Saturday, July 8, 2006

Brooklyn

GAME 9

Keyspan Park
Keyspan Park, 2006


Date: July 8, 2006, 6:00 PM
State College Spikes (St. Louis Cardinals) vs. Brooklyn Cyclones (NY Metropolitans)
Keyspan Park
Brooklyn, NY
NY Penn League, Class A, Short Season
Promotion: Dave & Carrie Bobble-head & Post-Game Wedding

The Stadium & Fans:
This is still one of my favorite parks in the country to see a game. Although a minor league park, the layout and location really sell the experience, especially in the summer when the heat and sun are dissipated by the ocean breeze coming over the outfield wall. Looking one way, you see the parachute drop and the ocean, and the other you see the amusement pier and the titular Cyclone. Awesome ballpark.

As with most minor league games, the crowd is largely made up of families and die-hard baseball fans, though the later are much more prevalent in the baseball history-laden borough of Brooklyn. There were, unfortunately, an annoying number of "there to be seen" trendies who couldn't tell you the teams playing while looking at the scoreboard.

Scorecard:
Although a free giveaway with sizable scoring boxes, the scorecard is still one of my biggest beefs with the Cyclone experience. It is a full-sized program for free, but they cut the costs by printing it on newsprint, which is the worst for trying to keep score. It tears and smudges easily, and the background printing of the logo makes erasing messier than it needs to be.

Spikes vs. Cyclones, 07-08-06
Spikes vs. Cyclones, 07/08/06. Spikes win, 3-1.

Miscellanea:
A couple bought up the game that day for their wedding. The giveaway was a bobble-head of them (which looked more Central American than Jewish), the between-inning events were all themed on weddings, and the wedding proper happened at the end of the game. It became a lot less heartwarming when I realized that they were both salespeople for Radio Disney and had used all their sales contacts to underwrite the whole affair. They have a website about it.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
Man, as much as I like seeing games at Keyspan, it is quite a haul. It was actually quicker for me to drive down to the Trenton Thunder game than it is for me to get out to Coney Island.

The Game:
While Brooklyn has got some decent pitching and some rifle arms in the outfield (three assists this game), they have no offense to speak of. Brooklyn drops their third in a row, 3-1, and that one run was unearned. There was also a strikeout-passed ball combo that led to the batter reaching first on a strikeout.


Thus ends my trip. I did have Sunday to catch another game, but 9 games seemed to have a spiritual completeness to it. I have come to terms with my baseball geekery and found my spiritual Zen. I hope to spin this out into an even longer trip next year, heading further north or out west, as fates will take me.


2006 The East

Friday, July 7, 2006

Staten Island

GAME 7


Ballpark at St. George
Ballpark at St. George, 2006


Date: Friday, July 7, 2006, 6:10 PM
Brooklyn Cyclones (NY Metropolitans) vs. Staten Island Yankees (NY Yankees)
Ballpark At St. George
Staten Island, NY
NY Penn League, Class A, Short Season
Promotion: Jackie Robinson Day (from July 5 rainout): The Jackie Robinson Story DVD

GAME 8
Date: Friday, July 7, 2006, 9:00 PM
Brooklyn Cyclones (NY Metropolitans) vs. Staten Island Yankees (NY Yankees)
Ballpark At St. George
Staten Island, NY
NY Penn League, Class A, Short Season
Promotion: Fireworks Friday

Miscellanea:
These games were a double-header to make up for a rainout earlier in the week. Due to league rules, the games would only be scheduled for seven innings each (most likely to prevent the young players from over-exertion). They had a fifth-inning stretch during each game. Suffice to say, this was another "first."

The Stadium & Fans:
I always hear lots of people raving about the Staten Island Yankees' stadium. And while it is a nice facility of the new generation of minor league parks, with a scenic view of the Manhattan skyline, I don't think it holds a candle to Coney Island's Keyspan Park.

The crowd for the double-header was a big mix of SI Yankees and Brooklyn Cyclones fans, with the former being more numerous. The baseball fans even seemed to outnumber the families, and people were very into the games.

Scorecard:
The scorecard was a free photocopy handout that had passable paper but far too tiny boxes.
Cyclones vs. Yankees 1, 07-07-06
Cyclones vs. Yankees, Game 1, 07/07/06. Yankees win, 3-1

Cyclones vs. Yankees 2, 07-07-06
Cyclones vs. Yankees, Game 2, 07/07/06. Yankees win, 8-2.


Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
This was the first time I had ever set foot on Staten Island.

The Staten Island Ferry was a nice little ride. On the way out, it was filled with commuters looking to get home, and on the way back, the only riders were people coming back from the game and tourists and photographers looking for good nighttime shots of the Statue of Liberty and the NYC skyline.

The Game -- Game 1:
The game zipped by at a fast clip, with the pitching outclassing the hitting by far. Staten Island lead by one for most of the game, and then they locked it up with an insurance run on a homer in the 5th. Final score: 3-1.

The Game -- Game 2:
Game 2 started at 9 PM and went just as fast. Although the Cyclones jumped out to an early lead, their pitching and defense couldn't hold it and their bullpen eventually collapsed, leading to an 8-2 loss.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/baseballoogie/sets/72157621925727002

2006 The East


Thursday, July 6, 2006

Queens

GAME 6


Shea Stadium
Shea Stadium, 2006


Date: Thursday, July 6, 2006, 7:10 PM
Pittsburgh Pirates vs. New York Metropolitans
Shea Stadium
Queens, NY
Major League Baseball, National League
Promotion: Steiner Amazing Moment Print of Mookie Wilson from 1986 World Series

The Stadium & Fans:
People hate on Shea all the time, but f*ck them. Maybe it's just my history with the place, but I don't see what's so awful about it. Sure the new park will be nicer, but there's nothing wrong with what they have now. And as long as Tropicana Field and RFK exist as MLB stadiums, there's no way you can even think that Shea is among the worst in the majors.

The crowd was good for a mid-week game. There were a minimum of the new bandwagoners and tourists going to see a game as "something to do."

Scorecard:
The $4.00 Shea program is one of my favorite scorecards, beyond the obvious reasons. Full-page with big boxes and printed on heavy-weight paper, it makes keeping score much easier.

Metropolitans scorecard, 07-06-06
Pirates vs. Metropolitans, 07/06/06. Metropolitans win, 7-5.


Miscellanea:
Right before the start of the game, as the cooling night breeze started to blow across the field, I felt happy for the first time in years.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
I managed to catch and express 7 out to the game, so that was nice, and on the way back, there wasn't a Scrum of Death trying to get back onto the 7 as is often the case, so easy going both ways.

The Game:
Traschel still took ten minutes between each pitch, but the Mets manage to knock off the Pirates, 7-5. The game wasn't even as close as the score would suggest. Reyes was running around the bases like a kid in the playground after eating a Pixie Stix, and David Wright took the team on his back again and went 2-4 with a homer and two RBIs.


2006 The East

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Trenton

GAME 5



Waterfront Park
Waterfront Park, 2006


Date: Wednesday, July 5, 206, 7:05 PM
Harrisburg Senators (Washington Nationals) vs. Trenton Thunder (New York Yankees)
Waterfront Park
Trenton, NJ
Eastern League, Class AA
Promotion: Fireworks Night

The Stadium & Fans:
Waterfront is a nice little new-generation minor-league park. Everything was in very good order, which is probably why they were named minor league franchise of the year last year. The only quibble was that they try a little too hard to remind you that they are a Yankees affiliate, as every surface is covered with something referencing the Yankees.

The crowd was the standard minor-league mix of families, baseball nuts, and a smattering of scouts, who were suitably into the game.

Scorecard:
The scorecard was a free giveaway pamphlet with reasonable-sized boxes and decent paper. Not bad for a freebie.

Thunder scorecard, 07-05-06
Senators vs. Thunder, 07/04/06. Senators win, 5-4.

Miscellanea:
I was originally supposed to go to the Staten Island Yankee game this day, but they were rained out early, so I switched to come down to Trenton.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
This was the first game I used my apartment as home base. It was a quick and easy jump on the NJ Turnpike down and back. I stopped at a rest area to grab some food on the way down, and the food concessions were all staffed with Eastern European college-aged "guest-workers." It was easily the best and most competent service I've ever received at a fast food restaurant.

The Game:
The quality of the AA play was a little better. The Senators had a couple of guys down from the Nationals on major-league rehab assignments. There were lots of walks and a little sloppy play, but it was a solid game. The Thunder fell behind early, tied it up, fell behind again, and then blew a chance to tie it in the bottom of the ninth, sending the first home team of my trip to a loss, 5-4.


2006 The East

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Philadelphia

GAME 4


Citizen's Bank Park
Citizens Bank Park, 2006


Date: Tuesday, July 4, 2006, 3:05 PM
San Diego Padres vs. Philadelphia Phillies
Citizens Bank Park
Philadelphia, PA
Major League Baseball, National League
Promotion: Dollar Dog Day, Kids Run the Bases

The Stadium & Fans:
Citizens Bank Park is excellent, if not quite up to PNC Park due to its lack of ambiance. The upper and lower deck are split by a central concourse that rings the field and gives you a good view even when you're walking around. At the back of the park, the "Ashburn Alley" area has specialty concessions, and big game areas for kids.

Most Phillies fans are, for lack of a better term, complete dicks. And I say this as a moderate to severe dick myself. Now, I ride Mets players that deserve it pretty hard sometimes, but the Phillies fans rode everybody all the damn time. Mercilessly. Even when they were doing well. If A-Rod gets upset at the way that Yankees fans treat him, he better get down on his dainty little knees and pray that he never gets traded to the Phillies, or he will be in the nut hatch in a week.

There were a group of supporters of Tom "Flash" Gordon (the Phillies closer) who came to the park dressed in super hero costumes. I'm not talking about Batman t-shirts. "The Followers of Flash" were all dressed head to toe in full superhero regalia and procured a section of the upper deck. When he appeared in the 8th, they made a suitable commotion.

Scorecard:
The scorecard was $5 with the Phillies program. It is a sturdy cardboard stock with big boxes. Very nice.

Phillies scorecard, 07-04-06
Padres vs. Phillies, 07/04/06. Phillies win, 6-5.


Miscellanea:
The game began with a taped July 4 message from George Bush, who was greeted with boos that were only surpassed when MLB Commissioner Bud Selig followed.

The game weather started out sunny and hot, but eventually there were storm clouds visible on the horizon, along with lightning. The clouds then made the temperature bearable for the next couple of innings, but eventually, there were a few rain drops. It was just a drizzle, and we mocked the people who ran up to the concourse at the first touch of rain.

Then hell broke loose. In the middle of a pop-up to the catcher, the sky completely opened up with amazingly cold rain, accompanied by a wind that made it fall horizontally. We went from warm to freezing in a minute. The storm blew through rather quickly (only an hour rain delay), and then the sun came out full force again, leaving us steaming in our seats.

During this rain delay, they put the Mets game on the jumbotron, and though the Mets had been loosing up to that point (as I had been following with great annoyance on the out-of-town scoreboard), they rallied to win as soon as I started watching.

After the rain delay, a bird took up residence on the field, first by home plate and then by the third base line. With visions of Randy Johnson in their head, the umpires tried unsuccessfully to shoo it away. The first base umpire eventually became its unofficial zookeeper. Everyone in the crowd seemed to pay especially close attention to fouls and plays down the first base line.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
The trip from my hotel to Philly was only about a half hour. After the game, I spent some time with some tailgaters from Trenton, then headed on home up the NJ Turnpike. It was quite an interesting ride, as I basically took a tour of the fireworks displays of New Jersey on my way back home.

The Game:
This game presented a dilemma for me, as I didn't want the Phillies to win and potentially gain ground on the Mets, but also in no way in hell did I was Mike Piazza to have a win in my presence. Down early, the Phillies built a lead, had it whittled away, and then Gordon blew the save. The Phillies did come back and win it in the bottom of the ninth, 6-5.


2006 The East

Monday, July 3, 2006

Washington

GAME 3


RFK Stadium
RFK Stadium, 2006


Date: Monday, July 3, 2006, 7:05 PM
Florida Marlins vs. Washington Nationals
RFK Stadium
Washington, DC
Major League Baseball, National League
Promotion: None

The Stadium & Fans:
RFK Stadium is... RFK Stadium. I hear they have a nice new baseball stadium in the works, but until then, they play in this concrete monstrosity. Watching a game here feels more claustrophobic than one in a dome.

The fans, however, were enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and largely made up for the grim environment.

Scorecard:
The scorecard was $4 as part of the official program. It was cardstock-type paper with largish boxes, but the blue background made it hard to see anything written on it.

Nationals Scorecard, 07-03-06
Marlins vs. Nationals, 07/03/06. Nationals win, 9-1.


Miscellanea:
It is very rarely that you know exactly how much a piece of real estate is worth. Although seats were open in the Diamond Boxes behind home plate, I demurred on the $110 price tag, so I sat one section back in the first row of that area, for a more sensible $50. However, stretching out my feet to over the chairs in front of me, my legs had made a journey of $60.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
The District of Columbia is so amazingly Byzantine and user-hostile that analogies to the government it houses are strictly superfluous. The Beltway system is particularly worthy of note, as it has been deliberately designed to make you lose your will to live. As much as I'd like to chalk it up to incompetence rather than malevolence, it just doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Incompetence would simply be not placing road signs at all. But in Washington, they do have road signs that lead you to a certain point, and then disappear mysteriously or change names without explanation at critical junctures.

Making the whole travel ordeal even more onerous was the insane heat that baked the capitol that day. Once I found the one parking lot in the entire city, I remembered that the Smithsonian museums were free admission, and so I went to the Museum of National Air Conditioning, and the Smithsonian Gallery of Dear God I Think The Soles of My Sneakers Are Melting. Along my museum journeys, I got depressed as I walked through the hall that supposedly showed all the constraints that are in place on presidential power and realized how Bush had managed to subvert each and every one of them.

On my way out of the city, my plan was to drive as far to Philadelphia as I could stay awake. Having unknowingly had some caffeinated soda at the game, I was wired for sound long into the night. At one transcendent moment crossing out of Maryland, the 1,000 Homo DJs cover of Black Sabbath's Supernaut came on my Shuffle, and I transformed into an overclocked beam of light flying up I-95 at speeds my car could not register, as my speedometer pegs at 90 MPH. I eventually ditched to a hotel for the night near the Delaware/PA border.

The Game:
I was solidly behind the Nationals in this game because the Marlins were higher up in the NL East than they were. The Nationals crushed the Marlins, 9-1, with Alfonzo Soriano tearing up the place with two home runs and four RBIs. And after seeing it for the first time ever a few nights before, I again saw a player pinch-hitting for the pitcher get two at-bats.


2006 The East

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Hagerstown

GAME 2


Municipal Stadium
Municipal Stadium, 2006


Date: Sunday, July 2, 2006, 6:35 PM
Lakewood BlueClaws (Philadelphia Phillies) vs. Hagerstown Suns (NY Metropolitans)
Hagerstown Municipal Stadium
Hagerstown, MD
South Atlantic League, Class A
Promotion: Statue of Liberty Bobble-head, Fireworks Display

The Stadium & Fans:
The Stadium is an old-school historical bandstand park. I'm sure the players hate its lack of facilities, but it was a great place to watch a game. There was only a manual scoreboard out in left field, and it was nice to see a game without all the bells, whistles, and jumbotrons.

The fans were typical minor-league fare: families, scouts, and baseball nuts, though the first were most heavily represented. My usher seemed legitimately touched when I tipped him for taking us to our seats. The fans were very much into the game, so it was a good atmosphere to watch baseball.

Scorecard:
The scorecard was $3, as part of a program. Good paper, nice boxes.

Suns scorecard, 07-02-06
BlueClaws vs. Suns, 07/02/06. Suns win, 8-1.



Miscellanea:
The giveaway for the game was another bobble-head of the Statue of Liberty, of all things. I don't know if it was supposed to be a tie-in to the NY Mets parent organization or the Fourth of July.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
We drove up in the afternoon for the game (after watching the first part of the Doctor Who season finale), and stayed in a hotel near the stadium for the night. Because my friend had class the next day and I was moving on to DC, we took separate cars. We communicated with walkie talkies on the drive over, and using an MP3-to-FM receiver and keeping close formation, we were able to stream the Quintessential Phase of the Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy radio show to both cars. Geeks, ho!

We got back to the hotel after the game in time to watch the Venture Brothers ("I'm not your f*cking mommy!") and see the ugly, ugly Yankees-Mets game.

The Game:
Though there was the slop you'd expect from single A ball, it was a good game, with the Suns pasting the BlueClaws, 8-1. It gives me hope for the Mets pitching that the staff down here is so good.


2006 The East

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Pittsburgh

An Introduction:

It has always been an aspiration of mine to visit every ballpark in the country. While that is certainly still a goal in the hazy future at this point, I have made real a desire to take a vacation devoted entirely to going to a different baseball game in a different stadium every day. In the past, I had a rather ambitious two-week trip planned that involved some intricate travel arrangements, but that adventure was scheduled to start on September 13, 2001. For some reason, that trip never came to be.

Tempting fate last year, I took the long July 4th holiday as an opportunity to do a mini-trip of five days (starting on the Friday), visiting the NY Mets, the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Newark Bears, the New Jersey Jackals, and the NJ Cardinals (now defunct). These were all within an hour of my home, so each game was a day trip with me retiring back to my apartment in the evening. This year, I had some nebulous plans to visit a friend attending graduate school in West Virginia, so I used that as an arbitrary starting point for a week-long baseball excursion that was planned only in the slightest of ways, to avoid previous fates. It began with a drive down from New York to West Virginia on Friday the 30th, listening to the Mets-Yankees game on 660 AM all the way.

This is my story. 


GAME 1


PNC Park, Pittsburgh
PNC Park, 2006


Date: Saturday, July 1, 2006, 7:05 PM
Detroit Tigers vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
PNC Bank Park
Pittsburgh, PA
Major League Baseball, Inter-league
Promotion: Triple Bobble-head

The Stadium & Fans:
PNC Park is simply amazing. It is laid out perfectly, with some beautiful vantages. There isn't a bad seat in the place, and it is just an astoundingly good place to watch a game. Yankee Stadium still has it beat on history and presence, but this is easily one of the best baseball parks ever built, period. Watch the All-Star game this year, and you'll get an idea.

Even though it was a regional rivalry game with Detroit (who had quite a few fans in attendance), it is a tribute to the long-suffering Pirates fans that this game was a sell-out. It takes some kind of solid fan base to put up continuously with this hapless team, but in this park, I can see how coming out to see a game wouldn't be that much of a chore. In fact, the Pirates fans' management-opposition group, Irate Fans, has a slogan touting "the best park with the worst ownership." But Pirates fans are die-hards, and you can't help but have a great deal of respect for them.

Scorecard:
The stand-alone scorecard was $1.00. It was on good card stock with good box size, but all the fields they included made me feel like I was doing my taxes. Still, it was a good challenge to prove out for my first game.

Pirates Scorecard, 07-01-06
Tigers vs. Pirates, 07/01/06. Pirates win, 9-2.


Miscellanea:
The promotion for this game (set up months ago at the beginning of the season) was a triple bobble-head. Of the three featured bobble-head players, some Pirates fans dryly noted, one has been demoted to the minors, one is on the Disabled List, and one is having the worst season of his career. Go Bucks.

Travel & Other Non-Game Activities:
It took a while to get used to people in Western PA/West Virginia. They are sincerely helpful, which can be disconcerting to someone from the big city. In a restaurant, I was thinking about what to order, when a counterperson pointed out some menu options. I immediately thought she was being sarcastic at my inability to decide on anything, but then realized she was actually just trying to help. It took a bit of grinding to mentally switch gears and say, "Oh, thanks," instead of, "F*ck you. Yes, I can read."

It was a quick drive up to Pittsburgh for the game. There's also plenty of cheap parking near the stadium, and a full house impressively emptied out with very little traffic or problems. I stayed at my friend's apartment that night on a pull-out couch.

The Game:
If I was sitting any closer to the players, there is a good chance I would have been arrested for trying to kill Kenny Rogers, now with Detroit. It is thus probably for the best that I was in the upper tier. Needless to say, I was with the bottom-dwelling Pirates all the way against the league-leading Tigers, and, I think to everyone's surprise, they gave the Tigers a 9-2 beatdown.

When you go to a lot of games in a row, you tend to run into a lot of baseballs "firsts." For example, in my mini-tour last year, I saw my first four strikeout inning. (The put-out on a strikeout is not recorded if the catcher does not cleanly catch the third strike. If the ball hits the ground, the catcher must tag out the batter or throw to first base for the put-out before the runner reaches the bag. This happens rarely in at the major league level because the catchers are usually good enough to keep the ball in front of them for an easy tag, but it does happen occasionally, and it is much more common [though still extremely rare] in the minors and independent leagues where the catchers aren't as experienced or talented. So, the pitcher can strike out the side, but the runner can reach base on a passed ball, allowing the opportunity for a four [or more] strikeout inning.) My "first" at this game was a pinch hitter for the pitcher getting two at-bats. In the National League where the pitcher has to bat for himself, the manager will send a pinch hitter in for a pitcher when he is going to put in a new pitcher the next inning. These pinch hitters tend to only have one at-bat, because they are replaced by the pitcher in the next half-inning. However, in this game, the Pirates batted around the order in the inning when the pinch hitter was put in for the pitcher, giving that pinch hitter two at-bats.