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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Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon

OK, two things:

1) As this summer has gotten busier and busier, I have not been good about posting regularly.  I’m still sampling new bourbons, still reading about developments in the whiskey world and what not, but I’m not writing about it enough.

2) Despite the name “Baseball and Bourbon,” I hardly ever write about baseball! I named the blog Baseball and Bourbon because I planned on reviewing two of the things I enjoy the most: baseball parks and bourbons.  However, I discovered two key facts early on – it’s difficult to visit new parks regularly, and it’s way more fun (and easy) to try new bourbons.  This year alone, I have been able to visit one new park (Nationals Park), but will have gone on three separate trips to Kentucky for bourbon related events.

Both of these things will change now.

Not going to more baseball parks – time and money can prohibit that pretty severely.  But introducing more baseball content.  Reviews of baseball books, baseball movies, write-ups of parks I’ve visited in the past and just more baseball chatter will be a priority.  My hometown Detroit Tigers are (again) serious contenders for the title, and I keep pretty well plugged in to baseball.  Time to put it to type.

Secondly, I will include more bourbon reviews, but also, talk more at length about whiskey bars I visit, industry trends, and other whiskeys, especially ryes,

So let the fun begin!

Last night, after what has proven to be a particularly trying week in many regards, my wife and I sat down and opened a bottle that she had picked up a few weeks back out of curiosity.

Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Ezra B 12 Year Old Bourbon

OK, call this a spoiler alert, but I LOVED this bourbon.  Ezra B (Brooks) 12 Year is a Heaven Hill distillery product, and while Heaven Hill makes some bourbons I have liked (Evan Williams, Elijah Craig) and some I haven’t, none have ever tasted quite like this.

While the Ezra B 12 Year is the classier bottle of the Ezra Brooks line, with its wax cap and ribboned label, it’s not obscenely priced.  A little harder to find here in Detroit, it was still available at a store, and not only through third party sellers.  We opened the bottle and poured a healthy amount into our glasses…

…wow, what a fantastic nose.  Ezra B is 99 proof, but the nose didn’t burn of alcohol at all.  Amazingly, it was a sweet, rich nose, with notes of vanilla, caramel, raisin, rum, pecans and wood.  Not charred wood, mind you, but soft wood, like a new baseball bat.  It was warm and inviting.

The taste was outstanding.  First of all, Ezra B 12 Year is a thick mouth feel – like a melting butter.  But unlike most thicker tasting bourbons, Ezra B isn’t full of those mouth-puckering tannins some people (not I) love.  Instead, it’s incredibly smooth with a layered taste.  It opens with a rich sweetness – raisin and ripe banana, toffee and caramel, before giving way to a warming but not overpowering spice.

The finish is soft and medium, and almost seems to come in waves, but not of spice or rye, but rather, that wonderful citrus taste.

This just became a favorite.

Dan’s rating: 9.3

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!