Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Peter's Final Reflection

I had originally intended and looked forward to writing a reflection on our trip upon returning home, but I realized soon after I started that it is impossible to write a summary of our amazing 71-day journey in just a few paragraphs. In lieu of not having time to write a book right now, we culminate the tour portion of this blog with our final rankings and statistics. Hopefully this can be of some service to people who someday look to take this trip themselves!

Best MLB Stadiums:
1. PNC Park, Pittsburgh
2. SAFECO Field, Seattle
3. Fenway Park, Boston
4. Camden Yards, Baltimore
5. Comerica Park, Detroit

Worst MLB Stadiums:
1. McAfee Coliseum, Oakland
2. RFK Stadium, Washington
3. Metrodome, Minneapolis
4. Dolphin Stadium, Miami
5. Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg

Best MiLB/Independent Stadiums:
1. Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville
2. AutoZone Park, Memphis
3. John O'Donnell Stadium, Davenport
4. Isotopes Park, Albuquerque
5. Haymarket Park, Lincoln

Favorite Cities:
1. Portland, OR
2. Seattle, WA
3. Memphis, TN
4. Toronto, ON
5. Boston, MA
6. Savannah, GA
7. San Diego, CA
8. Oklahoma City, OK
9. Vancouver, BC
10. Milwaukee, WI

Top Ballpark Foods:
1. Crabcake sandwich, Camden Yards
2. Tony's Philly Cheesesteak, Citizens Bank Park
3. Sushi, SAFECO Field
4. Fish Tacos, PETCO Park
5. Prime rib sandwich, Frontier Field

Best Nachos:
1. Louisville Slugger Field
2. AutoZone Park
3. Miller Park, Milwaukee
4. Wrigley Field, Chicago
5. Comerica Park

Best Games:
1. Day 2, Wrigley Field
2. Day 69, Metrodome
3. Day 62, Coors Field
4. Day 60, Isotopes Park
5. Day 15, Yankee Stadium
Longest Drive: 875 miles from Orem to Seattle
Most Money Raised: $96.31 in Washington
Nights slept in car: 10
Total number of Miles Driven: 16,105
Total amount of Money Raised: $1485.76

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Day 71: Miller Park

All photos of Miller Park available on Flickr.

Click here to view a news story that aired about our trip. The story/video will be in the archives until September 2009.

Well, this is it. Our amazing and unforgettable journey ended today at the place we call home, Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Today was no doubt a bittersweet day for the both of us. We were both glad to be back home and not have to worry about where we were driving or sleeping today, and it was a special treat for me to not be waking up next to Erik for the first time in 10 weeks. But at the same time, if we both had the money and the time, we would totally just do this every summer. We have already discussed at least a dozen small baseball-related vacations we want to take in the coming years, just to gather more material for the book we for sure have to write someday. I'd personally like to wait about 10 years after we have forgotten most of the details and can embellish facts in a "based on a true story" novel of some sorts. For now, we'll always have this blog and our 5000 photos as a way of keeping these memories alive in our minds and hearts forever.

Another token we'll have to remember this trip forever is the news story that was aired about our trip by the local FOX affiliate here in Milwaukee. My mom was kind enough to get in touch with somebody at the station and Erik and I were met by a news team at our "Welcome Home" pre-game tailgate today. We spent the better part of an hour talking about the tour, answering questions, and mingling amongst our friends while wearing microphones. The entire process was editted into a nice 5-minute story that aired at 5 and 10 PM that night, and once again at noon the next day. The whole tailgate, as with most days at Miller Park, was the best part of the whole day, and the reporters there and about 20 of our friends made it even more special. The stadium is nice and the Brewers are a fun team to watch, but no Brew Crew game is complete without a tailgate. Sometimes fans will just tailgate, listen to the game on the radio, and then drink afterwards, and never even go inside. It is just what we do in Wisconsin; it combines our state's two passions of beer and eating. Besides my family and the familiarity of home, the thing I miss most when I am away from Milwaukee is tailgating at Brewers games, because it is a sports spectacle unmatched anywhere else, kind of like how most college campuses have unique football gameday traditions.

So I will try to be objective and jump outside of myself for a moment to describe Miller Park, but it is hard to not talk fondly of a place I spend about a month a year at. I guess the main beef that we have with the park is the viewing angles. Because the architects tried to bring the seating levels closer to the field and reduce the incline of the bowls, it compromises views and there are very few seats at the park where you have an unobstructed panorama of the entire field. There could also be a few more bleachers that are actually close to the field of play, but a lot of parks have this problem. But besides these things and occasional roof leaking problems, the stadium is a gem. It has the most unique retractable roof, which opens like a fan instead of a door. It has the best batter's eye and one of the best team shops. But most importantly, it has the best beer and food in all of baseball, including a TGIFriday's in left field that is open year round.

The game itself was a pretty good showing for the Crew, who are in the midst of the most exciting race in the major, the NL Central race. They beat the Pirates 7-4 behind Jeff Suppan, who earned his first win since June 22nd. This happens to be the last game we saw at Miller Park before leaving on the tour 10 weeks ago. Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ryan Braun and MVP candidate Prince Fielder both homered for the Brewers, and Kevin Mench and Bill Hall also contributed RBIs. The bullpen was lights out for once, and the combination of Shouse-Linebrink-Turnbow-Cordero tossed 4 scoreless innings, with Coco getting his 39th save of the season.

Please continue to read this blog this week for final reflections, tallies, and/or rankings! Be sure to check in periodically for big Brewer/baseball news, Habitat for Humanity information, and any blog entries of Erik and my future baseball trips. Thanks to everyone who has been reading along on our journey of a lifetime, and particularly anyone who has given us a place to stay, donated money to us and/or Habitat, or helped us along our trip in any way whatsover; it is greatly appreciated. Lastly, please note the email address on the sidebar of this blog to which you can direct any future questions or comments about this blog.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 8
views from park - 4 (okay when side panels are open)
view to field - 4 (many obstructed seats)
surrounding area - 2 (VA Asylum, brownfields)
food variety - 8
nachos - 9 (bowl o' 'chos!)
beer - 8 (good price, they have Miller and Pabst)
vendor price - 7
ticket price - 10 (ours were free...thanks Dad)
atmosphere - 9 (huge crowd, we were in a big group)
walk to park - 6 (fun to walk past all the tailgaters, but it can be a long hike)
parking price/proximity - 8 ($7 general parking, Erik and I have a secret free spot when we don't tailgate)
concourses - 7
team shop - 8

best food - any sausage (chorizo is new this year)
most unique stadium feature - the retractable roof, Bernie's slide
best jumbotron feature - Cingluar text in lights
best between-inning feature - Klements Sausage Race

field dimensions - 345/400/345
starters - Tom Gorzelanny (PIT) v. Jeff Suppan (MIL)
opponent - Pittsburgh Pirates
time of game - 2:58
attendance - 39340
score - 7-4 W
Brewers score that day - 7-4 W

Day 70: Fox Cities Stadium

All photos of Leinenkugel's Brewery and Fox Cities Stadium available on Flickr.

We left Minneapolis (albeit temporarily for Erik) around 8 AM and finally crossed back into Wisconsin for the first time in nearly 10 weeks. We had originally intended on attending a Snappers game in Beloit on the way home, but since neither of us had seen Wisconsin's other minor league franchise, we decided upon Appleton instead. I have been to the Appleton/Oshkosh area, and so I knew that arriving there 5 hours before first pitch would be incredibly boring. Thus, when we noted yesterday that the freeway exit to get from I-94 to Appleton put us right through Chippewa Falls, we knew that it would be a disservice to ourselves if we didn't stop and tour Leinenkugel's Brewery.

Leinenkugel's (or "Leinie's" to most) is considered a craft brewery, which falls somewhere between a microbrewery and a macrobrewery. It is the 4th oldest craft brewery in America, behind Yuengling in Pennsylvania, Sierra Nevada in California, and New Belgium in Colorado. My family had visited the brewery about two months and Erik and I were both very sad that we could not attend, because they told us it was awesome - not to mention free! Erik and I had an great tour guide and a great time at the brewery and definitely share my family's sentiments. The tour guide we had was actually an elementary school teacher that just got back from Iraq and has been working part time at the brewery on and off for many years. He was much more interested in telling us how tasty all the beer was, smelling the hops, and frollicking in the fermentation chamber than telling us important facts about, say, the brewing process. This was what made the tour outstanding and Erik and I both hope we run into him someday while touring another brewery so we can have a pint with him. After the hour-long tour, we decided that 11 AM was not too early to start drinking and took back a couple free samples before we hit the road.

We arrived in Appleton at 3 PM, just in time to catch the kickoff of the 1st Badgers game. We stopped at the local Hooters and took down a few pitchers while watching Wisconsin dominate for three quarters. We arrived at the park around 5:45, only to find that it was sadly surrounded by a large parking lot, which meant that we would once again not be able to fundraise. Fox Cities Stadium looked to be relatively new and it reminded me a lot of Security Services Field in Colorado Springs - very plain and cheaply constructed, about 15-20 rows of seats, wall full of adverstising with only a few bleachers in right field. Like a lot of teams that host minor league cities, Appleton has a long lineage of baseball, most notably the old Appleton Foxes team. The team shop was huge (the Snake Pit) and there was a large variety of food and beer, which made up for the lack of aesthetics at the stadium. I was annoyed that I had to wait for 20 minutes to order, but I was pleasantly suprised upon my arrival to the front of the line to see that they had local beers and Leine's on tap for a dollar and cheese fries in a helmet! Both were delicious.

The Timber Rattlers' slogan this season is "Come for the Fun, stay for the Game." Erik and I are still waiting for the latter part of that phrase to occur. The Rattlers put together a pretty pathetic offensive effort in their 7-1 loss to Kane County (Illinois, near Chicago). DH Greg Dowling and starting pitcher Henry Rodriguez were the stars of the day for KC. Dowling went 3-5 with 3 RBI, and Rodriguez gave up only 1 run over 7 innings, striking out 8 batters. Reliever Walters for KC was also lights out, striking out 5 of the 6 batters he faced in his two innings of work. Catcher Juan Beltran provided the lone highlight of the day for Wisconsin with a towering solo shot in the 7th.

Immediately following the game (and I do mean immediately) we saw our fifth fireworks extravaganza of the trip, which was probably second to Cincinnati, even though the fireworks were clearly being lit one or two at a time by hand. After the game we drove the 90 minutes south to Milwaukee and got to sleep in our own beds for the first time since June 23rd. Last official game of the odyssey is tomorrow at Miller Park!

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 2
views from park - 2 (freeway)
view to field - 5 (batter obstructed by fence, but we were close)
surrounding area - 2 (downtown Appleton and the mall...yay)
food variety - 7
nachos - 4
beer - 10 ($1 and much variety)
vendor price - 9
ticket price - 9 ($5 GA)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 1
parking price/proximity - 3 (only $3, but paying for parking in A-ball should be illegal)
concourses - 3
team shop - 8

best food - cheese fries
most unique stadium feature - Timber Rattlers hall of fame wall
best jumbotron feature - none worth writing about
best between-inning feature - boxing match between two fans with no protective pads and giant gloves

field dimensions - 325/405/325
starters - Henry Rodriguez (KC) v. Matthew Renfree (WIS)
opponent - Kane County Cougars
time of game - 3:00
attendance - 5150
score - 7-1 L
Brewers score that day - 12-3 W

Day 69: Metrodome

All photos of games 1 and 2 at the Metrodome available on Flickr.

Today we got to see a rare doubleheader in Minneapolis. Since the Twins play in a dome, games obviously get cancelled very rarely, but due to the I-35W bridge collapse last month, a game against the Royals was rescheduled for this afternoon. After a stop for breakfast, we arrived at the park around 10 minutes before game time and mingled with some of Erik's co-workers. Erik has been working part-time as an usher in the suites at the Metrodome for three years and was very anxious to talk to as many people as he could find and tell them about the tour. He even got us into the suite he works in and we got to watch both games there, which included free food and drink. I only spent about $15 total the entire day.

If Erik and I didn't attend games at the Dome many times a year, we probably would be less accustomed to its many nuiances and would loathe the stadium. I guess the same could be said for old County Stadium in Milwaukee, which we were both also fond of. Speaking objectively though, the stadium really is a dump. It is built for football - 343 down the left field line and less than 300 feet down the right field line is a good indicator of this, as well as the fact that seating angles are horrible. There are many seats in the upper deck that are covered by banners to make the emptiness of the large dome less apparent, but it doesn't really help. The two things that suck most about domes are obviously astroturf and the roof. The Metrodome roof in particular is notorious for the havoc it wreaks on outfielders. Many times players lose balls in the grayish roof and players like Prince Fielder end up getting inside-the-park homeruns. A lot of times fly balls hit speakers and land elsewhere, or maybe the ball even hits the roof and never comes down at all (this actually did happen once). It is atrocious not only to watch a player lose a fly ball in the roof, but then also to see the ball bounce up 12 feet in the air off the turf when/if it finally lands. With all that being said, sitting in the suites and seeing at least one really good game did make the visit more enjoyable than some previous ones.

Game one was an early struggle for Twinkies pitcher Matt Garza, and the team could never really recover from the three runs Garza surrendered in the 1st. Overall, he was charged with 8 runs, 4 earned. The 3-6 hitters for the Royals went a combined 9-18 with 6 RBI, including a HR by 1B Ross Gload. Torii Hunter provided the lone offensive highlight for the Twins with his homerun in the bottom half of the 1st in the 9-4 loss.

Game two was considerably more exciting - and even if it wasn't, we at least got a sweet Kirby Puckett bronze statue giveaway. We left the park around 4:30 after the first game and had a couple drinks at a bar next door, and we fundraised. As has been a common theme lately, we had a really good spot and thought we would fair a lot better than we did. Returning to our suite around 6:30, we saw Twins pitcher Scott Baker toss a perfect game through 8th. It was only fitting to us that the trip was bookended with the two best games - game #2 at Wrigley, and the 3rd to last game in Minneapolis on Friday. By the 6th inning, Scotty had distanced himself from the rest of the dugout and the stadium proceeded to go crazy for the remaining hour of the game. Baker walked the first batter he faced in the 9th, but he still had the no-hitter going so the crowd was still really fired up to see him close out the game. The no-hitter was spoiled by newly acquired pinch-hitter Mike Sweeney, brother of the venerable record holder of all-time pinch hits Mark Sweeney. Baker ended up going the distance however, tossing a one-hit CG shutout with 9 K's. It was unreal to watch and the third time I have seen a pitcher take a no-hitter past the 7th.

After the game we followed Erik's co-worker Joe to his house and passed out early because he had to be back at work early the next morning for an 11 AM first pitch. This works out well for us anyways, because if we leave early enough tomorrow, we can tour Leinenkugels in Chippewa Falls on our way to Appleton, Wisconsin.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 2
views from park - n/a
view to field - 3 (very good from our suite, otherwise not)
surrounding area - 6 (downtown)
food variety - 3
nachos - 4
beer - 7 (free, but Bud Light)
vendor price - 7
ticket price - 9 (game 1 $7 GA, game 2 free)
atmosphere - Game 1 gets a 2, Game 2 gets a 10
walk to park - 3
parking price/proximity - 7 (2 blocks away for $6.25)
concourses - 3
team shop - 2

best food - steak sandwich
most unique stadium feature - the "baggie" in right field
best jumbotron feature - T.C. Bear "walk" animation
best between-inning feature - Hormel Hot Dog song in 4th

field dimensions - 343/408/295
starters - Kyle Davies (KC) v. Matt Garza (MIN); Gil Meche v. Scott Baker
opponent - Kansas City Royals
time of game - 3:01; 2:16
attendance - 15735; 24985
score - 9-4 L; 5-0 W
Brewers score that day - 3-2 W