Friday, August 31, 2007

Day 68: Minneapolis


All photos of the Minnesota State Fa
ir and new Twins Ballpark groundbreaking ceremony available on Flickr.

You know you're from the Midwest if you're as excited to go to the state fair as we were today! The Minnesota State Fair was in town, and we couldn't pass up the opportunity. I was looking forward to eating a lot and harassing as many animals as possible since I have missed the last three Wisconsin State Fairs due to attending school/work outside of Milwaukee. The only real fair comparison I have is the one in Wisconsin, and the Minnesota fair was pretty similar - tons of food, giant slide, animal barns, exhibit houses, parades, and straw everywhere. I took down some smothered 'tato skins, some corn, and a cream puff. The puff did not really compete at all with the ones in Wisconsin in terms of taste and size, but at the Minnesota fair, you can get different flavors of cream, so bonus points for that. I also acquired another non-baseball souvenir cup. Erik had another fair staple - cheese curds.

The Minnesota State Fair did not have nearly the array of animals that the Wisconsin one does, nor does it have as much live music. There also seemed to be fewer places to buy useless stuff. The worst thing though is that there was no type of animal race anywhere! The unique thing to the Minnesota fair is that you can get any food imaginable on a stick. Waffles, spaghetti & meatballs, pizza, you name it. There are also two buildings that Wisconsin does not have - a live-berth house and a ride-a-horse house. Although I was extremely disappointed that the pig and cattle barns were closed for the day, I had a great time at the fair. Unless the Brewers are in the playoffs or the Admirals have a sweet giveaway, Erik and I have already discussed me visiting in mid-October to attend the Minnesota Beef Expo, which is also held on the fair grounds.

After the fair, we headed downtown to the warehouse district to be a part of Minnesota history. We got to watch the new Twins Ballpark groundbreaking ceremony. Many Hennepin County and Minnesota politicians were there, Twins front office folk, current and former players (including a tipsy Kent Hrbek, who was handed a beer and subsequently took it down during his speech), T.C. Bear, and even the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, was in attendance. He got booed by some fans because he tried to contract the Twins a few years back, but overall it was a good ceremony. There were about 10 speeches, five groups of people who did ceremonial digging, a WWII jet fly-over, and even a 7th inning stretch where everyone sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame!" The event was catered and everything, and it was really cool to be there for this important event. There were some angry protesters outside the gates with signs saying that Minnesota was wasting its tax money, but I was easily distracted from their signs while I was looking at the free poster I was given featuring an awesome rendering of what the new park will look like. Erik and I are both excited for the return of outdoor baseball in Minneapolis in 2010.

After the game, we went to a bar downtown and capped our evening off by putting a few drinks back and watching the Brewers lose again. Tomorrow it's a doubleheader against the Royals! And as a side note...my mom has been in contact with Ted Perry from the local FOX affiliate in Milwaukee since the start of the tour, and he and/or someone from the network has agreed to come interview us while tailgating in Milwaukee on Sunday! Anyone in the Milwaukee FOX 6 viewing area be sure to watch the news on Sunday!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Day 67: Field of Dreams


All photos of Dyersville and the Field of Dreams available on Flickr.


Today was our final day in Iowa. People make fun of Iowa for having nothing but cornfields and pigs (which is true in most cases), but it was great for me at least to be in this state for four days, because I have now finally feel like I am close to home. After growing up in Wisconsin for most of your life, you certainly develop a certain comfort level for driving through exurban farming and manufacturing towns that wreak of manure and yeast. Even though I hope to move out to one of the 50+ amazing cities we have seen on this tour someday, the Midwest will always be home to me.

Dyersville was really no different than Des Moines, Davenport, or Clinton; just at a bit smaller scale. The Field of Dreams exit is off of US-20, about 20 miles west of Dubuque, and is about three miles off the highway, past several farms and fields. In fact, the Field of Dreams was once a farm and cornfield itself before becoming immortalized in the movie that shares the same name in 1988. Today, it serves as one of the biggest tourist attractions in Iowa. The lot is simple - the field kept intact from the movie, the adjacent house where Kevin Costner's character lived, and two souvenir stands. Admission is free, and Erik and I spent the better part of an hour playing catch, running the bases, and taking many action photos. I planned on getting a picture of myself sliding, but when I noticed the infield dirt was about 50% gravel, I thought better of it. This did not deter Erik one bit, and now he as a couple souvenir scars and a dirt-covered t-shirt to remember his experience - I, however, settled for a $4 baseball. After working up a good sweat, we talked to a nice lady who ran one of the souvenir stands, who was obviously lonely from working there by herself all day every day in a hot trailer.

We left the Field of Dreams around 3 PM and finished our drive to Minneapolis, where we'll be staying with a friend of Erik's for a few nights. Tomorrow we'll probably both be incredibly sore, but we will try to tough it out and make it to the Minnesota State Fair!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Day 66: Alliant Energy Field


All photos of Davenport day 2, Clinton, and Alliant Energy Field available on
Flickr.

Today was bonus game #4 for me and #5 for Erik on the trip. Not to say that we needed an excuse to watch more ball, but the prospect of spending another 24 hours exploring Davenport did not particularly intrigue us. We did, however, spend a little bit of time walking around, since we were sure that the small town we were headed to up the river would not be much cooler. We walked through the lobby of the local art museum, the tourist center, and across a strange "bridge to nowhere." We also walked along the riverfront that was substantially less algae-rific than yesterday. As is the case in almost every city we've been to, by 3 or 4 PM we have seen all that we want to see and are tired of walking, so we end up pulling up a stool at a local tavern for Happy Hour (one of man's greatest inventions besides the wheel and delivered hot food, by the way). Today's bar was Shenanigan's, which was the only Irish pub that Erik and I have ever been to that did not actually serve Irish beer.

Around 4 PM we headed to Clinton, Iowa, which is about 30 miles north of Davenport and is home to the LumberKings, an A-ball affiliate of the Texas Rangers. We thought the game was at 7:05, but apparently the final Clinton homestand got moved to 6:05 starts, which only gave us about 30 minutes to fundraise. We have not been doing so well fundraising lately, so we decided to give it a crack in Clinton, even though we don't typically do so at "bonus games." We had only made $1 when the General Manager rolled up to us in a golf cart and ask us about what we were doing. Instead of telling us to move, he proceeded to tell us that he supported our cause and wished we would have called him. We told him that we only knew we were coming here as of yesterday, and he felt bad and hooked us up with some free food inside.

Like in Davenport, and as a matter of fact a lot of Iowa cities, there is a long tradition of minor league baseball in Clinton. Although the team has changed names and affiliates many times over the years, the city has hosted a team continuously for the past 54 seasons. Alliant Energy Field (which we determined was probably originally Clinton Municipal Stadium) was built in 1937 and resembles a lot of the old minor league parks, such as the ones we have seen in Evansville, Savannah, and Vancouver. It has its wide open concourse, covered seats, and no outfield seating. This stadium did, however, feature a neat little pavilion in left field near the pole that terminated in a "bump-out" that jutted about 10 feet into the field, kind of like a mosquito bite on the wall, so to speak. We were hoping we'd get to see someone hit it off that wall and watch it careen back into center field for a triple but such was not the case. The game was actually pretty decently pitched for an A-ball game. Both starters did very well, despite the fact that they only went 4 and 5 innings respectively. In the end, the walks hurt the LumberKings, as the staff gave out nine total free passes and one hit batsman. The Timber Rattlers also must have had the scouting report on Clinton's catcher, because they were stealing at will all night, swiping 7 bags in 8 attempts. These two things, plus a combination of timely hitting and a lackluster umpiring crew led Wisconsin to victory despite a 2-run 9th by the LumberKings. The best part of the game was once again the Racing Sausages, who I guess are apparently doing a tour of minor league parks in Iowa until the Brewers return home.

After the game, the original plan was to have a few drinks at the local Applebees and sleep in a Wal-Mart parking lot, but the latter portion of the plan proved to be most uncomfortable, so we found a $40 hotel room for the night nearby. Applebees was awesome though - we got to watch the season finale of The Bronx is Burning and watch the LumberKings, who came in for a meal, converse with the staff. Clinton actually reminded me a lot of Cudahy, for those of you from Wisconsin, so you can imagine how anxious we are to get out of here and head up towards Dyersville tomorrow after a quick oil change for Old Yeller.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 2
views from park - 2

view to field - 5 (net obstructs view, but we did have 4th row seats)

surrounding area - 3

food variety - 6
nachos - 3 (low cheese to chip ratio)
beer - 9 ($4 for a large Old Style! lots of variety)
vendor price - 10 ($1 food on Tuesdays, plus we got free eats)

ticket price - 6 ($6 GA)
atmosphere - 3

walk to park - 1

parking price/proximity - 10 (across the street for free)

concourses - 3

team shop - 4

best food - brat

most unique stadium feature - left field bump-out

best jumbotron feature -
n/a
best between-inning feature - Racing Sausages make another cameo appearance

field dimensions - 330/395/325
starters - Steven Richard (WIS) v. Evan Reed (CLN)

opponent - Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

time of game - 2:49

attendance - 650

score - 4-2 L

Brewers score that day - 5-3 L

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Day 65: John O'Donnell Stadium


All photos of Davenport and John O
'Donnell Stadium available on Flickr.

Today was Day 2 in scenic Iowa, as we made our way east to the Illinois border to watch the Swing of the Quad Cities, an A-ball affiliate of the Cardinals. The team/region is called the "Quad Cities" because there are four cities around of similar size all next to each other, two on each side of the Mississippi River. After a lunch with Karl and a stop to blog, we parted ways and headed to Davenport around 2:30. We arrived at around 5:15 and walked around the park, which is right on the river, and then set up for fundraising. We only made $8, which was to be expected from an A-ball game I guess.

The park is annually voted one of the best in minor league baseball, which is the main reason we came - that, and the Swing of the Quad Cities have the coolest name and uniforms ever. There is only a grass berm in the outfield and no seats, so the park boasts breathtaking views of the Mississippi and the Centennial Bridge from just about everywhere in the stadium. It was really cool to watch the bridge inning by inning as the sun was setting. Davenport has a rich history of minor leaugue baseball and has had teams nearly every year since the 1900s, and John O'Donnell Stadium has seen a lot of these teams come and go - the Dav-Sox and the Quad Cities River Bandits to name a couple. Besides being located right on the river and the bridge, the park is also conveniently located adjacent to train tracks and two methadone clinics, which certainly all contribute to the overall din and atmosphere of the stadium in their own unique ways.

I visited this stadium almost one year ago to the day while I was working in Madison, and I seem to remember having a much better time last year. First of all, the river was ridiculously contaminated with algae and the field was swarming with these strange large bugs that looked kind of like dragonflies. Secondly, the team shop was horrible - no helmets, no balls, and no jerseys smaller than an XL. I guess this was kind of a blessing in disguise though, because I would have definitely purchased one and I don't have the money to do so. There were also no souvenir cups. This all put me in a pretty bad mood before the game even started, but once play started, I perked up a little. The team features two very active and entertaining mascots, Rookie Raccoon and Clyde the Monkey, and the Swing put up five runs on the starting pitcher for the Cedar Rapids Kernels. The Kernels were a little slow all evening, as their bus arrived only 30 minutes before first pitch because it broke down on the Interstate. Also, the between-inning entertainment was pretty special, and I caught a homerun ball in the 9th inning! Also, the first baseman for the Swing was named Dorn, so we both had a pretty good laugh about that the whole game. The best and most surprising part by far was when the Klement's Sausages made an apprearance in the bottom of the 7th for a race, albeit only three of the five.

The Swing won the game 6-3 behind a solid pitching performance by Brandon Dickson. He went 7 and gave up only 2, and it was certainly a relief to see a starting pitcher in the Cards organization finally toss a decent outing. Lead-off hitter Jose Ramirez for the Swing had two hits to finally bring his average over .200. Despite a lead-off homerun by Matt Sweeney in the 9th (which I caught) the Kernels ended up falling short. Tomorrow we're sticking around the Davenport area and have decided to drive 20 miles to attend another bonus game in Clinton, as it should be an inexpensive way to kill time before heading to the Field of Dreams on Wednesday.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 6
views from park - 10 (Centennial Bridge/river)

view to field - 9

surrounding area - 5 (downtown and rehab centers nearby)

food variety - 6
nachos - 6
beer - n/a (we did not have beer because it was expensive and a hassle to get a wrist band)
vendor price - 7

ticket price - 5 ($7 GA is pretty pricy for the minors)
atmosphere - 4

walk to park - 7 (can walk along river)

parking price/proximity - 10 (across the street for free)

concourses - 7 (nice views to bridge)

team shop - 2

best food - pork chop sandwich

most unique stadium feature - the view!

best jumbotron feature -
random zooming in by camera guy on people
best between-inning feature - Racing Sausages make a cameo appearance

field dimensions - 343/400/318
starters - Kellly Shearer (CR) v. Brandon Dickson (QC)

opponent - Cedar Rapids Kernels

time of game - 2:28 (plus 17-minute delay for broken-down bus)

attendance - 1505

score - 6-3 W

Brewers score that day - off

Monday, August 27, 2007

Day 64: Omaha & Des Moines


All photos of Omaha and suburban Des Moines available on Flickr.


We spent yesterday exploring two Midwestern farming cities - Omaha, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa. Omaha was only about 30 miles east of the rest stop we were at that night, so we stopped there for about three hours to work on the blog, grab lunch, and of course visit Rosenblatt Stadium. This is the home of the Men's College World Series, and is also home to the AAA affiliate of Kansas City, the Omaha Royals. We circumnavigated the park and checked out all the plaques of past champions, and it actually looked like a really nice stadium. Although I certainly don't regret stopping in Lincoln, if we would have known that the Omaha Royals played at the same stadium where the College World Series was held, and that they were home this weekend, I'm sure we would have saw a game here instead. Omaha was a decent little town, from what we did see of it. It actually reminded me a lot of Dayton, and I apologize to any of my Ohio friends who are reading this now and may have just experienced a shiver up their spine.

Around 2 PM we completed the rest of our day's drive to Des Moines. My friend Karl lives in a suburb just west of the city and we spent the rest of the day watching the final of the Little League World Series (Georgia beat Japan) and catching up over dinner, drinks, and movies. The highlight of the evening (besides drinking) was when Karl took the liberty of showing us an interesting house near a subdivision that had a functional bomb shelter and outhouse, two things which I'm sure are not up to current building codes and were somehow grandfathered in. Tomorrow we'll probably hang around here a bit before heading to Davenport to watch the Swing of the Quad Cities.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Day 63: Haymarket Park



All photos of Haymarket Park available on Flickr.

Yesterday we said goodbye to the Rocky Mountains and hello to the Great Plains. It was a 6 1/2 hour drive from Denver to Lincoln, NE with nothing to look at except the flat land, corn, and cows. After making a quick stop in downtown Denver to make another deposit (we've raised nearly $1300 so far) we got on our way.

We arrived in Lincoln at about 6:15 for a 7:05 game. The ballpark was on the campus of the University of Nebraska with Memorial Stadium where the Cornhusker football team plays across the street. The stadium also serves as the home to Cornhuskers baseball and there were plenty of "big block Ns" and Cornhusker Big 12 Championship and College World Series appearance banners hanging throughout the stadium. Unfortunately, Haymarket Park is the type that is just surrounded by parking lots and we were unable to do any fundraising.

The Lincoln Saltdogs play in the American Association, the same league as the St. Paul Saints. The two teams will actually be facing each other in the playoffs which start on Monday. This game was the fourth independent league that Peter and I have seen on the trip, and having attended several Saints games over the past couple of years I knew it would be the best baseball of any of the indy leagues.

Yesterday was the last day of the American Association regular season and the Saltdogs presented their team awards between innings. Last night's starting pitcher Jarrett Gardner was voted pitcher of the year by the season ticket holders and gave another fine performance last night. He went 6 innings, only allowed 3 hits and struck out 5. If he keeps that up, there may be a place on an A-ball roster for him next year. The Saltdogs scratched out single runs in the 4th, 5th, and 6th, then broke the game open with a Grand Slam from Pichi Balet in the 7th.

Saints games are always a blast and Lincoln was no different. Last night was the finals round of a season long promotion to give away a car. All night long, people who had qualified throughout the season were eliminated until there were only four. After the game each choose a key and the one that started the car won a year's lease. But that wasn't the best between innings game. Once again, Peter and I were selected to compete in the keg roll. This time, however, we would be competing against each other, not another team. At the end of the eighth inning we were escorted onto the field and squared off to see who could roll a keg from home plate to first or third base, and back, the quickest. Of course, I completely dominated but Peter improved significantly over last time - he didn't fall down yesterday.

After the Saltdogs wrapped up the victory with a 1-2-3 9th, we headed to an area called Haymarket Square for some post-game drinks. We had a few pints at Brewsky's where the whole Saltdogs staff also showed up. Tomorrow it's off to Iowa to stay with Peter's friend Karl near Des Moines.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 6
views from park - 5 (Nebraska campus)

view to field - 9

surrounding area - 8 (Nebraska campus and Haymarket Square nearby)

food variety - 6
nachos - 8
beer - 9 (good price, two sizes souvenir cups, Leines on tap)
vendor price - 8

ticket price - 9 ($5 lawn)
atmosphere - 7 (last game of season)

walk to park - 3

parking price/proximity - 10 (on lot for free)

concourses - 5

team shop - 4

best food - fries

most unique stadium feature - lawn seating areas

best jumbotron feature - n/a

best between-inning feature - keg race featuring us
, Homer the mascot tosses stuff into the crowd from the bullpen car
field dimensions - 325/395/325
starters - N. Cebula (SC) v. J. Gardner (LIN)

opponent - Sioux City Explorers

time of game - 2:10

attendance - 4414

score - 9-0 W

Brewers score that day - 6-2 L

Day 62: Coors Field


All photos of Denver and Coors Field available on Flickr.


It was a gorgeous day in Denver today, a great day to walk around and explore the city. We started the morning as we often do - blogging at a local coffee shop. After that, we walked down towards the state capitol building. On the way there, we passed two very cool areas. One was the 16th Street Mall, which I remember from my last visit to Denver about 10 years ago. It is a pedestrian/bus-only street with lots of shops, banks, and restaurants. Also on the way towards the capitol, we passed the Denver Convention Center. Although I am generally not a big fan of convention centers, as they tend to be eye-sores that wastes 10 blocks of prime downtown real estate, this one was actually pretty cool and featured a 4-story tall blue grizzly bear by one of the exterior curtain walls.

The Colorado state capitol is on axis with other federal buildings and the US Mint, which we tried to tour but was full. We at least got to visit the US Mint gift shop, which was actually just an air-conditioned trailer. It was eerie to me how much it resembled the National Mall in Washington; there was even an obelisk there, albeit a smaller scale than the Washington Monument. We spent about a half-hour walking around the capitol and looking around people's offices and various meeting chambers. The thing that makes this building stand out is the ridiculous amount of gold present everywhere - the dome, the handrails, even the bubblers (that's "drinking fountains" to those of you not from Wisconsin or Massachusetts).

After leaving the capitol, we walked through LoDo (Lower Downtown), which is the area where Coors Field, the Pepsi Center, and Union Station all reside. It was a former warehouse district that has boomed since the hockey and baseball franchises came into Denver. A large portion of the buildings are historic and the district has a lot of character for an area that is a little over a century old. We ended our day of touring at the Wynkoop Brewing Company, where we sampled all 12 of the beers they featured on tap. We got a great spot across the street from the stadium, but had to compete with scalpers and peanut girls, and we only made about $20.

I was at Coors Field about 10 years ago, but I didn't really remember much of the park, as I was significantly less interested in baseball when I was 15. So, like Erik, it was kind of like I was going there for the first time. The things I did remember were the bullpens and the row of purple seats in the upper deck that are exactly one mile above sea level. The bullpens are cool because they are situated around a little wooded area that the opposing team actually has to meander through to get onto the field. The stadium is in its 13th season already and was the first stadium done in the retro-style after Camden Yards. It is a little confusing getting to the upper deck, but otherwise I really enjoyed the park. It had very nice concourses, particularly behind the bleachers. The left field side is not inundated with seating, so there is a nice view to the Platte River basin when the sun is out. Tonight was 80's Night at the park and made the game even more enjoyable, as all the players featured 80's haircuts and clothes on the jumbotron, and there was 80's trivia throughout the game, most of which I got correct. It was the 2nd Rockies victory we have seen on the trip and they have to be my pick to win the NL West based on what we've seen these past two months. The second game of the tour we saw the Rockies come back from 8 runs down to tie the game in the 9th, only to eventually lose to the Cubs in the 10th. This game featured a measely 5-run comeback, but unlike the disappointing loss in Chicago, the Rockies won this game 6-5 on a walk-off reached-on-error by Kazuo Matsui in the 9th. Jeff Francis went 6.1 and threw 120 pitches in the game, and closer Brian Fuentes ended up getting the win, as he pitched the top half of the 9th. We saw three homeruns at hitter-friendly Coors Field, by Matt Holliday, Ryan Zimmerman, and Wily Mo Pena. You could really tell by these homeruns and the triples that were hit in the gaps during the game how much the ball carries here.

Tomorrow we head back into the central time zone, as we drive through scenic Nebraska to an independent league in Lincoln.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 8
views from park - 6 (good during the day)
view to field - 6
surrounding area - 10 (LoDo)
food variety - 6
nachos - 9
beer - 3 (we found Miller Lite at one stand, which salvaged this category)
vendor price - 5
ticket price - 9 ($4 bleachers)
atmosphere - 5 (80s Night)
walk to park - 9
parking price/proximity - 10 (3 blocks away for free)
concourses - 9
team shop - 5

best food - Denver Dog
most unique stadium feature - forest in center field
best jumbotron feature - 80s Night animations
best between-inning feature - Hog race

field dimensions - 347/415/350
starters - Shawn Hill (WSH) v. Jeff Francis (COL)
opponent - Washington Nationals
time of game - 2:45
attendance - 25230
score - 6-5 W
Brewers score that day - 11-6 L

Friday, August 24, 2007

Day 61: Return to Colorado


All photos of the drive to Colorado available on Flickr.


It's hard to believe that we were in Colorado Springs just three weeks prior, and today we returned to the land of the Rocky Mountains and Mystery Octane gasoline. Although not quite as scenic of a drive through Colorado from the south as it is from the east, it was still a pretty nice journey up from Albuquerque, especially considering the incredibly boring terrain we'll be experiencing the next few days. We were supposed to have a good-bye lunch with Ben downtown before leaving, but he had a meeting, so we stopped at the local Hooters (#7 of the trip) and headed up I-25 around 1 PM for the 450-mile trek. The drive through Santa Fe and Taos was nice, but then it got a whole lot of boring between Taos and Pueblo, Colorado - I thought we had perhaps made a wrong turn into Indiana somewhere. Once we got past Pueblo towards Colorado Springs, the drive became more mountainous and we drove right past Pikes Peak and the Air Force Academy.

We arrived in Denver around 7:30, where it was 60 and raining, a far cry from when we left New Mexico earlier that day. We found a hotel really close to downtown that is actually pretty nice (besides the toilet seat being broken) for only $45 a night. Tomorrow we plan on walking around the state capitol and possibly touring the US Mint, and then exploring a popular area known as LoDo ("lower downtown") after the ballgame. It is an old warehouse district similar to the Pearl District in Portland and is supposed to be pretty cool.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Day 60: Isotopes Park



All photos of Old Town Albuquerque and Isotopes Park are available on Flickr.

After a late arrival and some catching up between two old roommates last night, we slept in a bit this morning. Then we did some long-overdue laundry. We finally left the house around 3 PM and headed to Old Town Albuquerque. Everybody must have been on siesta because the place was dead. It took us a half hour of walking around until we finally found a restaurant that was open. Once inside it took us switching tables three times to finally get served. When we finally got our food from our not-quite-altogether-there bartender, it turned out to be delicious. Peter had a quesodilla loaded with sour cream, a margarita, and a beer, while I enjoyed some delicious enchiladas. Peter has been walking around all trip saying "I would like two tacos." But every time he has the chance to actually get two tacos, he gets something else. It was nearing time to head towards the park so we quickly made our way back to Old Yeller.

Isotopes Park is on the campus of the University of New Mexico, kitty-corner from the basketball arena, The Pit. The exterior of the building is very odd, with random windows colored in. Once inside though, it is an excellent minor league park. Most of the seats are on the first level, with excellent views from every section. There is a second deck in the right field corner and along the third baseline. As in most minor league parks, there are no bleachers in the outfield but instead a grassy knoll. This is where we bought tickets but we ended up sitting in the second to last section along the right field line in the third row.

The game did not begin well for the 'Topes, who, by the way, take their name from a combination of the Simpsons' team and New Mexico's longtime affiliation with nuclear energy and the atomic bomb. Even without the recently promoted Rick Ankiel, the Redbirds put up a six spot in the first and chased starter Kenny Baugh. The Redbirds would continue the onslaught with 2 in the 3rd, 2 in the 4th, 3 in the 5th, 3 in the 6th, and 4 in the 8th. The 'Topes could only respond with solo homeruns from Joe Borchard, Reggie Abercrombie, and Robert Andino. Things got so bad for the 'Topes that they brought in second baseman Josh Labandeira to pitch the ninth. That's right, we've now seen position players pitch in two straight games! Trailing 20-5, going to the bottom of the 9th, things looked pretty dim for the 'Topes. After Abercrombie made the first out, the rally began. Aided by two Redbirds errors and powered by a three run homer by Andrew Beattie, the 'Topes scored 7 in the 9th, but it was not enough.

After the game we were treated to a surprise. Wednesday night is apparently All Fans Run the Bases Night in Albuquerque. After a quickly touching them all, we headed back to Ben's for some beers and cartoons. Tomorrow, we will return to Colorado to wait for the Rockies to get home.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 5 (strange stained glass windows on outside)
views from park - 3
view to field - 8
surrounding area - 3 (University of New Mexico nearby)
food variety - 4
nachos - n/a
beer - 6 (decent variety and price)
vendor price - 8
ticket price - 8 ($5 lawn seats)
atmosphere - 5 (a lot of fans were scared away by the lopsided score, but Ben being there definitely made it entertaining)
walk to park - 2 (dangerous road crossing)
parking price/proximity - 10 (across the street for free)
concourses - 6
team shop - 7

best food - Baja fish tacos
most unique stadium feature - cup holders screwed into wall by urinals
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - pepper & taco race

field dimensions - 340/405/330
starters - Blake Hawksworth (MEM) v. Kenny Baugh (ABQ)
opponent - Memphis Redbirds
time of game - 3:33
attendance - 7420
score - 20-12 L
Brewers score that day - 3-2 L

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Day 59: Grand Canyon



All photos of the Grand Canyon available on Flickr.

Yesterday we noticed on the atlas that the Grand Canyon was only about 90 miles out of our way to Albuquerque, so we decided to make a stop on the way to Ben's house. In keeping with our tradition of seeing "World's longest/tallest/biggest" things in our spare time, we just couldn't pass up seeing the world's biggest canyon. We left Scottsdale around 11 AM and hit the road to the north.

It was definitely worth the drive. I had flown over it before, but until you get there and see it in person, you don't really realize how big of a hole it really is. The canyon expands as far as the eye can see in all directions and there are many vantage points to park the car along the way and take it all in. We were coming from the south, so we of course visited the south rim. The Grand Canyon is a protected landscape as part of Grand Canyon National Park, so the downside, as with most national parks, is that you have to pay an entry fee. I'm all for supporting the preservation of nature, but $25 was a little steep. Granted it was a one week pass, but they should offer some sort of hourly rate or something. We stopped at two lookout points once inside the park. At the first one, Erik and I immediately noticed that there was a large portion of the canyon that was not fenced off, so we took that opportunity to descend the canyon (at least as far as we could without grappling hooks and boots) and got some awesome photos. The second lookout we stopped at was the main tourist area on the southeastern entry to the park. It contained a large visitor center, bookstore, gift shop, and cafe, from which we acquired Grand Canyon souvenir cups. There was also an old Native American watchtower there that we ascended and got some good views of the canyon. After leaving the watchtower, Erik went wandering down the canyon to get some more photos, while I stayed behind, perched on a rock that jutted over the canyon and sat in awe of God's magnificent landscape.

We have seen a lot of cool stadiums and great games, but beyond our love of baseball, seeing all the new cities and amazing sights like we did today make the 16000+ miles of driving all worth it for me. We arrived at Ben's house around 11:30. I haven't seen my old roommate in nearly two years and I look forward to catching up with him tomorrow.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Day 58: Chase Field


All photos of Taliesin West, Phoenix, and Chase Field available on Flickr.


We started the day by driving a few miles up the road from where we are staying in Scottsdale to tour Taliesin West, the home and studio of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright split time between this home and his home in Spring Green, Wisconsin throughout his life and the fellowship program that Wright started in the 1930s is still in existence today. I had visited Spring Green last summer, so it was cool to see this one and compare how Wright employed his philosophies in two extremely different climates. The tour was nearly two hours long, and although it was about 110 degrees outside, it was definitely worth it and we took tons of pictures. After the tour, we made a quick stop at the Phoenix Public Library downtown, which Erik and I had seen in architecture magazines and heard was cool. The outside was neat, done in all copper siding that ages over time, but I wasn't that impressed with the interior. Phoenix is the nation's largest city in terms of square footage and is sprawling beyond belief, but I'm glad we got to see at least the two things we really wanted to in this huge city.

The game had an unusual start time of 6:40, so we headed over towards the ballpark around 4:30. We were really excited to go to this game despite the heat because the Diamondbacks were playing the Brewers! This was our 6th game on the tour we'd be seeing them, seven if you count the AAA Sounds we saw play in Portland. We were also looking forward to the game because we got free seats from the team, so we knew we'd have a good view of the field. We ended up being about 20 rows up on the lower deck behind the 3rd base dugout. Before the game however, it was time to fundraise. We found a good spot right across the street from the stadium, near a misting machine in the shade, so it really only felt like a cool 95 degrees - however, we only made about $20.

Chase Field, formerly Bank One Ballpark, is in downtown Phoenix and is already in its 10th season of operation and is a pretty nice park. It features the first retractable roof built in the United States, and the second in baseball after Rogers Centre. As you can imagine, the roof is pretty much closed every game between Memorial Day and Labor Day due to the desert heat. A unique feature of the stadium besides the roof is the Pool Area in right-center, where fans can actually go swimming during a D-Backs game. The stadium reminded me a lot of Miller Park actually - the concourses are set up similarly, and the outfield wall/scoreboard configuration is incredibly similar. The bleacher configuration is similar to the "Dew Deck" in right, and there is a Friday's in left like in Milwaukee. Also, the retractable roof necessitates a wall beyond the outfield to hold up the roof, just as at Miller Park. I really wish that the D-Backs still had their rancid purple and teal uniforms from when the team first started out, but otherwise the game was enjoyable experience.

Our time there was made even more enjoyable because the Crew dominated and won 9-0! Yovani Gallardo struck out 6 over 6 and Carlos Villanueva got the 3-inning save from the Brewers in the victory, while Yo-Go's counterpart Doug Davis, a former Brewers only lasted 2 innings and gave up 6 runs. Bill Hall, Prince Fielder, and Gallardo all homered for the Brewers in the game, and Rickie Weeks and 3 hits. The highlight of the game for us though was definitely when newly acquired former Brewer Jeff Cirillo got to pitch the 9th inning of the lopsided game. He actually faired well; he walked two but tossed a scoreless inning, and he even got his first career strikeout against Craig Counsell. Craig will definitely be hearing it from his teammates in the clubhouse for awhile on that one, but I guess that's what happens when you're hitting .221. With the Cubs losing, the Crew is once again tied for the lead in the NL Central.

Tomorrow we're off to Albuquerque to watch some minor league ball before heading up to Coors Field this weekend. We'll be staying with my old roommate Ben and stopping off at the Grand Canyon on the way, and I'm really excited about both.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 2 (can't see out)
view to field - 7 (seems like there would be a lot of obstructed view in some areas)
surrounding area - 5 (downtown Phoenix nearby, bars next door)
food variety - 6
nachos - 4
beer - 5 (good variety but pricy)
vendor price - 7
ticket price - 10 (ours were free)
atmosphere - 7 (a lot of Crew fans!)
walk to park - 2 (hot!)
parking price/proximity - 8 (3 blocks away for $7)
concourses - 7
team shop - 7

best food - andouille sausage
most unique stadium feature - Pool Area in right-center
best jumbotron feature - "7th inning stretch" animation
best between-inning feature - hot dog race

field dimensions - 340/407/336
starters - Yovani Gallardo (MIL) v. Doug Davis (ARZ)
opponent - Milwaukee Brewers
time of game - 2:51
attendance - 26900
score - 9-0 L
Brewers score that day - 9-0 W

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Day 57: Heading Back East



All photos of the drive to Arizona available on Flickr.

Today was the start of Week 9 of the tour and the beginning of the home stretch back east as we made our way into Arizona this morning. Aside from a random border patrol booth we had to stop at since I-8 is so close to Mexico, it was a pretty smooth ride through the desert and mountains. We arrived in Scottsdale around what we thought was 2 PM Mountain Time, but as we found out, southern Arizona is apparently independent of the entire time zone system, so we are actually still in "Pacific Time" until we hit New Mexico on Tuesday. Today we are just relaxing and doing some laundry here, and possibly hitting the pool later since neither of us has showered today and it is 105 degrees outside.

Tomorrow we plan on visiting Taliesin West and exploring Phoenix a bit during the day before heading to the game at 6:40 PM.

Day 56: Last Day in California



All photos of Day 5 in San Diego available on Flickr.

As indicated by the title of this blog, today was our 14th and final full day in California. San Diego has definitely salvaged my opinion of this state. It was nice to not have to do a lot of driving for the past 10 days (and I'm sure Old Yeller appreciated that as well), but I know that Erik is anxious to get back on the road and starting snapping shots of state welcome signs again.

After saying goodbye to our awesome hotel and dropping Mary off at the airport, Erik and I took care of some very important business - repairing our Habitat donation box, which we have dubbed "Roxy Boxy." After 8 weeks of being shoved, stuffed, crammed, and blown over repeatedly, she got a much needed rehabilitating packing tape job to keep it together for the remainder of the tour. It has certainly made it much longer than we thought it would, and I for sure thought we'd be using tin cups by this point. After repairing Boxy, we headed for one of the few areas we haven't seen of the city yet, Little Italy. Just about every major city has a Chinatown and/or a Little Italy and this one was really no different. We had some really good pie at a local pizzeria and then headed towards the stadium to a sports bar to watch FOX Saturday baseball and Little League World Series. We decided to attend another Padres game so that we could fundraise and get a souvenir tote bag, which was the sweet giveaway on this particular evening. The game was sold out because of the giveaway, and because it was originally slated to be an Oswalt v. Peavy duel on the mound, but the Padres ended up putting Justin Germano on the hill instead. Our seats were for the GA lawn section in center field, but we ended up sitting near where we sat on Wednesday in the upper deck after watching an inning from the roof of the Western Metal Supply Company building. Once again, the Friars could not muster much offense and lost 3-2. The only reason they scored any runs at all was because they hit up Roy Oswalt before his exit in the 5th after he had clearly injured himself earlier in the inning. Roy O helped himself out with his first RBI of the season and Ty Wigginton had 2 hits in the win for the Astros.

One thing that was cemented after attending our second game at PETCO was how horrible Padres fans are, which is a major contributing factor as to why Erik hates the park. Not "horrible" in the traditional sense of the word like Cubs or Phillies fans, but "horrible" as in very indifferent and uninformed. Padres fans come to the game from the 3rd to the 7th, don't watch any of the game, and get very angry if one is not sitting in their assigned seat. Aside from the two games we watched, the Pads have a pretty decent team, but I doubt anybody in San Diego is aware of this. After the game we drove about two hours and stopped at a rest stop for the night, just west of the Arizona border. Tomorrow we complete the drive to Scottsdale to stay with a friend of the family of Erik's before seeing the Brew Crew battle the D-Backs in Phoenix on Monday.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Day 55: Tijuana



All photos of Old Town and Tijuana available on Flickr.

Mary and I got another early start on the day while Erik slept. After leaving the hotel shortly after 7 AM I initially envied Erik's position, but it turned out to be a nice little morning of walking around Old Town and revisiting Mission Beach on another gorgeous San Diego day. Old Town is part of the original settlement of San Diego, and it kind of has a "Colonial Williamsburg meets Santa Fe" feel to it. It is full of old saloon, apothecaries, general stores, and the like, and was quite interesting to walk around in. The beach was packed once again. Mary did some more work on her tan while I just sat next to her, staring at the crashing waves, and still in fear of ever removing my shirt again after getting second degree burns in Puerto Vallarta two months ago.

Around 12:30 we made it back to the hotel and met up with Erik to head to TJ. We picked up the blue line trolley at the Amtrak station, which is actually a pretty cool little historic preservation project in and of itself. It was $5 round trip and about 45 minutes each way - not bad at all. The trolley let us off in San Ysidro, and after one of us asked the obligatory "Hey, where's Mexico?" question, we headed over the bridge to Tijuana. We were met by border patrol upon our crossing, which consisted of a metal gate and a rent-a-cop reading a magazine on a folding chair, which made us feel really safe.

TJ is a pretty special little town - or at least, we thought it was little. We learned from the cab driver who took us into downtown that it is actually a city of over 4,000,000 people. After already visiting three cities in Mexico, I kind of knew what to expect. Tons of little souvenir stands that all sell the same 12 items, tons of jewelry stores teeming with silver and turqoise goods, shady bars that have happy hour all day, and a few cool churches here and there. Things unique to Tijuana included donkeys on display on the street. Whereas in America we have ceramic representative animals in every city, such as the crabs in Baltimore or the cows in Milwaukee, TJ actually employed the use of live mules, painted in zebra stripes for some reason ("zonkeys"). There were also many cool Aztec statues strewn about the city. I really thought the city would be a lot dirtier, all things considered and from the stories I've heard, but it really was not that bad except for the food vendor area of the city, where boxes of day-old meats and fruits covered in bees, flies, and maggots were set up all around. The gauntlet of insects was not even the worst part; the smell was incredibly putrid. We spent about two hours walking around and concluded the day with some tequila shots at a local bar while waiting for our return cab trip home. A quick stop back at the border to pick up a TJ hat for my brother and we walked through the line back into the states. Compared to walking into Mexico, security was CRAZY here - they actually looked at your ID and had a scanner for backpacks and purses. I was pretty disappointed in myself that I didn't bring any Cuban cigars with me, because I clearly would not have been caught unless I was actually smoking it in line.

We got back into San Diego around 8 and grabbed some dinner downtown at a Rock Bottom. Tomorrow is our last day in California before we head back east on Sunday morning.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Day 54: San Diego Zoo



All photos from the San Diego Zoo are available on Flickr.

Besides the game, the thing I was looking forward most to seeing while in San Diego was the Zoo. While Peter and Mary woke up early to go tanning in nearby Balboa Park, I had gotten enough sun the day before and remained in bed. We got on our way to the zoo at about 11:00 AM. On our way in we posed for souvenir photos and made our way through a very short ticket line. As we were getting our bearings inside the main entrance, Peter immediately noticed that the Zoo sold soda in souvenir cups and bought one. We made our way towards the Hunte Amphitheater to watch one of the zoo's two shows to get our day started. The show was called "Legends and Lore and the theme of the show was dispelling the myths that exist about some animals such as pigs are dirty and dogs and cats don't get along. After the show, we walked around the zoo for awhile looking at all the interesting animals. After a bite to eat, we headed for the sea lion show. This show is definitely designed for kids but I enjoyed it immensely. Following this show we hit the trails again to see the pandas, giraffes, elephants, lions, tigers, kangaroos, and koalas. After 7 hours we finally wrapped up our day and headed back to the hotel. Peter and Mary immediately fell asleep while I ran out for a quick dinner. Upon waking up a couple of hours later they were both still to tired to leave the room, that's what happens when you get up at 8 o'clock to go tanning, so we ordered in a pizza and watched movies until we all fell asleep.

Today we're taking the trolley down to Tijuana, making Mexico the third country we'll have visited on this tour.