Pit Beef, Shake Shack, and Bacon on a Stick! Nationals Park to Camden Yards

Nationals Park – 6/6/2012

I always go through and read my last entries before putting in the new park.  It helps me remember what the experiences were like and kind of energizes how I write on days like today.

Things have changed since last year.  I left Sears almost a month ago and have been training at my new job.  It felt a little awkward being gone almost a week with just 2 weeks on the job, but they knew what they were getting when they recruited me.

Leaving Sears was a tough choice, but like last year, it was about family.  Amy was steadfast on wanting to stay in Washington and I’m OK with that.  Without relocating, my life with Sears was pretty much stalled, so when the opportunity was there, I took it. 

(* As a side note, the job I left Sears for was designed as a ‘transition job’.  My plan was to work on my Real Estate license, then leave in a year and go into Real Estate full time.  I’m happy to report that not only did I get my license, and have been in Real Estate ever since, but I also took the District I was working in during my ‘transition job’ to the top quartile in the company when I left.)

The last 4 days were so packed that like a lot of trips, I’m writing about this one on the tarmac in Washington DC.  The flight in on Wednesday was cool.  I had a window seat for the flight over, and the plane was able to tip to my side, where I saw my first view of the Washington Monument coming in.  The flight was a little late, and the shuttle took forever.  I was starting to get a little uptight, but knew it was just the hunger coming on.  I hit the hotel and walked to the train station before catching a train and transfer to Nationals Park.

Something personal about me – if the work stuff above wasn’t enough – I had anxiety issues this last year that were escalated by a health-related complication I didn’t know about until later.  I found ways to harness and control it late last year, which has helped quite a bit, but I was still nervous about the week ahead.  The crowd on the train and uncertainty with where I was going would have destroyed me last year.  It feels good to be back in control.

(* I still battle with occasional bouts of anxiety, but have learned to recognize when it’s coming on, and have found ways to work through it with breathing exercises and internal self-talk.  A book I read called “How To Master Anxiety” by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell really helped.)

I went straight to the park and time was tight, so I didn’t have time to even glimpse Washington DC on the way to the game.  The train funnels the majority of fans to the CF gate.  I always walk the perimeter of the park before every game.  (I like to get my bearings and get a good look at everything.)  There’s very little fanfare at the other gates and the homeplate entrance is pretty underwhelming.

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I like the open feel of the park.  It’s similar to Petco.  The upper decks are staged a little further back, which brings in a lot of light.  It looks like the park doesn’t hold as many people as most parks.  Washington made an interesting choice in designing their park.  It’s a ‘normal’ looking outdoor park.  They resisted the urge to go retro, but they didn’t do anything really different like in Cincinnati either.  So at the end of the day, it’s just a ‘safe’ newer park.

After a morning/afternoon of travel, it was time to eat!  I walked the park before settling

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Skip ‘Blue Smoke’.  It’s awful.

on Blue Smoke.  I use the term ‘settling’ there intentionally.  The line for Shake Shack was ungodly long, which I expected going in.  Blue Smoke was perhaps one of the most disappointing sandwiches I’ve had at a ballpark.  It was bland, and dry, and it failed to even fill the crumbly, crappy bun.  What a drag.  Big thumbs down on that one.

I was still hungry in the later innings.  I’d been by Shake Shack again earlier to gauge the line, and by the 8th inning, the line was gone.  It’s kind of odd to get another meal that late in a game but A) I was still hungry, B) I was going to eat again regardless, so I might as well do it then, and C) I needed to drown the disappointment that I’d eaten earlier.

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Shake Shack was the total opposite of Blue Smoke.  I had a Black/White shake that was ultra smooth and creamy.  The burger was dripping grease in all the right ways, and the garlic in their spread really complimented the burger.  It was really good, I’m glad I had it!

After the Shack I walked the upper level and concourse.  I always try to make it up there to see, then never go back.  It was especially cool to catch glimpses of downtown DC and the Capitol building in upper LF.

The Nationals won, and I left the park smelling “Jammin Island’, and wishing I’d had that instead of Blue Smoke too.  Maybe next game!

6/7/2012

The next morning started early.  (They all do when I’m on the road!)  It was an afternoon game at the park and I wanted to see some of the city that morning.  The National Mall was largely under construction, so it wasn’t quite as pretty as the pictures I’d seen.  I hit the Washington Monument and the White House before making my way to lunch.

Megan wanted a picture of where the President lives, so I was sure to stop by.  My legs were already getting sore, and it wasn’t even lunch!  I skipped the Lincoln Memorial and Capitol, saving them for later, and kept walking to lunch.

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I really underestimated the distance to Ben’s Chili Bowl!  It’s a ways out there.  My friend Ken had been talking up Ben’s for a while, so I knew it was on the list.  Like the chili dogs at Pinks, their chili half smoke was not much to look at.  I thought it was “OK”.  It had good spice to it with a little bite, but it was far from the best thing I’d eaten, or would eat on the trip.  I was polite and told Ken that it was great.

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I’d already been walking a few hours by lunch, so I was smart and took the train to the park.  I probably should have taken the train to lunch since there wasn’t a whole lot to see.  I asked the cashier at Ben’s where the nearest station was and she pointed directly across the street.  Duh.

It was a relaxing afternoon at the park.  I had decided not to try for Harrisburg, PA for an

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It took years before Teddy could catch a break.

MILB game, but as the game went by I thought “I can make it” and ended up leaving in the 8th.  The Nats were down 3 and ended up scoring a run in the 9th, but still lost to the Mets.  In hindsight I should have stayed at the game.  I had to pick up my rental car for the next 3 days, which was conveniently next door to my hotel, but what was not convenient was that they couldn’t find my reservation.  Things worked out and I was on the road, but right into rush hour traffic, and let me tell you, it was ugly.  There isn’t a bigger cluster than Washington DC traffic.  It’s bad.  If you’re just doing DC, steer clear of the car.  The Metro is super convenient, so don’t pass up mass transit.

I had 2hrs to get to Harrisburg, which in theory was enough time, but it wasn’t even close.  By the time I said “screw it” I had traveled less than 7 miles in about an hour and twenty minutes.  It was horrible.  I couldn’t turn around sooner because of the flow of traffic.

I was already screwed, so I hit the Lincoln Monument and Capitol building that night instead of the next day.  Parking, like the traffic, was another cluster, so I found myself back on the ‘foot commute’ from the Washington Monument.  The Lincoln Monument was cool.  I appreciated seeing it up close.  Overall, I wasn’t big on Washington DC compared to Philly or Boston, which I’ll explain.

It felt like Washington DC was just one constant memorial.  It’s statues and big buildings commemorating death.  Look at the MLK Memorial statue.  Assassinated.  9/11 memorial sculpture pieces.  WWII memorial.  Korean War memorial.  See what I mean?

I think history is truly interesting, it’s a big part of what I love about baseball.  But I’d rather see museums or historic sites, ala Boston and Philly.  I didn’t have a chance to do the Smithsonian, and there are still plenty of things for me to see on my next (longer) trip if and when we do it with the girls.

I got back to my hotel around 9pm, exhausted, hungry, and a kind of grumpy.  Imagine my disappointment when I got to the pizza place I wanted at 9:40pm, to find it closed at 9:30pm.  Argh!  It wasn’t meant to be, so I had the rare McDonalds on a road trip – I steer clear of things I can eat at home when I’m on the road.  I appreciated seeing DC, but was definitely looking forward to Baltimore the next day.  I thought Nationals Park was ‘fine’, but I’m not in a huge hurry to go back.

Camden Yards – 6/8/2012

Camden Yards is one of those parks I’ve wanted to see for a long time.  The park opened 20yrs ago and was an innovator for its time by going with a  retro brick exterior and incorporating the warehouse in CF/RF (which Ken Griffey Jr hit a home run off of in the HR Derby).

It’s a short drive, miles wise, from DC, but it still managed to take longer than it should have considering I’d left at 10am.  I’d purposely skipped breakfast for an early lunch.  People had recommended Chap’s Pit Beef, so Chap’s it was! 

Chap’s Pit Beef is a popular place.  The line at the door was a good sign, stretching nearly to the strip club that it shares a parking lot with.  When I think ‘traditional BBQ’ I think pulled or chopped pork, brisket, or ribs.  Pit Beef is different.  It’s slow roasted slabs of meat sliced thin.  (Think Arby’s.)  I had a beef and turkey combo so I could try both.  It’s a little greasy, but good!  The hickory sauce had good flavor.  Not good?  Their beans.  I’ll steer clear of those next time.

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I hit downtown Baltimore around 12:30pm or so for a 7pm game.  Finding parking was hard at first.  Most places posted you had to be out by game time or come back and pay again.  I’d read that the garages closed right after the game and didn’t want to get stuck there either.  Imagine my surprise when I hit the garage on Eutau and Lombard about 4 blocks from the park.  All day parking, including the game, for $16.  Bargain!  I knew I’d found ‘the place’ for the next 2 games, and was even happier when the next game was only $13.  (Hey, these trips aren’t cheap, so I’ll take any extra buck or two I can!)  I couldn’t believe how reasonable the parking was, especially since the Orioles were playing the Phillies in Interleague play, which was a big draw.

I hit Camden Yards super early.  Eutau Street is a ticket required zone during games, but I was early enough that I walked around the exterior and through Eutau when I wasn’t rushed or in a hurry.  It’s a beauty of a park.  I knew the next two games would be a treat.

After doing a quick walk around it was back to the foot commute.  I walked to the Inner Harbor and towards Little Italy.  There are some old building scattered through the city.  It was hot, humid, and sunny, so I was glad to have a few bucks to spend on the walk, where there are multiple guys with coolers selling water for $1.  (I made a mental note to have $1s again on Saturday!) 

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The Inner Harbor was very much ‘tourist central’.  A few chains line a mall of shopping by the water.  I don’t understand why people would eat Cheesecake Factory when they could have local flavor, but maybe they don’t have those at their place.  I like Cheesecake Factory, but I’m not going there on vacation!

I could feel the sunburn coming on during my walk back to the park.  I spent $12 on a2012-06-08 15.07.29 bottle of sunscreen that I’d use twice and leave behind, but it was that or suffer!  The Babe Ruth Museum is a 5 minute walk from the park.  They have 2 mock rooms setup with period furniture pieces and a small collection of items and displays.  It’s a nice little museum that reminded me of a grander Shoeless Joe Museum.  I wanted to buy Maddy a ‘Madison’ magnet since she likes the Yankees, but no dice.  Every name but one!

A short 5hrs in Baltimore and it was finally time for Camden Yards!  It’s not that old of a park, only 20 yrs, but it has a legendary status because of what it meant to the parks that came after it.  The concourses are wide open and remarkably clean.  Really the only flaw with the park is that you can’t see the field from them.  They did, however, make the front of a lot of them look like storefronts, so at least they weren’t generic.

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While the concourses didn’t have views, I love that you can walk around the entire park from the stands.  Above the lower seating and separating the next level of ‘100’ level seats is a walkway that goes around the whole park.  It may not be the only park that has it like that, but it is the only park where it stands out.

The views of the field, which was in impeccable shape, the view of the warehouse, and use of the zone above RF make Camden Yards a truly flawless park.  Do I wish I could see the field from the concourses?  Sure.  But if it were like that the accessibility of the field and distance to the plate would have changed dramatically.  I loved Camden Yards and to see 2 games there against the Phillies (and a ton of their fans) gave the experience a great vibe.

But what about the food?

I had Boog’s BBQ on Day 1.  Like Chap’s Pit Beef, Boogs is the thin sliced ‘Arby’s-style’ meat.  It had a real clean flavor.  I went extra on the sauce.  It was a good, solid sandwich.  It tasted good, I’d love to have it again.  Just solid!

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When I was back to walking the park I kept smelling something that was so good.  Where was it coming from?! I found it in the corner of RF.  Bacon on a stick.  This was post-Boog’s.  I could have had one, but the line was long enough that I figured I’d wait until Saturday.

The predominantly Philly crowd was great.  I picked the right series to go to!  I took my time leaving and let my GPS show the way to my next hotel.  It took me the scenic route to be sure.

Saturday was another big day on foot.  I logged another 4hrs or so before settling in at the park.  I walked to the Westminster Cemetery where Edgar Allen Poe is buried and walked the old yard.  Burial is such an outdated concept, but seeing all the old forms of crypts is very interesting.  I walked to the house he lived in too, but it has very limited hours and was closed when I went.  The house is connected to a row of condos/apartments in an area that was night and day from one street to the next; streets of totally remodeled row houses, then streets of shambles and homes with a condemned red X on them.  If I were a kid I’d set up a lemonade stand next to the Poe house because it was a trek in the heat and humidity.

2012-06-09 11.19.28I walked back to the Inner Harbor and Little Italy.  I was determined to have some pizza since I’d been shut out the two nights before.  I ate at Isabella’s.  The pizza was good.  Solid crust with the right amount of flavor, and rich ham and sausage.  It was no Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, but it was good!  Plus it had to be authentic because the guys at the counter were talking about soccer, and let’s be honest, who gives a shit about soccer?

I think I dropped $3 on water during the afternoon to stay hydrated while walking.  I made my way back to Camden but stopped short to see the Geppi Pop Culture Museum.  Loaded with original comic art, comics, toys, and old show artifacts, it was a fun place to stop in.  The building and inside color tones were very rich looking.  It’s the2012-06-09 13.25.44 first time I’d seen an Action Comics #1 in person!  I wish I could have smelled it, which I know sounds strange, but there’s something about the smell of old comics!

It was back to Camden to watch another packed house with the Phillies, but not before I got my bacon on a stick!

Bacon on a stick may be one of the most glorious things I’ve ever eaten at a ballpark!  The thick cut bacon is smoked for roughly a half hour, soaked in a sugary sweet BBQ/Yoshida style sauce, then popped on a grill for a few minutes to finish it off.  I loved every bite of it!  Wow.  Just wow! I followed it up with what was not my favorite thing ever, a hot dog covered in mac n cheese and crab.  Maybe if the mac n cheese had tasted better, but even then it probably would have been gross.  I ate half-ish out of obligation before chucking it.  I knew I couldn’t end on that, so I went back for another bacon and a Natty Boh.  Natty Bo is National Bohemiam beer.  It’s like the Rainier of Seattle or Old Style in Chicago.  I had to try one because of how cool the logo and mascot was.  Yep, still beer, but it was cold and crisp and tasted good with the bacon.

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The Orioles won their first game against the Phillies at home.  Adam Jones hit a walk-off HR in extra innings, which reminded me of Johnny Damon when I was in Detroit.  Fourth park in 3 yrs with extra innings?  I’ll have to go back and check!

I loved Camden Yards.  It’s definitely a Top 5 park for me.  The two biggest tips were 1) Where to park and 2) Sit on the 3rd baseline for shade during those summer afternoon games! 

I had a great, but very full trip.  Both Amy and Ted turned me down on this one because it sounded so busy.  Amy and I had gone to Vegas at the end of April and saw 51’s game there as part of a quick adult trip.  I also had a chance to hit Tucson for an MILB game after a week of training in Phoenix.  Sadly, this may be my last trip of the year.  With the new job and a full summer, it’s going to be hard to justify another one.  Who knows though, I may be able to squeak a weekend trip to Minnesota…

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