Photopost: A Mismatched Pair of Sox


Our family visited our second Chicago ballpark in as many days with a visit to see our Boston Red Sox play their Chicago White Sox.  The game took place at Guaranteed Rate Field, possibly the saddest corporate naming rights ever awarded to a sports venue.  This was my second visit having previously seen the White Sox play the Rays in 2004 at what was then called U.S. Cellular Field. For that game I sat in the bleachers and remember having a generally favorable impression of the ballpark.

For this game, I made the mistake of buying cheap seats in the 500 level thinking we would enjoy having seats near the front of the upper rather than the back of a lower section.  Turns out the 500 level was eerily empty for a close-to-elimination White Sox game on a Thursday night. The section also has a vertiginously steep rake.  I grew up going to games at Shea Stadium so I had no problem with this, but my son has gone to most of his games at Fenway Park, so being close to the edge made him uneasy.

The game started well for the White Sox as Rick Porcello once again struggled while pitching in the early innings and Lucas Giolito shutdown the Red Sox potent offense. Avisail Garcia lit up the exploding scoreboard with a homer in the first inning and the Pale Hose were up 4-0 after two innings.  Pitching dominated for the next 4 innings until the Red Sox were able to tie up the game with a 4-run rally in the 7th capped by Mookie Betts 2-run home run.

The Red Sox scored another five runs in a 9th inning rally, including a J.D. Martinez blast,  but that time I was heading home with my punchy little girl.  We cheered from the Red Line platform as we saw the Red Sox take the lead on the scoreboard alongside the highway.  Meanwhile, Susan and Peter had snuck down to the field level seats for the final inning where Peter secured another baseball from Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel by way of a security guard.  All because Peter said “please.”

Guaranteed Rate Field is a tough ballpark to judge, especially compared with Wrigley Field across town which has all the advantages.  The White Sox ballpark was built right at the end of the “Modern” era when jewel boxes like Comiskey Park were still considered “old and outdated” rather than a classic ballpark that should be preserved, but just too early for the Retro ballpark boom of the 1990s which may have recreated Comiskey’s charms with modern ammenities.  The baseball-only facility fortunately avoided the problems of the multi-purpose stadiums and domes of the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but didn’t quite achieve the elegance of Dodger Stadium or Kauffman Stadium. While Wrigley Field feels part and parcel of its Chicago neighborhood, Guaranteed Rate Field is set apart by a massive 16-lane freeway and acres of parking (where Comiskey Park used to stand), with the South Side neighborhood basically invisible and the Chicago skyline an attractive – but distant – vista on the horizon.  Ultimately it’s a tale of levels with the field level and bleachers being and enjoyable place to watch a ballgame while the distant upper levels are much less so.

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Current ballpark rankings.

  1. Wrigley Field
  2. Fenway Park
  3. AT&T Park
  4. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  5. Petco Park
  6. Citi Field
  7. Nationals Park
  8. Miller Field
  9. Dodger Stadium
  10. Citizens Bank Park
  11. Guaranteed Rate Field
  12. Yankee Stadium III

Former ballpark rankings

  1. Tigers Stadium
  2. Shea Stadium
  3. Yankees Stadium II
  4. RFK Stadium
  5. Stade Olympique
  6. Veterans Stadium

Photopost: Wrigley Field


Last week I returned to the best ballpark in Major League Baseball (sorry Fenway Park, you’re a close second) for a game between the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets. I previously attended a full Cubs-Mets series at Wrigley Field in 2004. This was the first time my wife, Susan, and kids, Peter and Kay, would visit this baseball cathedral. We only intended to attend one game, but the previous night’s game was suspended due to thunderstorms in the 10th inning, so we ended up seeing the last two innings of that game as well.

We got tickets for the bleachers with hopes of catching some home runs.  Renovations have significantly changed Wrigley Field since my previous visit when the area under the bleachers was a no-frills area with chain link fences, bare bone concessions, and an ambiance unchanged from 1914.  Now everything is beautiful red brick with Cubs memorabilia exhibits and fancy concession stands.  Even the restrooms have been modernized, albeit they’ve kept the notorious urinal trenches. The bullpens – once in foul territory right along the baselines – are now hidden under the bleachers (something that will become significant to us later).

Our early arrival meant that we could snag seats in the front row right behind the ivy-covered wall.  A light rain fell before the resumption of Tuesday night’s game, but stopped as Michael Conforto came to bat with a count of 2 balls and no strike. Two innings later, the Cubs walked-off the first game on an error by Mets reliever Paul Sewald.  Another light rain fell between games.

The official Wednesday afternoon game was an exciting game featuring:

The kids didn’t catch any homeruns but Peter did get 2 balls from the outfielders and Kay also got one.  The most exciting encounter, though, happened deep under the bleachers when we were getting french fries from the concessions stand.  A security guard approached us and said “C.J. Edwards has a ball for the girl.” We approached the back door of the hidden bullpen and saw the Cubs reliever peeking out the crack of the door. His arm shot out and tossed a ball to Kay, and he quickly disappeared behind the closed door.  “He likes to do that for the kids sometimes,” said the security guard.

 

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It was a wonderful afternoon at a brilliant ballpark, and the Cubs organization made it a fun experience for the family.

Current ballpark rankings.

  1. Wrigley Field
  2. Fenway Park
  3. AT&T Park
  4. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  5. Petco Park
  6. Citi Field
  7. Nationals Park
  8. Miller Field
  9. Dodger Stadium
  10. Citizens Bank Park
  11. Guaranteed Rate Field
  12. Yankee Stadium III

Former ballpark rankings

  1. Tigers Stadium
  2. Shea Stadium
  3. Yankees Stadium II
  4. RFK Stadium
  5. Stade Olympique
  6. Veterans Stadium

Photopost: Nationals Park


Last week, I posted photos from my business trip to Washington, D.C. with the intention of posting more.  But as the remainder of my trip was largely in conference rooms, the bulk of my remaining photographs are from Nationals Park, so I’m going to focus this post there.

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I took in the Washington Nationals’ game against the Miami Marlins on Friday, August 16th.  This was my first visit to Nationals Park, having seen the Nats play in their previous home at RFK Stadium in 2005, and the Montreal Expos at Stade Olympique in 1999.  This is the 12th current Major League ballpark I’ve been to, in addition to 6 former ballparks (see my updated rankings at the end of this post).

The ballpark is well-located within the city.  I was able to ride to the game on a bikeshare bike and dock near the entrance, and the Navy Yard Metro station was a short walk away after the game.  There’s not much to do in the immediate area of Nationals Park but with at least a dozen cranes in the sky, I expect that will be different in the near future.  The design of the ballpark is pleasant if generic Retro-Classic with good sightlines of the field from every part of the ballpark I visited.  There are also nice views of the Anacostia River from the ramps, and glimpses of the U.S. Capitol dome from the upper deck.  Oddly, the stone wall design behind home plate that is so prominent when watching a game on tv is not repeated anywhere else in the stadium.

The atmosphere was good with the Nationals’ fans engaged in the game, and almost all of them wearing the Hawaiian shirts given out at the gate.  I particularly enjoyed the “N-A-T-S, Nats! Nats! Nats!” cheer after each Nationals’ run scored.  Talented organist Matthew Van Hoose played a number of Aretha Franklin tunes since the legendary soul singer had died a day earlier.  The famous Presidents Race was fun, but brief.  Most puzzling is that the Nationals have a bullpen cart (a gimmick from the 70s that should’ve stayed dead), but none of the Nationals’ relievers actually used it.  So the cart would just circle the field as the relievers walked to the mound.  Oh, and the Nats’ fans really, really hate their relief pitchers, like Boston-level nastiness.

It was a fun night, and I’ll be happy to go back to Nationals Park.

Current ballpark rankings.

  1. Wrigley Field
  2. Fenway Park
  3. AT&T Park
  4. Oriole Park at Camden Yards
  5. Petco Park
  6. Citi Field
  7. Nationals Park
  8. Miller Field
  9. Dodger Stadium
  10. Citizens Bank Park
  11. Guaranteed Rate Field
  12. Yankee Stadium III

Former ballpark rankings

  1. Tigers Stadium
  2. Shea Stadium
  3. Yankees Stadium II
  4. RFK Stadium
  5. Stade Olympique
  6. Veterans Stadium

 

Fenway Park


Updating the out-of-town scoreboard is done by hand at Fenway
Updating the out-of-town scoreboard is done by hand at Fenway

On Sunday I attended my second Mets game of the month, this time a road game here at home in Boston.  It feels a bit odd to don my blue & orange hat for a trip to Fenway since I will root for the Red Sox against any other opponent.  Yet I’ve done it many times dating back to the Mets first interleague appearance in Boston back in 1998 and the games are among some of the most interesting I’ve ever seen.

Here are some highlights:

  • June 5, 1998 – Mets 9, Red Sox 2: Arguably Pedro Martinez’s worst game in his best season in that he allowed home runs to four Mets.  Martinez beaned the Mets new catcher Mike Piazza early on forcing him from the game but Piazza’s replacement Albert Castillo hit one of the home runs and scored two runs in the game.  Odd.
  • June 6, 1998 – Mets 1, Red Sox 0: The next day I didn’t have a ticket but walked up to Fenway and got one from a firefighter for $10.  You’ll never hear of anyone getting same day tickets anywhere near that price today.  Tim Wakefield pitched his heart out allowing only one hit, and lost. Brian McRae walked, stole second, advanced to third on a ground out, and then scored on a balk.  And that was it! Crazy.
  • July 13, 2000 – Mets 3, Red Sox 4: Things looked good for the Mets at first as Bobby Jones of all people was able to keep pace with Pedro.  Later on odd things happened with Carl Everett and Dennis Cook (which would come to ahead two days later with a complete Everett meltdown).  A Melvin Mora error and some late-inning heroics by Brian Daubach off Armando Benitez gave the win the Red Sox.  Exciting game nonetheless.
  • June 27, 2006 – Mets 4, Red Sox 9: After a six year absence the Mets returned to Fenway on a day that was also the first time Pedro Martinez returned to Boston as a Met (and received a warm welcome when he pitched the next evening).  In a nice touch, the fans and players saluted the 1986 AL Champion Red Sox on the 20th anniversary of the year they lost the World Series to you-know-who.  There were a ton of home runs in this game, three for the Mets, but the Red Sox would score more runs by far.
  • June 29, 2006 – Mets 2, Red Sox 4: Curt Schilling pretty much shut down the Mets this evening.  This is the only occassion when I’ve encountered rude fans at Fenway as a trashy-looking woman and her teenage son shouted insults and threw peanuts at Mets fans in my sections (although for some reason they left me alone).  This game sewed up a sweep for the Sox and at the time it looked like they were bound for the postseason and the Mets were fading, but in the end it was the the Mets who reached the playoffs that season.

The grounds crew to the rescue!
The grounds crew to the rescue!

Sunday’s game was interesting as well partly because a thunderstorm pelted the field with rain and hail in first inning.  Fans ooh-ed and aah-ed as lighting struck buildings in nearby Back Bay.  I sat in the family section in left field near the Green Monster, safely ensconced under the roof.  So I had a good dry view of the heroic grounds crew as they rushed to get the already sodden field covered with a tarp.  It was also amusing to watch the people in the front rows evacuate their seats.  On the scoreboard they showed a video of a couple of guys lip-syncing Milli Vanilli’s “Blame it on the Rain” and dancing with the Wally the Green Monster in a rain slicker.  Turns out the “two guys” are Red Sox pitchers Jonathon Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen which further proves that I can never recognize athletes when not in uniform.  Anyhow, it’s pretty funny and you can watch it below:

When play resumed, things looked good for the Mets as they took a lead into the fifth inning and seemed in control of the game.  And then the Red Sox batters made mincemeat of the Mets bullpen – especially Brian Stokes – and just kept hitting and hitting and hitting.  Oh well, it turned out to be a lovely day and while some blokes lamely tried to heckle Gary Sheffield, I sat among some friendly fans.  Which is good because we’re all squished together in that special Fenway way.

Luis Castillo dances off second when things were going well for the Mets
Luis Castillo dances off second when things were going well for the Mets

I’ve been visiting Fenway Park pretty much every year since 1997, and it just gets bigger – more seats, more concourse, more concessions, and more ads (which add some nice color) – but the seats are still narrow as can be.  All the changes have been for the better improving what was already one of the best ballparks in baseball (although at least the Mets have something comparable now).  I look forward to going back for a game when I can root for the Sox.

More pictures from the game in my ballgames photo album.

A mound conference when things were going poorly for the Mets
A mound conference when things were going poorly for the Mets

Citi Field


The skyline over the Shake Shack is a memento of Shea Stadium.  The shakes are good too.
The skyline over the Shake Shack is a memento of Shea Stadium. The shakes are good too.

My friend Mike and I have a tradition each year of visiting New York City to see a ballgame between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves.  Mike grew up in Alaska watching the Braves on TBS in the Dale Murphy era when the team was pitiful.  I of course spent my first 17 years within 35 miles of Shea Stadium and the next 7 near the Mets top farm team in Norfolk, VA so I’m forever attached to the Mets.  Devoted to our wives and children, we usually try to slip out for a day game during the week and the schedule has been kind to us.

Here’s the history thus far:

  • April 27, 2005: Atlanta 8, New York 4 – The Mets lose with the help of the Manchurian Brave Tom Glavine.
  • April 19, 2006: Atlanta 2, New York 1 – Glavine pitches a much better game this time, but the Mets still lose.
  • April 21, 2007: Atlanta 2, New York 7 – With Brave-killer Oliver Perez on the mound the Mets win with the help of a big inning (while I’m getting ice cream for my pregnant wife).  See my blog post Another Weekend in New York for more details.
  • September 14, 2008: Atlanta 7, New York 4 – Mike was unable to attend this game so I went solo to witness the Mets bullpen implode in the 9th inning.  Photos from this game are at the end of my post Shea Stadium: A Personal History.

As you can see the Braves hold a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.  The fifth installment of this tradition would be different as it would be our first visit to the Mets new ballpark with the unfortunate name of Citi Field (see my blogpost Stadium Naming Rights for more of my thoughts on that issue).

We got a lot start and encountered delays along the road so we didn’t arrive until after the game started and both teams had scored.  Oddly, after having no problems parking when the Mets were constructing Citi Field in the Shea Stadium parking lot we found ourselves shunted over to distant parking by the World’s Fair Marina.  Mike declared it our prettiest parking spot ever.

The view from our seats in left field.
The view from our seats in left field.

The first impression of Citi Field is that everything is so big, even though it is smaller both in height and capacity than Shea Stadium.  The dimensions of the field are large, the outfield walls are tall, the scoreboard (and all it’s ads) is huge and the new Mets home run apple is freakin’ enormous. The Jackie Robinson Rotunda, a much-lauded entrance to the ballpark is bigger than it looks on tv and is quite impressive and attractive.  I also like the exposed ironwork support beams throughout the park and the bridge in centerfield.

We sat in the left field reserved section where a long homerun could land (as one in fact did, unfortunately hit by the Braves’ Martin Prado).  Seats in the outfield are one of the features I think are necessary for every great ballpark and something Shea Stadium lacked (except for a small picnic area).  The other great improvement are wide open concourses so one can continue to watch the game while walking to the concession stand, restrooms, or just stretching your legs.  My third feature of great ballparks is an adjacent neighborhood with shops, restaurants and bars is still missing although it is a bit startling that the chop shops of Willets Point are now just across the street from the Bullpen Gate.  As Mike pointed out, you can get your car detailed while you watch the game.

The chop shops of Willets Point will care for your car while you enjoy the game
The chop shops of Willets Point will care for your car while you enjoy the game

The game itself was an exciting back and forth affair.  Both the Mets and Braves scored a lot of runs and gave us three innings of free baseball in addition to the standard nine.  Sadly, this was yet another win in the Braves column.  There’s always next year!  And I definitely need to return as our late arrival and need for haste to return to Boston meant that there is much of the ballpark left unexplored.  My first impressions though are good.  I still miss Shea, but a little less now.  Frankly, in some ways I felt a little spoiled by Citi Field.  We Mets fans aren’t accustomed to nice things happening to us, but I could get used to this.

See my web albums for more ballpark photos.