - slot car race
best between-inning feature - Memphis RedHots cheerleaders

field dimensions - 316/400/322
starters - Mike Madsen (SAC) v. Mike Parisi (MEM)
opponent - Sacramento River Cats
time of game - 2:51
attendance - 7720
score - 8-2 L
Brewers score that day - 5-3 W

Day 30: Walking in Memphis

All photos of Memphis available on Flickr.

I spent yesterday morning sleeping off the effects of the night before while Peter took care of business with the blog. We then left Beth's house around 1 PM and headed up the road to Waffle House. Soon, with full stomachs and a full tank of gas, we hit the road for Memphis. Our 6 1/2 hour drive turned into almost 8 hours when we took a wrong turn in Birmingham, Alabama. Our side trip did have one benefit, however. As we were looking for the freeway out of Birmingham we passed Rickwood Stadium, the oldest ballpark in the United States. It was locked up and no longer in use, but we spent a few minutes walking around the outside. We were then able to figure out where we were and which way we were headed and started out again for Memphis.

We checked into our hotel and rested for a bit, then headed for downtown. We spent the evening walked up Beale Street and went into the place that was the most jumping, the Rum Boogie Cafe. There was a pretty decent blues band on stage and we downed a couple Pabsts and Peter had some gumbo while we listened. Once the band wrapped up we were going to hit the road but then head about a bar down the street that had $1 Pabst on tap. After finishing a couple of pints, we then called it a night and went back to the hotel.

Peter is feeling it this morning so I've got to drag him out of bed. Today we're going to checkout Graceland and Sun Studios and maybe the Civil Rights museum if we have time, then we'll be on the lawn for the Redbirds game tonight.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Day 29: Turner Field

All photos of Atlanta and Turner Field available on Flickr.

The beginning of Week #5 brought us back to the Peach State to catch a Sunday night game in Atlanta. I was really not looking forward to sitting in the Atlanta sun at an afternoon game, so I was glad the game was moved, even though it seems like the Cardinals, Braves, and Tigers are the only three teams ever on Sunday Night Baseball. We left the rest stop around 1030 and arrived in Atlanta five hours later. We met up with Erik's friend Beth at her house a few minutes from the park and moved in our bags, and after about a 90 minute discussion about who was all going to the game, Erik and I left around 4:30 to have our 2nd tailgate of the trip.

The park was a lot nicer than I thought it would be. Turner Field was formerly the Atlanta Olympic Stadium, and was converted to a baseball-only field following the 1996 games and opened for business in 1997. I expected to be a very symmetrical, ordinary stadium, but it is actually done in the brick style as so many other parks have been done in the past 15 years. One thing I did expect that was true was that the park was incredibly corporate, since it is owned by media mogul Ted Turner - for instance, there is a very large kids area sponsored by Cartoon Network. The inside isn't incredibly flashy, but I was very impressed with the exterior. The stadium does have a few unique features on the inside though: a giant Braves tomahawk drum, the world's largest jumbotron (72' x 79'), and an area called the 755 Club, which is very similar to the .300 Club, for those of you Brewer fans out there. One of the people we went to the game with scored us passes up here. The view from the seats in left field was amazing and there were no blind spots, but it did kind of suck that we had to leave the area to get food (we did keep a tab at the bar there though).

Overall, the game was very slow because it was on national television, but it was my first Sunday Night game and it was a cool experience. I was surprised that there were so many seats available, but as Erik indicated, people in Atlanta probably don't really care about the Braves until the postseason since they've made the playoffs 16 of the past 17 years with 15 division titles. It was a very comfortable night for watching ball, which the Cards ended up winning in our first extra-innings affair of the tour. It was notched up at two in the 10th, when the unreliable pen of the Braves gave five runs, including homeruns by Skip Schumaker and Scott Rolen. Both starters only tossed into the 6th. The highlight of the game for both of us was that both recently-acquired Julio Franco and the man with the longest name in baseball history, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, both got the start on this evening. Julio Franco is the oldest player in baseball at 47, and is in his 3rd stint with the Braves after being cut by the Mets last week. Saltalamacchia is 25 years younger (actually younger than my brother) and got the start at catcher, giving Brian McCann a day off.

Tomorrow is our first day off in two weeks and breaks our streak of 12 straight days of watching a ballgame. We're off to Memphis for two days and look forward to tying one on at Beale Street, where the bars close at 4 AM!

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 7
views from park - 4 (can't see out from where we sat...can see the Olympic Torch from the upper deck)
view to field - 9
surrounding area - 4 (relatively close to downtown)
food variety - 7
nachos - 8
beer - 9 (good variety in the 755 club)
vendor price - 5
ticket price - 10 (ours were free, upper deck is $6)
atmosphere - 6
walk to park - 2
parking price/proximity - 8 ($10)
concourses - 5
team shop - 5

best food - the buffet that we missed at the 755 Club looked pretty tasty
most unique stadium feature - Braves drum
best jumbotron feature - three different types of "shuffle"
best between-inning feature - tool race

field dimensions - 330/400/330
starters - Mark Thompson (STL) v. Jo-Jo Reyes (ATL)
opponent - St. Louis Cardinals
time of game - 3:25
attendance - 39180
score - 7-2 L
Brewers score that day - 7-5 W

Day 28: Knology Park

All photos of Knology Park available on Flickr.

Today brought us back to the Tampa area to catch an Class A game in Dunedin, which is a suburb of Tampa that neighbors Clearwater. Knowing full well that we had to drive through Clearwater to get to Dunedin, we of course stopped off at the Original World-Famous Hooters location, built in 1983. Fortunately for us, there were not the original 1983 waitresses there. We kicked back a few pints, watched the D-Rays v. Yankees game on the tube, and picked up a couple of souvenirs. It had poured most of the way from Miami to Tampa, and the story was no different in Dunedin. We walked outside in the rain to our car and prayed that the luck of the tour would be on our side once again.

We arrived at the park at around 5:45 and were met by someone in the team's human relations department, who set us up with a sweet little table in the concourse by the main gate. We passed the time mostly talking to elderly staff members about the tour and our thoughts on the weather situation. We were assured that the game would start, albeit a bit late, and that the radar showed rain pretty much everywhere in the area except Dunedin. Apparently, Clearwater, which is 4 minutes away, rains out all the time, and Dunedin has only had two all season. We were disappointed at first when we only made $17 fundraising, but when we entered the stands and saw that the total attendance was around 100, we felt pretty good about what we had raised.

This was definitely my favorite minor league game of the trip. When I go to minor league parks, I personally prefer not to have all the glitz and glamour of major league stadiums, but I also don't want to watch ball in a dump either. This park was clean yet simple, and it actually reminded me alot of Pohlman Field in Beloit. It is the spring training home of the Toronto Blue Jays, and during the season, their Advanced A-ball affiliate plays there, so it is used close to year round. We didn't actually have "tickets" persay, so we sat three rows behind the first base dugout an enjoyed a good old-fashioned minor league barnburner. Threshers starter Luis Villarreal gave up 9 runs in 1.2 innings, including a towering blast by D-Jays 1B Josh Kruezer, which I don't believe has landed yet. Look for Villarreal to be bagging groceries by the end of the week. Kruezer ended up with 4 RBI, and shortstop Jesus Gonzalez had 4 hits in the 12-2 win. D-Jays starter Brandon Magee went 8 strong innings.

After the game we drove about 2 hours to Gainesville and stayed at a rest stop for the night. Tomorrow it's off to Hot-lanta for a little Sunday Night Baseball!

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 3
views from park - 2
view to field - 10
surrounding area - 3
food variety - 3
nachos - 4
beer - 1 (only Bud Light)
vendor price - 6 (pricy for minors)
ticket price - 10 (ours were free)
atmosphere - 5 (it was cool being in a small crowd, but eerily quiet)
walk to park - 2
parking price/proximity - 10
concourses - 4
team shop - 7 (small but nice D-Jays helmets though)

best food - n/a (we were full from Hooters)
most unique stadium feature - infield diamond off to the side of the field
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - Bingo

field dimensions - 336/404/333
starters - Luis Villarreal (CLE) v. Brandon Magee (DUN)
opponent - Clearwater Threshers
time of game - 2:17
attendance - 590
score - 12-2 W
Brewers score that day - 8-0 L

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Day 27: Dolphin Stadium

All photos of Pompano Beach, Miami, and Dolphin Stadium available of Flickr.

We arrived in the Miami area Thursday night and got a cheap hotel in Pompano Beach, which is about 30 miles north of the city. We got a good night's sleep and a shower (both precious commodities these days) and hit the local beach after running a few morning errands, which included making another deposit - our amount raised is now over $725! Erik and I got to the beach clearly unprepared to actually go into the ocean, but we did anyways. Stripping down to mesh shorts and leaving our clothes on the beach, we had a good 30 minutes swim/bathe, and then proceeded to drip-dry in the car on the way back to the hotel. A quick change and a towel-off, and we headed to downtown Miami.

Miami seemed to be a city in transition. It was as if the city was being built as we were there. There were at least a dozen buildings being erected, the monorail line was being extended, and tons of roads were under construction. It was hard to walk around and get a sense of direction with all of the construction, but we managed to find a little local eatery for lunch, after which we made our way towards Miami Harbor off of the main thoroughfare, Biscayne Avenue. I was hoping that my countless hours of playing "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City" would have made me a little bit more aware of my surroundings, but such was not the case (I did also have the urge to punch a guy in the back of a head and steal his car). We were unable to find Little Havana, but we had a couple of good hours downtown nonetheless.

Before we knew it, game time had rolled around and we had to get to the park. Dolphin Stadium is actually the home of the Miami Dolphins, and the Marlins just rent the stadium. It is located about 10 miles north of the suburb in Miami Gardens. Upon our arrival, we got to see firsthand the $160 million renovation that was going on at the stadium, mostly for use during the football season. We got to the park around 5 and met Paul Resnik, a team official who set us up with a booth in the Marlins Community area of the stadium on the first floor. We got free admission, but the contingency of us being there is that we could not solicit any money, but rather just pass out informational flyers on how to donate and/or sign up to work for Habitat. We were at our station from 5:30 through the bottom of the 2nd and got some really positive responses, not to mention the fact that we turned down at least $40 in donations that we could unfortunately not accept.

Around the top of the third, we headed to our seats. They ended up being about halfway up on the 1st base side, about a section over from homeplate. They were excellent seats and were very close to the action. For being a predominatly football stadium, I was fairly impressed. All seats were very close to game action, and it seemed like viewing angles were much better than they are at Rogers Centre or the Metrodome. There, of course, end up being some weird nuances because of the multi-purpose stadium: bullpens stuffed in the corner, jumbotrons on the ends over where the end zones would be, and a very strange corner in left-center that is 434 feet from home plate. Overall it was a good experience. It was a comfortable night, and although my Reds lost, it was an action-packed game. There were 4 homeruns, 3 hit batsmen, and a triple to the 434-foot corner by a pinch-hitter for the Marlins for which Ryan Freel laid out an almost concussed himself for the 2nd time this season. The Marlins dominated the game behind a strong pitching performance by Scott Olson and 3-hit nights from Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez. After the game, we went up to the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino for a few drinks and some karaoke before heading back to our room for the night.

Tomorrow we are headed back through Alligator Alley up towards the Tampa area to catch an A-ball game in Dunedin. And a scheduling note: our game in Atlanta on Sunday has been changed to Sunday Night Ball! This is awesome because we can actually sleep the night before now, and plus we will be on national television for the 3rd time already this trip.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 3
views from park - 2 (can't see out)
view to field - 8
surrounding area - 3 (the Hard Rock we went to was a ways away)
food variety - 4
nachos - 9 (excellent chips and cheese, and they come in a souvenir bowl!)
beer - 3
vendor price - 6
ticket price - 10 (ours were free)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 2
parking price/proximity - 8 ($10)
concourses - 6
team shop - 2 (there really isn't one)

best food - hand carved sandwiches
most unique stadium feature - 434' left-center corner
best jumbotron feature - Good Sport of the game
best between-inning feature - cheerleaders

field dimensions - 335/404/345
starters - Scott Olson (FLA) v. Kyle Lohse (CIN)
opponent - Cincinnati Reds
time of game - 2:17
attendance - 15310
score - 10-2 W
Brewers score that day - 8-4 L

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Day 26: Tropicana Field & Ted Williams Museum

All photos from Tropicana Field are available on Flickr.
After a fitful night at a Tampa area truck stop, we awoke about 9 AM and finished the drive to Tropicana Field. Along the way we crossed over Tampa Bay and longed to jump in since neither Peter nor I have showered in 2 days. Upon our arrival at 'The Trop' we were very please to find free parking in the team lot. We set up our fundraising table along the main walkway to the stadium and Rays' fans were happy to contribute, but we were told to move along by team security after about 20 minutes. We raise only $4 for the Saint Petersburg Habitat affiliate. Fortunately, we will be returning to the area on Saturday to catch a Dunedin Blue Jays game and they have given us permission to fundraise inside their stadium.

We then entered Tropicana Field with plenty of time to look around. After taking a few pictures of the rotunda, we immediately headed for the Team Shop. I found my helmet right away but Peter could not find either a souvenir baseball or any 10 Year Anniversary merchandise. Next, we headed over to the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame. The home of one of baseball's newest teams seemed an odd place to house the museum of one of baseball's greats who played his entire career in Boston and managed in Washington. The museum is here because Ted Williams enjoyed the fishing in Florida so much that he established his museum near one of his favorite fishing spots. Since no one was making the trip to rural Florida, the museum was moved to Saint Petersburg when The Trop opened. The museum is mostly photos of Ted Williams with other great players but there are some unique pieces. For example, the museum houses the silver bowl presented to Ted Williams by the Red Sox for winning the 1946 AL pennant and several trophies from Williams' Triple Crowns.

We then grabbed some food and headed towards the game. We had purchased $8 upper deck tickets but with the Devil Rays' usual spare attendance coupled with a 12:05 start time, we felt comfortable grabbing seats 25 rows up in the first section down the first baseline. Today marked the 2nd of 8 times that Peter and I will see the Angels play on this trip and they performed a bit better than they did last time, when they were shutout by the Yankees. I had never heard of the Devil Rays starter before and was expecting a lopsided victory by the Angels. Andy Sonnanstine acquitted himself very well though, holding the Angels to 3 runs over 7 innings with a high 80s fastball and other junk. The Rays, however, gave him no support. The twice had the bases load, once with only one out, and failed to score. Carl Crawford was the only Ray who earned his paycheck today, gathering 3 hits.

Afterwards, we hopped back into Old Yeller and drove the 3 hours to Miami where we got a cheap hotel for the next couple of nights. Tomorrow, well be watching baseball in a football stadium - Woo Hoo!

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 3
views from park - 0 (Dome)
view to field - 6 (even the expensive seats felt far away)
surrounding area - 2 (nothing but parking lots)
food variety - 7
nachos - 6 (4 different sizes)
beer - 6
vendor price - 8
ticket price - 6
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 5
parking price/proximity - 10
concourses - 5 (the concourse for the infield grandstand is above the one for the outfield)
team shop - 5 (more Red Sox gear than Rays, and How do you not sell souvenir baseballs?)

best food - Sting 'Em Dogs - chilli-cheese dog
most unique stadium feature - Ray tank in centerfield
best jumbotron feature -
incredibly difficult Rays' cap shuffle
best between-inning feature - Pepsi products race

field dimensions - 315/404/322
starters - Kelvim Escobar (LAA) v. Andy Sonnanstine (TB)
opponent - Los Angeles Angels
time of game - 2:41
attendance - 18,163
score - 3-0 L
Brewers score that day - 10-1 W

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Day 25: Historic Grayson Stadium

All photos of Savannah and Grayson Stadium available on Flickr.

We had another early day today; although it was only a 4-hour drive to Savannah from Southern Pines, it was our first of two consecutive noon-start Camp Day, which meant we had to leave at around 6:30 AM. It was a pretty decent drive through South Carolina (although Erik wouldn't know since he slept for 3:50 of the 4 hours), and we arrived at the park around 10:45 and set up our donation table. I felt like we would have made a killing in Savannah, since Habitat was started in Georgia, but since 95% of the attendance was scouts and children under 12, we only made a few dollars.

When we noticed that the mercury reading was much higher than the average fastball on the pitch speed board, we knew we were in for a special afternoon at the ballpark. Our saving grace was that it was a short game and we were under shade, as the temperature reached 107 degrees by game's end. We got excellent GA seats for $6 and sat about 10 rows behind homeplate. In front of us were at least a dozen scouts, all wielding radar guns and clipboards. To our left and right was what we determined to be the "players' ladies" sections. And of course, all around us, were around 1500 screaming kids in neon shirts, all hoping to get squirted or hosed down by the Sand Gnats staff on this hot day. The stadium itself reminded us a lot of Bosse Field in Evansville - covered seats, old structure, wide aisles, lots of foul ground. There were only two vendor stands and a very small team store, but it was a very nice park for an A-ball team. It was also in a very nice area; the stadium is actually located inside of Daffin Park, which is laden with other ball fields and century-old willow and oak trees, making the view from the park and the walk to the park very scenic.

The game was a very quick pitcher's duel, which was won by the Sand Gnats 1-0. The starter for the Gnats threw 7 innings of 1-hit ball (the scorekeeper charged him with 3 hits, but two were clearly errors by the shortstop). The pitcher for the Green Jackets faired well too, also tossing 7 strong innings. In the end, a 4th inning double on a misjudged ball by the left fielder was all that the Gnats needed to secure the victory. The Gnats' catcher Pena was supposed to be the player to watch, as he is one of the top prospects' in the Mets organization, but he was 0-4 on 4 first-pitch swings. After the game, we met a cool guy who drove down from Myrtle Beach to watch ball; he was a huge fan of the trip and told us about how he tried doing it back in the 80s, so we gave him our webpage address.

We actually came to Savannah just as much for the city as we did for the ball team, so we are sticking around for a couple hours after we're done blogging and walking through the downtown, full of Federalist and plantation-style homes that date back many years. Tonight it's a 6-hour drive to Tampa to catch another matinee ballgame tomorrow at the Trop.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 6 (nice views of willow trees)
view to field - 9
surrounding area - 3 (downtown is about two miles away)
food variety - 3
nachos - 3 (stale chips, very small portion)
beer - 4 (good price, low variety)
vendor price - 8
ticket price - 8
atmosphere - 6
walk to park - 5
parking price/proximity - 10
concourses - 1
team shop - 3

best food - burger
most unique stadium feature - hand-operated scoreboard
best jumbotron feature -
the "Gnat Signal" shown by some Gnats players
best between-inning feature - kid in giant toothbrush costume comes out and scrubs homeplate in 5th

field dimensions - 290/400/290
starters - Nelson Portillo (SAV) v. Aaron Cowart (AUG)
opponent - Augusta Green Jackets
time of game - 1:55
attendance - 1390
score - 1-0 W
Brewers score that day - (play tonight)