I started July’s five-ballpark trip around the Midwest with two games at Minneapolis’ Target Field. From there, I continued to Chicago for three games at Wrigley Field, a quick trip to Milwaukee’s Miller Park and then back to Chicago to see Guaranteed Rate Field.
My rank for Target Field is slightly above average. I like its downtown location, not to mention the view of downtown from the seats. Additionally, the use of limestone throughout the park and exterior was a great touch.
Readers know that I appreciate a ballpark’s intimacy, its focus on the home team’s history, it’s food (especially hot dogs) and beer selection. Other than a relatively weak craft beer selection, Target Field is as good as any of the stadiums I’ve been to. It also has impressive statues all over the place.
There is a pub called “2 Gingers” on the second level right behind home plate. Little did I know when I bought my tickets that I was in the sections right in front of the pub. I could walk through the pub to get to my seat! How cool is that? Not that I did too much drinking, just a beer or two, but it’s nice to know that a bar is near if you need it.
Fortunately, I stayed in a hotel downtown, so I had the opportunity for nice walks past the Mary Tyler Moore statue and a beautiful mural of Minnesota’s Bob Dylan – a personal favorite.
Finally, the Mets were in town, and they were starting their post-all-star game hot streak. They won both games – Alonso hit 474-foot bomb and life was good!
Excellent views of downtown, a plethora of representations of “Bullseye” the Target Dog, fun Minnesota humor and the Metro is right outside. What more do I need?
Outside and along one side of the stadium is a timeline of great moments in Twins’ history. However, on the other side of the ball park is the real find. There are three cut stone murals by an artist named Craig David. One is “Sustainability Reborn,” “A History of Minnesota Baseball,” and “Transit Then and Now.” A very nice touch.
I score every game. During one of the games, I noticed that one of the Facebook groups I belong to was discussing scoring, I added this photo of my scorecard. I’m a tad compulsive and, among other things, I count and record the sequence of pitches. My scorecard photo resulted in some admiring comments.
Honoring Former Players
Statues and pictures of Twins players are all around Target Field – inside and out. However, even though I thought I walked every inch of the ballpark, I never saw the Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett ones. Twins fans, please tell me how I missed seeing them!
Schweigert’s All Beef – Jumbo Dog
On day one I had to try the locally made Schweigert’s Original Twins Hot Dog. There is nothing wrong with it, it’s grilled, charred and crispy, with an all-beef taste. It comes with grilled onions. However, I ranked it sort of in the middle of the pack since it is similar to others around the league.
Kramarczuk’s Polish Sausage
Kramarczuk’s was one of the first places to catch my eye as I walked around the stadium on the first day. So, I had to have one on my second visit. Decision time; they had four sausages to choose from – Polish, Hungarian, bratwurst and, I think, a traditional hot dog. “Which is best?” I asked. “Do you like garlic?” I mean, who doesn’t love garlic? So, I had the polish sausage that is very garlicky with some good sauerkraut.
It tasted great, I rank it high on my list. Readers of my blog know that grilling is essential to my hot dog experience. Kramarczuk’s grills their sausages and thus the one I had a nice crunch and char.
After two days in Minneapolis, I planned to fly to Chicago on Thursday morning in time for a Wrigley Field tour in the early afternoon. However, heavy rain delayed my flight and, I rescheduled the tour for Friday morning. That story will be in a future post.
In my last post, I belabored the “why the new Yankee Stadium should never have been built” point of view. Now that I have that out of my system, I will describe what a visit to Yankee Stadium is like.
I’ve always wanted to see a series between the historic rivals, the Red Sox and Yankees and this was my chance. I also saw the teams play two games in London. As it turned out, the Yankees won all five games, in the two series. It’s not my fault, better luck next year to the Red Sox.
Although I was born in the Bronx, I’m congenitally not a Yankees fan. It’s in my DNA. I don’t have the ‘Yankee fan’ gene. As I have written, the condition wasn’t apparent when I was born. My non-Yankee predilection started to present itself when I was around eight or so. By my early teens, it was clear that I did not have any sort of capacity to appreciate the Yankees.
Since I understand that I have this congenital aversion to all things Yankee, I am being cautious not to be too critical of the Yankee fan experience. I could be missing something that only they can see.
I will say that while growing up in New York, “the center of the universe,” I noticed that my friends and neighbors had this attitude that they were “in the know.’ They always knew the right places to go, the right restaurants to eat at, and the most up and coming books to read, etc. However, my experience was that except for being in the place that everyone else was, or where everyone wanted to be the experience wasn’t all it was supposed to be.
Yankee fans seem to be similar. Yankee Stadium is the place to be, the place to see and be seen. The fans have a transactional relationship with the team. Brian Cashman (the general manager/President?) gets them a new free agent player or two, always “the shiniest toys” available and they are happy to believe they are part of this winning tradition. However, the days of winning frequent championships are long gone. Yet, Yankee fans walk around the Stadium with what seems to be a sense of entitlement.
But as I said, I’ll try and be objective.
Getting to Yankee Stadium
Much of my baseball travels have included a hotel within walking distance to the ballpark. I like to be about a mile away from the stadium. So, I can’t compare all stadiums in regards to the ease of using mass transit to get to them. What I can say is that Yankee Stadium is one of the easier ones to get to.
Of the ones I’ve attended:
Target Field in Minneapolis seems uncomplicated, the train stops right out front. However, I haven’t tried it.
Nationals Park in DC is very easy to get from Reagan National, and I assume other places in the city. I took the metro from Reagan and loved it.
Both Guaranteed Rate Field and Wrigley Field in Chicago are a comfortable ride on the Red Line.
Citi Field in Queens is an uncomplicated but longish ride on the 7 Line from midtown Manhattan.
Yankee Stadium is a very short ride on the subway – one of the easiest trips. You can take the B, D or 4 train. I’ve always been a Lexington Avenue guy so, I take the #4.
The Atmosphere at Yankee Stadium
It’s Nice But a Bit Artificial
Yankee Stadium is a new version of the original gem. In a sense, it has this artificial, Disney kind of feel. The feeling that you’re in Epcot and walking around all the European nation’s exhibits. While it has some of Europe’s appeal, the food, etc., you’re still in Orlando.
At Yankee Stadium, you can walk around the park, see the beautiful frieze surrounding the roof and imagine what the original park was like. However, it does not feel real.
Cold and Austere
All in all, the Stadium has a cold, austere feel to it. It doesn’t have the intimacy of places like Camden Yards, Petco and Oracle Parks or Citi Field. Indeed, it can’t match Wrigley or Fenway, but no place can.
It also doesn’t have a New York feel to it. The food, while good does not represent New York City’s fine restaurants the way Citi Field does. While you see the apartment buildings of the surrounding Bronx neighborhood, the Stadium no longer faces the iconic, grey Bronx Courthouse that fans used to see.
Honoring the Legacy
Finally, Legends Hall, Monument Park and prominently displayed retired numbers tend to reinforce the Yankees historical legacy, but it doesn’t seem sufficient.
The Yankees Museum is underwhelming as the displays could include so much more. It’s great to see Thurman Munson’s locker and statues commemorating Don Larson’s 1956 World Series perfect game, but where are statues commemorating other great moments, other great Yankee players’ jerseys and equipment. It should be more extensive with more exhibits. It is nice to see the Yankees borrow essential items from the National Hall of Fame on a rotating basis. Replace them every few months with other pieces. There are so many items at the Hall of Fame that could be temporarily displayed at Yankee Stadium. Every few months, the pieces would be exchanged with other items.
I’d love to see statues of great players in Legends Hall, not just banners. Something similar to the figures that the Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs (to name a few) have in front of their stadiums.
Monuments Park is beautiful but not easily accessible. To visit, you have to walk up a corridor and wait online to be ushered through. Frankly, it’s cramped. SunTrust in Atlanta has a much more accessible area. Braves greats are honored in the main corridor behind home plate. Additionally, it’s embarrassing and insulting that George Steinbrenner’s plaque is the largest.
Monument Park is somewhat hard to see from the stands. It’s hidden behind the centerfield wall and shrouded by protective netting. I wish they would open up the centerfield doors and roll up the netting before and after games. Celebrate the legacy, the great players while the teams warm-up, and the fans arrive. Shine a spotlight on the monuments as the fans leave. It would be beautiful.
The Food at Yankee Stadium
Not that I’m proud of it, but my ballpark food choices have mainly focused on the “Great Hot Dog Challenge,”so I can only speak from observation. There seem to be good, basic food choices, but the Stadium does not draw from New York’s great local food tradition the way Citi Field does. Cleveland does a better job of incorporating the local food scene as well.
The Yankees do a lot with buckets filled with food:
The Yankees Bucket of Chicken – a large bucket filled with French fries and topped with fried chicken tenders.
Sliders – the same bucket filled with “at least a pound of fries” and topped with five hamburger sliders.
The “Grub Tub” – one of the most inventive things I’ve seen at a ballpark since teams started batting their best hitters second. The Grub Tub is this contraption where a large (16 oz) soda cup holds a bowl filled with french fries and chicken nuggets. The bowl has a hole in the bottom that allows a straw to get to the soda. Thus, the whole contraption can be held in one hand.
Beer choices are not as extensive as many other stadiums, like San Diego, Cleveland or Cincinnati.
Minor complaint – they need more Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shops! Two spots will not handle the crowd. The lines were much too long for me to consider ruining my waistline.
Minor Observations – are the lines slower at Yankee Stadium than other places? Seems so. Fans seated around me tended to be gone a long time before returning with their edible treasures.
Hot Dog Challenge
I tried three hot dogs – don’t judge, I had one per game.
Sabrett’s (?) 12” Hot Dog
Sorry, the Nomad is slipping, I’ve lost my hot dog memory. I had a 12” dog on Saturday night on the 3rd level of the Stadium. For some reason, I don’t think it was a Sabrett’s hot dog, but in reviewing the stadium map, I’m convinced it must have been.
Sabrett Hot Dogs are a staple of New York City. You can find a Sabrett’s cart on almost any street and conveniently ruin your dinner and upset your doctor. They are quite good. The one offered in the Stadium was grilled, had a nice char/ crunch, and overall made me very happy. Additionally, Yankee Stadium has brown mustard. I rank this one very high on my list.
Primo Italian Hot Sausage
I had the same issue in New York as I did in Chicago. To a certain extent, the hot dog/sausage vendors are similar in both ballparks. In this case, Nathans and Primo are prevalent at both. Since I had the Primo Italian Sweet Sausage at Citi Field, I went with the Hot Sausage this time. Not surprisingly, the sausage was just as good. Excellent taste, good crunch, and char, sturdy bun. However, they use less grilled onions, which makes it more manageable. I ranked it just above Citi’s version because it was slightly easier to eat.
Kosher Hot Dog and Another Knish
On Sunday, I decided to do the kosher all-beef hot dog – just like I did at Citi Field. It was likely from the same vendor and also quite good. However, the knish I had with it was not as firm and crisp as Citi Field’s. So I ranked this one, just under theirs.
So How Was The Play Mrs. Lincoln?
In my last post, I outlined why the “new” Yankee Stadium should not have been built in a new location. However, the pertinent question was, how is a visit to Yankee Stadium? Some people don’t know or care that the old Stadium was torn down. Is it a good place to see a game?
When you get by the controversy about building the Stadium, it’s an OK place to see a game.
Not great, but above average. It’s too cold and austere and not intimate enough to call it a great ballpark. Yankee Stadium reminds me of Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field, the last stadium built before Camden Yards revolutionized baseball. Neither has the appeal of the so-called retro ballparks and as such, they are a bit more austere.
My nest stops were Fenway Park to see Mike Trout and the Angels – err and family. After that the Little league World Series.
Cleveland is one of those underrated “rust belt” cities that I never thought got its due. Some only know it as – “the mistake on the lake” where the Cuyahoga River caught fire. However, I always found it to be a cool city with great restaurants, nice places to stay, and friendly people. Finally, Cleveland is a great baseball city.
I’ve been to Cleveland and Progressive Field many times. It was where my father and I ended our baseball journey that started in 1964. As the story goes, it began with him leading me around the ballpark when I was six or so. It ended with me pushing his wheelchair almost 50 years later. He moved to Cleveland – his wife’s hometown – in the early 2000s. I worked for a company based outside of Cleveland and was there often.
My business travel enabled us to find our way to the ballpark many times.
With that said, I had only been back to Cleveland and Progressive Field a few times since we buried dad. This trip was a revelation. Could it be that the city was even better than I remembered? I’ve always liked Progressive, but in the five years since I’ve been there, it seems to have gotten even better.
Rock & Roll
Cleveland has been associated with Rock & Roll ever since disc jockey, Alan Freed popularized the term there. 1 The city incorporated the phrase into its branding when the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame opened there. Not surprisingly, the All-Star Game captured the city’s Rock and Roll lineage.
Each day, I wanted to get down to the city early so I could walk around and take pictures. On Tuesday, as I was entering Public Square – the centerpiece of downtown – I found a kiosk that was displaying Fender guitars painted to represent each team. I especially loved the Baltimore Orioles one that included Baltimore’s favorite (rock and roll) son, Frank Zappa. He is a personal favorite.
Naturally, I found the Mets guitar fun. I’m a fan and love all things Mets.
Cincinnati’s was designed to recognize the 150th anniversary of professional baseball that originated there in 1869. The Reds have been celebrating the first professional baseball team (the Cincinnati Red Stockings) all season. However, it’s interesting that the Reds are not descendants of the Red Stockings, the Atlanta Braves are. So in a sense, the Reds are celebrating the Braves’ birth.
I thought that MLB did a credible job selling the joys of baseball at the London Series, but I wasn’t blown away. I didn’t think there were enough displays or activities, and there certainly wasn’t a wide variety of merchandise. However, Cleveland was another story.
In Cleveland, Major League Baseball and PlayBall took over the convention center and two adjoining park areas for kids activities, displays and merchandise.
The outside activities tended to be baseball oriented, as one would expect. But there was also fun things like a zip line that sent riders over ann entire city block. It started at St. Clair Avenue and ended across Lakeside Avenue.
Inside the Convention Center
In the convention center, there were areas that explored the Hall of Fame, the Negro Leagues, Women’s Baseball, and merchandise for sale. Near the merchandise area was a display of each cap for each organization. The major league cap for each team was at the top of each column and then below were caps for each minor league team in their system. Pretty cool for a cap collector.
The Home Run Derby and All-Star Game
Progressive Field is just a short walk from the convention center. This ballpark was, of course, the focus of my trip.
As is my normal practice, I’m not going to bore the you by telling them things they likely saw or that sportswriters who were closer to the action can write about. These are my impressions of the experience. However, I’ll also be honest and say that I don’t tend to watch these events at home. I lost interest in the All-Star Game when each team spent more effort getting all players in the game and less time trying to win the game. So I didn’t expect to stay for the entire game and didn’t think I’d love the Derby. I was wrong on both accounts.
The Home Run Derby
I’m not going to lie, I wanted Pete Alonso to win. I’m a Mets fan and he’s my home town guy. I also wanted Jacob DeGrom and Jeff McNeil to do well in the game but I’m getting ahead of myself.
My reactions to the Derby are:
I understand that there are people who don’t like the current format. I loved it and found it much more compelling than the old one that was used through 2014.
The best view is from the seats facing the outfield. Unfortunately, my seat was out in left field near the foul pole. My location was very Bartmanesque in that it was right against the railing. To watch the action, I had to swing my head around to watch the flight of the hit ball. However, because the balls were hit so rapidly, I lost track of how many home runs were hit.
The fact that all of Alonso’s wins were walk-offs didn’t excite me, as it seems to have others, other than there was a lot of suspense as to whether he could exceed his opponent’s total.
The Vlad Jr., Joc Pederson match up was awesome. After each round, my section mates and I would just look at each other in disbelief. How long would it go on?
The game was compelling enough to stay until the end. It was a well-played, close game with the American League winning 4 – 3. Nothing major happened, it was just an exciting game and as I note below there were some cool moments. Also, I was not as distracted by all the player changes as I thought I might be.
Nod to Cleveland
I especially liked and appreciated how American League manager, Alex Cora, and Major League Baseball honored Cleveland:
The pre-game tribute to one time Cleveland manager, the late Frank Robinson was fitting since he was the first person of color to manage a major game and the breakthrough was with the Indians.
Former Indian, Michael Brantly who left the team in the off-season as and signed as a free agent, with the Astros started the game and received a great ovation.
Including Carlos Corrasco in the “Stand Up to Cancer” fifth inning observation was poignant and well-received.
Sending ex-Indian, honorary coach and future Hall of Famer CC Sabathia out to talk to Aroldis Champman was a nice touch. The crowd was able to show their appreciation for his years in Cleveland.
Sabathia also threw out the first pitch to another former Indian, Sandy Alomar Jr. in another nod to Cleveland.
Finally, MLB awarded Cleveland pitcher, Shane Bieber the MVP award, because…I honestly don’t know why. Other than, of course, he plays for Cleveland. Yes, he struck out the side in the fifth and the crowd got excited, but Aroldis Chapman did the same in the ninth to save the game. However, they weren’t going to give the award to Chapman who is now a Yankee. Moreover, he helped defeat the Indians in the 2016 World Series when he was with the Cubs. My choice was Texas’ Joey Gallo who hit the game-winning home run.
It was moving to see Mike Trout and Tommy La Stella wear their teammate Tyler Skaggs’ number. Twenty-seven-year-old Skaggs passed away suddenly, a week before the game.
Jacob DeGrom was Jacob Degrom, retiring the side in seven pitches. He also faced Mike Trout – possibly the premier matchup and induced a popup in two pitches. It was almost as impressive as his 2016 appearance where he struck out the side on ten pitches.
The scoreboard operator confused a few players and pictures – fun.
People seem to underrate Progressive Field like they do Cleveland. However, its high on my list. Moreover, I think it’s improved since I used to go with my dad. There are much better food and beer choices. The Indians celebrate their long history well. The stadium is comfortable with good sightlines and a great view of the city. What’s not to like? It reminds me of San Diego’s Petco Park on a minor scale.
I’ll also congratulate Cleveland and the Indians for removing the presence of “Chief Wahoo” from the entire stadium. “Chief Wahoo” was a much-criticized caricature of a Native American tribal chief. The image was officially introduced in 1948 and adorned hats, uniforms and all other paraphernalia associated with the Indians.2 In stark contrast to Atlanta’s SunTrust Park where the “Tomahawk Chop” was ubiquitous, I didn’t see any reference to the old logo.
Most of all, I love the fans. The joy of baseball is that you can make friends at the ballpark. I had the same seat for all the events – Sunday’s Celebrity Softball Game and Futures Game, Monday’s Home Run Derby, and Tuesday’s Game. The people around me did as well and we became fast friends. Others asked, “how long have you guys known each other?” They were surprised when we said we just met.
Food- Hot Dogs
Cleveland is a good eating city, with great restaurants representing many cultures. There are and at least a dozen restaurants are featured at Progressive Field. Then there are other food stands that are specific to the ballpark. I don’t recall this type of food community involvement on my previous visits, a few years ago. Back then, there was more basic fare – Subway was my diabetic father’s favorite.
The hot dog choice is a very important one. So I walked around the stadium looking for the right dog to try. On the first night, I tried “Charred Dogs.” Anyone who understands my criteria and seen my rankings knows that I appreciate a crispy charred hot dog. This one didn’t disappoint.
The second night was equally good. This time, I tried the Cleveland Kraut Classic Caraway dog. Cleveland Kraut is a local supplier of “the best tasting and crunchiest sauerkraut in the world.” When you combine their kraut with the Bertman’s brown mustard, you’re in dog heaven. I ranked it slightly behind the Charred Dog because I liked the bun and dog a little better on the first night. It was pretty much a dead heat.
OK beer… the Great Lakes Brewing Company has a stand in the park where you can try their different offerings. There are other craft options around the park as well. I settled on Fat Head’s Brewery since I was intrigued by the “Sunshine Daydream IPA.” I asked the people at the stand if the name was an homage to the Grateful Dead song of the same name. They didn’t know, but I gave it a shot and liked it a lot. I liked it so much, that I went back a few more times over the two days.
All in all, it was a fun time. I drove home and prepared for a trip to the midwest. My first visit to Wrigley Field with trips to Target Field, Miller Park, and Guaranteed Rate Field. The last one just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
Mrs. Nomad and I made the Subway Series at Citi the last stop on my Midwest Odyssey. The two-week-long odyssey took me through St. Louis, Kansas City, Field of Dreams, the College World Series, and the London Series. Now I was back in the States at Citi Field – a place I refer to as “Fred Wilpon’s Brooklyn Dodgers Obsession” – with Mrs. Nomad.
It’s become an annual Nomad family tradition to go to Citi Field. We’re Mets fans and its a great place to see a game or two. I rank it high on my list of best ballparks. Citi may also be the best ballpark for food in the major leagues. Unfortunately, as much as I love the place and the team, this may be my last visit to Citi for what could be a very long time. As I will explain in my next post, I’m saying Farewell to Citi.
Mets Fan For Life
I’ve been a Mets fan most of my life. As I recount in my “Why Collect Ballparks,” I’ve been intrigued with this beguiling team since my father took me to Shea Stadium for the first time in 1965. My family had moved to St. Petersburg, Florida and the Mets opened a training complex across from my school, Azalea Junior High. I remember riding my bicycle to watch them play the newly minted Montreal Expos in 1969. Later that year, I was in Mr. Wilson’s Earth Science class when the Principal announced that this team of assumed misfits had won the World Series.
A few years later, we moved back to New York City and I started following my cousin and sister to Shea Stadium and the rest is Nomad history – check out the post, you’ll enjoy it.
The point is I love my Metsies. Through thick and thin I start the season with high, usually, delusional hopes and then by July I understand the epic tragedy that reality presents. The Mets usually aren’t that good.
But I digress, I liked going to Shea Stadium and love Citi Field.
Fred Wilpon’s Brooklyn Dodger Obsession
Fred Wilpon is obsessed with the Brooklyn Dodgers of his youth. He was born in Brooklyn and went to high school with Sandy Koufax. His fondest memory is likely his beloved Dodgers finally winning the World Series in 1955 when he was 18. Wilpon went to Lafayette High School with Sandy Koufax and they remain good friends. Interestingly, they both played on the school’s baseball team. I’ve read that Wilpon was the pitcher and Koufax played first base. If true, I consider it an eery preview of Wilpon’s way of getting most things related to baseball backward. Of course, Koufax would become a hall of fame pitcher.1 Wilpon became a notoriously bad team owner.
Citi Field is supposed to honor both of the Met’s National League predecessors, the Giants, and Dodgers. However, while it has green seats like the Polo Grounds where the Giants used to play the stadium’s overall design more than resembles the Dodgers’ Ebbets Field. 2 The overwhelming Ebbets Field influence is clearly a testament to Wilpon’s love for the old ballpark. 3
The Jackie Robinson Rotunda
And then there is the beautiful Jackie Robinson Rotunda, which is similar to the entrance to Ebbets Field. Fans entered Ebbets Field through a “majestic marble rotunda” which included a baseball influenced chandelier. The chandelier had “twelve baseball bat ‘arms’ holding twelve baseball lamps.” 4 Citi Field has the same arrangement, an awe-inspiring rotunda oriented behind Home Plate. However, in Citi’s case, the rotunda honors Jackie Robinson.
I’ve read many criticisms about the stadium’s focus on Jackie and Ebbets Field. After all, the home team is the Mets, not the Dodgers. The feeling seems to be, “let the Dodgers manage their legacy, we’ll manage ours.”
However, I don’t mind. I like the fact that both New York ballparks remember the city’s storied baseball heritage. The Mets in the Ebbets Field look-alike, the Yankees in a replica of Yankee Stadium. However, I do understand the irony that Mets occupy the Ebbets Field look-a-like, not the Dodgers. Moreover, the ballpark is in Queens, not Brooklyn. I need a stronger word than “irony” to discuss the fact that the Yankees play in a replica of Yankee Stadium across the street from where the real one was.
Who Owns Jackie Robinson’s Legacy?
The obvious question (at least to me) is who actually owns Jackie Robinson’s legacy – the Dodgers or the Mets? Clearly, Jackie was a Dodger and the Dodgers should celebrate everything about him. No one should suggest that Jackie had any association or affinity to the Mets.
With that said, Citi Field is less than 15 miles from Ebbets Field’s location at 55 Sullivan Place. Its also located on the site that the Dodgers were offered to use for their Ebbets Field replacement. They decided to go 3,000 miles to L.A. and not 15 miles to Queens.
Additionally, the fastest route to Citi is across the Jackie Robinson Parkway, near where Jackie owned property. Jackie’s gravesite is located in Cypress Hills Cemetery, adjacent to the parkway’s exit three.5 Additionally, the 1997 ceremony and announcement retiring Jackie’s number across baseball was held at Shea Stadium. I’ve always been proud of New York’s connection to Jackie Robinson and feel that honoring him at Citi Field is more than appropriate.
Celebrating Mets History
If the efforts honoring the Brooklyn Dodgers is bizarre, the way that the Met’s management honors the past is confounding.
Tom Seaver – “The Franchise”
The Mets waited 50 years to celebrate and honor Tom “The Franchise” Seaver’s accomplishments. They only changed Citi Field’s address to 41 Seaver Way and announced plans to erect his statue earlier this year. In classic Wilpon fashion, the wait took so long and the publics’ demand was so great that the sense was that the Wilpons had to be pushed, reluctantly to do the right thing. The underlying assumption was that – “you know – statues are expensive.”
For some perspective, note that Nolan Ryan’s career overlaps Seaver’s. Seaver began his career with the Mets in 1967. Ryan’s debut with the team was in 1966. They both pitched in the 1969 World Series. Seaver retired in 1986 and Ryan pitched until 1993. It took the Wilpons 33 years from Seaver’s retirement to announce that they would erect a statue. At the same time, Ryan was honored with two statues. One in Houston and one in Texas. Similarly, two Frank Robinson statues were erected in that time frame – in Baltimore and Cleveland. Finally, Hank Aaron was honored with two statues as well – in Atlanta and Milwaukee.
Retired Numbers & Hall of Fame
Mets’ management is stingy in recognizing their great players. While important players are recognized in murals and in the Mets Hall of Fame, their names are not prominently displayed around the playing field like in other parks. The Mets’ management seems to follow an unwritten rule that only the players elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame have their numbers retired. Other teams do the same, Toronto and Cleveland to name a few. However, in these and other ballparks, the names of important players who are not in the Hall of Fame line the seating areas.
Not the Mets. Only the retired numbers of Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges, Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, and of course Jackie Robinson are visible from your seat. 6 Where are names like Hernandez, Carter, Gooden, Strawberry, Staub, Harrelson, Agee, Jones, and Swoboda, etc?
While we’re on the subject, could they just retire Gary Carter’s number “8”, please? He’s in the Hall of Fame – yes as an Expo – and was a great Met who helped lead the team to a championship. He deserves the honor.
The Yankees retired the “8” twice – honoring Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey – the Mets management could do it once. They tend to do half of what the Yankees do, so retiring the number “8” once seems par for the course.
Finally, Citi also features three gates named after famous Mets; the Stengel Gate, the Hodges Gate, and the Seaver Gate. It’s a nice touch, but Seaver is not the only great Mets player. Stengel and Hodges were of course managers.
Hot Dogs, Sausage and a Knish
I love the food at Citi. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, you can go to Citi Field and just eat. You don’t need to like or even tolerate baseball. You don’t have to watch the game, just buy a cheap ticket and eat until you drop.
Unfortunately, due to our scheduling not to mention two weeks on the road, where I experienced lots of fabulous – and a few less than fabulous- eating opportunities, I wasn’t very hungry at these games. That meant I couldn’t enjoy Arancini Brothers nor could I feast on a Pat LaFreida Filet Mignon Steak Sandwich.
However, my commitment to the Hot Dog Challenge is a given, so I had a hot dog each of the two nights we were there. Surprisingly, a unique hot dog is difficult to find at Citi Field. Its almost as if they figured, with all these great offerings, who needs a hot dog? So the hot dog selection starts with the Nathans hot dog. No offense intended but at the beginning of the Hot Dog Challenge, I was very clear that I expect something more unique than a basic Nathan’s Hot Dog. Nathan’s hot dogs are ubiquitous in baseball stadiums, and if you’ve had one, you’ve had them all.
I needed other options.
Day One – Primio Sausage
We started to get hungry around the third inning. I left my scorebook in Mrs. Nomad’s capable hands and went off to find some hot dogs. Instead, I found the Primio Sausage stand which was close to our seats and looked – as they say in Boston – “wicked good.” There was a choice of Sweet or Hot Italian sausages and I took the sweet. I had the grilled onions, Mrs. Nomad’s was unencumbered. In normal Mets fashion, the first condiments bar had empty mustard dispensers. The next one was fully stocked.
It was a good tasty sausage, though a few too many onions made it challenging to eat – but I didn’t lose any. Also, it was very filling, with a nice substantial bun that handled all the onions.
Day Two – A Kosher Hot Dog…
Since we walked through the stadium on the first day, I was able to plan my day two hot dog prior to our arrival. I thought, why not go for the Kosher Dog? My late mother might be somewhat happy that I was eating kosher. As it turns out, she was living in a nursing home quite close to Shea Stadium when she passed away. Her death was surprisingly not Mets related.
…And a Knish
But I digress, on to the kosher dog. When I got to the stand, I noticed that they offered Knishes. Some might ask “what is a knish?” Others may not care, but it’s my blog. A knish is a little bit of heaven. It is a large dumpling type affair where the dough is normally stuffed with a potato mixture that resembles – but is much different from – mashed potatoes. The dumpling can be baked or fried. Those in the know like their knishes with a little mustard.
When the Nomad’s sister was going to Mets games in the 1970s, her tradition was to get a Knish during the fifth inning. I gave her a silent nod as I ate mine before the game.
So I had a wonderful kosher hot dog, with sauerkraut and a knish on the side. It was a good basic dog. The beef gives it a different flavor from a regular hot dog and the knish took me back to the days when I had to shop in the husky department. A hot dog, knish and body shaming all for less than $20,
I’m ranking the sausage and the kosher dog relatively high on my list. However, it’s becoming clear that the larger the dog, the higher the score. Using that scale, the kosher dog was a little wanting.
I had a great time at Citi – I always do.
However, I’m mostly sitting 7 in this wonderful but odd replica of Ebbets Field that’s not quite in Brooklyn, where the Dodgers don’t regularly play, and I realize that I can’t go there anymore. At least not for a while.
Day Two on the “Midsummer Odyssey.” The day I pondered my existence and walked the tightrope between sanity and insanity. No, stop! It wasn’t that bad. We had a difficult time seeing the Kansas City Royals and Museums but maintained our sensibilities and made it to the next day.
Friday Night – Look at The Tickets!
Somewhere between the raindrops, standing ovations, beer, and tornado warnings, Nomad, the Younger decided to check the next day’s schedule. “So the game starts at 1:10 tomorrow?” “Nah,” I respond, “they play tomorrow night.” Sweetly, yet forcefully persistent, Nomad the Younger explains that if they are playing on Saturday night, someone should tell the Royals. “The Royals are playing at 1:10.” Yes, an unforced error by the Nomad.
Here’s the problem. The plan was to go to the Negro League Museum and the game, and we don’t have any extra time. Thus, we need to squeeze both into Saturday so that we can see the Field of Dreams movie site on Sunday. We can’t delay because I need to get to the College World Series on Monday. Not to mention the younger Nomad has a plane to catch.
OK, no problem. It’s a three and a half-hour drive to Kansas City, give or take. We’ll leave at 6:30 and be in Kansas City by 10:30, see the museum and make it to the game by 1:00. Who cares if we are a little late?
Saturday Morning – The Drive From Hell
Another inaccurate, overstatement. Hell is probably worse, and I’ve never heard about rain in Hell. The stories I hear refer to fire and heat, not SUVs and pouring rain.
As we leave, it starts to rain. Then it starts to rain harder. For a while, the rain stops, and we begin to make good time. As we talk, the sky starts to darken into an eerie purple. The sky continues to darken, then darken some more. Soon it was the color of eggplant or the center of a nasty bruise.
The purple sky correlates with the wind blowing wildly. I grip the wheel while we look for tornados, houses blowing over, or a woman on a bicycle flying through the sky. Then the heavens open and sheets of rain pour down. This is the type of storm that windshield wipers won’t solve. The wipers simply push water back and forth, the water coming down too fast to actually keep the windshield clear.
We crawl along – following other slow-moving vehicles. We’re creeping our way through a creepy, artificial night caused by clouds, wind a rain. Finally, I can’t take it anymore, and we take the next exit looking for shelter. The hoped-for shelter is “Ozarkland.” Roadside America describes Ozarkland as “a gift shop/tourist trap.” The description is a tad harsh. There are cute knickknacks, what looks like fantastic fudge and the bathrooms are clean. Most of all, the patient salespeople who let a couple of wet nomads hang around for a while.
We watch the clock and check our weather apps to see if the weather will clear.
The New Plan
Finally, we get back on the road. The skies are clearing, but we’ve lost a lot of time. I suggest that we just head for the hotel which is conveniently across from Kauffman Stadium. This plan should be OK – it’s supposed to start raining around 3:00. That will allow us to catch a few innings and when the rain starts again, we can head for the museum.
The Heat and Humidity
If the wind and rain weren’t hellish, the resulting heat and humidity might have been.
We arrive at the hotel around 11:30 – the sun is beating down. Unfortunately, we can park but not check-in. They had a busy night, and the rooms aren’t ready. So we start our walk to Ewing Kauffman Stadium.
To get out of the parking hotel parking lot, you walk up a short incline. At the top is a four-lane street/ highway. There are a few attendants and police around in case we need help with traffic to get across. Once on the other side, we were looking at “The K” – as the natives call it.
From our vantage point, Kauffman Stadium is on the right side of a vast parking lot. On its left is Arrowhead Stadium where the Chief’s play football. We need to walk down an incline and around the parking lot to get into the ballpark. I’m starting to notice that it’s hot and I’m sweating profusely. It doesn’t help that I’m wearing my trusty photographer vest and carry my small camera bag.
It’s about a half-mile from the hotel to the Stadium entrance.
A Short, Hot Stay
Long story short, I’ll need to get back to see “The K” at some point. It’s supposed to be a great ballpark. Likely because we were hot, tired, sweaty, and possibly dehydrated, I didn’t feel the greatness.
We entered through one of the outfield gates and walked around the sunny and hot promenade past statues and food outposts looking for merchandise. I needed my cap. For some reason, we didn’t think to follow the walk to the covered section that surrounds the infield.
We get some food, but there is no place to sit. There is a beautiful seating area, but that is reserved for a group. That group either isn’t coming, booked too much room or hasn’t arrived yet. No matter the reason, there are empty seats, but we can’t use them. I stare longingly like a parched man in the desert imagining a mirage. This is not the first I’ve eaten standing up at a baseball stadium.
Finally, we go to our seats which are on the fourth level, right behind home plate. The stadium was a beautiful, modern, suburban ballpark when it was built in the early 1970s. It is still beautiful but isn’t big on sheltered seats. We’re sitting in a short row, in a section that seems to be placed directly under the sun. More of a device to heat your dinner than a place to sit comfortably.
At first, we are alone. Then people fill the rest of the row, and we are cramped. It’s hard to move. A little room would be helpful so that we can dissipate the heat. Nomad the Younger is the first to suggest we find shelter before we pass out. I can’t disagree.
We escape the heat in a very open promenade. Since we are in one of the upper levels and most fans are watching the game, we have a lot of room. Moreover, the walk is shaded and breezy and pleasant. However, there is no place to sit. Most stadiums don’t have a lot of places to sit in what are supposed to be walkways. However, in our mood, the lack of seating seems surprising.
Since it’s close to 2:30 and even though the expected rain is not coming, I suggest we go to the museum.
Outside the park, we start retracing our steps to the curved, incline that will take us around the parking lot. Nomad the Younger is tired and can make the walk but is wishing there was another way.
Of course, I remember that Mrs. Nomad and I were at Cooperstown Dreams Park earlier in the month. At that park, there were volunteers with carts offering people rides to the parking areas. Additionally, there are similar carts at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. To be fair, the drivers in St. Louis weren’t offering patrons rides.
Since we are approaching a security guard, I figure why not ask if there is a way to get a ride up the hill. I tell Nomad the Younger to look especially weak and ask for help. The guard seems somewhat surprised like this is a new question. He doesn’t know how we can get a ride – since it was so early. However, he suggests we walk the few hundred feet back to the stadium to ask there. We did not want to retrace our steps, so I ask if he could call. He says he can’t do that either almost suggesting that he does not have any way to do so.
We trudge on. All the time, wondering what would happen if there was a real threat to this public building. It seems that tens of thousands are at risk, but what do we know.
Kauffman Stadium is not an awful place to see a baseball game. From my brief experience, I’d say it’s better than most. An excellent suburban stadium in the mold of Dodgers Stadium. I most certainly would go back. I really have to go back and get a better sense of the place.
It’s known a picturesque ballpark, and the beauty is enhanced by the fountains that stretch from right field to mid-left field. I thought they were beautiful. However, I wish that they extended all the way to left field. In so doing, they would be equally sized on either side of the scoreboard. The resulting symmetry would help to draw your attention across the area and not just to right field.
The hot dog of the day was actually a Kielbasa. I couldn’t find a dog that inspired me, the “Smoked Kielbasa” from the “Specialty Brats” stand was an excellent substitute. The young attendant taking my order asked innocently, “do you want everything on it?” “Everything” was braised red cabbage, smoked gouda, and apple mustard. Who wouldn’t want that!
I’m ranking this one high on my list. The Kielbasa had a great smokey and spicy taste. The mustard and cabbage paired really well with it. I’m not sure the smoked gouda helped – it didn’t seem to stand out against the other flavors.
The Museums at 18th & Vine
18th & Vine 1 is “internationally recognized as one of the cradles of jazz and a historic hub of African-American businesses.” 2 It was where many worked and assembled on Saturday nights.
As we drive, I remember the song “Kansas City,” which references (my memory) “18th and Vine.” One of those lyrics that sounds good but has little meaning until you do some research. Of course, once you do research, you find that the song references “12th and vine” and 12th street no longer crosses Vine since a housing project was built there.
I’m gonna be standing on the corner Of Twelfth Street and Vine With my Kansas City baby And a bottle of Kansas City wine.
Anyway, this is what used to be the beating heart of black Kansas City. The area and its businesses were instrumental (as you learn at the museum) in the Civil Rights Movement. For the romantic nomads its where Charlie Parker learned to play, where the Kansas City Monarchs were treated like royalty.
We didn’t spend enough time at the museum and didn’t even get a chance to check out the Jazz side. So I went back a few days later on my way to St. Louis and my flight to London. My post devoted to the museum is here.
We recouped at Arthur Bryant’s with a great slab of ribs an beer. The next day we made the pilgrimage to the Field of Dreams.
On Thursday, June 20th (my wedding anniversary), I started my 10,000 miles “Midsummer Odyssey” to the Midwest and London. During the 14 day’s journey, I made six stops, visited three MLB ballparks, and saw eight games. A somewhat exhausting and exhilarating adventure with Mrs. Nomad and Nomad the Younger traveling with me at times. The first stop was to see Albert Pujols homecoming in St. Louis.
The Nomads lived in St. Louis for a short time when the youngest one was an infant. So, a trip back was a bit of a homecoming. That night’s game was a more critical homecoming for Cardinals’ fans. The mighty Albert Pujols was returning to St. Louis for the first time since he joined the Angels in 2011. I planned the trip to St. Louis to coincide with the game as I wanted to see the crowd’s reaction.
Pujols will enter the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, possibly unanimously. I can’t imagine anyone voting against him. Mariano Rivera’s election last year broke the silly rule that no one can be elected into the Hall unanimously. I’m guessing Derek Jeter will also be unanimous when he is elected next year. Certainly, Pujols deserves to be a unanimous selection also.
A brief list of his accomplishments in his 19-year career1:
2001 Rookie of the Year
2005, 2008 & 2009 Most Valuable Player
2006, 2011 Member of World Champion St. Louis Cardinals
Tied with Alex Rodriguez for most seasons with 100 RBI (14)
32nd player to achieve 3,000 hits in his career
4th player to achieve 2,000 career RBI
9th player to hit 600 career home runs
Currently ranks 6th on the career home run list
4th player to record both 600 home runs and 3,000 hits
Leaving, Anger and Reconciliation
Cardinals fans were angry when he turned down a lucrative offer from the Cardinals and accepted an offer from the Angels. For example, at spring training, I saw a boy’s Pujols jersey with the number 5 covered in duct tape. My opinion was that he should continue his legacy in St. Louis and win a few more championships. After all, he had a chance to have his statue next to the great Stan Musial if he stayed. On the other hand, Pujols says that he did not feel appreciated in St. Louis. That he felt “more appreciated” by the Angels’ owners. 2
Any anger from the time Albert left had certainly dissipated by the time he returned. The organization shared a highlight reel, and the crowd showed its appreciation every chance they could. There were standing ovations each time he came to the plate. They cheered some more when he left the game, replaced for a pinch-runner in the 7th inning.3
Rain and The Old Haunts
On Friday morning, after I worked on my blog, I took a short walk to the Gateway Arch. I wanted to check it out before I picked up Nomad the Younger at the airport. She was driving in from Memphis and planned to park at the airport while we drove around Missouri and Iowa. She would pick her car up when she flew back from Des Moines on Monday.
When I arrived at the Mississippi River, I realized how much rain there had been. I saw the news and knew that they had experienced storms but didn’t understand the impact until I saw the river. It had crested its banks, and street lights and walkways were under water. The river’s dramatic height was also evident as it covered most of the Eads Bridge foundation.
During my short walk to the river, the skies started to darken, and I hurried back to the hotel. I barely made it back to the hotel before it started to rain. By the time I was in my car and pulling out of the garage, there was a downpour of epic proportions. Sheets of rain. This was the type of storm we dealt with for the next few days.
It was sunny again by the time I picked up Nomad the Younger at the airport. The skies darkened, and it rained again as we visited the house where we lived almost 30 years ago. Then we drove back downtown, stopping in Clayton to see the office building where I worked – fun memories.
We walked through a downpour during the short walk to the game. When it rained harder, we decided to duck into a restaurant and have some food and wait out the rain.
The newest (built in 2006) Busch Stadium is beautiful. A red brick affair that has the ambiance similar to SunTrust Park in Atlanta. However, SunTrust seems a bit out of place in the suburbs, while Busch feels right at home downtown. Also, and similar to SunTrust’s “Boomtown,” Bush has “Ballpark Village,” a retail and entertainment area just outside the park. The current village is smaller than Boomtown, but it is undergoing expansion to include a hotel, residential and office area. There may be more construction later.4
Clark Avenue runs between Ballpark Village and the Stadium and is closed for pedestrian-only traffic. There are bars with rooftop seating and viewing areas on the rooftops. Additionally, inside the ballpark, there are a series of patios where people congregate and watch the game. From our seats, the terraces and village rooftops seem to extend the ballpark, creating a city like atmosphere. It reminded me of a small version of the Wrigley rooftops. Although, I’m not sure that was their plan.
Thirty years ago when we visited the older Busch Stadium, one of my fondest memories was a famous statue of Stan Musial. The inscription on the statue read:
Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior … Here stands baseball’s perfect knight
It was more than appropriate that the statue was moved to the new Busch Stadium. However, on another corner, there is another series of sculptures that surrounded the old Busch Stadium.5 Until I did some research, I thought they were added when the new stadium was built. I don’t remember seeing them when I went to the old stadium in the late 1980s.
These statues are equally memorable and they underscore how the Cardinals celebrate their great history. The celebration includes the Negro Leagues and one of its former players, Cool Papa Bell. Cool Papa played for the St. Louis Stars.
Moreover, the statues seemed to resonate in the rain.
There are a few hot dogs that one can try at the stadium:
The Regular $5.00
Bacon Wrapped $10.25
Faithful readers will not be surprised to learn that the Nomad had the Bacon Wrapped hot dog. It’s a “jumbo hot dog wrapped in Applewood smoked bacon, served on a locally made jumbo bun.” You have a choice of toppings including baked beans, pico de gallo, spicy aioli, and crispy fried onions. I had the spicy aioli and crispy fried onions. It rivals the Randy Jones Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog in San Deigo – and I’m starting to notice a bacon influenced trend.
Here’s something you’ve likely never seen at a ballpark, I certainly hadn’t. In the second inning, alarms blared, and we were told to leave our seats and head for the stairs for shelter. It was a tornado warning. The players were walking around the field, seemingly not knowing what to do. Many left their seats, others did not, and the whole experience was over in a few short minutes.
The weather followed us where ever we went for the rest of the weekend. The next morning, we left for Kansas City.
After Friday’s travel and a late-night watching the Braves, my alarm chirped me awake very early Saturday morning. I needed to catch a flight to Dallas/Fort Worth for three games “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” The first two with the Rangers in Arlington and then one in Houston to see the Astros. Including Atlanta, I saw five stadiums in four days that represented a few different design concepts. One was a clear favorite.
The reason I scheduled the entire weekend in Arlington was that the Astros wouldn’t be in town until Monday. OK, why not stay in Arlington and watch another Rangers game? It would be more convenient than flying back to Houston later.
However, I must have good Karma. It poured on Saturday; the game was delayed a few hours. So much so, I lasted just a few innings. I went back on Sunday, a great day with beautiful weather.
During the four-day trip to Atlanta, Arlington, and Houston, I visited five stadiums. Each had a different “something-something.”
My first stop was Atlanta’s SunTrust Park. As mentioned in my previous post, SunTrust is a charming new ballpark where they built a community “Boomtown,” adding fun and commercial activity. Its biggest fault is that they encourage racially insensitive behavior that has no place in polite society. All other esthetics are excellent, except they are new, and the feel walking through Boomtown is like walking down Main Street at Disney. Fun, but a tad artificial.
Minute Maid Park
My last stop was Houston’s Minute Maid Park. It was quite the opposite of SunTrust as it is firmly ensconced in Downtown Houston. Moreover, it incorporates the century-old Union Station, and so it fits somewhat nicely into the neighborhood. Inside, Union Station’s main concourse is used as Minute Maid’s main lobby. Brick and other design elements help retain the Union Station flavor throughout the first floor of the stadium. The Astros didn’t need to build a Boomtown, the facilities were already there. It does not feel artificial. In short, I liked it a lot.
In the middle of the trip were three stadiums in Arlington.
The Dallas Cowboys play in AT&T Stadium – sorry, l know football should not be mentioned during baseball season. However, AT&T was near my hotel and Globe Life Park – where the Texas Rangers play. It looms over the landscape like a huge, football-shaped edifice that reminds me of an alien spaceship landing in the middle of a parking lot in suburbia. I imagine scientists, soldiers, and citizens surrounding it looking so small in comparison. They have this look of wonder. “What is it?” “Are there living beings inside?” “Can they communicate?” “Do they mean good or harm?”
Globe Life Park
If you stand in the right spot, you can slowly turn your head and scan from AT&T to Globe Life Park where the Rangers play. It has the standard retro look, a lot of brick with engraved cement ornamentation around the exterior. There are old-time gates reminiscent of Camden Yards. However, it looks as out of place as AT&T does. While AT&T is this big monstrous thing, Globe Life seems like a quaint downtown ballpark. But there is no downtown. You want to see other similar buildings around it. Buildings that look like Globe Life don’t fit if they are standing on their own in the middle of an open area. Boomtown helps Sun Trust fit into the area. The downtown and Union Station makes Minute Maid fit in. Globe Life needs something.
Actually, it doesn’t need anything, because it is being replaced at the end of the year, but the point is still appropriate.
The New One – Also Globe Life?
They’re building Globe Life’s replacement across the street. The new ballpark planned to open next year is located between Globe Life and AT&T about a mile away. It will connect to an entertainment, retail, and lodging area somewhat like Boomtown, called “Texas Live.” 1
Texas Live may help give the new stadium the context, that the current Globe Life Stadium doesn’t have. However, I sense the same artificial atmosphere that SunTrust Park has.
And then there is the juxtaposition between it and AT&T Stadium which is just odd. There will likely be no commonality between the two. Moreover, it represents the difference between football and baseball. Football is trying to represent the space age future. Baseball is beholden to its traditions.
So, “All things considered, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” Here’s how the three days went:
Saturday, Cardinals at Rangers
The only thing I don’t like about my summer-long journey is the early morning flights when I have a late afternoon or night game. Saturday was one of those days. I left my hotel in Atlanta at around 6:00AM to catch an 8:45AM flight. It’s a good 30-minute drive to the airport, and I needed to get gas and drop off the rental car.
I landed in Dallas around 11:00 AM. This was the weekend when tornados were blowing through the area. When I got outside the airport, it was cloudy, windy and looked like rain.
I worked on a blog post in the few hours I had at the hotel, and the games start time at 3:15. While I worked, it poured, stopped, and poured again. Since I had tickets for Sunday’s game, I was more than happy to hear a rain out announcement. I’m okay with Sunday doubleheaders.
Finally, it was clear that the game was going to happen, so I made my way to the hotel’s ballpark trolley stop. The little bus travels around the hotels and drops people off at the stadium. You can also return on the trolley if you would like. The trolley took a winding route to the ballpark – past AT&T Stadium and the new stadium’s construction site. As we went, the clouds started to darken. By the time we arrived, it was pouring. The rain was coming down in proverbial sheets.
So, we ran across the street to the ballpark, and even though I had a waterproof jacket and hood, I was soaked when I got inside. Then I waited for a little over two hours for the game to start.
First Impressions and Food
During the wait, I bought my hat, took my selfie and explored the park. My first opinion was that Globe Life was kind of nice. So, I didn’t understand why the new one was needed. Interestingly, the promenades are unique in that they are very open with the metal beams and supports exposed. While there are some food places built into the center area, the promenade is also scattered with kiosks. For example, the team store is in one of the booths.
“Texas Big Dogs” is in another kiosk. This is where I got a “Jumbo Hot Dog” with grilled onions. No brown mustard (I’m getting used to it), but “Sweet Baby Rays” barbecue sauce was a nice touch. My “Jumbo Hot Dog” was the first of two good hot dogs I had at Globe Life. On Sunday, I tried the “RWB Dog,” more on that one later.
The “Jumbo” had an excellent hot dog taste, was nicely grilled on a tasty bun and the onions, barbecue sauce, and the basic yellow mustard made for a nice lunch.
Later I found my way up to the second level where my seats were. It was still raining so I drowned my sorrows in a glass of bourbon at the Shock Top Bar while I waited. Truth be known, I didn’t have any “sorrows,” but it was a great day to pretend I did. And, it seemed to make the bourbon better.
Finally, the rain stopped. I grabbed a brisket sandwich – c’mon it’s Texas, you must get some barbeque – and found my outfield seat.
Frito Chili Pie
Something I was tempted to try was the “Frito Chili Pie.” For those not from Texas, the “Frito Chili Pie” is a bag of Fritos topped with chili, shredded cheese, diced onions, and jalapeños. It’s served in the Fritos bag, and you go at it with a plastic fork and a few beers.
When I go back to Arlington to see the new ballpark next year, I’m going to have to have one. It seems like perfect ballpark food. I’ll make an appointment with a gastroenterologist just in case the experience doesn’t go well.
A Short Stay
I spent a few innings in my outfield seat, still wondering why they would replace such a cute little ballpark. The park is a bit odd, with different features that mimic the “Jewel Box” or classic parks. There is a roofed home run porch in right that is like the one in old Tiger Stadium. Then there is a white frieze surrounding the upper deck like Yankee Stadium. The outfield has “nooks and crannies” like Ebbets Field. There are also arched windows like Comisky Park.2 I thought there was a little Polo Grounds influence, but what do I know?
After a few innings, I was spent and had no reason to stay. I’m not a Rangers fan, there is only so much I can eat and drink and was tired from the early start. Moreover, I had tickets for Sunday. I left and walked back to the hotel.
Sunday, Cardinals at Rangers
It was as beautiful on Sunday as it was miserable on Saturday. Sunny, warm but not hot, not a cloud in the sky. Before each game, they publicly reset a sign that lists the number of games left in the old ballpark. They have a local celebrity or former player pull the old number off, exposing the new one. As they did so on Sunday, they said of the new domed park “on days like today, the roof will be open.”
I walked over early to explore the parts of the stadium that I missed the day before and have my scorecard filled out in time for the 2:00 start.
The Duke Snider Story Reenacted
My father used to tell a story about how he and I met Duke Snider in a San Francisco hotel. I was four and a half so I can’t say I remember the event. If it happened, it was 57 years ago. However, if this makes sense, I remember remembering it. When I was younger, I was pretty sure it happened.
The story goes that my dad saw one of his Dodger heroes and introduced me “Raymond, this is Duke Snider.” Duke bent down, shook my little hand, and said: “I’m number four.” In turn, I responded, “I’m four and a half.” My father often told the story for the rest of his life.
So, almost 60 years later, I’m walking to a ballpark that had not been built when the story took place. As I’m walking, I see a family. Dad is holding his young son’s hand. The son is wearing an Albert Pujols St. Louis Cardinal jersey with the famous number 5 on the back. How did he get the jersey? I wonder. The boy wasn’t even born when Pujols played in St. Louis. So, as I pass, I say, “Interesting shirt.” The father responds with something like “yes, a classic.” Instead of asking about where the shirt came from, I ask the boy, “are you number 5?” The boy responds, “I’m four,” as he holds up four fingers.
In baseball, some things never change. It used to be fathers and sons going to games. Now it’s any combination of parents and kids, but the experience is the same.
The Shannon Stone Statue
Of course, and unfortunately, there is another side to the father and son saga. At the Home Plate Entrance is the statue in honor of Shannon Stone and his son. Stone is the man who accidentally fell to his death when he leaned over a railing to catch a ball tossed to him by Rangers player, Josh Hamilton. A sad and senseless tragedy. 3
I’m not sure what to think of it. Stone needs to be remembered, but it’s hard not to believe that the statue in some way inadvertently trivializes his death. I’m left with feelings about park safety, life is short, live life to its fullest, etc. None of these opinions represent the extent of the tragedy.
Now I Understand the Replacement
I had a better chance to see more of Globe Life now that it wasn’t raining. First, I made my way to the centerfield seating area where there is a bit of a food court. In comparison, the newer ballparks have bigger areas and thus more revenue opportunities and are more comfortable for the fans. This was my first sense that the ballpark might have outgrown its usefulness.
Later, when I arrived at my seat, I understood the issue, at least from my point of view. I was on the third base side, under an overhand and realized that there were poles that could block one’s perspective. Even in the retro ballpark era, how in the world can you open a stadium in 1994 that has poles? It was like I was in the first iteration of Yankee Stadium when I was very young.
Of course, The Rangers likely have a different reason. They are likely building their new stadium because of the revenue possibilities that Texas Live offers. Additionally, the dome will improve the chances of getting fans into the ballpark on hot Texas afternoons. Hopefully, there won’t be any seats with views obstructed by poles.
Nolan Ryan and The RWB Dog
Out in the centerfield area is a statue of Nolan Ryan waving his cap. An excellent place for families to have their picture taken. It’s a testament to Ryan’s longevity and skill that his number is retired in Arlington and Houston.
Near Ryan’s statue is one of the American Dog stands home of the famous RWB (Red White and Blue) Dog. A regular size dog in a reasonable bun with a red pepper relish, chopped onions, and a blue pickle relish. Surprisingly good – I didn’t even think of mustard, although I did wonder about blue pickle relish.
As always, I assume that there are better writers than I who report on the games I see, so I don’t spend too much time writing about them. Moreover, I’m having problems releasing posts in a timely fashion, so I doubt a game from mid-May is interesting in mid-June. The review of the game is here.
However, it was exciting:
The Cardinals jumped ahead in the first scoring two runs on a Paul DeJong double. In the bottom of the inning, Shin-Soo Choo homered to make the score 2 -1.
Hunter Pence doubled in the bottom of the fourth to tie the score 2 – 2.
The score remained tied until the bottom of the eighth when Danny Santana homered. I had the old “Okay, too bad Cardinals, three outs and the Rangers will win, what’s for dinner?” feeling.
Then, in the ninth inning, Dexter Fowler smacked a home run to the short porch in right. Tie score, extra innings.
In the top of the tenth, the Cardinals went ahead on a sacrifice fly, Cardinals 4 – Rangers 3.
The Rangers promptly came back and scored two in the bottom of the tenth to win the game.
Everyone went home happy, and I was off to Houston.
Monday, Chicago White Sox at Astros
Early the next morning, I Ubered back to the airport to pick up a rental car and headed over to Houston. It’s roughly a 4-hour drive. I had to deal with some traffic, so it took a bit longer, but I made it to the hotel in good shape. A couple of hours later, I walked over to the ballpark.
In contrast to the competitive affair on Sunday in Arlington, Monday’s game in Houston was an example of pitching dominance. The Astro’s Brad Peacock scattered six hits and shut the White Sox out. The final score was 3 – 0. You can read more about it here.
The Park and The Food
As I said in the introduction, I really enjoyed Minute Maid Park. I like how it fits into the neighborhood and how it incorporates 100-year-old Union Station. So, I spent a couple of hours walking around the park. I did the full circuit around the park, enjoying the atmosphere, the hall of fame, and murals on the wall. All the while, I was trying to decide what to eat.
In prepping for my visit, I read about the “Ken Hoffman Dog” and thought why not. Ken Hoffman is a columnist who “covers the quirky side of Houston.” 4 I’m not sure why they named a hot dog after Mr. Hoffman. Moreover, I didn’t love the dog. It’s very basic and pre-made, served in a plastic container, pretty dull. I ranked it toward the bottom of my list.
There’s a lot of good food at Minute Maid, and I, unfortunately, fell into this no man’s hot dog land. My choices were either the elaborate dogs or the basic Ken Hoffman dog. So, to keep with my hot dog tradition I tried the Ken Hoffman dog; this time it didn’t work out. That’s baseball.
I made up for the Ken Hoffman Dog diversion with a chopped beef sandwich – yes more barbecue, and on the way out some soft ice cream.
My Houston experience was somewhat like my San Diego experience. I loved the ballpark, it’s in a cool part of town, and the team is fun to watch. It’s the kind of place I hope to return to with Mrs. Nomad and spend a few days.
My next stop was Baltimore and a whole different set of issues.
Atlanta’s SunTrust Park was the eighth ballpark I visited. By the end of the weekend, I had been to ten. As I write this piece, I’ve just returned from Baltimore, so now my number is eleven. I rank SunTrust third behind San Diego’s Petco Park and Baltimore’s Camden Yards out of the eleven.
There is a lot to like about SunTrust.
SunTrust Park and The Battery
SunTrust is a pretty and comfortable brick ballpark with good sightlines and food. Additionally, it is connected to “The Battery” a commercial area built along with the stadium that offers bars, restaurants, and hotels. It’s a great reason to avoid Atlanta’s horrible traffic and go to the park early for dinner and a few beers.
The combination of the stadium and The Battery is very profitable for the Braves. In the park’s first year, revenue grew by 47% to $124M. 1
The area is also suitable for out of town visitors. I stayed in a hotel just a short 15-minute walk to SunTrust. I could have stayed closer, but the hotels in the Battery are not cheap.
Celebrating Team History
They do history right at SunTrust. It has a Hall of Fame area with a statue of Hank Aaron in the center. Hank is next to a “sculpture” of the number 755 built out of 755 baseball bats. 755 is, of course, the real – my opinion 2 home run record. It also displays the Braves’ 1995 World Series trophy. It is the only championship trophy awarded to a team from Atlanta. Like the Dodgers that sell Brooklyn hats, the Braves sell Milwaukee hats in the Team Store.
Food – Hot Dogs
The food is good too. With many local restaurants represented at the ballpark, I had my requisite hot dog at H&F Burger and was pleased. H&F has another location in the Ponce City Market, near midtown Atlanta. It’s grilled, with a good bun and I added onions and relish. There is no brown mustard, but Atlanta is not alone in that area.
Additionally, “Taste of Braves Country” the Braves offer delicacies influenced by different parts of the South. So, after my hot dog, I tried the Pimento Cheese Patty Melt, evidently a staple in South Carolina. This is a grilled hamburger patty with melted pimento cheese on marble rye toast. Never heard of pimento cheese? That discovery is worth a trip to the South – book now.
The Team is Good!
A visit to the park does not just entail history, food, and beer. They also play baseball there. After, “tanking” for a few years they have amassed a group of great young players that will be a force to be reckoned with for a long time.
I hear the organist play “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” when one of the visiting players comes to the plate. It seemed odd to hear the song with these lyrics in the heart of the old Confederacy:
‘Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive By May the tenth, Richmond had fell, it’s a time I remember, oh so well
Of course, the tradition is to play recorded walkup songs for each player entrance, and they do so for the Braves. They handle the visitors a bit different. When each visitor comes to the plate, the organist plays songs that are cleverly chosen based on the players’ names. A fan behind me said that it can take him an entire four-game series to figure out the connection for each player.
Why “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down?” It took me a while, but finally, I realized that the honored player was Lorenzo Cain. The song starts with the lyric “Virgil Cain is my name,,,” Obscure and fun.
So Why Is SunTrust Third on My List?
SunTrust should be an excellent place to have fun and watch a ballgame for a long time, so why is it third on my list?
It’s third because Petco Park and Orioles Park at Camden Yards are pretty darn cool. From my point of view, there are reasons why SunTrust is weaker. I expect it will drop a few places on my list as my journey proceeds. Here are a few issues I have with SunTrust:
The Battery only approximates an existing commercial district like the historic Gaslamp District next to Petco. I like the originals better. Orioles Park has a similar area incorporating the historic warehouse on Eutaw Street behind the outfield. Moreover, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is just a few blocks away for pre and post-game use.
The view from SunTrust consists mainly of the new hotels in the Battery. The others have better views. Petco is near the bay and has a beautiful view of the city. You can’t see Baltimore’s Inner Harbor from Orioles Park, but the warehouse offers a beautiful setting.
SunTrust’s food and drink are possibly better than Orioles Park, but Petco has more craft beers and better food choices.
However, the main reason that I can’t rank SunTrust higher on my list is Braves management’s embrace of the “tomahawk chop.” It’s why I would never recommend a visit and the reason I likely won’t return.
The “Tomahawk Chop”
Branding the Braves
Welcome to the phenomenon that has accompanied, if not lifted, the Braves into a 2-1 lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Championship Series. Welcome to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, alias the Chop Shop.
Most know how the chop is done. The stadium plays a war chant associated with the way “Indians” were depicted in old western movies. The fans chant along and swing their right arms from the elbow in an up and down motion. This motion approximates the way one would swing a tomahawk if they were killing their foe. Stadium lit signs, foam tomahawks, lit iPhones (called the “iChop”) and a guy pounding a huge drum accompany the spectacle.
The chop is synonymous with the Braves brand. The term “chop” is used throughout SunTrust and Braves nation. There is “The Chop House,” a restaurant in the park near the associated “Chop House Gate.” There is the “Chop Shop” a blog devoted to all things Braves. The Terrapin Beer Company from nearby Athens, Georgia offers a “session version” of their “Hopsecutioner IPA” with a baseball twist. In honor of the Braves, they age the Hopsecutioner over wood chips made from Mizuno bat chips and call the result the “CHOPsecutioner.” Of course, the Chopsecutioner is available in the stadium.
What’s Wrong With the Chop?
The tomahawk chop and war chant have little basis in Native American history. Native Americans used the tomahawk as a weapon but also revered it as a sacred object. Europeans and Native Americans scalped their enemies in the Colonial era, but it was not a widespread practice. The spread of the popular association of Native Americans with mock savagery probably dates to the early 20th century. It was likely fueled by the Boy Scouts who began using Native American-inspired terms and images in its curriculum. The principal chief of the Cherokee Nation called the use of the gesture “offensive and racist” when Senator Scott Brown’s staffers used it during the campaign against Elizabeth Warren. 5
The chop does nothing to help baseball. Most of all, it puts the good people of Atlanta in a poor light.
I mean this sincerely. I have terrific friends who live in and/or are from Atlanta who plan to return. They don’t like the chop and don’t deserve the scorn that the chop engenders in many of us. However, I’m also not naive enough to assume that there are no Braves fans who like it and participate. 6
Random Events and a Sad Irony
That a team named the Braves plays in Atlanta is very accidental and sadly ironic. That’s not to say that Atlanta’s baseball team was an accident. Atlanta had the necessary qualifications to win an MLB franchise by the mid-1960s. Placing a team in the Deep South was a good way for baseball to expand its influence and popularity.
However, that team might not have been the team from Boston by way of Milwaukee. Moreover, the Boston club tried many names before settling on the “Braves.” Other names that fit the Boston area were possible. Finally, the chop migrated from Florida State University, where it originated because of only one player. One out of the thousands that played for the club.
What is not accidental is the corresponding racist imagery, including the chop that the Braves adopted. All are a sad reflection of our country’s normalization of Native American bigotry. To their credit, the Braves ended many of these practices. It’s to their shame that they allowed the chop to become such a big part of their brand.
Moreover, it’s so sadly ironic that a team named “the Braves” with all the accompanying imagery is based in Atlanta. So close to the area where the “Trail of Tears” began. I doubt anyone thought about the juxtaposition of name and place when the Braves moved to Atlanta.
The “Trail of Tears”
In the 1830s, Eastern Woodlands Indians of the Southeast region of the United States were forced to leave their homes. These nations included Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole. All were forced to travel (mostly on foot) to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.
Estimates based on tribal and military records suggest that approximately 100,000 indigenous people were forced from their homes during that period, which is sometimes known as the removal era, and that some 15,000 died during the journey west. 7
Georgia was one of nine states that worked to remove Native Americans from their land.
Atlanta is quite close to the so-called “removal area.” Additionally, the Braves’ Class A affiliate, plays in Rome, GA which was on one of the Trail’s “pickup routes.”8 Rome is just a short 68 miles from SunTrust Park.
How the Braves got to Atlanta
The team named the “Braves” existence in Atlanta is the result of some random and unplanned events:
For their first 40 or so years in Boston, the names used names including “Red Stockings,” “Red Caps,” “Beaneaters,” “Doves,” “Rustlers,” and “Bees.
The team adopted the name the “Braves” in 1912 after their new owner borrowed Tammany Hall’s 9 Indian Chief symbol. 10
The Braves could have become the “Brewers” historic name of Milwaukee’s baseball teams when they moved there. 11
The Braves were successful in Milwaukee and didn’t need to leave. 12
Atlanta courted the Kansas City Athletics who may have moved there if the Braves had not. 13
In a more evolved political climate, the Braves may have felt compelled to change their name when they moved.
If Deion Sanders played for any other team, he could not have introduced 14 Florida State’s Tomahawk Chop to Atlanta. 15
The chop was introduced in Atlanta, just as they were becoming competitive. In so doing, the chop took additional importance. 16
The Shame of it All
The shameful part of the story is that the Braves organization adopted the chop and made it part of their brand.
Moreover, they instigate the chop. I stayed through the seventh inning stretch and by my count the crowd was prompted to chop at least eight times. It started when the Braves came to bat in the first inning. Other times when the Braves were rallying or threatening to rally the call to chop began. At one point the lights when down, signs flashed and the crowd waved their flight lit phones. I was told this is called the “iChop.” Fans started a wave or two, but never the chop.
One would have hoped that the team had never adopted the practice. It follows that a good time to end their involvement was when they built SunTrust Park. The Braves could have quietly decided not to put up the flashing tomahawk and chop related signs, not sell chop merchandise, and ask vendors to remove the chop branding. Moreover, they would never prompt the fans to chop. Instead, assume fans that wanted to do the chop would do so and others would follow just like fans start a wave. If they had done so, the practice might have died out over time.
However, the Braves reaction to the chop in 1991 was:
“We’ve had a few complaints that the tomahawk is demeaning to Native Americans, but we consider it a proud expression of unification and family.” –
Jim Schultz, the Braves’ director of public relations 17
How Do You Put the Toothpaste Back in The Tube?
Now it’s hard to stop the chop. As the saying goes, “It’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.” Any declared end to the chop would face a fan rebellion and “Save the Chop” protests. Fans don’t like to be told what to do and don’t like change.
Major League Baseball is also complicit. Last week commissioner Rob Manfred announced that SunTrust would host the 2021 All-Star Game. In his comments, he said:
There is no better-managed organization in baseball than the Braves. It’s been true for a very long time, and it makes it a lot easier for us to give them an event
“No better-managed..” only if you forget that the Braves include this display of racial intensity in their brand.
People evolve. I’m old enough to remember when the Braves, Indians, Redskins and other teams names and behaviors seemed OK. For example, the “Saltine Warrior” was the Syracuse University mascot when I arrived for my freshman. When I was a junior in 1978 the university banned its use.19 It seemed odd – it doesn’t now. People evolve, organizations should too.
Beautiful SunTrust Park and the good people of Atlanta deserve better.
My next stop was Texas for games in Arlington and Houston.
Monday morning, I headed back from Mexico. I flew nonstop from Monterrey to Los Angeles. When we landed, I promptly rented a car and headed to San Diego, about a three-hour drive. The next morning, after I spent a lovely evening in Petco Park, I drove back to Los Angeles. That night I visited the venerable Dodger Stadium. No offense to Dickens, but it is somewhat a “tale of two cities” – certainly two ballparks. Dodger Stadium is one of the oldest ballparks, and Petco Park is one of the newest ones. Both have their charms.
It’s also not “The best of times and the worst of times,” in terms of the teams. The Dodgers have won the National League pennant the last two years and want to go back and finally win it all. On the other hand, the Padres have experienced bad times but are rapidly improving. They have a lot of good young ballplayers and are starting to win. Let’s call it “The best of times and the getting better times.”
Petco Park opened in 2004 and is one of the youngest ballparks. Only six are older. It is a gem!
The Gaslamp District
The park is situated near the harbor and the Historic Gaslamp Quarter which is full of bars and restaurants. An excellent place to meet friends and have drinks and dinner before the game and drinks after it. It is advertised as the “West Coast’s premier entertainment district” with “rich Victorian architecture and history.1” Additionally, there is a pedestrian promenade that connects the area with Petco’s “Park at the Park” a vast area behind the stadium. This area is where ticketed fans can hang out and relax. It’s also where a beautiful statue of Tony Gwynn is located.
A few things that I like in a ballpark:
The park’s look and feel are similar to the surrounding area. Petco’s exterior isn’t Victorian, by any means. In fact, its sandstone and stucco exterior was patterned after the sandy colored San Diego cliffs and beaches.2 However, it seems to fit the area nicely. Additionally, incorporating the Western Metal Supply Co. warehouse in the design helps to incorporate the surrounding area.
The park incorporates a commercial district nearby where fans can hang out before and after the game. The Gaslamp District provides more than enough bars and restaurants.
The commercial area should precede the ballpark. Better that, than an area built when the park is. Turning the concept into a mall of sorts. Those built with the stadium are better than nothing but not as good as if the area exists already.
I stayed at the Horton Grand Hotel in the heart of the District. It was inexpensive and a quick walk to the ballpark and harbor. The room was a suite, with a bedroom, a sitting room and bath. Not bad for less than $200, but I was only there for the day. This is a place that I would like to return to with Mrs. Nomad. We could spend a week experiencing the Gaslamp District, other points of interest, excellent restaurants, and some visits to Petco.
Honoring Padres History
Petco also offers a nod to San Diego’s vast baseball history. Yes, there are the retired numbers as all ballparks have. These are displayed on the stands behind home plate and just above the “Jerry Coleman Broadcast Center.” The broadcast center is another acknowledgment to the team’s history.
Jerry Coleman played second base for the Yankees in the 1950s. He was a Yankee broadcaster for seven years in the 1960s and then the Angels. In 1972, he started a 42-year stint as the radio voice of the Padres. That is except for 1980 when he managed the team.
They also have a Hall of Fame, again, most ballparks do. But Petco’s is prominently placed near the left field entrance off the pedestrian promenade. Over the entrance are paintings of Randy Jones, Dave Winfield, Tony Quinn and Trevor Hoffman (I think).
Also in the plaza is the “Padres in Cooperstown” area. The area is devoted to National Hall of Fame members associated with the Padres. Remember, the Padres were members of the Pacific Coast League for a long time before they were awarded a major league franchise. Nice to see a plaque for San Diego native, Ted Williams.
Food, Craft Beer & A Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog
I’ve seen good and bad reviews about Petco’s food and didn’t try enough to comment. However, I was intrigued. There are restaurants of many denominations throughout the ballpark many local outposts. Also some bars as well.
A few of the local outposts offer bacon-wrapped hot dogs. Since I was focused on the “Hot Dog Challenge” I asked around and found one at Randy Jones barbecue. It’s a 1/2 pound dog with a somewhat crusty bun and the optional grilled onions. Guess what? They have brown mustard at the condiment stand! Yes, this one is at the top of my list.
Rookie Chris Paddack and Jacob DeGrom hooked up for one of those great pitching duels. DeGrom gave up two runs over the seven innings he pitched. Paddack was better, shutting out the Mets for 7 2/3 innings. Paddack has a level of intensity that is difficult to describe. He has these fierce eyes and sticks his jaw as he stomps to and from the mound. The game was not as close as the 4 – 0 score suggests. Paddack and the Padres were always in control. You can read more about the game here.
Venerable Dodger Stadium
I don’t think you can say “Dodger Stadium” without adding “venerable.” It doesn’t sound right without the word “venerable” included. The stadium opened in 1962 and is the third oldest ballpark in the major leagues. Only Boston’s Fenway Park and Chicago’s Wrigley Field are older.
When you approach any other ballpark, they stand out like proud edifices to the great game. It’s not that way at Dodger Stadium. Unless you approach the stadium from the outfield side, you only see gardens, stairs, and signs. When you approach the stadium from the front, you enter at the level that your seats are at and then you see it. The beautiful stadium is spread out in all its glory below you.
There are palm trees and views of the San Gabriel mountains past the outfield fence. From my perch in right field, I could see a series of homes either built into or on top of the ridge behind the stadium.
The outfield bleachers and grandstands are covered with wavy rooftops that instill a 1960’s feel. This feeling is reinforced by the murals on the walls and the font used in the signage.
Where’s the Recognition of Dodger History?
While it’s a beautiful baseball stadium and a fun place to see a game, I didn’t sense the park’s glorious history. Remember, this park is where Koufax and Drysdale had their greatest success. This is also where Kirk Gibson hit his dramatic World Series home run in 1988. Frankly, Dodger Stadium was home to eight World Series, but you wouldn’t know it. It is also home to twelve no-hitters.
However, it’s interesting that in the merchandise store they sell Brooklyn “B” hats along with the now classic “L.A.” ones. I say interesting, because the last time I was at (now) Oracle Park, I thought it would be fun to get a New York Giants cap – yes, the baseball team. They didn’t have them.
There are also signs that celebrate the longest rivalry in baseball – the Dodgers vs. Giants. I did a double take – forgetting for the moment that they have been playing each other for a long time. That is if you consider Brooklyn, Flatbush, Coogan’s Bluff, etc. when discussing the rivalry.
The Park is Restrictive
Part of the problem is that it’s a hard stadium to get around in. The design restricts you to the seat level that your tickets are in. 3 I Ubered in and entered at the top of the stadium and was able to walk around the entire level. However, then I took the stairs down to my level and didn’t get a sense of the rest of the ballpark. It’s easier when you enter on the ground floor, and the stadium is designed to show you its best features. That’s the joy of the new.
So I don’t know how much of a Hall of Fame there is and didn’t remember to see the Jackie Robinson statue which is outside in the Left Field Reserve Plaza. 4 Probably a long walk from where I was in Right Field.
In keeping with its “venerable” status, Dodger Stadium has not entered the 21st century in the food arena. Again, I may have missed something. But walking into Dodger Stadium is like going back in time to when a dog and a beer was sufficient.
Actually, with some post-game research, I found that there was more food than just the Dodger Dog and Mexican food like the beef burrito I had after my Dodger Dog adventure. However, as I write this, I wonder how a slightly overweight, and happy eater like myself didn’t notice the other choices. So while there are more choices than I realized, it’s still a relatively “skinny” menu compared to other places. I should point out that they are competitive in the alcohol area. But, all in all, Citi Field, Petco Park, and many others have Dodger Stadium beat.
The Famous Dodger Dog
In keeping with my goal of getting a representative hot dog at every stadium, I tried the famous Dodger Dog. The Dodger Dog is so famous and has such a cult following that there is a Dodger Dog statue at the stadium.
When the stadium opened, Thomas Arthur wanted to capture some of the “old-school Brooklyn charm.5” So he created the Dodger Dog that is “inspired” by those that you can get at Coney Island. I love this next part.
New York’s Coney Island was known for their “footlong franks,” and while Arthur planned to borrow the moniker, the actual hot dog measured in at ten inches. To stop the inevitable customer complaints about those two missing inches, the Dodger Dog moniker came to Arthur’s mind, and L.A. has never looked back.
I’m a proud New Yorker and son of a proud Brooklyn Dodger fan. As such, it’s nice to know that the best that L.A. could do was two inches shorter than New York.
Moreover, they offer a thing called the “Doyer Dog.” “An homage to the Spanish pronunciation of the team name.” This version is actually larger than the traditional dog and “topped with chili, nacho cheese, chopped tomatoes, onions, and jalapenos.6” If you agree that the term “doyer dog” is racially insensitive, you will love my next piece about Atlanta’s “chop.”
Is The Dodger Dog Worth The Hype?
So how is the Dodger Dog? Most would say – “not so good.” New Yorker’s interpretation of the phrase is “sucks.” I have little to nothing good to say about the experience except that I found some brown mustard. For the most part, it does not meet my criteria for a good hot dog. It’s a pre-prepared dog – you pick up your foil-wrapped bundle at concessions stands. Including the “Dodger Dog Express.” The dog is tasty enough, but if it is grilled, it still has no char, no crunch. The bun is steamed, no crust. Condiments are OK, and yes there is brown mustard.
I ate my requisite Dodger Dog and then went off to find something substantial to eat and had a pretty good Beef Burrito.
The Dodgers proved why they are one of the best teams in the game. In contrast, the Braves displayed the relative weakness of the N.L. East. Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched a complete game 4-hit shutout and no-hit the Braves for five innings. Justin Turner hit three home runs. The Dodgers walloped the Braves 8 – 0. You can read more about the game here.
Where else but in L.A. can you see KISS frontman, Gene Simmons sing the National Anthem. I caught it on a video monitor as I raced to my seat.
Why I Watch
And then there was Cody Bellinger in right field.
It’s the top half of the seventh inning and there are two out. The Braves have Ozzie Albies on first, and Ronald Acuna Jr. is at bat. They both are fast, and Acuna Jr. is the reigning Rookie of the Year. They’re the kind of players you can draft if you lose a lot of games for a few years.
The Dodgers are ahead 5 – 0, Ryu is “lights out” so it’s not like I think the Braves can come back, but you never know. Acuna Jr. launches a line drive to right field, and Bellinger starts to run to his left in pursuit of the ball. Since Acuna Jr. bats right-handed, the ball has some spin that keeps pushing it away from Bellinger. My mind starts to race as I imagine the others do as well. Will Bellinger get to and catch the ball? If he doesn’t, how far will it roll? Albies will score, but where will Acuna end up – on third, or will he score too 7 Finally, and right below me, Bellinger reaches across his body and a few inches above the turf. The ball nestles into his glove as he tumbles head over feet 8.
The suspense, tension, and brilliant play are why I watch.
Next, I was off to Atlanta’s new SunTrust Park, where I encountered a pretty good hot dog, a Pimento cheese patty and the infamous ”Chop.”
Part of my goal for this summer is to experience as much baseball as possible. As such, I couldn’t pass up the Mexico Series. This year, MLB scheduled three, two-game, weekend series in Monterrey, Mexico. My two days in Mexico was the last of the three. The Angels were playing the Astros, so I got the chance to see Mike Trout a few more times as well.
The morning after my visit to Angels Stadium, I drove back to Los Angeles for the flight to Monterrey. I bought my plane tickets early so I could get the only nonstop flight on Delta. And I only fly Delta because the points get me perks.
I have to say, I learned a few things on the trip. The good people of Mexico people have a sense of humor and are tolerant — I’m very grateful for their help. I had a great time and saw a great example that “baseball is like a liquid.”
So what did I learn?
Understand The Language – Even a Little Bit
Silly me, I just got on a plane with a passport, camera, and iPhone and assumed that the Mexican would cater to my inability to speak the language. I jokingly tweeted 1 about my lack of knowledge in Spanish and said I needed to prep better for the London trip.
It was difficult to order at a restaurant, take an Uber or cab and so many more things. It’s a good experience to have if you want to understand what refugees experience when they come to the U.S.
Research is Good, as Well
It would have been a good idea to research and find restaurants that made traditional Mexican food but accommodated English speakers. I didn’t do that.
Moreover, I didn’t read about the stadium rules and learn that cameras were not allowed. I can get into ballparks with my camera and a short lens (55mm) and a small zoom lens (70mm to 250mm). Occasionally, I bring my long lens that extends to 400mm, and I can see players up close.
So, I showed up with my small sling camera bag and security told me “no cameras!” What to do? I found an English speaking guy who worked with MLB security, and we discussed it. My suave, New York communication style did not change anyone’s opinion. The result was, I couldn’t come in with any cameras, and there was no place to store them. So I quickly jumped into an Uber and made a 45-minute round trip back to the hotel. I had a good Uber driver who waited while I went to my room and dropped off the camera. Luckily, I get to stadiums early, so I had time.
Finally, I had to continue my tradition of buying the home team’s cap at the stadium and taking a selfie in the stadium. To that point, I have a new page, devoted to the subject that is almost ready to launch. It has a selfie at each game with a different cap – kind of cool.
I needed my Mexico hat! However, I had to wait about 45 minutes when I finally got inside the stadium to get into the merchandise store. I should have known better and realized that everyone would want a Mexico Series cap or two. So I waited, waited, and waited. By the time I got inside the shop, the fitted hat I wanted wasn’t available in my size.
I know better now. For London, I’ll buy online before I leave or at the merchandise store, that was set up in another part of the city.
Baseball in Mexico
Estadio de Béisbol Monterrey
The Baseball Stadium in Monterrey, also known as Sultan Place, opened in 1990, but it seemed older when I visited. It is the home of the Mexican League team, Monterrey Sultanes.
The cement structure, handrails, concession stands, hallways just made it seem older than roughly 30 years old. MLB and other websites 2 say that the stadium holds 27,000, but the Monterrey Sultanes web site says 22,061. 3 Either way, the Sultan Palace is a cute if somewhat utilitarian ballpark. The fans seem to have fun.
The city of Monterrey is 1,772 ft. above sea level. The only MLB stadium that is higher is Coors Field in Denver. 4 I’m not sure if it was the climate or the altitude but the ball seems to carry well. Frankly, what do I know? I was up in the third level (“tank”) and it was just my impression that batted balls seemed to carry. I later found this quote that confirms my suspicions “it rewards hard contact on the ground or in the air. 5
The upper deck in the stadium is very steep. My seat (both days) was in the second to last row of the upper deck, so I had a bit of a climb. My thought was, what will it take for me to go down and up again. I mean how bad will I need to pee to make that dangerous trip.
However, then I turned around and saw the view! The view is beautiful, possibly the prettiest view from a ballpark that I have ever seen. The view of San Francisco Bay from (what they now call) Oracle Park is excellent, but the view in Monterrey is much different and better. Tall mountains surround the ballpark.
The Mountains of Monterrey
When I looked to my left from my seat a little past third base, I saw the Cerro de la Silla over the left field fence. It’s tallest point, Pico Norte (North Peak) is 5,740 ft. tall. 6
As I panned to my right, I saw the Cerro de Chipinque in center and right field, over the scoreboard. Its elevation is 7,313 ft. tall. 7
Finally, way to the right and almost behind home plate is the Cerro de las Mitras standing 6,752 ft. tall. 8
Not something you see every day at the old local ballyard.
Surprisingly, the games weren’t sold out. Approximately 18,000 attended each day. Moreover, it’s not clear how many local fans attended as opposed to American tourists. It seemed like many people from Houston made the less than 500-mile drive to Monterrey and cheer for their team. On Saturday, the people sitting next to me were from Houston and bilingual – which for me was very helpful.
Whatever their origin, the atmosphere was electric and festive. People were celebratory. It didn’t hurt that the Astros beat the Angels 14 – 2 on Saturday and 10 – 4 on Sunday.
The fans were very enthusiastic between innings with the normal scoreboard activities “kiss cam” etc. However, they did one I had never seen before and love. It’s called “Simba Cam.” They play the music from the Lion King while fans hold up their children above and in front of them. Just like the movie. Of course, the camera pans and captures the action on the scoreboard. It looked like fun, and here I was not speaking the language with no toddler to display. I almost thought about renting one. However, that may not have gone over well.
I didn’t eat much but was fascinated by the differences between the concession practices in American ballparks and Mexico. Vendors tend to sell packaged, finished products in the U.S. Not so in Monterrey, where they assemble the food in front of the fans.
For example, I saw a food vendor carrying a tray with six containers filled with various nuts. I guess that the fan requests their preferred assortment, and the vendor puts it together. He likely adds a nice shot of chili powder that is prevalent in Monterrey.
Speaking of chili powder, the seasoning (possibly mixed with a few others) is dispensed from a squeeze bottle commonly used for syrup. Yes, they have syrup bottles filled with chili powder that they use as needed.
The chili powder is used everywhere, including on corn chips. So the vendor walks around with a tray filled with bags of Fritos and other types of chips. When a fan orders one, he opens the bag and “whoosh” he dispenses another big puff of chili powder.
They serve beer in big plastic cups that hold two bottles worth. The vendor holds two bottles, uses a bottle opener two open both at once and then pours them into the cup. They do this in the stands. Moreover, the bottles are carried around in giant metal tubs and were placed at the bottom of the stairs and halfway up the stands. The vendors would run up and down the stairs, get the beers, deliver to the patron and get paid. Much different than a vendor carrying a plastic tub of beer cans.
Mangos, Chamoy, Chili Powder and Lime
My favorite food was a revelation. The vendor walks through the park with 10-ounce plastic cups filled with various fruits, mangos, pineapple, and possibly strawberries. The fan has a choice of three toppings: chili powder, chamoy, and freshly squeezed lime juice. Chamoy is a sauce made of pickled fruit that “will make your summer sweet, tangy, and a little spicy.” 9 I didn’t understand the experience, but “Alex” the very accommodating, bilingual, Astro fan sitting to my left explained it to me. When it was my turn to order, a woman in his group said I should get all three toppings. Who was I to argue?
The vendor grabbed a cup of mangos cut into cubes and squeezed some Chamoy from a plastic syrup bottle. Then he grabbed the ubiquitous chili powder squeeze bottle and added a nice shot of spice. Finally, he took out a lime squeezer and squeezed fresh lime juice over the entire concoction.
I dutifully mixed it all around a took a taste. There was the fruity mango taste, mixed with sweet and sour, spicy with a hint of lime. Fantastic on a hot day with a cold beer.
It’s something I’m going to try at home. I’ve already ordered my Chamoy.
The Sultanes Monster Dog
An excellent dog and possibly a famous one as it was part of the 2019 MLB Food Fest in Los Angeles. 10 With that said, I’m not exactly sure what I ate, and internet research only goes so far.
The dog was long and thick – clearly a “jumbo” dog – served on a hearty roll. It was topped with a creamy, spicy sauce and some crunchy things – bacon bits? The pictures on the internet tend to show a dog smothered in cheese sauce. These were available but not what I got.
It’s a grilled dog, so it was crunchy with some char, and it had a spicy taste. Further research indicates that it may be Chorizo sausage or have Chorizo mixed in. I think it was the latter.
It’s served with some potato chips, and cut in half, so it’s easier to manipulate. There are additional condiments, but no brown mustard, and I didn’t feel the need to have much more.
There is no need to repeat what good baseball writers have done. Here are links to a recap for each game if you want to read about them. May 4th/Game 1, May 5th/ Game 2. Here are a few things that struck me as impressive:
I was surprised to see Pujols playing first base in the first game. I thought he only DH’d and no longer played the field. In that game, he hit a home run for his 1,999 RBI. Only four other hitters in history have 2,000 RBI – Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Cap Anson, and Alex Rodriguez. Although, I would have stayed anyway, the chance to see him get his 2,000th was another incentive.
Harvey is an ex-Met, so his performance interested me. As many know, he suffered a series of debilitating injuries. He missed the entire 2014 after Tommy John surgery. In 2016, he suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome, which required surgery to remove his first rib. In 2017 he didn’t pitch well and missed time due to a stress fracture in his scapula. 11
Last year, his pitching never improved, and he landed in Cincinnati after he and the Mets disagreed on an improvement plan. After showing some promise with the Reds in 2018, he signed a free agent deal with the Angels.
In the fifth inning on Sunday, he hit Robinson Chirinos with one out. After Adremys Diaz flew out for the second out, George Springer singled, and then Harvey walked Jose Altuve. At that point, Manager Brad Asmus replaced him, with Cam Bedrosian. Removing Harvey surprised me since he was pitching well, throwing strikes, and hadn’t thrown a lot of pitches. Bedrosian’s first two pitches to Alex Bregman were balls. Possibly feeling the pressure to get a strike, Bedrosian grooved the next pitch. Bregman hit it over the centerfield wall, and that was pretty much the ballgame.
Another ex-Met, Hansel Robles, is now the Angels closer. Robles was ineffective with the Mets and released. I was surprised to find he had resurfaced in Los Angeles.
More surprising is Robles’ absurd entrance routine. They play the “undertaker theme” over an ominous video, with a white horse and flower petals. Yeah, I don’t get it either. Moreover, they play the gong from the song each time Robles records a strikeout.
This type of grand entrance may be appropriate for some. For example, Mariano Rivera the greatest of all time deserved the “Enter Sandman” entrance “off to never-never land.” But in the Angels’ case, we’re talking Hansel “f’ng” Robles who doesn’t have the record to justify this treatment.
Any pitcher has to live up to the entrance or will look foolish. On Sunday, the Astros blistered Robles, and he looked foolish as did the Angels.
Future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander was not at his best. He seemed to struggle at times. Additionally, he was surprised by the way the ball carried. David Fletcher greeted him on his first pitch with a bomb to left field. From my perch, it seemed like Verlander might be thinking, “WTF that should be a fly out!”. The critical point is that Verlander is a master, and there was no question that he was in control. He would find a way to win. All in all, he pitched seven innings, gave up three home runs, but won the game.
Every team needs a stud pitcher. A leader that the team has total confidence in and knows he will do battle as needed. They will follow him into the breach and do battle as well.
Verlander is one of those guys.
As far as I can tell, the Astros are the best team in baseball. They dismantled a pretty good Angels team.
The Astros are a result of a lot of high draft choices from their “tanking” days. They simply decided for four years that they would not make an effort to win in the major leagues. They would save their money, lose games, and earn the draft choices needed to rebuild their team. It’s a sad way to manage a ball club, but it works. Just ask the Braves, Phillies, and Cubs who did the same to a certain degree.
With that said, the Astros are also one of the best analytic teams and know how to pick and develop players. That’s why their draft picks are still with the club and are playing well. It’s also why they have a second baseman who stands 5′ 6″ and is on his way to the Hall of Fame. Most teams wouldn’t add a young, unproven Jose Altuve to their organization. The Astros and are reaping the benefits.
I can’t wait to see them again in Houston on May 20th.
After Mexico, I traveled back to Southern California to visit Petco Park and Dodgers Stadium before I headed home.