The incomparable Ernie Banks

I, along with so many others, was saddened this weekend to learn about the passing of Ernie Banks.  Banks, “Mr. Cub,” passed away on Friday at the age of 83.  Growing up, I loved the stories of Banks and his absolute love of the game. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest of all times, and as so many have said, he will be missed.

It’s a great day for baseball.
Let’s play two!

Ernie Banks - Mr. Cub
Ernie Banks – Mr. Cub

My write up of a trip to Wrigley Field here.

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

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: PNC Park (Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates)

Ballpark of the Week: PNC Park (Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates)

Ballpark of the Week: PNC Park (Home of the Pittsburgh Pirates)

The first ballpark I will post about is PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and my favorite ballpark to visit to date.  Nestled on the North Shore of the Allegheny River, right around the corner from where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join to form the mighty Ohio river, this ballpark lives up to all the hoopla that has surrounded it since it’s opening in 2001.

My opportunity to visit PNC came in the late summer of 2008.  My sister Denise was attending graduate school in Pittsburgh, and suggested it as an opportunity for my other sister Therese, girlfriend Jen and her to get together and enjoy an evening.  Pittsburgh (as was so often the case) was well out of the playoff hunt, and had begun a series of post-game concerts and fireworks for a week in August to boost attendance.  After some consideration – Collective Soul, Phil Vassar or REO Speedwagon – the latter was chosen and we planned for a Thursday night at the ballpark.

The drive in was a bit confusing – I have never failed to be absolutely lost in the confusing layout that is Pittsburgh (few know this, but Pittsburgh’s system of roads and highways was laid out by a drunken cat with a Spirograph).  I’m quite sure I drove over the same bridge several times, before finding a nice parking space across the river.  The walk from parking lot to ballpark was wonderful as we could see the stadium and the river, before entering at the left field entrance by the Willie Stargell statue.

The stadium looks right, with it’s steel beams, in the city that made so much of it for so long.  The fans on this night were excited and fun, and there was a nice spirit of camaraderie. The team was 11 games under .500 and playing the equally (at the time) hapless Reds, but the general atmosphere belied this and made it enjoyable.  I was concerned when I looked up and realized, our seats, in section 305, were upper upper deck, but again, I was in for a treat.

Despite it’s altitude, the view from 305 was outstanding.  PNC Park was built to be intimate, and it most certainly is.  We got a fantastic view of the field, and a magnificent view of downtown Pittsburgh across the river.  We settled in for the game, and watched several players who would make names for themselves in the future play (it was the rookie season for Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto, and the second for Brandon Moss).  The game was low scoring, and the pace move quickly as a summer Pittsburgh evening turned to night. Johnny Cueto…I think he comes up in Pittsburgh Pirate lore again later…

I walked around the stadium, and was impressed by the jovial easy-going nature of the crowd.  I did not hear vulgarities or even much heckling.  Again, that may have been due to the more family-friendly fireworks crowd, and the Pirates lack of success, but it was still nice.

Now I admit, I did not try the Primanti’s Bros sandwich that is so legendary around Pittsburgh…at least, not on this visit.  I found concession prices for other eats and drinks about on par with what I expected from other parks: dogs around $5, soda at $6, beer at $8.  More than anything, I was impressed by how I could walk around the stadium and see amazing views from every location.

Back up in 305, the game (and it’s lack  of offense) was starting to bore my sisters and Jen, but the skyline and conversation were not, and when the game ended at 10:00, we wandered down to the riverfront part of the park.  While the strains of “Keep On Loving You,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling” and “Take It On the Run” played from centerfield, we walked along the riverfront, watching the band over the fence and looking at the buildings in the distance.  The fireworks began, and the Pittsburgh sky lit up to the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the crowd.

PNC Park became, and is still,my favorite MLB Park. As you’ll see, I’ve been to a few, and I’ll get to them all.  But it will take a pretty impressive park to knock this out of number one.

Dan’s scale (1-10): 9.2

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.

PNC Park – August 14, 2008.  Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates

Date: Thursday, August 14, 2008, 7:05PM

Seat: 305, V, 8

Ticket Cost: N/A

Went with: Jen Weaver, Therese McKernan, Denise McKernan

Attendance: 35,439

Time of Game: 2:54

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9    R H E
Reds    0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 1    3 7 1
Pirates 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0    1 8 0

Winning Pitcher: Johnny Cueto (8-11)

Losing Pitcher: Ian Snell (4-10)

Save: Francisco Cordero (23)

Jersey: Roberto Clemente (1971)