Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 4 - Chicago, Chicago My Kind of Town

After seemingly killed every flying bug in the state of Michigan and quickly saying "Hi" and "Bye" to Indiana, we reached our destination of the Omni Hotel on Michigan a little after midnight central time.  It was the first time in my life that I actually DROVE to a different time zone. In the span of three days we had driven from DC to Pittsburgh to Detroit and now to Chicago.

Tieff and I got an early start to day four as we were wired for sound when we got to our hotel room.  The two of us made an executive decision to walk around town, due to the fact I promised him that he had to go down Rush Street, which probably has the most hopping night life in Chicago.

This was Tieff's first time ever in Chicago.  For me, this was now my fifth time here.  Three times I have been here on business, most recently in May when I did my PMP bootcamp training (I received my PMP certification a week later when I passed the exam).

The only other time I was in Chicago for pleasure was back in October 2001, not too long after the ban on air travel was lifted.  My friend Mal and I decided to support the airlines and see Wrigley for the first time.  We made it a sports weekend as we watched Northwestern win an exciting college football game at home over Michigan State that Saturday.  And then that Sunday we watched the Cubs lose to the Astros.  It was an unusually warm October weekend in Chicago, and I remember the two of us hanging outside on Rush Street amazed at the fact of how busy Rush Street was on a Sunday night in October.

And here Tieff and I were nearly nine years later on the same street (Rush is a very short walk from the Omni Hotel).  The first thing you notice about Chicago in the late spring/summertime, well ok, if you are a guy this is the first thing you notice, there are a lot of beautiful women in Chicago ( I warned my wife I was going to write this -doesn't mean I will be ok, but I warned her).  I noticed this when I was here in May and I forewarned Tieff as were driving towards Chicago.   The great thing if you are a single guy is that a lot of women are traveling as a group unattached seemingly or even by themselves.

The next thing that Tieff noticed is how clean Chicago is (or at least the sections of Chicago we walked around).  And that's very true. Chicago is very clean and also happens to have good drinking tap water (always helps to have a major lake, Lake Michigan, as your water supply).  Another thing we noticed, and it might have had partly due to that we were there on an extended weekend, was that it was surprisingly easy to drive around the city.  Finally, the mass transit train system works very well.  We took the Red Line to both Wrigley and U.S. Cellular (more on U.S. Cellular in my next post).

So on the morning of July 4th, we walked around Rush Street, then ended up at Pippin's on Rush till about 2:00 am in the morning.  We headed to our hotel rooms and ended up running into two cute twin blonde young twenty something females who were seemingly as lost about the Omni's entrance as we were.   Tieff and I made it to our hotel room and hit the hay.  Before we knew it, it was 9:30 am and we headed out to the Red Line stop to go to Wrigley.  We tried to find a place serving breakfast that had no long wait.  No such luck, thus we got on to our train and headed uptown to the Addison street stop where Wrigley is located.

Once we got to Addison, along with hundreds of other Cubs fans, again we tried to find someplace to eat breakfast a little after 11:00 am.  We ended up at a McDonalds that of course stop serving breakfast at 11:00 am.  A note to the moronic folks at Mickey D's - On a SUNDAY, people eat breakfast late.  It's called BRUNCH.  You should seriously consider serving breakfast on Sundays till about 1:00 PM.   That might explain why the Mickey D's DIRECTLY ACROSS from Wrigley Field had no lines at the counter at 11:00 am.

So being starved, we ended up eating Angus burgers at 11:00 AM on a Sunday.  Then we made our way to magnificent Wrigley on a warm sunny Sunday morning, but not before stopping at every souvenir stand around the park to see if we could find a cheap Cubs hat to wear, because I knew we had field level seats down the RF line.  And on a 93 degree day with the sun pounding on us, we needed all the cover we could get.

Tieff ended up getting the pictured hat from a vendor for five bucks.  I decided I didn't want a hat that badly.  And here is the ironic thing, as we walked in and get our tickets scanned, we see it was a giveaway day. The giveaway was a fitted Cubs cap with a red white and blue C.  A free hat.   All that work to find a cap/hat and it was Cubs Cap Day.  Tieff still decided to wear his hat for the game.

There is no better way to spend the Fourth of July then at Wrigley Field.  Wrigley is a really great ball park with the scoreboard, the apartment buildings with skybox seats, and of course the Ivy and brick.  I was here in 2001 and my seats were field level on the first base side but way up, under the overhang, near a pole, thus I had an obstructed view of the field.  I wasn't taking any chances this time. I purchased tickets on Stubhub and got field level row 13 on the RF line.  We could have used the shade today, but I wasn't complaining.  It was still a great day for a ball game.

Well it turned out it was a great day for a ball game if you were a Reds fan (or a neutral observer like us).  The Reds are in first place for two reasons.  One, they have talented young hitters like Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto.  Second, they have been getting excellent starting pitching from Mike Leake, who started our game, Johnny Cueto and Brandon Arroyo.  When you put those two things together, you get a game like ours.

The Cubs are going through a rough year. First, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez have had injury plagued seasons, where both are not hitting up to their standards.  Carlos Zambrano has struggled so much that he is now in the bullpen, which didn't provide much help on this day.  The Cubs one strong point had been their starting pitching with Carlos Silva, Ryan Dempster having very solid years.  Ted Lilly, the Cubs starter on this day, had been pitching well on the season with an ERA in the low 3's .  However the Cubs lack of offense left him with a 3-6 record entering the game with the Reds.

The game started off well for the Cubs.  The Reds best player, Joey Votto, got ejected in the first inning for arguing a strike three call (he threw his helmet down in front of the umpire, a no-no in MLB).  Lilly held the Reds scoreless for the first two innings.  Then in the bottom of the second, a Marlon Byrd single and a Tyler Colvin home run put the Cubbies up 2-0.  A full house of 41,079 thought this was going to be a very festive July 4th for the hometown team.

However, Colvin's home run was the next to last joyous moment for Cubs' fans on this day. Drew Stubbs would wallop the first of his three home runs on the day in the top of the third.  In the top of the fourth, an Orlando Cabrera single, a perfect bunt single by Paul Janish, and a crushed triple by Ramon Hernandez put the Reds up to stay 3-2.   Lilly got through the fifth, but Mike Leake held the Cubs scoreless for the third inning in a row. 

In the top of the sixth, the Reds would strike again using the long ball.  Cabrera again singled, but Janish would not be playing small ball this time.  He smoked a two run homer over the left field wall to put the Reds up 5-2.  Colvin would respond with his second homer of the day to narrow the gap to 5-3.  But that would be the last run the Cubs would score on the day.

After giving up runs in three of the past four innings, Tieff and I along with several Cubs fans around us wondered why Ted Lilly came out to start the seventh.  But manager Lou Pinella looked like a genius as Lilly got the first two out.  Then Lilly unraveled like a ball of yarn in front of the Cubs' faithful.  Brandon Phillips launched a missile over the left field fence.  Orlando Cabrera then followed with a double and Janish chased him home with a single.  Johnny Gomes followed with a two run bomb and before you knew it, it was 9-3 Reds.  And the second guessing in the stands began as Lilly gave up nine earned runs in 6 2/3 innings to bring his ERA up to 3.76.

But if anyone questioned why Pinella left Lilly in, Jeff Stevens immediately answered their questions by playing human batting practice machine, with a few walks thrown in. First, Corky Miller tattooed a Stevens offering to dead center for a solo homer. 

Then Stevens, probably affected from knowing the ball he served up to Miller was still traveling, walked the next two batters, Jay Bruce and Miguel Cairo.  Drew Stubbs then uncorked his second homer of the day and it was now 13-3.   Stevens then walked the pitcher Leake and gave up a single to Phillips.  Lou went out and got his human gasoline can out of the game.  Stevens line - 0 IP, 4 ER, 3 H, 3 BB.  A good number of Reds fans made the trip from Cincinnati and they were reveling in the beating the Big Red Machine was giving the Cubbies.  Bobby Howry spared Stevens further damage by getting Cabrera to fly out to end the inning much to the grateful delight of the home run weary fans.

The wonderful thing about Wrigley, is that despite the beatdown the Cubs were getting, you were at a magnificent shrine of a ballpark on a beautiful though warm day.  You had an old time band walking around the ballpark playing.  There was a wonderful rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" in the seventh inning by two local well known husband and wife opera singers.  There were the skybox seats in the apartment buildings, the old fashioned scoreboard and of course that green green ivy and brick.   Just a perfect July Fourth.

Stubbs put an exclamation point on the day for the Reds by hitting his third HR on the day in the ninth inning.  By then, many of the Cubs fans had headed for the exits already, leaving mostly Reds fans to rejoice on the home run parade.  The Reds belted seven round trippers, which almost accounted for half their hits.  We made the trip back to the Red Line stop along with seemingly thousands of other fans.  Tieff and I got back to our hotel room, showered, changed and headed back out for dinner.

We ended up eating outside at McCormack and Schmick's enjoying good seafood, good scenery and recapping the game we saw.   Then I got my one celebrity sighting as Rush Lead Singer/Bassist Geddy Lee walked right by our table.   We also got to see an Indian wedding procession in the park across the street from us.  Despite all that, it was relatively quiet where we were considering we were on the corner of Chestnut and Rush.

Then it was on to Lake Shore Drive and the fireworks on Lake Michigan.  Tons of people, including us, illegally crossed the very busy Lake Shore Drive, hopped the barrier and took a spot to watch the festivities. It was a good show, which I did videotape with my camera (coming to my Youtube channel in the distant future).  Finally, we capped the night with some great Ghiardelli chocolate ice cream which I first got to experience the last time I was in Chicago as well.  Tieff and I each got a bag of chocolates for our wives and after one last walk around the area, we limped back to our hotel rooms.

Our plans for July 5th was a doubleheader.  First the Milwaukee-San Fran game at Miller Park, then the night cap, the White Sox hosting the Angels at U.S. Cellular.  Accomplishing it would be another story.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Two One of a Kinds Pass Away for the Yankees

It's been a rough past several days for New York Yankees fans.  Long time public address announcer Bob Sheppard passed away on Sunday at age 99.  Having been to so many Yankee games (and even NY Giants games where he was the public address announcer from 1956 to 2006), with the exception of Vin Scully, there was no more distinct voice in professional sports than Bob Sheppard.

Then today, the long time owner of the Yankees, George Steinbrenner passed away suddenly due to a heart attack at the age of 80.  Steinbrenner, to say the least, was a complicated man.  He was known for his volatile temper, his will to win, and his willingness to change managers seemingly as often as people change their bedsheets.  But he was also known for supporting many former NY Yankee players and stories have come out about his countless acts of charity, often many of which he did anonymously.

But what I will always remember most about Steinbrenner is what I said on my Facebook status today;

Say what you want about George Steinbrenner, but I will take the way he owned a baseball team ANY DAY over the likes of Peter Angelos, Robert Nutting (Pirates) and David Glass (Royals). George wanted to win no matter what and did whatever he could to win - hiring the right talent evaluators, putting as much money into the franchise as he got out of it. That's ownership.
Steinbrenner seemingly put as much money into the team that he profited out of it.   And it's not just the free agents his team has bought.  Look at the Yankees talented minor league system, which has been very good since the mid 90's.  That's due to investing in Latin America, Japan and the US minor league scouting system.  He took a team that was worth only 8.3 million in 1973 in a ballpark, which a friend of mine described that back then in the late 60's and early 70's as being "run down and filled with drug dealers" into an elite organization with a renovated monument to baseball (I loved the renovated Old Yankee Stadium) with seven World Championships during his tenure.

And he ended up getting his new Yankee Stadium, which I consider a giant palace/museum.  But he was able to do that because he knew the correct philosophy to successful ownership - you have to spend money to make money.   And he wanted to win..oh so wanted to win.  And that's why he was so successful.

An era ended today.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 3 - Lions, Tigers and Sloth Bears, Oh My!

Toledo, Ohio was only supposed to be a stopping point on the way to Detroit last Saturday night.   We had tickets for the Tigers - Mariners game which started at 7:00 pm.   Since Toledo was only a couple of hours away, we took our time that morning.   We actually were in Maumee, Ohio which is a suburb of Toledo, staying at a Fairfield Inn that was under renovation. So much so, that the entrance to the pool didn't have a door handle.  

First on the agenda was breakfast at a Cracker Barrel in Maumee.  It was my first time at a Cracker Barrel and to be very honest, I felt like I was transported back in time and on to the set of Hee Haw.  It's a very southern restaurant chain with a country motif, including I guess what you call a general store entrance.  There were also a ton, and I mean a ton of rocking chairs on the porch of the restaurant up for sale.  All that was missing was Roy Clark and Buck Owens playing and saying "Pickin and a Grinnin".  You need to know your Hee Haw for that line.  Now breakfast was actually quite good, and also to be honest, I really liked beng there. It was a nice change of pace.

After now getting one of the Hee Haw songs stuck in my brain, we decided to head toward a shopping mall on a very hot Saturday to get my kids some presents.  As we followed my navigation system's route, we realized that we were heading directly towards the Toledo Zoo.  So we decided to chuck the shopping mall idea and hang out at the Toledo Zoo.  As I noted on my Facebook status,"What do two guys on a baseball trip do to pass the time before the Tigers game?  Go to the Toledo Zoo!"

The Toledo Zoo is a large zoo right outside of the city. It's actually quite well done.  The zoo is split into two parts.  Each part of the zoo is on separate sides of the highway, joined together by an enclosed walking bridge, or as we call at Hofstra, a Unispan.  The cost of the zoo is quite reasonable, $11.00 for adults.  

There are a lot of exhibits at the zoo - snow leopard, lions, cheetah (though it was closed), a an African safari exhibit with wildebeest, giraffes, antelope and zebra, a nice aquarium and insect exhibit,  Our favorite was the gorilla exhibit, where the one dominant male gorilla, put on a show during feeding time.  He clapped his hands for the oranges and kept wanting more.  And oh yeah, there was those couple of times he scared off the other gorillas there when they went near an orange that he wanted.  Very entertaining.

We ended up spending three hours at the Toledo Zoo and our mission was accomplished.  Two guys with seemingly nothing to do before going to a ball game in Detroit ended up having a really good time at a zoo that my two boys would love.  And oh yeah, I got each of them a toy Volkswagen Beetle that had either leopard spots or zebra stripes.  Nice.

We headed out to Detroit and made it there pretty quickly.  As we made our way toward the city from the highway, we could tell we were in a city that was a veritable postcard for the industrial revolution. From a distance there were lots of smokestacks which dominated each side of the highway.  

As we got into the city itself, we could tell how much of a toll the downturn of the automobile industry had taken on the city of Detroit.  On each side of the highway, a significant number of  houses and buildings had their windows boarded up or had no windows at all.  The buildings were abandoned, just like the industry that had put Detroit on the map.  It was sadly everything you  had seen from news reports over the years, but you had wished it was just media hype.  

We parked in a parking garage right next to the Fox Theater and decided to hit the Hockeytown Cafe for an early dinner.  The Hockeytown Cafe is literally across the street from Comerica Park and it's really a major tourist attraction.  It has several levels and has a ton, and I mean a ton of sports memorabilia.  Of course, I had to take a picture of the Trammell and Whitaker jerseys, inseparable as the double play combination was in their heyday for the Tigers.

We had a pretty good early dinner, standard sports cafe food.  The pulled pork sandwich on white toast was a nice touch and we had a front row seat for the large flat screen TV showing the Mets - Nationals game in which Steven Strasberg was pitching.  We fortunately got in there early because when we left there was a lot of people waiting for a table. 

Then it was onto Comerica Park.  It only took a few minutes for me to fall for this truly magnificently done ball park. There are so many touches, little and small, too numerous to even write in this blog, but I will try to capture many of the details I can.  

First, the entrance with the giant tiger and the tigers on top of the entrance is downright impressive. Quite possibly the coolest entrance to a MLB ballpark I have seen (and I have now seen 16 Major League ballparks, including the now extinct Shea Stadium and Old Yankee Stadium).  Second, the ability to completely walk around the entire park on the same level is what I consider one of those small neat touches. Third, before you go into the ballpark, walk along the side street between Comerica and Ford Field, the domed football field right next to Comerica.   It's pretty neat to see a line of Tigers banners on one side of the street and Lions banners on the other side.  You also see that every so often on the side of the Comerica building is a tiger head with a baseball in its mouth.  Another neat touch.

Fourth, the Tiger carousel in the food court was just a great idea.  Something for the kids while you go online for food is just a nice thought and very well done.  Right by there also is a Tiger painted Statute of Liberty.  I am sure Yankee fans will find that sacrilege, but I thought it was pretty neat.  Now I can't say anything about the food at the Tigers game because we ate at Hockeytown USA.   But you won't go hungry.

However, the touch I loved the most was the historical decade centerpieces that are in the first level walkway as you go around the park.   Each of them has a review of the Tigers from the 20's, 30, 40's etc.   It's a baseball historian's wet dream (for want of a better term).  And I really liked the fact that they put in something historical from that decade, like an old fashioned radio.

Here's a tip, get to the ballpark early for enough for batting practice, even if it's just the road team's batting practice.  Then go sit in the outfield seats, whether it's left field or right field.   The first thing you realize is that the park is ENORMOUS and it takes a good poke to hit a home run at Comerica.  No wonder Juan Gonzalez had a conniption when he played there when it first opened.  And you can see in left field  because they put up a new fence for the bullpen and you can see the difference between the new fence and the existing wall where the first row of seats are.

The second thing you notice when you are at your seat is that the Tigers did an excellent job with the field, the scoreboard, the center field Chevrolet Fountain, the whole backdrop is really well done.  The one thing I highly suggest is that if you go to a Detroit game in early July for a 7pm start, and your seats are field level on the third base line, bring a pair of sunglasses (which I thankfully did).  The sun is right in your eyes for a good four innings.  

As for the game itself, well we were fortunate to be there when the Tigers ace, Justin Verlander was starting.  He was definitely by far the best starting pitcher we would see pitching on this trip.  He also was a hit with the ladies as a lot of female Tigers fans went to the third base line to take his picture as he strolled out to the bullpen.  The only other player I have seen that with in the past few weeks was the Phillies Jayson Werth, when I had RF tickets for a Phillies home game during a conference I was attending. Memo to the Phillies - Don't trade Werth.  The guy is a freakin rock star in Philly.  Try to pawn off Ibanez and spend the money resigning Werth.

Verlander didn't disappoint the fans (or the female admirers for that matter).  He was on top of his game.  The weak Mariners lineup struck out early and often.  Meanwhile, it took a few innings, but the Tigers lineup finally got to Mariner starter Jason Vargas in the fourth inning for two runs, then knocked him out with four runs in the fifth inning. That broke Vargas' span of fourteen straight starts of allowing three earned runs or less in a game.  

What I really think did Vargas in was the Tigers All Star player Miguel Cabrera.  After Cabrera hit a leadoff double in the bottom of the second against him, Vargas walked Cabrera two straight times, one intentionally.  Both were in the middle of the two innings where the Tigers scored all their runs.  Cabrera simply intimidated Vargas.  

And rightfully so considering Cabrera is hitting .346 with 22 HRs and 77 RBIs.   The previous day during breakfast, I was reading a Sports Weekly in the hotel lounge about Cabrera turning his life around and stopped drinking last season.  He actually is now more focused than ever and it shows. Here's the scary thing. Before this season,in his previous six full seasons, Cabrera only once hit less than 33 HRs, never had a full season less than 103 RBIs and in his six full seasons never hit under .292 (and hit above .300 in four of those six full seasons).   Cabrera is close to being the Albert Pujols of the AL.

You could have left the game after the fifth inning.  The Mariners were toast. The lineup featured a cleanup hitter hitting .240 and the five through nine batters were for the most part even worse.  We actually left for the long trip to Chicago after the sixth inning.  Verlander would go seven innings and strike out ten Mariners.   Anyone who attended the game could tell that Cliff Lee was going to be traded in a short amount of time.   The Mariners are going to need to require a lot of revamping in the offseason.  A lot of revamping.

Meanwhile, Tigers' fans should rejoice as the Tigers should be good for several years to come. Cabrera is a dominant force in the lineup and Magglio Ordonez makes a great Pippen to Cabrera's Jordan.  The Tigers have young star hitters in Austin Jackson and the pictured Brandon Boesch.  And Detroit has good young pitching in Verlander, Max Scherzer, and if he can straighten himself out, Rick Porcello.  

As I noted we had seen enough and we headed back to the parking garage to get our car for the long trip to Chicago.  But first, I had to take a picture of the large Tiger in the front entrance.  So cool.  I took a couple of pictures also of the Fox Theatre and of Hockeytown Cafe.   As we headed out of the parking garage, we saw a lot of young twenty somethings lined up for a club nearby the stadium, with a lot of the female clubgoers wearing things I would not want my daughter wearing (well if I had a daughter that is).  Then, we left Detroit as quickly as we came in.  Sadly there was nothing else to see but more abandoned buildings on the highway. 

We then traveled across the state of Michigan.  As we did, we ended up taking out a lot of kamikaze bugs on an interstate highway in Michigan.  When we stopped for gas later on, Tieff had to clean the windshield and the front of the car a few times from all the bugs that gave up their lives on my Honda Accord.  Finally, we got to our hotel room in Chicago around midnight.  Another day, another city, another stadium.   

And if you are wondering, "why the title to the article?"  Well, we saw lions at the Toledo Zoo.  And of course, we saw the Tigers play.  Sloth Bears?  Well that was also at the Zoo.  And if you are wondering what a sloth bear is, look at the picture to your left.  Again, the things you learn on a baseball trip.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day Two - My Second Home

Last Friday, Tieff and I made our way to Pittsburgh.  This would be the fourth time I have been at PNC Park.  I was there in 2008 with my older son and my Uncle Elmer to see the Pirates face the Astros.  Last year, Tieff and I were at two games at PNC, a game vs. the Cubs and another game vs. the Mets, both losses for the Bucs.

Before we got to PNC, we were able to meet my Uncle Elmer and Aunt Syl for lunch at an Eat And Park in Etna, which is a town right outside of Pittsburgh.   My grandparents lived in Etna and many a time I made the trip with my family to Etna as my mom would have the family visit her parents.

Basically, my entire family tree is from Pittsburgh.  My mom was raised here along with her brothers and sisters (my Aunt Syl, my mom's sister is the now sole surviving member of the family).   My father is from here and my older brother and older sister were born in Etna. They lived here until the middle 60's when my family moved to Long Island shortly before I was born.

After a good lunch, Uncle Elmer was kind enough to show us the view from Mount Washington, which overlooks Pittsburgh and now is a place for very trendy restaurants.  I had told my Uncle Elmer that I hadn't been there before, but now looking at the pictures, like the one showed, I am pretty sure I was taken there when I was young.

It was good seeing my Aunt Syl and Uncle Elmer, who as I stated I last saw in 2008.  My mom was on that trip and that was the last time they saw my mom before she passed away last November.  Outside of the phone call I made to Aunt Syl Friday morning, we didn't talk about my mom at lunch whatsoever.  They asked about my two boys and gave me presents to give them when I got back.  Tieff enjoyed the stories my Uncle told us about the celebrities he drove around when he was a limo driver and then there was the classic Governor's Island story.

Basically my uncle got us onto an elite celebration at Governor's Island in the early 90's on  July 4th for the Tall Ships, despite not having tickets for it, due to the fact that he hooked up with one of the supervisors who happened to be from Pittsburgh.  We had great food, champagne and met Walter Cronkite, the master of ceremonies for the event.  Mr. Cronkite just happened to be walking around by himself later that day when we saw him.  My uncle, who could never be accused of being shy, walked up to him and ended up talking with us for several minutes.  I took a picture of my Uncle Elmer with Walter Cronkite, and he still has the picture.  Walter Cronkite was one of the nicest people you could ever meet.

After hooking up with my Aunt and Uncle, I parked my car in one of the lots and we walked across the bridge to PNC park.  Then we decided to walk off our lunch and took a long stroll on the PNC Park River Walk.  The Allegheny River walk runs from PNC Park all the way to the Carnegie Mellon Science Museum.  And we did the entire walk.

It's what really sets PNC Park apart from most other baseball stadiums.  People can drive up with their boats, park and take in the game (if they have a ticket of course).  Heinz Field is right along the walk as well.  It's a picturesque with the river, the view of downtown Pittsburgh, PNC Park, the science museum etc etc.

In fact, the city was getting ready for a July 4th weekend regatta and had music and food stands already setup.  There was also a barge setup further down the river for a fireworks show that weekend.  However, I was very upset with all these signs along the river walk.  How did they I know I was going to be there.  And "mooring" can never be prohibited when I am in town (yes, it's a pun on my last name).

As for the game itself, when we walked in to the park we were each given a black box with a P on it.  Cool, a giveaway night.  After we got our food and got to our seats, we opened up the boxes to find we got Pirates Collectible Cereal Bowls.  And we're not talking plastic crap .  These were ceramic and really nice.  Sweet.  What we also noticed when we got to our seats was a sea of red.  Phillies red.  A lot of Phillies' fans made the trip from Philly to Pittsburgh and outnumbered the home folks.

The game featured the Phils' Jamie Moyer vs. the Pirates' Ross Ohlendorf, two pitchers with ERAs around 4.50.  Not exactly Carlton vs. Candelaria on paper.  So we expected a high scoring game.  But that's why they play the game. 

We were treated to a very unexpected pitchers duel as Ohlendorf and Moyer traded goose eggs for the first three and a half innings.  Then in the bottom of the fourth, the Pirates scratched out two runs on three singles, two of the infield kind, a walk and a throwing error by Moyer.

Ohlendorf did the rest, striking out eight in seven innings.  In fairness, Ohlendorf was facing a Phillies lineup missing Chase Utley and Placido Polanco due to injury as well as Shane Victorino not starting.  So the Phillies five through eight hitters weren't very good.   But Ohlendorf was still very effective.  Octavio Dotel closed the game out and Ohlendorf had his first victory of the season in seven decisions as the Pirates won 2-0.

Fireworks shot up in the air as the minority Pirates fans celebrated a rare win.  We walked out of the ballpark with mostly dejected Phillies fans as we made our way back to my car.  And we headed out on the highway to our overnight stay in Toledo, our halfway point to Detroit for the Tigers game on Saturday.  Once again, I said goodbye to my second home, Pittsburgh PA, knowing that I will visit it again hopefully next season.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Quick Summary of the Last Two Days

This will be a quick summary of the last two days.  Each day will get it's own blog post in the next few days.  It's been a busy last couple of days on our baseball trip.  Day two started out by leaving Cumberland and the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and heading up the really beautiful and historic Route 40 to Pittsburgh.   It's very hilly and there seems to be a lot to do with Laurel Caverns and the such.  You can make a nice vacation out of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, Laurel Caverns and a Pirates game.

In Pittsburgh, we met up with my Uncle Elmer and Aunt Syl at an Eat and Park in Etna, PA.  It was good catching up with them and my Uncle Elmer was kind enough to show us Mount Washington which overlooks Pittsburgh.   Just terrific views from up there.

From, there it was on to PNC park, which is my favorite baseball park.  Just  look at the view to the left.  It's truly amazing.  And it's small and you can walk around most of the ball park.  Even better, it's right down by the water and there is a great walkway along the river.  In fact, they were setting up for a regatta there on Friday night.

As noted by my previous post,you know a team is playing well when it's fans show up in abundance on the road.  Well, a lot of Phillie fans took the trip from Philly to Pittsburgh.  It was a sea of red, as the majority of the fans were Phillie Fanatics.  In fact, when the Phillie fans started a "Let's Go Phillies!" chant, the Pirates fans could not drown them out.

As for the game itself, it was surprisingly another low scoring affair.  It was certainly surprising in that you had two starters entering the game with an ERA of over 4.00 with Jamie Moyer and Ross Ohlendorf.  So a 2-0 game was the last thing we expected. Ohlendorf struck out eight though and the Pirates scratched out two runs on an infield hit and a throwing error by Moyer.

The Phillies were without Chase Utley and Placido Polanco in their lineup, with both players having been recently placed on the DL. And it seemed their five through eight hitters in the lineup were unusually light hitting for them.  But the Phillies made up for it yesterday by scoring twelve runs.  Still the loss of Utley for eight weeks will hurt the Phils.

We left PNC and headed to Maumee, Ohio, which is right outside of Toledo to stay in another Fairfield hotel.  This was under renovation, so we quickly left in the morning.  Our original goal was to go to a shopping mall and spend the afternoon putzing around before we headed to Detroit.  But along our GPS guided way, we literally stumbled upon the Toledo Zoo!

It was a nice zoo and for the price ($11 adults, $8 children), you can't beat it.  We spent a good three hours there and there are lots of things for the kiddies to do especially.  And yes, it was fun for two forty four year old guys too.  I just wish I had my two young sons with me.  They would have enjoyed this greatly.

From there, we traveled the literally one hour drive to Detroit to Comerica Park. After eating at a very nice sports bar literally across the street, we made our way to the ball field.  Comerica is now the 15th MLB ballpark I have been to over the years (including the now extinct Shea and Old Yankee Stadium).  And number 15 may now be number one with me.

Comerica is sooo well done.  From the giant tiger at the entrance to the park, to the tiger carousel in the food court, to the ability to walk around the ENTIRE ballpark in an entire unobstructed route, and to the historic decade chronicling centerpieces in the walkway, it's just such a great ballpark to soak up and enjoy.

Just like our trip to the zoo, it was smouldering hot in Comerica.  And we had great seats, box seats, eight rows from the field down the third base line, in short left field.  And the sun was shining down right in our view of home plate for the first four innings, so I am glad we had our sunglasses.  Unlike our first two games, the opposing team's fans had no presence at  Comerica whatsoever  In fact, I don't remember seeing a Mariner fan there at all.

As for the game itself, well Justin Verlander was dealing against a very weak Seattle lineup.  When your cleanup hitter is hitting .234, you know your lineup is not so good.  And Verlander took advantage, striking out ten Mariners in seven innings.  The Tigers got to Jason Vargas for two runs in the fourth and four runs in the fifth.   It was the first time that Vargas had given up more than three earned runs in a start since his first start of the season, a span of 14 starts.  That's a pretty impressive streak. 

The Tigers are equally impressive though.   With Miguel Cabrera having a MVP season, Austin Jackson looking like a steal of a deal from the Yanks, and Brandon Boesch looking like the second coming of Mike Greenwell, but bigger in size, the Michigan Kitties could be the best team in the AL Central.  And if they keep getting the pitching from Verlander and Max Schwerzer the night before, they will be tough to beat.

We left after the sixth inning with the Tigers up 6-0 (they would win 6-1) so that we could make the four hour trip to Chicago.  Including a stop for gas and to clean off the windshield and the front of the car for all the bugs I hit in the highways of Michigan (god there were a lot of bugs flying on the highway), we made it in exactly four hours.

We made it to our hotel, the Omni, then proceeded to step out and walk around town, ending up in Pippin's on Rush Street till 2:00 am this morning.  I write this blog article from the very nice suite we are in the Omni.  Tieff is still sleeping as I write this.  Today it's Wrigley and tonight it's the fireworks show on Lake Michigan.  Not a bad way to spend the fourth.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Blog Is Back

It's been several months since I typed anything on this blog. My apologies for that. I have been very caught up with work the last two months.  And before that, my college basketball blog was on overdrive in March and early April with the year of the mid major in the NCAA Tournament.

But I want to make up for in a big way. It's my second annual baseball trip.  If you look at the archives from last year,  you will see we did a similar trip.  You learn a lot of things traveling across country.  So, again my friend Tony Terentieff and I are traveling around the country enjoying the National Pasttime.

This year it's seven games in seven days with a focus on the Great Lakes part of the country for want of a better term. The itinerary is listed below.

July 1 - Mets vs. Nationals - Washington DC
July 2 - Phillies vs. Pirates - Pittsburgh, PA
July 3 - Mariners vs. Tigers - Detroit, MI
July 4 - Reds vs. Cubs - Chicago, IL (Wrigley on the 4th!)
July 5 - Giants vs Brewers - Milwaukee, WI
July 6 - Akron Aeros (AA)
July 7 - Braves vs. Phillies - Philadelphia, PA

It's an ambitious trip as we are driving the entire way in my 2001 Honda Accord, which I had a lot of work put into in preparation for this.  So far, it's driving like a champ. We have already gone on the first leg of the trip, having gone down to DC for the Nats - Mets game last night.

I will give each day its own post.  I just can't promise that it will be each day we are on this trip.  I am learning a few things already.  First, my brand new MSI win computer has a very sensitive keypad with my big fingers.  So typing has been a chore. Second, I am typing this from Cumberland, Maryland where the Marriott Fairfield is fully packed, but has a 24 hour exercise and separate pool room.  Should have taken the swim last night when we got in.  Tried to this morning at 7:30 and the guy was working on the pool.  Arggh.

I can tell you so far that I have a greater appreciation for Nationals Park.  Sitting on the third base side in row CC in Section 115, you got a better view of the stadium as a whole.  It still doesn't stack up to PNC in Pittsburgh, or Citizen's Bank in Philly, but it's very nice   And it has a Five Guys Burger stand!  I always heard about their burgers and fries, but I never tried them till last night.  Great burgers and perhaps even better fries.  Highly recommended.

Prior to the game,  I did some crowd watching.  The stadium had a little more than 20,000 people in attendance last night (a little than less than 50% full)  A lot of people in the park had of course Stephen Strasberg jerseys. Ryan Zimmerman was a distant second.  Also, a lot, and I mean a lot of Mets fans came down to see the game.  You can always tell how the Mets are doing by how well their fan base shows up.

Also two friends of mine were at the game last night separately as well.  My friend Seth was there but I never got to see him (we apparently missed each other while I was online desperately trying to get something to drink that I would like- long story).

But I knew my good friend Mo Goldman was attending and he came down from his seats to hang out with me.   Both Mo and I went old school last night.  He had a Roberto Clemente Pirates shirt on while I went with my old school Tom Seaver shirt. We talked about our work, our families, but most importantly our fantasy baseball teams!

As for the game itself, it was an old fashioned pitchers duel as Livan Hernandez and Johan Santana hooked up.  The Mets scored a run in the top of the first inning and it looked like it would hold up, as Santana had little problems with the Nats lineup. But in the bottom of the seventh, Nyjer Morgan drove home Ian Desmond with a clutch two out two strike single.

The Mets couldn't score after the first inning as Livan buckled the Mets with his assortment of curveballs and Bugs Bunny changeups.   A lot of slow stuff.  In fact, one pitch was clocked at 62 mph.  Yup, 62.  After Livan left the game after 7 innings, Strasberg's fellow 2009 first round teammate Drew Storen came in and mowed down the Mets in the 8th.  He's very impressive.  After the Nationals couldn't score in the 8th, Matt Capps pitched a scoreless ninth for the Nats.

Then came the bottom of the ninth.  After Pedro Feliciano got Wil Nieves out, Mets killer Willie Harris worked out a walk.  It was a bad walk by Feliciano since Harris is hitting .155 on the season.  Morgan followed up with a beautiful drag bunt between the pitcher and first base.  Then Christian Guzman drilled a single to left but somehow Harris was held at third base, probably due in part to Ryan Zimmerman being up.

The Mets decided to put left fielder Jesus Feliciano in the infield for the rarely seen but always enjoyable five man infield.  Zimmerman would hit a long enough fly ball to Jeff Francoeur and Harris would score the game winner.  The fireworks went off and we headed out to our current destination.

As I finished typing this, I realized why the hotel here in Cumberland is so packed.  A loud train whistle just came from outside the room.  The famous Western Maryland Scenic Railroad is right around here and the rail is right outside our hotel room.  Thus this great picture.  Now I have another trip I can plan with my two sons who love trains.  Nice.  See the things you learn on a long baseball trip.