Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kansas City

On the Longest Day (Up to This Point)


Kaufmann Stadium
Kauffman Stadium, 2009

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009
Minnesota Twins vs. Kansas City Royals
Kauffman Stadium
Major League Baseball, American League Central
Kansas City, MO
7:10 PM

Outside the Game:

Sunrise
Shaky start

I got up insanely early the next morning after not nearly enough sleep to turn in my rental car at the airport and get to yet another gate to get to yet another plane. My short hop flight up to Kansas City from Dallas was pleasantly mundane and slept through, for the most part. I had originally decided not to get a rental car in KC, but as I was going to a few different places, I relented. My not-quite-awake brain just nodded and agreed with everything the rental agent said, and when he offered a "free upgrade," I just continued nodding. The "free upgrade" turned out to be an SUV. I was too worried that my adrenaline rush would wear off on walking back to argue the issue, so I just took the Canyonero and drove out to my Howard Johnson's just outside the airport to take a much-desired and needed nap.

SUV
Canyonerooooooooo

One of the reasons I was so eager to get to KC early was to go to the Negro League Museum, located in the historic jazz district in town. After a nap that at least made me feel partially human again, I drove out there. For an extra $2, you get admission to the adjacent Jazz Museum, so I went for the two-fer. As I entered the Negro League Museum, I joined up with a tour group that had just started. As we entered the movie theater, the tour leader mentioned that the group of extraordinarily pale youths that was filling one area of the bleachers in the theater were a tour group from Belfast, who were visiting the US and going to places associated with segregation and discrimination as a reflection on their own Troubles, which was very pleasing to the tour guide. An amusing moment was had during the question and answer session when a mousy girl from Belfast tried to ask, as politely as possible, why the place was called the "Negro League" museum when black people didn't like to be called that. The question was answered informatively and in good humor by the tour guide.

NLBM
Negro League Baseball Museum

The museum was quite extraordinary and had been under the directorship of Buck O'Neil before his passing. A recreated stadium has statues of Hall of Fame position players from the Negro Leagues, with Buck (cruelly left out of the HoF at the moment) poignantly looking in from the outside. The museum also helped to answer the question: who was the most marginalized group in all of baseball? The museum had three exhibits about black female ballplayers (some of whom played in the Negro Leagues with the men), but there was only one forlorn cabinet on Negro League umpires, containing the uniform of one of the only whose name was even known.

I pretty much had to contain myself to the best of my ability to keep from buying out the gift shop. After prying myself away, I went to the smaller Jazz Museum across the way. It was well done, but suffered from a lack of upkeep on many of the listening stations and interactive exhibits. They seemed to be in the middle of a remodel, so the criticism comes with a grain or two of salt. Part of the museum was an active jazz club attached to the back of the museum complex, which is the only working club in what was the center of jazz for many decades earlier last century.

After my time at the museum, it was a quick drive out to Kauffman Stadium for the game. It was a similarly quick drive back to the hotel after the game, which was good, because I was only getting about four hours sleep in the best-case scenario.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Kauffman Stadium
Home plate to center field, Kauffman Stadium

Kauffman Stadium had just undergone some renovations, and the fact that this is now one of the older parks operating in the majors tells you how many old parks have bit the dust in recent years. The renovations centered around remodeling the center field area, some modifications to the seating, and replacing the old jumbotron with a larger, more awesome jumbtron. The park itself was nice enough, clearly oriented around the humongous scoreboard towering over the proceedings in dead center field.

Also added into the center field area behind the iconic water fountains was a new Hall of Fame (which was not going to open until the next day) and a new kids play area, along with some specialty food concessions. While the kids area had a lot of what you would expect, it also included something unique to any other major league ballpark: an inexplicable miniature golf course.

In some odd feature of geography, nearly half the crowd were Twins fans. I never got a good enough explanation for this fact, but a couple of women behind me said they were huge Twins fans who just liked to watch the Twins play outside. I would have to imagine that waiting for their series against the White Sox might be slightly more convenient for them, but what do I know?

Slugger
Is that his head?

Because the crowd was so evenly split, there wasn't much of a home field advantage for the Royals, and I wonder if that had any effect on the outcome of the game.


At the Game with Oogie:

Royals Hall of Fame
Missed it by a day

I was in 200-level seats behind home plate. Now the field level was split between the 100 level (near the field) and the 200s (up underneath the loge overhang). The seats were excellent and in the shade, which was important until the sun finally set in the mid-innings. In keeping with the stadium as a whole, it was about 50/50 Royals and Twins fans in my immediate area, although the Royals mascot seemed to hang out right in front of my area for most of the night.


The Game:

First pitch, Twins vs. Royals
First pitch, Twins vs. Royals

The home teams had been taking a beating since the Rays walk-off in the first game of the trip. It looked as though the Royals may change the streak by jumping out to an early lead, bringing across their first batter of the game. Both sides went down quickly for the next few innings until the Twins tied it up with a fourth-inning homer. The Royals threatened in the bottom half of the inning, but came up blank. A single, Royal error, and sacrifice fly brought home a second Twin run in the sixth, and while the Royals got runners in scoring position in the bottom of the sixth and eighth, they never got anything else across, losing a close one, 2-1.


The Scorecard:

Twins vs. Royals, 06-30-09. Twins win, 2-1.
Twins vs. Royals, 06/30/09. Twins win, 2-1.

The $2 scorecard was separate from the $5 program. It was a cardstock folder with plenty of room to score an AL game.


The Accommodations:

Howard Johnson's
Howard Johnson's

I stayed at a very nice Howard Johnson's right outside of the airport. I was a lot less coherent than even normal for the trip when dealing with the hotel staff, and asked some pretty interesting questions (including things such as "Is my car still outside?") that I'm sure had them thinking quite odd things about me. Of what I do recall, I remember the bed being very, very comfortable.


2009 The Rest

Monday, June 29, 2009

Arlington

On Avoiding Disaster


Ballpark at Arlington
Ballpark at Arlington, 2009

Monday, June 29th, 2009
Los Angels Angels of Anaheim vs. Texas Rangers
Ballpark at Arlington
Major League Baseball, American League West
Arlington, TX
7:05 PM

Outside the Game:
On a full-night's sleep, I was up and ready for the drive up to Dallas after breakfast at the hotel. My hotel in Houston was right on the road to Dallas, so I didn't need much help from the TomTom unit until I got to the Dallas metropolitan area proper. It was a straight shot with no incidents up to Dallas and my hotel just by the north entrance to the airport.

Upon getting to the hotel, the first thing I did was to check into my flight to Kansas City the next day. On viewing into the American Airlines Website, I was greeted with an itinerary that had me flying into Chicago. Thinking I might I have accidentally entered in my confirmation code for the day after, I confirmed that this was supposed to be my flight to KC. One quick and frantic call to American Airlines later, I found out that my flight to KC had just been scrubbed due to the always vague "mechanical issues," and I had been rescheduled to a later flight through Chicago that connected to KC. I was able to get moved back to direct flight to Kansas City, but only one that left two hours before my original flight. No sleep for me tonight.

Since I was getting up god-awful early the next day, I got all my clothes and bags ready for the next morning as soon as I hit the room. I got out my necessities for the game that night and had an uneventful drive down to the park.

Because the game went a little long, I wasn't able to turn in my rental until the next morning. But the drive back after the game went quickly, and I showered up and went to sleep as quickly as possible to face my next inevitable sunrise on the way to the airport with enough sleep in my system as possible.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Ballpark at Arlington
Home plate to center field, Ballpark at Arlington

The Ballpark at Arlington is in the home territory of HKS, Inc, a design firm that has done several sports stadiums in the area, including the new Cowboys stadium that was rising up in the same manicured park area in which the Ballpark at Arlington was situated, along with what seemed to be about three amusement parks. The park was clearly a showpiece for the architectural firm, as the design was outstanding and the details were well-handled. The friezes outside the park and the decorative ironwork inside showed that they spared no expense. The concessions (including the bizarre "Coney Island" hot dog stands) had some unique items, such as sausage on a stick (exactly as advertised).

The big features of the park were the retro porch out in right field, the large area of suites out in center, and the decorative green in center that became the scene of frantic footraces when a home run landed in its confines. The kids activity area was out behind center field, anchored by a statue of Nolan Ryan that also doubled as an accurate sundial in the blinding north Texas afternoon.

Another attached attraction was the "Legends of the Game" sports museum. It was an extra charge, but it was worth the price, and housed the largest on-loan collections from Cooperstown in the world. There were general baseball history and exhibits, in addition to a section just on the history of the Rangers, including some charming racism.

Racism
It is funny because it dehumanizes

The top level of the museum was interactive exhibit for kids, centering on baseball Math, History, and Geography. That said, the physician needed to heal thyself, as the Geography exhibit, clearly a few years old, touted a team in Montreal as part of the major-league world.

The crowd was raucous and into the game. There was a small Angels contingent that kept largely quiet. The fans stayed into the game through the ups and downs and were quite emotional when they blew the game. The quote of the night goes to a rakish gentleman in front of me who stated that "That's the kind of thing that makes me want to go home and beat my kids." Quite, sir. Quite.


At the Game with Oogie:

Coney Island
Unrelated

I was again in the upper deck (or whatever the local euphemism was) right behind home plate, thankfully in the shade. This was the first game I was watching outside on this trip, and it was hot enough to remind me the practical principles and rationals for domes. The locals mentioned how it was finally cool enough to come out to the park, which makes me wonder what kind of early-season hell these people must endure.


The Game:

First pitch, Angels vs. Rangers
First pitch, Angels vs. Rangers

After the catastrophic collapse by the Astros the day before, home teams were running 1-1 for the trip. This game was of some import, as the first place Angels were visiting the second-place Rangers. A win would close the gap between the two teams, and the Rangers homered their way to an early two-run lead in the third with back-to-back clouts. The Angels got one back in the 4th, and then exploded in the sixth with four runs courtesy, in large part, to their own back-to-back homeruns. (A double back-to-back homer game was another first.) The Rangers threatened in the eighth, but never scored again, falling 5-2.


The Scorecard:

Angels vs. Rangers, 06-29-09. Angels win, 5-2.
Angels vs. Rangers, 06/29/09. Angels win, 5-2.

The scorecard came as part of the $5 program. It was a single-sheet paper card built into the program. It was a little small, but adequate for an AL game, though it did have a stats category for pitchers (NP) that I had never seen before (and would subsequently discover meant "Number of Pitches").


The Accommodations:

Super 8
Super 8

As mentioned, I stayed in a Super 8 just north of the Dallas airport. Since even with my original schedule I wasn't going to be staying there that long, I went with a convenient, cheap place right by the airport. Though not fancy, the room was everything that I needed it to be, and with my extra-early flight the next day, the wisdom of my choice would be borne out.


2009 The Rest

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Houston

On Things Being Bigger In Texas


Minute Maid Park
Minute Maid Park, 2009

Sunday, June 28th, 2009
Detroit Tigers vs. Houston Astros
Minute Maid Park
Major League Baseball, Interleague
Houston, TX
1:05 PM

Outside the Game:
In what would prove to be a pattern, I woke up in the morning without enough sleep to slog out to an airport, watching one of many sunrises to come as I dropped off my rental car.

Sunrise
Pretty, at least

I staggered bleary-eyed through security, got some breakfast at the gate, and sat around proving out my scorecard until the plane boarded. The flight was pleasantly uneventful, touching down a little early, which prompted us waiting for our arrival gate to clear. The rental car desks were thankfully all in the terminal, so that was a quick process. I got to take my pick of the cars, and settled on a blue Kia. I would quickly learn why all the dark colored cars were still unselected in the rental yard.

Rental car
Dark blue, not a great choice

I say this because Houston is hotter than Hell, and unlike the stratospheric temperatures I encountered last year in Phoenix, Houston goes the extra distance of having three-digit temperatures and being humid enough to choke a large, healthy goat. I drove straight to the game as it was an afternoon contest and promptly made the second mistake of my young day: I didn't drive around to find a covered parking lot. I mean, how bad could it be?

This would be answered emphatically when I came out of the game and my car was in danger of melting. I had to wrap my hands in order to touch anything on the car and get in to roll down the windows, turn on the AC, and retreat to shade a short distance away for the car to return to a fully non-plastic state and become safe to drive out to my hotel.


The Stadium & Fans:


Home to center, Minute Maid Park
Home plate to center field, Minute Maid Park

Minute Maid Park was the second orange-juice nomenclatured stadium I had been to in two days, and it would be three days into the trip before I would watch a game outside. Not that I was complaining today. With temperatures in the low hundreds and a sun that could only be called oppressive (I fully believed that I could feel it actually searing through my sunblock like phasers blistering away an energy shield), I was happy to be anywhere except outside on this particular day. Sadly, they only opened the stadium an hour and half before game time, so everyone had to line up outside before the doors opened. Thankfully, I found a line in the shade, but it didn't stop the ambient heat and humidity that quickly turned my person into what can only be described as a sweaty bog. I don't think I've ever been happier to get anywhere as I was to get into that building.

The stadium does have some attractions outside the park, such as a statuary ballpark, a commemorative aerospace industry wall, and, for no reason I can discern except to try and sap all the energy out of hyperactive kids as fast as possible, the kids play area inside the stadium walls proper is in the open air.

Minute Maid itself is a very nice next-generation park. The big architectural features are the gutting left field wall, the hill and flagpole in fair territory in deep center, and the Astro train that runs every time a home run is hit by the Astros. (Sadly, there were no home dingers during the game I saw, so the spectacle was lost on me.) There was also an ill-advised advertisement for a local Baptist church boldly proclaiming that "Second Loves Kids." I think they may need to re-think it.

Yes, they play "Deep in the Heart of Texas" during the 7th inning stretch. Yes, everyone does the clapping thing like a well-trained Chinese drill team. I was frankly a little surprised Republican Oil Tycoon Guy from the Simpsons didn't jump out at some part and start shooting into the air while screaming wildly.

Nearly as soon as the last out was recorded, the dome on the stadium was opened as the ground crew nearly sprinted out to the field to begin watering it. The effect of the dome opening into the afternoon sun can only be likened to what it must be like to drop the UV shielding on the ISS: the sun blazed in, raising the temperature by easily ten degrees immediately. This is also apparently an effective way of clearing out the crowd.

Sunshine
Here comes the sun

The aforementioned crowd was enthusiastic and in the game, even after the Astros blew the lead in the ninth. There were a smattering of Detroit fans, but they were largely unheard from.

In keeping with the theme of bird troubles, there was a large squawking bird that managed to get stuck inside in the center field area near the big gas tank that keeps track of the home runs at the park.

At The Game With Oogie:

Squeeze Play
Get it?

I got tickets behind home plate in the second deck of the park. The seats were quite good, and I was surrounded by families and lots of kids. One particular rambunctious tot behind me kept banging on the seats next to me, prompting unnecessary apologies by his father. That kid had no idea what was going on, but he had a better time than I did, so good for him.

The Game:

First pitch, Tigers vs. Astros
First pitch, Tigers vs. Astros

The game went briskly, with both teams trading blank frames until the fourth, when the Astros broke through with two runs. The Tigers scored one in both the fourth and fifth, tying it up. The Astros tacked a run on in the 7th to get ahead, and then the scoring ended until the ninth. The Astros closer Valverde came in to put it away but threw gasoline on the fire with a walk and a home run, putting the Tigers up 4-3. The Astros got a one-out single, but were tidily set away after that, losing by the same score. After watching a dramatic 9th inning win for the home team the night before, I was treated to a 9th inning collapse by the home team on this day.

The Scorecard:

Tigers vs. Astros, 06-28-09. Tigers win, 4-3.
Tigers vs. Astros, 06/28/09. Tigers win, 4-3.

The $1 scorecard was separate from the $4 program, which included its own paper insert as part of the purchase price. The separate scorecard was a cardstock fold-out with only one page for the scorecard proper. It was a little crowded for a NL card and used the weird scoring system that I've only seen elsewhere at Colorado, with the path to first base and home plate handled separately, and an area set aside for recording balls and strikes. The pitching lines are apparently not important enough to warrant space on the scorecard.

The Accommodations:

Best Western
Best Western

I stayed at a Best Western north of the city center out by the airport. The lady behind the counter was very nice and commiserated with me about the heat for a good, long while. I hit the fitness center for a half hour, showered up, and took a much-needed nap. I went across the street to Cracker Barrel for dinner, because I apparently had to go to a Cracker Barrel while I was in the South. And it was actually pretty good, if they did layer the "folksy" on a tad thick. I hit the rack early that night to make up for the night before and the nights to come, as this would be the last night for a while that I would be able to get a full night's sleep.


2009 The Rest

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tampa Bay

An Introduction

July 4th means baseball. This was the year I was looking to wrap up all the remaining stadiums, which unfortunately left no convenient geographic areas to hit. I had a bunch of spares to pick up, and I just had to pick a direction, and hope the best, although I did manage to plot a course that at least made some sort of sense, at least until I started jumping between the Midwest and East Coast towards the end.

On Never, Ever Leaving on Time

Humid
It was a little humid when I arrived.

Friday, June 26, 2009
Tampa Bay, FL

Outside the Game:
My flight out to Florida got moved up an hour and a half, so I had to leave work early the day I headed out on my trip. While this sounds like a good thing, it actually made me work longer on Thursday night and get in early on Friday to make sure that all my work was shored up to the point that I would be able to leave without them contacting me the next day. I had already worked 43 hours for the week by the end of the Thursday, so coming in early Friday morning was just about enough to put me over the edge.

But at 4 PM, away I went. There was a minor amount of traffic, but the problems didn't really start until I got to the airport. The first inkling that my flight out for this trip was going to be like all the others was the fact that I could not check in at one of the kiosks. I waited on the Delta line, then got told to go to the Northwest line, and then the woman at that counter went to talk to somebody in back. For those of you who don't travel much, that is never a good sign. But despite all that, I was able to get my boarding pass, get through security, and get to the gate all before the plane started boarding. It was not without casualties, however. A rainstorm on the way to work had me take my umbrella I had packed, and on the way to being shuttled from one line to the other by a nameless string of functionaries, I managed to leave my umbrella someplace. Since I was heading for sunny Florida, it wouldn't be that big of a deal, right?

My dad, who traveled a great deal in his youth on business, always told me you need three things to get out on a flight: a plane, a crew, and a runway. Although it seems deceptively simple, there's a ton of truth to the platitude, as 90% of delays are caused by either a plane not making a connection, a flight crew not being there, or losing your runway takeoff slot due to any number of issues. This night, we had a plane, a crew, and a runway slot.

Then, the thunderstorms started. Within visual distance of Not Shea stadium, I watched as it turned to not-visual distance of Not Shea stadium. Because it was thunderstorms and not just rain, all the ground crew got pulled from the tarmac, so we didn't get fully fueled. We pulled back from the gate about on time, but the rain had caused a slight delay in the airspace used by three NY-area airports, and we became the 43rd in line to take off. How long is it for 43 planes to take off in front of you in bad weather conditions? About two and half hours on the tarmac, now that you ask. Our pilot was about as cool with the situation as can be expected, but even with his influence, there were people just on the cutting edge of rioting by the time we eventually took off. The flight, though bumpy in places, continued without incident, touching down about three hours or so late. In-flight entertainment was provided by a young, pretty Eurotrash couple to my left that kept using their electronic devices even when threatened with fine and removal from the plane, and the passive-aggressive couple sitting next to me complaining about them, especially the apparently racist wife who went back to the stewards several times to tattle on the Eurotrash.

The Accommodations:

DoubleTree Tampa Bay
DoubleTree Tampa Bay

As with my last trip, I staggered out to get my rental car, drove to the nearby DoubleTree hotel (though, thankfully assisted by the dulcet, calming, British directions of the TomTom this time) and crashed with just enough time to get some late room service sent up to my room. The room was very well appointed, with a deck overlooking the pool.

I thought it might be a nice idea to go out on the deck to have my dinner, but the thick condensation on the glass deck door should have been a warning. Upon opening the sliding door, I was blinded by my glasses completely steaming over and nearly took a header off the rail. I quickly retreated inside and ate my dinner right by the newly appreciated air conditioner.



On A New Perspective

Tropicana Field
Tropicana Field, 2009

Saturday, June 27th, 2009
Florida Marlins vs. Tampa Bay Rays
Tropicana Field
Major League Baseball, Interleague
Tampa Bay, FL
7:05 PM

Outside the Game:
I had all day to kill before the brief ride out to the Tropicana Field for the game. I had no real agenda for the day and decided to see where fate took me. Fate arrived in the form of torrential tropical showers that covered the area slightly after I finished breakfast. I bought a replacement umbrella and was inspired to go to the aquarium, located on one of the endless bays that dot the area. My new umbrella got quite a workout very quickly, as the parking lots for the aquarium are an inexplicable distance away from the aquarium proper. When the sun game out, it was a scorching wasteland of asphalt. In the rain, it was needlessly long and sloggy -- unless they were attempting to make the area outside the aquarium into an aquarium itself, in which case they have succeeded mightily.

Rain
It never rains in Florida.

I used a kiosk that everyone else seemed to be ignoring to buy a ticket without waiting at the ticket booth line and retreated ironically into the aquarium to get dry. It was a very kid-friendly facility, geared to families. There was the de regur touching pool and Finding Nemo-inspired exhibits, as well as areas on coastal mangrove ecosystems, the ever-present devil rays, and a quite interesting exhibit on the history of home aquariums. The "big window" display they had was better than most, and an odd touch were rocking chairs by the exhibits for you to sit in to view them. Quite relaxing, really.

Fish wall
Fish wall

I grabbed some lunch (next to the surreally inexplicable "NYPD Pizza" place -- I wasn't aware they were licensing) and then when the weather cleared up, I went onto the USS Liberty, an active WWII-era Liberty ship docked next to the aquarium. For those not up on your merchant marine history, the Liberty ships were the most rugged transport vessels produced during WWII, as opposed to the Victory ships, which were mass-produced tin cans used to move cargo as fast as possible. The USS Liberty was still an active vessel, so the crew were all Coast Guard personnel, and they were every anal about signing in and out of the ship. Touring the ship was quite involving, but easily the highlight was a Navy advisory from the 50s on what to do in the event of a nuclear attack on Tampa Bay. (Answer: keep hosing off the decks to clear fallout and run away from the port and any other ships as fast as possible.)

After this, it was time to head over to the stadium, which was a short drive away, though over a throughway across the bay at water level that made for some odd driving experiences. A concert after the game insured that exiting and returning back to the hotel was similarly speedy, though the disconcerting travel at water level was even more so at night.

At The Game With Oogie:

Ray tank
The ray tank is real.

As this was the first game of the trip, I splurged on box seats right behind home plate. This seat was in the midst of season ticket holders, and, as a single seat, was the only one in the immediate area that had different occupants from game to game. This placed me in the midst of some of the die hards of the die hards. I got there very early, but when the first two people in my row showed up, and the married couple both pulled out score cards, I knew I was in the right place.

Everyone knew each other, and the section was full up by game time. The regulars immediately took interest in the interloper, and they said that the person who usually ends up in my seat were good baseball fans, so I apparently met muster. I've got to say that this was just about one of the best times I've ever had at a game, which is why the crowd is more than half the experience wherever you go to game. One man in particular reminded me a lot of my late uncle, from the goofy demeanor and slipshod appearance, to the odd cadence of his conversation that worked out perfectly so he would get his sentence in right before he turned back to look at the pitch. It was all-around a good time.

The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Tropicana Field
Home plate to center field, Tropicana Field

I had actually been to Tropicana Field once before, during my last trip to Disney World, before I had even envisioned my current baseball endeavor. Despite literally sitting one row in front of George Steinbrenner during my last visit, I was completely underwhelmed by the experience. Even though we were in the nice seats, it had all the charm of watching a ballgame in the Javits Center. At its best, the experience seemed antiseptic. But this was back when they were the Devil Rays, and the team played some pathetic baseball, and, to be fair, I was pretty loaded when I went to that game.

The Rays recently undertook a large remodeling effort on the stadium, and the effects showed. No longer looking and feeling like a convention center, the downstairs area, if anything, resembled a comic book explosion of color, with games and activities everywhere. (Well, at least in the main downstairs concourse. It looks like the renovations didn't extend to the top level, which was just as drab and bunker-y as before.) The fact that it was 80's night, with most of the employees dressed up in technicolor and neon paraphernalia everywhere certainly also contributed to the primary color rainbow effect. There was also a "gritty, urban" section covered in graffiti and garbage that turned out to be a batting cage representing the Rays enemies where you can win prizes for hitting garbage can lids adorned with other AL East teams. As part of what seems to be a growing trend of "alumni events" across major league ballparks, Andre Dawson was downstairs signing autographs. (He'd also throw out the first pitch.)

You can get very close up to the players before the game to get autographs. But perhaps you can get a little too close to places, as it was amazing the stuff they just left lying around.

One of the other big revamped attractions was the Ted Williams Museum and Hitting Hall of Fame. It is a separate entity from the Rays, but it is housed in the stadium and is free with admission. The downstairs was mostly about Ted, and it had some neat things (such as one of his lockers from Boston), and some not-so-neat things (such as a statue made of his famous fishing photo). The second level is mostly about the best hitters in the history of baseball world-wide and some more stuff about Ted. It was well worth the look and a bargain at twice the price.

There are also actual rays in a tank in center field where you can line up to go in and touch and feed them for $4. I just looked.

As may be indicative of their surging fortunes, the stadium was largely filled with enthusiastic fans. This was the case the last time I went, but Tropicana Field was then filled with enthusiastic fans of the visiting team, the Yankees. (As this was an interleague game against their intrastate rivals, the Marlins, there was in fact a minor contingent of Marlins fans concentrated along the third base side.)

A majestic national anthem exhibition with a bald eagle flying around the stadium during the music quickly became slightly less majestic as it decided it was done with this crap and landed on the awning of the center field bar and refused to move. The annoyed officials eventually led the chagrined handlers out onto the roof in the back to quietly retrieve the bird.

The Game:

First pitch
First pitch, Marlins vs. Rays

The Rays were trying to get back in the race for the AL East, and the Marlins, by virtue of playing mediocre ball while the rest of the division was having a "who can lose the most games" race, were making their way into the NL East race. To rub salt in the wound, former Mets ace prospect Kazmir was starting for the Rays. Regardless, the Marlins jumped out to an early lead, with a manufactured run and a dinger, but by virtue of a homerun and three straight hits, the Rays tied in up in the bottom of the fifth. Both pitchers settled in, holding each other scoreless. But in the bottom of the ninth, a single, stolen base, and passed ball led to a walk-off sacrifice fly that sent the stadium into conniptions of joy.

I was told by fellow fans about a couple of interesting statistics regarding the game. The Rays were undefeated on Concert Nights (Pat Benetar would be providing a free concert after the game), and the Rays ended the game just one home run shy of being the first team in history to go 100/100 on home runs and stolen bases before the All Star break (the combination of power and speed is a rare combination in baseball).

The Scorecard:

Marlins vs. Rays, 06-27-09. Rays win, 3-2.
Marlins vs. Rays, 06/27/09. Rays win, 3-2.

The scorecard was part of a free program given out when you entered the stadium. It was booklet-size on good paper with more than enough room for an AL Game.

The Accommodations:
I was at the airport DoubleTree again. I went down to their breakfast buffet and had just about the largest breakfast I can remember: sausage, biscuits, oatmeal, grits, cereal... it goes on. I was apparently pretty hungry.

After the game, I just came back and crashed because of my early flight the next day.


2009 The Rest