Sunday, September 28, 2008

Deathtour~!: The Conclusion

That’s it. I’m done. 30 ballparks in one season. It was a rollercoaster ride from coast to coast, beginning to end. And as strange as this may sound, I can’t believe it’s over. Without question it was the most fun I’ve ever had. Every baseball fan should embark on such an adventure in their lifetime.

For the first time in 5 months I have nothing to look forward to. Nothing to plan. Nowhere to go. So now I can only look back on what was, and because I’m fascinated by numbers and lists, here are some of the highlights and facts, a few best of and worst of lists, some advice for future aspiring deathtour participants, and a few thank yous.

When I set out do the deathtour last year I was absolutely clueless as to how much effort it would take and how expensive it would be. I initially thought I could complete the trip in under $4,000, $6,000 tops, and maybe that’s possible. With better planning I may have been able to pull that off. But here are the final numbers. The tickets alone, to all 30 games cost $1,070. That’s an average of $35.66 per game. That number does not take into account the games which I did not pay to get into. In San Francisco, Oakland, Arizona and Milwaukee I went to the game for free. The most expensive game was Wrigley. I spent $265 on 3 tickets. The most I spent on a single ticket was at Fenway. That game cost me $150.

The total cost of transportation from city to city was $4,500. That number does not include any city transit I may have used, be it taxis or metro. Over the course of the tour I boarded 38 different planes and 7 trains. Lodging at 21 hotels cost $2,676, a cost of $127 per location.

Had I kept better records I could tell you how much all my food cost. I’ve estimated that I spent $360 on food at games. The programs and scorecards added up to $137.

In total it all adds up to $8,754 not including other ancillary costs. All together that’s a cost of $291 per game. Not too bad, but it could be better.

And now a few completely arbitrary awards.

Best Out of Town Scoreboard (Excluding AT&T Park) – Fenway Park. Hand operated scoreboards are the best. Every ballpark should have one. Sadly, only a small number of them do and the best one of those is in Fenway.

Best Centerfield Screen – Chase Field, Arizona; Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City. These two ballparks set the gold standard today. Their size is jaw-dropping, they’re as clear as crystal and every inch of those screens is utilized perfectly.

Best Domed Ballpark – Chase Field, Arizona. Houston is a close number 2 here but AZ is the best.

Best Sausage Race – Miller Park, Milwaukee. Often imitated, never duplicated, still the best. Other ‘races’ have been popping up around the country including a live Dot Race in Texas, but nothing is better than 5 sausages running from left field to the first base dugout at Miller Park.

Best Giant Coca-cola Bottle – The Phone Booth, San Francisco. Take that, Atlanta!

Best Scorecard Design – SafeCo Field, Seattle. 6 spots for pitchers, a box to keep track of balls and strikes and slot at the bottom of the inning for E and LOB. You’d think every scorecard would have them but you’d be wrong.

Worst Scorecard Design – Dolphin Stadium, Florida. Stupid tiny and there’s no place to list who’s pitching! Unbelievable.

Best Ballpark with an Attention to History - 3. Yankee Stadium, New York; 2. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati; 1. Busch Stadium, St. Louis – A fistful of statues of St. Louis greats, both Browns and Cardinals, a tribute to Jack Buck and the old scoreboard from old Busch.

Best Food - 5. Miller Park, Milwaukee; 4. PNC Park, Pittsburgh; 3. Chase Field, Phoenix; 2. MacAfee Coliseum, Oakland; 1. AT&T Park, San Francisco – The top 2 are both from the Bay Area? Shocking! Garlic Fries, hand carved sandwiches, Clam Chowder in sourdough bread, crab cakes, pizzas, Cha-Cha bowls and Baby Bull sandwiches, San Francisco has it all. In 8 years of going there I still haven’t tried everything yet.

Best Location - 5. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati; 4. Yankee Stadium, New York; 3. PETCO Park, San Diego; 2. AT&T Park, San Francisco; 1. Wrigley Field, Chicago – Nothing tops the atmosphere at Wrigleyville before and after a game.

Worst Location - 5. MacAfee Coliseum, Oakland; 4. The Ballpark in Arlington, Arlington; 3. Anaheim Stadium, Anaheim; 2. Dolphin Stadium, Miami; 1. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles – There’s, like, 10 million people there and they managed to build a park that isn’t near anything.

Best Value - 5. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City; 4. Camden Yards, Baltimore; 3. Rangers Ballpark in Arlington; 2. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati; 1. PNC Park, Pittsburgh – Not only is it one of the most beautiful parks in the country with engaging scenery and lively atmosphere, it’s also one of the most affordable which makes it the best value in America (and Toronto)

Best Classic Park - 3. Yankee Stadium, New York; 2. Wrigley Field, Chicago; 1. Fenway Park, Boston – Just edging out Wrigley for the best antique in the big leagues is Fenway. It’s all about the Green Monster.

Worst Ballpark - 5. Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay; 4. Metrodome, Minnesota; 3. Shea Stadium, New York; 2. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles; 1. Dolphin Stadium, Florida – Two of these 5 are being replaced leaving the two Florida parks with Dodger Stadium. It’s a really tight race at the bottom. Dolphin and Dodger Stadiums might as well be 1a and 1b.

Best Ballpark - 5. Chase Field, Arizona; 4. Fenway Park, Boston; 3. PNC Park, Pittsburgh; 2. Busch Stadium, St. Louis; 1. AT&T Park, San Francisco – I’d always believed we had the best park in the country, but until now I couldn’t confirm it with certainty. 29 stadiums later, now I can.

The next 5:

Great American Ballpark, Wrigley Field, Jacobs Field, Minute Maid Park, Camden Yards

This whole endeavor wasn’t without a few minor problems and if I had to do this all over again (which, believe me, I’m not doing) I would change a few things.

1. Plan everything out before the season starts.

I paid for not doing this. By waiting until just a few weeks before leaving on a few trips I ended up paying more than I should have. There are some teams that sellout most, if not all of their games before the season. In cases like Fenway or Wrigley, buy your tickets well ahead of time.

2. Longer trips are cheaper.

This I realized but I only took two trips of one week or longer. I probably could have saved over a thousand dollars by grouping games together more efficiently. I traveled across the entire country only to go to a game in Atlanta and 2 games in Florida. I would have been better served to chain that trip with a few other games before coming home.

3. Pay attention to the weather.

Obviously, when you plan a trip like this out in February, you don’t know what the weather’s going to be like in Cleveland on July 23, but based on historical evidence you can figure when the best times and worst times to travel to certain places are. For instance, don’t plan to go to Florida during hurricane season. In Houston, I cost myself an extra $600 by scheduling that trip during the same week of a hurricane. Of course I couldn’t know that would happen but I would have lessened my chances of that happening by scheduling Houston or Florida in April. As it was, I was extremely lucky to only have to reschedule 1 game out of 30.

4. Get frequent flier miles with an airline.

I made sure to do this before I started. And if I was smarter than I was, I would have looked into a similar deal with a hotel chain too. But, as it turns out, I’m not that smart.

5. Mooch off your friends and relatives as much as possible.

This always helps when you’re looking to save some money.

6. Sit in the cheap seats.

At least most of the time. Upper deck seats behind home plate, in my experience, are the best value in most places. Really cheap bleacher seats are good too. In nearly every game I tried to buy a seat with a face value of less than $30.

That covers just about everything. But before I wrap this up I want to thank a few people.

First, thanks to anyone who’s been following this wacky adventure. I’ve gotten some great feedback from people and it’s nice to see everyone following me along from city to city.

Special thanks to everyone who came out to the games with me. Shane Welker, Pat Loika, Taxman, the Jew Mafia, Brewtown Andy, Ed, Jon Dye, Everyone’s Pal Jim, Jabsen, my sister and my family in Mesa. I really appreciate you guys and I had a blast hanging with you all at the yard and I hope we can all do it again some time.

A real special thanks to Shane, Pat, Jim and my family in Mesa for allowing me to crash with them for a night or two. You helped make this trip possible.

That’s it for this year. The Deathtour is at an end, at least for now. The most frequently asked question I get is, “So, are you going to go to every football stadium next year?” The answer to that is an emphatic, “No! Are you crazy?” I don’t even want to know how much that would cost me. But that’s not to say I won’t travel to a few sporting events next year. I may make a return trip to a few places, and New York will have 2 new stadiums next season for me to review.

2009, here we come. Go Giants!

Deathtour~!: Minute Maid Park, Houston

It’s all come down to the last weekend of the season in Houston. I’ve passed through 29 stadiums on my way here and 5 months, 2 weeks and 5 days after I sat in section 321 of AT&T Park and watched that first game of the season I’ve finally reached the end of my journey. My only regret is that I’m finishing alone, and not in Kansas City as I’d originally planned. Se la vie.

After a long plane trip, which included 2 stops in San Diego and Denver, I arrived at long last in Houston. I quickly checked into my hotel nestled at the edge of downtown Houston, just two blocks from Minute Maid Park, and walked over to pick up my ticket from will call.

The Astros have a litany of historical accomplishments to their credit which are displayed in (I’m not joking) Halliburton Field, right outside the stadium behind the Crawford Boxes. Career milestones, retired numbers, player awards, HOF members – all are recognized with plaques behind half an infield with statues of a second basemen throwing to first.

There’s even a dugout you can sit in. And the windows provide a peek into the playing field from outside, similar to the right field level at AT&T.

Minute Maid is a brilliant concept with nods to past ballparks galore while remaining distinctively modern. The Crawford boxes only 320 feet from home and sit on top of the classic hand operated scoreboard. In dead center is Tal’s Hill and the flagpole, taken from Crosley Field and old Yankee Stadium respectively. The field dimensions remind me of the early ballparks, constrained in their design by the city streets they bordered. The field is rectangular with just the one curve in center. It’s a straight line from right field to the hill and only the Crawford boxes, jutting out in left prevent a straight line from the foul pole to the flag pole.

My seat was only $7 and now I know why. I can’t see the left field corner. I’m also in the very last row of section 406.

It’s game time and they haven’t closed the roof. I was really hoping they would. Not because the weather is lousy (it’s not), I just wanted to watch it move. About the only thing Minute Maid Park lacks so far is a quality centerfield screen. I’m pretty sure the one they have isn’t intended as an homage to 1980s technology.

Ty Wiggington hit one out to right and the train makes its way above the Crawford Boxes. The train is a reference to this being the former site of Union Station.

In a play that’s as unusual as the triple play I saw in San Francisco earlier this season, Michael Bourn just scored on a sacrifice fly to center from second base. Great heads up play by Bourn and it took everybody by surprise, most notably Josh Anderson who took his time in throwing it back in.

If you know 75 people and have $2500 to blow at a baseball game, why not rent out the roof at Union Station?

We just concluded the fifth inning making this game official. No matter what happens now, no can say I didn’t watch a game at all 30 stadiums this season. Since I’m alone for this game I take to my phone to spread the news.

LaTroy Hawkins come in to pitch the 8th for the Astros with a 4-2 lead. It seems like I’ve watched him in 12 different games or so this season. Am I imagining that? I know he was with the Yankees earlier this season. How many teams has he played with in his career? It has to be over 10. I’m going to look this up. In the meantime Hawkins is pitching like he has absolutely nothing to do after the game tonight. Umpires need to start enforcing the 20 second rule. LaTroy Hawkins has been pitching so long he’s been traded twice since coming into the game.

Hawkins finally got out of the inning after giving up a run. At least the game isn’t tied. I can only imagine the final game of my season going 15 innings. (I looked it up and Hawkins has only played for 7 teams. That sounds way to low to me. He needs to play for 5 or 6 more before he retires.)

Jose Valverde, the Astros emotional closer come in to close out the game and hopefully finish my season.

Valverde gives up a walk, a single, a FC, another walk and a second single and we’re tied going to the bottom of the ninth. C’mon ‘Stros!

Well how ‘bout that! Darrin Erstad, who came in as a defensive substitution an inning earlier hit a walk off home run to win the game. It’s the first (and last) walk off home run I’ve seen this season and I can’t think of a better way to finish the deathtour~!

Deathtour~!: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City

After hitting Arlington I’m in KC, kicking it with the Jew Mafia in what was scheduled to be the final game of the season.

Kauffman Stadium is the definition of a work in progress. At 35 years old, The K is from the same era that Riverfront, Three Rivers, Dodger Stadium, Shea, Candlestick, and the Astrodome are from. As of 2009, all those stadiums, with the lone exception of Dodger Stadium, will no longer be used for baseball. In a time when those cookie-cutter ballparks are being replaced by modern retro style yards, Kauffman is being given a facelift, along with the Chiefs’ home arrowhead next door.

The reconstruction is ongoing, and watching a game at The K is akin to moving into a home with 2 walls. I half expected to be given a hard hat as I passed through the turnstile.

It’s retro week, or 80’s week, or something like that. Upper Deck seats are only $3! So of course that’s where were sitting, right? Nope. About 3 seconds before we got to the ticket window I changed my mind and splurged for the $25 first base side seats. Kauffman Stadium is the most affordable park in the country. Hopefully that doesn’t change with the renovations. This could be the best baseball park in terms of total value in 2009.

It’s surprisingly crowded, likely a result of the $3 seats and the ongoing construction which has reduced the capacity of the stadium to something in the 20,000s I’m guessing. The concourse is narrow. An issue that will be resolved next season, Simon says.

One of the new features that has already been put in is the new screen in centerfield and it’s a crowning achievement in video technology (no pun intended) and it looks every bit as good as the screen at Chase Field. Its shape is unique and also matches the logo of the Royals (the crown will be added for next season).

Being a National League guy, I don’t really know much about the Royals as a team, at least their current roster. Simon mentions all the youngsters on the Kansas City roster. Meanwhile I’m looking over the names of past Royals listed on the long sleeve t-shirt we got at the gate: Bret Saberhagen, Jeff Montgomery, George Brett, Hal McRae, Dan Quisenberry. Before tonight I honestly couldn’t have named a player on the Royals roster if you placed a gun to my head. Benito Santiago played here for a season, right?

One of the Royals best prospects, I’m told, is Alex Gordon but I'm pretty sure that's Jim from The Office.

A lot of seating has been removed, including several rows behind home plate. Entire sections were closed off in the upper deck.

The bulk of the renovations are taking place in the outfield. A new restaurant (all the rage in baseball parks these days) is being built behind the left field bullpen and a portion of the water formation will be removed to add a small bleacher section. The waterfall and fountains will still remain in center and right fields.

It’s too bad I came here during construction. From the looks of it, it’s going to be a top of the line facility next season. I just don’t know when I’ll get a chance to see it.

Just 1 more game! Can I make it to Houston before the season ends?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Deathtour~!: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas

What a difference two days make. I’m still recovering from Denver but I feel 10,000% better than I did on Saturday. Today I’m in Arlington, a city with over 300,000 people yet has no public transportation to speak of. And though my hotel is just a mile or so from the ballpark, it took me 30 minutes to get there this morning to buy my ticket, walking mostly on the shoulder of the road as there were no sidewalks.

I walked back over for the game in the evening about 30 minutes before the first pitch to an almost empty ballpark. I realized that just down the road the Cowboys are playing the Eagles on Monday Night Football but I’m still shocked that this place is empty so close to gametime.

Everything is big in Texas, including Rangers Ballpark. The concourse is enormously spacious. The grandstand supports are towering. The suites in centerfield are skyscrapers. Yet it’s somehow scenic.

The first pitch is thrown and I don’t believe there is more than 10,000 people here.

I’m all the way up in the upper level but I’ll likely be moving around quite a bit. With so few people here I don’t think anyone will care where I sit. FYI, my seat cost only $6. Pretty sweet deal.

Two batters in and Texas’ starting pitcher has sustained an injury of some sort. I couldn’t tell from way up here what happened but his catcher sensed something was up based on the last pitch he threw. We’ve got our first pitching change of the night.

It’s so quiet here you can hear each individual fan yelling at the players. Some guy 400 feet from me in the centerfield bleachers just called Matt Joyce a ‘chicken’ for not trying to stretch a double into a triple. Not word on whether the fan in question was this guy.

Jeffrey Larish hit an excuse me double off a check swing down the left field line to drive in the first run of the game. There’s something you don’t see every game.

For no apparent reason a small round of applause makes its way around the stadium. I can only assume this has something to do with the football game. A few minutes later a small chorus of boos goes up.

Hey, it’s the dot race. I thought that event was exclusive to Oakland. And the final lap is LIVE~? They’re not kidding! This is the greatest thing my eyes have ever been witness to.

Strange series of events. Max Ramirez, Ranger DH, was clearly hit with a pitch on a check swing. At least it was clear to everyone except home plate umpire Eric Cooper. Ramirez was about to head down to first when Cooper was like, “Where you going, buddy?” Ramirez rolled up his sleeve to show him the mark. Cooper looked at it for about a minute and still wasn’t convinced so Rangers manager, Ron Washington came out to give him some help in finding the giant mark the pitch left. Finally Cooper gets help from the first base umpire who tells him, “oh yeah, he was hit,” and Cooper awards Ramirez first base. This of course brings out Jim Leland because that’s what you do when a call is reversed. It doesn’t matter that even you don’t believe you’re right.

Leland’s putting on a pretty good show. I think he may have convinced himself that Ramirez wasn’t hit. But he eventually returned to the dugout.

Okay, things just picked up again. About 15 seconds after returning to the dugout, Cooper ejected Leland. I guess he really did think he wasn’t hit.

And now I’ve seen everything. Jim Leland, at 95 years of age or so, ran out of the dugout like an Olympic sprinter to get his money’s worth with Cooper. I’m stunned he didn’t break a hip in the process. The only way this could possibly get better is if he returns to the dugout two innings later sporting a Groucho mustache.

So after all that happened, Taylor Teagarden, the Rangers rookie catcher who’s slugging .900 or so hits a Grand Slam to give the Rangers the lead. This has been one of the most entertaining games I’ve been to all season.

I’ve been changing seats every half inning or so. I haven’t seen a bad seat yet. Detroit ties it back up in the 7th. Nobody wants to win this game.

Detroit regains the lead only to blow it in the bottem of the 8th. Texas has a 3 run cushion going to the ninth. Hopefully it’s enough to send these 10,000 or so fans home happy.

Earlier Gary Sheffield hit his 497th home run. I’m standing near where it was hit when the usher standing next to me tells me Sheffield asked for the ball back as they were escorting the guy who caught it to the visiting locker room. I figure he must have passed someone on the all time list but it turns out he didn’t so who knows why he wants it.

And the Rangers do close it out winning a wild one, 11-8.