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2005-06-05 - 4:46 p.m.

Baseball for Casual Fans: Installment #9
A Day at the Ballpark

Today's installment will be reviewing various baseball parks. Now, some of you will be saying, "Wow, she goes to a lot of different parks!" while others will be saying, "She calls herself a baseball fan?" But the rules are: I'm only reviewing ballparks I've been to (I'm not going to go into ones my husband has been to without me), and I'm going to continue updating this page as necessary (so when I go to a new park, I'll list it here and post a link and I'll also add pictures as I scan them in from my old albums).

A few caveats:

-I don't drink at baseball games. I've been known to have a single beer when someone else has bought it for me, but a.) I'm paying too much attention to the game (I don't want to jack up my scorecard or cheer for the wrong team because I'm drinking), b.) drunk people have pissed me off on multiple occasions, so I avoid becoming like them, and c.) it's far too expensive. So don't expect any reviews of beer stuff.

-The food is also generally too expensive, so I usually eat beforehand. The one exception is at Comiskey Park, where they have the most amazing ribs (and most other food too). I think I just drooled on the keyboard.

-I also don't generally care about in-game-fun. If you need a beach ball or the Wave* to keep you having fun at the game, more power to you, but don't expect me to like it. Or to join in. Or to refrain from making fun of you. I also take points away from any park that uses its scoreboard to tell people when to make noise. I have a passive-agressive side that makes me stay completely silent when a stupid scoreboard has a stupid noise meter and all of the sheep around me start stupidly shouting. (Opinionated? Me?) Of of the things I love most about Pat Hughes (Cubs radio play-by-play announcer) is that he makes fun of other parks that have the "make noise" scoreboards. He'll say things like, "Well, now the scoreboard is telling the crowd to cheer," very sarcastically. I love Pat.

*A story about the Wave: I was at Wrigley a few years ago ('98 maybe? I can't remember) in the bleachers. Some drunk people in front of me started doing the Wave and no one else around them was joining in. The drunkards were getting annoyed and started waving their arms and shouting for people to join them. An usher walked over to them and said, "Look, we don't do the Wave here. If you want to do it that bad, though, there's a ball park on the south side of town that you can go to." I love Wrigley ushers.


Hohokam Park, Mesa:
Hohokam is probably my second favorite place to see baseball (second to Wrigley, of course). It's beautiful and cozy, while still a little rowdy at times. The bleacher area is a sloping lawn, and so getting there early will get you the best seats. Bring a blanket and a DAMN LOT of sunscreen -- we went to a couple of night games, but you can't be too careful. Especially with skin like mine (fair and prone to weird moles in odd places that scare my dermatologist).
Hohokam, Mesa Sosa at Hohokam

Tucson Electric Park, Tucson:
I don't feel that I can give this place a fair review. We were watching a split-squad spring training game between half of the Diamondbacks and half of the Rockies. It was a 2pm start, and the sunscreen I used just couldn't stand up to the pressure. We left (one of the VERY few times I've ever left a game early) when the game was 16-17 in the 7th inning. That being said, it seemed like a nice place. It had that fun spring-training-ish feel of being right next to the famous, major league players (if you've ever wanted to really heckle someone and get under their skin, make the trip to spring training. You're about 5 ft away and they can hear every word you say), but still being at a park the size of some high school ballparks.
Tucson Electric Park


Coors Field, Denver:
I like Coors. In fact, it's probably the only thing about Denver (aside from the myriad brewpubs everywhere) I do like. Tickets aren't insanely expensive -- we got a deal once through a sporting goods store and ended up sitting about 4 rows back from the field next to first base, at a Cubs series! Coloradans have only had the Rockies since the early '90s, so a lot of people out there are Cubs fans as well (due to the WGN superstation indoctrinating a few generations with Cubs games every day nationwide). They're friendly on the whole, and the park itself really is beautiful. Lots of brick, green grass (amazing out there in a semi-arid climate!), and they had pretty cool scorecards with big squares that were big enough to include places to record balls and strikes! We managed to get a tour of the stadium because a guy at grad school with my husband was the balls/strikes operator on the main scoreboard. He gave us a great tour of the stadium, including a trip behind the manual scoreboard, meeting the organist, and visiting the scoreboard control room. This was the trip when we got to meet Ron Santo (it's in the flickr photos, visible to friends)! One other note -- a row of seats in the upper deck is painted purple to show exactly one mile above sea level. They're really proud of that out there, so act like you care.
Coors Field outfield Manual Scoreboard again Coors Field


Wrigley Field, Chicago:
Wrigley is the second oldest park in baseball (Fenway is currently the oldest). It shows its age in some situations (cough, bathrooms!, cough), but is also the best place I've ever seen for baseball.
-Everywhere in the park feels very close to the field of play. The upper deck is built almost directly over the lower deck, meaning that there are a few obstructed views from poles holding up the upper deck, but also the upper deck is right out almost on top of the field. You may be up fairly high in the cheap** seats, but at least you can see well.
-The ivy has become almost a cliche at this point, but it really is beautiful. My favorite time of year is late spring, when the ivy is coming in just in patches and you can see the bricks underneath. (anytime you see someone run into the wall at Wrigley to make a catch, you know they're going to be sore the next day if they escape without getting seriously injured. None of that pansy padding here...) I also love fall when the ivy turns red, but I can't mention that without getting superstitious about the Cubs' chances at the playoffs.
-Lest I start to sound too poetic, here are a few drawbacks: The idiot bandwagon fans who have been so prevalent lately (I accept that good teams are going to attract that kind of fan, but if they're going to attract it they really need to start winning). Getting back on the el after a game (who does one have to sleep with to avoid getting stuck behind the people who've never used a farecard before?). Drunk idiots (there's some overlap here with the bandwagon fans, but if you're drunk and an idiot you need to stay the fuck away from me because I'm not above messing with your head and/or taking some of your change money for the latest round of Old Style. Once you're drunk enough, you'll have made me pass down change one too many times and you won't notice).

U.S. Cellular Field (a.k.a. Comiskey Park, The Cell, The Joan***), Chicago:
I might get kicked out of Cubs Fandom for admitting this, but I like going to Comiskey. It's a nice place to see a game. Most of the anti-Comiskey arguments have to do with things that just can't be changed now -- the park is facing the wrong direction (away from downtown), it was the last of the cookie-cutter stadiums (Camden Yards and Coors Field changed the concept of baseball stadiums and made them more warm, inviting, and fun), and the upper deck is slanted and too high. Okay, those are true. But it does have fun promotions (thank you, Bill Veeck, godfather of the promotion). Dog Day is my favorite, when dogs are allowed in the park to watch the game (you have to get your ticket FAST. This one sells out because the dogs are only allowed in a specific section), but you also get tons of fireworks and other givaways. The near vertical upper deck is a bit more stressful for me (a bit of a fear of heights), but it's nowhere NEAR as bad as at the United Center. There I can't even jump up to cheer because I'm afraid of falling.

**Cheap is relative. TribCo has been raising ticket prices (and freaking scorecard prices!) for years. Cheap, though, as compared to the seats right behind home plate. Or bleacher seats now that sitting out there is the in thing to do.

***Because Joan Cusak is the spokesperson for U.S. Cellular -- get it?
U.S. Cellular Field

Ontario, Canada

Rogers Center (The Skydome), Toronto:
The Skydome -- built for the Olympics, massive beyond belief, and yet a surprisingly fun place to see a game. Perhaps it was the stereotypical Canadian niceness when the guy selling scorecards outside the park gave us advice on where to get the best pictures. Or when we were exploring the (completely empty) upper deck to see the view and ran into the only other person within three flights of escalators and he immediately offered to take our picture. The stadium was BIG. It's right next to the CN Tower (subtitle: "If you say it looks like the Space Needle, we will CUT YOU.") I have mixed feelings on retractable roof buildings (see the section on Miller Park). In this case, though, it was really nice. The roof was open before the game, then they closed it so we got to experience it both ways. You think you've seen a Jumbotron? Nope. Not 'til you've seen this one.
-Drawbacks: Astroturf is just gross -- that color should not be the backdrop for a baseball game. Did I mention it's big? Big as in, I nearly got lost on my way back from the bathroom?
Batting Practice at the Toronto Skydome


Miller Park, Milwaukee:
The Milwaukee Brewers got this brand spanking new park a couple of years ago. I like it, but I don't love it as much as most other people do. It has Bernie the Brewer and the sausage races (made famous by Randall Simon's clubbing of the Italian Sausage in 2003), knowledgable fans (though few, and also are generally Packers fans -- ick), and a newly repealed (though it had gone unenforced before) law against tailgating. It's also shiny and new. It has a retractable roof, however, that was (still is? Am too lazy to google and figure out) about 18 inches short of fully closing due to a construction mistake. It is built to be an outdoor/indoor stadium, but has that bowl-feeling that makes me feel as though I'm indoors even when the roof is fully open. And the last straw -- Bernie the Brewer had a slide into a vat of beer that he used to use after each home run. Apparently that's a bad influence on the children of America, though, because he's not allowed to slide into beer anymore. Damn the Man -- keeping us down again.
Miller Park, Milwaukee


Mike Lansing Field, Casper:
Home of the Casper Rockies, Pioneer League (short season rookie ball) affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. Casper is a little over 3 hours from Fort Collins, CO. You may be asking why me, my husband, and another friend would drive 3 hours one way to see very, very, very minor league ball. A friend from college was pitching in the Padres system (he has since given up on baseball. The minor leagues are horrible pay, horrible conditions, and just generally horrible, but he now has a good job and is happy he didn't spend too much time there) for the Idaho Falls Padres, and they were playing a doubleheader in Casper. We drove up to meet him, and had an amazing time. He didn't pitch that day, but I was at a point where I really missed my friends from college, and it was so good to get to see him for a while at the bar afterwards. He has some great stories, too! Anyway. The park. It really feels more like a high school park than even the spring training ones do. The dimensions are pretty huge (to make up for the high elevation, probably), and the mascot (I think it's a platypus, but I don't want to delve into that memory) is freaking creepy. So, let's recap: Metal stands, rookie ball double-header in which the friend didn't end up pitching, creepy mascot, 3 hour drive to and from, and far too many sunflower seeds (my mouth hurt for a few days). It really was fun though. Just not something I want to do weekly.

Planned for the Future:

Listed below are parks we are planning to visit fairly soon. I would have every park in the world listed if it were all the parks I want to see, but I decided to confine it to ones about which we have fairly specific plans.

-U.S. Steel Yard, Gary, Indiana (Gary Railcats)

-Comerica Park, Detroit, Michigan (Detroit Tigers)

-Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri (St. Louis Cardinals)

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