My brothers, Paul and Nick, are on a quest to visit every major league ballpark in the United States and Canada. They had been on three trips together on this quest, trying to hit as many ballparks per trip as possible. They asked me to accompany them on the last couple, but I would always have some excuse. This time when they asked me, I decided that life’s too short not to take advantage of such a great opportunity, and I said yes (I think they really didn’t think I would go through with it!). My sister, Kathleen (aka Keen) also came along with us. This would be the first time in almost 24 years that the four of us would be living together. My goal was to wear my Giants stuff every day of the trip, even though my siblings warned me that there might be much beer throwing in my direction. That did not discourage me.
We flew to Washington, D.C. and the next day we attended our first game at Nationals Park. The Nationals played the Marlins. We lucked out because Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals star pitcher, was pitching that day. We thought tickets might be more expensive because he was pitching paired with the fact that it was Saturday, but we were able to get tickets about 20 rows back between home and third for $25! Try that at AT&T! I also got to see my boy Mark DeRosa (ex-Giant) play that day. They passed out a nice, free program as we went in. People at the park were so friendly. We asked an attendant to help us find our seats, and he escorted us there and then cleaned them off for us!
Wearing my Giants gear actually ended up being a positive because it was a great way to strike up a conversation. I ran into a couple of other Giants fans there (instant buds!), and the people around us asked if we were out of town, so we got to tell them about our trip. The folks sitting next to us and behind us were so friendly and gave us lots of info about the Nationals and the park. One great design feature about this park is that you still have a clear view of the game if you go to the concession stands. Other cool features were these huge silver baseballs that lined the parking structure and pics of Hall of Fame members scattered throughout the park that included Willie Mays (Willie is loved everywhere!).
The Nationals have several mascots – one is an eagle called Screech and the others are a set of the presidents – Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, and Teddy Roosevelt. The presidents have a race around the field at one point during the game. The guy next to me informed me that for some reason, Teddy never wins said race. He mentioned that some fans got together and started a “Let Teddy Win” campaign.
The Nationals catchphrase is “Ignite your Natitude!” Boy, do they need to! Those fans were dead. Keen and I were cheering more loudly than anyone else in the stadium. And then the game was tied in the ninth inning, and tons of people were leaving! Plus the attendance was pretty low to start with, even for their star pitcher. Ignite your Natitude, why don’tcha???
During the game, Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins accidentally threw his bat into the stands while batting, and it hit a fan on the arm. We saw the guy after the game, and they replaced the bat with another one that wasn’t even signed! What kind of souvenir is that? The Nats ended up beating the Marlins 3-2 in 10 innings. Great game and luckily great weather, as the Nationals game on the next day got rained out.
We were hoping to spend the next day in D.C., but we heard that some really bad weather was coming, so we decided to head directly to our next stop, Pittsburgh, PA. On the way, we stopped for dinner at a Waffle House (Jeremy Affeldt’s favorite). It was actually better than I was expecting (I had a ribeye that was yummy and their pecan pie was the best I’d ever had). We saw the Pirates play the Cardinals on Sunday at PNC Park. This was my favorite park of the entire trip. To get there, you can walk over the 10th Street Bridge that crosses over the Ohio River. Then while in the park, you have beautiful vistas of downtown Pittsburgh. They had some kid-friendly activities going on at the park that day, and we all got MLB.com drawstring bag as we went in. It was also $1 hot dog and $1 popcorn day, so of course we had to take advantage of that! They also had $1 tickets that day, but we missed out on that (they were in the nosebleed section, so that wasn’t a big loss). Again, we got a nice, free program for the day. We also signed up for a Pirate’s rally pass, and got to spin a wheel for prizes. Keen and I got discounted tickets to a future game (like we needed that), Nick got a puzzle of the park, and Paul got a canvas picture which he gave to the kid sitting next to him. I was hoping for the Andrew McCutcheon bobblehead since he’s their star player and it would have been a nice souvenir, but I couldn’t even give my discounted ticket prize away!
We had fabulous tickets again for this game – 15 rows behind home plate for only $20! I got to see ex-Giant Carlos Beltran of the Cards up close and personal. The park was only about half full, and again the fans were duds. The Pirates call themselves the Bucs (short for Buccaneers). They would try to start a chant “Let’s Go Bucs!” and Keen and I would be the ones cheering the loudest. Plus there were a ton of Cardinals fans in the crowd. Poor Bucs!
The Pirates also have multiple mascots. They have a parrot called Pirate Parrot (creative!) and they have the Pierogis. If you are unfamiliar, a pierogi is a dumpling traditionally filled with potato and cheese. I got to experience my first pierogis in Cleveland, and they were fabulous! Anyway, during the game the Pierogis have a race around the field, and it is pretty comical. At one point during the game, Keen and I saw a cameraman looking toward us, so we started waving and screaming trying to get our pics on the big board, but the guy ended up getting the family of 4 sitting right next to us! What a punk! Maybe my Giants shirt didn’t help me that time. As we did at the last game, we were cheering for the home team, but they ended up losing 5-1. But again, it was a great game with friendly people and we had a super time. And again we were lucky with the weather because the Pirates game the next day was SNOWED out!!
Next stop was Cleveland, OH. We got there a day ahead of the next game since we were running away from the snow in Pittsburgh, so we decided to go to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. They had a lot of really cool stuff in there. Some of my favorites were one of John Lennon’s greencards, several of Stevie Nicks’ signature dresses, dresses from Diana Ross and the Supremes, and several items from Michael Jackson (his glove, his Smooth Criminal outfit, and the jacket from Thriller). Plus they had tons of song lyrics written on anything from binder paper to napkins to menus. They also had parts of the plane that Otis Redding died in and the jacket he was wearing in the plane crash. That was pretty disturbing.
That night I had the best sandwich at a restaurant called Melt (featured on Man vs. Food – my brothers like to try places recommended on that show during their trips). It consisted of smoked turkey, smoked gouda, and vodka kraut all on this thick, buttered, toasted white bread. Holy Moley! If you’re ever in Cleveland, be sure to try it out.
We headed for Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians, the next day. The Indians were playing the Royals. This was the one game I wasn’t really looking forward to because of the teams’ records, but again we ended up having a really great time. And talk about seat deals! We sat 6 rows behind home plate, the tickets cost $19, and they included a $5 food credit! As the game started, we realized why the tickets were so cheap – total attendance that day was 6000. Must be sad to be a player in a park where no one comes even with tickets that cheap. We lucked out with the weather again as it wasn’t nearly as cold as everyone had warned us it would be.
There were a couple of really cool features in this park. They have murals of different players both past and present in the upper deck. They also have stone letters that spell out “Who’s On First” outside of the park. The Indians are another team that has multiple mascots. They have Slider, a purple monster-like thing with yellow spots. Ugliest mascot ever. Guess they had to get rid of anything Indian related to be PC. They also have 3 hotdogs – Mustard, Ketchup, and Onion. Yes, you guessed it – the hotdogs have a race around the field during the game.
I was excited to see Jonathan Sanchez pitch for the Royals that day. He ended up walking a ton of guys and got pulled out in the 5th. Guess some things never change. Again, the fans were a bunch of poops, and Keen and I had to school them in proper fan cheering etiquette – in other words, we screamed our heads off. There was one Indians fan that was my hero, though. As we were walking to the park, there was a guy right in front of us with a drum and huge drumsticks in his back pocket. When we got to our seats, we heard him at the top of the bleachers, sitting there all by his lonesome. He would try to get the crowd to clap by beating a rhythm throughout the game. At least we were obliging him. Drum guy is the definition of a true fan.
A funny exchange happened between me and one of the food vendors. We heard a hotdog vendor yelling at some of the fans for not buying hotdogs. He was really going at it. Most of the vendors in this park were loud and funny, but he was by far the loudest. He started to walk over toward us, and I decided to take his picture. MISTAKE! First, he started shaking like a lunatic when he saw me try to take his picture, then he yelled, “If you’re taking my picture, you better buy a hotdog!” This continued for about 5 minutes, with him reminding me that you are supposed to buy a hotdog when you go to a baseball game. The four of us were in tears laughing. He finally left and went off to yell at some guy who bought nachos instead of a hotdog. I love stuff like that – it makes the ballpark experience so much more colorful.
After Cleveland, we headed off to Cincinnati, OH. I was looking forward to this part of the trip the most as the Reds were playing my boys, THE GIANTS! We decided to watch two games in Cincinnati since they were playing my boys, and lucky for us that we did. We arrived at the ballpark the first night in the rain. I experienced the most intense purse search ever in this park. The guy had a stick with a light at the end, and he probed every orifice and nook and cranny of my purse with it. We entered the park about an hour early and noticed that they had the tarp out. Things were not looking good for us, but then they announced that the game would be starting on time. We were happy that they weren’t rained out, but we went down to our seats in a light drizzle. The attendant wiped off our seats, but his towel was so wet that it didn’t make that much difference. So we settled down into our wet seats ready to watch the boys play and get wet. We scored with the tickets again – we sat 5 rows behind the Giants’ dugout and paid $35! Needless to say, even though it rained almost the entire game, I was in Giant heaven being so close to my boys. The only bummer was that I was afraid to take out my camera and get it wet.
The Reds’ stadium is called Great American Ball Park. At first, I thought this was an awesome name for a baseball park until I realized that it is named after an insurance company (ugh – commercialism). The park is set on the Ohio River, and if you walk around the outside of the park you can get breathtaking views of the bridges crossing the river along with downtown Cincinnati. Cincinnati’s role as a river town has influenced a lot of the interior park design. There is a paddle wheel sculpture right outside the park, there is a model of a riverboat inside the park near the scoreboard, and then there are the PNC Power Stacks that resemble riverboat smokestacks and shoot out fire from the top when someone strikes out (this was probably my all-time favorite park feature).
The Reds are another team with multiple mascots. The main one is Gapper, a large, red, monster-looking thing. What is it with the monster mascots? Are they all copies of the Phillie Phanatic? Whatever the deal, it was pretty lame. They also had Rosie Red and Mr. Redlegs, a girl and guy with baseball heads, throwbacks to the old 1950’s mascot, Mr. Red. These two had a race with Mr. Red during the game (but only on the big screen). No worries of getting beer thrown on me at this game – there were tons of Giants fans sitting next to us. The Reds fans were really friendly to us and several asked us about our trip. I was surprised at how many southern accents there were in the crowd, but I realized this is due to Cincinnati being so close to Kentucky. My brother, Paul (aka Mr. Congeniality) ended up talking with a couple from Burlingame almost the entire night. By the end of the trip, Nick, Keen, and I were having bets on how long it would take for him to strike up a conversation with one of our neighbors (average of about 1 minute).
Of course, when my boys started coming out of the dugout, I was loosing my mind because they were so close. My brother Paul kept calling me the “Little Kid.” It was a great experience to be sitting so close to them. The game began, with Barry Zito on the mound, and we took an early 2-0 lead. The rain started to come down pretty heavy in the 4th inning, and we were praying that they could make it through one more inning so that we could get the win (FYI – it’s a complete game if 5 innings have been completed or if the top of the 5th has been completed and the home team is ahead). One big advantage of the rain for me – it caused the huge guy sitting right in front of me who was blocking my view of the boys to move to higher, drier ground! They continued playing and made it through the 5th inning. Could they hold on to the lead and give Barry a win? By the 6th inning, the rain slacked off a bit, but it continued to rain on and off throughout the game. I was surprised that they didn’t call it, but I learned that it has to be raining pretty darn hard for them to do that (how do they play like that??). Unfortunately, the game wasn’t called in the 5th, and the Reds came back to win in the later innings 4-2. And poor Barry had pitched so well, too. The Reds set off fireworks in the park after their win, which we enjoyed even though my boys had lost.
The rain definitely didn’t dampen our spirits. We were soaking wet, but at least it wasn’t cold, so we weren’t that uncomfortable. Plus that was my first game in the rain and I made it all the way through without moving for cover (there’s always a positive spin)! The highlight for me was when Angel Pagan hit a home run and came back into the dugout, I yelled, “Great job, Angel! We love you!” and he looked at me and smiled and waved! I also got to see Madison, Matt, and Timmy huddled together discussing the pitching styles of different pitchers. We also got to see Pablo hit a foul ball out of that park – the locals were saying that they had never seen anyone do that. That kid has some power!
Luckily for us the weather gods were on our side the next day and we had no rain. That meant that I could go to town taking pictures, and I must have taken over 100 that day. Our seats were behind the Giants’ dugout again, this time about 15 rows back – $25!! We got to the game about an hour early and I decided to go down by the dugout and see if I could get autographs. Pablo and Emmanuel Burriss were acting like crazy little kids before the game, doing their silly handshakes and jumping up and down. I ended up taking a ton of pictures of the guys in the dugout, and I was able to get autographs from Hector Sanchez and Barry Zito (Barry came over after I yelled “Great game last night, Barry” at him – my loud voice does pay off sometimes)!!! Just missed getting Joaquin Arias as well (he had come up from the minors to play in his first major league game the night before). I also got Andrew Baggarly’s autograph (he’s the guy I aspire to write like someday – Giants insider for Comcast SportsNet). It was funny because he was across the dugout and I yelled over to him and waved my journal, and he came all the way over to me and signed it. No one else knew who he was. He was very cordial and told me to enjoy the game.
After the thrill of being so close to my boys, I headed over to my seat. My awesome brother, Paul, had gotten me a Cincinnati Reds first game certificate while I was acting like a maniac getting autographs. That was so sweet! Ryan Vogelsong pitched that day, and he did a great job, but the game was tied when he left so he got a no decision. We got ahead of them again, but they came back. In the top of the 9th it was 5-3 with the Reds ahead. By now the four of us had sort of resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to watch them lose twice in Cincinnati. But I should know better than to give up hope on my boys. Arias walked. Then Theriot singled. Angel Pagan came up to bat. I yelled, “Hit a homerun like you did last night!” And he listened to me! The 3-run homer put them ahead 6-5! Then Casilla struck out three straight guys in the ninth to hold the lead. WOOHOO! They were interviewing Angel after the game on the field, and I ran over to get closer and got some great shots of him. On my way over to him, Pablo came out of the dugout with a cooler full of ice and poured it down Angel’s back! In my pictures of him you can actually see him doing the interview with ice on his back! No fireworks for the Reds on that night!
Again, the fans we met were super friendly. I asked one guy where we should eat, and after he told me he pulled out his cell phone and took about 10 minutes getting directions for us. And the only grief I got for wearing a Giants shirt was from that same guy when he said to me at the end of the game, “I was going to wish you a happy rest of your trip until your team won!” We actually even saw a couple on our way out (Reds fans) who congratulated us for winning the game! Still can’t get over how cool people were to us. Attendance that night was about 17,000, the highest since our trip started. Reds fans were more enthusiastic than any of the other fans to date, but they were still nowhere close to the Giants fans at AT&T. But I have to give the fans from the night before a ton of credit because the majority stayed in the rain to watch their boys win.
Everyone in Cincinnati told us that we needed to try Skyline Chili while we were there. We decided to have dinner there one night (it had also been mentioned on Man vs. Food). They are famous for their chili, and especially a dish they call the 5-way. You can also get a 3-way or a 4-way, named for the amount of toppings you get. Of course, Paul got the 3-way because, as he mentioned, “I’ve always wanted to try a 3-way!” The 5-way consisted of spaghetti topped with chili, chili beans, cheddar cheese, and onions. I decided to try a small one just to say that I did, but I actually enjoyed it. We couldn’t help but laugh when the people next to us each ordered (as my sister Keen put it) “a large 5-way with a 2 Coney dog chaser!” They sure do like to eat in the Midwest!
The next day we headed to our final ballpark destination, St. Louis, MO. And as we had become accustomed to, we arrived in the rain. We ate at another Man vs. Food destination, Pappy’s Smokehouse. We knew we had made the right decision when we got there and saw that the line was out of the building, wound down one hallway and back, and then went into the restaurant and up to the counter. I had decided on the pulled pork, but as we were waiting in line, Paul (as he is prone to do) struck up a conversation with one of the workers there, and the guy ended up bringing us samples of their ribs (note that we were the only ones in the place for whom he did this!). Oh my goodness! After tasting that rib, I changed my mind and ordered the ribs, the beans and the sweet potato fries (after a recommendation by my server). The ribs were the best I’ve had in my life – the rub was so good that I didn’t even put sauce on them, and I always smother my ribs in sauce. And the sweet potato fries were to die for – they sprinkle sugar on them. That was the best meal of the entire trip, and we all rolled out of there with our bellies full and, unfortunately for me, a wicked case of heartburn (guess the rich food was getting to me by then – but it was worth it!).
We checked into our hotel and headed out to the ballpark in the rain. On the way we saw the Gateway Arch (so cool and so huge!). We arrived at Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals play the Brewers. The stadium is beautiful, with an old-fashioned feel due to all the bricks. It looked especially impressive at night with all the lights on. You can actually see the Gateway Arch from right outside the park, and from the inside you have a beautiful view of the St. Louis skyline. Going to Busch Stadium was the closest to an AT&T Park experience, probably partially due to the fact that the Cards won the World Series last year. The attendance that night was over 43,000, and the fans were very enthusiastic. Because of the crowds, however, we also paid more for tickets – $45 for seats about 15 rows back a few feet behind 1st base. The park was a sea of red shirts – pretty cool. We got a nifty souvenir that night – a T-shirt that mentioned 2011 was the Cards 11th World Series win with the Gateway Arch and the Cardinal logo on it. Really cool shirt, but I’m not sure when I’ll actually wear it! The Cards had the best mascot of the trip – of course, it’s a cardinal named Fredbird. Not another crazy monster. We had lots of fun booing Ryan Braun (for the steroid fiasco) and Nyjer Morgan (didn’t know everyone hates that guy as much as Giants fans do!). The game was a little anticlimactic as the Cards scored 8 runs in the 3rd inning. It was crazy – no one was getting out, even after they replaced the starting pitcher. The Cards ended up winning the game 13-1, and they had some great fireworks after the game. And we were so thankful that we had good weather karma again and the rain stopped before the game started.
Speaking of weather, we had another freaky weather close call. The weather for the game we went to was fine, but the next day there were freakishly high winds around the ballpark. The wind caused a beer tent just outside of the park to be blown down while people were inside. As a result, one person was killed and around 100 were injured! It was so strange how we left weather chaos in our wake at three different parks! Wasn’t sure whether I should be happy for us or freaked out for everyone else!
The next day we started our way back to Washington D.C. to make the flight home. We spotted Goldie Hawn at Dulles Airport. Via Twitter, my sister found out that she had been in town for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. She looked great! My sister was star struck – she was cracking me up and kept trying to get a good pic of her.
What a fantastic journey we had! I would like to give super special thanks to my awesome brothers, Paul and Nick, for inviting me to tag along with them, for planning the trip itself (not an easy task to find 5 ballparks that have home games around the same time), for booking all the hotels, for getting all the fantastic game tickets, and for doing all the driving on the trip. I’d like to thank my sister for being the wonderful person that she is and being a super roommate (and for letting me use her Ipad to get my Emails and make my Beat the Streak choices!). We kept commenting on the fact that the four of us got along so well and we had absolutely no drama on the trip. Love my sibs! I’ve got so many wonderful memories, and they’re all thanks to you guys. I will also remember all of the wonderful people we met in the stands, both fans and attendants. Everyone was so friendly and helpful. One major outcome of the trip is that I will never underestimate how lucky we are to be able to attend games in a beautiful, sold out stadium filled with enthusiastic fans. We’re already talking about making a road trip in June to see the Giants play the Angels in Anaheim (another park to cross off my brother’s – and now my – list). Maybe I can score some more autographs! GO GIANTS!!