Thursday, May 22, 2008

Meshugga Beach Party

Are you into surf rock like Dick Dale and the Ventures? Do you enjoy traditional Jewish folk music? If you answered either question in the affirmative then do yourself a favor and check out Meshugga Beach Party. Tracy and I saw these guys performing in Golden Gate Park along the Bay to Breakers route and their rabbi attire immediately caught my attention. I made a b-line for the other side of the road to confirm what my eyes and ears were attempting to communicate to my brain. Sure enough my brain confirmed that I was looking at four rabbis playing surf rock. The sight put a huge smile on my face. these guys clearly have something here. We spotted a table of merchindise and before I arrived at it I knew that I'd be departing with a lighter wallet. Between the two of us we swiped up every CD they had and everything they play is fabulous. You haven't heard "Let My People Go" until you've heard it in the original surf rock style. I don't often plug a music group but Meshugga Beach Party deserves your attention.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bay to Breakers

To say that the Bay to Breakers is a 12k race and leave it at that is to leave out 99% of what makes the Bay to Breakers the event that it is. A more appropriate description is this: the Bay to Breakers is a city long parade, a celebration of pride, freedom, debauchery, silliness and good natured fun filled with merriment, dancing and partying, and, oh yeah, there's a footrace involved as well. A serious one at that. Athletes come from all over the world to compete in the Bay to Breakers, an event that gets its name from its starting location (San Francisco Bay) and its finish line (Ocean Beach where breaking waves crash the shoreline). Some dude from Kenya wins every year. Several thousands run the Breakers as a serious event. And the tens of thousands more that participate? They, uh...they...well, the pictures tell the story.

As a native and resident of San Francisco for 25+ year, I'm sad to say I'd never watched let alone take part in the event before this weekend. I can't believe I've been missing out on this. The Breakers epitomizes the spirit of San Francisco which I've long held to be the greatest city in the history of history. It covers every aspect of the city: Its hills, its people, its weather, its music, its food, its culture. I walked the route with my friend Tracy and among the things we were subject to were pirates, vikings, superheroes, beer, political activism, social commentary, beer, dance troupes, local bands, local food, local beer, endless music blaring from garages along the route, kids with water guns, beer, the sun and the fog, way to many naked men and not nearly enough naked women (which is a shame given all the beer that was involved).

As I see it, the event breaks down into two segments. The first part is a giant block party which runs from the beginning of the event to Fell Street. This is the life of the party. It's sunny, it's loud, the streets are packed. It's basically Mardi Gras done San Francisco style. Part B is an aimless stroll through the park. By this point the fog has rolled in and many of the participants have given up the pretense of finishing the race and planted themselves at one of the local watering holes or house parties that line the street of Part A. Whose who are left continue through the park. It's mostly quiet with a few scattered musical interludes until you reach the shores of the Pacific. A left turn down the Great Highway and you've finished. And as you cross the finish line and see a guy who looks like Ax from Demolition, all you're left to think about is, "what was I just a part of?"

The sea of humanity at Alta Vista Park

There's no turning back.


Rrraaargh! Hulk drink beer!

I think these guys took a wrong turn at Greenland.

Flonk?! Flonk, is that you?!


Tracy and I wondered what would happen if we got these pirates to fight the vikings. In reality they'd probably both drink themselves into unconciousness.

The fog approaches.

I have nothing to add to this.

I looked at that costume on the left for 15 minutes and couldn't figure out what I was looking at. Tracy took about 15 seconds to match it up with the other three. An octopus, fish, crab and turtle.

Oh sure, the guy in the $300 banana suit! C'mon!!!

Annnnd done. And it only took us 3 hours and 21 minutes and change.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Deathtour~!: Anaheim Stadium, Anaheim

Part two of the SoCal weekend was down the road in Anaheim. Only a day after the sweltering heat of Dodger Stadium turned my arms five shades redder, the fog and rain made an unexpected appearance in Orange County. It was almost like being back home. If only I’d packed for the occasion. Thankfully it cleared up and warmed up (a bit) for the game so I wasn’t freezing my ass off as I was in San Diego.

Going into the game I wasn’t expecting to come away with a positive experience as I’m predisposed to disliking everything that exists south of Monterray but Anaheim Stadium isn’t that bad. It’s far and away superior to Dodger Stadium and it looks better in person than it does on television. Like Dodger Stadium it’s not around anything. Unfortunately there’s no ballpark scene to speak of. The outsides of every stadium should be lively, the streets filled with revelry. The anticipation of each game should be felt throughout the neighborhood. Sadly, both Los Angeles area ballparks lack this atmosphere.

Anaheim is one of the oldest parks still in use and has been home to the Angels for over 4 decades and 2 name changes. It was originally a baseball only stadium but it later was used by the Los Angeles Rams. Like Candlestick Park, which was first a baseball only stadium with bleachers before being renovated for football use, Anaheim underwent renovations to enclose the stadium in the upper deck levels. After the Rams moved to St. Louis the stadium, once again, became a baseball only venue and again underwent renovations to return it to a more traditional baseball look. The most notable change was the inclusion of a landscape featuring trees, rocks and a geyser. From my couch at home this feature seems tacky but in truth it’s a natural fit with the park. There’s a patio behind the rock feature where you can enjoy a pre-game meal and apertures in the rock allow for a view of home plate. To the left of the landscaping are the bullpens, uniquely adjacent to one another, almost stacked on top of each other.

As is my tradition, I went searching for food before the game. My journey took me around the entire concourse and I was shocked by the lack of selection. Aside from some familiar fast food locations, one Mexican concession and two Ruby’s Diner locations, I didn’t see anything outside of the traditional hot dogs and candy that can be found in any ballpark. When you’re used to choosing between 30 or so unique eateries at home, seeing this selection was quite disappointing. I ended up at Ruby’s, only because I was able to get French fries served in a batting helmet. So at least I was getting a souvenir out of the deal.

A few random thoughts during the game

I thought beach balls only happened at Dodger Stadium. I was wrong. A group of idiot college kids (is there any other kind of college kid?) threw a bunch of beach balls around and were immediately kicked out. I don’t think they were in their seats for a full inning…I’ve never seen so many pitchers with ERA’s over 10 in one game. Angels’ starter Nick Adenhart’s ERA went from 9 to 12 over the course of the second inning…Appropriately the final score was 10-7 Angels…Post game note: Nick Adenhart was sent down to the minors after this start. And he got the win in this game…Unbelievable…No sign of the rally monkey which made me very happy…Angels and Giants fans have something in common after all: a hatred for AJ Pierzynski...This was the second White Sox game I saw on this trip. I hadn't intended to make it a White Sox themed trip as I had intended to make the first trip Giants themed. The Sox third city on their road trip was in San Francisco but I failed to make it out to the yard.

Yes, those are giant helmets outside the stadium.

The 2 bullpens in the left-field corner. I prefer the 'pens down the line but this design is pretty sweet looking.

The view from the patio.

This was cool between inning entertainment. A kid had to run down the 3rd base line, pick up 3rd base and run back to the tape. If finished in under 40 seconds he got to keep the base. He had trouble removing the base so Angels 3rd baseman Matt Brown helped out. He crossed the tape with 3 seconds left and got to keep the base.

ERA of 23.63. His performance in this game reflected that stat. His line in this game: 0 innings, 2 hits, 1 unearned run. He came in after an error so he could have given up 10 runs and none of them would have increased his ERA.

The fireworks explode out of the rock formation after a Vlad Guerrero home run and the Angels victory.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Deathtour~!: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles

Los Angeles: home of the hated Dodger franchise, the scourge of the Giants fan. I was anxious leading up to my trip to Dodger stadium. When I was first planning the Deathtour I considered visiting 29 stadiums and leaving the Dodgers out. Why should I spend time on a team I’ve despised for my entire life? Surely setting foot on Chavez Ravine was sacrilegious. Would I be able to keep my sanity surrounded by blue hats and jerseys if I went? But 30 teams mean 30 teams, and I had to go whether I wanted to or not.

Dodger Stadium is an absolute hole of a ballpark. In the second largest metropolis in the country, the stadium is located in the middle of nowhere. A giant thing surrounded by a concrete lot surrounded by empty space. In many ways it reminds me of Candlestick, but that’s almost an insult to Candlestick which was at least gifted with that famous wind. Dodger Stadium is void of character, extraordinary for being ordinary. Every stadium I’ve been to so far has been defined by its surroundings – the city, the neighborhood, local business, citizens, etc. The best way I can describe Dodger stadium is this: Imagine the middle of nowhere. Now imagine a baseball stadium in that space. That’s Dodger Stadium. In some ways I’m glad it’s still standing. It’s another reason to dislike this team.

As there was nothing to do before the game, we arrived early, atypical of most Dodger fans (at least according to the reputation we’ve given them), so that I could ‘admire’ this magnificent structure. I’ve started every game by walking around the concourse to take in the concessions, dugout stores and the view of the field from the promenade. Dodger stadium however is built right into the mountain and view level ticket holders enter at the top level so there was no lower level walk for me to enjoy. So I spent the hour before the game taking in the stadiums ‘features’ from the comfort of my seat. For instance, the, uh…palm trees beyond the left field bleachers. You don’t see those everywhere in southern California. Or the bleachers themselves, which would fit right in at any college or high school field in the country. Just before game time we were treated to a mini concert consisting of the Anthem, God Bless America and a completely original song about fighting cancer (It’s Mothers Day, so Cancer awareness was on the agenda). I was able to make it through the first song before feeling the need to excuse myself. I’ve always felt that our patriotic songs are pretty terrible as songs and aren’t really worthy of our country and I try to avoid hearing them whenever possible. Seriously, we can do better in this department.

Part of my tour is keeping score at every game, which makes getting up for food mid-way through difficult. And since eating something from the concession stands is also part of the tour I try to stuff something in my mouth before the game starts. So I took the Anthem as my opportunity to secure a Dodger Dog which, in my experience, has a solid reputation as being one of the best hotdogs in the country. It’s even gotten praise from the Giants’ announcing crew and it’s fair to say that savoring a Dodger Dog was the only thing I was looking forward to that day. Unfortunately I was misled. There’s nothing special about it. All the world’s relish and onion supply couldn’t save that thing. A disappointing day all around, so far.

The game would save the day. In all the games I’ve been to I’ve never been witness to anything historical. I’ve never seen a record breaking performance. I’ve never watched a perfect game or no-hitter or seen a hitter hit 4 home runs or hit for the cycle. I’ve watched many Barry Bonds home runs. I watched Livan Hernandez throw a complete game shutout. I saw Jason Schmidt’s most impressive performance of his career. But I’ve never seen anything historic. I had a chance to catch Maddux’s 350th win but Hoffman blew that game. With 30 games on the schedule this season I’m hoping my chances are good to see something truly special, and through 6 innings at Dodger stadium I was, and I couldn’t have been more depressed about it. Hiroki Kuroda, the Dodgers’ starting pitcher had a no-hitter. I’ve always wanted to see a no-hitter. But NO WAY would seeing a Dodger throw one be acceptable to me. I couldn’t live with that. Finally, with 2 outs in the 7th, Hunter Pence poked one through the hole to break up the no-no, and there couldn’t have been a happier person at that ballpark. It got even better for me when Kuroda was replaced and the Dodgers’ bullpen, strong all year, quickly surrendered the lead, giving up 7 runs in the 8th and 9th innings. What looked like a sure Dodger win quickly turned into a Houston blowout and a happy ending for me.

A few random thoughts during the game

I hate beach balls. And I think every God fearing Giants fan does too. I counted 9 beach balls over the course of the game and I would have given anything to pop one of those things. I almost prayed for it to happen. And I don’t pray. Period…The second offence of these fans? The wave. Just awful. Is there a sports tradition any more repugnant? I can’t even bring myself to type anything more about it…Every game seems to carry a lesson. San Diego’s was “prepare for cold weather”. Seattle’s was “make sure the camera battery is charged”. Los Angeles’ was “bring sun block”. Thank Zod I always wear a hat…

Approaching the stadium.

Yup. That's a baseball stadium all right...

The Void...

The Wave's coming right at you and you can't escape it. Sounds like the tag for M. Night Shyamalan's next film.

This was the most visually interesting picture I could think to take. Yeah...

He has a brother "ALSO NAMED CARLOS"? Best Scoreboard Tidbit Ever~! I can't even imagine that conversation his parents had before Carlos number 2 was born.

They let all the moms walk around the field after the game. I took a picture of right field as we were leaving. When I later looked at this picture I thought my computer had reversed the image. That's right, I couldn't tell the difference between left and right field.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Deathtour~!: SafeCo Field, Seattle


After a two week ‘rest’ period my tour continues with a 3 stadium weekend in Seattle and Los Angeles, which wraps up the remainder of the west coast stadiums (minus Oakland). Seattle, aside from hosting a Major League franchise, is also the birthplace of a particular coffee company that employees me. As such I decided to check out the original store in the Pike Place market. Aside from the name on the building, the Pike Place store shares almost no characteristics with any of the other Mermaid stores. While the company has been emphasizing a return to the basics, the signature store never ditched the basics to begin with. They’ve even kept the original logo and aside from a few snack items at the register, there’s no food in the store. No pastries. No sandwiches. Which was quite the surprise as I had walked down to the store specifically to buy breakfast. I bought a drink and a souvenir or two before walking to a second store for pastries. The one thing about downtown Seattle, there’s no short supply of the green apron. It’s impossible to stand in any one location and not see that mermaid logo. It’s amazing.

SafeCo Field

SafeCo Field, home of the Seattle Mariners, is the fifth ballpark on the tour. Although I hadn’t previously been to a game here I had been to the stadium. I was in Seattle during the opening weekend of the stadium on a family vacation. Going to a game was the only event on the trip I was interested in. As it was the opening of the ballpark I told my father to buy tickets ahead of time. He didn’t believe that would be necessary and put it off. Of course the game was sold out and we couldn’t get tickets at the box office. It’s something I’ll never forget and he’ll never be forgiven for it. It was one of the most disappointing moments in family vacation history it’s a major reason why I won’t travel with my family (there are many other reasons).

So 10 years later I finally get to go to the game. Despite staying with several buddies in town for the Emerald City ComiCon, none were interested in attending the game. So, for the first time on the Deathtour, I was flying solo. Additionally for the first time on the tour, my camera died, so, disappointedly there are no pictures of my visit to the stadium. The only evidence I have that I was ever there is my ticket, the program, my completed scorecard and the Mariners gym bag they were giving away as a promotion.

As I was entering the city on the bus, about three hours before game time, I could see the stadium to the left. The roof was closed and I was hoping it would stay that way for the game. Unfortunately the roof had been opened by the time I arrived at the ballpark from the hotel. I’ll have to wait until I get to Minnesota to watch a game under the comfort of a ceiling over head.

SafeCo is an enormous structure, lacking the intimacy of the Phone Booth or Busch and it has a decidedly modern feel, not the retro style of many of the other new ballparks. The scoreboard is electronic, the jumboscreen is bland and there’s a dining facility behind right field. For a weekend game I was surprised at how many empty seats there were. In a way I think it made SafeCo seem even bigger. Before I took my seat I made sure to grab a bite to eat. There was some mouthwatering barbeque dishes but I settled on something that seemed uniquely Washingtonian, an IvarDog, which is named so for the company that makes it and consists of Alaskan Cod and cole slaw on a hot dog bun. Suffice it to say, I’ll probably never have one again.

A few random thoughts during the game

When did we agree that every game was going to start with a 5 year old kid yelling “Play ball!” into a microphone? I don’t remember that meeting…San Diego had a breakdancing groundskeeper and Seattle had a groundkeeping quintet perform the Thriller dance to Bad which made me think, “shouldn’t they be playing Thriller?” For better or worse this performance got a bigger pop from the crowd than anything during the game…the train station behind the stadium in center field adds some nice character to the place. Having the occasional train blow its horn as it goes by is a nice identifying mark…The upper deck has a nice view of Qwest Field next door. Now that is a nice looking football stadium…Every game has that stupid hat dance where you have to keep track of the ball but Seattle has the Extreme hat dance. It goes twice as fast and midway through they introduce a 4th hat to the mix…Is proposing at a sports game really romantic? I ask this as a serious question and I ask this as a serious sports fan…I have to mention that I was impressed that most fans stayed until the final out. The Mariners were down 3 going into the final inning and in most places that equals an exodus to the parking lot…Also, how sad is it that staying to the final out impresses me now? What does that say about the state of our sports world?…I’m a National League fan through and through and I hate the DH, but I will say this about it. It certainly keeps the scorecard looking neat. You don’t have to worry about where you’re going to write all those substitutions, mostly because there are none…Of all the scorecard designs I’ve seen so far, Seattle has the best. Yes, I really think about these things at the game.