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

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Los Angeles

An Introduction:

As the July 4th holiday rolled around again, it was time to set out to more ballparks. After the Midwest in 2007, the only remaining coherent geographic group was the West Coast. And with the exception of Oakland, I was able to put together a semi-possible schedule to see every team with my standard, one-city-a-day suicide march. Unlike the Midwest, some locales (Denver, Seattle) were too far to drive in a day, so I added the extra scheduling difficulty of plane flights. Challenging, sure, but the only way to coax those last half points out of the Russian judge. Yet the potential problems with such an ambitious plan would become immediately apparent.


On Perseverance

Rental PT Cruiser
My rental PT Cruiser
Friday, June 27th, 2008
Redondo Beach, CA

Outside the Game:
I have extraordinary bad luck traveling to the Left Coast, and I can’t help but think someone is trying to tell me something. The last time I attempted the feat, my flight was delayed eight hours, so I suppose I should be thankful I was only delayed two hours this time.

Once finally undertaken, the flight out was a cavalcade of minor and major inconveniences. To quote some forgotten comedian, I won't say which airline it was, but it was an American airline. The seats were a foot wide if they were an inch (with proportional legroom), and I was the lucky recipient of the seat right in front of emergency exits (no recline for me) and right next to the attendant area (dozing off? Let's chop up some ice for the First Class passengers). As if this were not sufficient, I was in a two-seat aisle next to a man who was somewhere in the realm of seven feet tall, who, in order to avoid getting his legs smashed by flight crew every five seconds, wedged the extra parts of his trunk into my pathetic little domain. I didn't even get a video screen. As I was in a window seat right behind First Class, the screen in the aisle was obstructed, and the only other display was the 2-inch LCD that they put in for the row ahead of me. I could barely discern it as a screen, never mind see the content therein. As the in-flight movie was Penelope, it may have been for the best.

The only mild amusement I received was that it was stereotype central in the cabin crew, and due to my location, I could overhear most their conversations. There was the young, fabulous gay guy; the young, pretty, and utterly insentient blond; and the two just-past-their-ship-date women who were constantly catty to each other. They seemed awful busy, but they didn't have much to do, as there was no food or drink service on this six-hour flight -- unless you weren't in steerage.

I was eventually released from my flying aluminum slave ship and deposited on the welcoming shores of Los Angeles at some time around 1 AM. Things looked up from there, as I had a quick and uneventful ride to the car rental depot. I was given my choice of cars, and picked up a white PT Cruiser, which seemed appropriate. I hit some mild traffic driving down the Pacific Coast Highway to my hotel, which I no doubt should have seen as a harbinger of things to come.

The Accommodations:
I rolled into my Ramada Inn at Redondo Beach at about 2 in the morning. The manager greeted me by name, as I was the only guest that had not yet checked in. I parked the car, dragged my bag up to my room, and turned on the TV. The previous guest had left the tube tuned to the adult home shopping channel. This led to several revelations in short order: there is an adult home shopping channel in California; people watch said channel; and it is disturbingly similar to regular home shopping channels, except instead of collectible plates, the ladies are describing the beneficial features of dildos that would make King Kong walk funny for a week.

The Ramada Inn, Redondo Beach, CA
The Ramada Inn, Redondo Beach, CA


On Disappointment

Dodger Stadium
Dodger Stadium, 2008

Saturday, June 28th, 2008
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodger Stadium
Major League Baseball, Interleague
Los Angeles, CA
7:10 PM

Outside the Game:
I spent the morning at Redondo Beach, and after the horror of the trip out, it was very therapeutic to just bum around on the beach for a while. In the course of wandering out on the rocks, I'm fairly certain I'm in someone's engagement photos, as I was directly in the background of where they were shooting. Good luck, you wacky kids.

After loafing on the beach, I went out on the boardwalks for a while and goofed off in the arcade before grabbing lunch further down the marina. It was good to just walk around for several hours, especially given what was to come.

Redondo Beach
Rock pier on Redondo Beach

On paper, it was only a half hour to Dodger Stadium from Redondo Beach. In LA time, that duration was an hour and a half in reality. It was Saturday afternoon, for the love of all things holy. There is no reason for bumper-to-bumper traffic on Saturday afternoon. The traffic got worse towards the stadium, as driving was the only viable transportation to get to there.

Dear Los Angeles: It's called mass transit. It has been around for about two centuries now, so you may have heard of it. Give it a look. Thanks.

At The Game With Oogie:
Apparently, the Dodgers/Angels games are a big deal, as evidenced by the near-capacity crowd. I had a seat in the upper section behind home plate. (These areas are no longer called the "Upper Deck" in most new stadiums, but rather, the "View Level," or some similar euphemism.)

My row might as well have been general casting from a mid-80s summer camp comedy movie. To my right was the waspiest WASPs you ever did wasp -- seated directly next to me was a meathead wrestler with a broken hand, no doubt a testament to his even-headedness. And to my left were two cousins straight out of the barrio, one in his late teens and another in his early 20s. As the game progressed, the older hombre got drunker and drunker, hitting on a woman and her mother in front of us, chastising everyone who came past for not getting him a beer, and generally screaming at the top of his lungs at everything. This was less of an issue until Pappa WASP came back through the aisle after a late inning hotdog run, and the drunk cousin asked him where his beer was. Meathead started screeching at him not to talk to any of them and demanding acknowledgment of this fact. For a glorious moment, the situation sat on the razor's edge, and I contemplated being stuck between these two paragons of good sense when the fists started flying, on the first day of my vacation. Thankfully, a Dodger's staffer was walking by right at this moment, and there was a testosterone stand down.

The Stadium:
On the one hand, I appreciate how they modeled the stadium into the geography, but overall the effect was kind of blah, especially when the stadium is literally surrounded by asphalt parking lots. There wasn't a lot to do, baseball-related or otherwise. I'm against the modern trend of turning baseball grounds into amusement parks, but there was literally nothing going on pre-game, and even the between-inning fare was sparse. To top everything off, there was also a strict segregation between the upper decks and the lower decks, in order, presumably, to keep someone's monocle from brushing a commoner.

On the plus side, there were piss-troughs in the bathrooms, and the crowd was enthusiastic (as anyone who survived that traffic was likely to be). But the stereotype of Dodger's fans showing up in the third inning and leaving in the seventh is very much grounded in reality.

The Dodgers were celebrating 50 years of being in LA, which, especially given the context of the day so far, seemed much more appropriate as the anniversary of them sneaking out in the night from their real home. We know the truth, Sparky.

The Hot Dog:
The signature Dodger Dog was also an unsurprising disappointment, a limp, skinny long hot dog in a dejected-looking bun.

The Game:
The game itself was the only redeeming part of the experience, as I witnessed one of the rarest occurrences in all of baseball: a no no-hit loss. Two Angels pitchers combined to throw a no-hitter against the Dodgers. However, thanks to an error, a stolen base, a throwing error, and a sacrifice fly (which does not count as a hit), the Dodgers scored the only run of the night, as the Angels were held scoreless. Both teams, in fact, had no-hitters going through the third inning.

What made this even rarer was the fact that because the home team was leading at the end of the top of the ninth inning, they did not have to bat. So it wasn't an "official" no-hitter, as the Angels pitchers did not have to face at least nine innings of batters. As was reported all over the sporting news that evening, this has only happened four times in modern baseball history.

The Scorecard:
It was part of the $5 program on glossy paper that made it difficult to write and erase. The entire ballpark seemed to be staffed with teenage interns, and it took three people to answer the question, "Is there a scorecard in the program?" (ultimately answered by me picking one up and flipping through it until I found the item in question). This is what happens when you move out to the West Coast, kids.

Angels vs. Dodgers, 06-28-08
Angels vs. Dodgers, 06/28/08. The Dodgers won, 1-0.

Oogie's East Coast Connection of the Day:
The manager at my hotel that evening had a daughter who was just starting her residency in a hospital in East Orange, which came up in a discussion on the hellish traffic in the LA area.

The Accommodations:
It was more of an issue to get there than anything else. In keeping with the Dodger's apparent "Hey, let's see what happens" management strategy, the situation in the parking lot after the game makes our Iraqi exit strategy look refined. It was just a block of unmoving traffic that constantly got worse and worse, with exits unopened for no apparent reason. The only people keeping the peace were the ever-present college interns, trying to come up with a good reason why there were only two exits open for the entire stadium. It seemed hit or miss if there was to be a riot or not. Eventually, someone just got out of their car, moved the cones blocking a closed exit, and drove out over the protests of the teenage intern. I and many others followed soon after.

Once out of the stadium, there were only minor difficulties driving down to the Travel Lodge in Oceanside, just outside of San Diego. Yet again, I was the last person to check in and was greeted by name on the way in the door.

Oceanside TraveLodge, Oceanside, CA
Oceanside TraveLodge, Oceanside, CA

2008 West Coast