BASEBALL ROADTRIP 2010: THE WRAP-UP [PART 2]

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Monday was, on paper, an ‘off day’, and although we were supposed to run to a famous breakfast place, we instead slept until it was time to go back to AT&T Park for the tour. At this point we were officially exhausted. We love ballpark tours, and there’s another big plus for me: the tours are when I get all my beauty photos of the ballpark. When we go to the game, we’re so consumed with batting practice and finding our seats and checking out the food and the views and the bullpens and whatever else we’re supposed to see – I love that I don’t have to worry about getting ‘the’ stadium shot, I can just focus on the game because I’m coming back for the tour. This was not the case at AT&T because there was a private corporate event on the field. Not only did it mean that I didn’t get my photos, but it also meant that it severely curtailed tour access to the point that it should have been canceled. It also caused the tour to run overtime, and by the time I got my shots of the park from McCovey Cove, it was too late to have lunch at the Terminal Market or the Embarcadero or Fisherman’s Wharf, or ride a cable car. This wasn’t a huge tragedy since we had both been to San Francisco before, but it was still unfortunate. Instead we ran back to the hotel to change to head out to the Oakland Coliseum to see the A’s v Red Sox. One of our good friends was in from the East Coast for the series so at least we had some rooting interest, and it was nice to go to the game with people we knew.

It was a pathetic representation of Red Sox Nation but they did their best to take over the park. However, A’s fans are made of good stuff; they weren’t about to let that happen. They didn’t need to be told when to MAKE NOISE, and while the flags and signs and cheering sections might be a little corny, good for them. It was Sheets vs Dice-K, and was a surprisingly quick game for the AL. Then it was time to pack and get some sleep.

Oakland Coliseum writeup

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Best ballpark tour: PETCO Park. It’s a good tour when you have no questions at the end because the guide has answered them all before you asked; it’s a great tour when you learn one thing you never knew. When you learn three things, it’s outstanding. (No, I’m not telling you – take the tour!) The guide was pleasant, knowledgable, toed the party line but also had his own strong opinions he wasn’t afraid to voice.

Worst ballpark tour: AT&T Park. First, access to just about everywhere was curtailed because of a private event taking over the park. So no dugout, no warning track, no seating bowl, no gorgeous upper-deck-behind-home-plate-photo-of-empty-ballpark. We were rushed in and out of the press box, and spent too much time standing on the windy upper deck while trying to hear the guide. the group was far too big (it was over 40 people) and 10 of them were a group of three women and their children who spent the entire tour talking to each other. I have no idea why they were there. It is also the only tour I have ever taken where there was a play for tips at the end of it.

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Tuesday morning, we took off for Phoenix. The hotel was right near the airport, and the light rail into downtown Phoenix stopped steps from the hotel. (It does not run to the airport just yet.) Walking out of the airport was like stepping into a blast furnace. You have to have water with you at all times in the desert, especially if you’re not from there. Even then, we would buy water and then only take half of the bottles with us, so we’d have some waiting for us when we got back. This greenhorn error resulted in us having to refill ours from water fountains during the ballpark tour, and also during extra innings on Thursday when all of the stands had closed.

When the game finished at 9pm, we went to find our friend Alan, who lives in California and decided two weeks ago to follow the roadtrip. (You can do that when you are smart, single, flexible, and live in the same state as most of the games.) He drove everywhere, and to be honest, we would have preferred to do the same, but it would have eliminated the small amount of free time that we had, and we would have had to eliminate things like Oakland. (I know the ballpark sucks, I get it, but if you’re doing a ballpark tour, the point is to see the ballparks, whether or not they’re old and decrepit.) We walked over to Cooperstown, Alice Cooper’s restaurant, where we were greeted with a sign informing us that the kitchen was closed… as was everywhere else in downtown Phoenix within walking distance of the ballpark…..at 9:15 on a Tuesday night.

We were walking to the one place we found on Yelp (which had terrible reviews, things like ‘Well, it’s better than nothing’) when I saw the Hard Rock Cafe glittering in the distance. We don’t eat there often, and it’s usually when there are no other choices (or the choices are questionable), but I have never had a bad meal there. We knew they were open, that they served food late, and that there would be sufficient air conditioning.

On the way home, we realized that in 11 days, we ate at exactly three chains*:
-Hard Rock Cafe
-Chipotle
-Denny’s

Each time, it was because of cases of extreme, desperate hunger and nothing else being available. In 11 days, that’s a pretty good record.

(*And before you point out that we ate at In-and-Out burger twice, it does not count as a chain in this list because it’s not available back east.)

We got off the light rail at the hotel and promptly bought half a dozen bottles of various cold liquids and consumed them standing in the parking lot. It was convenient to have the Circle K there, but also humorous that each time we just walked out with drinks. (And those pretzel M&M’s, which we hadn’t been able to find in New York until recently.) We did not like Arizona. Please do not tell me how beautiful it is on the outskirts, in the summer it is like standing in bus exhaust 24/7, and it is full of crazy people.

Most original fan taunt: ‘THANK YOU FOR LEAVING BOSTON,’ aimed at Jason Bay in Arizona. (What did Jason Bay do? I’ll leave it up to you to fill in the blanks.)

Least original fan taunt
: Anyone, anywhere, who could only come up with “BOO METS” as we walked by, and then ran away when we tried to counter.

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Wednesday morning, we headed for the legendary Matt’s Big Breakfast. You know how Zagat’s rates things as worth a visit/worth a detour/worth planning a day around? Matt’s is the latter, although it still paled in comparison to Al’s Breakfast in Minneapolis, which we experienced in all its glory when we went out to see Target Field. We had time to kill when we were done, and TBF naturally suggested that we walk to the ballpark in order to get some local color. I believe it took about a quarter of a second of a withering ‘you have GOT to be kidding me’ glance for him to realize that this was a tactical error, even if it was slightly overcast that day and therefore we were not melting on the sidewalk like abandoned crayons (for the one and only time we were there).

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We headed back to the light rail which deposited us in front of Chase Field for the 12:30 tour. We had about a 20 minute wait; we thought it would be okay. 20 minutes in Phoenix heat is a lot. We finished our pathetic one bottle of water about 15 minutes into the tour, and refilled it twice from water fountains as we walked around. (As I mentioned above, our brains can’t seem to grasp the concept of bringing the drinks we purchase actually along with us.) It was reasonably engaging, but not as fascinating as the tour guide initially asserted: “Most fans don’t look up, and they don’t look down” – which is reasonable advice, but the park just isn’t *that* interesting. The tour guide was competent and knowledgeable, with a nice loud voice (he was a former Phoenix police officer).

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We did a round trip loop to the hotel and back again in time for BP. Chase Field allows access behind the dugouts, where there was stiff competition from way more professional autograph collectors than I ever like to see. Maybe it annoys me because I’m not interested in yelling for balls or autographs or gloves or hats or anything, and while I’d like to say that I don’t judge those who do, I do judge them, so let’s not waste time pretending otherwise. It is worse when people don’t say please, or act as though it’s their right to request things from players; I’m thinking of a particular rocket scientist at Dodger Stadium who spent the entire game screaming at poor Sergio the ballboy to give him a ball and when Sergio, quite rightly, ignored him, he finally screamed that Sergio sucked. (I am sure poor, poor Sergio was wounded by those remarks as he got a $100 tip from Andre Ethier for getting his car washed [or something similar].)

Chase Field writeup [coming] | Photos: BP 7/20 | Game 7/20 | BP & Game 7/21 | Tour

Worst Mets loss: The Saturday game at Dodger Stadium, because of the parade of pitchers, because of the lack of offense, because of the poor defense, and because Ollie gave up the winning run.

Best Mets loss: The first game at Chase Field with Dan Haren on the hill, because at least it was done by 9pm.

Thursday morning, we’re back on a plane to head back to Southern California to visit our final ballpark on the trip. Our car this time is a tiny little silver Honda that I dub “the rollerskate”. We check in, change, head to In-n-Out, and then are on the freeway to Dodger Stadium. This is where all my dire predictions regarding insane LA traffic finally make sense to TBF, who stops questioning the need to allocate extra time to all travel plans in this city. That said, we arrive at Chavez Ravine at 4:15 (it took us about an hour and a half) and although the ballpark opens at 5:10, that doesn’t mean that the parking lot opens early. We went down to Echo Park, obtained water and snacks, and killed time by driving down to Silverlake and back.

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When we got back up to the entrance at the top of Elysian Way at about 5:07, they were still instructing people to turn to the left and right, and anyone who drove into the parking lot was sent to turn back out again. We went down the hill and turned around, and crawled up very slowly until our watches said 5:10, and then turned into the lot. We were about to be sent away again until a guard with some brains had the cars line up at each payment booth and then, after someone blew the magic whistle, the gates opened. It should have been a warning that we were going to hate this place, but I was so excited to be there that I didn’t care.

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We parked the car and began our long walk into the ballpark. The parking lots immediately adjacent to the physical stadium complex are *all* preferred parking. Imagine if the normal parking for Shea had been out on Astoria Boulevard – that’s the kind of distance you are walking at Dodger Stadium if you are one of the great unwashed. By the time we finally got to the field level gate (that’s another Dodger Stadium oddity, you have to enter on the level for which you are ticketed – more on this in the full writeup), made it through the security checkpoint, and into the ballpark, we were then told we couldn’t go to our seats since they don’t open up the right field side of the park until 5:45.

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But our seats were incredible, the ballpark beautiful, the night lovely. It is too bad that it was yet another loss, but at that point I think we were inured to them. It gave me all the excuse I needed to tell Alan to meet us down on Sunset at a bar called the Shortstop, just around the corner from the ballpark. It’s a former cop bar with a vivid history, and it’s now owned by one of my rock and roll favorites, Greg Dulli. We had a beer, we dealt with hugs from expat Mets fans and boos from Dodgers fans, and then did the nighttime ‘drive down Sunset and see all the legendary rock and roll hotspots” – I have been to LA at least a dozen times, if not more, but it was TBF’s first time, and so we cruised by the Riot House and the Roxy and the Rainbow, before getting back on the freeway to the hotel.

Worst Music: I’d like to award this to Dodger Stadium and “I Love LA,” but Randy Newman is Randy effing Newman. Instead it goes to that excreble Dbacks song they play at the end of their games, which makes “Go Cubs Go” sound like “River Deep, Mountain High”.

Best music: Oakland Coliseum, believe it or not. Maybe it was a little bit of a time warp there, but it fit the context and the surroundings.

Friday was an off day, except not really, because we were booked on the 11:30 tour of Dodger Stadium. We left at 9am, expecting the worst, but were at the downtown LA exits just shy of 10am. What did we do? We went looking for this place downtown. (It will require a fairly obsessive knowledge of rock history to know what that place was, but I will give you the hint that it used to be a liquor store.) We grabbed breakfast and then headed onto the 101 one exit and back up the hill to Dodger Stadium.

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Once you make it through security, you are directed to follow a very, very, very long blue line painted on the concrete to get to the box office open at the very top of Dodger Stadium. You can see the HOLLYWOOD sign from the upper deck, and the skyline of ‘downtown’ LA in the other. (They’re so cute with their little skyline.) I liked this tour because it was no-nonsense (no suites, no clubhouse, but press box, luxury club, warning track and visitor’s dugout), and because the guide said “You can’t walk on the grass, but you can touch it, lay your arm on it, grab a couple of blades.” I told the joke about Walter O’Malley, Hitler and Stalin, which none of the Dodgers fans had heard before, and we had a nice chat with one of them about Robert Moses (which was the last thing I ever expected).

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We had lunch at a Korean taco truck, paid our respects to Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone, did the tourist thing over on Hollywood Boulevard (TBF had never been to LA), checked out the Capitol Records building, and then he went to drive down Mulholland Drive while I went to a Korean spa. We had a very nice dinner in downtown LA and then crashed HARD, because – guess what? – we had a baseball game to go to the next day.

Worst mascot: The Swinging Friar. He was just creepy. We didn’t even make a half-hearted attempt to pursue a photograph with him.

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Best Mascot: It’s a tie between Stomper from the A’s and Lou Seal from the Giants. TBF got photos with both of them. Stomper is ADORABLE and Lou Seal was just a great mascot, active and personable.

Our last game, at Dodger Stadium, was good and bad, just like the overall Dodger Stadium experience. We were there early, we walked around, we took photographs, I got busted by security on the grounds my lens was too long (it’s not), we had obnoxious Dodger fans throw things at us, we killed two beach balls, and the Mets lost. We had the best seats of the entire trip, which made it a mixed blessing as the game went into extra innings.

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There was a point at which TBF said “They’re trying to be the Yankees,” and he didn’t even mean it as an insult. But the vibe that’s closest to Dodger Stadium is, quite honestly, the House of Evil. The moat, the celebrities, the security guards with headsets reminding you more of bouncers at an exclusive club than at a baseball stadium, the division between the haves and the have-nots, the people who put on a Dodger shirt because it’s just what you do. It’s unfair, because we met some great Dodgers fans, and maybe if we’d sat upstairs the experience would have been completely different.

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We finished the trip by consoling ourselves after the loss at Amoeba Records, and then having dinner with one of my best friends in the whole world. We flew out early Sunday afternoon instead of staying for the last game and taking the red-eye back. Given the team’s performance on the roadtrip, and the heat in LA that day, I for one am very, very glad that we did.

THE LOGISTICS:

We started planning this trip in September, 2009, once the 2010 schedule was finalized. We have a rolling savings account for things like this, but started a separate one once we had the dates lined up. We requested the time off in December, and started buying tickets in January.

For everyone who’s going to turn up their noses at this advanced preparation, you can do that, and I will tell you flat out that you are stupid and short-sighted. I can tell you that without serious advance planning we would not have had as successful a trip as we did. Everything went right, which is astounding on a trip with this many moving parts. We sat in incredible seats, which, while not cheap, we did not aimlessly throw money at. Each ticket bought was based on a careful estimate of the market as well as our own wants and needs. We were not flying 3,000 miles to wing it at each game and hope we got lucky.

For example, the first game in San Francisco was purchased in an early Giants presale that was tied to Mastercard. We knew about it because we signed up for the Giants email list, Facebook account, Twitter feed, and talked to Giants fans I knew on Twitter. That game was, as you may remember, the Tim Lincecum bobblehead game, and if we hadn’t bought tickets in the onsale and waited for some idiotic reason, we would have undoubtedly ended up paying a premium on the secondary market for inferior quality tickets. Instead, we sat on the field level in very nice seats, paid face value, and as a result, had the resources to purchase those lovely Lexus Dugout Club seats when we found them. (And while those were pricey, they were less than you think they were.)

So you can frown on planning as much as you want, but there is no way we would have sat in great seats at every Mets game if we hadn’t done the initial research, continued to monitor the inventory, and knew the prices. You want to sit in the last row of the upper deck? We can do that at home, we don’t need to do it on the road, in stadiums we have never been to, and may not ever get back to.

We did not check any luggage, opting to do laundry halfway through the trip in Phoenix. If we couldn’t carry it, we didn’t bring it. However, we did buy souvenirs, and the solution to that was to buy Priority Mail flat rate boxes and cram them full of stuff. (Souvenir soda cups take up a lot of room, as do stuffed mascots.)

We only rented cars twice, for LA and Anaheim. In fact, we strongly considered not renting a car for the Anaheim-SD leg since we were staying walking distance from Angel Stadium, the Amtrak stop was right there, and were staying near the trolley in San Diego. It worked out to be the same financially so we opted for the car. Everywhere else, we took public transit.

As for hotels, we used Starwood points to get free or deeply discounted rooms. The biggest values were in San Francisco and LA; our hotel at LAX wasn’t sexy but it was free, and our San Francisco hotel was a million times nicer than we could have afforded via rack rate. We are avid Priceline fans, but did not use it for this trip since we needed to be in specific areas, and because rental car lines at LAX are insane in the summer. (I have various car rental preferred memberships from previous lives.)

The biggest aspect that worked in our favor was that every team was in California at some point during the two weeks, so that by giving up three Mets games, we were able to see three additional ballparks, and still see six Mets games. We also could have fit another game in on the off day, and would have done so if the Mets had been doing well. As things shook out, it was actually a relief to have a day off at that point.

The ballparks we have left to visit together: Colorado, US Cellular, Progressive Field, Comerica, Turner Field, and the two Florida ballparks. (TBF has been to the Cell and Comerica.) It’s not going to be hard to figure out how to get to Cleveland, Detroit or Chicago; but we hate Florida, and have no reason to visit Denver or Atlanta unless there’s a concert we want to see (although the same could be said for Florida). It will be fun to see the 2011 schedule when it arrives.

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