JD’s Ballpark Tour, Ninth Inning (Bronx, NY)

Part IX: Yankee Stadium

   …getting on the 7 express from Citi Field wasn’t too bad. I actually lucked out because as I was using my camera, a train had just pulled in. Luckily, I always have my MetroCard ready to go at a moment’s notice. After a couple years and many subway rides later, I’ve learned my lessons with the subways! Anyway, I got on the 7, then easily made the transfer to the 4 train to get to my next stop and second stadium of the day.

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Ballpark 8: Yankee Stadium, elevation 24 feet

The game: Tigers @ Yankees also on August 4, 2014

    If you are taking the 4 subway into Yankee Stadium, you can easily see the huge stadium from the train and you can’t miss your stop. The new ballpark is built similarly to old Yankee Stadium in that there are multiple tiers, and each tier goes a long way in terms of the number of rows. In other words, this is a massive stadium. But before entering new Yankee Stadium, I made my way to the softball field across the street where the old stadium once stood. Within the new field is the old diamond, but around the walkway, you can spot a section of the iconic old frieze from old Yankee Stadium. Yes, it’s still there as a monument to the “House That Ruth Built.”

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    After walking around Babe Ruth Plaza and checking out some of the outdoor stuff, I made my way into the new Yankee Stadium, but this time for a game! I should point out right now that I had been to this stadium before and did the tour two years ago. I wanted to take the tour before going to a game that way I could check out Monument Park and the museum. I will say both of them are a must-see and you can enter either one of these places before any home game if you arrive early enough. Typically, Monument Park fills up first and the lines to enter there usually end up being pretty long. But, if you’re a baseball fan, it’s worth going to. The museum doesn’t have as long of lines as Monument Park, but they get big crowds, and visiting that is also worth it.

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    The first thing I do is check out batting practice and see that the Tigers are already at bat when I arrive there. Here is something everybody should know when they first visit Yankee Stadium: the ushers are pretty tough when it comes to people trying to get to certain levels of the ballpark. Apparently, the right field porch is only for those fans with seats at the right field porch. In other words, only certain people can go there for batting practice. The reason for this is that right field in Yankee Stadium is a very prime location for home run balls during batting practice. With the shorter dimensions (and fences, for that matter) and wind patterns, most balls end up there. Thus, I sat in the left field bleachers, and didn’t have much luck with batting practice there. At the time, I simply took everything in and enjoyed watching balls end up in right field.

    One noticeable feature that people cannot miss is the glorious white frieze that hangs over the entire grandstand level. Also, the enormous HD screen in the outfield is a sight to behold, and is most informative during games. The field is one of the best maintained in the country, and the grounds crew are very meticulous in their preparation of the field.

    After some BP, I make my way to the fan services station and notice a decent-sized line entering inside the offices. This is where you can find out information about the ballpark, and also pick up your first-time guest certificate. I’ll say this right off the bat, their certificate has the name printed on, but it looks exquisite. I also picked up a guide to the ballpark and got some tips on food and other places to go in Yankee Stadium.

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The food: After asking for some food suggestions, I decided on the suggestion that most appealed to me. I decided on the Triple Play Grill which had some excellent choices. Luckily, there was one just below my section in the grandstand level in section 321. I got the Sliders combo which has three sliders, and a bucket full of fries. I’m not even exaggerating on that, I barely finished the fries that I received. As for the sliders, they were excellent. For $12 for that combo, it was not a bad price at all, and surprisingly filling. Of course, the huge amount of fries helped. After getting my food and checking in to the stadium, I got a message saying to check out the MasterCard booth. What a surprise! More on that later.

Ticket prices: Regular price for any ticket at Yankee Stadium is going to be pretty expensive so you are going to have to plan for this one. You can either see which opponent is coming into town and anticipate that a game will sell out quickly, so your best bet is to get tickets at regular price (this really only applies for games against the Red Sox). Otherwise, StubHub is your very best friend for this ballpark. For most weekday games, tickets come at a cheaper price through the secondary market, and this was a good example of that. I got a great seat in the grandstands (section 421) right behind home plate for less than $28. Even better, this wasn’t a high row seat, this was right in the lower middle where I wanted it. To me, with the views I got, this was an excellent seat.

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    From the grandstands, you can overlook the Bronx skyline, which doesn’t look bad at all during the daylight. You truly get the sense that you’re in the middle of a bustling neighborhood here. Then again, this is actually true is there are apartment buildings just west of Yankee Stadium. Also, you can see the scoreboards clearly from there, as well as Monument Park with all its retired numbers.

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The fans: I’ll try to keep this one short. The fans are unlike any other fan base. Because I sat in the grandstands with the “real fans,” I got to be around some truly die-hard fans; the ones that know baseball and its rich history. I was around the fans that didn’t tolerate the wave, and when one person tried to start a wave, I heard someone retort, “Leave the wave at the beach where it belongs!” This was followed by a rousing cheer, and it never came around during this game. This was only the second game where I didn’t see a wave happen, and I greatly appreciated it. Thank you, Yankee fans. They may seem tough, but they are as passionate a fan base as I’ve ever seen.

The game: Once the game got started, we started hearing the “roll call” from the “Bleacher Creatures” in right field. In case you don’t know, during the top of the first inning, a slew of fans will start a chant of a defensive player, and that player will respond back in his own way. When it got to Derek Jeter at the end of those chants, the entire crowd erupted in that chant of “Der-ek Je-ter *clap, clap, clap-clap-clap * Der-ek Je-ter!” With this being his last season, the crowd is more appreciative of every last game he plays for they know they are seeing the final days of a Yankee legend playing in their home stadium. You can count me in that group who appreciates his playing style, and the fact that he played clean through his 20-year career. I could go on about this, but I’m sure most readers know about his playing career, so I will just say, thank you, Derek Jeter.

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    Each of Jeter’s at-bats drew thunderous applause and was accompanied with two things: the Jeter chant, and a plethora of fans showing their respect to the captain by tipping their cap just like a popular current commercial. Unfortunately for Jeter, Max Scherzer was pitching for the Detroit Tigers, and he pitched a marvelous game. Jeter struck out in his first at-bat. The Yankees had Brandon McCarthy pitching, and while he had some trouble getting into jams, he would also manage to get out of them. For example, in the top of the 2nd inning, McCarthy had gotten himself into a bases loaded situation. He got out of that jam by striking out Alex Avila and Eugenio Suarez.

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    Jeter came up again in the bottom of the 3rd, and he came up big in that inning. With two men aboard, he whacked a single to the outfield, but the runners held and only moved up one base each. Those two would later score on a sacrifice fly and a hit to put the Yankees up, 2-0. That’s all the scoring the Yanks would need as Robertson only allowed an unearned run to score in the 5th inning. Both Robertson and Scherzer hurled 117 pitches in strong outings, but it was the Yankees who would come out victorious, 2-1. Not much offense happened in the latter stages of the game as the New York bullpen shut the door on the Tigers.

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    I know I just described the game like any normal reporter would do, but that’s because everybody around me was totally immersed in the game, and hung on every pitch like it was important. With the Yankees on the outside looking in for a wild card spot, every game is important, and the fans know we are witnessing Jeter’s last games. At least in the grandstands, the crowd was as loud as any I had been to thus far. After the game, I conversed with several kind fans and swapped stories. The woman that sat next to me has been a season ticket holder for over two decades, and she shared so many memories of old and new Yankee Stadium. It was a pleasure talking nothing but baseball for over three hours with the fans there. It was also an immense pleasure to see the Yankees win at home and hear Frank Sinatra serenade the crowd with a recording of “New York, New York.”

    Overall, this is one of the best places to watch a baseball game in the major leagues. If there was any knock on Yankee Stadium, it is one of the more expensive tickets anywhere, but this is the Yankees. The 27-time world champions are allowed to have ticket prices a little more expensive than the average because they are a perennially good team to watch. The concession prices were more than fair, and while the staff can be tough, they are also very personable to all fans that come by, including season ticket holders. It’s like a big family here in that sense. Parking is through the roof, but that’s why nearly everyone takes the subways or buses to get there. I highly recommend going to a game here at least once in your life, if not for the history, then for the sight of seeing this majestic stadium.

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    I left the stadium smiling from ear to ear. I had seen two games at two different parks in one day, and they were great ballparks, too. I would have been completely satisfied if my tour had ended here like I originally thought because it ended on such a good note, and I had made some terrific memories through those three weeks. You would think my tour would end here, but it didn’t…

 

 

…remember that surprise I alluded to earlier? Well, thanks to MasterCard, I was the recipient of one of their many “Priceless Surprises.” The MasterCard representatives asked if I was still in town the next day and had any concrete plans. I had planned to go swing dancing Tuesday night, but those plans weren’t set in stone yet. Thus, I got a huge manila envelope that included two tickets for the following game! I didn’t look at the tickets yet, I was just so overcome with excitement that I simply said, “Thank you so much!” I also didn’t have time to check exactly where the tickets where since I was starving and wanting to eat my huge amount of food. I was also told I’d get more information via e-mail and all that jazz. When I got on the subway, my energy was quickly winding down, and I even nearly fell asleep on the subway. As soon as I got back to my room, I quickly fell asleep for a cat nap, and prepared for a new day!

It’s not over yet!

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-JD

JD’s Ballpark Tour, Eighth Inning (Flushing, NY)

Part VIII: Citi Field

    There is a lesson learned when one travels for weeks on end. Always expect the unexpected. The night before I entered New York City was certainly unexpected because the hotel I stayed at was quite possibly the worst experience I’ve had at a hotel in a long time, and this was supposed to be a good one, too. I won’t call out the place on here, but I’m STILL waiting to hear back from them about compensation (yes, it was THAT bad because I barely got any sleep, either). As I hopped on the train to get into the city, I said goodbye to the lush, grassy areas of everywhere I had been. Then I pulled into Penn Station, ready to get my Metro Pass for the week. After finally doing my laundry (because I couldn’t even do that at the horrible hotel I was previously at), I got a good night’s sleep, and even caught up on my sleep…

Ballpark 7: Citi Field, elevation 11 feet

The game: Giants @ Mets on August 4, 2014

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    …but I may have caught up too much anticipating the doubleheader that lay ahead of me. I woke up only two hours before game time, and very quickly got ready and made my way to the subway. The transfer to the 7 train wasn’t too bad, and I even made the stop at Mets- Willets Point with more time to spare than I thought. Because of this, I was able to buy my ticket and really think about what seat I wanted. After some thought, I decided on a great $22 ticket on the front row of the upper box. This turned out to have an incredible view of the whole stadium. More on that in a second.

    Since I didn’t park anywhere in New York, I will echo what countless others have said: If you are going to watch a game in New York City, take public transportation! The subway system in NYC is among the best in the world, and buying a week pass for only $30 is cheaper than parking at some baseball stadiums for one game. I got my pass and was able to watch TWO games in one day! But, if you want to drive and park anywhere near the field, expect to pay a pretty penny. No, really, it will be that expensive.

Ticket prices: The Mets have some great deals throughout the season, and the one that I thought about getting was a very cheap student ticket in the outfield grandstand, while supplies last. Hey, any time you can get a decent ticket for under ten bucks, that’s a great deal. Looking at the ticket prices all around, the field level tickets can be a bit pricey, but not too terrible. The secondary market will be your best bet for seats in the lower levels. Since there were still a plethora of upper level seats up for grabs in this matinee game, I waited until I arrived at the box office to buy my ticket. Ultimately, I decided to get a better view and pay a little more. Spending only $22 for a Promenade Box seat just outside the infield is a great deal, if you can manage to get those tickets early. Since I was there alone, I knew I had a chance to snag a great seat. Just two sections to my right, that front row seat would cost over $30. I thought I did just fine! My section was in Promenade section 421, row one… a fine deal for the price, and definitely in foul ball territory.

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    I quickly made my way upstairs and bought my customary hat at the team store. Then, I got a decent meal and drink there for a good price, and finally got to my seat. The view was great, and I ended up getting some excellent action shots during this particular game. So far, I was really enjoying this game, and even saw a Mets home run early in the game from Daniel Murphy. If you recall from a previous post, this was the same Met that broke up the no-hitter in San Diego just two weeks prior to this game.

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The fans: The fans did show up for this game in good numbers, but many of them are disgruntled fans waiting for this New York Mets franchise to have a breakout season and possibly make a playoff run. Sadly, that won’t happen this year. A bunch of fans to my right even went so far as to say, “If they don’t win this game and the next series after this, it’s over.” I know it’s only early August, but when the Mets are mired in the basement of the standings, they need every win possible. Yes, most fans still love their Metropolitans, but they are also realistic and know when their team stinks. Folks, these are truly passionate fans, and it’s too bad they are looking at some lean years ahead.

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The game: After the Mets put up two runs in the first inning, the Giants came back with two of their own in the third inning to tie the game as Pablo Sandoval knocked in two runs with a deep double. The Mets then scored another run in the fifth inning to take the lead; that third run was the result of an error, and would be the last one for the Mets. Hunter Pence hit a lead-off triple in the top of the seventh, and then later scored on a wild pitch from Jeurys Familia to tie the game at three runs apiece. Of course, the fans had a field day with that one knowing that the game was slipping away, and of course they would give up the tying run on something like a wild pitch.

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    This game entered the ninth inning tied at three, and I was getting a little afraid that this game would go extra innings. I was also afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get to the next game as early as I would have liked. But in the top of the 9th, Gregor Blanco hit a single and then stole second base. Later in the inning, Pablo Sandoval cashed in that run with a ground-rule double, and that was all the Giants needed as they won the game, 4-3. Sadly, the Mets fans left disappointed again and were just about ready to put this season in the trenches.

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    Since the game ended at a good time, I had a little time to take some pictures and explore the Jackie Robinson rotunda at the main entrance of Citi Field. This is a glorious sight for baseball fans, and there are several callbacks to the old Brooklyn Dodgers around the rotunda. A giant blue “42” is present at the main entrance representing the only number retired across Major League Baseball. After that, I made my way to the old apple that used to be in Shea Stadium. This was the “Big Apple” that had the words “HOME RUN” written on the bottom. This was the huge apple that was raised up any time the home team would smash a home run in the old stadium. This is now a popular meeting spot for Mets fans before or after a game. Oh, only a few feet away, there was a bit of whimsy as I saw a dog wearing a Mets jersey and hat. On top of that, this dog had a pipe sticking out of his mouth!

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    Sadly, I couldn’t walk about the stadium like I wanted to, but for this visit, I enjoyed the atmosphere. The ticket prices are more than fair, and the food is a fair price for what you get. The souvenirs are not all that expensive here, but there are always plenty of people selling their own lower-priced goods right outside the park. If I wasn’t so rushed, I might have had a look at what they were selling. The Jackie Robinson rotunda is definitely a must-see for anyone wanting to visit this ballpark. I’d recommend seeing a game here as it’s a well-built stadium with great sight lines and decent prices. Of course, this was only my first game of the day…

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-JD

JD’s Ballpark Tour, Bottom of the Seventh Inning (Wilmington, Delaware)

(AKA: Back to the Minors)

    To my friends who know me, it’s no secret that I enjoy the occasional minor league game. Originally being from southern California, I would always take in a game for one of the many California League teams there are, the Quakes, the 66ers, the Storm, and even the Mavericks (one of my loyal readers and friends has announced for them this season). I’ve been to three alone this season, so what’s another game, right? As I was leaving Baltimore heading north on the I-95, I happened to see some lights in the distance. I peered towards the east right off the freeway, and saw that those lights belonged to a baseball stadium! After slowing down, I saw a game was in progress. After about a minute of debating, I decided to get off at the nearest off-ramp and make my way there to see what this place was all about.

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The ballpark: Judy Johnson Field at Frawley Stadium, elevation is about 20 feet

The game: Frederick Keys (Orioles affiliate) @ Wilmington Blue Rocks (Royals affiliate) on August 2, 2014

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    There I was entering Wilmington, Delaware as the day was drawing to a close. I figured I would get near the stadium and take a look around. Since the game had already started and was maybe an hour in, there were no parking attendants, so I didn’t have to pay for parking (although upon further review, they offer free parking there). I walked around the perimeter of the stadium and just enjoyed it. No score book, no plans, just baseball in its purest form. I took a few pictures of this ballpark entering the sunset, and even made my way around to where the Delaware sports Hall of Fame is. Unfortunately, it was closed, but I’m sure there are some great exhibits in there.

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    One of those exhibits features the man depicted in a statue outside of Frawley Stadium. That statue depicts William “Judy” Johnson, one of the greatest players of the Negro Leagues. To me, this was pretty cool since he’s one of the few black players to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While he wasn’t a power hitter, he consistently batted over .300 spraying singles all over the outfield. He was also an exceptional fielder and on the plaque by his statue, it says Johnson was considered one of the greatest third basemen of the Negro Leagues. He grew up in Wilmington, and lived his life mostly in Delaware. As I was admiring the statue and reading the plaque, I noticed one of the Blue Rocks staff members and asked about the stadium and the team.

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    This gentleman’s name is Andrew Layman, who is the assistant general manager of the Blue Rocks, and he was very kind to me while I was there. What he told me was that this stadium is named Judy Johnson Field because of his importance to the community, and the game of baseball. He also told me that the Blue Rocks are a high-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals and have been their affiliate since the early 1990s. After asking where I was from (because I guess it was that obvious that I was an “out-of-towner”), I told him that I was currently touring as many MLB stadiums as possible, and that seemed to spark an interest with him! After telling me more about the stadium and the team, he invited me to watch the last few innings of the game since it was so late and didn’t have to buy a ticket.

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    With its brick facade and old buildings across the street from the stadium, this place felt similar to Camden Yards. To me, that is a big plus. The stadium is built in the classic style that became popular in the 1990s, with plenty of space for parking all around. As I walked around the interior of the stadium, I took a gander at the concession prices, and boy were they awesome! Four and a half bucks for a jumbo hot dog is actually a pretty decent price. Most minor league parks charge anywhere from five to six bucks for a jumbo hot dog, so this was definitely on the lower end of prices. Maybe other minor league stadiums should take note!

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   After enjoying a couple hot dogs, I sat down and watched the home town Blue Rocks put up three runs in the seventh inning. Every time the Blue Rocks score, two things happen. First, a jet of water will spray upwards beyond the outfield wall, and it shoots out of what looks like a big Coke bottle in the outfield wall. Also, their secondary mascot, a stalk of celery, will come out and “CELE-brate” the run being scored. Ha! I love a good pun, and that one won me over.

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    The Blue Rocks went on to win, 6-0 in a quick game. While I usually get myself a hat from every major league stadium, that rule doesn’t apply for minor league parks. Thus, I didn’t buy anything from that park. However, the prices are great for memorabilia there. If I find my way back out there, I may pick up a hat if the park is still open during the winter.

    Overall, a great place to watch some minor league ball, and a great staff all around. A huge thanks to the assistant GM, Andrew Layman, for showing me around the park and allowing me to watch a few innings. I extend my deepest thanks, and while it’s not knocking out another ballpark, this does add something to my list. I got to watch a baseball game in another new state, and I’m grateful for that. After saying goodbye to Delaware, I made my way back up the freeway and on to get some rest. I would need the rest for I would be heading to New York City the very next day. Until then, thank you so much for reading! The next updates will be from my visit in the Big Apple. In real time, though, I am flying out tonight for two more stops… in Texas!

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-JD

Sports Museums in Baltimore (Seventh Inning Stretch)

(AKA: “O” say does that star spangled banner yet wave?)

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    With Friday night’s game ending early, I decided to take advantage and sleep earlier than usual. After bidding farewell to the town of Laurel and all the wonderful people there, I thought I would stop by Camden Yards area one more time. Not for a ballgame, but to check out a couple museums that I had heard so much about. My first stop was the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards which featured an excellent look into the Orioles’ history, and even the history of baseball in Baltimore. I won’t divulge everything you will find in this museum because my point of view and some of the pictures do not do this museum any justice.

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   First, you are guided towards the waiting room where the “Nicolay Draft” of the Gettysburg Address is prominently displayed. A little history before we enter the makeshift B&O train through the history of Baltimore sports. First, the travels of the ball players are shown, and in here include some artifacts from the Orioles first game. Fun fact: Don Larsen pitched the first Orioles’ game in 1954. Yes, this is the same Don Larsen who would go on to pitch a perfect game for the New York Yankees in the 1956 World Series.

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    After making a right turn past the train, you are led through a section featuring “Babe Ruth: American Icon.” After that, I had to give a chuckle because the museum used the same idea I had used for my current blog, and that’s going through an adventure in nine innings!

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    In the late 1800s, the Baltimore Orioles were a team in the American Association that were considered a major league-type team. When the AA disbanded and later merged with the National League, the Orioles became one of twelve teams in the NL. In the mid to late 1890s, the National League were the only major league around before the AL was created in 1901. I feel that in order to appreciate the present, one must first appreciate the past, and I was in awe of how much the city of Baltimore embraced their baseball past. There is even a huge banner for the NL champion, Baltimore Orioles… from 1895. More items from that short-lived NL era remain intact and are on display here.

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    Also shown are the syndicate baseball years, and the Orioles run in the International League between both World Wars. After that, we finally get to the current incarnation of the Baltimore Orioles who were relocated from St. Louis (and previously called the Browns). Sadly, there is VERY little reference to the team formerly being called the St. Louis Browns. Then again, the Orioles franchise wanted to disassociate itself with a team that was known for losing nearly all the time. In fact, the Browns were consistently the doormats of Major League Baseball, and held so many records for futility. This new team would adopt a motto called “The Oriole Way” thereby eliminating nearly all mentions of those Browns.

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    Further down the museum, we go through the entire Orioles history, including their three World Series titles. Finally, we get to the big part of the Orioles floor. At the end, we have an entire section dedicated to one of the greatest players to ever put on an Orioles jersey, or any jersey for that matter: Cal Ripken, Jr. As I said in a prior post, I vividly remember watching the game when he broke Lou Gehrig’s record of consecutive games played. Imagine my awe when I walked into that room and saw those number banners that once hung from the old B&O warehouse beyond right field. Yes, the “2131” banner is currently hanging inside the museum.

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    Quickly going through the rest of the museum, we see displays for the old stadiums, the Baltimore Colts, and the Baltimore Ravens. A couple highlights in the lower floor include a seat with an old microphone where you can call the action of a famous Baltimore sports moment. Of course, I chose Ripken’s home run during his record-breaking game in 1995. After finishing at this museum, I thanked the curators and made my way outside in the drizzling rain.

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    Soon after saying a final goodbye to the Camden Yards area, I hopped in my car for the three block drive to make my way to the Babe Ruth Birthplace & Museum. The featured film inside the museum is “O” Say Can You See: The Star Spangled Banner In Sports. I will just come out and say this, but the film brought a tear to my eye. For the record, I loved the very end of the film, which is shown at this link:

“O” Say Can You See: The Star Spangled Banner In Sports

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    The bedroom where he was born is very well preserved, and is like a flashback to what it was like at the turn of the century… the 19th Century, that is. Included are artifacts from his first professional games as a Baltimore Oriole in the minor leagues, and his first games as a Red Sox player. Oh, there is even a score book from his first professional game where he pitched a shutout. There is also a wall with 714 plaques showing all of his home runs, and who they were hit off of.

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    Another feature of this museum is the “500 Home Run Club” honoring many players. Of course, while some consider Ruth to be the “Home Run King,” and even more people consider Hank Aaron to be the statistical leader in home runs, there is still debate as to whether Barry Bonds belongs on that list. Yes, this was discussed by some older gentlemen also visiting the museum, and they overwhelmingly agreed that Aaron and Ruth are the true home run kings… not even giving the nod to “someone who may have taken steroids.” That cloud will always hover over many players in what some historians are already dubbing “The Steroid Era.” I won’t give any personal opinions here or show any bias, but from a baseball perspective, it is sad that we live in this era, and are now quick to judge any player who shows some power and automatically ask the question, “Is he on steroids?” This just makes me appreciate those past days even more.

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    After going around all the other displays during Ruth’s playing days, the highlight for me was the movie about the Star Spangled Banner. Yes, there IS a direct link involving Babe Ruth and the Star Spangled Banner being played before every MLB game (except for those games when the former Expos and current Blue Jays played) and I won’t spoil it for you. But, the production was that good, and I would want to watch it again and again. Also of great significance, this marks the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner, so there was some special meaning to this film being shown right now. Yes, September will mark exactly 200 years that Francis Scott Key wrote a poem that contained those now famous lyrics, and even after visiting the Babe Ruth birthplace, I made it a point to stop at Fort McHenry where that famous battle took place in 1814. Since this is a sports blog, I won’t go into too much detail about Fort McHenry. Plus, if I did go into detail, I would write pages about my experience there.

    With that said, I highly suggest that everyone check out those two museums if you’re in Baltimore, and especially make a stop to Fort McHenry to see where the Star Spangled Banner began. The city is proud of their place in history with regards to that patriotic song, and it clearly shows. As an American citizen, I can greatly appreciate the meaning of the song and still get chills when I hear it. From the drum and fife playing in Baltimore, to the old band playing before a race during Boston Marathon weekend, to hearing a nearly-packed Camden Yards shouting “O!” at a certain part of the song… it still gets to me. Thank you very much for reading, everybody!

-JD

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Post-script: Be sure to also check out my twitter, which is @StimpyJD, and check out the hash-tag #JDsBallparkTour for tweets and pictures from my ballparks travels. Also, follow this blog and keep an eye for updates to this blog as I’m not close to done yet!

JD’s Ballpark Tour, Top of the Seventh Inning (Back to Baltimore)

Part VII: Camden Yards (Revisited)

    Never before has a ballpark had an amazing effect on me. Only a couple times have I gone back to a new ballpark because it was that good. One of those was Fenway Park (after touring it in the Winter), another one of those was Wrigley Field. This is the only ballpark where I have gone back TWO different times in the same trip. A fan was kind enough to give me a free ticket to Friday’s game against the Mariners (even though I thought about getting a $7 student ticket for that game, anyway). This one was definitely worth it.

Ballpark 5 (again): Oriole Park at Camden Yards, elevation 36 feet

The game: Mariners @ Orioles on August 1, 2014

    After spending a day writing, relaxing, and getting some cake from Charm City Cakes, I made my way back to Camden Yards to see a different visiting team. Also, it was ¾ sleeve t-shirt giveaway day… and this one celebrated their 60-year history. While I was tempted to wear that shirt, I was already wearing another free giveaway shirt from earlier in the week. The amount of free stuff I received from Camden Yards was plentiful, and also really appealing. The two shirts I got had a vintage style to them, and the tote bag was a nice addition to that collection. This doesn’t even include the first-timers certificate. To the Orioles organization, you are doing a terrific job. Keep doing what you’re doing, and you will win many fans over, and have several first-time guests come back for a repeat visit at some point. Or in my case, two repeat visits in the same week.

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    This time, I decided to enter via the West side gate on Eutaw Street so I can take a look at the retired number statues on that side of the park. Included here is a statue entitled “Babe’s Dream” depicting a young Babe Ruth as he was born only a few blocks away! However, that is another story, which I will get to later. I also took in batting practice and got to sit down at one of the orange chairs in the center field bleachers. This seat pictured marked the spot where Eddie Murray hit his 500th career home run nearly two decades ago.

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    Since I’ve done ticket prices in a separate post, I won’t go into detail about that. As for the food, I went back to Boog’s BBQ again because the food is that tasty, but Boog was nowhere to be found on this day. As it turned out, he had another appearance he was making that day. The food was still excellent, though.

    Maybe it was the giveaway, or maybe it was the hot streak the Orioles were on. In any case, the fans came out in droves for this game, and they were as loud as I’ve heard all trip long. This was the loudest crowd I had been around since the near no-hitter in San Diego. Many of the fans I sat next to were undoubtedly pumped for the game, and were talking about a deep playoff run. The consensus was that the Baltimore Orioles are a serious dark horse contender for the AL pennant, and I would have to agree with them. Their starting rotation is much better than I thought, their bullpen just got more solidified, and if they stay healthy, their batting order could pack some serious punch. Nearly 40,000 loud fans came out to watch what ended up being a quick game.

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The game: Throughout the first few innings, there was a threat of rain in the forecast. However, those dark clouds were gone by the fourth inning, and the game went on as usual. Austin Jackson made his Mariners debut after the blockbuster three-team trade that also sent David Price to the Detroit Tigers (more on him in an upcoming post). Jackson wasn’t so stellar in his M’s debut only going 0-for-3. Robinson Cano and Kendrys Morales provided the offense for Seattle as they managed only one run in the 4th inning.

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    On the Orioles side, Manny Machado carried the team on his back for this game as he recorded three hits, including an RBI, and scoring the winning run. Wei-Yin Chen pitched a gem by going 7 and 1/3 strong innings on 104 pitches, and allowing only the one run. Andrew Miller then came in for his Orioles debut, and got a rousing ovation as he got out of the 8th inning with the lead still intact. Miller came to Baltimore via a trade from the Boston Red Sox at the deadline. This trade helps solidify the Baltimore bullpen, and also adds someone with postseason experience to the roster (Miller won a World Series in 2013 at Boston). Good on the fans to recognize his debut and come through in an important hold situation.

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    These fans are now seriously thinking about the postseason and who they would want to face in the first round. By an overwhelming margin, these fans want to see the Angels again because they know they can beat Anaheim… er… Los Angeles of Anaheim. Given that Baltimore won series both at Camden Yards and at Angel Stadium, I might have to agree with those fans. In the 9th inning, Zach Britton pitched a perfect inning to notch his 22nd save and give the Orioles a 2-1 win. Again, the fans were as loud as ever, and capped off a great week at Camden Yards.

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    There is a reason I came back here aside from the free ticket. The fans have been electric all week long, and it was thrilling to be around a playoff-chase atmosphere as the Orioles look to win their first division title in seventeen years! Yes, it has been that long for them. Oh, I have to give a special shout out to the ushers on the third base side (specifically lower boxes 62 and 64) for being so kind and knowledgeable about the team and the park. As I’ve said before, this is one of the best places to watch a game. The food is top notch, the staff are excellent, and the ticket prices are quite good if you buy them in advance, and also if you look out for those special deals. I will miss this park, but it’s time to move on to greener pastures! I urge everyone to visit Camden Yards at least once and check out this jewel of a ballpark. Until next time, I will catch you guys on the flip side!

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-JD

JD’s Ballpark Tour, Sixth Inning (Washington, D.C.)

Part VI: Nationals Park

   Two nights in a row at Camden Yards proved to be very memorable. How could that possibly be topped? I would try to answer that with a trip to Washington, D.C. For the day. Since this was a Thursday, I finally had a chance to mail some more post cards, and to get a haircut…. finally! Now I was ready to check out our nation’s capital… for only a short bit. The traffic getting there was abysmal. Apparently, traffic is usually pretty bad there with all the tourists meandering around the historical sites. Since I had really good tickets, and was aware of the awful parking near the park, I decided to forego checking out some of the sites and make my way to the park…

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Ballpark 6: Nationals Park, elevation 6 feet…. or 25 feet depending on who you ask.

The game: Phillies @ Nationals on July 31, 2014.

   Making my way to the park meant having to fight through even more traffic and the slums of DC. When I finally made my way down there, I knew I had to arrive early for a plethora of reasons. One of which was the price of parking. However, I could not find any street parking after about a half-hour of looking around. Finally, I settled on parking not too far from the stadium. How much was this parking?

   Twenty-five dollars?!? This was parking about 5 blocks away near the pier, and was considered a fair price compared to some of the other parking around the stadium. At the Navy Yard, parking ranged from $30-35, and the closest parking to the stadium was $40 and up! I spent less for parking for two games at Camden Yards, and still had money for a hot dog. Of course, I had done some research and was glad to have parking for ONLY $25. Folks, if you’re going to attend a game at Nationals Park, either get a ride there, or carpool and split the cost of parking.

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Bryce Harper taking BP

Bryce Harper taking BP

   Check this out, if you want a better chance at catching a BP ball, go early and wait by the Center Field bleachers gate as they open the earliest. Entering here, you get a chance to check out some of the statues, the huge (but only decently stocked) team store, and some of the booths they have there. After all that, I had a chance to check out the field from the left field seats, and this is a great stadium! The views are good, and the scoreboards are very impressive.

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Ticket prices: Having done the research, I knew how expensive the face value of those tickets are, so the first place I looked to was StubHub, and I was surprised that there were plenty of tickets all around. After waiting a couple days, I finally found one that I thought was a steal. Somehow, I got a single ticket for the Dugout Box (Section 114) for well below face value at just under thirty bucks. Those tickets have a face value of about $90 each, so I felt very lucky to snag that seat. Plus, it beats most of the other seats in that stadium.

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   Again, this is a ballpark that is built more vertically, so the seats behind home plate in the upper deck are much higher than most stadiums. Plus, getting to those top seats can be a bit of a hassle in this park. Because of the great view I had from the dugout box, I thought they were more than worth it.

The food: Since I was a first timer there, I made sure to stop by the fan assistance center, and asked where I could find a particular hat, at first. As it turned out, they didn’t have the hat I was looking for. To be honest, their cap selection at all the team shops were quite disappointing. Anyway, I also received a first-timers certificate and asked where the best food was located. I was directed to the G Sandwich Shop and got a big chicken parm sandwich. Despite the high price (price was $13.00), this sandwich was humongous and not messing around. Great food there, and I give a bonus point for having a restaurant named “Steak of the Union.”

The fans: A crowd of 35,722 came out… and a good amount of them were Phillies phans. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of “Natinals” fans there supporting their home team, but they aren’t as loud as some other places. I joked that most of them are there to be seen, or work in the business district just adjacent to the park. With those high ticket prices, you would be more likely to see fans in the upper class of the Washington, D.C. Metro area. All kidding aside, they cheered when their team scored, and groaned when their Nats either failed to score a run in a key situation, or gave up multiple runs. In other words, your standard crowd. However, I happened to sit next to some very friendly Phillies fans, one of whom (I hope) reads this blog, and wants to do this same trip when he gets older. Maybe at the season’s end, I’ll give a post on how to go about planning something like this.

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The game: The first two innings went very quickly as Cliff Lee and Gio Gonzalez got off to hot starts. However, in the bottom of the third inning, everything came to a halt. After striking out Gio Gonzalez, Cliff Lee was looking fantastic. Then, on the first pitch of the next at-bat (Lee’s 31st pitch of the evening) against Denard Span…. something happened. Right away, Cliff Lee motioned towards the dugout and knew something was wrong and had to leave the game. As he was walking towards the dugout, he was holding his left arm and left many Phillies fans to say, “Oh no… not again.” As it now turns out, Lee is done for the season, but will not require surgery on his elbow. It was a horrible end to his short season, and it’s a shame.

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   Then the Phillies’ bats came alive as they put up a 5-spot in the fourth inning, and batted around. That pretty much took the crowd out of the game. However, the crowd perked up again as the Nationals had their Presidents Race! This is similar to the sausage race in Milwaukee, or the legends race in Arizona. On this particular game, Honest Abe Lincoln was the winner. Score one for the 16th President of the United States! After that, the Phillies scored two more runs in the sixth, and it was practically over. Philadelphia won 10-4 over the Washington Nationals, but the big story was Cliff Lee’s injury.

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   After the game, I was able to talk to the awesome fans next to me and get a few pictures from the field railing. The staff there was courteous and helpful, and asked about my experience there. I told them about my trip, and a couple ushers came down and were interested in my story. I did express that the parking was quite expensive, but that I enjoyed my time there.

   To be honest, Nationals Park is a good place to watch a game. There are plenty of things to do at the park, and the food selection varies greatly. The one major minus that comes with this park is the high prices. The parking and tickets come at a high cost, and even the food was a bit high for my taste. I also have to give a small minus to the lack of selection at the stores. By the way, I found one of the hats I was looking for online… at a decent price! With my birthday coming up in a few weeks, that would be a nice gift! I’ll just put the link down here in case I have a very generous reader!

   The big plus comes in the form of the Presidents race, and the kindness of the staff. They rank among the best in baseball and know the ins and outs of that stadium. Overall, I would come back to this place, but I’d have to find street parking, or bring more than just myself. Also, I would probably eat somewhere else before the game or bring some snacks. Again, I do recommend coming here… just bring some extra cash with you! Believe it or not, my next stop is back to Baltimore for another game. Yep, we’re going back to Camden Yards for another game!

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-JD

The score book, the glove… and a MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT! (Between the Innings)

    Since I’m a Dodger fan, I thought I would do a short story-time segment in the fifth inning break, a la Vin Scully during his telecasts. At that time, Vin would usually have some fun anecdote that somewhat has to do with the game, or something about “this day in history.” For this time, I thought I would do a short story about the scorebook.

    For as long as I could remember, I’ve been attending baseball games. I got to see Fernando Valenzuela pitch one time, I got to see Denny Martinez’ perfecto in 1991, and got to see Nolan Ryan’s jersey retirement ceremony in Anaheim two decades ago. I still have the program and free book from that particular event. Those are all great mementos to have, but nothing beats the memories of the games, themselves. I’ve been scorekeeping at the games since I was still in high school, but only did that once in a while since I got more into the games before. It wasn’t until I reached college that my scorekeeping really took off. I always used the same brand of scorebook from Big 5 Sporting Goods, but about five or six years ago, they stopped selling that brand. So, I did a little research and found the company that still made those scorebooks! These are the “What’s the Score” books that have many of the useful statistics without having too many weird columns here and there. It was simple enough to use right away, but not too simple that you only have the basic runs, hits, and errors like some of those ballpark scorecards offer. I bought ten in bulk, and gave half to one of my best friends.

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    In a sense, my scorebooks tell a story of where I’ve been and what kind of awesome games I’ve seen in the past. I can always look back and say, “Oh yeah, I remember this game and how I felt at that time. Wow, what an amazing game.” I’ve attended some pretty great games in my time scorekeeping. I’ve seen some long-inning walkoffs, and even some record breaking games. I was at the final night game at “The Murph” in San Diego. I witnessed Trevor Hoffman break the all-time saves record previously set by Lee Smith. I got to see Dennis Eckersley’s jersey retirement. I saw many of Eric Gagne’s saves as he racked up an amazing saves streak. I even got to see an exhibition game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum where the Dodgers first played when they moved to Los Angeles… and all its funky dimensions. Triple plays? Yeah, I’ve seen a few of those. A near no-hitter? I’ve seen a few of those, also. Oh, and some pitcher named Clayton Kershaw winning his 20th game of the 2011 season? I saw that, too.

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    After the first scorebook, I would go to games early not for batting practice, but to try and get autographs. However, the first time I did this, I didn’t have anything for the players to sign except for my ticket. Then I thought, “why not have the players autograph the inside cover of my scorebook? Thus began the tradition of having players sign the inside of the scorebook I was currently using. Sometimes, the players would ask me about it, or say something like, “Okay… so what’s this all about? You’ve got an…. autographed scorebook?” Yes, I’ve gotten both of those during this season alone.

    Here is a list of some of the autographs I received in my previous scorebook: Shirley Burkovich, Marge Villa, and other members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (ladies that inspired the film, “A League of Their Own”), Tommy John, Dan Haren, Fernando Valenzuela, Clayton Kershaw, and the late great, Harmon Killebrew. Getting to meet each one of those players was truly an honor. In my current scorebook: Arthur D’Angelo (founder of ’47 Brand sportswear), Dennis Powell (former Dodger), Placido Polanco, Boog Powell, and a couple others I will talk about in an upcoming post…

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    As for the glove, that’s just good common sense! Almost every time I go to a game, I see a foul ball hit some poor soul square on the hand, and having that person’s hand feel like something stung them. Worse yet, I’ll see someone else try to catch it bare-handed only to have them mishandle the ball and have it go to someone else. Then there are other times where someone has a glove, and make an excellent catch. More often than not, the people who bring their own gloves are the ones who are more likely to get a souvenir via a foul ball. Therefore, I would carry both a scorebook and a glove with me to every game. Now the further question, where does all this stuff go?

    This is where I have to bring up my love of game shows. I’ve been in the audience for several game shows. I’ve also been on a few… my best appearance on a game show was on GSN’s “Lingo” back in the day where my sister and I won a good amount of money ($5,000). One of the tapings I would frequent is the classic game, “Wheel of Fortune.” During a taping, I won the door prize that included a tote bag with the show’s logo. I cherished this thing, and I even brought it to a ball game one time so I could bring a couple more pens along with the score book I already brought. Not long after that, I started bringing my glove and putting that bag to excellent use. Now I bring that Wheel of Fortune bag wherever I go, including the East Coast. It has become my baseball bag, despite having a game show logo on it. Now I understand some announcers (Vin Scully among them) like to bring their own bag, or design a hand hag best suited to their needs. While I wish I was able to design my own bag and use it, I am certainly not disappointed in the bag I’ve got.

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    And that’s pretty much the story of the score book, the glove, and even the bag! Now for the major announcement:

    My Ballpark Tour is NOT over yet! I have added some dates to this incredible journey of mine. Thanks to some kind-hearted people, friends, and even family, there will be three additional ballparks I will be traveling to in the next couple weeks. Those parks include Coors Field in Colorado (for Todd Helton weekend), Globe Life Park in Arlington, and Minute Maid Park in Houston. Hopefully, even more people will read this, and I could visit more parks into the final month of the baseball season. For now, the trip continues! Thank you all for reading!

-JD

JD’s Ballpark Tour, Fifth Inning… Double Play! (Baltimore)

Let’s Play Two!

Part V: Camden Yards

(AKA: The Park That Started It All)

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   After having a day to relax following that long extra innings game the night before, I had to mentally prepare myself for a tough part of the road trip, which included renting a car. Luckily, I found somewhere that had weekly rates for a decent price, so I jumped on that chance right away. After bidding adieu to my friend from the last post, I hopped on my rental car and drove my way down to Baltimore to stay at my hotel for the next few days. The day before the first game, I knew to head straight to Camden Yards for a first visit, and I was completely impressed. This one is going to be a long one, but there are TWO games to cover here!

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Ballpark 5: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, elevation 36 feet

A memorial for the old Memorial Stadium.

A memorial for the old Memorial Stadium.

   This park opened in 1992 and was the first MLB park built in a retro style that was reminiscent of the classic ballparks during what many consider the “Golden Age” of baseball. Instead of being built mostly of concrete in a “cookie-cutter” multi-use style, this ballpark was only built for baseball and nothing else. While the official name of the stadium is Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the locals simply call this entire place Camden Yards. Beyond the outfield walls, there is a building that dominates the view, and that building is the old Baltimore & Ohio (B&O, for you Monopoly fans) Warehouse.

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   The nooks and crannies in this ballpark are plentiful and include the first two-tiered bullpen in the new design of ballparks, Eutaw Street running parallel to the right field wall, the home run landing area in right field, the statues featuring all the retired numbers in Orioles history, and even wind vanes shaped like Orioles above the scoreboard! Also, unlike the majority of the cookie-cutter stadiums, the outfield dimensions were not symmetrical between left and right field. Back in 1992, this was a big deal, and a huge risk for the owners and the team to be successful in this park.

   Camden Yards currently employs dynamic pricing, and I took advantage of the advanced pricing, and got some cheap tickets! As soon as I stepped onto the Camden Yards area, I knew one trip would not be enough, so I did something that breaks the consecutive parks streak…

   I bought tickets for TWO games at the SAME park! WHA?!? I bought the discounted upper reserve tickets for my first game there for only $9! I ended up getting a very good seat on the third base side not too far up! The second game was even better. I thought about snagging a row 2 seat the previous week, but that would have required me to pay some convenience fees. As it was, I got a lower box seat in section 64 for only $30, and that was an excellent view! Watch out for those deals online! By the way, if you want a possible good series to watch and you’re in the area at the time, look at those ticket prices for the mid-September series against the Toronto Blue Jays, that could be a vitally important series as the Jays are right behind Baltimore in the AL East standings.

The game: Angels @ Orioles on July 29, 2014

   After arriving at my hotel after the initial visit, I visited this great sports bar in Laurel, MD with a great waitress named Pam, and she was excited for my trip. So when I got back to my room, I wrote a post, and really prepared for this game with my scorebook, and made sure to have my glove at the ready. (I will post more about the glove and scorebook on a separate post) Research for this game was pretty cool as I found out which foods to get, what freebies you could possibly gather, etc. I also saw how inexpensive the parking is. To park in Lot C which is only a couple blocks from the stadium, it only costs $10, and to park in the Ravens lot (two blocks further down) cost even less. I stuck with the $10 parking because I thought it was affordable enough and close enough to be worth it. Also, because I typically arrive for games early, I got to the front of that lot pretty easily.

   I couldn’t believe it, I got to experience a game here! As soon as you enter, you can’t help but take everything in. The crowds here are among the best in baseball. These are very loyal fans, they have a vast baseball knowledge, and they know not to do the wave for this particular game. THANK YOU FANS!!

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   Upon entry into the park, I quickly made my way to the right field home run porch where BP balls sometimes wind up. I will say nothing more than this, “always pay attention during batting practice.” I might have gotten one ball if I had been paying attention WITH my glove fully extended. As for another kid who was not paying attention, he took one off the body, and the ball ended up with someone else. So what is the moral of the story? If you are close to the action, ALWAYS PAY ATTENTION. No, seriously.

   After some batting practice fun, I went to the guest assistance center in the warehouse, and there are some of the friendliest staff you will ever meet. I got my “first visit” certificate, and it was written very nicely! When the staff asked where I was from, I told them southern California. I also mentioned that I was touring the ballparks and getting to as many as I can this year. One of the ladies loved my story and asked a couple questions about it. She then gave me a couple brochures, and a bunch of postcards to send to friends and family (a couple of my readers should have already gotten theirs by now) since I was still going to be on the road for a couple weeks. She also mentioned some of the other stuff going on, like where I could get a free t-shirt, and how I could get some other freebies. She also made the food recommendation that I would later love.

   I walked around the statues again, met some friendly fans, and went to the Chevy display where they were giving out free Orioles shirts to answer a short survey and put my information in. The shirt was really slick, so I happily obliged and got my next freebie of the day! They also had a portion where you could win $10 for the Oriole gift shop with a buzz-in trivia contest (mostly about their new Chevy cars), but I didn’t win that.

The food: Many of my friends and the staff highly recommended I try out Boog’s BBQ at least once. It was also recommended because on that day, Orioles legend Boog Powell was there chilling today, and he is always happy to take pictures and sign autographs for the lucky fans willing to wait for it. Of course, I had him sign my book and also asked if he would be back the next day. He replied, “Of course! I will be back to see my Orioles beat up on those Angels.” He also implied that as a former Dodger, he couldn’t root for the cross-town rivals. Zing! Anyway, since I was starving on this game, I ordered the Big Boog which had DOUBLE meat and cheese. This thing was pretty huge, and it was glorious. Seriously, look at this thing! With the Big Boog, it came with kettle chips for a fairly high price of $15. However, upon first bite, this was completely worth it, especially with the right sauce combination. By the way, at the end of the counter, there are four different sauces you can put on your sandwich. The only sauce I didn’t touch was the hottest chipotle sauce. Seriously, this was worth it.

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Ticket prices: For the first game, I opted for the $9 upper reserve ticket as I would get a view of everything, including the B&O warehouse, and would be able to take everything in. The magnificent scoreboard has a few quirks about it, like the “H” in “THE SUN” flashing when there was a hit registered. I didn’t feel too far from the action, but far enough where I can soak in the atmosphere and not worry about a foul ball. Not this game, anyway. The view of Eutaw Street with the warehouse in the background is a little overwhelming because you start to think of the history, and the iconic pictures of that warehouse from one magnificent moment. Ironically, it was the Angels who were playing the Orioles when Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played, and I remember watching that game on TV as a kid. I remember the huge banner on that warehouse, and that entire ceremony. To me, that is still one of the greatest accomplishments in MLB history.

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   Anyway, for only nine bucks thanks to a weekly Tuesday night deal (and buying the ticket in advance), I got a very good seat! This beat the secondary market for this game. In general, the secondary market is non-existant for this ballpark. That’s because the ticket prices already have very reasonable prices, and most fans do not resell their tickets in this market. This season, in particular, has brought a new sense of hope and excitement for the fans and they are coming out in big numbers. You had loyal Orioles fans AND loyal Angels fans there, and they were not about to sell their tickets. My advice is to arrive at least a day before the game and just buy your tickets in advance because they are hard to beat.

The fans: What more can I say about these fans? They follow every possible move that happens in a ballgame, and are so knowledgable that I wound up having some fun conversations with the fans behind me. They are a good mix of passion and baseball IQ that I might say these are among the best fans in the entire major leagues. To the other teams, you’re on watch! Also, I appreciate any fans that will quote “Major League” with me for the entire duration of the game. The ENTIRE DURATION…

The game: This Tuesday night game had some serious fireworks going on as it turned into a hit parade for the first few innings. The Angels scoring started in the 1st inning when Josh Hamilton groundout out scoring Mike Trout. The Orioles came right back when Adam Jones belted a solo home run (his 20th), and then J.J. Hardy came back with a screaming single to score Nelson Cruz and gain a 2-1 advantage.

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   Los Angeles then scored two unearned runs in the 2nd inning off a throwing error from Baltimore’s starting pitcher, Chris Tillman. However, Manny Machado got an RBI rouble to tie the score at 3.

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   Camden Yards then went into a frenzy in the bottom of the 4th as Nick Markakis pinged a home run off the right field pole to not only give the Orioles a 6-4 lead, but it gave the Angels’ bullpen some early work. This home run was right on the line, and everybody had the same “stay fair, stay fair” movement as if to tell the ball “STAY FAIR!” Since I had a perfect view of it down the first base line, it really was right on the line, and a close call. Jered Weaver took the mound for the Angels, but perhaps had his worst start of the season. His fastball never got into the 90s and never got down. In a hitter’s park like Oriole Park, if the ball doesn’t get down, that could spell trouble. I did find it funny that other fans were trying to will the ball into foul territory, as well.

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   Josh Hamilton finally got on the hit parade and hit his first home run in nearly a month, and then later tied the game at 6 with his 3rd RBI of the night. You guessed it, this game would go into extra innings. Now the fans were getting a bit loopy, and I was also able to move down closer to the box seats. I also witnessed something great with the fans and one of the ushers. An older lady usher in the upper deck was, apparently, very popular with some of the fans. So popular that a small kid came up and gave her a big hug, and it looked like a wonderful moment. It was explained to me that she was an usher from back in the Memorial Stadium days, and she’s one of those ushers that will really learn about people. To me, that is the mark of a great organization to allow such fantastic interaction between the fans and the workers. If a worker for any organization can build that kind of trust and affection with the fans, then that worker is doing something so right.

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   The game went deep into the night, and some fans had a train to catch, so they couldn’t stick around as the game went into the 10th, 11th, and finally the 12th inning. However, most of the 36,882 managed to stick around…. they would be rewarded as Manny Machado put a charge on a 76-mph breaking ball from Angels’ reliever, Cory Rasmus. Machado’s 11th home run of the season ended up five rows deep into the left field seats, and that sent the Oriole faithful home happy with a thrilling victory that lasted over four hours. Manny Machado spoke to the crowd after the game on the big screen:

“Yeah, it is [my first career walk-off]. It’s amazing, first one. Got a good pitch to hit and we got the win so that’s the big thing.”

“The inning before, [Rasmus] was throwing a lot of breaking balls, so I knew he was going to come back and try to do the same thing. I was just up there with two strikes trying to make some contact, and he just hung one.”

   After the game, Machado got the customary pie in the face.

“Tasty! It’s good! Chocolate!”

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    That was a fitting end to a very exciting game, and those same fans told me that games at Camden Yards are always worth it. If I can only spend $10 for parking, $9 for a ticket, and $15 on a filling meal, then it’s all worth it. I felt so great after that game that I got excited to do it again…
 
The game: Angels @ Orioles on July 30, 2014
 
    For this game, I will refer to the story here. –> CHECK OUT THE STORY!
 
    However, I will add a few tidbits that I didn’t share on that page. I spent a little more time talking to the ushers and the fans about their take on the upcoming trade deadline and who was going where. By the time of the game, rumor was that the Jon Lester deal was dead with the Orioles and, at the time, it was a complete mystery where he was going. They also told me a couple more rumors, one of which actually did happen (Andrew Miller coming to the O’s). After that, I took in some BP, but the balls were not flying out on this day… so I went to Boog’s BBQ once again.
 
A quick side story: That Wednesday morning, I mailed out some of those post cards, and also went to the local sports card shop where they had some amazing memorabilia. However, after buying a couple packs of Allen & Ginter baseball cards (Got a Kershaw, whoo!) I also bought an old Boog Powell card for a dollar in the hopes he would sign it. Flash forward back to the game, and he was there yet again. After getting a great picture with him, I asked him kindly to sign the card, and he said, “Oh man, I remember when I looked like that! What a handsome man… of course I’ll sign it!” Yes, I got an on-card autograph from one of the greats! Oh, this time I just had the regular sandwich with the Boog’s Baked Beans. Yum. With the BBQ sauce on the sandwich, I found the perfect combination, and it was glorious.
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   As for the ticket, they had a special that night for $30 field level tickets just outside the infield. Honestly, these were excellent views for the game, and at a great price. They were a much better price than the Arizona prices, and not as flat of an incline. This ballpark is also built somewhat vertically, but not nearly as vertical as Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The sight lines are that excellent.

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   The game itself can be found on that article I linked to, and it ended up being a quick game! One thing I didn’t mention was that I wasn’t there alone. I was able to watch the game with the PA announcer for the Angels for a couple innings, Michael Araujo, and talked about the trip, the stadium, and the fans there. We both had our concerns about the Angels and talked about the Orioles’ success despite not having a recognizable superstar in their lineup. But, we were both impressed with Camden Yards and just talked some good ol’ baseball. (Michael, if you’re reading this, BIG thank you for stopping by, and can’t wait to come home and make Angel Stadium my final stop!) Since the game ended in just two and a half hours, this gave me time to get a couple small gifts and take some final pictures of the Eutaw Street landing area right in front of the B&O Warehouse.

   Overall, this really is one of the best MLB ballparks you can ever visit, and this is THE park that started the retro-classic architecture movement as far as building stadiums go. There was a big reason I visited this ballpark twice, and I’m glad I did. The food is that good, the fans are top-notch, and the staff is about as wonderful as they come. Plus, the ticket prices are among the best in the league, and getting to meet Boog Powell? Those are all priceless memories for a magnificent ballpark like Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I highly recommend this ballpark to ANY baseball fan, it will be worth your time to check out a game there.

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   Seriously, what are you waiting for? Go catch a game there and just enjoy it!

-JD

JD’s Ballpark Tour, Fourth Inning (Philadelphia)

Part IV: Citizens Bank Park

(AKA: Finally On the East Coast!)

   After finally getting back from Phoenix early Tuesday morning, I became too busy for my own good. I should preface this article with a short story. In the midst of this ballpark tour, I was slowly moving stuff back and forth from my old place in Rialto back to my mom’s house (temporarily) in Chino. Not having a rent to pay for now actually helped me a bit on this trip, and I was able to afford to do a bit more, and save a few hundred dollars by NOT paying a rent for a space I wasn’t going to be home for. However, before I flew out to Philadelphia, I had to finish packing up my old place and get everything out of there by Thursday. It was a bit tough, but I managed to get everything done, and still have time to re-pack for this two-week East Coast trip. I had to pack just enough so I could bring back some goodies for, not only myself, but for family. Oh, and I won’t get into the troubles I had transferring planes in Atlanta and nearly not making my connecting flight. I’ll just say, arriving 20 minutes before the next flight departs can give you a heartattack…

   At this point, I want to give a huge thank you and shoutout to my friend, Kris, and his hospitality for putting me up for a few days. He was able to attend the game with me, despite not being much of a Philly fan…. er…. phan and even warning me about the crazy fans they have at that ballpark.

Ballpark 4: Citizens Bank Park, elevation 19 feet

The game: Diamondbacks @ Phillies on July 26, 2014.

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   Leaving from Kris’ place to get to the ballpark wasn’t much trouble, and the weather was incredbly nice, especially compared to the blistering Phoenix heat. We arrived plenty early that way we could peruse the food menus and take a look around the park. While parking, I noticed something on the ground that looked like a home plate. Kris explained to me that his first concert was at the Spectrum (LUCKY DOG!) and that both the old Vet and the Spectrum were now parking lots for the new sporting venues. Not long after he said that, I realized that what we just drove by was where home plate WAS located at the old Veterans Stadium where the Phillies used to play. How cool is that? I’m glad they still recognize their history.

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   Parking wasn’t too expensive at fifteen bucks, and was reasonable for parking right next to the Vet home plate site. All around that area, there are several statues dedicated to Philadelphia sports, including the legenday manager, Connie Mack. Arriving inside the park, we are greeted very warmly! We are told that there is a free Saturday autograph table with a former Phillies player. As we get in line, I’m asked if I had a ticket for the autograph. After replying negatively, a nice lady in a wheelchair offers us two tickets for an autograph, and I’m eternally grateful!

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   Today’s autograph is from Placido Polanco, former All-Star and ALCS MVP (for the 2006 Detroit Tigers). Already, off to a good start! I’m also told that I should go to fan services and get a first-timers certificate. I thought this would be a neat thing to have, since I got one from Wrigley Field the year before. I wound up getting one AFTER the game.

The food: I will admit, I’m a huge foodie, and there was only one thing I wanted to try because I’d heard about it: The Schmitter. My mouth is watering just thinking about it, but this thing packs quite a punch! It’s a packed sandwich with lots of cheese, excellent steak, and even fried onions all served on a Kaiser roll. Here is a picture describing everything that’s in the Schmitter. Yes, the price tag is $10.50 on this thing, but I always love a good Philly cheese steak, and this one ranks up there!

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Ticket prices: I will come out and say this right now: I got these tickets for free. Since I’m a huge baseball fan, and a big fan of my home team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, I went ahead and applied for one of those Extra Bases MasterCard credit cards. Besides, my free gift was a Dodgers NLCS blanket, and a large amount of points, some of which I had already previously used once before on memorabilia. This time, I used some of my points on something a little more feasible, baseball tickets! When I received the tickets, I saw the price tag. We were in section 426 (Terrace Deck), row 6. These tickets are WAY up there, and they have a face value of $29. These are on the third base side, but I almost got a nose bleed from up there. If those tickets were $29, I shuddered to think of how much other tickets in that park costs! I heard StubHub is decent for tickets in that park, but with the face value already fairly high, those savings might not add up to much. Thank you, MasterCard. Again, this is not a plug.

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The fans: The staff and workers and Citizens Bank Park are top notch, and do a great job dealing with the notorius Philadelphia fans. Yes, they have a reputation to hold up… and that’s with good reason. Keep in mind that this is the fanbase that once boo’ed Santa Claus, and Kris even warned me about the fans. When I arrived, I felt like this was any other old park… and then I got to my seats.

   In our section, we had people who I can affectionately say were colorful characters. They cursed, screamed, and let out some bizarre yells not heard in any other ballpark. During this particular game, Ryan Howard came out, and was promptly met with boos when he would strike out. That huge contract isn’t paying off for the Phillies, and the natives are pissed. Otherwise, I thought there were some friendly fans and I felt fine there. It’s those few crazy fans that can stick in your mind for a while.

   I will give them credit for sticking through their team in the good and bad times and still coming out to the games. This season has been nothing but bad for the Phillies, and the fans are not afraid to show their displeasure. There was almost constant boo’ing throughout the game, but especially for Ryan Howard who has fallen out of grace with the fans. However, these are knowledgable fans who were, at least, rewarded with a championship a few years ago. Overall, I didn’t find them as bad as many people made them out to be! They have the passion and knowledge for the game that gives these fans a plus in my book. In the grand scheme of things, I’d rather have a tougher but loyal fanbase instead of a laid-back and fair-weather fanbase.

The game: Only 29,000 showed up for a Saturday night game?? I knew their attendance had been going down, but I didn’t realize it could hit under 30k for a Saturday night. Anyway, the Phillies had a 4-run 2nd inning started by a 2-run shot by Cody Asche.

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   Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley also drove in runs with one out. Then Ryan Howard happened. After already striking out in the 1st, he then grounded out to an inning-ending double play that drew a cavalcade of boos from nearly everybody in the park. Talk about a mood killer! The Phillies were more than poised for a huge inning, and they could use every run they can get. The next inning, the Phillies notched two more runs including a solo homer from Marlon Byrd. The home runs for the home team are accompanied with the sound of a “Liberty Bell” ringing through the stadium, and the lit-up Liberty Bell in the outfield. Pretty neat! Philadelphia had scored six runs in the first three innings.

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   They needed more than that.

   Slowly, Arizona kept chipping away at the deficit eventually tying the game in the 7th inning at six runs apiece. I knew I could be in for a long night as the game came to a screeching halt. Since the game moved at a snail’s pace, I looked around the park at some of the nooks and crannies and noticed their out-of-town scoreboard had a vintage feel to it, but also detailed runners on each base. Also, in a nod to classic stadiums, an analog clock was used in left-center field next to the giant scoreboard.

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   Another neat feature is a two-tiered bullpen for both teams with the Phillies pen closer to the action. Aside from all that, there are some funky dimensions in this park with a very short wall in center field and a taller wall everywhere else. One other weird quirk I noticed… it is 330′ to the right field pole and that is marked on the wall. It is 329′ to the left field pole… but that’s marked on the POLE?

   Anyway, this game would go into extra innings and half the crowd left. Some of them even said, “We KNOW what’s going to happen, I just don’t want to be around to watch it.” Sure enough, the Arizona D’Backs scored four runs in the top of the 10th inning to put them up for good, and they ended up winning the game, 10-6 in ten innings. The boos were loud and plentiful during that entire inning. But, these fans actually care.

   Overall, this is a great park, albeit a little expensive. This place is built more vertically, so the top terrace seats really do feel like you’re far from the action. However, the experience was a good one, especially since I got a couple freebies… and didn’t have to pay for the tickets! Oh, this is also the town that masters its namesake chesse steak. Naturally, the food is top-notch here if that’s what you’re ordering. I highly recommend that sandwich, and this place is worth visiting at least once. Onwards to the next region of my trip, the Baltimore/DC area. For now, I hope you have a good day and hope to see you at the ballpark!

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-JD

JD’s Ballpark Tour, Third Inning (Arizona)

Part III: Chase Field

 

This is pretty much the epitome of going from one extreme to the other. After a great ballpark experience down in San Diego with the beach only a few hundred feet away, I had to switch gears to get used to triple-digit weather and lots of desert sand. I’ve been here a few times before, also. This place used to be affectionately called “The BOB” as it was previously called Bank One Ballpark until the 2007 season. (Heh, who here actually remembers the nickname of “The BOB”?) Arizona used to have their dollar seats in the upper outfield sections, and even that seemed like a great deal because of how good those teams were. My last visit to Chase Field was actually for two games! A friend and I drove out to see the team’s first (and so far only) planned doubleheader against the Marlins two years ago, and that brought some excellent memories. How would this game fare?

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Ballpark 3: Chase Field, elevation 1061 feet.

The game: Tigers @ Diamondbacks on July 21, 2014.

After leaving fairly early from my now-former place, I had to make sure I was going to be okay to put up with these temperatures, so I froze some more water and just kept getting drinks at every stop. My route was pretty much a straight shot down the 210 freeway to the 10 freeway, and just took that all the way to Phoenix and my next stop, Chase Field. This ballpark was built in 1998 for the then expansion team in downtown. The field sits right next to what used to be called America West Arena, now the US Airways Center where the Phoenix Suns NBA team play. Thus, this area is now called the “Sports Complex” according to most signs around the area, so finding Chase Field is NO problem. There are no subways to get there, only buses. Public transportation isn’t the best way to get there. Fortunately, parking prices are not too expensive around there if you can find it. There are plenty of $10 parking lots a block or two away, and there are a plethora of restaurants if you’re hungry. Also, there are plenty of street vendors outside the field selling cheaper bottles of water. I suggest getting a pair, because it IS Phoenix in the middle of July, and you are allowed to bring in bottled water… as long as it is closed. Despite the roof being closed, it is still 80 degrees inside the stadium. Hey, it beats the 106 outside, right?

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Ticket prices: I didn’t have any tickets coming into Phoenix, which meant I had to get there early and buy tickets at the box office. I did that because there is a very small secondary market for tickets at Chase Field. Since this is a bigger stadium, I know how far some of those upper seats are, so I went ahead and sprung for the lower level seats which are a bit pricier at $43 each, but are still great seats, and not as expensive as some other stadiums. At least there are free game programs available to everyone on small newstands around the main concourse, so that is a small plus.

The upper deck seats really are that far from all the action. Foul balls never get up there, and you might get a nose bleed 25 rows up in the top deck. To me, I thought they were worth it, especially getting to see an excellent team like the Detroit Tigers. I’m sure most people that attended the game felt that way…

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The fans: Oy, what can I say about the fans in Phoenix? The Valley of the Sun has a reputation of having some of the most fair-weather fans in the country. Lately, I’ve seen Phoenix fans constantly make “top 10” lists on having the worst fanbase. Remember how I said most people wanted to see an excellent team like the Tigers? That’s because most of the fans there were actually rooting for the road team. This is not an exaggeration when I say this, but there were probably more Tigers fans than there were Diamondbacks fans. I wish I was joking, but I’m not. Once upon a time, Phoenix had a decent following for their baseball team when they still had star power in Luis Gonzalez and Randy Johnson. After the team fell on hard times, the fanbase just vanished. This season, there is only a hollow shell of what used to be a decent team, and the fans just look sad. Even during batting practice, there were more Tigers fans that showed up early. I was seated on the first base side (gasp, what a shock!!) surrounded by… you guessed it, Tigers fans! Oh my!

The game: Because of the higher elevation, the ball tends to fly off the bat more than most other ballparks. However, because the ball flies off the bat so effectively, the dimensions are a bit deeper in Arizona. The deepest part of center field is only 407 feet away from home plate, but the distance to deep left and deep right is at 413 feet…. so you need to hit it good to get any ball out of here.

Torii Hunter had no problem crushing one (and I mean, absolutely hammered) to the left field seats in the 2nd inning, and then Austin Jackson clobbered one close to deep left field… they were both easily over 400-foot home runs. The Tigers fans exploded with joy with each Ruthian shot, and that gave the Tigers an early 3-0 lead. But the D’Backs chipped away the lead scoring two in the 4th inning.

It was at the midpoint of the game that I noticed how fairweather the Arizona fans really are. I’m deeply sorry if you’re an Arizona fan reading this, but I try to remain as impartial as possible, and I’m calling it like it is. About a dozen fans of the home team barely waltzed in during the bottom of the 5th inning claiming that the food took too long.

Oh! THE FOOD. Is it just me, or does it always smell like buttered popcorn when you walk in through the main entrance? The last three times I’ve visited that ballpark, I’ve noticed the smell of popcorn, and it permeates through the front part of that concourse. The variety of food there is not nearly as vast as the prior two ballparks. I mean… how many “FatBurger” stands must there be? Why not mix things up a bit? I only had a cheeseburger and fries because that sounded best to me. The regular burger at any old stand is far better than the more-expensive FatBurger. If you walk around the entire lower concourse, the food choices get stale and repetitive. However, some of those restaurants offered up value choices like a $1.50 corn dog, which is not a bad deal at all! However, those were already gone by the time I wanted one. Maybe those signs should read in big, bold letters: WHILE SUPPLIES LAST. If one place was taking a long time to serve food, there are probably three others exactly like that one! I really don’t buy the excuse that you waited for food for over an hour. Not in that ballpark, especially when there were only 25,907 there… and most of them were Tigers fans who not only got there early, but mostly remained in their seats! Sorry that got a little ranty, but the bottom of the 5th? Really?

During the bottom of the 6th inning, Gerardo Parra hit a home to the right field seats, and the game was back to a tie. NOW we started hearing the Arizona faithful cheering and the ever-present chant of “Let’s Go D’Backs,” but this chant usually drew some chuckles or laughs from the Detroit fans. That’s because when muffled out, it almost sounds like the “lazy fans,” according to a Tigers fan next to me, would say, “Let’s Go D’Bags!” I don’t know who agreed to that shortened nickname of the Diamondbacks, but I hope they realize how much they are made fun of by other franchises and their fans.

Those home chants were soon drowned out in the top of the 7th inning as Miguel Cabrera nearly hit a homer, but it just missed getting out of the deepest part of the park. Either way, it scored Austin Jackson to keep the Tigers up for good. By the time the game ended with the Tigers winning, most of the Arizona fans had already left leaving behind a sea of blue and orange. It almost felt like a Tigers home game!

Yes, this ballpark has a pool, and a closed roof with air conditioning… but this ballpark currently lacks a soul. The lack of variety in food choices is a minus for this park, and its fair-weather fans are a couple big minuses. Also, the cavernous bleachers and high upper-deck seats don’t help. Then again, it is very hard to top Petco Park when the Padres’ pitcher is four outs away from a no-hitter. If you’re going to check out a game, expect to pay a good amount, or be very far from the action. Arrive early for batting practice… because you might have a better chance to catch a ball here than at other ballparks. At least now I’m out of this heat! East coast bound for the next few updates!

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-JD

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