Friday, January 4, 2014

Review - Half Way to "Home"

After traveling to US Cellular Field, I can now say I have been to over have of the stadiums in Major League Baseball.  Often people ask what's my favorite stadium or what city I like, so as I am starting to plan out the Baseball Adventure for 2014 I thought it might be cool to summarize travels over the past few years and reflect back on some highlights.

A disclaimer before you read this list - the more and more stadiums I travel to the more I realize how amazing ATT Park is.  At first I kept thinking I was being biased, so keep in mind that ATT Park could probably show up in most of the "best" categories.  With that being said....

Best Ballpark: Nationals Park in Washington D.C.
It's funny, not matter what stadium I am out when telling other people what I am doing the first question people always ask - "Have you been to PNC Park?  It's the best one."  I am very eager to get to Pittsburgh and check that one out.  ATT Park in also at the top of this list.

Worst Ballpark: Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.
Maybe I went in hating the Dodgers too much, but combine that with the location, the crappy seats, and obnoxious fans, I just didn't like it at all.

Overall Best Baseball Game Day Experience:  St. Louis Cardinals
For a refresh, check out that blog entry from that day - the amazing seats, great fans, fun atmosphere, and the energetic neighborhood around Busch Stadium led to a fantastic day!

Best Stadium Seat: Centerfield Lounge at Nationals Ballpark (Section 100)
The ticket get you a padded, 44-inch seats with a side table for your drink/food with an aisle wide enough to stretch out your legs and can easily walk around without climbing over others fans/asking them to stand.  In addition, you are adjacent to the Red Porch which feature a concourse level restaurant/bar and a rooftop bar for additional viewing.  Finally, the ticket come loaded with $20 for food and drink and an in-seat server.

Best "Out of Stadium" Seat: Rooftop Bleachers at Wrigley Field
You don't get an experience like this everyday.

Cheapest Ticket: Camden Yards - Orioles vs. Royals.  $8.00
This was a Tuesday night, a couple of year ago when neither team was great.  Only attending by 8,000 people and our ticket got us front row of the outfield.

Most Expensive Ticket: Citi Field - Mets vs. Yankees.  $124.00
Friday night.  Subway Series.  This only bought us a spot in the upper deck.

Best Value for Your Ticket: Homer's Landing at Busch Stadium
Covered Section in the outfield with all-you-can-eat hot dogs, nachos, and popcorn plus all-you-can-drink Bud Light!

Best Stadium Concession Item: Chickie Pete's Crabfries at Citizens Bank Park (Philadelphia Phillies)
Not sure what made them so great - the crispy fries with the special seasoning, the cute girls serving, it was probably the cheesy dipping sauce.

Most Dedicated Fans:  New York Yankees
It's hard to described until you have been able to site in the "Bleachers in the Bronx" and enough a game against a division rival.

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Ballparks with Best Local Bars/Restaurants around the Stadium:  ATT Park, Busch Stadium, Petco Park, and Wrigely Field.
Having things to do within walking distance to a stadium, in my opinion, is a major factor in how enjoyable a game day experience can be.

Best Local Attractions:  The monuments in Washington, D.C., the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, TX, the Arch is St. Louis, MO, the Freedom Trail in Boston, MA, the Space Center in Houston, TX.

Friendliest Locals:  Dallas, TX

If are ever traveling to any of these cities, please let me know and hopefully I can share some Do's and Don'ts.  Next year's trip is starting to shape up so there will be more blogs to come in 2014.  In the preliminary stages, the itinerary is shaping up to include Toronto, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati (yes, adding a new element to the trip - renting a car and driving).  Until then...

Monday, December 31, 2014

Game #5 - Chicago White Sox

I realize that I am very delinquent on this post but wanted to get US Cellular Field on the blog - this was my 16th MLB stadium putting me over the half way point to visiting them all!  The White Sox were playing a night game so we had all day to explore Chicago - the day started with brunch in Wrigleyville and then to downtown Chicago.  Cocktails were enjoyed at the Top of the John Hancock Building (sorry forgot the photos) - this experience was definitely more tame than the visit with the Wasteland Crew.  Following drinks, we visited Danielle and Anton at their apartment - below is a photo of their view of Lake Michigan.  Not too shabby!

From their apartment, we headed towards the South Side of Chicago.  There are not a lot of dining options around US Cellular Field, but the White Sox have recently constructed a restaurant sponsored by Bacardi called "Bacardi at the Park".  We all grabbed a late lunch before heading into the stadium.

For whatever reason, I did not have high expectations for this stadium; however, it turned out to be a great game day experience.  Roberto and I made a couple loops around the main concourse to see everything the stadium had to offer.  Our seats were in the first row of Center Field providing an up close seat for all of the action.  We were "fortunate" to have some very die-hard White Sox sitting around us who's cheers provided quite the entertainment - just think of sitting with Da Superfans (Chris Farley, Mike Meyers, and George Wendt) for an entire baseball game!  At this point in the season, the White Sox were still in a battle with the Detroit Tigers for the division title so the energy level was great.

For the first time in a week, I decided to skip the ballpark hot dog.  I tried one of the ballparks featured items - The Super Nachos.  They took a White Sox batting helmet and filled it with every nacho topping imaginable.  Delicious!

The game ended with a White Sox victory over the visiting Minnesota Twins - looking back this was the only game attended on this entire trip that the home team was victorious.  

The day after the game, I packed the bags and headed back home.  This wraps up the 2014 baseball adventure, more to come in 2014....

Thursday, September 6, 2014

Game #4 - Chicago Cubs

After the late night on Saturday night, the morning wake-up was a little slow.  There was only one remedy - head to the Cubby Bear for some pre-gaming.

Following the Cubby Bear, it was a few second walk across the street to Wrigley Field for another Cubs v. Giants game.  After standing in two lines, I finally figured out where the "Bleachers Only" entrance was.  It was a warm and muggy day, but it did not keep the Cubs' faithful from jamming into the general admission only bleachers.

As was par for the trip, the game was not complete without another Chicago-style hot dog.  In the end, the Giants' rallied in the 9th inning for a come-from-behind victory!  After playing the two-worst teams in major league baseball, I found out that neither of them have any desire for trash talking....good thing.

This is the final game I would see the Giants' play on my trip.....and the three games I attended equals three victories!  Off for a night's rest before heading to the south side for a White Sox game...

Monday, September 3, 2014

Game #3 - Chicago Cubs

Unfortunately, the fourth day of the trip did not goes as planned - with some flight troubles, trips to two airports in Houston, and five flight changes, we finally arrived in Chicago (11 hours later than planned).  This also meant we missed Friday's Cubs vs. Giants game for which we had front row seats at the Giants' bullpen (pretty disappointing).  Regardless, we made it to the apartment flat we rented in Wrigleyville - turned out to be a great place that was about two and half blocks Wrigley Field itself.  The building was made up of three flats, all which were rented by Giants fans from California including the group downstairs that attended Lincoln High School in Stockton.

Since it was already Friday night by the time Jeremy and I got settled, we went downtown to meet up with Vince, Roberto, Trina, Danielle, and Anton.  After a few drinks on the waterfront, we stopped for Chicago-style hot dogs at a place called The Wieners Circle.  The hot doges were wonderful and if you ever have a chance to visit, I highly recommend you order the Chocolate Milkshake - it will cost $20.00, but will feed your entire group and will be the best milkshake you have ever had...period.

After the hot dogs, I called it an early night as the long day of travel had taken its toll.  After an early morning wake up and a trip to O'Hare to pick up luggage (landed at Midway the night before), it was game time.  For Saturday's game, we purchased tickets to one of the Wrigley Rooftops for the second game of the Cubs and Giants' series.  The rooftop experience is pretty unique - the cost of your ticket includes all food and drink plus an excellent view of the game.  The rooftop we visited included three levels - the first two were indoors with plenty of televisions and food/drink at each level.  The top level had stadium style seating with premium 40-inch club seats and a third bar.  

The Giants' got off to a quick start and held the lead for the remainder of the game!  The Chicago fans were not rude at all and the only attempt at shit-talking I heard - "Oh, you must be a Bonds's fan".  I just said "Yes".  Since I didn't make the game on Friday, the Giants' are 2-0 on this road trip when I have been in attendance.

After the game, our crew headed to O'Malley's one block from the ballpark (I believe this was called Hi-Tops in 2014 when I last visited).  Yes, the Cubby Bear looks sad hanging out with a bunch of Giants' fans.

After a few drinks at the bar, we headed back to get cleaned up for the rest of the evening.  We started by taking the evening Architectural Boat Cruise around downtown Chicago.  

Following the boat trip, we stayed downtown for a fantastic dinner at Gibson's Steakhouse.  Following dinner we returned to Wrigleyville where no one in our group wanted to keep the party didn't keep me from joining the other guests of the building for a late night in the neighborhood (don't worry Blake, Tito, and Colson, I didn't beat our night out but got close).

Sunday, September 2, 2014

Game #2 - Houston Astros

The day started with a flight from Love Field to Houston.  Since we were too early to check-in to our hotel, Jeremy and I went straight to NASA's Johnson Space Center.  The visit to the center was highlighted by the Tram Tour which went into actually operating NASA buildings.  The tram made three stops...stop #1 was the Mission Control Room used during the Apollo Space Missions - this was the actually room where they controlled the first landing on the moon (Apollo 11) and where they successfully returned the Apollo 13 astronauts.

Stop #2 was the astronauts' training facility where NASA has constructed a full-size replica of the International Space Station.  This area also showcased the new space craft NASA will be using to send astronauts to Mars' moons and eventually Mars itself.

The final stop, stop #3 was Rocket Park and a building housing the Saturn V rocket.  The actual Saturn V we saw was built for Apollo 18 but was never launched since the program was cancelled.  It was be hard to see from the photo, by the rocket is over 375 feet long.  

Back inside the Visitor's Center, there were some very interesting exhibits and could have definitely spent more time if we had the opportunity.  

After checking into our hotel in downtown Houston, we boarded the light rail to check out the old Astrodome and Reliant Stadium.  The Houston Texans were playing a preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings; since this game was being played concurrently with the Astros' games, we were only able to walk around the stadium prior to kick-off.

Following our visit to the Texans' home, it was back to the Embassy Suites for a quick stop for snacks and drinks at their complimentary happy hour before the five block walk to Minute Maid Park.  The Astros were playing the Giants so we dressed in our away team gear.  This would be the first game I saw inside a dome stadium, and thank goodness the retractable roof was closed - it was much more enjoyable being inside the air conditioning than the hot Texas sun.

We attended a record-setting game at Minute Maid Park - the lowest attendance in the history of the ballpark at 12,835.  If it hadn't been for the swarm of Giants' fans, I would have to think the attendance would have been half of the that.  We had seats in the Crawford Boxes - the left-field seating section.  The left field wall measures a short 315-feet and our seats were in row 1.  The area around us was close to a split-even mix of Giants' and Astros' fans.

There are a couple of unique features at Minute Maid Park, both which are rumored to be removed at the end of this season.  The first is a large train that runs above the outfield at the start of the game and for every Astros' home run (sorry for not having a photo).  The second is Tal's Hill which is a sloped area of grass in center field which is in play, including the flag pole.  During the game, it was very quiet inside the stadium with the small crowd, but it was also interesting the stadium never played any audio clips, songs, cheers, etc. during the game.

The highlight of the game came in the 8th inning when Joaquin Arias hit a home run to the Crawford Boxes - a guy about 7-feet away from us caught the home run ball - thanks for the phone call right after, Scooter.  In the end, the Giants came out victorious.  

Following the game, we stopped by a dueling piano bar down the street for a few drinks before calling it a night.  

Overall, it was a great day in Houston and awesome to see the Giants win of the road; however, in the list of MLB cities and stadiums to revisit, Houston would be lower on the list.  Next stop is Chicago...