Opening Day!!! Well, for us here in Detroit, anyway…

It’s opening day, folks, a good day for getting a good glass of bourbon or a fine mixed bourbon drink, and watching your favorite baseball team start a fresh new season!  The Detroit Tigers are lucky enough to start their season in Miami this year, staving off the unseasonable 20 degree cold we are enjoying here, at least for a few more days.

For me, my loves were always the New York Mets, and most of all, my hometown Detroit Tigers, and while hope springs eternal, let’s welcome in a new year and season with the legendary hall of fame broadcaster for the tigers, Ernie Harwell, who would bless each new season with this short poem:

Go get em Tigers, and happy Opening Day!

Ballpark of the Week: AT&T Park (Home of the San Francisco Giants)

Ballpark of the Week: AT&T Park (Home of the San Francisco Giants)

Ballpark of the Week: AT&T Park (Home of the San Francisco Giants)

In September of 2012, I married the beautiful and talented Jen Weaver here in suburban Detroit, Michigan, in a ceremony that we had spent over a year putting together.  It went off beautifully, and our months of DIY work was complete with both of us satisfied with how well it had gone.  The day after the wedding, we embarked on our honeymoon: a trip up the California coast.

Our trip was to begin in San Diego, with a couple days there, before moving up the PCH to Santa Monica, Big Sur, Monterrey and finally, San Francisco.  We planned all kinds of events for our week – parks, historical sites, shopping.  And for that Friday, we decided we would take in a San Francisco Giants ballgame at AT&T Park.

The trip started off bumpy, with my wife getting food poisoning from the destination airport food.  But she shook it off well and, with a convertible Mustang, the first couple days were awesome.  Then, swimming in the ocean at 6:00 in the morning in Santa Monica, she broke my foot.  Not intentionally, of course, but her kicking out into the waves one way met my kicking towards the beach, and my foot looked like it had been hit with a hammer.  Refusing to go to the hospital on our honeymoon, I pressed on, pain-be-damned.  That night, at a resort in Big Sur, I waited until she left the room and pressed hard on the swollen foot and felt the bone snap into place.  I assumed that meant it had just been dislocated, and we journeyed on.

It wasn’t dislocated, of course.  We didn’t know until I saw the doctor when I got home, but the foot had actually been broken in two different places.  My doctor said that setting my own broken bone was one of the toughest things he had seen…and one of the dumbest.  I got lucky and it went back together, but it could have gone horribly awry.

I tell this tale only to lay the pretext for our trip to the ballpark.  By the time we got to San Fran, my foot was swollen and I could barely walk.  Luckily, our hotel was a short half-mile or so from the ballpark, but hobbling along on one leg, it felt like one hundred.  The game was against the San Diego Padres, and as we got closer and closer, the streets and sidewalks filling up with fans, I have never been happier to arrive at a park.

From the outside, the brick facade of AT&T park is reminiscent of Camden Yards.  There are the usual statues of Giants greats outside, and plaques on the walls.  Being a Friday night in a year where the Giants had already clinched a playoff spot, the crowd was enthusiastic and exuberant.

When picking our seats, I had researched online to find the section and area that would give us the best view, not only of the game, but of the beauty of San Francisco.  Section 304 looked like a winner, with a dramatic vista of San Francisco Bay, the Bay Area bridge and overlooking McCovey Cove (where kayakers and boaters camp out to hit a home run clearing the wall in right and landing there in the bay).  We headed up to our seats, stopping to take a look around the stadium as we went.

The sightlines of the field in the lower concourse were quite nice – one of the best things about newer parks is the ability to keep an eye on the game while getting concessions.  We had been informed to be sure and get Gilroy Garlic Fries, so that was stop number one, along with some dogs.  We were astounded by the concession selections.  SanFran is known as a foodie paradise, but the fact it extends to their ballpark is truly awesome.  There was seafood, veggie and vegan options, traditional ballpark food – even wine offerings that helped to remind that Napa was just a short drive away.

We made our way up to our seats, and were truly impressed by the view.  Oakland over the distance, the field spread out beautiful in front of us.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  The seats around us began to fill, and we were even more surprised to note that everyone around us were season ticket holders, and knew each other!  In fact, it wasn’t until the 3rd inning that we found out one middle aged couple next to us had been divorced for a decade, but still shared a love of the Giants – and their seats.

As the sun set and the game started, the famous San Francisco chill began to move in.  As my new wife began to shiver, those around us (who by this point had inquired and then congratulated us on our nuptials) shared their blankets with her.  We talked baseball, the Giants, marriage, Detroit, more baseball, Buster Posey, Barry Bonds, Los Angeles, beer and baseball for nine innings with these awesome fans.  I am always proud of how knowledgeable my hometown (Detroit) and adopted hometown (St. Louis) are about baseball, but I found these Giants boosters to be as smart as any of them.

When we finally got up to leave, they wished us well as we walked along the right field fence and looked out into the chilling waters in the cove (a baseball had actually been hit in, by Chase Headley scoring the Padres only run).  Poetically, we stopped in the gift shop to purchase stuffed animals.  My wife and I both have nicknames for each other, and it just so happened that the Giants did too.  Like Pablo Sandoval, I’m the panda. Like Brandon Belt, my wife is the giraffe.

I thought of that trip and the wonderful fans this year when the Giants won their third title in five years.  What a lovely park.  What a lovely time.

Dan’s scale (1-10): 9.3

Below are my stats.  I’ll post them for every park I’ve visited.  I include the big details, as well as who I visited with.  Lastly, I am a huge fan of throwback jerseys, and for every stadium I visit, I buy one of a player from that organization I admired as a kid, from watching them or reading about them.  So for every one, I will also list the throwbacks I’ve purchased for each.

AT&T Park – September 21, 2012.  San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants

Date: Friday, September 21, 2012, 7:20PM

Seat: 304, B, 9, 10

Ticket Cost: $34.00 each (purchased from StubHub)

Went with: Jen Weaver McKernan

Attendance: 41,728

Time of Game: 2:58

Linescore:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R  H  E
Padres 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0  1  7   0
Giants 0 0 0 1 1 3 0 0 X  5  11  0

Winning Pitcher: Ryan Vogelsong (13-9)

Losing Pitcher: Casey Kelly (2-2)

Jersey: Will Clark (1989); Willie Mays (1951)

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Ballpark of the Week: Kaufmann Stadium (Home of the Kansas City Royals)

Ballpark of the Week: Kaufmann Stadium (Home of the Kansas City Royals)

Ballpark of the Week: Kaufmann Stadium (Home of the Kansas City Royals)

Look, let’s get the obvious out of the way: you are probably saying “hey Dan, funny we haven’t seen you post in two weeks, since you declared your Detroit Tigers favorites to win the American League!”  Yes, that’s true.  You might say, “That timing seems a bit suspicious, like you decided to lay low and avoid the mockery and derision that would come your way!”  Yes, point taken.  You might say, “Hey Dan…” but at this point, I would punch you.

It’s true, we lost.  To a Baltimore Orioles team that beat our bullpen like rented mules and made our hitters look like children swinging wiffle bats.  It was upsetting, but I’m over it.  Watching that same Orioles team get out-ran, out-fielded and out-hit by this never say die Kansas City Royals team was truly something to see.  So this week, I look to 2013, when I was lucky enough to visit the lovely stadium and fountains of Kaufmann Stadium.

It was the best kind of event one could hope for – we were headed into Kansas City for the wedding of my wife’s friend Mike, and the Royals were on a home stand.  I had gone to the University of Missouri and have friends in the St. Louis area, so an agenda took hold – we would fly from Detroit to St. Louis, visit some friends, then rent a car to drive from St. Louis to Kansas City (stopping in Columbia for old times sake) before enjoying a weekend of wedding fun, BBQ food and a Royals game.

The plan worked flawlessly.  My friends were wonderful, the weather was perfect and the drive – roughly four hours straight – was great too.  We stopped in Columbia and I showed my wife my old dorm, the famous Mizzou columns, even stopped for a bite at Shakespeare’s Pizza. We arrived in Kansas City, checked into our lovely hotel downtown, and got ready for the game.

The first thing an out of towner might notice when driving to visit Kaufmann Stadium – or it’s next door neighbor Arrowhead Stadium – is that they are seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  Right off of I-70, both stadiums are set in the middle of a massive expanse of parking spaces, with little else to see.  As we pulled in, it was a bit disorienting – nothing but concrete as far as the eye could see.

Now while this may kill the distinct Kansas City flavor from the environs, it allowed for something else: tailgating, and lots of it! I’m not used to seeing people tailgate before a baseball game, much less a June game between two teams headed for the basement, but there were people with grills and food going everywhere.  Furthermore, it was “Girls Night Out,” a promotion geared towards female baseball fans, and they were out en masse.  Pink Royals jerseys, pink hats and high pitched cheers abounded.

I bought my tickets through StubHub (I like to see if I can get better seats from a season ticket holder looking to unload them than from the team site and, whoopee, it worked!), so I picked them up from Will Call, where the Royals employees were wonderfully nice.  Tailgating, Ladies Night, Friday or not, there was no way this game was selling out.

Our seats were fantastic.  The third base line, a few rows back.  We had a perfect view of the entire ballpark.  The famous Royal crest in the outfield with it’s massive scoreboard.  The fountains around the outfield, erupting at intervals.  This stadium, despite it’s early 70s birthday, really is a relaxing, comfortable place to watch baseball.

Perfect seats
Perfect seats

As the night went on, we watched a low scoring affair.  We wandered the park, and were impressed with the sight-lines one can get from almost anywhere within.  Particualrly cool was standing in the outfield by the fountains, watching them go off from close and looking over the lush outfild grass.

The Kaufmann Stadium fountains really are beautiful
The Kaufmann Stadium fountains really are beautiful

We tried a few different BBQ concessions, but none had quite the taste of real Kansas City BBQ.  The real surprise of the night came in the 7th inning, when the concessionaires announced it was “dollar” time, and all hot dogs, soda cans (Pepsi products) and peanuts/popcorn was now, yes, $1.  I have to humbly report that I may have scarfed down four hot dogs and three sodas at this point, because I’m a midwesterner who can’t refuse a value.  I’m willing to bet that, with their team in the Series now, $1 hot dogs are harder to find at Kaufmann than a Royals fan who didn’t jump on the bandwagon in August.  I’m just kidding.  Well, sorta.

Because that was the only downside to my visit.  The park is absolutely beautiful.  I love the huge Royal crown, the 13 story scoreboard. The concessions were a value.  The fountains are amazing.  The post game fireworks on Friday were impressive. The game was even very good, with two small ball teams going at it.  But the fans weren’t, at least not in large part.  There was the enthusiasm that came with the ‘Girls Night Out’ promotion, but not a lot of cheering or booing going on.  As an observer of the AL Central, I noted how, even this year, in the midst of a pennant chase the Royals weren’t selling out.  There are great and knowledgeable fans in Kansas City, no doubt.  But compared to their cross state brethren in Cardinal fandom, they have a long way to go.

That said, Kaufmann was a beautiful park and I would go back in a heartbeat.  Especially if it was to see the Tigers top them again.

Dan’s scale (1-10): 8.7

Below are my stats.  I’ll post them for every park I’ve visited.  I include the big details, as well as who I visited with.  Lastly, I am a huge fan of throwback jerseys, and for every stadium I visit, I buy one of a player from that organization I admired as a kid, from watching them or reading about them.  So for every one, I will also list the throwbacks I’ve purchased for each.

Kaufmann Stadium – June 7, 2013.  Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals

Date: Friday, June 7, 2013 7:10PM

Seat: 115, D, 3-4

Ticket Cost: $28.00 each (purchased from StubHub)

Went with: Jen Weaver McKernan

Attendance: 24,808

Time of Game: 2:58

Linescore:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Astros 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 2 9 0
Royals 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 2 X 4 9 0

Winning Pitcher: Kelvin Herrera (3-4)

Losing Pitcher: Wesley Wright (0-2)

Save: Greg Holland (11)

Jersey: George Brett (1985)

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Ballpark of the Week: Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Home of the Baltimore Orioles)

Ballpark of the Week: Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Home of the Baltimore Orioles)

Ballpark of the Week: Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Home of the Baltimore Orioles)

Tonight, the American League Central Division Champion Detroit Tigers start their fourth consecutive American League Divisional Series with a match-up against the AL East champion Baltimore Orioles.  Since the Tigers are my hometown team, it’s not hard to figure out where my rooting interests lie.  And while this season was grueling, with the Tigs not clinching the division until the season’s last day, we in Detroit are feeling pretty good about our chances.

I will admit, however, that I regularly root for the Orioles in their division.  Like the rest of the world not living in the five boroughs, I despise the Yankees.  Once I had a sympathy for the Red Sox and their unbeatable curse, and cheered joyously as they won that memorable title in 2003.  That dissipated quickly as Sox fans became unbearable in the years since, and I now only root for them when they play the Yankees.  If Tampa Devil Ray fans don’t exist, why would I acknowledge their team? And the Blue Jays…well, I don’t really dislike them, but they have to make the playoffs for me to root for them.  That makes the Orioles the lesser of five evils, I guess.

Those days are over.  Tigers in three! four!

That said, I was able to visit Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 2012, My wife had a work conference in Washington DC in June, including a couple of evening events, so I used the opportunity to rent a car and drive north to catch a game.  Particularly fortuitous for me, my wife’s uncle and cousins – Maryland natives – were happy to meet me at the game and make it a night at the ballpark!

The drive in was less than ideal – while DC and Baltimore may be separated by few miles (40 or so), the drive time between the two is a bit on the slow side.  I’m sure natives to the area are well aware of this – unfortunately, I was not.  When I did arrive in Baltimore, however, I was pleased to find how easy it was to get to the park!  There is ample parking, thanks to a nicely developed area of hotels and convention centers nearby, and was parked and ready to go in no time.

Driving in from DC, I noticed the large crowd of people in Orioles gear between a statue of Brooks Robinson and a few bars names Pickles and Sliders across the street from the stadium.  I wandered over for a bite and to catch some local flavor – and I did.  In particular, I’ve developed a taste for ‘Baltimore Wings,’ which are the local take on traditional Buffalo Wings.  Baked in butter and rubbed with Old Bay seasoning, they may be my favorite wings in the world now.  People hung out and talked baseball, but I snapped a pic in front of the Brooks Robinson statue, and headed over to the large main gates to get a feel for the place.

In front of the Brooks Robinson statue
In front of the Brooks Robinson statue

Upon entering the park from Camden and Eutaw, the first thing you notice is how the stadium feels like an older park than it really is.  This is, of course, by design.  After years of demolishing our baseball cathedrals in favor of bland, round, all purpose stadiums (like Three Rivers or Veterans stadiums), Oriole Park at Camden Yards was a much heralded return to the classics.  Set in an actual part of the city (as opposed to far-flung suburbs), built with brick and iron and as a part of it’s surroundings (the warehouse overlooking the park from center to right field).  It revolutionized ballparks, and while it has borne many imitators (including Comerica Park here in Detroit), it is still very unique.

Strolling along the bricks above the outfield, I had to stop into the famous Boog’s BBQ.  Boog Powell, slugging hero of those late 60s and early 70s Oriole teams, has a BBQ stand/tent here, and it came highly recommended.  An additional treat – Boog was there that day, and I got to shake his hand, get an autograph, and chat for a few minutes with a Baltimore legend!  And the BBQ was delicious too.

Boog Powell's delicious barbeque
Boog Powell’s delicious barbecue

Our seats gave us a great view of the park – it really is a beautiful sight.  I was there during an interleague matchup, and many fans from Pittsburgh were there as well, so there was a good spirited taunting going on in the stands.  A high scoring game, we were able to see everything clearly, and despite it’s throwback style, Oriole Park has plenty of modern game-watching amenities: great scoreboards, clear public address, ball, strike and pitch speed sensors throughout.

Steve Pearce and Mark Reynolds both hit shots our way, and we even thought we might have a chance at catching Reynolds.  The O’s scored early and often, and the game was fun for the hometown fans.  At one point, I headed up to the picnic tables in centerfield to grab some crab dip and waffle fries – a local favorite – and found out OPaCY is one of the few ballparks in which you can bring your own food and drink (provided the drinks are sealed)!  A walk down Eutaw was particularly enjoyable, as you watch the game on the one side, and check out the bars and souvenir stands inside the warehouse on the other.

Now, it did take me almost two and a half hours to get back to DC after the game, but that didn’t dampen my fun.  Oriole Park at Camden Yards is a beautiful park, and another must see for baseball fans!

Dan’s scale (1-10): 8.7

Below are my stats.  I’ll post them for every park I’ve visited.  I include the big details, as well as who I visited with.  Lastly, I am a huge fan of throwback jerseys, and for every stadium I visit, I buy one of a player from that organization I admired as a kid, from watching them or reading about them.  So for every one, I will also list the throwbacks I’ve purchased for each.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards – June 14, 2012.  Pittsburgh Pirates at Baltimore Orioles

Date: Thursday, June 14, 2012, 7:06PM

Seat: Section 82, Row 4, Seats 13 – 17

Ticket Cost: $34.00 each (purchased from team site)

Went with: Phil, Kenny, Ashley & Tara Daniels

Attendance: 29,995

Time of Game: 3:06

Linescore:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R  H   E
Pirates 0 0 0 0 3 2 0 0 1 6   10 0
Orioles 4 0 1 5 0 1 0 1 X 12 16 0

Winning Pitcher: Tommy Hunter (3-3)

Losing Pitcher: Erik Bedard (4-7)

Save:

Jersey: Brooks Robinson (1966)

Ballpark of the Week: Fenway Park (Home of the Boston Red Sox)

Ballpark of the Week: Fenway Park (Home of the Boston Red Sox)

I am not even close to forgiving the Boston Red Sox for beating my beloved Detroit Tigers in the ALCS last year. The fact that they eventually won the championship makes things a little better (if you’re gonna lose, might as well lose to the champ), but not nearly enough to soften the wounds.  To be totally honest, with the exception of 2004 and their vanquishing of the Yankees, I can’t remember ever rooting for the Red Sox.  And just for extra emotion, I grew up with the New York Mets as my “B” team, so I remember 1986 for all the right reasons.

All that aside, even I have to admit that the long and storied history of the Beantown team can give me goose bumps – from Babe to Foxx, Pesky and Rice to Pedro and Youk. I always had a reverence for Ted Williams as well – as a kid who loved the statistics of baseball, I was wowed by the way Williams could post such amazing numbers AND serve in two wars.  So when my brother-in-law offered us tickets to the Sox game of our choice as a Christmas gift, we were elated for the opportunity.

As luck (and his generosity) would have it, we got to enjoy even more.  The game we had selected was a Yankees-Sox game on a Saturday afternoon in May, but he did us one better and also got us tickets to see the Red Sox play the Anaheim Angels on the Thursday night we arrived in.  We migrated from his Back Bay apartment to the ballpark and it was every bit as great as advertised.

As we walked to the hallowed park that first night, we found ourselves being enveloped, block by block, by Red Sox fans and the first notable difference between this and other parks was apparent: because (like Wrigley Field) this old park was in a neighborhood, it wasn’t just a matter of people walking the short distance from a parking lot to the park.  Instead, people walked through neighborhoods.  It was communal, and fun.  It felt like what baseball was supposed to be.

By the time we got close, every Irish bar had the Dropkick Murphys blaring and the smells of a baseball game were everywhere.  By the time we turned from Brookline onto Yawkey Way, it was on.  There were street vendors with carts and just about every kind of pick-up-and-carry food imaginable. I became particularly infatuated with the stadium kabobs, and ate what seemed like three or four of them.

We wandered in the stadium, and were surrounded by baseball history.  Like Wrigley, it was apparent from the first second that this was a throw back to an earlier time.  The bricks, the smells (good and bad), how…small?…everything seems compared to the modern behemoth stadium.  Now, that feeling of nostalgia for a time before you were ever born (pre-stalgia?) lasts right up to about the time you go to buy something, when you realize that this beer would have cost a 1920 cobbler his months income.  But its still very very special.

Our first game, we sat down the first base side, and the seats were amazing.  We watched a high scoring (if slow moving) game, where the Sox took it to the Anaheim Angels, even after Dice-K gave up 4 runs early.  Most amusing was the Japanese gentleman behind us who shouted at Daisuke what we could only imagine were words of encouragement or terrible curses the entire time he was pitching.

The tradition of Red Sox nation is well known around the world now – singing along with Sweet Caroline, The stadium was full from first to last pitch, and with the Standell’s Dirty Water blaring, it was an amazing time.

We came back two days later, in a misty rain, to see the real deal – Yankees v Sox.  Because it was a nationally televised game, it had a later than normal start time, which allotted us more time to spend at the grand old park.  We strolled there leisurely in the mist, and decided to wander around the entire park this time (not just Yawkey Way).  We were wandering down Landsdowne, behind the Green Monster, when what sounded like a shot rang out, and my wife dropped to the ground in a heap.  There were audible gasps from the people in the Green Monster seats looking down at the street below.  I was stunned – I had no idea what had happened.

Now, a Boston native might know right away.  In that beautiful, completely asymmetrical and oddly shaped park, if a ball clears the Green Monster…it hits the street below.  In the clip here, Melky Cabrera hits a homer over the wall that breaks a car windshield.  Well, it just so happened that batting practice was taking place inside the park and someone put a charge into a ball that happened to clear the fence,but not my wife.

Within a minute, she was back on her feet and a few of Boston’s finest were there to make sure she was ok.  A kid on a bike came up to us with the ball that had struck her, and offered it to us (we told him he could keep it, but he smiled and said ‘I get tons of them out here!’ and showed us a small bag of baseballs), so we pocketed it and headed into the park, where we could at least see flying objects beforehand.

The seats my brother-in-law had gotten us were amazing, and we got some Lobster Rolls and Sam Adams, and had a blast.  CC Sabathia was chased early, but the Yankees persevered and emerged victorious.  And we had a second great time at the ballpark.  We visited the Ted Williams plaque, and walked through the concourse.  Again, just like Wrigley, it felt like history.  The fact everything was wet from the rain added a mustiness that reminded us of the age of the park as well.

As for Jen – well, she ended up with a bruise on her chest that looked like she had been hit by…well, a baseball that had been projected 400 feet through air and space.  But she healed, and we had the baseball – and the great memories.

Dan’s scale (1-10): 8.9

Below are my stats.  I post them for every park I’ve visited.  I include the big details, as well as who I visited with.  Lastly, I am a huge fan of authentic throwback jerseys, and for every stadium I visit, I buy one of a player from that organization I admired as a kid, from watching them or reading about them.  So for every one, I will also list the throwbacks I’ve purchased for each.

Fenway Park – May 6, 2010.  Anaheim Angels at Boston Red Sox

Date: Thursday, May 6, 2010, 7:12PM

Seat: Field Box 18

Ticket Cost: N/A

Went with: Jen Weaver

Attendance: 37,639

Time of Game: 3:43

Linescore:
               1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9     R   H E
Angels    4 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0    6   9  2
Red Sox  0 0 2 0 5 4 0 0 X   11 11 0

Winning Pitcher: Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Scott Kazmir (2-2)

Save:

 

Fenway Park – May 8, 2010.  New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox

Date: Saturday, May 8, 2010, 3:11 PM

Seat: EMC Club

Ticket Cost: N/A

Went with: Jen Weaver

Attendance: 37,138

Time of Game: 3:56

Linescore:
               1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9     R   H E
Yankees   0 0 2 1 3 0 2 4 2    14 17 0
Red Sox   0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0      3  8  1

Winning Pitcher: Alfredo Aceves

Losing Pitcher: Clay Buchholtz

Save:

Jersey: Ted Williams (1939)

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Ballpark of the Week: Wrigley Field (Home of the Chicago Cubs)

Ballpark of the Week: Wrigley Field (Home of the Chicago Cubs)

This year was the 100th anniversary of the opening of Wrigley Field, Chicago’s little baseball wonderland nestled in the middle of a true neighborhood and much heralded both for its authentic, old-time baseball feel, as well as the extraordinary amount of …um…losing… that has happened there.

In 2008, just one month after I had kicked off my “visit all of the ballparks” mission, my then-girlfriend-now-wife Jen surprised me with a trip to Chicago to see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field.  Not only had she gotten the location, she had also (1) purchased bleacher seats (I had said I wanted to experience the park in the bleachers with the ‘bums’), (2) against their rivals the St. Louis Cardinals, and (3) in a pennant winning year, no less!  This was a home run of a surprise, no pun intended.  So in September of 2008, we loaded up the car and drove to Chicago to take in some baseball.

For those who don’t know, Wrigley Stadium is in the middle of a real Chicago neighborhood (Wrigleyville), so one of the first things to know is that parking is extremely hard to find and at a premium.  Luckily, the ever prepared Jen was aware of this, and had not only gotten us a hotel a distance away, but plotted out the train lines so that we could get there bright and early.  Which we did – wise decision, as it turns out people line up EARLY for the bleachers and day games.  We joined a line full of reveling Cubs fans, and I don’t think it’s going to shock that many of them had begun the day’s drinking well before they got there.  It was a party atmosphere and, when they finally opened the gates and we came pouring in, it stayed that way.

Immediately, Wrigley Field transports you into a different time (Fenway does this even more so, a point for another post).  It feels incredibly small and comfy, and not overwhelming like many modern stadiums do.  Most importantly, a sense of history just seems to seem out of every crack and crevise.  The feeling that it’s bigger – bigger than you and me – and smaller at the same time.  It’s just a game, just a sporting event.  Grown men running around a grassy field.  But it has meant so much to so many.  I know I’m sounding like Terence Mann, James Earl Jones’ character from Field of Dreams, but as hokey as it seems, Wrigley makes you feel this way.  There really is something to be said for standing in the same place to get a beer and hot dog where generations of fans have done the same thing.

That said, one of the first things you’ll notice is a small group of vendors and concessionaires than you are used to.  It’s not that there aren’t plenty, but the concourse doesn’t seem like a shopping mall, like it does in most stadiums.  We made our way to our seats, and stopped for the right food and drink for the experience: Chicago style dogs and Old Style beer.  Wrigley has it’s share of specialty foods now, and micro-brews, but we were going for the fully authentic experience.  Dogs and suds in hand, we wandered down to our seats.

Now, plenty has been said about the Bleacher Bum’s rowdiness and sometime lac of manners, but we did not experience any of that this day.  The people around us were pleasant and cheerful, and pretty damn knowledgeable about their baseball!  Not many other stadiums in America have their outfields fill up an hour before game time, but this one does.  The temperature was just right – mid 70s – and there was a slight haze over the field.  We watched the prep and marveled on the famous outfield ivy and the magnificent old scoreboard.  While I admit, the Chicago dog was not my cup of tea, my wife still swears that it was the best dog she ever had.

The game itself was a bit of a sleeper.  The Cubs clinched their division the night before, so they put in their “B” lineup this day.  To be honest, I only knew a couple players on the Cubs roster that day (Kosuke Fukudome, Ryan Dempster), and the Cardinals roster wasn’t much better, although they had left in Albert Pujols.  But it didn’t matter.  For nine innings (that only took 2 1/2 hours), we soaked in the sun (it ended up reaching the mid-80s), enjoyed some of baseball’s best fans and ate a few too many Chicago Dogs.

Wrigley Field is a baseball Mecca, and a trip that any true fan of the game’s history should undertake if they can.  As we left, Cubs “W” flag for win being hoisted high, I got the amazing feeling one does when they know they just crossed an item off of their ‘bucket list,’ and it didn’t disappoint.  If you can, go soon, while they are still rebuilding.  This isn’t a cheap park to visit when they are winning, but it’s a little better now.  With

Dan’s scale (1-10): 9.1

Below are my stats.  I’ll post them for every park I’ve visited.  I include the big details, as well as who I visited with.  Lastly, I am a huge fan of throwback jerseys, and for every stadium I visit, I buy one of a player from that organization I admired as a kid, from watching them or reading about them.  So for every one, I will also list the throwbacks I’ve added to my collection for each.

Wrigley Field – September 21, 2008.  St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs

Date: Sunday, September 21, 2008, 1:24PM

Seat: BLCHR, GA, Seat 1462

Ticket Cost: N/A

Went with: Jen Weaver

Attendance: 40,551

Time of Game: 2:26

Linescore:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9   R H  E
Cardinals  1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0   1 7   1
Cubs          0 0 1 1 0 2 1 0 X  5 10 0

Winning Pitcher: Ryan Dempster (17-6)

Losing Pitcher: Braden Looper (12-14)

Save:

Jerseys: Ernie Banks (1968) and Ryne Sandberg (1984)

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Opening Day!!!

Opening Day!!!

It’s opening day, folks, a good day for getting a good glass of bourbon or a fine mixed bourbon drink, and watching your favorite baseball team start a fresh new season!  I’ve been fortunate enough to visit many stadiums, and as I post some write-ups about them in the coming days and weeks along with my new bourbon reviews, please tell me about your favorites – I love to hear them.

For me, my loves were always the New York Mets, and most of all, my hometown Detroit Tigers, and while hope springs eternal, let’s welcome in a new year and season with the legendary hall of fame broadcaster for the tigers, Ernie Harwell, who would bless each new season with this short poem:

Go get em Tigers, and happy Opening Day!