I’d been to plenty of parks before I started ‘the books’ in 2007. Spring Training in Arizona, a short trip to Oakland, Wrigley, and Fenway, to name a few. I struggled with how to kick off the journals. Do I start with Day 1 and move forward, or do my best to go back in time? I figured that since the ultimate goal was to do all 30 parks, that the journals would feel incomplete if I didn’t have them all in there, so I did my best to put pen to paper. It’s funny, because I joked in my earliest entry that since I didn’t remember the details from every park when I started that I would just have to go back – Sure enough, I’ve been back to every park at least once, but one, Coors Field.
I said before that Amy really started my quest to see all 30 parks, even though I didn’t necessarily recognize it at the time. Once you’ve hit one, then two and three, you start to look ahead and say “Hell, I only have 27 left!” That’s what happened with me. What started as a one-off visit on our honeymoon turned into a work trip, a weekend with a friend, and a few ‘romantic getaways’, and the next thing I knew I was on my way. (Is there anything more romantic than a baseball trip? That’s a trick question. There are a number of more romantic things to do, as I’ve learned over time, but more on that later.)
This post is dedicated to those pre-2007 parks. I went back through the early pages and realized that a lot of them weren’t that interesting. That’s the problem with writing down memories from years earlier, you try your best to remember, but it’s so much different than when the moments are fresh. So think of these more as the “Greatest Hits” of those early trips, starting with our first game at Angels Stadium, which at the time was called Edison Field, and ending in Dallas, where my friend Ted finally told me we could afford to stay someplace nicer.
Edison Field – 1997
The outfield waterfall was still under construction when we were there in 1997, and it looked really cheesy. (And still does today.) Disney had purchased the Angels the year before and were doing their best to update a park that at the end of the day is really so-so at best. The food is so-so, the views are so-so. You get the picture. The long corridors between tunnels are cramped and dark, and just need a ton of upkeep. When Amy and I went back a few later, the park felt exactly the same. So not great. The only difference was that this time we were there to see the Mariners. Garrett Anderson won the game on a walk off home run against Kazuhiro Sasaki on a ball that he practically golfed off the top of his shoe.
The Kingdome – 6/27/1999
I’d been to the Kingdome plenty of times in the past, but this was the Mariners last game there. We got to Seattle hours early for some hideously ugly shirts that were sponsored by an insurance firm that got sued and went bankrupt. It was a monstrously large crowd. Ken Griffey Jr hit a home run that I missed when Amy distracted me, (which I still resent her for to this day,) but I did see him make one helluva catch against Juan Gonzales, robbing him of a home run.
The Kingdome was an awful place to watch baseball. Don’t let anyone romanticize it differently. It was cramped, and dirty. The seats were small, and nothing faced the right direction. I walked across the street before the game to gawk at Safeco Field – longing to get in the gates.
The Mariners won that day. I thought I’d closed the Kingdome on a good note, until a few months later when I was back to watch the Seahawks get absolutely crushed by Tampa Bay. Talk about polar opposites. I should have stopped when I was ahead.
The following year I watched them blow up the Kingdome from Spring Training. Good riddance.
All Star Game – 2001
It’s funny, but I actually didn’t write about the All Star Game in ‘the books’. That’s the thing about games at home, you really don’t think about them as being out of the ordinary, so it didn’t cross my mind to write about it, even though it was such an amazing event.
We were still in the heat of the ‘Steroid-era’ in 2001, but I was in the masses of the blissfully ignorant. (But c’mon, Boone, you weren’t fooling anyone there. I wasn’t that oblivious.) I don’t think the weather could have been nicer any of the three days.
In hindsight, I wished that I’d spent more time at Fan Fest. I was hitting that in between times, so didn’t take the time to really enjoy it the way I should have. (I did, however, get yelled at for touching the Yankees World Series trophy.)
The highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly seeing Cal Ripken Jr hitting his home run off Chan Ho Park. Did Park groove one? Who knows, and who cares. All I know is that it felt like the crowd ‘willed’ that ball over the fence that sunny evening in Seattle. It’s one of the few times I’ve gotten chills at a ballgame.
Wrigley Field – 2001
Sears paid for my first trip to Chicago, and Wrigley Field in 2001. It was one of 7 or 8 trips that they either paid for directly, or indirectly through miles I’d saved up through traveling for work. I started at Sears right out of college, and ended up working for them for 16 years before moving on. I always appreciated what Sears did for me, and my family. It’s sad to see how far they’ve fallen as a company.
Kirk Loebeke and I were in Chicago for training, so when I saw that the Cubs were in town when we were going to be there, we flew in a day early to catch a game. For the record, Kirk still owes me huge for that trip. I was asked to pick someone to come with me to help facilitate the training meetings I’d be conducting, so I chose Kirk. You’re welcome, Kirk.
Chicago was a different kind of hot. When you grow up in the Northwest, ‘hot’ is low 90’s in the heat of summer. In Chicago, hot is not only hot, but wet. The humidity is so heavy that my entire body was just wet – My arms, my legs, everything. Everything. Damn it was hot. But we were at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won that afternoon. The next day they lost, but Sammy Sosa hit 3 home runs. I would have rather been at the loss. Is that wrong?
We finished the day with a pizza and breadsticks at Giordano’s. The waitress asked if we were sure. Did we really need a large pizza and breadsticks for two? You know it! We each had two pieces and called it a day. We underestimated what we’d be getting with Chicago Deep Dish.
Network Associates Coliseum – 2002
You have to be a big fan of the A’s to go to a game in Oakland. It was Network Associates when I was there with my friend Chris in 2002, but I think it’s had at least 6 different names since then. The few fans that do show up are definitely there to cheer. It’s a great vibe, even if only 6-8,000 people are there. We sat 8 rows behind home plate for $30 in the era before StubHub.
As a side note, Chris and I were in Oakland for a comic book convention called “WonderCon”. It was a fun weekend meeting a few of my favorite comic creators. The highlight of the weekend was an after hours party at the Comic Art Museum in San Francisco, where we had the opportunity to see a ton of original Spider-Man pages from the 60’s and hang out with one of my favorite artists, John Romita.
Fenway Park – 2003
A sunny Saturday afternoon watching Pedro Martinez strike out a dozen. That’s a good day. I can’t hear ‘Sweet Caroline’ without thinking of Fenway. I know some people hate it, but on that sunny Saturday, it was magic.
Fenway Park, like Wrigley, is the perfect park. No, it’s not perfect for comfort, or amenities, or sightlines, or really any of the ‘normal’ reasons someone touts the traits of a park. Fenway Park is perfect because of everything it is, and everything it’s seen. Touching the brick exterior and seeing the Green Monster, and the years of dents, up close is inspiring. Our friend Ted was originally set to come with us, but had to cancel, so we had an extra ticket. It’s a good thing he did since ‘his’ seat was directly behind a column. I’m glad we got to sit in the original wood seats – note sit, not fit – but every game I’ve seen there since has been in a different section intentionally.
(If you’d told me in 2003 that I would have not only been back to Fenway a number of times over the years, but had the opportunity to play there?! I would have sent you for a drug test.)
Dodger Stadium – July 2004
Do you ever look back and think “Huh, I can’t believe I got away with that.” That’s my first trip to Dodger Stadium. I don’t know how I did it, but I clearly asked my wife at the right time.
My wife has begrudgingly OK’d a number of trips over the years, but what makes my first trip to Dodger Stadium different is that I had a 4 month old at home when I did it. Sure, part of me felt guilty leaving, but honestly, the other part of me really needed a break.
Dodger Stadium has some interesting quirks. I had field level seats for both games, but went in both days at the upper entrance. (Which is quite a climb, by the way.) Dick Vitale and my ‘Uncle’ Tommy Lasorda were there. I laughed that you don’t see that every day, until Tommy was there again the next day. Uncle Tommy Lasorda? I ran into Tommy Lasorda at Disneyland the year before and took a picture with him, which in hindsight is lame, sorry about that Tommy. When my friend Jenny saw the photo she asked, “Who’s that, your Uncle?” He’s been Uncle Tommy Lasorda to me ever since. While I didn’t get a picture with my Uncle Tommy this trip, I did have a chance to meet Jose Lima. (RIP)
Back to the ‘quirks’, and some things to keep in mind if you’re visiting Dodger Stadium. The upper and lower levels are closely monitored. If you don’t have a lower level ticket, you aren’t getting down there. Another oddity were the seats. Each aisle had two sides,
meaning on one row of seats you have two sets with the same numbered seats. It was really confusing and a surefire way to see who was new to Dodger Stadium. (Funny enough I didn’t notice that the last few times I’ve been there, so I think they changed it.) Even worse, the distance between the aisles was maybe 2 feet. If I were any bigger (and I wasn’t slim in 2006,) I would have had to turn sideways to walk to my seat.
I bought Megan a Dodger Dog doll and named him ‘Frank’. She’s gotten older and didn’t want it anymore, but I kept it anyway.
Pac Bell/SBC/AT&T Park – 2005
Amy and I had our first child-free getaway to San Francisco in 2005. We had a great time
walking the city and doing all of the touristy things. The park was fantastic, with terrific sightlines, and tons of things to see in and outside the park. It’s really what Safeco Field “should be”. Safeco Field is solid, but it’s not amazing. The Giants capitalized on their location better than most parks in Major League Baseball. I know that SBC Park, or AT&T park as it’s called now, is a favorite for a ton of fans and I can understand why, even though it’s not my personal favorite. Still a great park though. (They even sell Whoopie Pies, which I’d always thought my Grandma Hagenauer had invented, but as I found out then, and a number of trips later in the South, she did not.)
The Ballpark @ Arlington – August 2005
The Ballpark at Arlington, or whatever they called it then, or now for that matter, is probably the only park I’ve ever been to that actually looks better on TV. That may sound like a dig, but it’s not. It’s a great looking ballpark. ‘The Ballpark’ looks tight and compact at home, almost like a movie set of a baseball field but when you get there you realize this thing is friggin HUGE. It felt gigantic in every possible way, which is odd for a ballpark. (No, I’m not going with the ‘bigger in Texas’ gag, that would be a little obvious, don’t you think?)
I was in Texas with my friend Ted for this trip, who was all in for a chance to see some parks, some scenery, eat, and see his brother Joey. I’ve traveled with Ted for a handful of trips over the years. Ted has been to probably a dozen parks with me, but doesn’t really even like baseball all that much. He’ll watch the game and has a good time, but that’s not his reason for going. He just likes the road and knows that he’ll have a good time, we’ll see some cool stuff, and eat a bunch of amazing food. Ultimately he’s ambivalent about the game, but that’s OK, because he’s also incredibly patient with how fevered I am about it during our travels!
We spent our day in Arlington a few rows up from 3rd base with his brother Joey, who was hammered. So for the sake of this article, let’s pretend Joey’s name is actually Steve. So yeah, Steve is loaded. According to the calls we got, we spent most of the night on TV. Driving in was a strange adventure, since evidently you can drive with open containers in Texas. I’m the DD, but it was still weird when Joey… er, Steve, was popping caps in the backseat and handing ice cold bottles up to his brother. I couldn’t tell you how the food was at the park that day, since we stopped at “Shady Oaks” BBQ on the way in. We ended the night, mostly, singing karaoke in a biker bar. ‘Baby Got Back’ was a lot harder to do than expected.
You would think the highlight of the trip to Dallas would be the game, but it wasn’t. I’ve said before that I’m a big ‘history of the game’ guy, but my interest in history doesn’t stop with baseball, it’s pretty wide ranging. The trip wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Dealy Plaza, the site of the Kennedy assassination. If you’ve never been, go. I’ve been twice and each time was enthralled. Was Oswald the lone gunman, or was it part of a larger conspiracy? We’ll never know, but this museum will create a mind expanding glimpse into that day in 1963. Just an amazing museum!
The next morning Ted and I hopped in the car on our way to Houston. We stopped at the Waffle House in Ennis where I ‘lost’ a bet on whether it was pronounced Eh-nis or E-nis (like penis). I went with E-nis, like penis, for laughs. Excuse me, Ma’am. What town are we in? “Well honey, you’re in Eh-nis.” Oh well, it was worth the bill for the laughs it gave us the rest of the day. (You have to realize the amount of stupid shit you’ll joke about when you’re on the road for hours, and hours.)
We also saw the statue of Sam Houston on the way down. I know, big deal, right? Well, it was. The sign said “World’s Biggest Statue” or something like that. We couldn’t see anything from the freeway, so I joked that it must not be that big. We rounded the corner, and saw what was probably the biggest statue I’d seen in my life. Well shit, I guess everything is bigger in Texas.
Dallas was the first time Ted ‘protested’ during one of our trips. You have to understand, Ted is a cheap bastard. He’s a great guy and all, but if there’s anyone that picks pennies off the ground, it’s my buddy Ted. (But good odds he retires a helluva lot sooner than me, so who wins there?) When we checked into our hotel that first night and had bars on our hotel room windows he said “Doug, you know we can probably afford to stay someplace nicer.” From then on, we stayed at nicer places. I’m not talking about the Hilton or anything, although we have stayed at a few of those, but we just avoided places with bars on the windows from there on out. Well, we did. I’ve still stayed at some pretty gross places over the years – You may think a $20 hotel room on Priceline seems like a deal in Atlanta, kids, but it’s not.
Ted and I love the road, so the drive down to Houston was something we’d planned and looked forward to. What we didn’t realize then, was that our experience in Houston was going to be drastically different than we’d expected. The traffic got heavier as we got closer to the city, and as we tuned in the radio, we heard two words that would re-define New Orleans, and change the landscape of our time in Houston: Hurricane Katrina.