Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ballpark #20- Pro Player Stadium, Miami, FL

Stadium Opened: 1993 (for baseball)
Team: Florida Marlins
1st Visit: 8/19/05
Last Visit: 8/19/05

# Games: 1
Food: 5/10
Stadium: 3/10
Important Games Seen: none

The last of the multi-purpose stadiums ended in Miami in 2011, and that's a very good thing. The two good things for me are personal in nature: I got to see the Dodgers, and Staci surprised me with the trip to Miami for my birthday. Pro Player Stadium (also known as Joe Robbie, Landshark, SunLife, etc) was built for football and it shows. Stuck on the outskirts of Miami, this concrete behemoth had bad sitelines, horrible video board, and no fans.  Pro Player did have 2 positives that I've never seen at any other MLB ballpark: cheerleaders and free parking lots. Both were a shock to the system, but neither gives the Marlins' former digs enough to get excited about. Glad to have seen it, and glad to see it gone.

We had a great view from our seats

Lots of fans disguised as empty seats

Billy the Marlin

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ballpark #19- Fenway Park, Boston, MA

Stadium Opened: 1912
Team: Boston Red Sox
1st Visit: 8/14/05
Last Visit: 7/10/10
# Games: 3
Food: 7/10
Stadium: 10/10
Important Games Seen:
Futures at Fenway featuring the P-Nats (7/10/10)

My strangest history with a ballpark is Fenway. I have been to 3 games there, driven over 8 hours each way twice to go there, yet I have never seen a full game at Fenway. And somehow it is one of the best ballpark experiences I have had. How's that, you say? Well, when I drove up in 2005 to pick up Staci and see a game, it started raining in the 4th inning- and never stopped. I sat in the bleachers for over an hour in the pouring rain, just waiting, praying it would stop. No such luck.

So the return trip 5 years later was to be a unique experience. The minor league team I worked for, the Potomac Nationals, was playing a minor league game at Fenway as part of a double-header dubbed "Futures at Fenway." First game was to be the Jamestown Jammers vs the Lowell Spinners, and 2nd game would be our P-Nats against the Salem Red Sox. We were going to get the full treatment, behind the scenes tour, a private suite with all you can eat food and drinks, and a chance to go on the field of baseball's oldest Major League park. Our whole front office was psyched, and we had the added benifit of Addie's 1st big league road trip.

So, what happened? The tour was fantastic, standing on top of the Green Monster, walking the field, and seeing parts of the stadium most don't get to see. The suite was awesome, great view with plenty of room to relax and enjoy the game. The game? Well, around the 6th inning of the 1st game, the rains came...and hard. We waited it out for a couple hours, having the suite to stay dry in, but eventually the game was cancelled. As upset as I should I have beeen, getting rained out again, it was hard not to enjoy such a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While I would have already forgotten the score of the game had they played, I will never forget the time we had with good friends and family.

Now for the park- it's an amazing place. Intimate and true to its 100-year old history, Fenway feels like it's the 1950's, but in a good way. Many old-timers have told me that Fenway is the closest thing to Ebbets Field still around, which endeared me from the start. My only complaint is the seats are also much like the 1950's- small for a smaller generation. If I ever go back and don't bring the rain, I won't be sitting in the bleachers like I did in '05. The food is above average too, A Fenway Frank is probably top 5 in baseball. A must-see for even the non-baseball fan- or the non-Red Sox fan like Staci (she loved it too).

Damn rain..

P-Nats Posse

We're on the board

View from the top of the Green Monster

Staci Addie & I on the field

Addie B hanging in the Red Sox Suite

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ballpark #18- Coastal Federal Field, Myrtle Beach, SC

Stadium Opened: 1999
Teams Seen: Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Braves) 1999-present
1st Visit: 7/16/05
Most Recent Visit: 8/18/07
# Games: 2
Food: 6/10
Team Store: 8/10
Stadium: 7/10
Future/Rehabbing Stars Seen: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus

It's kind of strange that in the 10 years that Myrtle Beach was our main vacation spot, I only got to two games. Why is that? The scheduling gods were against me, beacuse no matter what week we went to MB, the Pelicans were out of town on all but two of those occasions. Which is a shame, beacuse Coastal Federal (Now BB&T Coastal) is the nicest park in the Carolina League.

Despite being at Myrtle Beach, it's really nowhere near the beach. Located about 3 miles from the main strip, The Pelicans' park is in an area known as Broadway at the Beach, where there is plenty of dining, drinking and shopping within walking distance. Very few minor league parks are in such a happening area as Myrtle Beach.

Built in 1999, Coastal Federal quickly became a favorite of tourists. Being a Braves affiliate and having the likes of Rafael Furcal and Elvis Andrus come through didn't hurt either. One of the unique things about this stadium was that they were one of the first teams to use a "bat-dog" on a regular basis. For 10 years, Dinger would bring balls to the umpire, collect bats off the field, and numerous other tricks. Saldy, Dinger passed away in 2008, but Deuce has now taken over the duties and keeps the quirky tradition alive.

As for the stadium itself- a finely structured stadium, especially for the high-A level. Plenty of open space, a nice kids' area, and an incredible team store that carries a better variety than most. If you are in Myrtle Beach, take time from the golf courses, dance clubs, and beach to check this beauty out.

Dinger the Bat-Dog. RIP

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Ballpark #17- PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

Stadium Opened: 2001
Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
1st Visit: 7/5/05
Last Visit: 9/28/09
# Games: 2
Food: 8/10
Stadium: 9/10
Important Games Seen:
Andy LaRoche 6 RBI game (9/28/09)

As recently as 1994 Pittsburgh was in danger of losing the Pirates beacuse of ballpark concerns with the dilapidated Three Rivers Stadium. It was nothing short of a miracle when PNC Park was built in 2001, and became part of the short list of the great ballparks. It's a shame the Pirates have stunk for 20 years, beacuse their jewel of a ballpark sits half-empty most nights.

When we first attended a game there in 2005, it was a rainy night, which made the small crowd even smaller. It was good for us, as we had run of the place and got to enjoy the game from multiple views. My favorite part of PNC is the view in the outfield. Beyond the fences lies the famed three rivers, and the walkable bridge past left field gives you an even better shot of the whole place.

The food is above average, with local flavor Primanti Brothers sandwiches available at certain stands. And of course, pierogies. The pierogies aren't just to eat, as the popular Pierogi Race is a big hit as well. The video board is standard for today's parks. The biggest complaint I have about the park is getting there. While not as congested as places like DC or New York, getting around Pittsburgh is cumbersome and full of one-way streets. Hardly a reason not to go, but something to be aware of.

Overall PNC Park is a great place to see a game, hopefully the Pirates can start to field a competitive team and bring the fans back.

The bridge to the city

The river beyond the outfield

Dodgers visit Pittsburgh

Pierogi Race

Staci & I 2005

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Ballpark #16- Jacobs Field, Cleveland, OH

Stadium Opened: 1994
Team: Cleveland Indians
1st Visit: 7/4/05
Last Visit: 9/25/09
# Games: 2
Food: 8/10
Stadium: 9/10
Important Games Seen:
Justin Verlander's 2nd-ever MLB start (7/4/05), The 1st of Staci's & my July 4th game tradition (7/4/05)

Cleveland Rocks! That is my feeling about Jacobs Field, 7 years after our 1st visit there. So many little things can lead to a favorable impression of a place, and it's all about your personal experience. It was the 1st stop on Staci's and my 1st real baseball road trip, and it was the place that I realised how/when I was going to ask Staci to marry me (4th if July in a ballpark). The game we saw was Justin Verlander's 2nd start in the bigs, and you can see that he was going to be special. We even got a first pitch from Hall of Famer Bob Feller.

Then there was the ballpark itself- I loved it from the second I saw it. I love the outer facacde, the visiblity lines from anywhere in the park, the fantastic scoreboard. It also has a great little Hall of Fame called Heritage Park, where they celebrate over 100 years of Cleveland baseball. The Jake, as it's still affectionately called, even with the new corporate-name-that-shall-not-be-mentioned, is fan-friendly and maintains its beauty 18 years after its opening. Even outside the stadium is bustling, with bars and restaurants to go to before or after the game.

Jacobs Field remains in my top 5 MLB stadiums to this day, and I was happy to go back and see it in 2009. There may not be much else to bring you to Cleveland, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Jacobs Field will always be enough reason for me.

Bob Feller statue outside the stadium

The awesome double-video board


Staci & I 2005

One of the plaques in Heritage Park

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Ballpark #15- Shea Stadium, New York, NY

Stadium Opened: 1964
Team: New York Mets
1st Visit: 4/24/05
Last Visit: 5/31/08
# Games: 2
Food: 5/10
Stadium: 3/10

It's hard to overstate how awful Shea Stadium was. I often wondered why, when I was a kid, my grandfather ran bus trips to the other 2 close-by MLB stadiums (Phils and Yankees), but never to the Mets' home. In 2005, I finally found out why. Shea Stadium was a non-descript concrete multi-use stadium, like many parks of the 1970's, but somehow it was worse than the others I saw in Philly and DC.

The saving grace, of course, was going to New York City. Our first trip was a spur-of-the-moment trip after a wedding in New Jersey. It can also be considered Staci's and my first baseball road trip- and the seeds of what would become a big part of our travel and relationship. But that's where the good feelings end- there was zero personality, and if you weren't lucky enough to sit in the expensive seats, you were probably going to have some of your view obstructed. We sat in the lower level and couldn't see any of left field. The scoreboard was severely outdated. The food was okay, but certainly not worth the price. I can say that the parking, while expensive, was close by the stadium, which is not always the case in the inner city ballparks.

The horror finally ended in 2009 when the Mets moved into Citi Field, a state of the art facility built right next door to Shea (more on that later). The irony was that Citi Field was built to resemble and honor the Brooklyn Dodgers' Ebbets Field. If the Dodgers had stayed in New York, there would have been no Mets, and Brooklyn would have moved to Queens, and into..Shea Stadium.

View from the 9 Train

Even from the outside..not so much

Citi Field being built beyond the Shea outfield walls

Staci & I watching the Dodgers-Mets in '08

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ballpark #14- RFK Stadium, Washington, DC

Stadium Opened: 1962
Team: Washington Nationals
1st Visit: 4/14/05
Last Visit: 9/23/07
# Games: 49
Food: 5/10
Stadium: 6/10
Important Games Seen:
Washington Nationals' 1st-ever home game (4/14/05), Jimmy Rollins' 36-game hitting streak (10/2/05), got engaged to Staci (7/4/06), last-ever game at RFK (9/23/07)

When I first visited RFK Stadium in 2004, it was not for baseball- it was, for all things, soccer. How did that happen? Well, I wanted to see an old-school ballpark that had little hope of ever seeing a baseball game played in it again. But 3 weeks later, MLB announced the Montreal Expos would be moving to DC. Despite the excitement of that, I could have not have realized how very special this concrete behemoth would become over the next three years.

2005 was a magical season for the new Nationals- at least the first half was. And we were there for alot of it- Mari, Ian, Staci and I became partial season ticket holders. The Nats were much better than anyone expected, and the crowds were bigger than anyone could have hoped for. Chad Cordero was the biggest star, the "Chief" as he was known, the closer who would come in to great applause. And we loved every second from our perch in the right-field seats.

There were major issues with RFK however- there was a major lack of amenities, lines for food were always ridiculous, and for the first season, the team store was a tiny trailer outside the park. The video board was tiny, and searching for a ball-strike count was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Basically, it was often like watching a game in 1971, except it was 2005. But for a place that hadn't hosted baseball in 34 years, and hadn't hosted any major sport in 10 years (the Redskins left in '96), the Nats did the best with what they had to work with.

As great as 2005 was to watch, 2006 was even more special for us personally, as Staci & I got engaged there on the 4th of July. And while the Nats weren't as good, they had the one-year wonder of Alfonso Soriano. Of all the games I've been to, few players were more embraced and exciting than Soriano. Staci's man Ryan Zimmerman had his break-out season in 2006 as well, and we got to see two incredible walk-off home runs by him- one against the Yankees on Father's Day, and the other on July 4th- at the game we got engaged. And of course, Hall-of-Famer Frank Robinson was the manager for 2005-06.

But with all the great memories, RFK was a short-term solution and we said goodbye for good in 2007. Nationals Park is a state-of-the-art stadium and is a new favorite, but it will be hard to replicate the 3 magical years at RFK Stadium.

Dodgers-Nats- 2006

Opening Night at RFK- 2005

Staci & I- Nats Finale 2005

Nats Attendance 2005- they'd kill for this now

Staci & her folks- 2006

The mural at the new park- the walk-off from our engagement!

Our RFK Buddies Mari & Ian- Nats Finale 2006

Frank Robinson says goodbye- 2006

Staci and her Screech bobblehead

Screech helps me with the proposal- 7/4/2006

Staci, Ian & Sharon- final RFK game 2007

Colleen, Hillary & I- 8/2007

Staci & I- Last RFK game

The Popular Racing Presidents

This blog approved by Fred McGriff

This blog approved by Fred McGriff