Saturday, September 20, 2008

Toronto

On Traveling

Friday, September 19, 2008

Outside the Game:
After work on Friday, I was going to fly up to Toronto out of LaGuardia. Apparently not learning my lesson from last trip, I booked on American Airlines regional service, American Eagle.

After arriving at the airport with no problems, and having a plane at the gate, I wondered what would inevitably go wrong. The answer would be no crew. We were delayed nearly two hours waiting for our crew to arrive from a connecting flight that had been delayed. Presumably to keep us occupied, they made us switch to another gate and then back again. The majority of people on the flight looked to be commuters who were going home to Toronto for the weekend, and it was a full flight. They were taking the news even worse than myself, and their overreactions helped me to keep the situation mildly in perspective.

We were going up on one of those flying buses, but I tend to prefer them for short trips. There is no First Class bullshit or pre-boarding. Everyone just gets on the plane and sits down, so there isn't the inevitable problems that happen on larger planes, like one entitled person blocking the rest of the plane until they stow their three illegal carry-ons.

Once we got a crew, boarded, and then had our requisite wait for a runway slot, the flight itself was quick and uneventful. Upon landing, I was confused by patient and helpful airport staff helping me to get a cab. Just for fun, there was construction going on the highway to delay me some more getting to the hotel.

The Accommodations:
I booked a nice room in a nice hotel as part of my package deal, but my delayed arrival was disorienting.

I stepped out of my cab, and was greeted by the disappointed stares of a throng of 30-something women dressed like retired hookers. Upon checking in, I was told that there was an event happening in the hotel restaurant for an American band. As I was finishing my check-in, the women started going crazy as a strangely familiar-looking, lumbering, lurch-looking individual got out of a limo. Then someone walked by with a stage pass for New Kids on the Block. Yes, the New Kids on the Block were not only doing their reunion tour in Toronto that night, but they were having an event at my hotel. To my eternal shame, I did not blow up the hotel to ensure their demise. History will judge me poorly.

Metropolitan Hotel Toronto
Metropolitan Hotel Toronto

By the time I got to my room, it was past the time for room service, and the restaurant itself was closed due to the NKotB event. I was in the Financial District, so there weren't any nearby restaurants still open. There weren't even any vending machines. I was left to go through the complex machinations to open my minibar and spend $10 on a small Sprite and some pretzels to tide me over until the morning.


On Canada


Rogers Centre
Rogers Centre, 2008

Saturday, September 20, 2008
Boston Red Sox vs. Toronto Blue Jays
Rogers Centre
Major League Baseball, American League
Toronto, Ontario Canada
1:10 PM

Outside the Game:
As it was an early afternoon game, there wasn't much to do before the game besides getting breakfast, meeting up the local with whom I was seeing the game, and walking down to the stadium.

Afterwards, I got the tour of Toronto, starting down on the waterfront. On the way, we passed lamps with nipples on their tops and what can only be described as the palatial Hockey Hall of Fame building. (Though, disappointingly, it turns out that it had just moved to the current stately old building after running out of space at its last facility.)

On getting to the waterfront, it turned out that the Canadian armed forces were holding a free recruitment drive on one of their ships, a patrol frigate of which they were very proud. That we were in Canada was evidenced by a number of things. The gangway to get onto the ship was the most rickety, take-your-life-into-your-own-hands affair to which I have ever been party. Once on the ship, there was what could only be called minimal security. There were a couple of boxes and doors locked and some rudimentary guide ropes, but on the bridge, for example, everything was not only operational, but turned on. Sitting down at one of the active weapons stations, I felt I was in possession of enough knowledge to activate, arm, and fire one of the weapons if I was feeling particularly brave. Alas, my constitution was not up to the attempt.

We wandered about the waterfront for a while longer before resting on a "wave" bench right on the water. This is another thing that would not pass muster in America as 1) It was artistic, and 2) It was incredibly unsafe. The undulating bench had under a foot clearance in front of the water. Considering that I nearly fell in twice, I can only imagine how many people they fish out of there in a given week. It was, however, a nice place to watch ducks eat moss.

We eventually walked up the Toronto version of Chinatown and had a nice meal at a Chinese noodle house, followed by some desert courtesy of Tim Horton’s.

After dinner, it was more wandering around town, visiting their version of Times Square (a mall with a ton of new digital billboards -- perfect, really), an old Church the city has surrounded (complete with its own maze), and the new City Hall.

The last was of some notice to me, because it struck me how completely wrong some architecture can be. City Hall was arranged so that it was a divided shell of a circle. There are no windows on the outside, only facing inward towards the other side of the circle. Unless you come right up to it, you can't see in. Is that really what you want your city government to project? A building that turns its back to the public and seems only accountable to itself, and takes a good bit of effort to even seen inside at all? It strikes me as the wrong (or, perhaps at least the most truthful) message to convey.

At the Game with Oogie:
I met a local Blue Jays fan for the game proper. We sat in the middle tier of seats, not in the largely abandoned upper decks, but not at field level, either. We were right by the first base bag, and they had a great view.

The Stadium & Fans:
The Rogers Centre (nee SkyDome) was an interesting place. The Rogers family seems to own most of Toronto. They own the stadium, the cable company, some TV stations... it is like Rupert Murdock's wacky Canadian cousin.

The stadium itself is a little odd. It is a dome with artificial turf, and the dimensions of the stadium were certainly on the small side (400 to the center field wall), and the field itself appeared the smallest of all the domed parks I saw so far. With the dome open, as it was for my game, the CN tower looms quasi-majestically overhead.

In the center field wall, the adjoining hotel juts into the complex, with a wall of suites that looks down onto the field. They had to stop taking TV shots of that area during games because the suites became exhibitionist central, which I suppose could have been predicted with a tiny amount of forethought. Underneath the hotel area is a restaurant that apparently went out of business. And so it goes.

The Centre was clearly one of the late 80s domed stadiums that they tried to spruce up however they could. It was a weird combination of luxury bars and suites combined with exposed cement support groins jutting out at random intervals.

The jumbotron had some amusing animations before the game, both playing on the titular bird. One had a Yankee fan getting crapped on by a blue jay to promote an upcoming series. The more amusing was a completely over-dramatic flight of a blue jay whipping up a whirlwind with its wings and then flying through the opposing team's logo, exploding it. And the only thing I could think was, "You know that is a blue jay, right?"

Because this was one of the last series against the Red Sox and significant to their playoff hopes, easily half of the fans in the stadium were Red Sox fans. A group in front of us had t-shirts made up for their trip (as they apparently were in Toronto for all three games). While they made a lot of noise, the locals were surprisingly able to drown them out most of the time, especially when they had something to cheer about. With the exception of one bean-eater who did the "stand up and turn around" agitation, the Americans were well-behaved.

The Hot Dog:
In keeping with the unassuming nature of Canadians, the park dog did not have a special name, but it was a larger and better than average dog.

The Game:
I can never seem to see a proper "pitcher's duel" on these trips. They usually end as a blowout or a slugfest. Again, I was faced with two "aces" squaring off (Halladay vs. Lester), and by the end of the second inning, it looked like I was in for more of the same, as the runs kept adding up. But it was a strange game in that the after the third inning, both pitchers calmed down to some quick innings in the middle of the game.

The Blue Jays stuck it out, however, winning 6-3 and sending half a stadium of Red Sox fans home unhappy.

The Scorecard:
The scorecard was part of the $5 program. It was not outstanding, but certainly solid, with enough space for the tasks at hand.

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays, 09-20-08
Red Sox vs. Blue Jays, 09/20/08. Blue Jays win, 6-3.

The Accommodations:
I was at the Metropolitan again, sadly NKotB-less, however.

As part of my hotel package, I got a discount on their fancy-pants buffet at the restaurant where the NKotB had their event the night before. Not having had a proper meal in about 16 hours, I absolutely destroyed the buffet, but not without incident. The beverages of your choice came with the breakfast buffet, and I ordered some decaffeinated tea. I noticed that there was a lipstick stain on my cup, which I pointed out to the waiter, who reacted as though I had just told him his father had murdered my father. There were apologies both numerous and extravagant. He pulled a cup from a nearby table, for my tea.

The statement that this cup had an even larger lipstick stain had scarcely passed my lips before absolute anarchy exploded onto the scene. The waiter began simultaneously apologizing and damning the overnight washing crew. Within moments, a new cup was at my table that was polished so brightly that I could see my soul in it. While the staff did what could only be called a Level 1 Diagnostic on all the tableware, the Manager came out and apologized to me personally. I think someone may have been fired over it.


On Timeliness


Toronto International Airport
Toronto International Airport

Date: Sunday, September 21st, 2008
Hoboken, NJ

Outside the Game:
I had the foresight to book my flight in the early afternoon, giving me the opportunity to sleep in a little and still get breakfast.

I used my second voucher for breakfast downstairs and once again absolutely destroyed their buffet, and then strolled out to get my cab to the airport. In calling the concierge’s desk the night before to book my ride, I found out that the construction on Friday was a mere appetizer to today, where they shut down the entire highway to do construction. I had to go back streets all the way, so I allotted some extra safety time just in case. My driver had particularly strong feelings on the subject of the construction, but thankfully I napped through most of them.

As was the case with most of my travels home, there were no delays. Avoiding the traffic for the afternoon ballgame, my trip to the airport only took about ten minutes more than via the highway. This gave me ample opportunity to wander around the airport and spend every last cent of my Canadian money before coming home.

In one of these transactions, I found I was three cents short, and asked if I could use three American pennies instead, to which they readily agreed. Now, they were getting screwed about 10% on the deal at the time, and although it was only three cents, I just can't imagine that American airports would be as accommodating, especially when the exchange rate was in our favor. There's probably some larger point to be made, but here we are.

The airbus home left on time and flew without incident.


2008 Stand-Alone Trip

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Seattle

On Codas

SAFECO Field
SAFECO Field, 2008

Saturday, July 5, 2008
Detroit Tigers vs. Seattle Mariners
SAFECO Field
Major League Baseball, American League
Seattle, WA
7:10 PM

Outside the Game:
Another day, another flight. Several weeks before I left for the trip, I got a lovely little notice from Orbitz that the flight I was taking to Seattle had been moved several hours later by the airline, which would have me landing just about at the scheduled first pitch. This, of course, was a problem for me, unreasonable as I am. I eventually called and got a free transfer to an earlier flight, but something felt... incomplete about the transaction.

I was to find out what that was on this morning, when I was unable to get my boarding pass at a packed LAX because my "travel itinerary" or some such was not changed correctly. To their credit, someone on the courtesy phone from United was able to move the necessary bits, but not before visions of being stuck in LA danced through my head.

As our plane was a little late getting into the terminal, we got to play a little game. Upon boarding, our flight crew told us that we had about ten minutes to finish boarding, or we would lose our departure slot on the runway. I don't know if it was true or not, but it did ensure a quick and orderly boarding process, and, perhaps to make up for the situation on the way out, I got an exit row seat with extra legroom.

On landing, I was able to get a quick shuttle ride to the hotel, where I quickly made friends with the counter woman, who apparently had never been introduced to the concept of sarcasm (which seems odd for someone working in the service industry in a major metropolitan area of the country).

I actually had a very nice corner room for my last hotel stay on the trip. After calling all the requisite parties with whom I would be meeting up, I took a very vigorous nap before getting a cab ride down to the stadium.

After the game, our group all met up, and we were treated to an interactive exhibition on the impossibilities of parking in Seattle on a Saturday night before giving into sleepiness and retreating to our respective places of slumber.

At the Game with Oogie: 
As mentioned previously, on this last stop on the trip, I was actually meeting with two groups of friends. Two of them were late additions to the festivities, and were sitting separately from us, in box seats behind home plate. The other two of us were sitting in the exclusive "Club Level" area by third base, with access to waitress service for food and beer selections not available elsewhere in the stadium. We were worried about getting together at the game because of the usual security blocking that prevents walking to the seating area behind home plate, but we found the ushers pleasantly uninterested in our comings and goings.

The Stadium & Fans: 
The stadium is a very nice new generation park. Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that the Jumbotron is black and white (or tan and white, whatever the correct designation for that display color is), and may perhaps be the only one left in the majors, certainly in the new parks. The other object of immediate note is the large retractable roof that is no doubt a necessity in the Pacific Northwest. As eager as I was to see rain again after wandering SoCal for a week, the roof was opened for the game, and the mechanism that opens it is gloriously Victorian. The entire stadium reminds one of some steampunk puzzlebox for some long-forgotten giant race.

The stadium itself is nicely done, with a central promenade and accents that include an insane bat chandelier and a bullpen area separated from fans by just a chain-link fence. There was one element that immediately became a parody of itself: Mariner's customer service representatives puttering around on Segway scooters. Really.


The Hot Dog: 
The "Major League" dog was an impressively massive sausage in a bun.

The Game: 
All the scoring this game was done with home runs. The Tigers jumped out to an early two-run lead with solo shots in the first and fourth, but the Marines came back with a solo homer in the 6th and a two-run shot in the 8th to put them up for good. Both Seattle home runs were by the rookie catcher Clement, who doubled his hit total for the year with the blasts.

Also of note was the man with the largest strike zone on the Mariners, 6'8" Richie Sexton, managed three walks.

The Scorecard: 
The scorecard was a $1 pullout, separate from $4 program. For a stand-alone card, it seemed unnecessarily cramped, even for an American league scorecard. Someone clearly decided to make the actual area for the scorecard as small as possible.

Tigers vs. Mariners, 07-05-08
Tigers vs. Mariners, 07/05/08. Mariners win, 3-2.

Oogie's East Coast Connection of the Day: 

See "At The Stadium With Oogie."

The Accommodations: 
The Holiday Inn at the airport was very nice, with free wireless and other niceties, but it was primarily chosen for its close proximity to the airport. The bed did have a pleasant surfeit of pillows, as I once again got a corner king suite because I had booked so far in advance.

Holiday Inn Seattle Airport, Seattle, WA
Holiday Inn Seattle Airport, Seattle, WA

On Endings

Newark Airport
Newark Liberty Bald Eagle God-Bless-America Airport, 07/06/08

Sunday, July 6th, 2008
Hoboken, NJ

Outside the Game: 
Having had a mildly decent night's sleep, I was only partially staggering to the airport yet again the next morning. I gained an extra half hour of sleep by printing out my boarding pass the night before, so I was relatively together, although apparently very hungry, as I had at least three breakfasts by my best count.

My flight delay out was a relatively minor half hour. The Continental flight home was the good twin of my flight out. The seat was about as comfortable and spacious as could be expected, I was kept constantly fed and beveraged, and I even could see the entertainment screen (though the movie was, inexplicably, also Penelope).

The large group that was sitting around me was apparently a choir group going to Wells, which is right next to Bath, where I spent a year in college. I gave them some tips on the area and tried to do some trigonometric geography in my head for them during the approach to Newark so they could get a view of New York. Sadly, they mostly saw the majestic swamps of the Meadowlands and the scenic scrap yards right outside the airport.

The Accommodations: 
Perhaps moreso than any of the other trips, I found myself very disoriented at home, and not just because I couldn't get to sleep before 2 AM. I woke up in the night wondering where I was and desperately searching for a travel alarm that wasn't there.


Postscript:
All that remains is random teams scattered around the country: Oakland, Texas, Houston, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Miami, Atlanta, Baltimore, Toronto, and Boston. Picking up the spares is going to be challenging, and I may have to take some weekend trips to grab some of them before July 4th next year. But I do know which will be last: the oldest stadium left on my list, Boston.


2008 The West Coast

Friday, July 4, 2008

Anaheim

On Questionable Patriotism

Angel Stadium of Anaheim
Angel Stadium of Anaheim, 2008
Friday, July 4, 2008
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Angel Stadium of Anaheim
Major League Baseball, American League
Anaheim, CA
6:05 PM

Outside the Game:
I was able to get up the next morning and run down to get (as the sign at the hotel advertised) a "nice breakfast" before leisurely packing up to get on the road. I was about forty-five theoretical minutes from my hotel at LAX, but all I had in front of me was LA, a holiday, and wildfires. To my utter shock, I rolled into my hotel forty five minutes after starting.

After a nap, I was a theoretical half hour from the stadium, with just LA, a holiday, and Disney Land between myself and my destination. To my incredulous disbelief, I drove into the parking lot at Angel Stadium a half hour later.

After the game, the fireworks kept most the people in their seats, and again, I found myself driving blissfully uninterrupted back to the hotel. Due to the early hour, I dropped off my rental car that night and took the shuttle back to my hotel.

At the Game with Oogie:
For one more go around, I found myself in what would have been called the "upper deck" in olden days, right behind home plate. Except that this time, I was as far as humanly possible behind home plate while remaining in the stadium. I was also in the seat right at the terminus of the stairs, which at least provided some extra leg room. Being in the last row also afforded a welcome breeze, as there was a slight gap between the back stadium wall and the seating floor that let in a gorgeous draft right up the back of your neck if one were to lean back.

Next to me was a family clearly out to have a good time. They cheered when they were supposed to cheer and sang when they were supposed to sing, and seemed to be having a hell of a time. I could only wonder deep in my soul that if I just surrendered myself to such organized fun, could I be as blissfully content as those folks?

The Stadium & Fans:
Angels Stadium was a perfectly middle-of-the-road affair, with a standard promenade level around the place, plenty of food choices, the local team Hall of Fame, and the standard kid-friendly amenities in the outfield area. There wasn't anything particularly outstanding about it (beside the giant caps and letter "A" outside), and there wasn't anything particularly bad about it. It was just a good park to watch a game.

Where the Angels really seemed to shine was getting the fans into the game. Every program came with a pro-Angels placard that could be held up, and nearly everyone in the park had some manner of promotional noise maker or accessory, from thunder sticks, to drum paddles, to an infinite myriad of rally monkeys.

It being July 4th, the give away was an American flag, which I'm sure seemed like a good idea at the time. But with a little bit of thought, I'm sure the actual outcome of this promotion could have been ascertained -- Mass Flag Desecration Day, as the give-away flags were chucked under seats or simply thrown away. There was a flag unfurling during the national anthem and a flyover by some manner of military transport.

Trashed flags
Mass Flag Desecration Day
The Hot Dog:
Another generic "Super Dog."

The Game:
The Angels played the perpetually-on-the-road-on-July-4th Blue Jays. Although the Blue Jays hung in it and mustered a late-inning rally, they were clearly overmatched by the first-place Angels, losing 8-2. Of particular interest in this game was that until the 5th inning, every at bat was official, i.e. no sacrifices, walks, hit batsmen, or the like. At the end of the game, there were only three: a sac fly and two walks.

The Scorecard:
The roomy scorecard was part of the $3 program. Although on glossy paper, it was easy to write on and correct, and provided adequate space.

Blue Jays vs. Angels, 07-04-08
Blue Jays vs. Angels, 07/04/08. Angels win, 8-2.

Oogie's East Coast Connection of the Day:

There are several giant Angels hats that people cower under to avoid the sun before the gates open at the game. Under one, my Brooklyn Cyclones hat was again identified by another patron. Dressed head to toe in Angels gear, the gentleman (with family in tow) was yet another displaced Mets fan who had gone native. We had a nice chat about things as we hid from the burning yellow eye until the gates were opening and his kids dragged him off to the stadium.

The Accommodations: 
I decided to splurge at this late stage in the trip and stayed at the quite frou-frou Sheraton Gateway at LAX. Upon checking in that afternoon in my disheveled t-shirt and shorts, it was quite clear that I was not their regular patron, although none of the staff would be caught dead even hinting at such a thing.

Due to booking several months in advance, I managed to get a corner king suite for relatively cheap. The bed was the size of my bedroom back home, and I had a separate desk area for "business" and a whole other bathroom with a walk-in closet. Complimentary waters were available for just $6 each.

Sheraton Gateway at LAX
Sheraton Gateway at LAX

On getting back from the game, I wanted to ask the consignor about the shuttle service in the morning. But at the restaurant by the pool, there was some manner of hip-hop party going on, and the lobby was filled with thumping base. After trying to communicate with the elderly Asian man, I expressed my admiration of him standing stoically at his post in the face of all this uncommon phatness, to which he smiled wanly and nodded.

I then did what I always do in posh hotels: I ordered room service. I ordered a grilled cheese and soup ("three cheese grilled panini and French onion soup"), which was transported to my room by an officious man in a tuxedo, who utterly ignored the exploded suitcase on my bed, cleared off the secondary desk with one hand, put down and opened my tray, and then sat me in the chair and tucked in my napkin before presenting me with the bill and letting himself out. How do you not give 20% to someone like that? The soup and sandwich were, of course, exquisite -- which they had better be for $25.

Room service
Room service

2008 The West Coast

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Rancho Cucamonga

On Rest

The Epicenter
The Epicenter, 2008
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Inland Empire 66ers (Los Angeles Dodgers) vs. Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim)
Epicenter
California League (A)
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
7:05 PM

Outside the Game:
Sleeping in as late as possible after the night of cricket horror, I finished the drive in to Rancho Cucamonga. In addition to the expected traffic through LA, I was treated to several roadside brush fires that were actively being fought by local firefighters. These made me question if I was traveling in the correct direction to ensure my overall well-being.

After completing the drive to my hotel and taking a nap, I drove out to the stadium for the game, eventually bailing to a local Chinese take-out place when I discovered that Google Maps had failed to disclose the actual location of the stadium, but rather its general whereabouts.

I eventually found the stadium and parked with no further incident. Under cover of another fireworks display, I was able to get out and back on the road to the hotel quickly, stopping off for some late night take-out.

At the Game with Oogie:
I got a seat right behind the plate for the minor league game. The attendees of such low minor league games tend to be families, scouts, and baseball fanatics. There are also many local businessmen who schmooze their clients at such events, and one such man was doing so for a group of clients that was surrounding me. He clearly resented my presence as he had to go around to his other clients through the aisle, but he assiduously avoiding acknowledging my presence for the entire game.

The Stadium & Fans:
The Epicenter (get it-- epicenter, quakes: earthquakes!) was a nice minor league park that was part of what seemed to be a community complex of Little League ballparks. It had the standard bandstand ring of seating, with open picnic seating in the outfield. Slightly disappointing was the fact that the concessions stands were all on the other side of the seats, preventing you from getting concessions while still being able to watch the game.

The Epicenter was packed for this penultimate July 4th day, and the fans were involved and interested. As to be expected, there was a heavy military theme, with the mascot coming in on a humvee and a flyover of WWII planes after the national anthem. A young teenage girl gave a virtuoso performance of the national anthem.

The Hot Dog:
It was a generic, unbranded hot dog.

The Game:
As with most single-A games, the contest was marked by numerous errors in the field and pitching that ranged from easy to unstoppable. The 66ers jumped out with 3 in the top of the first, but the Quakes pitchers held ground after that, shutting the 66ers out despite some threats. The Quakes answered with three in the fourth and one in the fifth and sixth to eek out a 5-3 victory.

The Scorecard:
As with most minor league stadiums, the scorecard was part of the free program given out at the gate. It was a little cramped, but otherwise fine for a free card. As seems to be standard for minor league parks, it included the catcher stats with the pitcher stats, perhaps to differentiate between all the frequent passed balls, hit batsmen, and wild pitches.

66ers vs. Quakes, 07-03-08
66ers vs. Quakes, 07/03/08. Quakes win, 5-3.

Oogie's East Coast Connection of the Day:
My Cyclones hat was recognized by another guest at my hotel, who had just come back from a trip to the New York area.

The Accommodations:
Knowing that one way or another my previous night's travels would probably not go smoothly, I picked a nice Guest House in Upland for this night's stay. The room is apparently quite pricey in season, and I had my own dining room and couch in my room, which was one of the reasons I grabbed some take-out on the way back from the park. If you have a dinning table, you may as well use it.

As I got out relatively early from the game and without traffic (thanks to the fireworks), I even got an excellent night's sleep to make up for the night before.

Guest House in Upland, Upland, CA
Guest House in Upland, Upland. CA


2008 The West Coast

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

San Francisco

On Travel

AT&T Park
AT&T Park, 2008

Wednesday, July 2, 2008
Chicago Cubs vs. San Francisco Giants
AT&T Park
Major League Baseball, National League
San Francisco, CA
7:15 PM

Outside the Game:
I knew this day would be the riskiest travel day of my trip, as I not only had to fly in from Denver, but also pick up a rental car and drive halfway to the LA area after the game.

The first part of the process started deceptively well. My flight in from Denver was uneventful (if early in the morning), and outside of seeing the smoke from the California wildfires menacing in the distance, I picked up my new rental car (a white Kia) and drove to downtown San Francisco with no problems with which to speak.

Knowing I had to take the Bay Bridge out of town after the game and following the very good advice of a former local, I found a parking lot right next to the on-ramp for the bridge and parked up for the day.

I had a couple of hours to kill before the stadium opened up, so I took a walk north to Market Street and its environs. As the last time I was in San Francisco Union Square was undergoing renovations, I spent most of my time walking around in that area to see what I had missed before heading back down for the game.

In George Romero's movie, Land of the Dead, the scavenger/soldiers of the last remaining human settlement regularly use fireworks to distract the zombie hoards that populate the wilderness, allowing the humans go about their business uneaten, as the unthinking animated corpses stare raptly at the bright display.

During the July 4th week, there are almost always fireworks displays after the games, and for those of us who don't care, it is a great way to get a jump on traveling out of Dodge before the majority of the crowd leaves the stadium. This was the case that night in SF, and despite my misgivings, I was out of the park and on the bridge out of town in record time.

And then I immediately got stuck in traffic due to construction lane closures that added at least an hour to my trip. It eventually cleared up, but I didn't reach the turnoff for my route south until 1 AM, ensuring I wouldn't arrive at my hotel any time before 3 AM.

At the Game with Oogie:
I was again sitting in the "View" level behind home plate. I was sitting next a soccer mom with her kid, but a definitively San Franciscan soccer mom, to be sure. (During the numerous patriotic displays at the game, she told her son that it was important to respect the soldiers, but that mindless and emotionally-charged patriotism was not to be appreciated.)

We initially started talking because while she and everyone else in the upper deck were bundled up in jackets and blankets, I was sitting there in shorts and T-shirt, considering the irony of freezing to death in San Francisco just days after nearly dying of heat stroke in Phoenix. Although the dew point was reached, I held out fairly well, all things considered, though the purchase of a shiny new Giants blanket was very much on the table for a while.

The mom's father had been a huge baseball fan, and her son was also being brought up in the faith, so they were an enjoyable company with whom to watch the game.

The Stadium & Fans:
AT&T Park was the second of the new-old-style parks built, after Baltimore's Oriole Park started the revolution. And it uses its location on the Bay to its great advantage, with the short right field wall leading right into McCovy Cove. (And we did get to see a home splashdown into the cove, and its requisite fireworks and camera shot of kayakers retrieving the shot.)

Although for the last two years the first stadium on my trip was always my favorite, I think perhaps that it is a close race between PETCO and AT&T for my favorite this year, with AT&T getting a slight nod (in spite of their inexplicable "Express Bathroom," which was never explained to my complete satisfaction).

In addition to the fireworks, there was a give-away of a team baseball card set. Besides fireworks displays, there were very few giveaways on this trip, which was odd for July 4th week. (The Padres did have a bobble-head giveaway, but it was only for kids 12 and under. Stupid kids.)

The fans were energetic, if bundled up, and were able to shout down the sizable Cubs contingent that had come out for the game.

ESPN was filming a segment in their "Titletown" series the day I was there. They are apparently doing an oh-so-scientific competition to see which city in the country should be named "Titletown." There was some manner of online vote, and they were filming segments in each of the eight finalist cities. This begs the question of how San Francisco managed to crack the top eight, considering the last title they won was the 49ers so many years ago, but I suppose that was beside the point.

As with the Dodgers, the Giants were celebrating 50 years of fleeing their home like a thief in the night. One need to only smugly look at their lack of titles since their cowardly retreat west to silence those festivities. (A certain former Giants player was also curiously absent from many mentions, though the politburo didn’t quite erase all mentions.)

The Hot Dog:
Another generic "Super Dog."

The Game:
The Cubs scratched out an early lead, and while they added on, the Giants came back to tie it in the seventh, only to give the lead right back for good in the top of the eighth, losing 6-5. One player on each team got the dreaded Golden Sombrero (for striking out three times in the game).

The Scorecard:
The scorecard was a $1 folded cardstock, separate from the $5 program/magazine. It was a little crowded by ads, but of sufficient size for its purpose.

Cubs vs. Giants, 07-02-08
Cubs vs. Giants, 07/02/08. Cubs win, 6-5.

Oogie's East Coast Connection of the Day:
I ended up sitting right behind a family visiting from New Jersey. One of them was wearing a (NY Football) Giants jacket, which was both appropriate and inappropriate in a pleasingly Heisenbergian way.

The Accommodations:
After the extended delays on the drive to the Best Western in Kettleman City, I was not in good shape. I was therefore immediately interested in the cheery handwritten note that greeted me at the hotel check-in desk that brightly described how there was a cricket problem this time of year, modestly stated there was nothing they could do about it, and helpfully suggested that stuffing a towel under the door would assist in mitigating the problem.

Best Western, Kettleman City, CA
Best Western, Kettleman City, CA

Upon getting to my room, I was greeted by a welcoming committee of several crickets. Too tired to drive on, I commenced in a half hour search-and-destroy mission that no doubt went down in cricket lore as "The Murderening," wherein I moved every piece of furniture and scoured every surface to flush out and kill the dozen or so crickets currently occupying my room. This was then followed by stuffing every towel I had into every crevice in my door until I felt secure not only against cricket infestation but also chemical attack.

Cricket massacre
Post "The Murderening"

It was after this effort that I finally climbed into bed and turned out the light. Almost immediately thereafter, I leapt out of bed and atomized the last remaining cricket in my room, who had insinuated itself into the sheets of the bed. Needless to say, it took a while to amp down from the experience, and the remaining night's sleep was not peaceful, nor filled with any manner of sugarplum visions.

For those still unclear: do not go to Kettleman City in the summer under any circumstances.


2008 The West Coast

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Denver

On Being a Mile High

Coors Field
Coors Field, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008
San Diego Padres vs. Colorado Rockies
Coors Field
Major League Baseball, National League
Denver, CO
7:05 PM

Outside the Game:
I woke up earlyish this morning to turn in my rental car before my flight out to Denver. The car return was pleasantly painless, and getting my boarding pass and clearing security were welcomely similar. I was on a short puddle-jump flight, and although the plane was a little late getting into the terminal, the flight was on-time and without incident. We even got a snack and a drink, which is more than my coast-to-coast flight could boast. I was also seated next to sprightly old lady, who talked a good deal without talking a lot.

As I was only staying one night in Denver and flying out to San Francisco the next day, I stayed at a Sleep Inn by the airport. Carless for the first time on my trip and unable to put the effort into translating the byzantine local public transportation maps, I took a cab to the game. Realizing he had a money run with an out-of-towner, Rasta-man gave me his cell number to get a ride back after the game. He was quite personable company, so I took him up on his offer. It is funny how you can have some of your best conversations with cabbies.

I had planned to spend some time after the game wandering around Denver, but the flight had taken a lot out of me, and I had to get up early for my flight the next day. So I gave my friend a call pretty soon after the end of the game.

At the Game with Oogie:
Once again, I found myself in the "View" level behind home plate, and once again, it was a good seat.

I was sitting next to a hermitic baseball fan who wanted nothing to do with anything not the game. Head to toe in Rockies gear, he got to his seat, put on his radio earplugs (to no doubt listen to the game), and then didn't move or speak a word until the end of the game.

The Stadium & Fans:
Coors Field was not outstanding in any particular way, but it was a nice enough stadium. It had its promenade, it had its kids area, it had its batting-practice friendly outfield seating, it has its mind-boggling Jumbotron, and it has all the other touches you'd expect out of a new park. Its only standout features were the view of namesake Rockies out past Center Field and the row of purple seats that marked the exact elevation of one mile above sea level.

The Hot Dog:
The generic "Super Dog" was a slightly oversize hotdog.

The Game:
Although they were struggling up to this point in the season, the defending NL champ Rockies were facing the pitiable Padres, who only managed four base runners all night. The Rockies broke through with four runs in the fifth, and despite the reputation of the park, none of them were on home runs.

The Scorecard:
The scorecard was a $1.50 cardstock fold-out separate from the main $5 program. My rule for these trips has become to score the game as the local scorecards dictate. This was an interesting exercise here, as the Rockies have a distinctly non-standard scorecard that marks off balls and strikes, the batter's outcome or path to first base, and the order of outs in their own separate areas. While I don't think I'll incorporate any of their idioms into my standard scorekeeping, it was an intellectual curiosity.

Padres vs. Rockies, 07-01-08
Padres vs. Rockies, 07/01/08. Rockies win, 4-0.

Oogie's East Coast Connection of the Day: One of the vendors at Coors Field immediately recognized my Brooklyn Cyclone hat. He turned out to be a Mets fan in exile, going to school in Denver, and he was very excited to see another Mets fan in his unfriendly confines, where he is apparently given a constant hard time about his allegiances.

The Accommodations: I stayed at a very nice Sleep Inn near the airport. My willingness to pay for a cab to and from the game was profoundly confusing to the hotel staff for some reason, and it didn't seem like a worthwhile endeavor to explain to them.

Sleep Inn, Denver Airport
Sleep Inn, Denver Airport


2008 West Coast

Monday, June 30, 2008

Phoenix

On Nearly Melting

Chase Field
Chase Field, 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
Chase Field
Major League Baseball, National League
Phoenix, AZ
6:40 PM

Outside the Game:
I left El Centro in the early afternoon to finish the drive out to Phoenix. Upon arriving at my hotel, I got out of my car, and my brain nearly broke trying to process the information that it was actually hotter here than in El Centro. This was confirmed by the hotel manager, who said that it was, in fact, 115 degrees that day. He did give me an analogy that helped me process the situation more readily. He said that in the Northeast, there are several months out of the year where people don't go outside unless they have to because of the cold. In Phoenix, it is the same situation, but only switch cold and heat.

After a nap in a thankfully already-cold room, I drove out to Chase Field. This was a little of an adventure, as there are two one-way main streets through Phoenix, and one of them was under heavy construction to install a street car or some such.

At the Game with Oogie:
I was able to get seats right behind home plate, but only in one of the first rows of the "View" level, which was still a great seat, given the bargain price.

Sitting next to me was a gentleman in full Mets attire. It turns out that he and his fiance were visiting her family in California (where he caught some Mets-Angels games), and they were taking in a game in Phoenix on their way back East.

The Stadium & Fans:
Chase Field was the first of the retractable dome parks that I would see this trip, and the dome for that night's game was thankfully closed, the air conditioning system keeping the seats about 30 degrees cooler than if we had been exposed directly to the merciless, merciless sun.

The stadium itself was nicely appointed, with the de rigor promenade level going around the playing field, various food choices and the play area for the kids. The dome design was well done, so it didn't seem as claustrophobic or convention-centery as, say, Tropicana Field.

Outside of the dome, the major unique points in the stadium are the Jumbotron that was clearly built on a bet on how big one could build a Jumbotron, and the hot tub area out in left field.

For a mid-week game, it was well-attended, and the fans were enthusiastic. There were a lot of bailers who left as soon as the game looked to be decided, but I can hardly blame them, as they were probably ecstatic to be able to walk around outside without bursting into flames, as the night temperature dipped to a frigid 85 degrees.

One puzzling item was the number of Brewers fan in attendance. You can explain a large showing of away fans for the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, or Cubs, as they seem to have fans everywhere, but the stadium may have been up to half Brewers fans. I was able to talk with a group of said fans after the game, but they were drunk and originally from Boston, and apparently didn't like black basketball players. Needless to say, I didn't get the most insightful information from them on the mysterious Milwaukee-Phoenix juncture.

The Hot Dog:
The "Diamond Dog" was another brat-sized hot dog, this time in a toasted bun.

The Game:
Both teams put up two runs in the first, but the D-Backs pitching settled down after that, while their offense broke out in the fifth on their way to a 6-3 win.

The Scorecard:
The scorecard was part of the $3 program. It was spacious with large boxes, and although it was on shiny paper, it was possible to erase and re-write without difficulties.

Brewers vs. Diamondbacks, 06/30/08
Brewers vs. Diamondbacks, 06/30/08. Diamondbacks win, 6-3.

Oogie's East Coast Connection of the Day:
See "At the Game with Oogie."

The Accommodations:
As I had to fly out to Denver the next day, I stayed at the EconoLodge by the airport, which was exactly what I needed it to be: cheap, quiet, cool, and literally right next to the airport. As the game was an early start, I was able to get back to the hotel at a reasonable hour and get a full night's sleep while still rising early to get my flight.

Phoenix Airport EconoLodge, Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix Airport EconoLodge, Phoenix, AZ


2008 West Coast

Sunday, June 29, 2008

San Diego

On Pleasantries

Petco Park
PETCO Park, 2008

Sunday, June 29th, 2008
Seattle Mariners vs. San Diego Padres
PETCO Park
Major League Baseball, Interleague
San Diego, CA
1:05 PM

Outside the Game:
I was only a half hour or so outside of San Diego at my hotel, but it was an afternoon game that day, so I had to leave relatively early the next day after another not-quite-full night's sleep. I had an uneventful ride into the city and found a parking lot that was both near the stadium and my exit route out of the city. Getting into the parking early is always useful to talk up the staff to learn the scoop on where to park when you need to skedaddle with greatest speed.

I walked a little around the stadium before the game (finding a restaurant that appeared to be a Scottish Hooters), but I did most of my wandering after the game. I had some time to muck about in the Gaslight District and saunter over to the Convention Center (marking the closest I'll ever be to ComicCon) and the Bay. In all, I took in the sites for a couple of hours before heading off into the desert for my next stop on the way to Phoenix.

At the Game with Oogie:
This was one of the only games that good seats were even available for me to buy. I had seats about five or so rows behind home plate, and this marks perhaps the closest I've ever sat at a major league game.

I was surrounded by Padres fans whose enthusiasm was not consistent with the Padres' current record. They were talkative, baseball literate, and more than happy to discuss the many particular failings of their team this year.

The Stadium & Fans:
PETCO Park was build into the manufacturing buildings it was superseding, giving it a distinctive landscaping. The park and its environs were all a well-done example of a new-generation park. The area behind right-center field was a picnic hill where you could sit down and still watch the game, proximate to a statue of Tony Gwynn and a mini-version of PETCO for the kids.

All of this charming ambiance was slightly undercut by the fact that the old manufacturing buildings sculpted into the park were all gutted out and being turned into high-priced boutique space and apartments. That said, I would without hesitation buy an apartment in a ballpark.

The Padres have always had a close association with the military, given their proximity to military bases, but with it being Independence Week, the military presence was particularly high, with several call outs for service personnel and the presence of what would seem to be a company of Marine aviators at the game. The Padres were wearing their alternate "camouflage" uniforms for the game, as well.

The Hot Dog:
The Padre Dog was a brat-sized hotdog in a sesame bun.

The Game:
The match was a competition of the best pitchers on the worst teams in their respective leagues, the Padres and Seattle. In this case, the Padres proved the biggest loser, as Seattle crawled out to an early lead, and then broke it open with a huge 7th, going on to win easily, 9-2.

Noteworthy in this game was that Seattle's Japanese hitting machine Ichiro Suzuki went 5-for-5 (the first time I had even seen that in person) before being inexplicably pulled for a pinch runner after his fifth hit. And after his first hit, he got caught in a 3-6-1-6-5 rundown, eventually called out for running out of the basepaths.

The Scorecard:
The scorecard was a $1 cardstock fold-out, sold separately from the $5 program. The card was spacious, if a little anal about keeping the running score total at the top of each inning.

Mariners vs. Padres, 06-29-08
Mariners vs. Padres, 06/29/08. Mariners win, 9-2.

Oogie's East Coast Connection of the Day:
I ran into a couple dressed in Mets attire at the game who were visiting the stadium much as myself -- and then continued to run into them throughout the day, in a way that compels one to make up more and more lame quips about running into one another with each meeting.

The Accommodations:
I stopped off for the night at El Centro, CA, roughly halfway between San Diego and Phoenix. The drive out was without stress (except for a stop at a border patrol checkpoint) and through some of the most desolately beautiful areas I've driven through. There was even a huge wind farm.

When I got out of my car at El Centro, I thought that I had accidentally parked under a heater or air conditioning back exhaust. I was quickly disabused of this faulty perception by the manager at my hotel, who informed me that it was just 110 degrees out. 1-1-fucking-0. Degrees. This news was compounded by the fact that it was actually hotter in my room, where the stagnant heat had been somehow gaining momentum in the stillness.

I turned on the air conditioner, ceiling fan, and any other object that I thought might reduce the temperature, and then ran across the street to an air-conditioned restaurant until the temperature in my room lowered to a livable level. In contrast to the hotel manager's opinion that the heat was fine if you grew up there, my waitress was of the opinion El Centro was the armpit of the state and country.

I eventually returned to a reduced-temperature room at around 9 PM, when my lack of proper sleep since the trip started caught up with me, and "lying down to watch some TV" turned quietly into "12 hours of sleep."

Howard Johnson's, El Centro, CA
Howard Johnson's, El Centro, CA


2008 West Coast