‘When you feel it’

I found this quote some time during the summer and put it in my “blog” file and there it sat until today…not that it has any less of an impact today…in fact, today, it really speaks to me! Maybe it’s our mantra for the New Year? I know I will hope for a moment like this…and a moment soon!

“Baseball players say they don’t have to look to see if they hit a home run, they can feel it. So I wish for you a moment —a moment soon— when you really put the bat on the ball, when you really get a hold of one and drive it into the upper deck, when you feel it.”

Aaron Sorkin, Playwright, screenwriter, producer, Syracuse University, May 13

baseball_180

 

Advertisements

Park #32 – Minute Maid Park (Houston, TX)…The Thrill of 30!

This was it…the final stop on a long, crazy, but never-a-dull-moment adventure! 
 
I had arranged for my brother-in-law, Matthew, to meet me in Houston, so as I flew from Indiana (where I was attending a conference) and he flew from California, we both had our eye on “the prize,” as Houston’s Minute Maid Park (http://tinyurl.com/338wxk) would spell the end of my quest to visit every baseball park in the league. 
 
I had reached out to the team’s PR guy, Chris (as had my dear friend Sheena Stephens (http://bit.ly/ZGa6bQ) who worked the phones that day to arrange other interviews) so, he wanted to know if I could get to the park early to speak to a MLB blogger.  We ate some yummy Mexican food (yeah, I know, I’m a beaner, but I was in Texas and they just have better Mexican food than we do in DC), chilled a bit and headed to the park.  Once in our seats, I connected with Chris who came over with some serious swag bags for Matthew and me before I started the interview with Rachel, the blogger.  She was a breath of fresh air…young and very engaged with my many baseball park stories!  Shortly after, Bart, the on-air sports talent for Fox Sports Houston appeared and said he would be back later for a live interview as they selected me the “Fan of the Game.”  I quickly checked my make-up and donned my Colt 45 jersey that Chris had gifted me, and waited for Bart to return (during the wait, we ordered a round of drinks…liquid courage from the not-so-cheap seats, if you will). 
 
Bart returned and we did our segment. When it was done, he got a message in his ear whig and said, “Now? You want me to ask her to come now?”  With that he asked us to go with him to the TV truck to meet “Wave,” the producer.  In seconds we were in the bowels of the park, traipsing past the post-game interview room (we both took turns behind the podium), then to where the players parked (we oogled the cars), and where the players’ wives parked their children (we marveled at the nice perk).  We finally made it to the TV “truck” (it was really a trailer) and stepped in.  Bart announced, “Guys, it’s Linda Beltran” and the guys, all glued to their monitors, clapped and gave us a great welcome!  I was humbled and slightly embarrassed (okay, just slightly :-)! 
 
Wave invited me to sit next to him, and then put on a pair of headphones on me and as I listened to the “call” of the game from the producer’s post.  I was watching — up close — how they pieced the game together…from the tons of cameras, the instant replays, and the commercials – it was right there, for my eyes to behold and my ears to follow! I could have stayed there the rest of the game, but Bart had to walk us back and Matthew wasn’t able to sit, so that wasn’t fun for him.  As Bart led us back to the concourse, he pointed out things and people, former players that Matthew knew (before I started following the game), so I was excited just by the fact that he knew who these people were, and why they were worth knowing.  We said goodbye to Bart and walked back into the outer sanctum…and we smiled, and marveled over what had just happened upon us!  The game was winding down and the Astros were losing big to the Phillies by a score of 6-12,  but we walked about, made a stop at the store to get my Pass-Port stamped, and shared a hot dog…I couldn’t visit my last park and not have A HOT DOG! 
 
It was a magical night – one I will remember forever.  I was grateful that Matthew was with me to be witness to it all and enjoy it as much as I did!  I have to admit, with all the activity, I didn’t get to appreciate this park like I had the others, but the visit will be unforgettable!  Here are the links to the two articles posted about my visit!  
 
 
 
 
A few of my favorite pictures from the day and some more at this link!  An amazing “end of the road.”  http://tinyurl.com/b2jqmzy
Bart from Fox Sports News getting ready to tape

Bart from Fox Sports News getting ready to tape

Lovely to see the outside light inside!

Lovely to see the outside light inside!

Matt and I at the game!

Matt and I at the game!

Park #31 – Rogers Centre (Toronto, ON, Canada)

I never imagined that it would be a trip to see the Toronto Blue Jays and Rogers Centre (http://tinyurl.com/28clmn) that would be the reason I would finally find myself in Canada!  Somehow, this country had managed to elude me…maybe because it’s “attached” and so close?  Not sure.  But, I found myself there on the weekend of July 28-29, 2012 and was thrilled to be there!
 
Since I had opted for a Sunday day game, I had all Saturday to explore…and explore I did – to Niagara Falls…such a beautiful place, and truly deserving of its “world wonder” moniker.  On Sunday, before the game, I toured CNN Tower and enjoyed the views “from the top” of the city below and aerial shots of Rogers Centre.
 
The weather was working with me, and despite the fact that this park has a retractable roof, on this day, it was wide open to watch a game as it was intended…under a crystal blue sky!  I had booked a room at the Renaissance Toronto Downtown Hotel (http://tinyurl.com/3sybaqb) and was literally overlooking the field, but while that is a great vantage point to watch a game, it’s pretty hard to be THAT close to a park and not be in the physical park!
 
The Blue Jays were hosting the Detroit Tigers, and while it’s always my M.O., to vote for the home team, I was secretly hoping that Justin Verlander would be on the mound and do something exceptional!  Sigh…alas, he wasn’t starting, but I did get to watch him cross the field and say hello to Ernie Els, the golfer, who happened to be there to throw out the first pitch!  Yes, that was some great eye candy (Verlander, not Els)!  🙂
 
I enjoyed the fare (tasty hot dog and soda, and I took a small departure and snacked on some fresh popcorn…I know, I live on the edge, right?) 
 
In addition to a few pictures below, here are some shots from my Toronto adventure here (http://tinyurl.com/dyo8lmo).
 
Some great art features throughout the concourse!

Some great art features throughout the concourse!

The blue just pops everywhere - especially in the logo!

The blue just pops everywhere – especially in the logo!

A nice, wide open roof!

A nice, wide open roof!

The Glory Years!

The Glory Years!

One more stop on this trek…off to see the Houston Astron on September 14th – stay tuned!

 

Park #30 – Overstock.com Stadium (Oakland, CA)

I lived in CA for 40 years and somehow never made it to this park.  But, on July 2, 2012 – with my sister, brother-in-law and nephews in tow – I arrived at Overstock.com Stadium (http://tinyurl.com/2fawyo) to watch the A’s take on the Boston Red Sox.
 
I spent all of my adult life avoiding this park (opting to see ball games in San Francisco), and now I know why.  The park was old and tired and sad.  It made me sad.  It lacked any spark or any of the fun attributes that I have seen thus far in other parks…newer parks… legendary parks!  I will say, the fan base is loyal and very much in tact, so I have to respect them and their devotion.  That’s all good…every fan should have their team, and every team its park (although, I’m inclined to say, that the A’s are VERY deserving of a new park, one dedicated solely to baseball)! 
 
The whole time there, I had flashes of “Moneyball” come to mind, but that was the “hey day” and there wasn’t a sign of Billy Beane (http://tinyurl.com/3rtnvzo) anywhere!  For the record, the A’s prevailed on this day (6-1) and all was right in the world at Overstock.com Stadium (such a mouthful of a name for a ballpark, if you ask me)!
 
Glad I went, always am, but now I can say, “Been there, done that,” …not going back!   
 
To give them credit, they actually had the right stamp for my Pass-port!

To give them credit, they actually had the right stamp for my Pass-port!

A lovely day for a game!

A lovely day for a game!

And an equally calm night! (same game)!

And an equally calm night! (same game)!

Game Play!

Game Play!

Park #29 – PNC Park (Pittsburgh, PA)

The travel stars realigned, and I arrived in Pittsburgh with time to spare..and that was a good thing as PNC Park (http://tinyurl.com/8235qcq) was the perfect ballpark to explore from top to bottom!  Like with Detroit, I hadn’t placed Pittsburgh very high on those cities I had longed to visit, and just like with Comerica Park (http://tinyurl.com/cav4ek8), I was pleasantly surprised. 

At the onset…the arrival itself is impressive.  Crossing over the Roberto Clemente (http://tinyurl.com/ofhqk) Bridge, you get to see the park “come into view” and it’s spectacular.  Immediately, I was reminded of AT&T Park (http://tinyurl.com/c49qzxu) in San Francisco – one of my all-time favorite parks – with its glorious water views.

Once I crossed the bridge, I was welcomed by a vibrant street scene (closed off to car traffic) that was teeming with vendors, games for the kids and music.  If you have been to Fenway Park (http://tinyurl.com/d9tunah), Wrigley Field (http://tinyurl.com/cj4n2zl) and/or Camden Yards (http://tinyurl.com/d93x6y3), you know what to expect!  It was the perfect way to gear up for the game inside the park!

I made my way into the park and tended to the business of getting my Pass-Port (http://tinyurl.com/7v2ut3k) book stamped, only to be told at the Guest Relations office that they didn’t have the official stamp.  Instead, I settled for a signature “P” stamp that they dated. (Later, while purchasing my souvenir magnet, I found that they had the stamp in the main retail shop, and passed that along to Guest Relations for future reference.)

Before I headed to my seat, I strolled into an indoor/outdoor full-service bar that mixed and exceptional margarita and provided sweeping views of the bridge and surrounding waterways.  From this vantage, views of the small playground area were also visible – another nice touch to help entertain the kids and very much unlike the forced, circus-like ambience that you see/get at The Trop (http://tinyurl.com/cn2h4kl).

The purest in me enjoyed the wide concourse and plentiful food offerings…I like to see diversity in food options, despite the fact that I usually always have a hot dog!  I was directed to a “side” elevator that lead me to the Club Level.  As I stepped beyond the doors, the thrust of air conditioning swept over me, and it was a good thing because it was hot…I’m talking HOT!  The rest of the “haves” were enjoying games of pool, upgraded food offerings, lots of cold drinks, and snow and ice cream cones as far as the eye could see.

I made it to my seat, a few rows behind home plate, and sent a silent thank you to the “seat gods” for placing me next to the cutest, single lawyer who was also trying to get to all the parks in the league (but only when his beloved/beleaguered Cubs were playing the home team). His name was David, and we chatted from first pitch to about the bottom of the second inning when we literally were about to melt.  I retreated back to the confines of the Club so that I could “re-energize” with a soft serve cone.  David had his own ballpark rituals that included photos…five outside the park, five inside the park, five from his seat and five during game play.  At first, he seemed hesitant to share his routine, but, really, who am I to judge?  I’ve got all kinds of pre-game and game time rituals!

After his photo shoot was complete, he joined me in the Club and we watched the game from the “AC” seats and chatted until I left for the airport.  We swapped contact information and agreed to stay in touch (which we did/do)!  There may be no crying in baseball, but no one said anything about flirting, right? 😉

Here are some pictures that simply do not do the park justice…Pittsburgh may not be high on your “must see” cities, but if you love baseball, it should be!

Roberto Clemente Bridge on the approach to PNC Park

Roberto Clemente Bridge on the approach to PNC Park

Roberto Clemente Statue

Roberto Clemente Statue

Views from the Park with Bill Mazeroski statue in the foreground

Views from the Park with Bill Mazeroski statue in the foreground

Club Level diversion

Club Level diversion

Family fun for everyone!

Family fun for everyone!

Honus Wagner Statue

Honus Wagner Statue

Pristine field

Pristine field

The "Greats!"

The “Greats!”

Stunning Views of the Outfield!

Stunning Views of the Outfield!

Parting Shot!

Parting Shot!

Without question, this park ranks in my Top #5…and, I can’t wait to return (when it’s much cooler)!

Park #28 – Target Field (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

This was the ballpark that nearly wasn’t…thanks to Delta Airlines. 

On May 26th, and after a multitude of human and aeronautical failings, I arrived in Minneapolis more than two hours after the start of the game.  The Twins were playing Detroit, and I caught the action at the top of the 6th inning.  To say I was exasperated was an understatement.  Thankfully, Mother Nature was playing for my team, and the skies opened up to create a rain delay at the top of the 7th inning, giving me time to sort of breathe and explore the park during the game delay. 

I had, for some odd reason, less than desirable seats, but they were covered, so I was able to sit down and take in the views for a bit even while the rain delay suspended play – for the first time all season, I was thankful that I didn’t have seats behind home plate!

I made my way to guest services to get my Passport Book (http://tinyurl.com/7v2ut3k) stamped.  Like with several parks before this one, they had no idea where their stamp was, or if they even had one.  I waited for Chuck to call Patrick who was the person “in the know.”  While I waited, Chuck took pity on me and my crazy travel day and prepared a “swag bag” as a good will gesture!  I have to say, he did lift my spirits…just because he cared enough to try!  Patrick finally arrived only to tell me that he didn’t have the stamp, but would be happy to take my page and send it back to me.  I looked at him with great hesitency…but he PROMISED that he would return it with the needed stamp.  How could I question him…he had an honest and sincere face?  (Note: After a few weeks, he did, in fact, send it back with the stamp, just as he promised.)

The rain finally let up, and I grabbed bite and retreated to my seat just in time to enjoy “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” followed by “Proud to be an American,” by Lee Greenwood…a nice “two-fer” I thought!

This wasn’t a good day for the Twins, as they fell to the Tigers with a score of 3-6, but the game ended on a sunnier note and clear skies.  Though this was the shortest time I had spent at a park, and the first time I had missed the National anthem and other usual ballpark rituals, I felt that I was still able to get a good look around (thanks to the rain delay).

I was impressed with the special room set aside for mother’s to breast feed, a nice touch (not that I’ve ever needed one, but, this was the first park that had it readily visible and heavily utilized).  There was a brick building out way past the right field that reminded me of Camden Yards, I liked that touch, but wasn’t much a fan of the buildings that were closer to the field that seemed plain and a bit unattractive. 

I left, still feeling a bit cheated (still wished I had seen the Kirby Puckett statue), but glad I got to see, what I saw.  The next day, I would head to Pittsburgh and hope for better travel and a full day at PNC Park!

Target Field…First view

Target Field

Target Field

IMAG0253

Kent Hrbek Statue

IMAG0250

My last image…when the skies weren’t so ominous!

 

Park #27 – Comerica Park (Detroit, MI)

May 20th, found me waking at the crack of dawn to head from Tampa to Detroit and Comerica Park (http://tinyurl.com/7d7eccb)!

I hadn’t heard anything about the park, so I didn’t have any pre-set expectations and/or notions.  In absence of a metro system or efficient shuttle service, I hopped a taxi and headed to the park. I arrived shortly before 11:30 a.m. and encountered a line (which I thought was for “will call”), but was for the front gate.  The park didn’t open until exactly 90 minutes before game time.

So, I was able to enter with the eager few and…I what I saw IMPRESSED ME!

Unlike The Trop, Comerica was a celebration of baseball with a great layout and creative “amenities” like a merry-go-round with tigers for horses and a ferris wheel with the cups shaped at baseballs.  While, these are not truly in keeping with the “purity” of a traditional ballpark, these were tasteful additions with a true smack of “Americana.”  What also made them good embellishments was the fact that they were set off from the main concourse near food courts..the many food courts that offered a wide range of fare, and one thing I had never seen…Jose Cuevo read-to-drink margaritas…SCORE!  If it couldn’t get any better, it was a Pepsi park – I truly didn’t know what to drink first (but seriously, the margarita won out..three times over)!

With my Pass-Port (http://tinyurl.com/7v2ut3k) in tow, I headed to guest relations, and again, no official stamp to be had.  They did their best in using another stamp with a hand-written date, but it was not the same.  For my troubles or their shortcomings, Jill from guest services gave me a hat…which I would need later as the sun beat down!

With my hat and margarita in hand, I made my way to my seat…five rows from the visitors’ dugout.  I was elated to find out that my seats came with service, and Melissa was quick to “refill” my drink!  Dangerous for sure!

For the first time in forever, I departed from my traditional hot dog fare and instead ordered hummus and vegetables – talk about going 180 degrees!  I had planned on something more substantial later, but I ran out of time and that was all I ended up consuming!  It was tasty, but not very hearty and NOT remotely close to being traditional ballpark food!

There was little not to like about Comerica (with the exception that Justin Verlander was not in the rotation…that was something I didn’t like).  Even from the exterior — the tiger heads were a regal welcome and lent themselves in so many ways to the theme of the park (the tiger-go-round…perfect case in point).

Of course, shortly after taking my seat, I befriended “Tim” who was also in pursuit to see all the parks, but wasn’t too eager to finish any time soon. However, he was partial to the parks in CA — AT&T and Petco — and, of course, I couldn’t agree more!

At the 7th inning, we sang God Bless America, Take Me Out to The Ballgame AND the YMCA – their version of “Sweet Caroline” perhaps!

On this hot summer day, the Tigers took on the Pirates and squeezed out a 4-3 win, which made the visit all the more sweet!  I hurried out right after the game to catch my plane home and was thrilled with my visit…even the $50 taxi ride didn’t matter!  Without question, this was one of my favorite parks to date…and I’ll be back to the Motor City!

A “roaring” good welcome!

A great team history timeline!

The “feline” ferris wheel

One of the many food courts