Saturday, August 4, 2007


I guess they didn't make Petco "Barry-proof" after all.

Friday, August 3, 2007


Ok… so I’ve got to comment on this. Bud Selig, baseball commissioner, whose job, as I can best understand it, appears to be to look like a toad at major baseball events, recently referred to his duty of following Barry around from stadium to stadium in his chase of 755 as a “Herculean effort”.

Are you kidding me? The guy’s JOB is to be there for the photo opp. He gets paid about $14 million a year for it. And being driven by limo and private jet from luxury box to luxury box in order to watch baseball is a “Herculean effort”???

Still, it did get me thinking. If that’s Herculean, I wonder quite what my trip would be? Any thoughts out there?

Game #7: Not a Pit After All

PNC Park was rated the best park in the majors a few years ago in an unscientific ranking system devised by two ESPN columnists, just edging out the Park By The Bay in San Francisco. And indeed, both the park itself, and the city of Pittsburgh, were a huge hit for me, presenting a fantastic environment for baseball in a very cozy and intimate setting. It really is a shame the team stinks.

The park was highly reminiscent of AT&T Park in SF, perhaps not surprising given the fact that the same architect firm was used for both. The exposed brick and steel have become common elements, but in general layout and feel, there were definite similarities. Also, the potential for balls heading to right field to go into the water, in this case the Allegheny River, is a nice touch. The great thing about PNC is the city skyline beyond the right field wall, with the presence of numerous beautiful bridges in the near background. Those bridges mirror another great aspect of Pittsburgh, in that they all reflect the yellow color palette so integral to Pittsburgh. Yellow steel is used throughout in the bridges, yellow brick is common throughout the city and the ballpark, and the use of yellow and black for all three of the city’s sports teams provides a common thread of a type I’ve always wished more cities would adopt. Instantly recognizable as Pittsburgh, this prevalence of yellow is really a great touch.

I was given heard two random city facts, neither validated, but both interesting enough to include here: 1) Pittsburgh has more bridges than any world city after Venice (!), perhaps because of the easy availability of steel? 2) Pittsburgh is the second oldest city in the USA from a demographic standpoint, a sign of its stagnant economic situation.

Unlike the last few parks I’ve been at, and even though PNC is a new park, there are few distractions. The focus of the building is very definitely upon the baseball, and while a small replica park is in place in right field, you can tell that the intention is for the fans to be focusing upon the game.

There were great food options throughout, including the repeatedly recommended Primanti Brothers sandwich (yes, those fries are inside the sandwich), for which I actually visited the original site for lunch, and including a second signature food typical of the region, pierogis. This Eastern European delicacy is essentially a potato, cheese, and onion ravioli. Both the sandwich and the pierogis were tasty, and highly representative of the area, though both were fairly subtle in flavor. Beer selections were good as well, with a wide variety of local microbrews available on tap.

Tickets were plentiful and inexpensive, likely a reflection both upon the cost of living of the city itself and the misfortunes of the team.

The game was unfortunate, and having built such a great building in which to play baseball, it is indeed too bad that the Pirates do such a bad job inside of it. The game was against the Cardinals, a team that hasn’t been playing particularly well this year in their attempt to follow up their World Series championship. However, the Pirates really never threatened to win the game at all. While the score was close throughout, and ended at 6-4, there was something of a sense in the air that it really wasn’t going to happen.

If you were to point at one representative moment from the game, though, it would have to be the putrid play of the Pittsburgh catcher, Ronny Paulino. With two outs and a man on 1st in a tie game, Paulino was lackadaisical on a high foul pop-up, dropping it for an error. The very next pitch was doubled to center, though the outfielder got the ball into the infield in time for a play at the plate. But Paulino then proceeded to mishandle the throw to the plate, letting the go-ahead run score, and really being the beginning of the end. Radio hosts and callers were irate after the game, screaming for blood, and demanding that he be sent immediately to AAA, AA, A, or perhaps Cuba. But, this being the Pirates, he’s sure to be a fixture for years to come.

[Editor’s note: Paulino did hit a grand slam the next day, and then another HR the day after that, perhaps getting some vindication. Meanwhile, the Braves demonstrated the sort of decisiveness for which the Pirate fans were clamoring the next day, in which they demoted a poorly performing starting pitcher only 30 minutes after their game was over.]

Finally, I failed to mention this on the blog entry covering my drive to Pittsburgh, but there’s a small spur of West Virginia that comes on up and sticks itself between Canton, OH and Pittsburgh. With all apologies to Al, just that little hyper-rural stretch of local highways (I was not on the interstate at this time) did rather reinforce the WV stereotype quite a lot. My favorite example, and one that I’d really like to hope was a joke, was the sign, crudely painted on a piece of discard wood beside a very run down store that said “Got Far Wood”. Read it again if you didn’t quite catch that, and don’t be afraid to adopt a fake accent.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Late Games and Road Trips

Because, you see, I should have good and well predicted that on a day in which I drove for 11 hours from DC to Atlanta, before tomorrow's drive for 7 hours from Atlanta to Tampa, tonight's Braves game was obviously destined to run until well past midnight over 5+ hours and 14 innings. Aie...

Blog entries for Pittsburgh, DC, and Atlanta are on their way. My home-team mojo appears to be on the fritz, as I went 1-2 through that stretch. PNC Park's incredible, RFK wasn't as bad as I expected, and Turner Field was good fun. More later...

Monday, July 30, 2007

Another Interlude and Arrival in Pittsburgh

Having missed out on the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, but finding myself with some time between waking in Cleveland and arriving in Pittsburgh, I decided to take another detour into another sport, and visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH.

This was a neat experience, and interesting to see, especially with the hall preparing itself for this weekend’s induction ceremonies. The parking lot had been taken over for temporary tents, while everywhere were banners, signs, and merchandise regarding the new inductees of the class of 2007. Especially of interest (for me, at least) was the Redskin-related memorabilia, including the bust of once-and-again coach Joe Gibbs, at right. That said, there was an element to which I wasn’t as steeped in the tradition and the lore of the sport, and thus had less of a connection with many of the players than others might have. That last concern is something I expect to have no problem with at all when I arrive in Toronto and get a chance to see the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I’ve now arrived in Pittsburgh in advance of tomorrow night’s game against St Louis, hoping to once again get my home-team-mojo going. Upon arriving, my very gracious hosts (Thanks Tom & Patter, and Beage as well) gave me a great overview of the city, including dinner at a fantastic location, offering tremendous views over the city below. I’m digging Pittsburgh – while it may be struggling from an economic standpoint, it’s definitely got a beautiful location and skyline. The park’s supposed to be fantastic as well, and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing that for myself tomorrow night.

Observation: "A Table for One, Please"

Attending a baseball game is an inherently social activity, as the interaction between fan and game is generally nicely enhanced with some good quality fan-to-fan interaction. Not that a game can’t be a great experience on your own, but that I, for one, tend to hope for opportunities to get to know other fans around me. Given that 4 of my first 6 games have been alone, I’ve definitely been looking out for some good-quality conversation. And whether it’s been just a couple of exchanges, engaging in an in-depth conversation, or making a new friendship that carries on after leaving the park, I’ve fortunately been doing pretty well so far.

The roadtrip itself is a great icebreaker, as it turns out. While selling people on the concept in the UK produced a mixed, if generally positive impression, raising the concept to other fans at a baseball game has brought uniform enthusiasm, and a hearty collection of “I’ve always wanted to do that” responses. To call out a few examples in particular:

I met a very cool person at the Yankee game, despite her insistence on cheering for the Yankees as a day-to-day activity rather than just as a ballpark-touring temporary allegiance. We discovered soon into our conversation that we shared a fair bit in the way of common background and career direction, and that our common deep interest in sports made for a great backdrop for ongoing conversation. This really helped enhance the Yankee Stadium experience. And, credit where credit’s due, my schedule re-jigging to hit up Cleveland earlier in the trip was inspired by this dedicated Yankee fan. Hats off.

The Phillies game worked out well from several fronts. On my right were the three people who’d received 4 tickets to the game (free), sold one of them to a pair of Mets fans outside the stadium (at face value), who then sold it to me (for a premium). From a financial point of view, I suppose I had the short straw, but I still realized economic profit vis-à-vis my willingness to pay, so all was good. My being the 4th seat of the group almost made for a natural introduction and for easygoing conversation throughout the game. I also had a very good time talking to the couple on my other side, who were splitting innings with their daughter and her boyfriend between these seats and standing-room only. The daughter’s softball scholarship to university was an obvious indication of a thorough knowledge of the sport, and all 4 were great to spend time with.

My experience at the Orioles games was a bit more limited in interaction. Though to be fair, even just a brief description of my tour to a man visiting the game with his two teenage kids in the row behind me was enough to get him to offer me a beer at last call – “out of respect for the worthiness of my trip”. Good stuff.

We’ll see how things continue moving on, though with the reputation for hospitality and friendliness prevalent in the South and in the Mid-west, I’m guessing there’ll be plenty of good quality conversations ahead.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Game #6: Cleveland Rocks

Ok, so maybe not so much.

In fairness, when I arrived last night, I was very impressed with the city. With a downtown area far more populated with large buildings than I’d anticipated, and with a free outdoor blues festival underway just a short walk from my hotel, I was definitely digging it. But, after spending one additional day here, with an afternoon game and a bit of a wander both after the game and at night, I can safely say I’m done. Not a bad city, mind you, but just one from which I'm ready to move on.

Jacobs Field (aka “The Jake”) is another of the original new-era baseball-only parks, and was a natural segue after Camden Yards as a result. For anyone exceptionally perceptive, you’ll have noticed that Cleveland was intended to fit later in the tour. As it happens, with 4 days between games, and with my tentative plan of heading to Cooperstown subdued by realization that this was the Hall of Fame’s induction weekend, and that access & lodging would be difficult to come by, I figured I’d slip in a quick side trip from Pittsburgh to Cleveland in order to create more buffer later in the schedule. Hopefully this’ll help if I run into rain-outs further down the path.

Jacobs, though, both didn’t carry the weight of expectations of Camden, and was still built as a modern park – just as a nicely architected, baseball-only park. And for this reason, it was definitely a pleasant experience, and a nice place to see a game. The one disappointment was that I’d decided to get upper deck tickets again, but close to the front of the upper deck and immediately behind home plate. However, I quickly realized that the upper deck at the Jake is certainly higher than most, due to three (!) levels of luxury boxes, providing a resultant disappointing vantage point. It’s a bit worrisome, though – while I’ve not really looked over the plans for the two new parks in NY, it’s certainly believable that they might emphasize increased number of luxury boxes at the expense of the view of those in the upper deck. Given the great quality of the front-ward upper-deck tickets at Yankee Stadium, that’d be a real shame.

The feature of the Jake I particularly appreciated was the inclusion of a shrine to their top old players in the form of a small monument park in right field. This concept, inspired by Yankee Stadium and also included in Baltimore and Philadelphia, was particularly well done here, including the following small plaque to former Indian and current Giant Omar Vizquel.

Two other notable elements: First, the restaurant in right field was particularly impressive in terms of providing fantastic views and a luxurious-seeming feel to diners. Second, while activities for kids are common at new parks, Jacobs Field, for the first time, also featured a full-fledged playground for young kids, complete with kid-sized benches and tables surrounding the outside. Pretty impressive.

On to the game. Unfortunately, it appears my home-team charm effect may have worn off. I’d bought my ticket projecting this to be an ace-vs-ace matchup of CC Sabathia and Johan Santana, only to miss Santana by one night. However, Sabathia was brilliant, reaching the 2-outs-in-the-8th point in the game with a 1-0 shutout still intact. From then it all began to unravel. First, a deep fly ball to right flew over (poor-fielding) RF Trot Nixon’s head, scoring the tying run. Then, a routine grounder to the second baseman was first boggled (error #1), and then thrown away (error #2), getting the batter to 2nd and the man on 2nd home. Classic little-league stuff, compounding problems with further problems. Remember “Major League”, with Charlie Sheen as Wild Thing and Bob Uecker as the sarcastic commentator? There’s a reason they chose the Indians as their team, and despite the team playing far better since the Jake was built, they clearly still know how to mail one in.

That said, there was a point in the game that very much felt like a classic game changing moments, providing the typical rush of adrenaline and excitement through the stadium crowd. In the 6th inning, in a 1-0 ball game, with a man on 3rd and nobody out, Sabathia was able to get out of the jam by striking out the side. Wow. That got the crowd pumped and into the game, and in a split second, helped further highlight why it is that this game is so fun. Unfortunately, it wound up not being enough, leaving the home crowd to head home disappointed for the first time on my trip.

Off to Pittsburgh tomorrow, with the Pirates and PNC park coming up on Tuesday night.