sports

When I was the MVP of free Thunder swag

In 2008, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Twitter were new things. Neither of them had reached the level of popularity they enjoy today. I guess you could say I was an early adopter of both.

Before they became a winning team, the Thunder did a lot of online promotions on Twitter and elsewhere. I do not think it is unfair to say I was an absolute master of winning these contests. Many of them demanded speed. For example, the team might tweet that they were giving away a prize package to the first person to email the mascot Rumble the Bison. I prepared by adjusting the Twitter settings to automatically ping me when the Thunder tweeted, and I saved the main marketing emails, phone numbers, etc., to my phone so I could fire off a response within seconds.

Because there were so few Twitter users in 2008-09, it was pretty easy for me to rack up a bunch of team stuff like a Rumble doll (I gave that to Matt’s daughter), several T-shirts, and once I won entry into a “Tweet Suite”. For an entire game, several of us dorky Twitter users got to hang out in a suite and tweet about the game, while the team account retweeted us. Yes, I realize none of this information makes me sound super cool. But it was fun and that’s all I cared about at the time.

Hanging with Rumble in the “Tweet Suite”

The best item I won off Twitter was an autographed 8×10 photo of Russell Westbrook. He was a rookie at the time, and a lot of people in Oklahoma thought the Thunder drafted him too high at #4 overall. He had not established himself in any way as the global superstar he is today. So I didn’t think too much about the prize at the time. I just tucked it away and forgot about it for years. More about that later.

In those early years, the Thunder would also host a chat session on its web site during the games to discuss the action on the court. One of the members of the team’s marketing staff was the moderator. Only a few dozen people would join these chats, as I recall. In between the third and fourth quarters of the games, the staff member would pose an NBA trivia question. The first one to get it right would win two tickets to the next home game.

Now, an intense knowledge of NBA history certainly could have helped win this contest. I didn’t have that. I’m a baseball guy. But luckily, most Oklahomans at that time also didn’t have a thorough grasp of the pro game. So again, it was a matter of speed. And damn, was I fast. I had two browsers open and tiled side-by-side, one to the chat and one to Google. I would have the question typed in the search bar the second it was asked. I’d copy and paste the answer back to the other window and hit enter. And I won. A lot. I’m gonna say at least 15 times. And they weren’t top of the arena Loud City seats. I never sat farther than 10 rows back of the court when I won these contests.

Why didn’t they limit the number of times I could win? I do not know. They should have. I quickly lost interest in the chat room itself. I would just fire up the PC in the waning moments of the third quarter, say a few niceties to the regulars, and then do my thing. The only time I didn’t have a fighting chance of winning the trivia contest was when I was at the game because I had won the previous contest. I even tried to use my phone to win from the arena. But cell phone data wasn’t quite there in the late aughts.

I didn’t have much money in those days. In fact, I was unemployed during some of this stretch. So it was cool to enjoy the Thunder up close and personal on a semi-regular basis. I had a pre-game routine in which I parked in Bricktown for free and I went to America’s Pub. They had a burger and fries special for $5. Every 20 minutes they would let all the patrons in the bar shoot free throws. Those who made their shot won a free draft beer. For whatever reason, I almost always made it. I was enjoying an NBA game from the rich people seats, and a meal, and cold Silver Bullets, for the mere price of a Subway footlong. The luck was flowing.

Until it wasn’t. Because it didn’t take long until the Thunder became a legit NBA team. They made the playoffs in 2010 and gave the Lakers all they wanted in the first round. The Thunder were suddenly an incredibly hot ticket. The free tickets vanished. I paid for my own seat in that playoff round and I sat way way way up high. Heck, even America’s Pub eventually closed. I guess the business model of cheap food and free beer didn’t work in such a high-rent district.

The Andersons at the playoffs

So back to that Westbrook photo. Once he was Mr. Triple-Double MVP, I remembered I once had his autograph in my possession. But I had no idea where. I searched the house up and down. I even asked a couple of people if I had given it to them. No luck. So I gave up. I figured it was lost when I moved to Missouri and got married in 2014. After all, most of my single life was sold off in a garage sale before the move.

But lo and behold, it revealed itself today. We have been working on a total-house cleanout and I am minimizing my possessions. I was going through my baseball memorabilia so I could separate it into stacks of “keep” vs “scan and toss”. And there he was. An pre-superstardom, early-20s Westbrook with that already-ferocious look ready to slam the ball in front of Jameer Nelson. It’s amazing. I will be framing it. It’s just too bad he moved South and I moved north. Ah, the good old days.

XXX

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photography, sports, travel

I met Joe DiMaggio, but couldn’t keep my eyes on the ball

Is Throwback Thursday still a thing? Let’s throw it back to 1996. I was a high school junior. My parents took my sister Kendra and me to Florida for Spring Break. We went to Disney World and a bunch of Spring Training baseball games. The Royals still trained in Florida in those days. When we went to their park, I was lucky enough to meet George Brett and he signed a baseball for me. A Hall of Famer, not too shabby. That would have been the highlight of the trip until we went to the Tampa airport to return home.

We always flew Southwest Airines. Dad flew a lot for business and he racked up a ton of free SWA tickets, so it made our vacations less expensive. We were sitting at the gate waiting for our flight home, when my Mom noticed him. He walked past with two other men and settled into a chair a few rows over. Could it be? No way! The Great Joe DiMaggio is flying … Southwest Airlines? And he is even carrying a Yankees-branded duffel bag? And he’s just … sitting there? It was mind-boggling. And it didn’t seem like anyone else in the airport had noticed.

Now of course we had to do something. But I’m not very good at approaching celebrities. Most of the time I prefer to let them be. This man had been world famous for 60 years as a superstar New York Yankee. He was briefly married to Marilyn Monroe. He did commercials for Mr. Coffee. How would he handle it if we went up to him? Is he so conditioned to appeasing fans, that it’s no big deal? Or did he tire of it and become surly decades ago? I’ll admit I didn’t have the guts to do it. I became way too nervous.

Dad stepped up and led Kendra and me over to the Hall of Famer. Mom stayed with our stuff (you da real MVP!). Dad spoke to him first and shook his hand. Dad asked Joe if he would sign an autograph for us. Joe said yes. I handed him the Yankee hat I happened to be wearing. “Sorry, not that,” he said. Hmm OK. We had a program from the Yankee game we had attended a few days before. That worked. “I guess you probably want a photo, too,” he surmised. Yes please! Dad snapped the pic and we left the man in peace.

Except not really. Sadly we had attracted the attention of the masses. So Joe moved to a far corner of the terminal and his two companions assumed guard duty to keep others at bay. Oops, sorry.

The camera that took the photo was, of course, a film camera. This was 1996, after all. When we returned to Oklahoma City and Mom pulled the camera out of the luggage, it had opened during the flight, exposing the film. Tragedy! We sent it for developing and hoped for the best. Sure enough, the double exposure had created some problems, including red vertical lines through the image. And our faces were washed out. But you could still see us and you could still see the man who once hit safely in 56 consecutive games. The only real problem: My eyes are closed in the photo! This is a common problem for me, as my eyes are super sensitive to bright light, including camera flashes. Oh well. Can’t re-shoot this one.

I recently tried my hand at editing and restoring the red-stained image, and the result is posted at the top of this page. Here is the original:

There was a 1991 episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer tells his friends about seeing DiMaggio in Dinky Donuts. Jerry is incredulous that DiMaggio would be in a donut shop or that he would dunk his donuts. But I’m here to tell you, If he flew Southwest and sat among the commoners, he probably dunked his donuts, too.

DiMaggio died three years after we met him. Paul Simon penned a tribute in the New York Times. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? You will forever be the most famous person I ever met.

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sports, travel

Matt and Chad’s definitive ranking of MLB parks we have seen

Basketball courts and football fields are all essentially the same, but baseball parks are unique. That uniqueness affects both the game on the field and the fan experience. A lazy fly ball to left is a routine out at most ballparks, but can easily clear the Green Monster for a home run at Fenway Park. Taking in a game at PNC Park is a fully immersive Pittsburgh experience, as the stadium’s designers did a wonderful job melding the Allegheny River, the downtown skyline and the Roberto Clemente bridge with the city’s classic yellow and black colors.

Chad and I have been on two extended baseball road trips (Kevin joined us for the first one in 2002). Since our second tour in 2015, we’ve tried to make an annual weekend out of hitting one baseball outpost and seeing what the city has to offer. This year, that’s not going to happen (“yer a bum, COVID-19!”), so we decided to take an inventory of all the stadiums we have visited and rank them. 

We’re including stadiums that have since been retired or demolished, as well as stadiums where we only went for a tour or where our game was rained out. I’ve visited 20 stadiums in my life; Chad is at 24. We’ve both been to most of the stadiums on this list since we’ve attended many of these games together, but Chad had a few extra picks at the end since his list is a bit longer. I commandeered the first pick because I would have murdered him if he tried to take Wrigley Field away from me.

This blog is appearing identically on both our blogs and ironically on his. Luckylifestories.com (mine) is an apt title for a guy who gets to travel around the country to watch baseball and drink beer, while stayathomechad.com is writing about times when Chad did not stay at home.

1. Wrigley Field, Chicago (Matt)

Kevin, Matt, and Chad stand outside Murphy’s Bleachers before staking out a spot in Wrigley’s bleachers, 2002.
Andre Dawson jersey
Paying homage to the “Hawk” with a jersey purchase, 2015.

My high school graduation present was my first trip to Wrigley. We sat in the bleachers and I was scolded by security for leaning over the wall and snatching a piece of ivy. My college graduation present (to myself) was a baseball road trip with Chad and Kevin. I felt like crap the entire time which I later found out was due to having mono. Still, I managed to snag two batting practice home runs on the same day at Wrigley.

I once sat through two separate 3-hour rain delays and saw every pitch of a 14-inning game that started at 2 p.m. and ended at 1 a.m. There were so few people left in the stadium by the end of it that mom and I were able to sit on the third row behind the Cubs dugout. 

I’ve been back twice since the giant video boards were added, and they don’t take away from the experience at all. You still have the neighborhood feel, the local bars, the old scoreboard, the ivy and the view of Lake Michigan. 

I named my oldest kid after the street Wrigley is located on. Need I say more? 

2. Camden Yards, Baltimore (Chad)

Chad’s first visit to Baltimore in 2000. Boog’s Bar-B-Q ranks among the best MLB stadium food.

Baltimore receives credit for sparking the ballpark building craze in the early 90s, with ample nods to history and vintage design. The brick B&O Warehouse in right field defines the park’s stunning aesthetics. The Orioles seem to have a supportive fan base, in good times and bad, with Cal Ripken Jr. serving as its god among men. A big plus is the Inner Harbor area. It is a picturesque setting just steps from the ball yard with colorful buildings, sailboats, and an abundance of top-notch seafood. Also in the neighborhood is Babe Ruth’s childhood home, with a decent little museum dedicated to the Bambino.

I’ve been to Camden Yards three times. The most memorable came in 2001 when I was a U.S. Senate intern. This was before the Washington Nationals existed, and I wanted to catch a ballgame while I was in the Beltway for the summer. So I rented a minivan and crammed in all of my office’s interns (definitely more people than a minivan should hold) for the 45-minute trip to Baltimore. I was 22 at the time, and probably shouldn’t have been able to rent a vehicle, but flashing a Senate badge goes a long way in D.C., or at least it did then.

To be honest, it’s probably a crime that we ranked this above Fenway, but we did this blog draft style and I wasn’t invited on Matt’s Boston trip (cough cough), so what can you do?

3. Fenway Park, Boston (Matt)

Much like Wrigley, Fenway sits smack in the middle of a neighborhood. There will never be parks like those anymore, and those two are so unique and cool that they really should be separated from every other park on this list. 

In college, two of my journalism friends got summer internships at The Boston Globe, so I saved up a little money and flew up for a weekend. We got to the park early, walked around the neighborhood and all around the stadium before settling into our crappy seats in dead center field about 520 feet away from home plate. We took pictures standing next to the left field foul pole right next to the green monster (this was before there was seating atop the monster). It was a fun day, and I’d love to go back.

4. PNC Park, Pittsburgh (Chad)

Two nights at PNC in 2015 were definitely not enough.

If stadiums can no longer go into neighborhoods, the next best thing is downtown. I love a good urban view, and no one has come close to doing it as well as Pittsburgh. The Roberto Clemente Bridge is such a cool backdrop. Really, the whole city is cool. All of the major sports teams have the same colors, and it seems like the whole city is adorned in yellow and black. We spent a lot of time walking the Allegheny River between the ballpark and Rivers Casino. Between the two is Heinz Field, home of the Steelers. The fan base is second to none. I feel sorry for them because the Pirates have had bad luck in wild-card games and they missed their small window for a championship. But I’d go back to Pittsburgh in a heartbeat no matter how good or bad the Pirates were.

My only complaint was that the ballpark feels like it was built on a lot that was too small. The sacrifice came in the concourses, where it was wall-to-wall humanity the entire game. Expect to miss a full inning in order to tinkle or buy a Primanti Brothers sandwich. 

5. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City (Matt)

In 2002, Kauffman served as the launching pad for an epic baseball road trip. 

Many would say I’ve ranked this too high, but there’s a simplistic beauty to this stadium that I really enjoy. The fountains are a nice touch, and they’ve added a craft beer section with great stuff from Boulevard.

The first time I visited was on that college graduation road trip with Kevin and Chad. I remember “tailgating” with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the parking lot because we were too poor to afford anything better. 

Chad’s bachelor party included a game at Kauffman, and that was a lot of fun too. With Chad living pretty close to Kansas City now, he gets to go to a fair number of Royals games. I stole this stadium in the draft but I’ll let him pick out a picture to go with it.

6. Coors Field, Denver (Chad)

Best seat in the house, 2018.

It took me multiple visits to find the best seat at Coors Field, but I finally settled on it a couple of years ago. It is the front row of the upper deck on the first base side. From there, you can see a wide panoramic view of the game as well as the majestic Rocky Mountain peaks just beyond the right field scoreboard. Oh, and lest I forget the sky. Most nights it fills up with a spectacular orange and purple splay at sunset.

The revitalized downtown neighborhood is fun, particularly if you are a craft beer fan. We have spent time before and after games at Wynkoop, Breckenridge, and Prost, among others.

In many ways, the structure itself is similar to its mid-90s contemporaries. It’s a very nice, clean ballparks with vintage vibes and great sight lines all around. But simply being in Colorado is enough to fill me with joy, so for the game day experience and natural views, Colorado has those rivals beat by a mile (high).

7. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati (Matt)

There are two reasons this one is so high up on my list. First is the Reds Hall of Fame. Chad and I spent a good hour or so in there before the game started, and I just love the history. A lot of Johnny Bench stuff, which we have to love as native Oklahomans.

I also liked how wide the concourses were. It bugs me when I want to get a beer or take a leak between innings only to get jammed up in a sea of people on the concourse. Great American is the first class section of ballpark concourses. There were also lots of good food and drink options, and a view of downtown Cincy similar to what you get at PNC in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is just a little prettier to look at in my opinion.

8. (Old) Yankee Stadium, New York (Chad)

The ecstasy of a pre-game stroll through Monument Park. 

Let me preface by saying I have had the worst luck with baseball in The Bronx. When I went to the old stadium in 2000, we sat and watched rain fall for several hours until the game against the Red Sox was postponed. Strike one. In October 2011, I went to New York for business and I bought a ticket for the Yankees’ second-round playoff series in their new stadium. However, the Yankees lost to the Tigers in the first round, rendering my ticket useless. Strike two. The next time I went to NYC in 2016, the Yanks were out of town. Strike three.

But I saw enough of the the House that Ruth Built during that rainout in 2000 to declare its majesty. Walking through Monument Park was especially satisfying. The enormity of the stadium, and I assume its successor, is stunning. Hopefully I’ll get to see the new one on my next visit to the Big Apple.

The fan base is simply nuts. A beer vendor appeared out of nowhere and shouted “WHOOOOO’S DRINKING HERE?” and a fan responded “WE’RE ALLLLLLL DRINKING HERE!” and the rest of the section cheered – and drank – as the rain fell. That’s about the nicest story I can recount about Yankee fans. They are bold and brash and obnoxious, home or away (“27 RIIIIIIINGS!!!!!”). I used to be one of them, but at some point I couldn’t even tolerate myself anymore.

The agony of a multi-hour rain delay. (I don’t know what’s going on with my mouth in this pic. In the film camera days, there were no re-shoots.)

9. Target Field, Minneapolis (Matt)

I loved Minneapolis as a whole. Reminds me a lot of Oklahoma City. I was really surprised by the craft beer scene there, surpassed only by San Diego among cities I’ve been to. We got lucky on the weather when we were there too.

The stadium itself is modern and cool, in the mold of Pittsburgh/Cincinnati/St. Louis where you get a good feel and view of the whole downtown area.

Of the two games we attended there, my main memory has nothing to do with baseball. The guy sitting directly in front of us proposed to his girlfriend on the jumbotron, and she said yes. So Chad and I were on the video getting excited for this newly engaged couple. And we had already had a couple beers so we were maybe even a little more excited than we should have been.

10. Progressive Field, Cleveland (Chad)

We were happy members of #TRIBETOWN for one wild Friday night.

I think I am safe in speaking for Matt when I say Progressive Field was the best surprise of our 2015 tour. Before we went, I knew the Indians had seen a lot of success in the mid-90s and had an impressive streak of selling out the stadium. But that was a while ago. I hadn’t heard much about the Indians and their fans since. But when we visited, the stadium was packed and we had a blast.

Pre-game, Matt played poker downtown, and I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Eventually we met up and had a couple beers at the Clevelander Bar. From there we hit the stadium. It struck me as a very vertical stadium, which may not make a ton of sense, but it felt like the decks were stacked directly on top of each other. Despite sitting in the outfield, I felt like we were on top of the action. The fans around us, rooting for both the Indians and the Twins, were a lot of fun. Not annoying at all, but providing great conversation and fun teasing. It didn’t hurt that the game was an action-packed affair that ended in a 10-9 Twins victory. After the game, the Indians put on the most intense fireworks show I’ve ever seen. Not the biggest or brightest, but definitely the loudest. Overall, we came away with a positive impression of a vibrant downtown and an excellent stadium.

11. Chase Field, Phoenix (Matt)

The season was still a week away, but the Chase Field pool appeared to be in mid-season form.

Last year, Chad and I went to Phoenix for a few days of spring training, which was a fun wrinkle. We took a stadium tour of the Diamondbacks home, something I’d never done before. 

It was cool to see the inside of the stadium, such as the clubhouse and the dugout. In the entryway to the home dugout was a metal horizontal bar bolted to the ceiling. Our tour guide informed us that this was installed when Randy Johnson was pitching for the team, and he would hang from it to stretch his back between innings. I had always thought stadium tours were just a weak money grab, but tidbits like that changed my mind. 

The poker players of Phoenix took some of my money on that trip, so maybe one of these days I’ll exact my revenge during a baseball season and actually watch a game at Chase Field. 

12. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles (Chad)

This one is hard for me to rank, because I went there when I was only 6, and my memories are definitely colored by 35 years of watching games on television. To put that in perspective, I went there three years BEFORE Kurt Gibson’s miraculous walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series. But still, it holds good memories for me, as I watched the Dodgers square off against the Cincinnati Reds team that featured Pete Rose as a player-manager. Plus I really like the vibrant colors of the southern California yard, the hills and palm trees in the distance, and the cool 60s angles on the signs and overhangs in the outfield. 

(Quick aside from Matt: My first MLB game was at Dodger Stadium, and it was during that 1988 season. Fernando Valenzuela got shelled. We sat on the very top row. I don’t remember much else about it).

13. Comerica Park, Detroit (Matt)

Will the statue of a supposedly racist Ty Cobb remain at Comerica Park?

I’ve only spent one day in Detroit in my whole life. We drove across to Canada during the day before a 7 p.m. Tigers/Red Sox game, spent 20 minutes there and then got detained at the border trying to cross back into the United States. That was a bit unsettling, but after a couple of hours at the border patrol we got out in time for the game.

The seats we actually purchased were the worst ones I’ve ever sat in. They were temporary bleachers tucked under the actual bleachers beyond the left field wall. We decided to forego those and just roam around the stadium the entire game.

Like Kauffman and its Boulevard section, Comerica has a great craft beer bar from Founders. Chad and I drank a lot of beer on that 2015 road trip but the best was the Red Rye IPA we got at that bar. I also remember spending an inning or two talking to and older local man who told us stories about the old Tiger Stadium. Having conversations with strangers who also love baseball is one of the best things about going to a ballgame.

14. Petco Park, San Diego (Chad)

Everything about San Diego is bright and beautiful, including your blog author.

This is another park that I have visited, but unfortunately I have not seen a game there. Our family was in San Diego a few years ago smack dab between the World Baseball Classic and MLB’s Opening Day. We didn’t a chance for any games, but we took a tour of Petco anyway. Like Camden Yards, this one features an historic building facade (Western Metal Supply Co.) as part of the stadium. We went in that building and it has a pretty sweet bar and some swanky pool tables, as well as the Padres’ store. 

When we came outside, the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs were practicing for Opening Day, and it felt like they were falling right over our heads and landing on the field. I’d still prefer a baseball game, but that was a cool consolation prize and great memory. San Diego is a beautiful place and its ballpark fits right in.

15. Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago (Matt)

The stadium itself is absolutely nothing special at all. 

Having said that, it was the only stadium on our 2015 tour that let us sit wherever we wanted. So we bought crappy seats and never even bothered to check them out. We sat in the lower section and watched Chris Sale pitch to Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and the Angels.

We also found out that GRF has some of the best ballpark food in the country, but unfortuntely we didn’t find this out until after our visit there. We ate at a sports bar across the street before the game and weren’t hungry once we got inside, but the smells were amazing. Won’t make the same mistake again if I ever go back.

16. The Ballpark in Arlington (Chad)

Matt and I went to Arlington for Opening Day in 2009. President Bush, less than three months after leaving the White House, threw out the first pitch. 

I’ve seen quite a few games in Arlington, since most of my life I lived only 3 1/2 hours away in Oklahoma City. The park that opened in 1994 is truly beautiful, and for most of my life I would have ranked it in the top 10, but now it is retired and will probably continue to slide down the list into history. 

The main reason for this stadium’s early demise is the brutal Texas summer heat. I can attest, it is miserable. I have lost many pounds sweating at Rangers games, even into the night. One year I took my parents to an opening weekend game, hoping that early April would be mild enough for us to enjoy a day game. It wasn’t. I’m looking forward to seeing the new roofed stadium, although I predict it may suffer some of the same problems of Minute Maid in Houston (see below).

One good memory is when Matt and I both took our families to a Cubs-Rangers game in 2007 and witnessed Sammy Sosa becoming the 5th player to hit 600 home runs. I still think it’s crazy he hit that milestone AGAINST the Cubs. 

17. Marlins Park, Miami (Matt) 

Sure, it’s wonky, and I was there when they still had the goofy home run art piece in center. But it did offer a wide concourse with solid beer options, interesting dimensions and a bobblehead museum that I spent at least an inning and a half at. 

Overall, I’d say this stadium gets a bit of an unfair bad wrap. But maybe that’s what it deserves for charging the citizens of Miami a buttload of tax dollars to build it and then putting a Triple-A caliber team on the field.

18. (Current) Busch Stadium, St. Louis (Chad)

Sweating my face off in 2006.

The first time I went to Busch III during its inaugural season of 2006, it was over 100 degrees for a day game. Baptism by fire, I suppose. The downtown views of the Gateway Arch are solid. The stadium itself, I found a little generic and underwhelming. The food selection was also not great (Carls Jr burgers? Get out of here!)

We waited many years for the Ballpark Village next door, but again, I was a disappointed. While I’ve certainly had fun with friends there, the entire thing is apparently owned and/or operated by Anheuser-Busch, which means the beer sucks and the food is mediocre. The atmosphere seems so sterile and manufactured, rather than feeling gritty and natural (like Wrigleyville). 

Cardinals fans are passionate, there’s no doubt, but their park is middle-of-the-pack at best. 

19. Minute Maid Park, Houston (Matt)

Chad attended Opening Day in Houston in 2012.

I found this one to be highly disappointing. The coolest thing about it was the flag pole on a hill that was in play in centerfield, but they got rid of that for safety reasons. 

The left field fence is way too close, yielding cheap homers. Texas beers generally suck and the team cheats. Yes, we’re to that point on the list.

(If Matt can do an aside, so can Chad: Here’s the deal about Minute Maid. If the weather is decent and the roof is open, it is a top-10 baseball cathedral. The train is especially cool. But if the roof is closed, and it almost always is, the stadium has all the ambiance of a 1990s shopping mall on a Tuesday morning.)

20. Citi Field, New York (Chad)

When I sent this fiery sunset pic to Matt, he responded, “This is why baseball is the best sport.”

Luckily my New York curse did not extend to Queens. We took in a ballgame in ’16 while we were in New York for Aften’s medical conference. The tennis U.S. Open was also going on, and I wish I could have gone to that, too. We entered Citi Field through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. You have to get past the fact that Jackie played for the Dodgers and not the Mets, and he played in Brooklyn and not Queens, but it’s still a neat tribute. The exterior facade of the park is also apparently a nod to Ebbets Field and the Home Run Apple from Shea Stadium is there for cool photo ops. The inside of the park is nice enough, although I didn’t get to explore much because I was wrangling a 7-month old. The biggest memory is a beautiful baseball sky sunset that was almost as good as Colorado. 

Pro tips for visiting Citi Field: 1) If you are going to a night game in rush hour, take the express train and not the local that makes every stop in Queens like we stupidly did. 2) If you like real-deal Chinese food, go one subway stop further to Chinatown in Flushing for your pre-game eats. There is a hidden underground food court that has amazing dumplings and a ton of other good food. Then take the subway back one stop for the game. 3) Buy your return subway ticket BEFORE the game or make sure you have an all-day ticket. You do not want to be stuck in the line (there are literally only two machines for 40K fans) buying tickets after the game, or even in the 6th inning because you brought a baby and you have to get back to Manhattan so this kid can get some sleep already! (I never ever ever leave a game early, but there are some fights a man just cannot win.)

21. Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta (Matt)

I was incredibly lucky on the two games I attended here. The first, when the Braves were terrible, was a game in which Dale Murphy homered twice in the same inning, one of which was a grand slam.

The second involved a fire in one of the suites before the game started, leading to a long delay. This was 1993, and the Braves had just traded for star first baseman Fred McGriff. In his first game with the team, after waiting out the fire delay, McGriff hit a grand slam that sent the stadium into a frenzy. The Braves went on to run down the Giants by one game in one of the most epic divisional title races ever. But let’s be honest, the stadium itself sucked.

22. Angels Stadium, Anaheim (Chad)

My parents took my sister and me to Angels Stadium on July 4, 1989. I was 10. It was a vacation that was filled with a lot of sickness, as my family members passed around a stomach bug. By the time the game rolled around, I was feeling fine, but I can’t say the same for my parents. Big credit to them for sticking it out because the payoff was truly epic. Tony Armas Sr. hit a 3-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th with two outs to beat the Rangers, 5-2. That led to by far the best fireworks display I had ever seen at that point in my life. I remember getting a little teary at the patriotic music. Big feelings for a 10-year-old. 

I admit I don’t really remember much about the stadium. One detail I recall is that we were sitting down the left field line, and it felt like our seats were facing directly at the left fielder, making it uncomfortable to turn our heads to watch 98 percent of the action taking place on the infield. Angels Stadium has been renovated a few times since 1989, so hopefully they corrected that issue. Still, my overall impression of this stadium is that it is serviceable but not necessarily special, kind of like the Angels themselves outside of the GOAT Mike Trout. 

23. Miller Park, Milwaukee (Matt)

We got Wood! And unfortunately, also mono.

I could be biased here, because the Brewers are division rivals with the Cubs and also because my only visit came on that 2002 trip when I had mono, but I was completely underwhelmed. The stadium had a fake-looking rusty-steel exterior, and that damn Bernie Brewer slide is annoying. The hot dog race is kind of cool, though.

24. (Old) Busch Stadium, St. Louis (Chad)

I went to a number of games at Busch II during my childhood. The time that comes to mind first was during a 1988 vacation that we made down the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Memphis. 

In a game against the Giants, future Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Smith hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 7th to tie the game and the place came unglued. Ozzie only hit 28 dingers in 2,573 career games, so there was about a 1 percent chance that it would happen in any given game. 

The little arches that encircled the top of the stadium were cool. But the shape of the stadium, plus artificial turf, plus Midwest humidity, made the place the worlds largest air fryer. I also remember being supremely annoyed when I was a child at the number of beer vendors that Busch II had in the stands. Like, way way too many beer vendors. It was distracting. I certainly didn’t shed any tears when St. Louis broke ground on a replacement in the aughts. 

25. Arlington Stadium, Arlington (Matt)

My dad took me to one or two games there when I was little. I don’t remember much about it, except it reminds me of both the old All-Sports Stadium in Oklahoma City and the old Milwaukee park in which they filmed “Major League” (Yes, even though it was the Cleveland Indians they filmed the games in Milwaukee). There’s a reason those stadiums no longer stand. 

26-29. The rest of my list (Chad)

A Father’s Day walk-off for Ryan Zimmerman, 2006. Note the soccer players at the top of the upper deck.

If you’ve made it this far, I applaud your resiliency and I’ll make quick work of the rest of my list, mostly because they either are retired or I don’t remember much about them. 

  • Candlestick Park, San Francisco. Swirling, cold wind in the middle of summer, and Barry Bonds went 0/4 (cue Nelson from the Simpsons saying “haha!”) in a day game in 1993.
  • Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego. Mom got an up-close look at one of her favorite players, Ron Darling, during his incredibly short Expos stint (“he’s so darling!”).
  • Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Washington, D.C. I went to a three-game Yankees-Nats series on Father’s Day weekend in 2006. On Sunday, Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off home run with his dad in the stands, which was awesome. The stadium was adorned with images of DC United soccer players, which was definitely not awesome. 
  • Oakland Coliseum, Oakland. I can’t believe baseball is still being played in this sewage-spewing dump. The best memory I have from that 1993 trip is that a man hopped the centerfield wall wearing only a jersey, and ran and slid into second base before being arrested. “That’s gonna leave a mark!”

What’s next (Chad)

This year will be the first since 1995 that I will not attend a Major League Baseball game. Who knows what 2021 will hold for pandemics and sports. But eventually, we will get back to attending live games, and we certainly have a few stadiums on our wish list.

The first glaring omission on our list is that Oracle Park in San Francisco is not in our top-5, because unfortunately we have not been there yet. I have long wanted to go for multiple games, and spend at least one day in the bay with a kayak, radio, and a fishing net to catch home runs. It will be interesting to see how this much-heralded park could shake up our list. 

In fact, it’s a dream of mine to do an entire West Coast run, because Matt and I both need to actually see a game at Petco, we need an adult re-do in LA, and Matt’s brother Andrew just moved to Seattle, which also has a nice modern yard. 

As far as the rest of the country goes, of course we could always use a few days to visit both stadiums in NYC. I need my shot at Fenway. And we both need to see the Phillies’ and Nationals’ relatively new digs. Two other stops that we will likely make soon are the new parks in Atlanta and Texas. In fact, we were making plans to visit Texas before COVID-19 changed everything. Tampa and Toronto have never been big draws for us, but I would visit them if it meant clearing my list. If the pandemic goes on long enough, I may have enough credit card miles racked up to put on a mask and go everywhere in North America.

Hit us up in the comments to let us know your favorite MLB stadiums, your thoughts on our list, and where we should go next. 

XXX

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sports

Baseball is the best. But maybe I’m also over it?

A few years ago, a friend, perhaps somewhat incredulously, told me I was the biggest baseball fan he knew. I chose to take it as a compliment. It’s good to be passionate, and baseball has been my No. 1 passion since I was 5 years old.

This year, other friends have inquired how I am surviving without baseball, because zero games have been played because of covid-19. The answer is, I’m not just surviving, I’m thriving.

I love baseball with all my heart. But maybe I’m also over it? Let’s start by investigating all the reasons baseball is the best.

Baseball has been the cornerstone of my travel habits.

When I was growing up, for many years my parents let me start summer vacation plans with a Major League Baseball schedule in hand. We didn’t have the Internet then, so I would use preseason magazines to do the planning. My first MLB game was July 6, 1982, in Arlington, Texas. I don’t remember it because I was only 3. But by the time I was 14, this Oklahoma Kid had been to all five MLB parks in California over the course of four unforgettable vacations. We took multiple trips to Kansas City and St. Louis. We spent a spring break in the Florida Grapefruit League. And we hit the East Coast (including Baltimore and the Bronx) when I was in college.

St. Louis, 1988
Chicago, 2002
Cincinnati, 2015

In adulthood, I have taken two extended baseball tours with my friends, hitting several stadiums each time. And Matt and I have tried to reunite with smaller trips every year since. Because of this, I have been to 25 MLB parks and about 10 or so Spring Training venues. Baseball has given me incentive to see the USA, or at least many of its greatest cities. A move to Missouri in 2014 afforded me the chance to catch MLB games on a whim in Kansas City.

Ballparks are a culinary delight.

I used to be one to catch batting practice. But these days, I much prefer to pregame at the neighborhood bars. Wrigleyville is the best for this, of course, but I’ve also enjoyed Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Once in the stadium, I take a lap to explore every nook and cranny. Every ballpark has unique food offerings, and I love scouting them all. One favorite is at Target Field, where there is a stand featuring the fare of the Minnesota State Fair. I bought cheese curds and fully intended to share them with Matt. But darn if they weren’t so good that I ate them all before I got back to the seats. Sorry dude!

Chicago, 2015
Chicago, 2015

Both the South and North sides of Chicago provide all the food and drink a person could handle in a million lifetimes.

The beer landscape has also gotten so much better. Local brews and craft selections are at every park now. My motto is quality over quantity, so I appreciate the finer beers in life. One memorable libation was Founder’s Red Rye IPA at Comerica Park in Detroit. The Craft & Draft area is also a must-visit when I’m at Kauffman Stadium.

Every game is an opportunity to see something you’ve never seen before.

Kansas City, 2018
Kansas City, 2018

In 1986, I saw George Brett notch his 2,000th hit with a bat that wasn’t his in a 17-inning game. In 1989, I saw Tony Armas hit a walk-off homer that immediately led to Fourth of July fireworks. In 1992, I saw Nolan Ryan ejected for the only time of his career (and amazingly, it wasn’t the Robin Ventura game because somehow he was not ejected for that). In 2006, I saw Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off homer on Father’s Day with his dad in the stands. In 2007, I saw Sammy Sosa’s 600th home run – against his old team, the Cubs. In 2009, I saw President George W. Bush throw out the first pitch. In 2018, I saw a game in Kansas City delayed for a toilet flood in the outfield. Two days later, George Brett himself came into to hang out with us in a suite. And the Hall-of-Fame-worthy wackiness had come full circle.

Baseball is a stylish game.

Colorado, 2018

I love the aesthetics of baseball. The logos. The hat designs. The uniforms that change. The uniforms that never do. The way the grounds crews sweep designs into the grass. The way the white lines are straight and crisp. The architecture of the stadiums. The irregularities of the outfield walls. A scorecard meticulously inked in pen. It’s all beautiful.

A few more good things worth mentioning.

Opening Day. Vin Scully. Fantasy baseball. Buster Olney’s podcast. The wild card games. Keith Law’s analysis. Ken Griffey, Jr.’s swing. Sammy Sosa’s hop. Baseball cards. MLB Network. Ken Burns’ Baseball. Father and son having a catch. Old Hoss Radbourne’s tweets. Harry Caray. Baseball movies. The Batting Stance Guy. An adult catching a foul ball and giving it to a child. Box scores. Bob Eucker. Baseball books. The Fall Classic.

But now, the bad: Strikes, steroids, salaries, sign stealing, and a superbug.

Look, I’ve been a baseball apologist for so long, it’s still hard to even write about the bad stuff. But there’s a lot of bad stuff to deal with. There are people, my friend Ben included, who have not fully come back from the 1994 strike that canceled the World Series.

The torching of the home run record book in 1998 was just what baseball needed to bring fans back into the fold. But at the time, we chose to ignore that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa had loaded their bodies with chemicals to become unnatural baseball beasts. By the time Barry Bonds rewrote the records again a few years later, we had a better picture of what was going on. New rules were written, and promptly broken. MLB is still grappling with how to regard the legacies of its biggest stars who were users.

Noted steroid user Alex Rodriguez before a game in Texas, 2007

From there, player salaries skyrocketed to the $330 million mark, thanks to lucrative cable contracts and hedge-fund billionaire owners. Meanwhile, the average fan was priced out of attendance, or at least out of attendance anywhere near field level.

Instant replay was born of boneheaded umpire blunders, like when Jim Joyce robbed Armando Galleraga of a perfect game in 2010. But constant tweaks have yet to perfect the system, and we have ended up with a process that typically grinds games to a halt, while fans in the stands usually don’t even know what is being reviewed.

Speaking of pace of play, that has been such an issue that rules are being changed every season. And maybe that’s a big deal for younger fans. But as a hardcore fan, I never really wanted less baseball, I just wanted it to be fun and accessible, which brings me to my next point.

Blackouts. I’ve been a subscriber of MLB internet packages since the day they were invented. It started with radio calls in the 1990s and progressed to what they now call MLB.tv, which ostensibly provides fans with the home-and-away video feeds of every game. Except that MLB stays true to the cash that cable networks provide, and blacks out “local” teams on the Internet. But what is defined as local? At one point when I lived in Oklahoma, I was blacked out from the Astros, Rangers, Rockies, Royals, and Cardinals. Only two of those teams were frequently on TV in my market. How ridiculous that a massive fan like myself, always loyal enough to buy the expensive packages, still can’t see 20% of games on any given night. Eventually, I found technology to fool MLB into thinking I was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, because apparently that’s the ideal spot to watch some hardball. As more people cut the cable cord, MLB has to find a way to provide all games to all fans (including the postseason) over the Internet.

The Astros cheated and won a World Series. The Red Sox cheated and won a World Series. Punishments were light for both. Enough said.

That brings us to the Pandemic Season before us now. Maybe it’s the pessimist in me, but even in mid-March I didn’t think there would be a 2020 baseball season at all. I guess maybe I was only half right, because it appears a combination of pandemic and labor strife could cancel the season. But you know what? I don’t really care. Supposedly it’s the owners’ fault, but I don’t know because I haven’t followed it because, again, I don’t care.

What’s different in 2020, and why could this be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Maybe it’s because I’m over 40 and every active baseball player is now younger than I am. Maybe it’s because I have a family that I adore. Maybe it’s just because baseball has shown that it can disappear for long periods of time, and I realize that the world keeps spinning anyway. It’s weird that I’m not watching baseball every night. But it’s also kind of nice that I’m not. Judging from social media posts, I am not alone in this attitude.

How I spend my evenings in 2020

In place of baseball I have two new passions, photography and cycling. I have worked hard to improve my camera skills, and I thoroughly enjoy capturing images of my beautiful daughters. The bicycle is a more recent acquisition. But in five weeks I’ve already traveled 212 miles on it.

If the owners and players come together and resume for a shortened season, maybe I will watch. And come 2021, I’ll probably plan a trip to a ballpark. But at this point I can’t see myself ever returning to the level of daily devotion I carried for four decades. So I’ll pour out a little beer to commemorate my lost fanaticism. But it won’t be a ballpark beer. That stuff is way too expensive to waste.

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