Saturday, July 18, 2009

Brooklyn

On Surprise Baseball

Keyspan Park, 2009


Saturday, July 18, 2009
Auburn Doubledays (Toronto Blue Jays) vs.
Brooklyn Cylones (New York Metropolitans)
Keyspan Park
New York-Penn League (A-)
Brooklyn, NY
6:00 PM

Outside the Game:
This was never intended to be a day at the game. The Cyclones Web site said that they were away, so I was just going down to Coney with a friend to go the Aquarium and Cyclone and whatnot.

We started off with the NY Aquarium. The only thing really new was a "4-D Experience" outside of the Aquarium proper, but for some reason, that did not appeal. We went through all the other exhibits inside, but took a pass on the sea lion show on this blazing hot day. (I always wanted to have a chat with whoever designed the amphitheater at the Aquarium. When did it seem like a good idea to anyone to construct a structure with a seating area completely made of heat-conductive metal, with no shade whatsoever, at a facility that is at a beach?)

Aquarium
Lazing walrus

After we got through the Aquarium, it was time to pay the pain tithe to the god Cyclone. Most surprisingly, it seemed like someone had thrown a new coat of paint on the old girl recently, and may have actually done some maintenance in the last five years. Oh sure, we were still battered around like a mouse caught by a cat, but the wounds went more superficial, and less spine-breaking.

Cyclone
My prediction? Pain.

On exiting, we discovered that the Village Voice was hosting some manner of music festival, so Coney was even more filled to the gills with hipsters than an average summer weekend. Navigating through the crowds of skinny jeans an oversized glasses, we visited the recently opened Coney Island Museum and then hit Nathan's for lunch. (It seems impossible that people still don't have the sense to go around to the lines at the back of Nathan's that are easily half the size of the ones up front.)

Nathan's
The original

After lunch, we were taking a walk to see the new Ringling Brothers attraction that had just opened on the other side of Keyspan Park when we discovered that there was, in fact, a game today, and we instead got in line for tickets to the game.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Keyspan Park
Home plate to center field, Keyspan Park

Keyspan Park is one of the nicest minor league parks, as far as I'm concerned. Right on the beach and down the boardwalk from the main Coney Island attractions, it has the location and the ambiance. The park itself is a standard minor-league, one-tier bowl, with the press booth and luxury suites in a behind home-plate structure.

I've been there multiple times, and it really hasn't changed all that much since it opened, but it doesn't really need to.

The only disappointment was that in addition to the perennial presence of "King Ralph," the Cyclones added a "dance troupe" of party-patrol-esque women that are just barely on the happy side of the Marlin's Mermaid cheerleaders. I don't how many times this can be stated, but apparently at least once more is required: there are no cheerleaders in baseball.

King Ralph
King Ralph

After the main contest was a post-game fireworks show. With the ocean breeze coming in and the summer sun already beyond the horizon, it was Coney Island at its best.


At the Game with Oogie:

Mascot
Pee-Wee

We got seats on the third base side, just outside of the shade, which made it a little uncomfortable until the sun eventually set.


The Game:

First pitch, Doubledays vs. Cyclones
First pitch, Doubledays vs. Cyclones

The Doubledays scored first in the top of the fourth, and then it was nearly all Cyclones, who showed some power, sending four homers out of the yard on their way to an 11-3 romp.


The Scorecard:

Doubledays vs. Cyclones, 07-18-09. Cyclones win, 11-3.
Doubledays vs. Cyclones, 07/18/09. Cyclones win, 11-3.

The scorecard is part of the free giveaway program you get on the way into the stadium. The thin newsprint the Cyclones use is problematic for erasing, but otherwise is spacious enough and fine for a free program (although it is obviously based on the old Mets scorecard, without printing the actual pitching stats in the columns. Sadly, I can still write them in from memory.)


2009 Stand-Alone

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Miami

On the Best Money I've Ever Spent

Landshark Field
Landshark Field, 2009

Saturday, July 4th, 2009
Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Florida Marlins
Landshark Field (Dolphin Stadium)
Major League Baseball, National League
Miami, FL
6:10 PM

Outside the Game:
I had breakfast at my hotel in Minneapolis before taking the shuttle to the airport. As this would be a time-sensitive flight for my itinerary, it was immediately delayed by the precursor flight from Washington DC getting caught up in weather and got flagged for extra screening at security. To be fair, the lady was very nice as she pillaged through my dirty underwear, taking swabs of god knows what. It turns out some mini-snow globes I had picked up in Tampa had fingered me for extra screening. These same snow globes that I had taken through security all across the country for the last week. I feel safer; don't you?

The delay to the flight wasn't that bad, and we got in the air only 20 minutes late. I sat next to a very nice couple from the Greater Twin Cities area, don'tcha kno, who were very interested in my OLPC. I gave them the whole story behind the project and whatnot. They politely understood about half of it, though they did get the clear impression that I did not enjoy Microsoft's new involvement in the project.

The flight itself went without incident, and we made up all the delay time in the air, touching down on time on the pleasantly melting tarmac of Miami International Airport. A shuttle ride got my to my hotel, where I immediately called a cab to get me to my game, which was inexplicably scheduled at 6:10. The cabbie very enthusiastically told me how it would be much better when the new park opened downtown, removing the necessity of trucking all the way out of town to see a game.

The stadium at least had some self-awareness about its locale and lack of public transportation, and there was a taxi stand outside the gates to help people get back to civilization. (Are you taking notes, LA?) Once again, I had an excellent conversation with the cabbie on the way back to my hotel, backlit by the fireworks that preceeded the KC and the Sunshine Band concert.

Airline travel reared its ugly head after the game, as I tried to print out my boarding pass at the business center. I had managed to forget to assign myself a seat when I bought the ticket in December, and I was unable to do so before the flight. A call to customer service confirmed that I would not be able to get a seat assignment until I checked in the next morning, but I was helpfully assured that there shouldn't be any problem, and by the way, the flight was oversold. So really, what more could I ask for?


The Stadium & Fans:


Home to center, Landshark Field
Home plate to center field, Landshark Field

Let's start with this: who in the Hell decided it would be a good idea to dump a concrete and asphalt monstrosity just north of Miami? I mean, really.

It is a well-known fact that Dolphin Stadium (sorry, "Landshark Field" as they call it during baseball season), isn't very good as a ballpark. Much as with the Metrodome the day before, it is clearly a football stadium that they retrofitted for baseball, although they did manage to do a slightly better job on the decor than the Twins. But to add to the atmosphere of slapdash, the stadium was undergoing renovations, and nearly half the place in the outfield was closed for said reservations, or at least, that was their story. The luxury area was the only really nice part of the park (and by nice, I mean "air conditioned"), but even over half of the concessions in there were also closed for "remodeling."

And then there's attendance. I get it, I do. The ballpark is north of the city and a pain in the ass to get to by all accounts. But they still managed to fill them when they were winning World Series. The sparse crowd for this game (and apparently, this was one of the better days because of a post-game concert and fireworks display) were huddled in the shaded areas of the stadium behind home plate and the foul lines, except for a hardy colony in the outfield, sweating patiently for foul balls. The crowd was into the game, but it was hard to overlook all those empty orange seats that used to have fair-weather asses in them in better days. A scattering of Pirates fans made an appearance as well.

The greatest failure of the Marlins as a ballclub is that they have cheerleaders. To be fair, they just scraped the micro-thin veneer of the "party patrols" at other stadiums and stuffed them into micro-thin spandex costumes, but to paraphrase a movie, there's no cheerleaders in baseball. My favorite bit of this fiasco is that the "Marlin Mermaids" had a parade stance for the national anthem (hands behind back with pom-poms on ass, in case you're wondering). Their second worse offense against baseball is the Marlin Manatees, a dance troupe of fat guys that move it, move it during weekend home games. The Marlin entertainment squad is filled out by an in-stadium DJ and a hot Cuban woman, whose only purpose seemed to be a hot Cuban woman (NTTAWWT).

Cheerleaders
Cheerleaders, for some reason

As part of the July 4th festivities, there was finally a MLB-wide event to support ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) research. There was a raffle in every stadium with proceeds going to ALS research, and a commemorative reading of Gehrig's famous "Luckiest Man" speech, which was originally delivered on July 4th at the old Yankee Stadium. A fitting tribute, to be sure, but the event loses a little of its gravitas when it is delivered by a sweaty "Mr. Marlin," Jeff Connine, in a shorts and a polo shirt, giving an inspired reading straight off a script. The original was better.

The inter-inning contests included a hotdog eating contest and a "make your mortage payment" contest, in which the eventual winner went completely crazy with joy. I guess she was late on her mortgage.


At the Game with Oogie:


Not outside
Not outside

I believe my exact words at the ticket booth were along the lines of "something in the shade." In what may be the best $60-something dollars I ever spent, I bought "club-level" seats behind home plate. This allowed access into the premium area, which meant air conditioning, which meant that I'm sitting here typing this instead of meeting an untimely death by heat stroke. Even once I got into the club level and into the air conditioning and food court, against all science the heat seemed to stay with me until I had been safely sequestered in the AC for a good twenty minutes. Even chowing down in the interior seating area, the heat remained menacingly just beyond the large glass walls, waiting patiently, oh so patiently, for me to have to go outside.

I did eventually have to venture out to my seat, passing through glass doors that were rendered opaque by condensation. The area behind home plate had been in the shade for a good bit of time at this point, so it was still hot, but not oppressive. I was surrounded by families, old Hispanic men, and a couple of nerds sitting next to me. (You know you're in Miami when even the nerds can dance like Charo when prompted.) The family on the other side of me was particularly amusing, as a Dad had clearly dragged his daughter along to the game against her will, and he continually kept prompting her at exciting points in the game to her dull and unimpressed response.

In addition to the free Marlins cap they were giving away, apparently as part of sitting in the club level you get a free pack of Marlins cards as you leave the stadium.


The Game:


First pitch, Pirates vs. Marlins
First pitch, Pirates vs. Marlins

Even though the Marlins are currently threatening to take the lead in the listless NL East, a contest between the Marlins and lowly Pirates was never going to an edge-of-your-seat clash of the Titans. The Marlins jumped out to an early lead on a dinger from Ramirez and actually no-hit the Bucks through five innings, but then slowly tried to give the lead back throughout the course of the middle game. They managed to manufacture enough runs (based mostly on Pirate miscues), however, and eeked out a 5-3 win.


The Scorecard:


Pirates vs. Marlins, 07-04-09. Marlins win, 5-3.
Pirates vs. Marlins, 07/04/09. Marlins win, 5-3.

The scorecard could be purchased separately, or as part of the $5 program. It was good cardstock, but the card was at best one-handing it. There was a big blank area at the bottom for no good reason, and they didn't even have the pitching lines. For a national league card, they only gave one line per player and a few extra at the bottom of each team. The clincher for me was the fact that, much like Atlanta, they clearly didn't proofread the thing, as the first column for the player positions had scoring diamonds in them. Details, people, details.


The Accommodations:


Sleep Inn
Sleep Inn

As I was once again largely using the hotel as a bed, I opted for a relatively cheap Sleep Inn near to the airport. I somehow managed to book a handicap-accessible room, and, in retrospect, the sheer act of doing that probably makes me eligible for the room itself, so it all works out. I asked to move in case an actual non-mentally handicapped individual showed up, but I was assured that there were other handicapped-accessible rooms still available. As the room was fine outside of having a bench in the shower and all the seats and switches at wheelchair height, I didn't ask to move. Once again, it was exactly what I needed it to be, and outside of the neighboring room having some loud, ahem, fun (quickly alleviated by some application of my iPod), I managed to get a full night's sleep that was guaranteed to make me feel groggy the entire next day.


On Never, Ever Being Late Going Home

Flight
The way back

Sunday, July 5th, 2009
Hoboken, NJ


Outside the Game:
My ticketing situation was still unresolved as of the night before, which gave me pause. That pause was tempered, however, with the knowledge that I was going home today, and my flights home are never in doubt. It doesn't come to pass that I have to call work and say "There's nothing I can do. They canceled my flight and I have to stay here an extra day." No, we couldn't have that.

I had breakfast at the hotel and then shuttled out to the airport early to sort out my ticket situation. I checked in at the self-service kiosk and was brightly told again that I didn't have a seat and I'd have to get one at the gate. Sure.

So through security and out to the gate I went, and I was finally pleasantly surprised to find someone already at the gate counter who gave me a boarding pass with a seat. You win again, Work. I had a hour and half to kill before boarding, so I found one of those recharger stations and started do some work on this thing while I waited. Boarding went smoothly, though I was seated in the same row as a rather haggard looking family, clearly coming back from a vacation such as my own. They had in tow five personal Pizza Hut pizzas that made me insanely hungry and already finding the complimentary cookie I was going to get with my free drink seem inadequate. One of the first messages from the pilot was that we were probably going to land a little early, and hey, where were you on my damn flight out?

The flight back did, in fact, land early, my driver was, in fact, right there to pick me up, and my ride back to my apartment from LaGuardia did, in fact, make record time. After some emergency watering of my plants, I had an exciting late afternoon of laundry to distract me from thinking about work the next day.


An Afterward:

As of this moment, I have three major league stadiums I have not yet been to: new Yankee Stadium, the Oakland Colosseum, and Fenway Park. I have plans to finalize to go out to Oakland in August and plans set in stone for Fenway in the last week of the season. Frankly, I'm holding out for my Dad to go to new Yankee Stadium to finance the ticket purchase.

Assuming that the rest goes as planned, I've run out of places to go next July 4th week. Although Target Stadium in Minneapolis is opening up, it is not enough to occupy more than a weekend trip. Although I ultimately see myself heading off to conquer the minor league parks as well, I have two ideas floating around for my "off year" next year. First, I may follow the Mets around on the road for the week. However, if the Mets are home, I was thinking to perhaps go to Japan and go to games for a week.

Time will ultimately tell, but I know that I'll be watching baseball next year.


2009 The Rest

Friday, July 3, 2009

Minneapolis

On Playing Two


The Metrodome
The Metrodome, 2009

Friday, July 3rd, 2009
Detroit Tigers vs. Minnesota Twins
The Metrodome
Major League Baseball, American League Central
Minneapolis, MN
7:10 PM

Outside the Game:
Another day, another not-so-early morning. My late morning flight wasn't nearly as unreasonable as some so far this trip, and I had some decent sleep in the tank. I grabbed some food at the breakfast buffet and got onto another damn shuttle to the airport.

The flight out to Minneapolis/St. Paul was delayed by about a half hour, but as I had a lot of flex in my schedule, I didn't quite mind. Outside of the minor delay, there was nothing particularly noteworthy about the flight out. I did the usual tasks of proving out my score card, reading, and working on this monstrosity. I flew AirTran for the first time, and I was quite impressed. The seats weren't sardine cans, they had in-flight wi-fi, and all the seats were wired to Sirius Satellite radio, which is a big morale boost during take off and landing when regular iPod use is verboten. The air crew even treated the passengers as though they were human beings, so one imagines sometime soon they'll realize they are doing it wrong and fall into line.

After a brief mix-up with the hotel about which terminal I was at, I was driven out to my Best Western, located in the traffic corridor between the airport and the Mall of America. There are hotels that service just the Mall of America, which implies that people come to Minneapolis just to visit the Mall of America, which as far as I can determine, is just a mall writ super-sized (...of America, one presumes). Make your own jokes here, folks. Once at my hotel, I went to the attached Deny's for lunch, hit the fitness center to pay penance, and then napped as the gods might nap.

Minneapolis actually has a light rail system of sorts that runs from the Mall of America to downtown. I was told this was the best way to get to the game, so a short shuttle ride later, I was at the rail station waiting for a train to the game. This being Minnesota and the rail stations being open-aired, there were heater buttons you could press to turn on a heater for a short amount of time. (I tried one out to the death stares of the people waiting in my area.) I can only imagine that the button-operated heat is just to save money on continually heating the stations or to discourage homeless from sleeping there. A short train ride later dropped me off at the Metrodome safe and sound. The trip back much, much later was similarly easy, if much more crowded.



The Stadium & Fans:

The Metrodome
Home plate to center field, The Metrodome

Ah, the Baggy Dome. After starting these trips several years ago, I had just missed the last days of some of the older stadiums out there. This fact did have the virtue of making these trips a little more permanent for the time being, as there would not be many new stadiums cropping up since most had just been built, but it mean I missed some of the lates, if not greats. With their new outdoor Target Field opening next year, I wanted to get to see the Metrodome before it was abandoned for greener pastures.

The big concrete blob sits semi-majestically in downtown. As with many older stadiums that don't have the interior space for the "modern" baseball amenities of play parks and specialty foods, the Metrodome uses the area right outside the stadium for these facilities. The Metrodome also specifically mentions in prominent signage that you are not allowed to bring firearms into the stadium, and from my perspective, this raises a lot more questions than it answers, and I'm sure my gentle readers can formulate them as well.

The Metrodome certainly raises some introspective question about the nature of ballparks and the way we're trending with them. One the one hand, the validity of the critiques of the Metrodome as a ballpark are certainly valid. It is tiny and cramped, and frankly the field just looks weird. It uses the bane of all god-fearing baseball fans, artificial turf. The small, claustrophobic corridors and wedged-in concession stands certainly aren't inviting, and the few X-box baseball kiosks they have scattered around are evocative of pathos on the level of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree before the Peanuts characters all waved their arms around it. And as a baseball fan, there were reminders that this was just a football stadium that you were borrowing, from the not-quite hidden ubiquitous Vikings signage to the fact that the right field wall is just a stretch of plastic holding back folded-in football seating.

That said, the place is clearly loved. As a fan of a team that until last year had what was considered by most to be a crappy park, I can get the emotion. It may be crappy, but it was your crap. You had your memories here. You had your championships here. You know your way around in the dark. And when the crowd gets into it (and they do get into it), it gets loud, and that can't help but be good for the home team. The sight lines weren't bad, the seats downstairs weren't far from the action, and the smallness of the place gave it a certain immediacy. I can see why people would be sad to not play their anymore. The fans seemed optimistic about their new outdoor stadium, and an in-game event marked the countdown to "outdoor baseball," but one has to wonder if all those involved haven't considered strongly enough the idea of putting a park without a retractable roof in an area prone to so much rainfall. Perhaps they forgot about the Seattle Pilots.

The stadium was a little too persnickety about letting people without tickets into the lower deck, even for batting practice. I had to sneak in with a group of other people just to go into the lower deck. I did, I'm proud I did it, and I would do it again in the future. So there.

They had some rather idiosyncratic contests, including a closest to homeplate pitching wedge challenge and throwing baseballs into an inflatable pool from the upper deck competition.

The fans were simply great. Although the seating capacity is on the low side, the place was fairly packed, and stayed fairly packed through the entire game, which was saying something when faced with a 16-inning marathon. When the last out was made, at least a majority of the fans were still there. Those, my friend, are die hards. There were several good-natured shouting matches with a minor Detroit contingent, and the way the game went back and forth, victory and crow changed plates on both sides with great regularity.


At the Game with Oogie:

14th-Inning Stretch
The 14th-inning stretch

I was in the upper deck right behind home plate again, and surrounded by a many people who would end up as tired as I was in a bit. There were a number of people keeping score in my area, and the crowd was packed and in for the midweek game.


The Game:

First pitch, Tigers vs. Twins
First pitch, Tigers vs. Twins

Well, there sure was a lot of it. Detroit jumped out to an early lead with two three-run innings in the second and third, and it looked like this one might be over quick. But the Twins roared back to tie it up in the 6th, with a rally featuring back-to-back triples, the first time I had seen that in person, and probably the last time I ever would again.

And then the game just went on. There was little scoring, or even hitting after the 6th, and the innings just got chewed up. The game went to extra frames and just kept going. The Tigers put in a fireballer in the 9th that stymied the Twins for three innings, blazing 100+ mph pitches past clearly fatigued Twins batters despite a legitimate Twins threat in the 11th. But the Twins pitchers matched them, until Detroit broke through with a run in the top 14th. It seemed it might be over, but the Twins tied it in the bottom of the inning, and then blew another chance to put it away.

Most of the crowd remained at the 14th inning stretch as the game trotted easily into its second day. It seemed to just be a matter of time until one team ran out of pitchers, or a lucky hit put it away. The two teams seemed to have finally gotten the two pitchers out there who were going to win or lose it for them for however long this was going to go on. And the Twins knuckleballer broke first, letting a torrent of hits through, giving the Tigers three runs in the top of the 16th. The Twins answered with one in the bottom of the inning, but with seemingly nothing left in the tank, they closed it out, finally putting this unofficial double-header to figurative and literal bed, 11-9.


The Scorecard:

Tigers vs. Twins, 07-03-09. Tigers win, 11-9, in 16 innings.
Tigers vs. Twins, 07/03/09. Tigers win, 11-9, in 16 innings.

The $1 scorecard was separate from the $3 program. It proved... inadequate for the task at hand, but frankly, there is no current stadium scorecard equipped to handle a 16-inning game. Even without that handicap, the card was average at best. It had team-specific information for the game itself, but it was a little cramped for its purpose, even given it was an AL stadium. After running out of space re-using the stats columns for innings, I was forced to forge my own territory into the printed area, switching to line notation from alpha to try and keep it as legible as possible. An older lady sitting next to me who was also keeping score watched me bemusedly, eventually whispering conspiratorially to me, "It's okay to stop." That, ma'am, is quitter talk.


The Accommodations:

Best Western
Best Western

The suite in the Best Western was cheap by NY standards, but it did provide the extra fru-fru I was looking for on this leg of the trip. I was getting in early, had a late morning departure time the next morning, and was looking forward to loafing around again. The huge ass-bed (xkcd readers will get that one) even came with a Levenger lap desk to use. The boss' son was just in NY last summer working as an intern for the Late Show. Having just graduated college as a communications major, he turned down a summer internship at the new Late Night to work as a camp counselor with his college friends. Although he didn't actually do it, I could hear the owner's head shake as he relayed this information.


2009 The Rest

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Atlanta

On the Sum of All Fears


Turner Field
Turner Field, 2009

Thursday, July 2, 2009
Philadelphia Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves
Turner Field
Major League Baseball, National League East
Atlanta, GA
7:05 PM

Outside the Game:
With the afternoon game the day before, I had a full night's sleep to get me going groggily into the late morning. I ate some random bits of the breakfast buffet at the hotel and took a quick shuttle ride to the airport.

General Mitchell airport is perhaps the only municipal edifice named for someone drummed out of the Army on charges of insubordination. The small museum in the airport proudly attests to this fact. One of the other things that I enjoyed about this airport was the fact that it had a real, honest-to-god bookstore in the terminal, as opposed to the crappy little "Best Seller" stands that I had been plagued with for the majority of my airport sojourns. So utterly elated to have a real bookstore to browse through, I was almost late to my boarding.

Unsurprisingly, I would be taking Delta on my flight to Atlanta (and, why yes, they did serve Coca-Cola products on the plane, as well). I was seated next to a salesman from Montana on the way home for the holiday weekend, and he being a talker, we chatted for most of the duration of the flight. He was the first beekeeper I had ever met in person, so I actually found out some fairly interesting information about such things, including how one manages to stumble into the beekeeping business (his grandfather was a keeper, and he inherited his equipment at his passing) and what the heck you do with all the honey (keep it, sell it, and brew a wide variety of meads). His 9-year old was a wrestler, and as any self-respecting proud father would, he had several videos of his son in matches, including the state finals match that he won. I'll say this much: you begin to question your place in life when there is a nine year-old with an upper body twice your size.

The flight was on time, and after meandering through the thickets of Atlanta international as a result of being dropped off at a gate the furthest away from civilization, I got my shuttle to the Best Western Hotel at the airport.

Getting to the game proved to be an adventure. Without a rental for the first time, I was prepared to have to cab it to and from the stadium. I got a suggestion from the desk clerk to take the shuttle back to the airport and then take take the subway to a stop that had a "Braves Shuttle" out to the field. Why not?

The subway ride out to the Five Points station was not too difficult, but once exiting the subway, I was told to just follow the signs to the field shuttle, but that was a little easier said than done. There were plenty of signs for the shuttle, to be sure, but they were just either vague or contradictory. I just eventually stood around until I saw a group of people in Braves gear going in the direction of one of the signs and then followed them through the labyrinthine Atlanta Underground Mall and out the other end to the imperfectly hidden shuttle bus stop. The shuttle eventually showed up and whisked us slowly through Atlanta traffic to Turner Field.

Thankfully, the shuttles back stopped directly at the subway stop, and a short subway ride got me back to the airport, to the shuttle to the hotel, and by the time I got back to my room, I wished I had just taken a damn cab.


The Stadium & Fans:


Home to center, Turner Field
Home plate to center field, Turner Field

Turner Field was another relatively new ballpark, and tribute to the ego of one man, and "the longest continuously operating franchise in the major leagues," or so they like to claim in a pavilion by a statue of Hank Aaron. The stadium was made to be impressive, and it was laid out in an organized fashion.

If nothing else, it can lay claim to the best kids' area in the majors -- "Tooner Field," sponsored by Cartoon Network, features all the best-known characters from their shows in their full glory, including a life-sized Dexter mech.

The area out in the center field pavilion had specialty food, as well as hot dogs from around the majors. The interior hallways had games for kids and adults, in addition to a "Braves Museum and Hall of Fame," that cost some game tokens to get into. To be fair, the museum was quite well done, detailing the history of the Braves franchise (and evidence that crazy people such as myself have been doing detailed score cards for a long time now), their solitary World Series trophy, and a full-sized Pullman car that talked about baseball travel during mid-century.

It was also in possession of the worst place in the entire damned world. The Braves had a room dedicated to their 14 straight division titles. If I could define my closest approximation of Hell, it would be this vestibule to all my frustrations and hate. Traveling through it and watching the countless second-place finishes by the Mets, it was all I could do not to lose all hope to despair, except for the knowledge that at the end of their streak was a Mets victory in the NL East.

Braves Museum
Worst place in the Universe

The upper deck area of the park was not neglected, and had some play areas and places with views of downtown. Amongst the items up there was the giant Coke bottle that was being retired this season. As part of the festivities, the first X-thousand fans got a voucher to get a replica Coke bottle of their own. (This bottle was actually filled with Coke, and I had to remove said cola before I was allowed to take it through airport security the next day, because, as we know, over three ounces of liquid hurts freedom, or something or other.)

At the Game with Oogie:


Dexter
I will crush you, DeeDee.

Oh boy, was this a doozy. Being surrounded by Braves fans constantly making that god-damned Braves chop all the time already made me need to actively control my impulse to pick a direction and start killing, but the cherry on top of this suck sundae was a woman sitting on my right in my row. She was from South Jersey, a Phillies fan, had recently moved to Atlanta, and seemingly the move had tragically resulted in her inability to shut her damn mouth. She had also been drinking, which she proudly proclaimed during her unending stream of "consciousness" monologue, just to keep it that extra dash of annoying. Every inconsequential thought that entered into her addled little brain from the friction of the two remaining working brain cells in her head seemingly broke the laws of physics in their speed from aborted inception to utterance: which Phillies players were hot, which one she'd most like to be friends with, how her hot dog tasted, how her family never answered the phone when she called (I wonder why, cupcake?), and on and on and on and on and on. I wanted to pull the gentleman accompanying her to the game aside, give him $100, and tell him to run -- I'd hold her off for as long as I could. It was the least I could do.

I was sitting in the upper deck behind home plate again, and despite the company, they were excellent seats, except for the bizarre fact that there was inadequate lighting as the sun went down. I thought it might have been just my area, but there were entire areas of the stadium bathed in shadows just barely lightened by the reflected glow of the field lights. It was so out of place, I can't imagine why anyone thought it was a good idea, or why someone hadn't noticed and resolved the situation yet.


The Game:


First pitch, Phillies vs. Braves
First pitch, Phillies vs. Braves

The Phillies playing the Braves. Outside of fervently wishing that everyone in the stadium besides myself would drop dead, to say I was conflicted would be a tremendous understatement. Once I saw that the Mets had won their game, I did the moral utilitarian math and decided to pull for the Braves, as they were still behind the Mets, and a win would be a game the Mets made up. And when I say "pull for," I mean it more in the sense of comparing Hitler and Stalin, in that while both monsters, one did statistically kill fewer people.

The Braves threatened in the second, but the game was scoreless until a two-run Brave homer in the 4th. The Phillies scratched two runs in the sixth to tie it back up, and although they came close to more in the subsequent innings, the score stayed tied until the bottom of the eighth. The Braves exploded for three runs that they were able to make stick in the ninth, nailing down a 5-2 victory. Lawrence Jones went 1-4.

The righteousness of my decision was ultimately validated by how upset the woman in my row was at the loss, and sanctified by a crying Phillies fan I passed on my way out of the stadium. Yes, cry; cry your tears of pain. Your wonderful sorrow fills my soul with black gladness.

I will say this: Bobby Cox is one hell of a manager, and everything Bobby Valentine aspired to be. It was rough keeping up with all of his moves on a cramped scorecard, but he kept pushing exactly the right button when he needed to, and it led to a win.


The Scorecard:


Phillies vs. Braves, 07-02-09. Braves win, 5-2.
Phillies vs. Braves, 07/02/09. Braves win, 5-2.

This was quite a scam. You get a free program on your way into the stadium, but you can only get a scorecard as part of the $7 program. And it doesn't get you much scorecard-wise - a flimsy one-pager that is 25% Coke ads. The area was stretched laterally, not horizontally, and frankly was just not spacious enough to score a NL game, let alone one where the Braves manager was swapping out the kitchen sink every inning or so. The biggest slap in the face was the totals column for Runs and Hits was indicated with a "R/H" in the area for those stats for the first inning. That's just sloppy.


The Accommodations:


Best Western
Best Western

My Best Western was right across the way from the airport, and I had an absolutely huge suite that I spent next to no time in. The various couches and chairs did provide nice props onto which to spew all the items from my suitcase, which I repacked and made the move to place all my few remaining clean clothes into the mesh pouch and the dirty clothes into the main basin of the suitcase.


2009 The Rest

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Milwaulkee

On Home Away from Home 



Miller Park
Miller Park, 2009

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009
NY Metropolitans vs. Milwaukee Brewers
Miller Park
Major League Baseball, National League
Milwaukee, WI
1:05 PM


Outside the Game:
I had to get up insanely early this day after not quite enough sleep even by the standards of this trip. My barely functioning brain forgot to refill my tank on the short drive to airport, and I was subsequently tagged for nearly 20 bucks for a gallon of gas. That's how they get you.

Sunrise
Another sunrise

The KC airport is not an extensive edifice, and not thinking much about it, I went straight to my gate, only to find out that my gate was essentially a closet with one disinterested food stall wedged into it, which was to become my only source of breakfast. Suffice to say, I was disappointed with my meal. The plane thankfully boarded on time, and I was unconscious on the short jump up to O'Hare in Chicago. I remember little about the shuttle out to the rental car, except the clear idea in my mind not to accept any sort of "free upgrades." I got my sissy blue Kia without much to-do, and then settled in for my drive up to Milwaukee.

Rental car
Not a Canyonero

For whatever reason, this Wednesday game was decided to be an afternoon start, which was what prompted this whole endeavor to start this early. I never did find out exactly why the game started when it did. At any rate, I had about an hour and half drive up to Milwaukee (as there were no direct flights from KC to Milwaukee, just Chicago). The one road on the way up was helpfully undergoing major road work, and it was absolutely pouring buckets all the way on the drive up. This just added a slight extra degree of difficulty to the drive and posed no danger of a rainout in the covered Miller Park.

Rain
Rain

Although there were some slowdowns in places, the drive up wasn't that bad, and by the time I had arrived at Miller Park, the rain had slowed to a misty drizzle. Despite the minor setbacks, I managed to get to the stadium two hours before the start of the game. However, I found out that Miller Park didn't open until an hour and a half before game time. There was a big tailgating community in the parking lots before the game, but I was a little concerned by the fact that the parking lot wedged everyone in so tightly. This fear would be realized after the game.

Tailgating
Packers! Whoooo!

Although not quite bad as Dodger's Stadium, the Miller parking lots after the game ended were just a stationary string of cars that didn't move for a good half hour after the last pitch. There at least were a bunch of personnel directing the traffic to avoid the absolute anarchy that was in place in LA, but people just pulled out of their space, got in the unmoving line, and threw their car into park. As it was the middle of the afternoon and not the middle of the night as was in the case for me in LA, I was in a little more accommodating spirit (no doubt helped by the Mets win), and I just finished proving out the scorecard in enough time before the traffic started moving again.


The Stadium & Fans:

Home to center, Miller Park
Home plate to center field, Miller Park

Brewer park is a retractable dome, and given the weather in the area, you can hardly blame them. As covered parks went, it was quite nice, and it got a lot of natural light in from big windows built into to dome structure itself and along the center field wall, which made it feel less oppressive than other domes in the league. You can get the culinary flavor for the area in that a huge TGI Fridays was built into the stadium and open year-round, and that there is another opportunity to stop and get a sausage on the walk from the parking lot to the stadium, you know, in case you hadn't had enough sausage tailgating and couldn't wait until you were actually in the stadium proper to get another sausage.

Miller Park had all the major accouterments you'd expect in a modern park, including an extensive kids play area, and specialty areas such as the right field bar and the Harley Davidson pavilion (that has its own motorcycle parking only area). Another big feature is "Bernie's Dugout," where the Miller mascot hangs out in his Left Field club house and slides into a big tub of water (formerly beer) every time the Brewers hit a home run. Thankfully, I did not get to see this during this game, and upon closer inspection of the Dugout, it seems that the splashdown, much like the cake, is a lie.

The other big event in the stadium is the Sausage Race, where the span between innings is filled with a race of guys in foam suits representing the different kind of sausages on sale in Miller Park. It is such a big deal that the kids area even has a interactive version of the Sausage Race, where you peddle along to make your sausage of choice go faster. If you haven't yet guessed, Milwaukee is serious about sausage.

Sausage Race
Serious bidness

For an afternoon game in the middle of the week, the place was pretty packed, which speaks well for the local fandom. There was also a sizable Mets contingent present as well, and we made our presence felt when appropriate.

As with Houston, as soon as the last out hit the mitt, someone hit a button to open the retractable dome and let in the elements. This was less dramatic than in Houston, as instead of letting in searing beams of sun, it just kind of let a little more cold into the confines, along with a damp chill.


At the Game with Oogie:

David Wright
He's so dreamy

Since this was going to a Mets game, I splurged for good lower deck seats right behind home plate on the first row of the deck overhanging the lowest deck. As it turned out, I was sitting right behind Bob Freakin' Euker's booth, which was pretty cool. You turn around, and there's a guy who saw Mr. Belvedere naked. It's quite a thing. My area was largely filled with rather sedate Brewers fans. As with San Francisco last year, after being in incredibly hot areas, I was suddenly plunged into cold weather, and if the game was played in the open air instead of under the dome, I might have been in danger of freezing after being in danger of heat stroke several days before. But thankfully, the air-conditioned interior of Miller Park was slightly less cold and damp than the outside of Miller Park.


The Game:

First pitch, Metropolitans vs. Brewers
First pitch, Metropolitans vs. Brewers

Outside of a Subway Series game at Yankee Stadium, I had never seen the Mets play as a visiting team before. As a matter of course, I tend to root for the home team on these trips unless I have an active interest otherwise, and this surely qualified, not even taking into account that the Mets hadn't won a single game since I left on this trip.

The Mets jumped out to leaving men on base early, stranding two in the first, and one in the second and fourth. Despite a Brewers threat in the fourth, the Met's pitcher Pelfrey kept the Brewers locked down. The Mets scraped a run across in the sixth and managed to stiffle a Brewer's attempts, despite having runners in scoring position in the next three innings. The Brewer's Gallardo was literally mowing down the Mets, totaling 12 strike outs before he left the game on the hard-luck hook. The game breezed by quickly, as it was clear that that one run was all the shut-down Mets were likely to get, and the Brewers were similarly unable to get a run of their own across. Francisco Rodrigues came in for the Mets to close it out, and despite surrendering a lead-off single, he quickly retired the next three batters he faced, leading the Mets to a sort-of deserved first win in a week, crushing the Brewers 1-0.

There was a scoring incident of note, as David Wright struck out in the first inning, and the catcher dropped the ball without Wright noticing. If a catcher drops the third strike of a strikeout, the strikeout is recorded, but it is not a putout until the catcher tags the runner or puts him out on first. The catcher dropped strike three, Wright walked away, and by the time the catcher corralled the ball, he just waited until Wright walked back to his dugout and was called out by the umpire for leaving the basepaths.


The Scorecard:

Metropolitans vs. Brewers, 07-01-09. Metropolitans win, 1-0.
Metropolitans vs. Brewers, 07/01/09. Metropolitans win, 1-0.

The $2 scorecard is sold separately from the free program provided when you enter the ballpark. It is a cardstock trifold with plenty of space to score a game and personalized to the series that was being played. (And frankly, looking at the [count 'em] nine players on the DL for the Mets on the scorecard was simply depressing.) It was an all-around honest scorecard, and it even had a listing for the umpires.


The Accommodations:

Clarion Hotel
Clarion Hotel

After the game. I drove out to the Clarion Hotel out by the airport, checked in, and took a nice and quite unavoidable nap. I had the entire evening to kill, and not having any pressing business in Milwaukee, I took a recovery day in my nice hotel room and even did some laundry to wash the sweat of Texas and KC out of my clothes. After a bountiful room service meal, I went out to the adjacent airport to return my rental car, filled up and early this day. However, I managed to miss all the signs saying that the return was closed until I got into the lot, prompting me to beg for some help at another desk to get my car settled away. A two minute shuttle ride back to the hotel got me back in plenty of time to make it an early night and get back to being some manner of functioning individual before my flight out the next day.


2009 The Rest