X-Rated Post from SF

 

To quote Alex: “Dad was cursing. A LOT!”

We just came home from a fantastic 2-week road trip vacation in California. And towards the end we hit AT&T Park in San Francisco, which is #2 on my park list. We got there 2 hours early for batting practice…which turned out to be the source of my foul language.

So…here is the typical thing you find at batting practice before a game. A bunch of kids trying to get balls and autographs. Warms my heart.

But take a look at some of the people in the crowd. Why do grown men have gloves with them?

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LOSERS! God, I’m getting all mad again as I write this. Grown men should not be trying to get balls. It’s embarrassing as hell. Wait…here’s my favorite shot. Look at how cool this guy thinks he is because he got a ball.

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He was literally tossing it up and down in the midst of a bunch of kids who were dying to catch a ball. What a putz. For God sakes, you’re a grown man. If you want a ball, buy it. On several occasions, I saw these buffoons swoop over kids to catch a ball.

It’s especially bad when a player actually tosses a ball to a kid and these guys grab the ball. Eventually I got so mad I headed down to say something to one of these guys, but Mets closer, Jeurys Familia, called the guy out and demanded the ball be handed over to a kid.

Anyhow…here are all the words I used to describe these guys as I was ranting in front of Alex. For the sake of avoiding an X-rating, I have typed them into my iPhone and let auto-correct fix them.

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Aside from my fury, the game itself was absolutely terrific fun. Actually, the whole 2-week trip was one of my favorite 2 weeks ever. But still, if you are a grown-up getting balls, you have to stop.

Here’s a video of Jack flipping the K placard.

 

 

 

Tampa Rays Blues

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We begin…with stress. At work, we were launching a new product and the big launch meeting was in Orlando this week. Our client was a flaming ball of stress heading up to the meeting, which led to some seriously uncomfortable phone calls over the weekend where she used the word “disappointed” a lot.

But the launch meeting went off beautifully. She was getting praised left and right. Tuesday night she apologized to me and my co-worker, Tony (or at least as much as a client ever apologizes). We had known that a Tampa Bay game was a possibility, but up until then we thought we’d be in high-stress meeting mode. But suddenly the weight was coming off our shoulders…next thing we knew we were in the car wearing shorts and headed for a baseball game.

There are 4 people I know who love baseball more than I do:

  1. Jack (obviously)
  2. Andrew Kaufman (in a class of his own — see end of that blogpost)
  3. My friend, Wade
  4. Tony

Tony is a real-deal, haunted, Philadelphia sports fan. Sports are part of the boy’s core makeup. You know how some kids have manners drilled into them and it stays with them for life? Kids in Philly are taught sports that way.

Which leads me to…

Official NuckolBall Review of Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays)

There’s a big moment going to a new park when you first see the stadium. You come around a corner and spot it. Or in this case, you see it from the highway. It was a big white bubble with a slanted roof. Here’s a shot Tony took from the car:

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We found $10 parking, scored $19 tickets in the 4th row in left field, and learned it was $2 hot dog night. Then in we went. Check out this video…

I’ll confess, I expected Tropicana Field to suck. But as we walked in and looked around, I thought it looked pretty cool. It was a dome stadium, which made it feel small. It had incredible access to the field and any seat was close to the action.

“Maybe this isn’t so bad,” I said to Tony.

But that wore off quick. Here’s what’s wrong with Tropicana Field:

1) Turf

It doesn’t seem like real baseball. When guys run for a fly ball, something seems off. Scuff marks on their pants seem odd – it’s not real dirt, why should it stain their pants? Plus it look absolutely awful. Check out the photo, the surface looks like a worn out, greasy sweater.

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2) Concessions

Modern ballparks are designed so you can get to the concessions without leaving the action. At the Trop, you descend into a blue cavern that is completely cut off from the field. Parts of it felt like the Philadelphia Airport (worst, most claustrophic airport in the country). Parts felt like the halls of a hospital.

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My living room has higher ceilings.

 

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This way to radiology.

3) Blue

The Rays have no logo, no marquis player, no real history to speak of, no fans. They have the color blue. That seems to be their entire identity. Every damn thing was blue.

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4) Atmosphere

Maybe it was the roof, or the lighting, or the turf, or the lack of people in the stands, but it didn’t feel like a major league baseball game. The place was completely, freakishly devoid of any atmosphere whatsoever. There were no crowd noises, just a weird murmur. The sound of the ball and bat were muffled and off. It felt like a trade show being held at the local college arena. Everyone was sitting around waiting for the college team to finish up their practice before we could start setting up our folding tables.

But there were some good things. Parking was easy. It’s a great place to get a ball. Tony introduced me to “The Game” and then promptly lost $11 to me (I will not explain The Game). Actually…the best part was getting to go with Tony. Tony is a fan who sees more things than I do, was excited about stuff I didn’t know to be excited about, and was generally even more comfortable in a ballpark than I am. It was a real treat to go with him.

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To conclude, Tampa Bay was my 18th park, and it has taken over the bottom spot of my rankings. It’s even worse than the dreadful Rogers Center in Toronto. But still, as we drove off on 275 headed back to Orlando, Tony and I were jabbering away, happy as a pair of songbirds. Even the worst ballpark in the country is still cause of celebration and joy.

 

A Quick Deke to Comerica Park

We begin our Tiger Tale with this:

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I had a free night and asked the hotel if they had a map. How classy, right?

Then we go to this:

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I got it for $30 off a scalper. Great seats – field level, 20 rows back off 1st base. I was feeling good, and then…

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That moment when you first see the stadium. That’s a big deal to me. It’s genuinely awe-inspiring. There it was – with giant statues of tigers and huge bats. The big lights and sheer scope of it. My bouncy step got that much bouncier.

I went through, got to my seat and check this out…

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That’s Miguel Cabrerra not 50 feet away from me. Dynamite, right? OK…look closer. The field seats at Comerica are on a low pitch, which means it’s really hard to see. People’s heads in front of you block your view. A true design flaw if you ask me. But then again, people’s heads in my way was secondary to…

OK, time out. An important lesson for non-baseball fans. This is a cardinal rule at a ballpark.

Do not get up from your seat in the middle of an at-bat. Same goes for returning to your seat. Wait for the at-bat to finish and THEN you can get up/sit down.

Why? Because people (like ME!) are trying to watch the damn game! And for some baffling reason, Tiger’s fans had no idea this rule existed. I was stunned. And getting irrationally furious.

Oh, and the other thing that was happening – EVERYONE was taking selfies. I’ve never seen so many selfies in my life. It was like a selfie flashmob. In fact, the mother in front of me took a selfie of herself and her little girl. Then the little girl started demanding and whining that her mother delete the selfie. And when mom refused, the little girl started fake crying.

I felt like I was losing my mind. After a few innings, I sort of staggered away feeling frazzled. I bought a hot dog and took the escalator up to a higher deck.

Now…let’s look at this photo and tell me what you see?

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It’s the shot from my new seat. In fact, as I entered the section, I found 3 guys standing at the back waiting for the at-bat to end before returning to my seat. But back to the photo, because it contains 4 things I loved seeing.

  • The kid at the bottom left is wearing a baseball glove. It’s hard to see. Just at the bottom of the frame. He was hoping to catch a pop up and carefully watching the game for his chance
  • In the center, a kid is on his dad’s lap and they are keeping score. The dad is teaching his son how to log a game.
  • Top of the frame is the view of downtown Detroit – a view I couldn’t see at all from section 118.
  • Far right? Oh yeah – that is a real deal baseball mutant. She and her mate were chattering away about the game and having a great time. Pros. She was eating soft tacos and snuffling them down like an anteater. I got her in mid-snort.

What was also nice about this section was the view of the field. I could see what was going on. No heads in my way.

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So now…I could give excuses. I had an hour drive back to my hotel and I had to get up at 6 and run an all day workshop. High profile for a big client. And the game was out of reach for the Tigers (down 12-3) and every pitcher just kept walking batters and then they’d switch to another pitcher who would warm up and then walk the next guy.

And then…and then…oh God. OK.

I left. I left before the end of the game. I did. I did that. Here’s a shot of the sunset over the city I shot on my way out.

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So…not sure if it’s even valid considering what I just admitted, but my review of Comerica Park is:

  • GORGEOUS stadium. Grand and majestic. It feels like you’re entering the Roman Coliseum about to watch something enormous take place.
  • Fans suck in the spendy seats. Fans are solid in higher decks. Plus the seats are better.
  • Food is nothing special.

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Official Stadium Rankings

Following the game this weekend in The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, our sports editor, Jack Nuckols, produced this document:

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Based on this, we will be providing official rankings of the 10 stadiums the boys have visited.

Jack’s Rankings

(based on field, view, food, and atmosphere)

1.              PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates
2.              Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City Royals
3.              Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians
4.              Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals
5.              Citi Field, NY Mets
6.              Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds
7.              Nationals Park, Washington Nationals
8.              Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies
9.              Yankees Stadium, NY Yankees
10.          Rogers Center, Toronto Blue Jays

Alex’s Rankings

(based on food)

1.     Great American Ballpark, Skyline Chili Dogs
2.     PNC Park, Pot Roast Nachos
3.     Citi Field, Shake Shack
4.     Kaufmann Stadium, Those pretty girls took us out of the cheap seats and into the great seats – free nachos and ice cream!
5.     Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies
6.     Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians
7.     Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals
8.     Nationals Park, Washington Nationals
9.     Yankees Stadium, NY Yankees
10. Rogers Center, Toronto Blue Jays

Mike’s Rankings

(based on field, view, food, and atmosphere)

The Transcendent

1.     PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates
2.     AT&T Park, SF Giants

The Exceptional

3.     Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles
4.     Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals
5.     Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds
6.     Coors Field, Colorado Rockies
7.     Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians
8.     Petco Park, San Diego Padres
9.     Nationals Park, Washington Nationals
10. Dodgers Stadium, LA Dodgers
11. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies
12. Citi Field, NY Mets

The Meh

13. O.co Coliseum, Oakland A’s
14. Angels Stadium, Anaheim Angels
15. Yankees Stadium, NY Yankees
16. Rogers Center, Toronto Blue Jays

8 Observations from a trip to Cincinnati

This weekend we made it to Cincinnati for our first game of the season. A roadtrip to meet up with Shani’s folks at The Great American Ballpark. Here are 8 random observations:

1) I could be a professional baseball park travel agent. I got prime seating for $28, parking for $5, and executed an exit strategy that was easy as pie. All this for a sold-out game. I have this down to a science. In fact, NuckolBall readers should feel free to contact me for consultation if you’re visiting a ballpark. I’ll set you up.

2) I found the people of Cincinnati to be incredibly kind and helpful. And every single one of them want to talk about why Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame.

3) During batting practice, baseballs gather in between the pitcher and hitter. Every once in a while a bat boy has to run out an pick up all of those balls. But with the Cardinals, all the players go out and do it as a group. These are millionaires and they’re doing it like they did in little league. I have never seen another team do this – and it speak volumes about the Cardinals to me.

4) If you get to Cincinnati, get your ass to Skyline Chili. They make these chili dogs that have a 6-inch cloud of finely-shredded cheese piled on top. You wonder how you can fit in all in your mouth, but then it mushes together into cheesechilihotdogonionsmustardheavenallgone. Alex is digging in to one in this photo:

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5) 90% of the time, Shani is the worst co-pilot on earth. She alternates between reading, dozing off, and fiddling with her phone. She sets her water cup overtop my carefully arranged power cords. She is deeply annoyed when I ask her to put the creamer into my coffee because I’m busy driving a car.

But then there’s the other 10% of the time. She’ll pull out a chapter book and read aloud in her melodious voice. The boys will be captivated and keep begging for just “one more chapter.” Or she’ll snatch up my phone (the phone I’m using the navigate with) and start cycling through TV theme shows on Spotify.

“You know this one, I bet.”

“Is that Dallas? No…Dynasty!”

“It’s St. Elsewhere, silly.”

“Right!”

“How about this one – I loved this show!”

And yes, we’ll miss our exit, but still we’re in hysterics as we sing the theme to Moonlighting together.

6) My boys’ ability to road trip is simply mindboggling. We did 11 hours straight on Friday and come Sunday they jumped right back in the car, eager to hit the highway.

7) Shani’s parents are my perfect role models for what I want to be as a grandparent. They drove 600+ miles to spend 24 hours with the boys. Saturday morning they took Alex to Target so they could get a sewing kit. One of his stuffed animals had a tear and required “groin surgery”.

Shani’s folks get it and they do it 100% right.

8) My life is divided into 2 seasons, baseball season and not baseball season, and there is a valve in my heart that opens up in April and then slides shut with the final out of the World Series.

This Saturday I sat in the sun at The Great American Ballpark and watched the Red and the Cardinals play. My son was next to me talking with his grandfather about Stan Musial. A few seats over, Alex was chattering away as he showed Shani and her mother photos he had taken of the game. I could smell the mucky spring scent of the Ohio River, which flows behind right field. I had a big, cold Bud Light and a bag of peanuts.

That valve in my heart was wide wide open.

It’s 2015. Play ball.

Reader’s note: The NuckolBall sports editor, Jack Nuckols, has now officially ranked the ballparks he has visited. That list will be coming this week.

Here are some photos from the weekend.

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The Oakland Coliseum – Official Stadium Review

Every once in a while I try and rank all the stadiums I’ve visited, and I have a tough time with it. However, one thing is always very easy: Oakland is last. In fact, on virtually any stadium ranking you find, Oakland will be last.

I went there three years ago with my college roommate, Reef. The stadium is basically a circular concrete staircase with metal chairs bolted in. There was no crowd in spite of the fact that the A’s were a playoff team. In fact, we had the entire section to ourselves except for a woman who I’m pretty sure was a crackhead. And I’m fine talking baseball with a crackhead, but this lady kept coming over and yammering on about stuff that made no sense and was certainly not baseball-related.

But this past week I was on the West Coast. Reef and I made plans to hit a game. Now…let me show you the experience of just going to your seats.

First, you cross a bridge over a chemical factory and an industrial water trench.

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Then you get to the stadium and go through a series of concrete monolith passages. Look at this…

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It’s like traveling through the city sewage system. Horrible. The Coliseum is a throwback to the NFL of the 70s and is completely out of sync with the gorgeous steel and glass marvels that baseball stadiums have become. When we reached our seats in the bleachers, I was not at all surprised to find the stadium practically empty.

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And then…

OK, have you ever found a bar or a restaurant that is just AWESOME, and no one knows about it? The food is great, it’s cheap, it’s never crowded. It’s the perfect place to go hang out – in fact you can’t believe no one else knows about this gem.

Let’s start with the people in the bleachers. Look at the photos.

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We’re talking 30 fans, tops, and another 30 in the right field bleachers. But these 60 people fill the entire stadium with a force equal to a full crowd at another stadium. They are tremendous. Watch an Oakland home game on TV for 30 seconds and they’ll certainly show these folks.

In other stadiums it is the scoreboard and PA system that sparks the crowd. They play the “charge” bugle call or start flashing signs that say “LET’S – GO – TEAM” and try to get the crowd to chant along. At Yankees Stadium they still play the insufferable “Cotton Eye Joe”.

There is no need for pumped-in crowd enthusiasm in Oakland. These people lead the crowd. They have drums, cowbells, massive flags, and blaring bugles. God, they’re fun! On top of that, they are real deal baseball fans watching the game like pros. Proof? See how the game played out:

Oakland pitched poorly and by the 8th inning were down 6-0. Not one person left. Nor did they let up on the cheering and drumming. Each Oakland batter was chanted and cheered for in spite of the game being completely out of reach.

When Oakland got a run in the 8th, the crowd went bananas. Then they scored 2 more runs to make it 6-3.

Then in the 9th, the Mariner’s closer came out and the A’s put 2 more runs on the scoreboard. It was amazing and the crowd was bonkers. They were part of the team and part of the comeback.

But the final score was 6-5. The Mariner closer Fernando Rodney* finally got the last out. Then…and only then…did the crowd leave.

So want to know what the Oakland Coliseum is like? The food sucks (although the people who work the food counters are incredibly nice). The stadium is a pit. But the crowd is a home run. Spend the $14, sit in the bleachers, and get ready for a great time.

*Regarding Fernando Rodney. I would be rooting for the Mariners if it were not for him. He is their closer, and every time he closes a game he makes this asinine motion where he pretends he is drawing a bow and firing an arrow into the sky. It is beyond obnoxious. I so wish that someday circumstances would force him to bat so the pitcher could BLAST a fastball into his fat ass.

Here’s a clip of the arrow crap:

Asshead.

Not to mention, when you’re asked to close out a 6-3 game and give up 2 runs before closing the game, maybe you should tone down your stupid arrow celebration.

As a matter of fact, here’s a clip of Rodney blowing a save where Mike Trout and Albert Pujols mock the crap out of Rodney.

OK…sorry about the digression there. But to get back to the point — get your but to Oakland.

Petco Perfect

I remember a comedian talking about how easy it must be to be a weatherman in Sand Diego.

“Today’s weather? Nice. Tomorrow? Nice. And then next week? Nice.”

I was there for the weekend and everyone kept marveling at how nice it was outside. Every time I stepped outside someone would say, “God, it’s gorgeous out here.” It was sunny, low 70s, no humidity.

I had meetings through Sunday at 11:30. Then I hustled up to my room, changed into shorts and a T-shirt, and made it out to the front of the hotel as a faded black pickup truck rattled in. This was my cousin Max to pick me up so we could head to Petco Park: Padres vs Dodgers.

Full stop to the narrative…Some background on Max. [And a note of apology – this background will be too long unless you’re a family member.]

I knew Max mostly when he was a kid. When I was 22 I moved to LA and lived with my Uncle Coddy, Aunt Mary, and their two sons (Max and Sam). I spent 6 months living there and I consider it an immersive pre-training parenthood camp for me. Max was 7 at the time.

To say Max has grown up would be an understatement.

Max is huge. His head is huge. His shoulders are broad. His torso is massive. He somehow carries a bigness to him that’s hard to explain. I remember looking over at his arm as we drove. It’s not muscular like a weightlifter and it’s not flabby either – it’s just big. Several times in the course of the afternoon when we stood up from our seats I was shocked that Max wasn’t a foot taller that me. He seems like he should be 6’9”. If we’d blown a flat I feel like Max would have simply gone to the rear bumper and lifted the truck up while I changed the tire. He wouldn’t groan with effort or call attention to it. He might laugh about it if you said something. But then he’d set the truck back down once the spare tire was on and climb back into the vehicle.

To go along with the hard-to-define bigness of Max there is a hard-to-define gentle quality about him as well. He’s one of those rare people who listen to every word you say during a conversation. He leans in and nods as you speak. It felt like the simple updates I was giving him about Shani and the boys were precious to him and he would hold them with care in his humongous hands.

As Max and I headed towards the ball park, the first thing we did was try and nail down when we’d last seen each other. In fact, no one in my extended family has seen Max for years. Fact is, he’d been sucked away by a girl.

It was his first long-term relationship. She had anxiety disorder and a messed-up family situation. You can see how Max, with all his patience and soft kindness, got sucked in. You can see how her anxiety attacks before a family reunion meant Max stayed to care for her and sadly let us all know he wouldn’t make it after all. You know this story.

In March they broke up. They have only spoken twice since then – and that was only about logistics of misplaced boxes. That chapter is over. Now Max is headed to Ireland in July to bum around for a month. He even has a layover in NYC and is staying with us for a few days to hang out with my boys. We’re going to drive out together and see my brother and his family. You can see the life return to my cousin, yes?

PHEW! Forgive the long exposition, but family members who read this blog will delight in this update about our Max. And suffice it to say, I was thrilled he was making the drive down from LA to go to the game with me.

Here is a map of the area around Petco Park:

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The area I circled is the convention center with hotels and restaurants and corporate rich people that can come over and enjoy a game in the nice San Diego weather. However…here’s where we parked:

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The area I have circled in this image is the area we walked through to get to the park. It was absolutely teeming with homeless people. I’m not talking about a few panhandlers, either. Under the bridges and on the sidewalks along chain link fences there are rows and rows of tents and cardboard shelters. I snapped a few photos.

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Petco Park

I was stunned. I suppose homeless people recognize the nice weather as well as anyone else does. Nonetheless, we scored street parking right near the entrance ramp back onto the freeway. We were set. Six blocks later we had walked to Petco Park.

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So here’s Petco from the outside. I thought it was an art museum until I saw the sign. And I’ll tell you, the area outside the field was amazing. It was unlike any park I’ve ever been to. There are raised walkways, hanging gardens, and terrace bars. I’ve never had so much fun just getting to my seats. Check out the photos:

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We made our way to our seats just just before the first pitch with Hodad’s burgers and cups of good beer in hand. We had cheap seats, but still we had a great view of the field. Here’s our view:

View from PEtco 309

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In plenty of parks (Blue Jays, Yanks, Phillies), the view from the cheap seats is substandard. At Petco you can see everything. Max and I sat back in the sun, and instead of watching the game with my normal laser focus, I started jawin’ with my cousin. We talked about the break up with his girl. He told me about his plans to go back to school. I told him all about Shani and the boys. There’s nothing like a ballgame for men to have leisurely conversation. If we’d sat in a living room for three hours it would have been some effort to talk one-on-one for all that time. But at that ballpark, time moved along like it was a cool stream that Max and I were dangling our feet into. And I’m embarrassed to admit it, because normally I’m aware of every ball and strike, but I found myself saying: “What inning is it?”

Mike and Max

In the 3rd inning we headed out to get another round. Right outside our seats was the Stone Brewing Company Bar. If you’re into microbrews you know how special that is. And here came my next baseball sin. Standard protocol for me is to grab beers and get back to my seat as quickly as I can. But here’s this patio bar with seats overlooking the city, two knockout bartenders serving Stone “Petco Park” IPA. Well hell, how could we not sit down and enjoy our beers at the bar and watch the game on the flatscreen. I know it’s sacrilege, but look at this place. That’s it up on the right with the palm trees.

Stone Bar at PETCO PArk

God it was nice. We went back to our seats eventually, and stayed there until the 7th inning when we decided to check out the terrace of the Western Supply Company. Petco Park was built on the site of this beautiful brick building called the Western Supply Company. Instead of tearing it down, they made it part of the stadium. See it out there?

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Max and I wandered over there to see if we could watch some of the game from one of the decks. Not surprisingly, it was reserved for private parties, but they let us take a few photos and then we went and sat in right field for the rest of the game.

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Western Supply Company

Official NuckolBall recap of the game? This is actually a bit shameful to report.

In the first two innings when the Dodgers were batting it seemed to take forever. They got men on base, walked, stole, hustled, and brought in 2 runs. Conversely, the Padres went down in what seemed like minutes.

Then we went to the Stone Brewery Bar and I could barely see the flatscreen with all the sun — so I missed a few innings.

The middle innings were even and steady. Well-executed groundouts, good pitching, a nice diving stop-and-flip from the Padre shortstop. No runs on either side.

Then we left to explore the terrace. When we finally got seated again I was shocked to find it was the top of the 9th. The Padre catcher threw out a Dodger baserunner with a gorgeous throw and suddenly the crowd was up and the game seemed winnable for San Diego. Just 2 runs.

But it was not to be. The Dodgers are heavy with talent and their closer put the Padres down 1-2-3.

Official NuckolBall review of Petco Park? I’ll say the area outside the actual field is unlike any other park and it is utterly gorgeous. Plus it has the best beer I’ve ever had at a ballpark (which is appropriate for San Diego). But the field itself? I guess I’ll say it’s like the weather in San Diego: “nice”.

It’s funny, I was jotting down the ballgames I’ve been to in the last 5 years and for each and every game I know who went with me. I didn’t have to wrack my brain to come up with it either. Pete, Julio, Patrick, and Reef were with me at the Giants game. With Matt at Dodger Stadium. With Hal for the Rockies. I can name ’em all; it’s an inherent part of each experience.

So with that said, I could not be happier to have gone to Petco Park with my lost cousin Max.

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Note there are two Grade A baseball mutants behind us.

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Hodad burgers and Sculpin IPA.

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Yankee Dilemma

In a sneaky, roundabout way, this is a review of Yankees Stadium.

Strange year for me as a Yankees fan. Strange times, in fact. And to be honest, it’s got me thinking: Why the hell am I a Yankees fan? I mean, what is it I like about this team? Because there are some things I clearly don’t like. I will elaborate:

1)    ARod.

This is an obvious one. This is the hardest professional athlete in the world to root for. He’s seems to be a habitual douchebag. But the Yanks were bad this year and only looked good when ARod came back and started doing well. It put me in a weird position of conflict. I want this asshead to do badly – but I want my team to win. Sucks. But that’s an easy one.

2)    New ownership blows

There were things I liked and disliked about George Steinbrenner – but for all his flaws the man wanted the Yankees to win 1000 times more than I did.

Now that he’s dead, his idiot son keeps talking about getting the team budget under $189 million. That drives me batshit crazy.

  • The team is worth $500 BILLION – so you can afford a higher payroll. You’re not going broke.
  • There is no salary cap and financial might is a major Yankee advantage. Use it to its fullest.
  • The reason the Yankees are worth so much is BECAUSE they’re great every year.

So shut up about your budget. I want my team to win goddammit. And as the team owner you should want them to win more than I do. It’s your job to field a winning team. That’s all I care about – shut up about your budget.

3)    The playoffs this year have been amazing

I am loving the playoffs. Every day I check in and watch a few innings of an awesome matchup. Without the Yankees in it, I’m not all tied up in anxious knots. It’s just a pure pleasure to watch brilliant baseball. God it’s been fun.

4)    Yankees Stadium

I can only describe this stadium as an embarrassment. Look at these photos (first 2 from angrylongislandguy.wordpress.com):

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The last one is from the 2009 World Series. Technically the stadium is frequently “sold out” but that’s because all the uber-expensive seats are tickets owned by corporations. Which means the people who actually sit in those seats aren’t fans – they’re tourists and rich people. In other words there is no home field advantage for Yankees Stadium.

Aside from that the stadium itself is beyond cold, it’s imposing. It’s dehumanizing. It misses the point of baseball. 60 foot photos of Mickey Mantle and Lou Gerhig and Reggie Jackson loom over you as you walk in. They’ve amped up the Yankee grandeur to such a degree that they’re not players you rooted for – they’re gods and you’re walking at their feet, unnoticed and unvalued.

The food sucks – it’s all Yankee-brand burgers and fries, nothing creative and all in-house branded to make more money. It’s painfully inconvenient to get to your seats – you’re forced to walk for what feels like miles.

But then…there is only one way to get to Yankee Stadium, and that is by subway. Any other route is insanity. You start at your stop and ride in. We always take the A. Then at 145 you switch to the D. You step on and look around, half the people in the train are in Yankee gear. Dimaggio jersey. Jeter T-shirt. Dark blue hats.

Then at each stop more and more Yankees fans pile onto the train. You smile. Everyone is quiet but you all know you’re going to the same place. Soon the train is packed. It’s an unforgettable building of momentum that is like nothing else on earth.

PHEW – I needed that ending. OK…I’m all right.

Angelic Baseball

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My uncle Coddy picked me up at the airport. As I climbed into the car, I asked him how far it was to Angels Stadium.

“At least an hour. Get comfortable.”

An hour sounded fine to me. We drove south across LA. Coddy told me about his hip surgery and a songwriter’s convention he’d recently gone to. He played me a few of his new songs. We talked about my boys…

I guess here I have to stop and mention that Coddy has been a role model to me for my entire life. I remember as a teen trying to emulate his warmth and open affection. In my early 20s I lived with him for 6 months and got to see him in action as a Hall-of-Fame dad. So lemme tall ya’, I was damn happy to be headed to a ballgame with him.

As we pulled into the stadium, Coddy spoke to the parking attendant:

“I don’t have a handicapped sticker, but I just had hip replacement surgery a month ago. Is there somewhere you could recommend for me to park?”

Coddy waved his cane through the window and soon we were headed for prime parking.

It was a short walk from the car to the giant Angels batting helmets that sit at the front gates of the park. Once inside, we made our way around towards our seats – good seats. I started plotting where we would get dinner and was pretty disappointed by the selection: Jack in the Box, Panda Express. Pretty unimaginative stuff; it was like the food court at a new mall.

We found a food counter near our seat.

“I’ll have a hot dog, a beer, and peanuts, please,” Coddy said.

“Huh – I’d actually like the exact same thing,” I added. It struck me that we’d ordered the same food. Then I looked at Coddy and something else struck me. See if you can tell what it was from the photos:

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We were wearing the exact same clothes. I took that to be a very good sign.

We got to our seats and settled in to the game. Angels-Mariners. Now, at a new ballpark, you have to get oriented. You have to see where they display the score, the balls and strikes, the batter and pitcher stats. And here is my second observation from Angels Stadium (my first being that the food selection was lame) – the scoreboard situation blows. Check this out:

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That scoreboard has 3 times more advertising space than information. It was really hard to follow what was going in. They should take that whole board, make the entire thing a screen and rotate advertising through it. That way the ads would be right where I’m already trained to look for my information. The way it is now, the ads are just in my way. Asinine.

It also quickly occurred to me that the seating in Angels stadium is built poorly. We had terrific seats, just along the first-base side near the foul pole. But the entire section has the seats set up so if you sit straight you are facing here:

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When you want to look over here:

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So you sit the entire time turned at a 45-degree angle. But in all honesty, I wouldn’t call that a design flaw. Why? Because the fans seemed to have no interest in watching the game at all. I found it baffling.

If you go to the bathroom at a Phillies game, Yankees game, Pirates game…you can tell what’s happening in the game just by listening to the crowd. You can hear them cheer for a hit or moan for an error. Close your eyes and any good baseball crowd will tell you what’s going on.

Not so with the Angels and these assclown fans. They’re all yappin’ with each other, talking on their phones, texting. Hell, most of the crowd never even showed up until the 4th inning.

It was still 0-0 in the 5th and the Mariners got men on base with one out. Big trouble for the home team. But CJ Wilson managed to pitch his way out of it. The inning ended with a weak Popfly that squashed the Mariner threat. There was barely a cheer from the home crowd.

In the 7th, the Angels’ newly-signed high-priced outfielder, Josh Hamilton, struck out for the second time in the game. He’s hitting .212 and is massively underperforming. Where the hell were the boos?

I wouldn’t have thought it would have affected me so much, but I genuinely found it disorienting to try and watch a baseball game when no one else around me was. I felt like I was watching TV in the middle of a party.

“This is a good game that only you and I seem to be watching,” Coddy said, leaning over.

He was right, it was terrific game. Both pitchers kept working out of high-tension innings with men on base.

Only one run scored in the entire game, and that was all Mike Trout. Trout is stocky, short, and non-descript. He doesn’t look powerful or fast – but last year he hit 30 home runs and stole 49 bases. Not to mention he’s dynamite in the field. He won rookie of the year last year and should have won MVP. He is one of those players that I love to watch. It feels like the air is suddenly different every time he gets up to bat. He’s like super hot chick walking around a party – you’re always aware of him.

In the 6th inning, Trout hit a single to the outfield, but he hauled ASS from the first step and turned it into a double. Next batter flied out and Trout moved to 3rd base. From there, he took such a huge lead off 3rd that he was practically halfway home with each pitch, then he’d run like hell back to the base when the catcher caught it. Sure enough, a pitch got by the catcher and Trout was crossing home plate before the pitcher could even get there to try and make the tag. Baseball geeks love players that “manufacture runs” and this was a textbook case of that. Not to mention, it turned out to be the ballgame – the Angels won 1-0.

With the game over, Coddy and I crunched our way out over our peanut shells, out through the concourse, and made the short walk to our car. It was a perfect night – clear and cool. Our handicapped parking had an exit that took us right onto the freeway. A flawless, hip-surgery-induced exit strategy.

“Next time you come out, you gotta bring your boys,” Coddy said. “We could even try to hit an Angels game and a Dodgers game if the schedules work out.”

“Hell yes!” I replied, glad to have yet another reason why Coddy is an outstanding role model.

Afterward: Fangraphs.com (which is an awesome website for hardcore baseball dorks) actually wrote an article about Mike Trout’s “hustle double”. There’s even video of it: check it out:

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/mike-trout-and-yasiel-puig-a-hustle-double-comparison/

Phillies Game Part 3 of 4: Citizens Bank Park Review

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When I was in high school, I went to every single home football game, but I didn’t watch the games at all. For me it was a social event. I’d spend three hours walking around and around the field, stopping to talk to people, hitting the snack shack, flirting ineptly with girls.

For many people, a trip to Citizen’s Bank Park is exactly the same.

The park is a gorgeous, brilliantly designed park. Some of the other new ball parks like PNC and AT&T feel small and intimate. Citizen’s Bank Park feels gigantic. It feels like you’re stepping out into the Roman Colliseum. The music over the loudspeakers blasts twice as loud as any park. The crowd is a cheering, crashing sea of red shirts and caps. It’s fun.

But the real genius of the park is not the stadium itself, it is the concession area. At the older parks, if going from your seat to the concession areas you travel through a concrete tunnel. When you’re standing in line for a hot dog, you feel like you’re in a parking garage.

But at Citizen’s Bank Park, nothing separates the concession area from the stands. It’s entirely open. So when you’re buying a beer, you can still see the field. You can hear the crowd. You never really leave the action. You can see what I mean in this photo.

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At the top of the stands, you’ll find crowds of people around beverage carts and food stands, hanging out and watching the game. Now check out the diagram.

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The pink seats are the lower deck of the stands. Behind them is a giant ringed concourse filled with restaurants, picnic tables, beer taps, mounted TVs and mobs of people hanging out. You could spend half the game hanging out in the concourse and still be part of the crowd watching the game.

Because here is the truth about Citizen’s Bank Park: it’s not really a stadium – it’s a bar.

If you’re in the blue, yellow, or green seats, you’re in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th decks. These seats are high above the field. But really, why would you ever bother to go up and sit in those crappy seats. Just spend your time wandering the concourse, having a great time and enjoying the game.

Now let’s take it a step further. Because while the Phillies are on the field, I believe that the game does more than just extend beyond the crowd and into the concession area. In fact, I believe that it spreads out from the field, to the stands, to the concessions, and outward unhindered through the entire city of Philadelphia and even beyond.

In the same way that I think Citizen’s Bank Park is really a bar, it follows that the tremendous Phillies team of the last 10 years are more than just a baseball team. The Phillies have been the hosts of a party and every single person in the city has been invited.

Consider this: In 2009, the Yankees and the Phillies were in the World Series. Cliff Lee pitched game 1 for the Phillies and dominated the game. It was the most masterful pitching performance I’ve ever seen. He made the Yankees ferocious batters look like a Junior High team.

The next morning at work, my friends John and Sonia came cavorting into my office.

“Did you watch the game last night? Sucker!”

“Your Yankees didn’t look very good!”

They were having a great time. I rolled my eyes and ignored them.

“I think your Yankees are going to lose,” John sang. “I love Cliff Lee.”

“Plus the Phillies pitcher tonight is even better,” Sonia piled on.

“What’s that pitcher’s name?” I responded.

This stumped them.

“I don’t know,” John finally cackled, “but he’s going to beat your Yankees.”

Sonia and John both lived in Philadelphia. And while it should be obvious that they knew nothing about baseball, both of them absolutely knew how to enjoy a party. They’d been invited to the Phillies party and were having the time of their lives prancing around my office.

As a resident of the greater Philadelphia area, I can tell you that it’s been a joyous, once-in-a lifetime party. It’s a team and a time that I think people will still talk about 50 years from now. And it is my opinion that it is at least partly due to the brilliant and wide-open welcome design of Citizen’s Bank Park.

*Please note, in 2009 the Yankees went on to beat the Phillies and win the World Series. Needless to say there was no more cavorting from either John or Sonia.