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.

Camden Yards Review with Some Help from the Pope

To give you a proper illustration of Camden Yards, we’re going to discuss…the Sistine Chapel. Trust me, this will make sense.

If you haven’t seen the Sistine Chapel (I have not), you might expect the ceiling to be this big, beautiful flat space. You might imagine Michelangelo in 1502 preparing to create a masterpiece on the massive canvas.

But in reality, this is what the ceiling looks like.

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It’s a nightmare. There are buttresses, columns, arches, domes, grottos. This wasn’t a blank canvas, it was a cluttered mess. And that’s what makes it so amazing. Instead of complaining about the obstacles before him, Michelangelo used them to make the painting even better. In each grotto he painted a different Bible character. He put angels on top of the columns. In each panel down the center he painted a different scene from the creation story with God creating man in the very center. In short, he made this.

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Now…come with me to 1989. This time imagine you’re the architect hired to build this new ballpark. As they were looking at the site of the park they were looking at a major obstacle.

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What a pain! Blocking off an entire side of the park was a humongous old warehouse building. That complicated everything – and worse off the building was a historical site making it a royal mess to try and tear down.

And yet…

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They built the warehouse as part of the ballpark in a way that made the whole thing even better. The view of the warehouse wall is unique and beautiful. For years sluggers have been trying to be the first home run hitter to hit the warehouse wall. They built bars and restaurants into the warehouse. In fact, instead of walking through cavernous hallways to get around to your seat, fans get to walk along the street right alongside the warehouse.

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So like the Sistine Chapel, in the face of an obstacle, they found creative divinity.

2 Betrayals at Camden Yards

It began with a perfectly-timed work trip. I had to be in Bethesda for a 7AM meeting on Tuesday. That meant I had to spend Monday night there. Not only were the Orioles home, but they were playing the Yankees. Perfect, right? Not exactly…

Betrayal #1: Jack

For years Camden Yards has been high on our list. We both know this is a gem of a park, and neither of us had been. Jack was thoroughly upset when I told him I might be going.

“Can I go?”

“I’ve got all day meetings the next day – I’ve got nowhere to put you.”

“Pleeeease. Take me with you.”

I knew he would react this way and he was well within his rights. Our first time to Camden Yards should be together. He’s my real baseball partner. It was betrayal.

“I’ll scout it out, Jack. So when we go together I’ll know just what to do.”

“Why can’t I come now?”

But the fact is…I got over it. Monday at 3:00, 2 work colleagues and I hopped in the car and headed south. Then plan was get to the hotel around 6:00 and then shoot to the park for first pitch at 7:00. But traffic did not cooperate. An 18-wheeler had crashed on the bridge into Delaware and we literally spent 90 minutes going 2 miles. I watched the arrival time on the GPS creep further and further until it was crystal clear I was not making this ballgame. At 7:45 we reached the hotel.

“You still wanna go?” I mumbled to my friend/coworker/ride, Pete.

“Hell yeah,” he replied as if it was a stupid question.

Betrayal #2: Pete

Many readers may read this story and assume that I’m referring to my long-time pal and baseball friend, Pete Dimas. Pete and I frequently go to games together. However…this was not Pete Dimas. This was Pete from work. I was cheating.

But once again…I got over it. In a flash Pete and I were back on 495 shooting for the ballpark. We got there, found the closest parking garage, found a space just waiting for us, hit up scalpers for cheap tickets and BAM…Camden Yards.

Remedial baseball note: Camden Yards is holy in the baseball world. This is the park that began the wave of new parks being built in the last 20 years. Its construction is considered one of the 10 most important events in baseball history. Being there was a big deal.

We were starving from the long delay in traffic and we hit the jackpot with giant beef BBQ sandwiches and tall, icy cans of Miller Lite. Food in hand we slipped into the right field bleachers.

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It was the 5th inning and the Yanks were up 2 – 0. The bleachers were full of rowdy, joyful O’s fans. Great scene for a game. In short order the O’s put 2 runs on the board and the crowd was going crazy cheering and screaming. Meanwhile, Pete was in the middle of a 10 minute coughing fit. Pete had put way too much horseradish on his roast beef and it was killing him – but at the same time he was starving. Pete was choking, wheezing, crying…and still stuffing the sandwich into his mouth like he was stuffing gauze pads into a chest wound.

By the end of the 7th inning, we were ready for another beer and we wanted to see more of the stadium. I’d read that the best seats were on the 3rd base side. We headed out and made our way around. Beer in hand, we slipped down near third base. A bunch of old ladies were leaving their seats and we slipped into the vacant row. We watched the 7th and 8th inning from there. The O’s took the lead to make it 4-2 and the crowd chanted “CC Sucks! CC Sucks!” as Yanks starting pitcher CC Sabathia was removed for a reliever. I didn’t care for that one bit.

More seats opened up and we moved downward so we were in the 7th row behind the Yankees dugout. Unbelievable seats. That was where we spent the rest of the game – which turned out to be exciting.

In the 9th inning the Yankees tied it up with a home run, so the score was 4-4. Pete and I were going wild. Also of note for the inning was that an idiot in a Yankees shirt next to us got into an argument with a father and his two little girls. The idiot was removed (thankfully). Pete and I turned to the crowd and apologized to everyone on behalf of Yankees fans.

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The game went into the 10th inning and on a pair of doubles, the Yankees took a 6-4 lead.  The Orioles had one last inning to try and come back to win.

Enter Sandman.

Remedial baseball note: The Sandman is Mariano Rivera. For the past 20 years he has been the Yankees closer and is unquestionably the greatest closer in baseball history…hang on

Super-remedial baseball note: Definition of a “closer.” When your baseball team is ahead, and the other team has one inning left to try and score, you bring in your closer. This is a pitcher who specializes in shutting down the other team for the final inning. This is a high-pressure job and extremely important to a team’s success.

Back to remedial baseball note: Mariano Rivera is the most respected athlete in baseball both for being unbelievably good at closing games (he holds every record in the book) and for behaving with absolute class. For example, Rivera is retiring after this year and in each visiting ballpark he is meeting with the ballpark staff to thank them for their support over the years. As far as pitchers go, Rivera throws only one pitch – a cutter. It comes whizzing at the batter, and then at the last second the ball spins sideways a foot. Batters swing, expecting it to hit the middle of the plate, and suddenly find the ball is at their hands. It is incredible to watch. Batters facing Rivera break their bats all the time because it hits the thin part of the bat. In fact, over his career Rivera averages a broken bat per inning. He is nicknamed “the Sandman” because when he comes into the game they play “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. It is time to put the other team to bed. Being in Yankee stadium when this song comes on is about the greatest thing in all of sports.

In Camden Yards, they don’t play “Enter Sandman.” But fans near you makes faces like this:

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“It’s over,” sighed the guy behind me.

“As much as I hate the Yankees,” said another guy, “I love Rivera.” Mind you, he said this as his team was about to be defeated by the man he was complimenting.

I’d never been this close to Rivera and it was amazing to watch. He seemed so small and thin. And he’s so calm. Each pitch he takes the ball and looks at it in his hand like a man choosing peaches in the grocery store. Then he crouches like he’s about to begin a dance routine. Then he throws.

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First batter: Ground out to first. When he hit the ball, it didn’t make the normal WHACK of a bat hitting a ball. Instead there was a high-pitched CRICK as his bat cracked in half.

Second batter: Pop out.

Third batter: Strike out. Game over. Time for the Orioles to go to bed.

Pete and I shook hands with the Orioles fans around us. We had all had a great time. They have reason for optimism, their team is good and getting better.

To avoid traffic we walked a block to the Camden Pub. We sat at the bar and ordered a pair of Loose Cannon IPAs and some wings. We talked over the game, glowing in that deep satisfaction from going through a live baseball game together. It’s almost a feeling of accomplishment.

From there we got the car, hit no traffic getting back to the highway, and drove to the hotel listening to the recap of the game on the radio. Betrayal over. Yankees win.

Stay tuned, readers, 2 more posts will be coming from this trip. I’ve got a more in-depth review of Camden Yards and an expose on the idiot who was thrown out of the park. Both should be fun.

Baseball Party at the Tuckers

[Note: This post is probably too long. However, Mike Tucker was a big help getting me to 1000 followers, so this story is a bit of a thank you to him. Also…big thanks to my friend Kari White for creating the box score below.]

It was in 2010 that me and my boys made our baseball pact. Alex was 4, so I figured he was old enough to decide for himself. Jack was a no-brainer. The three of us decided to try and go to every baseball park in the country together. We figured we’d hit one a year.

Shani was planning a girls’ weekend, and the boys and I started checking the baseball schedules. I gave the boys some options:

“We could hit a Yankees game and go with my friend Pete (who the boys love). We could do Baltimore. We could also head to Washington DC and maybe we could stay with my friend Mike Tucker.”

The boys emphatically chose Mike Tucker. They had no idea who he was, but their cousin is named Tucker and Tucker is a hellaciously good time.

“We want Mike Tucker!”

So I sent Mike Tucker an email. I promised him I’d buy him dinner as a thank you, and told him we’d be low maintenance. Mike Tucker wrote back and said he’d love to host us.

Now…Mike Tucker was not a close friend exactly. He’s close friends with some people who I’m close friends with – but he and I were never that close. I made sure he knew that I didn’t have any expectations of him to “host” us. We’d be totally fine on our own.

So that Saturday morning we hopped in the car and headed south for DC. My boys, as usual, were terrific on the road. We were so excited to be heading to a new place and to see a ballgame together. Plus we’re always so damn happy to be hanging out together that it makes car time great.

We got to Tucker’s in the afternoon and soon went out to dinner for pizza. Then back at his house, Tucker broke out a chess set and taught Jack how to play chess (I’m not kidding). The four of us had sort of a chess tournament before I put the boys to bed. Then Tucker and I stayed up until 1:00 drinking beers and catching up.

All honesty, I was a little nervous about hanging with Tucker. Like I said, we weren’t close friends and I’m not great at small talk. But I tell you, conversation could not have been easier. It was a genuine pleasure to catch up and to get to know him better.

Tucker had a king-sized bed on his back porch, and the three of us slept out there. That morning I remember waking up being so happy to have a boy snuggling up on each side of me. Then Jack turned over and blasted me in the nose with his cast (he had a broken wrist). We walked to a diner for breakfast. When we came back we found Tucker in the back setting up a badmitton set he’d bought at a garage sale. After hours of that, Tucker broke out the candy apple kit and soon my boys were so sticky they could have climbed the side of Tucker’s house like geckos. (At this point, my boys were full-on Tucker fans.)

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Then we headed to the ballpark. Mike came with us, and brought along his brother, Rich, and Rich’s son. We found street parking and walked the quarter mile to the park.

Like all the new parks, this one was gorgeous. The railing and walls were gleaming white with red and gold Nationals colors everywhere. We bought Strassburg shirts and headed up into the stands. We had tickets in the first row of the upper deck, which was perfect because the boys could see perfectly.

The game? Hard to say for most of it. Jack sat there enraptured the entire time. He watched every pitch. Jack is a born baseball fan. In fact, we’ve left a few minor league games early and in every case had to literally carry him out kicking and screaming.

Alex…not so much. I think he’s getting more into baseball now, but as a four year old he had no patience for watching. He was there to get fed.

Click here to see the box score for Alex:

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After the game we walked slowly back to our parking spots. It was just getting dark. I exchanged a big hug with Mike, and the boys said tired “thank yous”. Minutes later we were back on the highway headed for home.

Things that are awesome at AT&T Park

Just to finish up the Giants experience, here are some things that make going to a Giant’s game terrific – other than the park being generally gorgeous.

1)    Panda stuff is everywhere. Pablo Sandoval, the Giant’s 3rd baseball, is nicknamed the Kung Fu Panda, because he’s really round and fat, but still shockingly agile and quick.

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So the place is full of panda hats, stuffed pandas, you name it. People really do wear these silly things.

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2)    Gilroy’s Garlic Fries and good beer (all absurdly priced, of course). I think they have Ghiardelli chocolate sundaes too.

3)    They all sing “City by the Bay” by Journey in the 7th inning. Whole crowd sings along – which is a lot of fun.

4)    There is no bullpen. Pitcher’s line up on the foul line right in front of the crowd. When the relief pitcher throws to the catcher everyone goes WOOOOOP! (noise gets higher-pitched). When catcher throws back, the crowd goes WOOOOOO! (noise gets lower-piched.)

WOOOOOP! (pitch up)

WOOOOOO! (pitch down)

It give a yo-yo effect. It makes sense if you do it out loud.

5) There’s a guy running around with a bugle. He plays and everyone yells “CHARGE”. Way more fun then it being played over the PA.

Also of note, the fans are fresh off a World Series win, so they are enthusiastic and plentiful. Fun, fun park.

Boys Baseball Weekend (Part 5 of 5)

And finally, the escape. We made our way around to the right field gate to line up for “Kids Run the Bases”. We were led in a line down to the field and as we reached home plate the boys launched in a frantic loop around the diamond.

Back at the car we came out of the lot, looped around Heinz field, ramp to 376 and then onward without a lick of traffic. We got the rock blocks working with perfect peace between the boys. They decided to do a Selena Gomez rock block and sang the words substituting lyrics about farts and poop.

Shani called and both boys wanted to talk to her. Alex walked her through all the times he got to have soda over the course of the weekend. Jack gave her a play-by-play of the game that was so detailed it took longer than the game itself.

We stopped for a quick dinner and then it was getting dark and the car was launching along the road with that momentum I feel on a road trip. It’s almost like the car isn’t going forward along a road, but dropping straight down. I’m Lancelot with a sword. I’m Jimi Hendrix. I’m Jerry Rice at the line about to burst into a crossing route. I’m God’s knight filled with the Holy Spirit. I’m all the joy there is, ever has been or ever will be. My touch can heal and my foot on the accelerator can bend time. No one can road trip like me.

Alex fell asleep and Jack and I talked softly for the last hour. He brought up how maybe he could be a sports writer instead of a baseball player because he’s not “that that that” good at sports. At 11:30 we finally pulled into the driveway. Jack splashed into Shani’s arms on the front porch. It was a hug that brought with it all the joy he’d soaked up over the weekend. It made her as much a part of it as if she’d been there. With stiff legs I carried Alex up to his bed.

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Note to visitors headed to PNC: You’re an idiot if you don’t join the Bucaroos Kids Club. http://pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com/pit/fan_forum/kids_index.jsp

It is FREE, they sent a package to each of my boys containing a voucher for a free ticket (saved us $56 for 2 tickets) and a voucher to go to the front of the line for “Kids Run the Bases” (saved us at least 30 minutes of waiting around).

Boys Baseball Weekend (Part 4 of 5)

The magic never happened. Those kids who were lined up got announced by name and then they ran out onto the field. McCutchen appeared from a different entrance and started tossing the ball around with his teammates. Anthem, first pitch, game starting. The boys stood at the railing looking confused.

I went to the usher.

“So I guess you want us to head to our seats?” (A perfect opening for him to let us stay in the seats by the dugout.)

“Yes.”

“OK. Thanks. Hey…we’re in section 128. Can you point us in the right direction?” (Another chance to let us stay there.)

“Those are good seats. You’ll be in the shade.”

So away we trudged up to our seats. We were near third base and rather than make our way to the actual seats we went to one of the back rows and spread out. The game started and almost immediately the Reds were up 2 runs. We were experiencing major letdown from our near on-field enthusiasm.

We recovered by hitting the store. Standard procedure for us is to get shirts, but that’s expanded a bit. Jack tries to get hats and Alex gets stuffed animals. Jack ended up with a McCutchen T-Shirt and Alex got a bear with a Clemente jersey.

Back in stands we got better seats that gave us a great view of the field. We started getting into the game. We got crab fries and a cheesesteak (and a beer for me) the next inning and then really settled in. The stadium is just gorgeous. I’ve been to about half the ballparks in the league and PNC is officially #1 for me now. You can see the city behind it, the bright yellow bridges, the cliffs.

The kids, even Alex, got really into the game. They dutifully yelled “CHARGE” when they played the horn and screamed their heads off when the scoreboard read: “Make Some Noise!

In between innings, Jack would hustle down to the railing above the left fielder, hoping to get a ball thrown to him. Then he’d run back up the aisle, and I’d get choked up watching him. I’d swear I could make out the details of his blue eyes, which is impossible from that distance, but there you are.

Meanwhile, the Pirates were getting killed 5-0 in a slow and uneventful game. They looked completely outmatched. The crowd started to do the wave, which I firmly ordered my kids to ignore. (A note to non-baseball fans: baseball fans do NOT do the wave at a baseball game.)

Then in the 7th, McCutchen made this terrific smotherslide to steal a base hit and that seemed to spark the Pirates. They bashed a series of home runs in the 8th, which had my boys delirious with screaming, and before you knew it the score was 10-5, Pirates. They eventually took it 10-7 in a game that lasted just under 4 hours.

Boys

Boys Baseball Weekend (Part 3 of 5)

The morning worked like this:

  • Wake up with a lot of snuggling.
  • Head down to for breakfast where the boys go batty with the orange juice dispenser and the Fruit Loop dispenser.
  • Back up and bounce on the beds while I yell at them to stay quiet.

It’s about 8:45 after all this; Jack wanted to play catch in a field we could see from our hotel window. We got the gloves from the car and Alex brought his book. But it turned out the field was full of rocks, so we ended up in the parking lot of a diner. Jack and I threw the ball while Alex sat and read. (I had a folding chair in the trunk – in fact, my trunk is a model of suburban dad readiness. I’ve got folding chairs, blankets, baseball stuff, a football, bug spray, sun tan lotion, you name it, I’m ready to party.)

Jack is a mystery as an athlete to me. He’s 9 and small for his age. And I’m an average athlete at best. But I watch Jack gobble up tough grounders and then fire the ball back to me where half the time I literally don’t have to even move the glove. Sports is status in the 4th grade, and in my town the parents throw gas on that fire, but Jack genuinely loves baseball.

The catch we had was really special. And unexpected. These boys always teach me that when I just go with it I’m rewarded with great things. A catch in a parking lot while Alex read Geronimo Stilton was nothing I planned for, but man oh man was it cool.

At 9:45 we headed for the game. I got lost (expected) and by 10:30 we found a parking lot that was right near the entrance to 376. (Escape is key for ball game parking.) We walked to the stadium and bought our tickets, then to kill time grabbed some food in a sports bar. There we ordered pot roast nachos, which were so good I was going to other tables and trying to talk people into ordering them. We gobbled these up and I washed them down with a local beer that was hoppy hoppy hoppy.

At noon they opened the gates to the empty park. The Reds were taking batting practice and pitchers were playing toss. We worked our way to the Pirates dugout where we started to grab the autographs of players going by. First was a guy no one knew, then Melancon, Wilson, and finally their closer Grilli, who was so damn nice. There was a crowd of over 100 at this point and the boys stayed put at the front rail. Jack had a McCutchen jersey on and wanted him to sign.

Then about 30 minutes before first pitch a lady brings a bunch of kids out on the field and sat them along the railing. An old black guy was the usher for this section and he started throwing people out who weren’t seated there. So I asked him if we should leave because my kids were hoping for a McCutchen signature. He says, “you just keep them right there. It’s kids take the field day. You stand back, but keep them right there.”

I’ve seen kids take the field. They come onto the field with the players. They stand with them during the anthem. And now I’m thinking…holy shit, this usher is getting my kids on the field.

I texted Shani: “Magic about to happen.”

Glovehead

Autograph2

Throwing