Monday, July 28, 2008

Deathtour~!: Fenway Park, Boston

So far, over the course of the Deathtour, I’ve been extremely fortunate not to encounter a rain out. Because I have to map out the tour in advance and because this is rather costly, I only give myself a single day in each city. So there’s no room for error, or in this case, rain. If a game gets canceled on the day I’m in town, I’m out of luck. So far, the closest I’ve come to not seeing a game was in Washington, where the start of the game was delayed by an hour. Tonight, I’m in Boston to see the Green Monster, Pesky's Pole, Manny being Manny, and the most important rivalry in the history of sports (according to ESPN’s coverage), but…it’s raining.

The game is scheduled to start at 8pm local time. As of twenty minutes before the top of the hour I’m still stuck in my hotel room waiting for the heavens to part and keeping an eye on the tube hoping for some positive news. Karl Ravach says the game could start by 8:15 but the window to get this game in is small. If this game goes late or enters another delay I may call it a night. But at least it looks like some of this game will happen, so it won’t be a total loss for me.

They’re taking the tarp off the field. That’s my cue to head to Fenway.

The walk was longer than I realized to the point that I thought I’d been walking in the wrong direction, but eventually I saw the lights.

When I get to my seat the tarp is still on the field making me question what I was watching on TV in my hotel room. The game is going to start at 9pm, giving me plenty of time to stare in awe at the Monster. It’s amazing to see it with my own eyes. I’m geeking out for the hand operated scoreboard and the old-timey style ads. Forget the game, I’m just going to stare at the wall for 9 innings.

Hey, Angel Hernandez is calling balls and strikes tonight. That’s the second time on this trip. Every time I see Angel Hernandez I remember back to a game at Wrigley where a drunk Mongo McMichael, former Bears football player and member of the 4 Horsemen, before singing Take Me Out To The Ballgame, said he’d ‘take care of the umpire’ for calling a poor game.

Sir Sidney Ponson is warming up in the bullpen. The scoreboard says his record is 6-1. That can’t possibly be right. Is there more than one Sir Sidney Ponson?

Even though I hate Boston fans for letting the success of a single championship go to their heads and turn them into the most repulsive and dislikable fans in sports, I will say that they know how to make the atmosphere electric. Everything gets a reaction, positive and negative. It doesn’t sound like there are too many Yankee fans. I’m a bit disappointed. I was hoping for some good back and forth chants from the crowd.

Boston goes up immediately in the first with a 3 spot. Now that looks like the Ponson I’m familiar with.

This has to be the worst section in the stadium. The location is fine but the seats are facing center field. And I’m behind Pesky's Pole. I have to crane my neck at a 90 degree angle to the left to see home plate. I can’t believe they haven’t restructured these seats in the last 90 years to face home plate. It’s only the third inning and my neck is developing a cramp.

Meanwhile, Boston keeps rolling with a run in the second, a run in the third, and a 2 run blast from Big Papi down the right field line. With not much to cheer about after two losses the last two nights, Sox fans are letting it all out tonight. And there’s activity in the Yankees’ bullpen.

The blimp is here tonight covering the game for ESPN. When I looked up they were showing advertising for UFC and Chris Leben was knocking someone out. Cool.

Yankees get 2 off Jon Lester in the 5th inning but the Sox get it back in the 6th. Ponson was pulled after 4. Someone give that man some Brandy.

The bleachers tried to get a wave going but failed. I’m still shocked to see it here. And there’s beach balls too. How embarrassing. I didn’t think I could have lower opinion of Boston fans but I do now.

Retired Massachusetts State Trooper Dan Clark overcomes a bad mic to put on a great show in belting out God Bless America in the middle of the seventh. He got a loud ovation and even I was clapping.

It’s approaching midnight. I’m not getting much sleep tonight, that’s for sure. Thankfully I only have one more day of this.

Boston finally wins this one sided affair a few minutes shy of 12am. All but one Sox player had a hit and JD Drew had 2 walks. As I’m walking out the Sox fans are jeering the few Yankee fans that are here. One of the New York fans comes back with chants of “26” and “2 out of 3”. I guess he’s got a point there.

Deathtour~!: PNC Park, Pittsburgh

PNC Park is another in a series of new stadiums that have cropped up in the last decade. Kruk and Kuip gush about this place on TV and they are absolutely right. This place is a gem. Situated right on the Alleghany River, much in the same way that Pac Bell is situated at China Basin, perhaps slightly further inland, PNC is one of the smallest parks in the Majors, making it a real intimate experience. The stadium size, the structure, the smaller crowds, the promotions, the small market atmosphere, the lack of club level seating and the ticket prices ($24 for a lower box seat) combine to create an almost minor league experience. And that’s not a slight. But there’s a major difference between Pittsburgh and say, Chicago or Philadelphia. The Pirates have acted as a feeder to the major markets for the past 10 years. The future stars may play here now but ultimately they get traded for prospects to perennial contenders like the Yankees (who just made a trade for the Pirates’ leading hitter, Xavier Nady). But despite the recent struggles of the Buccos, it hasn’t stopped them from creating one of the most pleasant baseball experiences in the country.

At one point, long, long ago, Pittsburgh was a great team and remnants of that history are scattered throughout the park. Hall of Famer and one of the greatest hitters who ever lived, Roberto Clemente, has a statue right outside the center field gate. Inside the left field gate are the hands of Ralph Kiner.

The bullpen is right up against the center field walkway, a perfect location for heckling opposing relievers.

The Pirates have one of the most affordable ticket prices in the majors. I can’t believe this seat is only $24. the seats behind the plate are a fraction of the price at many other stadiums.

You can watch the game through a screen under the right field bleachers. Unlike Pac Bell this area is within the ballpark gates. The scoreboard, which sadly is not hand operated, is directly below.

The scoreboard is almost identical to Philadelphia’s, minus the pitching matchups.

There are two rotundas; one behind home plate and one in left field. The left field rotunda looks like a great spot to stand and watch the game.

The announcement of the Pirates line up is preceeded with a video package set to the Pirates of the Carribean theme that includes an entire history of the franchise combining stills, video and old newspaper clippings. It blows away any similar video I’ve seen at a baseball game. I wonder if they have this available to watch online.

Van Benschoten is on the hill for Pittsburgh. After striking out Jody Gerut he gives up two walks and a home run, followed by a third walk, a single and a double. Ouch. 41 pitches in the first inning. This game could be out of reach before the Pirates even come up to bat. San Diego up 4-0.

Small ball. The idea of manufacturing runs is almost extinct. Pittsburgh gets it done with a single, a stolen base, a sacrifice fly and a second hit.

A single, a walk and another home run for San Diego in the second and Van Benschoten is out of the game, leaving to a chorus of boos from the Pirate faithful.

9-0 in the middle of the fifth. Time for some in-game entertainment. In Pittsburgh it's the Pyrogie race, and surprise, surprise, it's a total work. Mrs. Pyrogie(not her official moniker but I didn't catch name) suffers an injury and the camera guy takes out the other three pyrogies and helps the Missus past the finish line.

Either the Pirates are having a fire sale or manager John Russell has given up on the game. He's just subbed three of his top four hitters out.

The Pirates have made a game of this as I've moved around the ballpark, settling in at the left field rotunda.

Across the river, just outside my hotel, there's some sort of festival going on. And they're capping it off with a fireworks show, visible from the bleachers and right field side of the field. The game is still going on here but most everybody has turned their attention to the sky.

Trever Hoffman comes in and records a single out to close the game after Pittsburgh scores again to make it 9-6 San Diego. After the final out I head down the home plate rotunda and out the exit to look at the Honus Wagner statue.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Deathtour~!: Citizen's Bank Park, Philadelphia

To my complete surprise, the Phillies game was sold out, so in that sense it was good that I wasn’t with anybody for the game. I don’t know if I could have found 2 tickets next to each other from a scalper. As it was, I bought a ticket, for well more than I should have, from the first person who had one to sell.

It was pretty close to first pitch by the time I’d walked the several miles down Broad from my hotel to the sports complex, so I went upstairs immediately to find my seat. I was hoping it was in the shade. The top of my head is beginning to resemble a beet.

I’m in the first row of the top level and I’m right behind the Phillies dugout, but it’s not worth what I paid. I feel even worse when I learn how much the guy next to me sold my seat for to the guy I bought it from. And the sun is right in my eyes. I have to check to make sure I’m wearing my shades.

Time for some food. I’ve heard that Bull’s BBQ is the place to go. It’s all the way down in Ashburn Alley behind centerfield. Ashburn Alley is the featured attraction here. From the Alley you have a great view of the game from center, you can heckle the opposing team’s bullpen, walk the Phillies All-Star lane and relive the history of baseball in Philadelphia. I just want food for now, the rest can come after the game.

Aaaand I took one look at the line and decided on something else. I’ve never seen a line that long for food at a game. Not even for garlic fries at the Phone Booth. But at least I got up close to Braves starter Jair Jurrjens. Instead I have a Cheesesteak, which at least fits with being in Philly. Oh, and through all that I missed the first half inning getting back up to my seat.

It’s Christmas in July at Citizens Bank Park. Christmas music and movie clips have been playing between innings. Not much to talk about in regards to the game so far. It’s been a pitchers’ duel through three.

Brian McCann breaks through with a soaring shot to right. Two batters later, Jeff Francour sends a blooper into right field. I didn’t think Jenkins had a shot to catch it, and neither did anyone else, but he came on to make a spectacular diving catch.

Even though it’s not a hand operated scoreboard, I like the Phillies classic electronic design. It’s simple, has room for every game, and is free from clutter. A single light indicates outs and runners. No giant graphics or any of that nonsense.

It’s Christmas in July so the Phanatic, dressed as Santa, meets the real Santa. I was hoping he’d get booed but that didn’t happen.

The Phillies just aren’t hitting tonight. 1 run might be enough for the Braves. And Kendrick has pitched well for the Phillies, he’s just not getting any support.

We have a cameraman in our section. We spent a half inning debating what’s he’s here for. Prizes? Kiss Cam? Turns out a kid in the next row down won two tickets to a local theme park. He then turns his attention on a little girl who is a bit camera shy when she sees herself on the big screen.

Kendrick gets pulled after 6 due to pitch count. I remember when guys would throw 200 pitches over 13 innings without breaking a sweat.

Have I mentioned it’s Christmas in July?

Ouch! Jayson Werth hit a comebacker that nearly took Jerrjans’ head off. Jerrjans recovered, found the ball and threw Werth out to end the 8th.

Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel is bringing in Brad Lidge, his closer, into a non save situation. This never, ever ends well. He must need the work but I would never do this as a manager. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a pitcher who’s used to coming in to close a game, come into a losing situation or blowout game and give up 3 runs. It always happens.

Greg Norton leads off with a double and Henry Blanco beats out a bunt. It was a really close play, and even though they’ve shown a replay of nearly every at bat prior, no replay here.

Mark Teixeira singled and McCann hit a grand slam, his second home run on the night, blowing the game wide open. See? Happens every time. The guy next to me says the same thing. The Braves score 7 times in the ninth.

Ryan Howard homers to left but it’s a little too late. The Braves take the game 8-2.

Time to go check out Ashburn Alley. There’s a Phillies Wall of Fame and an all time Phillies team. Pete Rose is listed at 1st base.

The timeline of Philadelphia baseball includes the A’s, who for 40 years or so were by far the better team in the city.

I can’t even name a single Phillies player from that era but I could name several A’s.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Deathtour~!: Shea Stadium, New York

As I was on my way back to Manhattan, a thought occurred. “Hey, it’s 3 hours before the Mets game tonight. Why not try for the New York doubleheader instead of waiting for tomorrow’s afternoon game.”

So after dropping my Yankees program in my room I headed back out for Queens and Shea Stadium, also in its final season. Flushing is also the grounds of the US Open but I decide against checking it out as I haven’t purchased a ticket to the baseball game yet. To my surprise I was able to get a ticket in the upper deck section behind home plate, which means there must be more tickets available than I thought there would be for a Mets and Phillies game.

Before walking into Shea I take a look at CitiField, the Mets new ballpark next season. It’s miles more impressive looking than their cross town rivals new digs. I love the brick finish and the arches remind me a bit of Ebbets Field. Now if only we could build a replica of the Polo Grounds.

Shea looks much like Dodger Stadium and early Candlestick, which were all built in the same era. It’s one of the few 4 level stadiums in baseball and circular design of the lower level seating were designed to swivel based on what was being played, baseball or football. Since 1983, when the Jets moved to Giants Stadium, the Mets have been the sole tenants of Shea.

Since I have a seat behind home plate I decided to sit in the very last row. You can’t sit any further or higher than where I’m sitting.

The atmosphere at this game is electric. Philadelphia is only an hour and a half by train and there a tons of Phillie fans at the game. I saw a few Phillie fans at Yankee Stadium and a couple of Twins hats here so I must not be the only one who thought to watch two games today.

When the lineups were announced Mets fans booed through the entire Phillies lineup while the Philadelphia fans booed through the entire Mets lineup. Each group of fans is attempting to out do the other.

After the Phillies went down in order in the first Bret Myers conceded 4 consecutive walks and a fielder’s choice to bring in 2 runs for the Mets without giving up a hit. A kid in front of me, who’s sitting with a friend that’s a Phillies fan, is doing a brilliant job of heckling Myers. His friend doesn’t look too happy.

The Phillies come back in the second with back to back home runs and now it’s the Phillies fans turn to heckle the Mets fans. There’s dueling chants going on right now.

Myers walks a 5th batter and hits the next one. Still no hits.

And just as I say that the Mets get their first hit. After 3 innings the Mets have 3 runs on 2 hits.

I’m getting cold up here. It looks like it might rain. According to the score board they’re in a rain delay in Baltimore so there’s a system coming through the northeast.

Jose Reyes breaks a tie in the sixth with a three run home run and the big apple comes up. Myers was taken out after five innings due to pitch count. He had settled down after the third. A ‘Jose, Jose, Jose, Jose’ chant to the tune of ‘Ole, ole, ole, ole’ breaks out. That’s cool.

Billy Wagner comes out in the ninth to save the game. Mets win and the New York teams sweep the day night double header. From here I have to ride the wave of fans taking the train back to the city. It’s still rockin’ as Mets and Phillies fans are still going at it with the chants. And right on cue it starts pouring rain.

Deathtour~!: Yankee Stadium, New York

After the night game in Baltimore it was an early wake up call to catch Amtrak up to New York for the afternoon Yankee game in the Bronx. I rode up and checked into my hotel, a dive right in the middle of Times Square, without any delays, and after taking a few minutes to figure out New York’s subway system, rode out to the Bronx for my first and last taste of The House That Ruth Built.

If Wrigley is a 1930s baseball experience, Yankee Stadium is the 1970s baseball experience. Hard seats with no cup holders, an old electronic scoreboard, a run down PA system, and a cramped concession area gives you the sensation of standing in an antique. These are more than a few of the reasons they’re replacing this stadium with a more modern yet almost identical looking facility, even down to the boring prison-like exterior.

New York is still pretty paranoid. They asked to see my cell phone. It doesn’t look like anybody is allowed to bring in backpacks and they’ve also banned sunscreen, which is just indefensible. After getting through the gate I slowly make my way behind home plate. It doesn’t look as though they are checking tickets so I sneak a peek at the lower level. Batting practice is just about to wrap up.

It’s 30 minutes before game time and I need something to eat. I’ll I’ve had today is iced coffee at Penn Station in Baltimore. There’s a nice cafĂ© area behind home. Beer is $9. That’s outrageous but it’s a sporting event. You could price beer at $20 and it would sell.

I’m all the way up in the upper deck in right field. Not too bad, but I can’t see the right field foul line and I can barely read the right field scoreboard at this angle. Flipping through the Yankees’ program, there’s a story on Jose Molina. I’ve lost track of how many Molina brothers are catching in the big leagues. At some point I think all 30 teams will have one.

The anthem is played over the PA system after the Yankees partially take the field. The bleacher roll call goes out. Nice. I'm not sure if you can make it out in the picture, but there's a metal fence above the left part of the Modell sign. A guy next to me was saying that it was recently put up after A-Rod hit a home run off the yellow above the sign that was ruled in play by the umpire. The fence is designed so that when a ball hits it, it will make a different noise.

Monument Park is out in left field in front of the visiting bullpen. It doesn’t look like you can walk through it during the game. I would have liked to see DiMaggio and Berra’s plaques.

Mussina’s on a roll today. Every strikeout brings a chorus of ‘Mooooooooose’ from the crowd.

The Yanks finally wake up in fifth and score twice.

Alexi Castilla lines a double past the diving Richie Sexton at first. Sexton is 10 feet tall and that’s second time he’s come up short diving to prevent a ball from going into the outfield. He has the range of a sloth.

The grounds crew comes out and performs YMCA. The Seattle crew's Thriller dance was better.

Mussina has a shutout through 8 innings and a five run lead but he’s hit the magical 100 pitch count which in 2008 means you’re out of the game.

LaTroy Hawkins, former Giant for a brief period, comes in and does his job by giving up a run and three hits creating a save situation for Rivera. So now I can say I saw future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera save a game at Yankee stadium.

Rivera strikes out the only batter he saw, Jason Kubel, to end the game. "Yankees win! The Yankees win!"