‘Beaver Lick’, ‘Big Bone Lick’, and ‘Sugartit’. The KC to St Louis to Cincy Experience

5/20/09

Are you glass half full, or half empty?  If you were half empty, the start of today’s trip would have been a rough go!  Ted and I are still in Seattle.  Our flight was scheduled to leave at 5:34am.  It’s 8am, and we’re on a US Airways plane, when just an hour ago we were on United.

Broken plane.  That’s OK, I’ll wait.

All things considered, I’m in a great mood!  I’m really trying to loosen up, so this trip is progress.  Not only am I not freaking out, but we don’t even have tickets for tonight’s game, or two other nights during our trip.  We don’t have hotel reservations for two of the nights either.  I’ve tried to plan as little as possible for these few days, which is very not-Me.

I just turned 35 last week and am feeling old.  It seems like these last two years I’ve done a better job trying to live more in the moment and actually see things and not just ‘do’ them.  This trip is another step.

With that, it’s off to Denver… Scratch that, it’s off to Phoenix, before connecting to Kansas City!

Kauffman Stadium – 5/21/09

I’m sitting in our hotel across the freeway from the park in a comfortable, cushioned leather chair.  3 large windows look straight out at not only Kauffman, but Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Chiefs.  It’s a gorgeous morning after what was a hectic, but successful day before.

We made it to the game on time!  A whopping 10 minutes to spare.  Cancelled flights

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Suck it flight delays! We made it in time.

 couldn’t stop us!  We pushed off the Negro League Baseball Museum and Arthur Bryant’s for today.  Even though Louisville is a ‘flex day’ I planned in case of weather, we’re still good to go.

I liked Kauffman a lot.  They just finished a remodel this year.  The Royals HOF and walk aren’t quite complete yet, but the park itself is.  They changed CF pretty drastically.  The openness of the waterfall in CF has been completely changed to a section of smaller waterfalls, and standing room mixed with party decks.  There will be fans that will probably hate the change, but I can see why they made it.

Centerfield is a hub of activity.  The party decks and CF standing areas are a meat market of college kids, and you know what?  More power to them, it looks like everyone is having a good time.  Towards the back of CF is a large walkway, grass, statues, and tons of picnic tables give the park a good family vibe.  The rest of CF is dominated with activities for kids.  There’s a mini field, pitch/throw, a batting cage, mini golf??, and the best baseball themed carousel I’ve ever seen!  CF has changed, but it’s definitely for the better.

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Show me a cooler baseball carousel than the one at Kauffman!

Another new addition to the park is the biggest HD screen imaginable.  Wow.  It makes the Tacoma Rainiers new one pale in comparison. 

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The Chop

Sight lines at the game are good, and seat prices are reasonable.  We paid $33 down the 3rd base line.  It was a comfortable night in the 70’s.  The Royals almost came back, but

lost 6-5 to the Indians after leaving the bases loaded.

The food was good, but surprisingly limited for a ‘food town’.  I had the BBQ Chop sandwich, which was OK, but heavy on the ham.  I also had

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The Stack

the Stack sandwich, which was go-oo-ood!  The Stack is a ribeye with bacon, onion rings, mushrooms, and BBQ sauce.  So while limited, both things I had were solid.

The funniest part, and probably saddest really, was leaving the park.  Kansas City is very

 tailgate oriented.  The parking lot was packed ahead of the game.  I can only imagine how

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You know you want some.

busy it is for football games.  After the game was a war-zone of crushed cans, burnt down charcoal, and turned over grills – Just shit everywhere.  Talk about job security for the clean-up crews.

On to today.  It should be a good morning before heading to Cubs/Cards at Busch Stadium!

Busch Stadium – 5/22/09

I invoked the “If you can’t decide, have both!” rule yesterday!

We started our morning in Kansas City by spending a few hours walking the exhibits of the Negro League Museum.  It was interesting to see not only the pictures and uniforms, but especially the old documents and letters.  The museum was a little oversimplified at times, but still had me shaking my head that we lived in a segregated age until the 1960’s.  Truly sad, and unbelievable.  (Just as unbelievable that racism is a battle still being fought today.)

I’ve always been surprised that they haven’t made a true Jackie Robinson movie with warts and all (42 hadn’t been released yet), but I’m even more surprised they haven’t made a movie or series about the Negro Leagues themselves.  There are so many stories there:  Love, passion, racism, pride… It would be unbelievable.  HBO could make a great series, but it needs to be real, and raw.  It would be extremely emotional, and the kind of movie or series that makes you uncomfortable, but at the same time leaves you feeling enlightened.  What a missed opportunity.

I talked to two men for a few minutes after the walk.  The older man behind the counter was glad I liked it.  I told him I how surprised I was that the area around the museum wasn’t more developed.  It’s like they started trying to, then abruptly stopped.  He said itIMG_2336 was all about money, then commented that current players weren’t helping.  He said there were always people coming in that didn’t realize it was there until they saw the sign on the freeway.  They couldn’t afford the advertising.  It’s too bad more players aren’t involved.  I wonder if they’ve ever talked to white players about support.  With US-born black player numbers declining, maybe the museum needs to broaden their horizon a bit.  (The majority of black players you see today are Dominican or Puerto Rican.)

After the museum it was off to BBQ, which goes back to doing both.  The other man I spoke to in the museum recommended Gates BBQ, but we already had plans for Arthur Bryant’s.  Well, you gotta do, what you gotta do.

The burnt ends at Arthur Bryant’s were my favorite.  The sliced pork was the best at

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Arthur Bryant’s

 Gate’s.  Overall I preferred Arthur Bryant’s, it had a ‘cleaner’ taste.  Gate’s, while smokier,

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Gate’s BBQ

which I like, tasted a little greasier.  In the end, I was happy to have my BBQ!  (I’ve been back to Kansas City since then, and ranked them best to worst.)

The drive to St Louis was painless enough.  We weren’t in a great hurry, but there wasn’t much to see, so Ted kept the speed about 80.  Yes, Ted has been doing all the driving.  (I always drive.  See, giving some control!)

After driving past the park we decided to stay at the Millennium Hotel which is about two blocks from the park and the Arch (where we’re headed this morning).  It was a short walk to the park an hour before the game.  Ted stayed behind to catch a quick cat-nap and would come by later. 

From the outside, Busch Stadium is beautiful.  The brick is a crisp, clean red, but not garish.  They have cardinal insets on each wall and a bricked fan walk that follows theparameter of the stadium.  I walked the line of the stadium until around the CF area where I saw them:  The tiny statues.  They had a group of statues about the size of seven year olds on pedestals playing ball, which I thought was pretty cool until I saw they were statues of players, just at a really, really smalls scale.

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Oh cute, statues of Little Leaguers… Oh wait, those are supposed to be grown men.

Aren’t our ‘heroes’ supposed to be larger than life?  These statues were lame.  They did have a separate Stan Musial statue though, that was about 12’ tall, so there you go.

Inside the park was nice, but underwhelming.  If you’re in your seat, the park is solid with good sightlines, but if you get up to walk around, you’re out of luck.  The concessions and kid areas (probably the saddest kid area I’ve seen at a ballpark) were all way below average too.  There just aren’t a lot of choices outside of the game.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m there for the game.  I’m not a casual game watcher, I’m there for the game.  But not everyone is, which is a big weakness for a park like Busch. 

In Busch, everything is closed off.  In most of the new parks you can catch a bite to eat and stand and watch the game pretty much anywhere in the park, but not here.  The concessions are on the inside walls, so there’s no shot out to the field (which also makes it a lot darker).  There aren’t a lot of standing areas either, so you lose that ‘social’ part of the game that a lot of younger fans are looking for.  The kids area that I mentioned above is almost forgotten, in a virtual basement, with a pay-to-pitch and the weakest ‘mall’ play area that was made for toddlers.  Kids are spoiled in KC, here they’d be disappointed.  (* As a side update, I’m interested to get back there to see how the ‘Ballpark Village’ they built changes how I feel about the park.)

I watched the first 5 innings of the game by myself.  Poor Ted was not built for a day of BBQ.  He came in by the 5th and watched the Cubs get swept by the Cards, led by a Pujols home run that put out the lights in the “I” of “Big Mac Land”.  We didn’t get around to stopping at McDs for our free Big Mac.

(Before I go much further, let me clarify something really quick.  There wasn’t anything wrong with the BBQ!  I was fine the whole time, and we ate the exact same thing.  No, what this comes down to is a key difference between Ted and me:  I’m a ‘Conditioned Food Athlete’.  (Trademark pending, btw.)  I eat on the road.  A lot.  That’s part of the fun!  So for me, I focus on trying as many things as I can over a short period of time.  So somehow, over my years of ballparks, I’ve built up a stamina for eating!)

We had dinner at Mike Shannon’s after the game.  Mike Shannon’s is a steakhouse on Market Street.  Mike played for the Cards a few decades ago, but today he was in the corner doing a radio show while we were there.  I had steak that was as good as it was expensive – Which was very.  The restaurant itself was very similar to Harry Carey’s in Chicago (another great place for a solid steak).

Final verdict?  Busch Stadium is nice, but too sterile.  It’s a baseball only park.  It was pretty cool to be part of the Cards/Cubs rivalry, but Cubs fan attendance was pretty low since we were in Game 3 of a sweep.  I look forward to doing it again in Wrigley!  (And I did, but more on that in a future post!)

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Louisville Slugger Field – 5/22/2009

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The Beaver Lick Baptist Church.

I’m a day behind in the log, which happens a lot on these trips.  Ted is catching a catnap before we head over to Great American Ballpark here in Cincinnati.  We just drove in from Louisville, by way of great metropolises like ‘Beaver Lick’, “Big Bone Lick” and “Sugartit”, Kentucky.  You can’t make that up, kids.  I joked that the next town up was sure to be “Big Dick Lick”, but it ends up the next big city was just Florence.

Before driving to Louisville from St Louis, we hit the St Louis Arch.  Standing at 630’ high,

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I wonder how old these are… and how often they breakdown?

I expected it to be bigger, which was the same way I felt last year at the Statue of Liberty.  Ted and I bought the pass to ride the small space capsule-style elevator to the top.  The doorways to the cars are numbered.  I laughed because it made me think of Disneyland’s Tower of Terror.  It was an easy ride up, with a magnificent view of the city (including Busch Stadium, you could almost watch a game up there!)

We initially wanted to buy a combo ticket for the Arch along with a riverboat ride.  The ticket seller gave me the biggest “dumbass” look imaginable, and told me the river was flooded.  I understood why he looked at me like I was an idiot, you could see the flooded park from the top of the Arch.  Ted and I walked down to the river before we left so I could put my feet in the “Mighty Mississippi”. 

The drive to Louisville felt long.  I made Ted pull over an hour in.  Ted, who was still battling the BBQ, had nodded off three times as I’d been watching him drive.  I did my first driving of the trip (and so far last).  IMG_2411We hit Cracker Barrel for lunch (because that’s what you do when you’re down that way and have never eaten at one before).  It was fine, but it reminded me of a few other restaurants I’d eaten at before, nothing special.

Our late flight to KC the other day threw our schedule off for every day after it.  We rolled into Louisville after 6:30pm (for a 7:10pm game).  I’d forgotten about the 1hr time difference from St Louis.  By the time we found the park it was 5 to 7pm.  I bought our tickets and went in while Ted went to take a load off at the hotel until mid-game.  (Like I mentioned in past posts, Ted is here for the road and the food.  Baseball is part of the trip, but it’s not the focus for him.)

Louisville Slugger Field is a damn nice park!  It has two levels of gorgeous brick exterior (can you tell I like brick?), and a statue of Pee Wee Reese jumps to make a play in front of the park.  The inside of the park is just as impressive.  There’s plenty of walking room and views at every angle.  In LF/CF they have a grass berm you can sit on to watch the game.  Even though the outfield has seating, Louisville Slugger Field reminds me a lot of Scottsdale and Peoria Spring Training parks. 

Solid choices for food.  I had the ribeye sandwich, which was nowhere near as good as KC’s “Stack”.  I should have had the 3-fer:  A mini hot dog, polish, and sausage, sizzled in pepper and onions.  Oh well.

Last night was the first night of the trip where I felt a little ‘uptight’.  We’ve been on time for every game, and this one was the closest yet.  I had to remind myself not to get too stressed out about it.  I made it 3 days without stressing, that’s not bad for me!

Ted left the game early, and I made the mistake of stopping at White Castle.  The first two burgers were mushy, soggy messes.  I threw them out and got a single instead.  The first bite barely touched my lips and I had to spit it out.  No matter how funny ‘Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle’ is, White Castle is just not good.  (Conditioned Food Athlete, or not!)  I tried it a few years back when I was in Chicago, and shocker, it was the same thing.  Fool me once… Fool me twice… Don’t do it, White Castle is gross.

Back at the room we changed plans for Saturday (tonight).  Ted wanted to stay closer to the park.  It’s Memorial Day weekend, so pickings were slim, but we were able to change it and save the drive to Franklin. 

Louisville Slugger Museum – 5/23/2009

I started the morning out early and walked out to the Slugger Museum.  It’s funny, but I think the two museums I’ve been to this week have been my favorite parts of the trip!  Holding a game-used Mickey Mantle bat is a pretty cool way to start the day.  They had Ruth, DiMaggio, Ted Williams – an absolute ton of used bats from the past.

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Wow, Griffey hit the shit out of that!

The tour was really interesting!  Watching them take a billet down to a bat was eye opening.  They used to do it all by hand with a lathe, but the computer lathe takes it down in about 30 seconds.  (This beat the hell out of watching tires get made in South Carolina.)  James Earl Jones must be the world’s biggest baseball fan, or he’s typecast, because he voiced the Slugger Museum video, and did the voice for the Negro League movie too.

They had batting cages – because of course they do – so I hit with a Ken Griffey Jr and a Ted Williams.  You can definitely feel how that skinnier handle gives better torque.  It felt like I had better extension with the Griffey model.   The weight had an impact too.

I finished up the tour just in time for Ted to pick me up on our way to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby!  Ted’s family is big into horse racing; he was content to buy his stepson Dallon a shirt at the gift shop, but we lucked out and it was a race day!  How could we not see a race?

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I won.  Well, I lost $10, but I won.  We saw a race.  The inside of the Downs was gorgeous.  Flowers and green everywhere.  The original spires were cool to see too, the building just felt very elegant.  The actual racing I can take or leave.  I guess I don’t get it.  We stayed for one race, then it was off to Cincinnati!

Great American Ballpark – 5/23/2009

Our hotel, besides being an absolute dump, was not nearly as close as it said.  We walked close to 2 miles to the park.  The outside of the park is pretty plain, but I like the statues with the Pitcher/Catcher/Batter, it adds perspective.  Great American Ballpark is roughly 5yrs old, but didn’t go ‘retro’, which is refreshing!

GAC is a good smelling park.  It’s not Citizen’s Bank good, but still good.  There were loads of areas to stand in the lower level, and while you can’t see much from the concession stands, there are enough areas that you can see that it doesn’t feel as closed off as Busch.  The lower RF area towards the back has picnic tables, interactive displays, and things for the kids.

IMG_2531This is going to sound like a backhanded compliment, but Great American Ballpark feels like a combination of a Minor League park mixed with a County fair.  With the gaudy river boat and posts and lights in CF, I thought of Coney Island.  I wondered what the Brooklyn Cyclones Park looked like in person, with the mass of roller coaster track in the background.  (* I’d find out later.)  I think the chili-Coney dog from Skyline Chili sparked that one.  It felt like the only thing missing was a ferris wheel as a mock paddle system for the mock riverboat in CF.

It sounds like I didn’t like the park, but that couldn’t be further from the truth!  I actually liked it a lot.  I appreciate that the Reds went a completely different direction than the rest of Major League Baseball.  They shunned the retro look and did something new.  I’m sure it gets mixed reviewed, but I thought it was refreshing.

On the subject of refreshing, let’s talk Rosey Red – a girl baseball mascot!  They have 4 mascots in Cincy.  Redlegs (the one with the mustache), Mr Red, Rosey Red, and some goofy looking thing for the kids.  I don’t know how the Reds can be the only team in baseball to have a girl mascot.  (* More teams have followed suit.)  How do they only sell one shirt for her?  Where is the line of girl’s clothes, bobbleheads, pins, etc., like Red Legs?  I probably would have cleaned them out!  (As it was, I settled with the one shirt.)

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The perfect woman?

I enjoyed being in Great American Ballpark, but poor Ted was still battling, so we left an inning early to catch a cab back.  (It was worth the $10.)  I feel bad for Ted.  He said he felt bad because he was ruining the fun, so I made sure to remind him that we’d done everything on the list.  Every park, every museum, every food I wanted to try.  He hadn’t ruined a thing.

That’s if for “Road Trip 2009”.  Next trip up we head to Portland for the “AAA All Star Game” at PGE Park!

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