The Bryce Bomber…

bryce harper cover

Always great to open the mailbox on Thursdays to see my SI waiting for me…but especially great to see such a rising star like Bryce Harper on the cover standing in the freezing cold (as you find out in this article: http://tinyurl.com/bqhuz2j)!

There is absolutely pure joy in watching him play…but when he runs – with his chest out, and his head back – it’s a thrill!

If you haven’t yet read the article, here is a taste (http://tinyurl.com/cdeoc88), but do yourself a favor and read the whole article as it focuses on some of the key players in the league coming up on their “sophmore” year!

Batter up!

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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 #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 #24 – Progressive Field (Cleveland, OH)

Celebrated Easter Sunday at Progressive Field to watch the Indians take on the Toronto Blue Jays.  The fact that it was Easter meant that I could now resume with my tradition of enjoying a soda at the ballpark!  And the bonus was that it was Pepsi park!

The day was overcast and cold, and I found myself draped in layers of clothing, and heading to the team shop to buy a beanie cap to cover up even more!

After my mandetory purchse, I went in search of the guest services office.  Armed with my new “Ballpark Pass-port,” I managed to stump the first contact who then sent me into another office to inquire further.  The man behind the desk was enthralled!  He held my book in his hand and made two calls…one to the gift shop to bring the “ceremonial stamp,” and one to a friend in a nearby office who came out to also ogle at my book.  They wanted to know where it came from, how I got it, and why they didn’t have them at their park.  I gave them all the information I had, and told them they were so new, that the books were making their way across the league.  Needless to say, it was a grand-slam of a hit!

With my second stamp in my pass-port, I headed to my seat with great curiosity!  Like with nearly every park, I typically go online and choose, “Best Available, Quantity 1” and purchase what comes up!  When I did that with Cleveland, the ticket price was a scant, $35.  Couldn’t be right.  So I called the box office and asked for the best available single ticket.  The man, again, quoted me $35, and went on to explain that it was a “less popular” game and that this was the best seat he could sell me!  Coming from the perspective of “yielding” and maximizing revenues, all I could think was, “They are doing it wrong.”  I would have gladly paid double that for my seat…easily!  But, hat’s off to the Indian organization for siding with the people and not the profits on this front!

As a slight change, trumpeter, Dominick Farinacci, played both anthems, amazingly well – an absolute honor to have witnessed that performance!

The whole game, which the Indians squeezed out 4-3, I kept playing lines from
“Major League” in my head along with the strains of Bob Uecker and all of his color commentating!  I sort of expected “Wild Thing” to be played at some point.  And although, that didn’t happen, there was a sole drummer in a headdress up in centerfield – which was the sole homage to the silly movie, and one of my all-time baseball favorites!

Though I stayed to the last out, I did have a plane to catch, and I missed the opportunity to walk the bases – which is what I spied as I took more look of the field, which is one of my many traditions.  One more look…and to see adults and kids alike enjoying the field as they rounded first through third, that was the best takeaway!

Up Next – California here I come…Petco is calling!

 

A Pass-Port for all Seasons

I left Cincinnati with a renewed faith in people, specifically, “baseball” people!  Those who are fans – true fans – of the game and all it represents!

To recap, Tim Parks, the affable businessman who met me in the 5th inning, is the creator of The Major League Baseball Ballpark Pass-port (http://tinyurl.com/7v2ut3k).  A lovely, leather-bound book that is intended for people like me who are trying to visit all the parks in the league.  It’s an amazing collection of pages that provide a brief history of the game, a biography of Mr. Parks and why he was inspired to create this book, a place for old ticket stubs, and a profile of each park, along with an area for each park to stamp upon visiting.

Offered at the gift shop, the Pass-Port sells for $75.  Without any hesitation, Mr. Parks picked up this book and the Reds Pass-port and purchased them both for me.  For me, a total stranger!  I was shocked and a bit embarrassed.  How could I accept it?  But, he insisted and I was delighted and amazed at the same time.

I parted ways with Mr. Parks, but not before he signed my book too…and promised to report back as to how my stamp collecting progressed.  He informed me that, in some parks, I might be the first one to request a stamp, and I accepted this fact as an honor.  I loved that I could take what he created and share it with others across the league and country…a trailblazer to some degree!

I find it a bit ironic that my passion for travel and my constant prodding for people to have a passport to enjoy international travels, would lead me to a man, in a baseball park, in Ohio, who shares the same passion…and gave me the gift of this pass-port to take with me on my domestic travels and collect stamps along the way!  I love the perfection in that!

Park #23 – Great American Ball Park (Cincinnati, OH)

I arrived in Cincinnati with a great sense of energy and purpose!  This April weekend was the first of the 2012 baseball season, and it seemed like it had been a long time coming.  But, finally, it had arrived. 

I was genuinely thrilled to be there, in a city that welcomed me with a sense of friendliness that so many cities lack.  From the shuttle bus driver who gave me the “scenic” tour of the city since I was the only one on that run, and there was no meter running, to the bar maid at the hotel’s sports bar who was part Japanese and shared how much she missed her “second home.” (I raised my glass to that sentiment!)

The day was young and I had  a few hours to kill before the walk to the Park, so I did some shopping and then headed off, ahead of the masses, to enjoy the Hall of Fame and Museum (http://cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/cin/hof/index.jsp), located adjacent to the park.  What a great history to revel in…which is even more impressive when you see the amazing talent that represented the “Big Red Machine” during the 1970s and 80s.

(Note: Even though Pete Rose is ever-present in the Hall of Fame and Museum, the team’s store is not allowed to sell anything with his name or number on it.  I can see why, but I found that interesting.  At least there is no denying that he was an integral part of what made the team a power house, despite what he did later in life, off the field.)

With my souvenir bobblehead in tow, I headed to my seat, where I was greeted by Bob Beckert, the friendliest usher, who took me under his wing and gave me the lay of the land.  Because I was in a specific section, I had access to a club that provided all-you-can-eat food, and he directed me to another man who would give me my bracelet.  He also inquired about my trip, if it was my first, and how I was enjoying Cincinnati.  When I gave him the brief recap, he responded by saying, “You need to meet Mr. Parks!”

He told me that he would make the introduction later, but in the meantime, took the spelling of my name, and promised a “treat” for later.

I head to the food court and despite the many options, I stuck with my usual…hot dog, chips and water (as my “fast” on soda was one day from being over).  Despite the fact that it was all included, the hot dog was a bit of a disappointment as the cold bun (a total pet peeve) to dog ratio was a bit off as I found the “dog” to be rather scrawny!  Ate half and opted for peanuts!

I returned to my seat to find Charlie and his friends sitting next to me!  A principal of a local school, he was chatty and told me all about his family (his wife was a teacher, as was his daughter), and his travels!  He was a hoot and further validated the fact that while I travel alone, I’m rarely, if ever, lonely!

Around the 5th inning, Bob, the usher, returned with a “My First Visit” certificate and an invitation to meet Mr. Parks, a local businessman with season tickets a few sections over, and the inventor of “The Major League Baseball Ballpark Pass-port.”  (More on this in the next post).  We had a lovely, memorable visit that only cemented the fact that the people of Cincinnati were indeed some of the kindest in the country, hands down!

I enjoyed that the field crew wore black suits for a very snazzy look, that popcorn was delivered to those in our section in the later innings, and that you could see the paddle boats out over center field, something that reminded me of Pac Bell Park – love an outfield with a view!

Despite the fact that Votto hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth, the Reds fell to the newly minted, Miami Marlins 8-3 (who were sporting their new “colorful” uniforms and logo…I’m going to have to ponder those colors a bit more), but the fireworks display immediately following sort of made the loss more bearable.

I headed back to the hotel and prepped for 5 a.m. shuttle pick up back to the airport.  My snapshot of Cincinnati, while short, was as sweet as I could have ever imagined and hoped for!

Off to Cleveland!