Sam Bat Factory Tour #2 – April 28

If you’re a longtime reader of my blog, you might recall when I had the opportunity back in 2012 to tour the Sam Bat factory just outside of Ottawa, Canada. It was undoubtedly one of the coolest experiences I’ve had since starting The Ballpark Guide, and that particular blog post ranks second in terms of traffic of the 225+ posts I’ve written.

So, when I had another opportunity to tour the factory and check out the company’s brand-new facilities, I jumped all over it like a hanging curve ball.

Sam Bat is a bat company headquartered in the small town of Carleton Place in Eastern Ontario, Canada, and the company is currently celebrating its 20th year in business. You might already know Sam Bat’s story — if not, it’s a company that completely revolutionized professional baseball by introducing maple bats. Prior to Sam Bat’s maple bats being used in the big leagues, bats were all made of ash. Now, more than 75 percent of bats used in the pros are made of maple due to this wood’s hardness and durability. You can read more about the company here.

Barry Bonds swung a Sam Bat during his record-breaking 73 home run season. More recently, Miguel Cabrera used this company’s bats during his 2012 Triple Crown season, and still uses them. A long list of players, including Ryan Braun, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley and Melky Cabrera, are current Sam Bat users. Even Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista used a Sam Bat during his 54 home run season in 2010.

On the afternoon of April 28, I met up with Kevin Rathwell, who handles the company’s Canadian sales. We met in the company’s head office, which I’d visited last time, and soon headed over to the new showroom building that wasn’t in use during my last visit. The lobby of the new building was baseball heaven, and it was hard not to want to just stand with my mouth open and stare at everything. I recognized a few of the display pieces from my last visit, including the framed Bonds piece on the wall, but there were a ton of other interesting things, like a Miguel Cabrera bat laying on the counter, a Jose Canseco signed bat, and more:

Although we’d be checking out the factory soon enough, Kevin wanted to show me a short video on how the bats are made. It’s a standard tour stop, and an easy way to get an overview of the creation process. The video room not only has a bunch of photos of bats in various stages of being built, but also one of Sam’s old lathes:

After the video, Kevin had another cool thing for me to see — the use of Sam Bat products in MLB 15 The Show for PlayStation. Sam Bat is one of just a handful of bat manufacturers licensed for use in this video game. Kevin loaded a game between the Tigers and Brewers and, sure enough, there was Cabrera with the gold bat logo clearly visible on his lumber:

Next, we stepped into a large showroom where, to my surprise, there were a few dozen bats made by different manufacturers hanging overhead:

Perhaps sensing my upcoming question, Kevin quickly explained why competitors’ bats were on display at Sam Bat. When a player is interested in having a custom bat made for him by Sam Bat, he will sometimes send the company one of his current bats — there’s no copyrighting bat shape, which means that Sam Bat (or any company, really) can then make a custom bat for the player with the same shape and to the same specs as another company’s bat. In the above photo, there are bats from a number of past and current MLB stars, including Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Ryan Zimmerman, Jason Heyward, Troy Tulowitzki and B.J. Upton.

Below the hanging bats, Kevin pointed out a display that showed all of the bat colors that are approved by Major League Baseball. It wasn’t something that I’d previously thought about, but players obviously don’t step up to the plate with wacky-colored bats. That’s because, as you might expect, MLB meticulously defines which colors are appropriate, as you’ll see on the lower half of this photo:

Another awesome sight in the showroom was the use of Fathead wall decals featuring the Sam Bat brand. As it turns out, the Sam Bat logo is visible in a number of Fatheads, including Cabrera …

… and slugger Giancarlo Stanton:

Now, Stanton isn’t a regular Sam Bat user, but he swung one in the 2016 All-Star Game Home Run Derby, crushing 61 total bombs and the 10 longest home runs of the night to win the event. Interestingly, the bat that Stanton was swinging wasn’t made for him. It belonged to teammate Marcell Ozuna. Mired in a pre-break slump, Stanton tried out one of Ozuna’s bats and did well with it. So well, in fact, that Sam Bat hurriedly made some bats for Stanton, but he continued to rely on Ozuna’s lumber. And, when the derby came around, it was a Ozuna’s Sam Bat in Stanton’s hands.

Here’s another quick anecdote that I found interesting: Ozuna himself began using Sam Bat’s products after then-Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds recommended the company. Facing a slump of his own in May, Ozuna tried out one of Bonds’ bats and began to hit with it. He liked the bat so much that he got Sam Bat to make some custom bats for him, and cruised to his first all-star berth.

I loved hearing stories like these. As a baseball fan, you watch the game on TV carefully, but these sorts of stories show that you really don’t have a complete idea of what’s going on, so it was awesome to get some behind-the-scenes details.

But don’t get me wrong — my visit to Sam Bat wasn’t just about learning. I also had a chance to act goofy, as evidenced here:

As you might guess, this is me holding an enormous novelty bat. Sam Bat doesn’t produce bats of this size; rather, an employee whose family member came across the bat took it into the shop, where it was painted up and adorned with the company’s logo. It’s a cool piece, but you’d need arms bigger than mine to swing it. Just for good measure, here’s another shot that shows you just how big this bat is:

Our next stop on the tour was the other side of the showroom, which featured a number of interesting products for sale. Obviously, you’d expect to see all sorts of bat- and baseball-related items, but there were maple candlesticks, baseball holders and even Sam Bat-branded maple syrup:

Next, it was time to visit the factory itself, which I knew would be exciting. During my last tour, it was fascinating to watch bats being made by hand in front of me, and I knew I’d be in for more of the same. Perhaps the coolest thing about the manufacturing process at Sam Bat is just how hands-on it is. People are making the bats one by one and putting them through a series of important steps. By the time a bat is packaged up and shipped out, it’s been handled by eight or nine different employees. I toured the Louisville Slugger factory back in 2013, and while it was cool in its own right, the high degree of automation from such a large company doesn’t give you that hands-on feel that was obvious at Sam Bat.

When we walked into the factory, this rack is the first thing I noticed:

Lots of partially finished bats awaiting completion, right? Well, yes and no. This is a pile of bats that have been rejected for reasons such as knots. They won’t be finished and sold for use, but many will be finished and painted to be used as trophy bats — in other words, display pieces that aren’t swung in games.

Next, I checked out an enormous rack of maple blanks, which are also known as billets:

These are the rounded pieces of maple (essentially enormous dowels) that will be turned into bats. They’re weighed carefully to three decimal points and then the number is written by hand. So, if you see the blank in the middle with “5132” written on it, that number means that it’s 5.132 pounds. When an employee is building a bat, he obviously needs to have an end product of an exact weight — especially if it’s a bat being built for a professional. This means that he’ll need to choose his blank carefully, as a certain amount of wood (and weight) comes off as the bat is turned and sanded.

Once the blank is selected, it’s not simply inserted into a machine and turned into a bat within seconds. Whereas some companies use fancy equipment that stores specific bat shapes, Sam Bat uses more of a hands-on approach. The blank is placed in the lathe, while a sample bat is placed in a separate part of the lathe. The bottom bat is then traced by the lathe, which meticulously recreates its shape on the blank. This means, of course, that each player who uses or has used the company’s bats has a sample bat that is needed each time more bats are made. There’s an enormous rack of samples that covers much of an entire wall, and each player’s name is written on the sample barrel in Sharpie. Take a look at this photo of Kipnis’ samples:

This means that one of these sample bats is put into the tracing part of the lathe each time new bats are made for the Cleveland Indians all-star second baseman. Super cool.

Here are some of Melky Cabrera’s samples — and a mysterious sample labeled with “Melky” and “Bautista,” perhaps from when the two players were teammates in Toronto:

So, what does this setup on the lathe look like? You’ll be happy to know that I have pictures. As Kevin was showing me the samples, Al Maione came in to make some bats. He’s the company’s director of pro production, which means that he oversees bats made for big leaguers. Last time I visited, Al was making some bats for Andre Ethier. This time, he’d just received an order from Kipnis and was about to get started on turning some bats that would soon be on their way to the Progressive Field clubhouse. Take a look at the following shot:

Kipnis’ sample bat is at the bottom of the image, after being set in place to be traced. The blank, meanwhile, is above. As Al turned on the machine, the sample was traced, as you can see here …

… and the blank was turned into a bat to match the sample:

It’s obviously a highly precise process, which is why Kevin and Al were amused to show me a bat that had been recently sent to Sam Bat with a note attached from a 12-time all-star and nine-time Silver Slugger:

In what might be argued as another case of Manny being Manny, Ramirez had apparently taken a sharp implement and shaved down the handle of one of his Sam Bats, as you can see here, and was requesting that the company make him some bats with this handle profile:

The only problem is that because the work was done by hand, the handle was now wildly uneven. It might be hard to see in the above photo, but there’s a decent-sized indentation made in one section of the wood that isn’t repeated elsewhere — and you can imagine that Sam Bat isn’t too keen on producing a bat with such a glaring issue.

After checking out where the bats are sanded and buffed, we moved to the paint room. To me, it’s absolutely fascinating that a company that produces bats for major leaguers actually paints them by hand, but that’s exactly what happens here. After multiple coats of paint are applied, the bats are dried. Then, the barrel is laser etched (last time I visited, the wording was stamped on) and the bat sticker is put in place. Here’s a shot that shows a bunch of bats waiting to be shipped out:

There’s an interesting cross section of bats in the above photo. Those on the right side of the photo, including the stubby one, were ordered for an upcoming wedding to give as gifts to the groomsmen. The bat in the front middle is for Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Domingo Santana, while those to the left side of the image are for Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Jose Osuna. The bats on the left side with the black handles and light-colored barrels are for Miami’s Ozuna. If you look carefully, you’ll see some pink barrels in the background — those are special bats for Mother’s Day.

On our way out of the factory, we passed a series of racks where boxed bats were awaiting shipment. The name on this box caught my eye:

Because the box had yet to be sealed, Kevin actually let me pull out one of the bats and, seconds later, I was standing with a brand new bat that would soon be in the hands of Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado:

It’s not every day that you get to hold a bat that will eventually (and perhaps has already by now) been swung by a potential future hall of famer, right?

I also got the chance to hold a bat that was about to be shipped out to Josh Naylor:

He was a first-round pick of the Marlins in the 2015 draft and was traded to San Diego in the Andrew Cashner deal. He’s a Canadian, so he’s someone I’ve followed over the years. Less than two weeks after I checked out his bats, Naylor tweeted this:

Awesome, huh?

Although I could’ve hung out and played with Machado’s and Naylor’s bats for a while, there were other bats to hold. The final stop on our tour was the batting cage area, which is a new addition since my last visit. The angle of this photo makes the area look pretty standard …

… but this one, which shows the backdrop of thousands of bats and blanks, definitely makes this spot unique:

As you might expect, there was a chance to use some Sam Bat products in the cages. There were several five-gallon pails full of bats, and I had the choice of which lumber I wanted to try. Kevin snapped this shot of me looking very excited on my way to the cage:

It’s been a long time since I hit in a batting cage — likely 15 years or more — so I didn’t know what to expect. The machine was set to an average velocity, but because it was closer than the usual 60 feet, 6 inches away, it took me a little time to get my timing right. I opted to let the first pitch go to assess the speed, swung and missed on the second, fouled off the third and connected solidly on the fourth. All told, I hit for 10 to 15 minutes and had a blast. Plenty of embarrassing swings and misses, but lots of square contact that made me feel good. Here’s a shot of me preparing for a pitch …

… and one of me beginning my swing:

When you watch professionals take BP, they only take a handful of swings in a session — 10, maybe — before rotating out for a short break while a teammate hits. I didn’t have anyone else hitting with me, and a span of 10 to 15 minutes swinging maybe every 15 seconds is exhausting. I couldn’t resist snapping this shot of how sweaty I was after I stepped out of the cage, which was moderately embarrassing when we returned to the office to say hello to company president Arlene Anderson and I was wiping my face like I was in the Sahara:

Kevin ended up spending more than 90 minutes with me, and I can’t say how much I appreciate the entire experience. My thanks to Kevin, Arlene and Sam Bat for making this happen.

Toronto Blue Jays – March 31

Since March of 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays have played the final two games of their Spring Training at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Although I’ve been a die-hard Jays fan all of my life, and live closer to Montreal than to Toronto, I didn’t really consider hitting up the series in 2014, 2015 or 2016.

Lately, though, as I get some travel plans figured out for this season, I’ve had baseball travel on the brain — and that led me to make a late decision to attend the March 31 Blue Jays game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. I had a busy day planned for April 1, which meant that I’d need to drive to Montreal in the afternoon, take in the game, and then drive home immediately afterward — getting in at around 2 a.m. Not an ideal scenario, I know, but baseball is baseball. And March baseball is definitely a welcome sight, even if the forecast was calling for six inches of snow that day.

I didn’t have to twist my brother’s arm too hard to get him to accompany me, so I made plans to meet him in Ottawa shortly before noon and make the two-hour drive together. If you’ve read this blog for some time, you might recall that Phil and I have attended games together a handful of times over the years. The most memorable was two summers ago, when we took his three-year-old son to his first baseball game in Ottawa. Phil has also traveled to Cleveland with me in 2011 and Toronto in 2012.

A few days before the game, we bought a pair of tickets in the front row of the upper deck on the third base side for $24, which is expensive enough for the upper deck, but affordable for the rarity of the occasion. As our trip approached, I found myself getting increasingly pumped to see “The Big O,” which would become my 13th different major league stadium and my 64th different stadium in total. I was exciting to thoroughly evaluate Olympic Stadium. As you probably know, there’s a push in Montreal for MLB baseball to return to the city, and I was interested in seeing what shape the stadium would be in.

When we got to Montreal, our first stop was Schwartz’s, which is arguably the city’s most famous smoked meat deli. It’s the type of place that routinely has people lined up down the street at peak times, but we when arrived a little before 3 p.m., we had no trouble getting a seat at the bar. Schwartz’s is truly an old-school eatery — it’s been around since 1928 and it doesn’t look as though the interior has changed much over the years. It’s got a bar running down the right side of the restaurant and tables are crammed along the left side. It’s the sort of place that you have to turn sideways when walking down the row between the bar and tables.

I’d done some advance research about what to order, and the common recommendation I read online was a smoked meat sandwich, fries, dill pickle and a cherry soda, so that’s what we each ordered. You’ll also see a couple hot banana peppers, because why not?

The entire meal was certainly impressive, but not cheap. With a tip, lunch for the two of us was a couple bucks short of $50, which is a little much for a sandwich lunch. That said, the smoked meat was as good as I’ve ever eaten, so I’d advise checking out Schwartz’s if you’re ever visiting Montreal.

After lunch, we made the short drive over to Olympic Stadium, where we opted to park under the stadium for $20. I find that when I’m visiting a stadium for the first time, even things like the parking are a thrill — it’s fun to anticipate the stadium as you make your way from the parking lot to the gates, and that was definitely my mindset here.

Unfortunately, before we reached the gates, we went through the first of several major disappointments that contributed to making my Olympic Stadium experience a real letdown. I’ll say, for starters, that I don’t have an emotional attachment to Olympic Stadium. I wasn’t an Expos fan growing up and I never visited the Big O prior to this trip. I can understand that Expos fans might be sentimental about visiting this stadium and view it differently than me, but I’m simply reporting my observations as a first-time visitor. And, frankly, I wanted to like it. I wanted to tell you that the Big O seemed ready for an MLB club. That it’d be a prime attraction for baseball fans from Canada and the U.S. But I can’t, because that wouldn’t be true.

The first of those disappointments hit me like a slap in the face as we exited the parking garage. It was a sign telling me not only that backpacks were prohibited, but also that cameras weren’t allowed into the stadium. I wish this were a joke. In all my travels, I’ve never encountered problems taking my backpack into a stadium, and certainly have never come across a no-camera rule. Then again, what kind of madman shows up at a sporting event and wants to snap a few photos?

The rule might seem like no big deal, but for what I do, this was majorly bad news. I carry a DSLR camera, two lenses, and a whole host of GoPro equipment with me to capture the scene at each stadium I visit, and this would be the first time I’d ever step foot in a stadium without at least a camera. Thankfully, I was carrying my iPod with me, which means that all of the photos you’ll see throughout this post are from it.

Even though I was hopping mad, I was able to find the humor in this sign, which told me that I’d be in the clear if I were only wearing a “sac banane:”

Unfortunately, though, my fanny pack was tucked away safely at home in anticipation of my next trip by air.

The walkway from the parking garage to the stadium opened into a large room that was absolutely packed with people, as the gates to the actual stadium hadn’t opened yet. I wanted to take a walk around outside for a bit, so we fought our way through the throng of people and out into the chilly Montreal air.

There’s little doubt that the Big O is the most unique-looking stadium I’ve ever seen, so I needed a shot of myself in front of this alien spacecraft structure:

I normally like to spend a long time outside each stadium when I visit, but the combination of snow flurries in the air, challenging sightlines for photos and still being supremely miffed about the asinine backpack/camera rule, we wrapped up our outside tour and headed inside — but not before a weird trip through the security queue.

I was surprised to see no metal detectors in use at Olympic Stadium, given that they’re mandatory in the major leagues and many minor league parks use them now, too. Instead, we just walked past a table, where a guard gave people the stink eye and made them stop if he didn’t like of their jib. Fortunately, our jibs must’ve been all right, because we breezed through the “checkpoint,” got our tickets scanned and made a beeline for the seating bowl:

Despite my earlier annoyances, I was glad to be there and anxious to check out the stadium — and its weird yellowish hue that I remember from Expos TV broadcasts. We snapped a quick photo from the above spot …

… before making a plan to head back to the concourse to walk around for a bit. First, though, I had to take this photo to show you the bizarre shape of the seats:

That’s right — just one armrest per person. Although, I must admit that despite their weird shape, they were comfier than expected.

From the concourse, we were able to see part of the old Olympic park from the ’76 games. In the following shot, you can see a bunch of flags and the Olympic rings over on the left side:

(Of course, it would’ve been nice to take the above photo with my DLSR so that I could zoom in a bit. I’d say that I’m not bitter, but I clearly am.)

The walk around the concourse was interesting, let’s just say. Near home plate, the crowds were thick, but the farther away we got, the concourse was completely empty. See what I mean?

This next photo makes it look as though we’d sneaked somewhere off limits, but I can assure you that wasn’t the case:

After we’d walked through the deserted concourse for a bit, we set our course toward the left field seats. My brother had never snagged a ball at a baseball game, so we thought it’d be fun to hang out for a bit of batting practice, despite leaving our gloves in the car because of the no-backpack rule. The Pirates were hitting plenty of balls into the left field seats, but few that were super close to us. I would’ve potentially had a play on one line drive home run had I been wearing my glove, but I wasn’t going to reach out and risk a broken finger. My brother meanwhile, was showcasing a casual approach to baseball snagging with his hands in his pockets:

In about 10 minutes, we’d failed to snag anything, so we decided to continue our tour. When we left the outfield seats, we got a view that you don’t characteristically see at stadiums — we were way behind the outfield seats, but not anywhere off-limits:

Weird and cool, huh?

Next, we rode an escalator up to the upper deck, where we checked out our seats for the game. They offered this view:

Since batting practice was still on, and my brother was still interested in trying for a ball, we elected to visit the right field seats. They weren’t as full as those in left field, and we’d noticed a fair number of balls being hit that way earlier. So, after a quick stop behind home plate to take this panorama …

… we made our way through yet another deserted concourse toward the right field corner. I should note that the game wasn’t sparsely attended. The game had a posted attendance of 43,180 — it’s just that Olympic Stadium has such a unique layout, and it’s so huge, that you can walk stretches of the concourse without running into anyone — or seeing anyone, for that matter. Here’s how the concourse looked in the upper deck on our way to right field:

When we made it to the seats, I estimated that BP was nearly done. My brother quickly headed to a spot along the fence, while I stood in the aisle about half a dozen rows back and, again, just missed a ball that I would’ve tried for had I been wearing a glove. A moment later, I caught my brother waving at a player and then, to my delight, I saw him adjusting his body for an incoming ball. There were plenty of fans around, but he’s 6’2″ and I knew he’d be able to snag whatever was tossed close. Sure enough, he snatched a toss-up from a Pirates pitcher to snag his first ball:

I had to borrow it for a second, of course, to snap this photo — and you’ll notice that it’s an official 2017 Spring Training ball, complete with the Florida logo:

A moment later, my brother was snapping his own photo to share via text with his wife:

Sure enough, BP concluded about three minutes later, but not before my brother checked which player tossed him the ball. The player turned out to be right-handed pitcher Montana DuRapau, who has since been assigned to Double-A Altoona. (I visited Altoona back in 2012, and you can read about that visit here.) I recognized DuRapau’s name from a few years back. I’d seen him pitch in 2014 when when he was a member of the Short-Season A Jamestown Jammers. I was at the Jammers’ last game in history — the team relocated that off-season — and I included a photo of DuRapau in my blog post about that visit.

Before we left the right field seats, I couldn’t help notice how filthy things were. Look how gross the seats were:

I mean, I don’t need to be able to eat off stadium seats, but I also expect some degree of cleanliness. From the lowest levels of the minor leagues up to the major leagues, you’ll always see ushers feverishly wiping down seats with rags, but that obviously hadn’t happened here in a long, long time. It doesn’t exactly send a message of a stadium being ready to host an MLB team, does it?

Shortly before first pitch, we grabbed a pair of seats behind the right field foul pole to watch the pregame festivities. A number of old Montreal Expos were being honored, highlighted by an appearance from recent hall of fame inductee Tim Raines, who was driven around the field in a cart. This is the best picture I could get:

We watched the first inning from the outfield, and then decided to head up to the upper deck to grab some food and take our seats. Sounds simple, right? Well, apparently not.

First of all, the food prices were ridiculous. Plain, run-of-the-mill hot dogs were $6.25. That would make a hot dog at the Big O the most expensive of any park in the big leagues, and nearly $2 higher than the MLB average price of $4.50. There were no price breaks if you bought combination meals, either — a hot dog, fries and a bottled drink would ring up to $16.25, which was the cost of the three items bought separately. A 355 mL can of Corona? A whopping $11.75! There’s no better way to welcome baseball back to Montreal than by gouging fans at the concessions.

I skipped dinner out of principle; I certainly don’t mind paying high prices if the food seems worth it, but the food quality wasn’t exactly enticing. Around the hot dog stands, there was an off-putting smell of old grease in the air. My brother and I grabbed a couple bottled soft drinks as a dinner substitute and headed to the stands — and were quickly barred from entering because we were carrying bottles. You know, the ones we’d just paid $10 for a the concession stand 10 feet away:

Turns out that you can’t take bottles into the seats, but there weren’t any signs to this effect. Another stadium first for me. Normally, if stadiums are worried about fans throwing bottles, concession workers remove the cap when you buy a bottled drink. You’re then free to carry the bottle wherever you want. Or, you can simply get your soda in a cup.

A semi-apologetic guard sent us back out to the concourse and pointed us in the direction of a concession stand from which we could get cups, fill them with our drinks and go to our seats.

Soft drinks in cups = OK.

Soft drinks in bottles = not OK.

We explained our predicament to the concession employee who conveniently forgot how to speak English. And, when we attempt to break it down to him again, he turned his back and walked away. Awesome.

So, we did what anyone should do when confronted with a stupid rule — we broke it. We jammed our bottles in our pockets and took our seats, where we took clandestine sips like teens sneaking around a bottle of rum at a high school prom.

Having to sneak our sips of soda might seem silly, but it was pretty tame compared to other things we encountered in the upper deck.

  • A “fan” one section to our right was holding up a homemade sign that simply featured the F-word.
  • Fans in front of us were sharing the contents of a whiskey bottle in plain sight of security.
  • There was so much cigarette smoke wafting through the upper deck that I had a sore throat by the time we left. And, yes, Olympic Stadium is a non-smoking venue.

It was a bit like the wild west up there. And, hilariously, security was all over us for our bottles, but apparently had no problem with the above issues.

Still, all these issues didn’t prevent us from enjoying watching the actual game. Our seats gave us a nice view of the field, which you can see here in panoramic form:

We also had a good view of the interesting setup beyond the left field fence:

Those are the stands that we’d previously visited, but you’ll also notice the two teams’ bullpens surrounded by some makeshift light stands. The batting cages were positioned behind the batter’s eye — you’ll see a small opening through which you can see some turf, a home plate and the batter’s boxes.

We spent most of the game in our seats and switched to a higher, emptier row midway through just for a little more leg room. The game ended in a tie — another ballpark first for me — and we joined the other 40,000+ fans exiting the stadium through a congested area that looked like this:

That hallway was more congested than Fenway Park when I visited, for the record.

So, to summarize:

  • A ridiculous no camera and no bag policy.
  • Filthy seats.
  • Overpriced, low-quality food.
  • Inability to take bottled drinks into the stands.
  • No enforcement of rules in the upper deck.

Any one of these issues on its own might be easy to shrug off, but for a stadium that would supposedly want to do its best to look impressive in order to drum up interest in baseball returning to Montreal, the Big O fell majorly short. It’s like having a job interview scheduled and deciding to show up without showering or combing your hair and wearing a stained shirt.

In any case, if baseball ever returns to Montreal, another few hundred million dollars will need to be sunk into Olympic Stadium to get it up to par — which will help to keep the stadium right near the top of the list of the most expensive stadiums ever built. (There are conflicting reports as to the exact number, but more than $1 billion has been sunk into the Big O between its construction and ongoing maintenance over the years.)

I’m glad I had the opportunity to check out Olympic Stadium, but I’m in no rush to return. I think it’s the first stadium I’ve ever felt this way about, and that’s saying something.

Colorado Rockies – September 21

On my third and final full day in Denver, I was filled with not only excitement about returning to Coors Field for yet another Rockies game, but also some sadness. It’s always a bummer to know that a baseball trip is coming to an end, but I was determined that my last ballgame of 2016 would be a good one.

Unlike my first and second Rockies games, my final visit to Coors Field would be for an afternoon game, which meant that I was once again up before the sun and excited about making the short walk from the Westin Denver Downtown over to the ballpark. My wife decided to do more touristy stuff while I went to the game, so we parted ways outside the front door of our hotel and, 10 minutes later, I was here:

I realize this photo might not be the most exciting, but I’m using it to show just how empty the area outside Coors Field was when I arrived. This doesn’t mean that the game would be poorly attended — it simply means that I was once again mega early, giving me an awesome opportunity to wander around and enjoy the sights.

Eventually, I made my way into the lineup at Gate A, and when the gate opened, I was the first fan inside the ballpark. For this visit, I had my mind set on snagging a baseball. I hadn’t bothered trying during either of my first two games, but I felt that game #3 would be a good opportunity. Of course, the odds of doing so would be better if batting practice were scheduled, but I wasn’t too hopeful because of the early start time. As soon as I got up to the concourse, I ran to the fence to see if, by any chance, BP was on. Here was my answer:

That was OK, though. As much as I love the atmosphere of a ballpark while BP is taking place, there’s something peaceful about walking around when it’s quieter, too. Although the posted attendance for the day ended up being more than 26,000, the park was dead early on — I guess that’s sometimes the deal when you’re there two hours early. In fact, things were so quiet initially that it almost felt as though I had the park to myself, and that suited me just fine.

After I spent a few minutes just hanging out in this amazing area …

… I walked down to field level in the right field corner to watch a pair of Rockies playing catch. There still weren’t many players out on the field yet as I settled in to simply enjoy the scene. The following photo gives you an idea of not only how empty Coors Field still was, but also where I was standing in relation to the two players:

Eventually, they moved away from the foul line as their game picked up intensity, and I hung out and snapped some action photos like this one:

A moment after I took the above photo, the player in the black T-shirt (I’m not sure who it was) completely airmailed his partner and the ball clanged off the seats just three or four seats from where I stood. That was easy, I thought, and bent down to pick up the ball. But, before I could take a photo of it, the player in the purple T-shirt banged his glove at me a couple times, as if to say, “Throw it here.” I figured that throwing the ball back would make for a cooler story that simply snagging it, so I quickly set my backpack down and (thankfully) fired a strike to him. I quickly realized that he was asking for the ball back because he assumed he and his partner were out of balls, but the black-shirted player then produced a ball from his back pocket. Sure enough, the player in the purple T-shirt turned, made eye contact with me and lobbed the ball in my direction.

I caught it easily and took this photo a moment later:

The player who tossed the ball to me, I later learned, was rookie Matt Carasiti. He’s a hard-throwing reliever who’d only been in the big leagues a month at the time of my visit. Carasiti spent the bulk of 2016 pitching with double-A Hartford, where he led the Eastern League with 29 saves. He’s obviously a young talent to watch — and he joins my ever-growing “Players I follow and cheer for because I’ve had a cool interaction with them” list.

When Carasiti and his teammate headed off, I thanked him for the ball and he nodded. With that, I looked up and took this shot of The Rooftop area from a unique vantage point …

… and then went over to the visiting team’s dugout, as the Cardinals had recently made their way onto the field. Here are three young pitchers — Matt Bowman, Mike Mayers and Sam Tuivailala:

I watched a bunch of the Cardinals play catch for a few minutes before noticing pitcher Seung-Hwan Oh make his way to the fence and begin signing:

The Cardinals’ fan base travels well, so within a moment or two, dozens of Cards fans were jockeying for position around the closer, who’d signed with St. Louis before the 2016 season after a sensational career in South Korea and Japan. Oh pitched in the Korean KBO League from 2005 to 2013, where he was a five-time champion, five-time championship series MVP, seven-time all-star, five-time top reliever and rookie of the year. Pretty impressive, right?

Oh signed for quite a while, and despite the language barrier, seemed to be connecting well with his fans. When he wrapped up and began to step back toward the grass with his interpreter, a loudmouthed “lady” with two kids in two started screaming, “No no no no! Not until you sign two more!”and waving her finger in a condescending way. Surprisingly, he stuck around and signed a pair of balls for the kids.

Once the action on the field died out, I began to think about finding something to eat. Given that it was my last game at Coors Field (for 2016, anyway) I wanted to be sure there wasn’t anything noteworthy that I’d missed eating. I tweeted the Rockies and asked what their recommended food item was, and the team tweeted back just a few minutes later. (I should note that I’ve asked questions on Twitter a handful of times, and the team has been super quick to respond. Two thumbs up, Rockies!) Anyway, the team recommended that I try the Chuburger concession stand up on The Rooftop, so that’s where I headed. There was a decent-sized lineup, speaking to the popularity of Chuburger, but it moved along quickly and a moment later, I was holding a cheeseburger:

Maybe I was expecting a life-altering experience, given the recommendation, but it just tasted like an average cheeseburger. Don’t get me wrong — it was perfectly fine, but it didn’t excite me the way the ribs had during my first visit to Coors Field.

(By the way, that’s not a bite out of the top bun, I hope. That’s just how it looked when I got it.)

After I finished eating, I went to the upper deck in the left field corner, which is a spot I hadn’t previously visited. The section was mostly empty, which meant that I could easily grab a good seat, stretch out my legs and wait for the game to start:

And then wait.

And then wait.

And then wait.

As the game’s designated start time came and went, I was initially puzzled as to why nothing was happening — after all, the Rockies had long since taken the field. It took me a moment, but I realized that a pair of players were playing the “see who can stay on the field the longest after the anthem” game. You’ll have to look carefully at the following photo, but you’ll see the infield all ready to go — a Rockies player and a Cardinals player each standing at the edge of the dirt in front of his respective dugout:

For the record, that’s Colorado pitcher Carlos Estevez and St. Louis outfielder Jose Martinez.

Who won? I’ll let this picture do the talking:

Yep, that’s Martinez strutting back to the dugout to the cheers of his teammates, after he stayed on longer than Estevez.

The standoff game wasn’t the most exciting thing I saw from my spot in the upper deck. In the second inning, Colorado’s Nolan Arenado hit a grand slam that was also the 39th home run of his monster 2016 campaign:

I figured the best way for me to celebrate was to go buy one of these:

Makes sense, right?

You’re looking at a skewer featuring a combination of strawberries and two-bite brownies, with the whole thing drizzled in milk chocolate and white chocolate. Delicious, and multifaceted — you could theoretically use the skewer to kebab anyone on the concourse who might try to steal your dessert from you.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen, and I was able to enjoy my dessert without incident. Once I’d finished eating, I went back down to the main concourse. By now, the game was halfway over, and I wanted to enjoy the rest of my Coors Field experience by just walking around and taking in the sights. As I said in my post about my first game in Denver, Coors Field wasn’t a park with which I was very familiar. I’ll say now that I’m very glad I was able to visit for three games. This ballpark doesn’t often get mentioned when people talk about the most beautiful parks in baseball, but I can definitely tell you that it should be in the discussion. Its features and amenities make it as enticing as any MLB park I’ve visited, and the view of the mountains in the distance is one of the best views you’ll find in baseball. If you’re planning to take a trip somewhere this season, might I suggest Coors Field? I can assure you that you’ll be glad to visit.

And if you’re visiting, I’ll wholeheartedly recommend the West Denver Downtown. I couldn’t have been happier about my stay. Not only is the hotel conveniently located to Coors Field and a ton of restaurants and shopping options, but it’s one of the sharpest-looking places I’ve ever stayed. When I returned from the game, I wanted to capture some shots around the hotel. Here’s a look of the exterior of the building:

And here’s my favorite hotel shot that I took during our stay — this is the pool on the roof deck, and there are no filters used or tweaks made in Photoshop. This is simply how beautiful this spot looks:

The pool was great, too. It’s part indoors and part outdoors, so you swim under a glass partition that divides the two — and, obviously, I giddily did so a number of times.

I want to give a shout-out to the Westin’s staff, too. Everyone I encountered was exceedingly friendly, and there was even a baseball-themed welcome package in our room when we arrived, including beer, peanuts and Cracker Jack:

One last shot from the hotel — you saw my photo of our guest room in my previous post, but I feel that it hardly does the room justice. I rarely share photos that aren’t my own, but I wanted to post this professional image of a room with the same layout as ours, courtesy of the hotel’s website, just to show you how cool the room looks:

I don’t know when I’ll return to Denver for some baseball. Hopefully, it won’t take too long to return — but, whenever I do get back, I’ll definitely be booking a room at the Westin Denver Downtown.

After a delicious dinner on the 16th Street Mall downtown, we were in bed early in anticipation of our 3 a.m. alarm to begin our long travel day home. We flew from Denver to Newark and finally home to Canada, and I want to share just a few images from that trip, including this one of the sun rising while we were in the air:

While we were taxiing at Newark Liberty International Airport, I noticed this departure gate:

It’s gate A17, and it’s the one from which United Flight 93 departed on the morning of September 11, 2001. The U.S. flag was mounted afterward, and it was a sobering sight.

When we took to the air on our connecting flight home, I was excited to see New York City out my window — and I was even able to spot Yankee Stadium, although you’ll have to pardon the pixelated photo:

I hope you enjoyed reading about my visit to Denver half as much as I enjoyed visiting.

I’m working on some exciting travel plans for 2017, which I’ll be sharing as soon as things are finalized. If you’re interested in following along, I’d love if you might consider:

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Colorado Rockies – September 20

Having the chance to visit an MLB ballpark on any given day is a thrill in itself, but two visits in one day?

That’s exactly what happened to me on September 20, which automatically qualifies as a memorable day in my books. By early afternoon, I’d already spent more than 2.5 hours at Coors Field — nearly 90 of those minutes were devoted to an outstanding guided tour of the park, while the other hour-plus involved me wandering around the exterior of the park and just enjoying the environment.

When the tour concluded, I returned to my hotel to meet up with my wife and relax for a bit before the game. It was awesome to be staying so close to Coors Field, and the Westin Denver Downtown had everything we needed during our stay. The hotel’s location right in the heart of the city was perfect, as was the view. You’ll see our room’s nighttime view later in this post, but here’s how things looked, in panorama form, during the day:

Outstanding, right? Well, our room was just as good. Clean and modern, with enough spaciousness to really feel at home for our four-night stay. The king bed was super comfortable, too. Here’s how the main area of the room looked:

See the big window ledge? I’d sit on it to watch the sun come up in the morning, which was amazing.

After relaxing for a short while, it was time to head back to Coors Field for that evening’s game. My wife was joining me this time, which was exciting in its own right, but also valuable — I wanted to shoot some video, so she’d be able to film me. The big thing I wanted to film was me eating an order of Rocky Mountain oysters, and you’ll find that, umm, interesting video embedded later in this blog post.

In the meantime, we arrived at Coors Field well in advance of the gates opening, and my wife snapped this shot of me with a statue simply called “The Player” in front of the home plate gates:

We then made our way around to Gate A, which opens two hours before first pitch. (Other gates at the park open 90 minutes before first pitch, so Gate A is the place to be if you’re a keener.) As you can see in the following shot, the crowds around the gate weren’t overly thick at this point …

… so we kept an eye on the gate and checked out some of the area around it that I hadn’t seen a day earlier. The big attraction in this spot is an enormous garden that was added in 2013. Known as “The GaRden” (big “R” as per the Rockies logo), it’s a partnership between the team, food provider Aramark and Colorado State University’s department of horticulture and landscape architecture. The GaRden is 600 square feet and its herbs and veggies are used in the preparation of dishes served at Coors Field. You can’t tell from this image, but the whole structure is laid out like a baseball diamond, and it’s no coincidence that lots of purple plants are used — you’ll notice purple basil, in particular — to reflect the team’s main color:

Next, I learned that Coors Field has one of the coolest parking setups I’ve encountered in all my travels. The main parking lot is vast, as you might expect at a stadium with a capacity of more than 50,000. But, instead of having to park your car and then walk forever to get to the nearest gate, you can actually hop on a shuttle that is included in your parking price and get dropped off right at Gate A. Shuttles run on a loop, so you don’t have to wait for long to catch a ride. Here’s a shot of one of the shuttles about to drop some fans off:

When the gates opened, we went inside and rode the escalator up to the upper deck right away, as I hadn’t spent a ton of time in this location during my first visit and wanted to see the area in more depth. We weren’t the first fans into the stadium, but you’ll notice that the following shot looks completely devoid of fans:

That’s because fans who enter two hours before first pitch are confined to the outfield area, which is a similar setup to Cleveland’s Progressive Field. Not a bad thing, though, as there are certainly several things to see and do in this part of the ballpark.

We looked around The Rooftop for a bit and recorded some video that I’ll hopefully get uploaded to my YouTube channel before long. Then, it was time to … WHAT? What is my face doing on the video board again?

If you read my account of my first Coors Field visit, you’ll recall that the Rockies used one of my images on the video board. Well, it was back up there again, and this came as quite a surprise:

After my wife may or may not have made some cracks about the size of my head, we went up to the purple seats that I’d learned about in my tour earlier in the day. Haven’t read that blog post? I’d love if you took a few minutes to do so — but either way, the purple seats are exactly one mile above sea level and form a ring around the entire upper deck. When I saw them on my tour, I vowed to sit in them when I returned to Coors Field that evening, so here I am fulfilling that promise:

On our way away from the purple seats, I stopped to take this photo of the area beyond the fence in right-center, as I think it gives you a good idea of how this area is set up:

You’ll see the bullpens, three levels of seating and, finally, The Rooftop area. One thing that you’ll notice about The Rooftop is that there are two levels of standing-room spots. The lower level is directly above the top seating section, while the upper level is where you can see the red “Tavern” sign. You can’t visit Coors Field without taking some time to check out this spot. Despite being such an enticing area, it’s open to anyone with a game ticket, so it’s definitely worth visiting for a few innings.

On our way down to the main concourse, my wife snapped this shot of me:

I like how this brick wall is simply adorned with the team’s name and birth year. A gaudy ad could very well be hung in this spot, but I think it’s a nice touch to leave some areas around the ballpark free of ads.

When we got down to the main concourse, I wanted to head down to field level and watch the goings-on for a few minutes. At some parks I’ve visited, there’s no way to get down behind home plate unless you have a ticket for the area — even 90 minutes before first pitch when the seats are largely empty. During my first Coors Field game, I’d noticed how friendly and accommodating the ushers were, and that was the case during this visit, too. Not only were we freely welcomed to head down toward field level, an usher volunteered to take a picture of us. And, when we told him we were visiting from Canada, he was somehow even more welcoming. Here are Mrs. and Mr. Ballpark Guide:

We weren’t able to get right up to the fence, as the bottom few rows belong to special seating area for which you need a ticket. That was fine, though, so we hung out where we’d had our photo taken for a few minutes and enjoyed the scenery.

Before long, we were on the move again. This time, I found the players’ parking lot, which I hadn’t noticed a day earlier. It’s always a thrill when the players’ lot is visible to fans, and even though I’m not a car guy, I get a kick out of checking out the rides. This picture supports my theory that Range Rovers are the choice of baseball players, but there’s also a sweet Aston Martin Rapide S visible with a price tag of $200,000+, as well as some other pricey vehicles:

Once I was done gawking at the cars for a bit, I took my wife to see the natural vegetation area beneath the batter’s eye, which I’d loved from the minute I first spotted it a day earlier:

Then, it was off to find something to eat. In my blog entry about my first visit to Coors Field, I detailed the active Blue Moon brewery inside the ballpark. I hadn’t visited it a day earlier, but we went to check it out before finding out dinner, and it was definitely a neat sight to see:

We decided to stagger our dinners a bit — my wife was ready to eat now, and I wanted to wait a little longer to get up the courage to try the Rocky Mountain oysters. She bought a loaded baked potato — and I do mean loaded — from the brewery restaurant, and we went to the Rockpile section to eat. This wasn’t any regular baked potato. It was topped with chicken, bacon, black beans, salsa, cheese, sour cream and green onions, and I think you’ll like the look of it:

When she had polished off her dinner, there was no more delaying the inevitable — it was time for me to order the Rocky Mountain oysters. In case you don’t know the term, the meal is actually bull testicles. Big, meaty, bull testicles cut into slices, breaded and fried. Here’s how they look:

I could give you a detailed rundown about the whole experience, but I’d prefer if you’d just watch this short video:

I didn’t eat the whole order. I hate wasting food, but a handful of balls were more than enough for me. If I had to sum up the meal in a sentence, I’d say, “Chewy, musty and not something I’d order again.” Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad I ate ’em for the story, and kudos to Coors Field for selling something so unique, but a dish that also goes by the name “swinging beef” probably won’t be on my menu again. Some time after returning from Colorado, I was talking with my friend Andrew Petersen, who writes the Tripping Baseballs blog, and he mentioned that he’d tried the Rocky Mountain oysters when he’d visited Coors Field. Curious, I asked him what he thought, and he said, “Chewy. I don’t think I’d try them again.” I had to laugh at the parallel nature of our opinions.

Anyway, having sort of conquered the “oysters,” I treated myself to an enormous dessert from the self-serve frozen yogurt concession stand along the outfield concourse. It was so big that things were falling off it as I carried it along the concourse and up to my spot on the Rockpile. How does this look?

You’re looking at several different kinds of frozen yogurt, Skittles, gummy bears, sprinkles and a cherry — the other cherry fell off, unfortunately.

Ten minutes after the game’s final out, we were back to our hotel and enjoying the awesome view of the nighttime Denver cityscape:

And I was counting down the hours until my next game at Coors Field.

Coors Field Tour – September 20

Being able to spend three days in Denver meant that I’d not only have a chance to take in three Colorado Rockies games, but that I’d also be able to take a guided tour of Coors Field on the middle day of my visit.

That meant that a little more than 12 hours after I walked out of the ballpark following my first visit, I was heading back to Coors Field for a tour. My usual travel schedule doesn’t always allow time for booking tours — in fact, Coors Field is only the third MLB park that I’ve officially toured. (If you’re interested, here are the recaps of my Oriole Park at Camden Yards tour in 2011 and my Fenway Park tour in 2012.)

The walk from my downtown hotel to the ballpark took less than 10 minutes, which meant that just a short while after leaving my room, I’d bought my tour ticket at the ticket office and was hanging out here:

As the above image shows, there wasn’t much going on around Coors Field, and that suited me just fine. It’s cool to simply be at the ballpark, and arriving early gave me a chance to walk around the exterior and scout out some areas that I hadn’t seen a day earlier. I began by checking out the area just west of the ballpark, and came across this cool diamond made of bricks. If you look carefully, the words to “Take me out to the ballgame” are engraved on bricks around the perimeter:

There was absolutely no one around, which made it feel as though I had the entire area to myself — and if you read this blog regularly, you’ll surmise that I was more than giddy with this idea. I spent the next 45 or so minutes walking around the area and checking out Coors Field from various angles, before returning to the main gates to wait for the start of my tour. As I waited, I sat on a small ledge next to an engraved brick commemorating Coors Field’s very first opening day in 1995, and snapped this photo that I uploaded to Instagram:

When the tour began, our guide led us to the top row of the seats in the lower bowl to give a brief history of the stadium and an overview of the plans for the tour. While he talked, I snapped this photo of the field:

Before we continued along the concourse, I saw MLB Network insider and longtime baseball writer Tracy Ringolsby emerge from the home dugout to do a spot with the network. He’s pretty easy to spot with his cowboy hat:

It’s always a thrill to be inside a ballpark when it’s nearly empty. Although there were lots of staff members preparing the park for that evening’s game, the tranquility of the environment is always something that I enjoy.

Our first notable stop was The Rooftop, which I’d checked out briefly the night before but was excited to see again. The following shot gives you an idea of just how high you are in this area:

Next, our guide (who was excellent) pointed out the row of purple seats that runs through the upper third of the upper deck. It wasn’t something that I’d noticed a day earlier, so I was glad to have my attention brought to it, as well as to understand what it represents:

Any guesses? That row is exactly one mile above sea level. As you likely know, Denver is often called the Mile High City, so it was neat to see the exact mark at which you’re a mile above sea level. We didn’t go visit that row during the tour, but if you know me, you’ll know that I made a point of checking it out when I was at the ballpark later that night.

The purple seats aren’t the only seats at Coors Field that don’t match those around them. From our vantage point up on The Rooftop, our guide pointed out the four red seats at field level that make up the Coca-Cola front row area …

… and the two Coors Light “Silver Bullet” seats in the 10th row behind the visitor’s dugout:

Our next stop was the suite level, where we checked out a number of spots. Here’s a dining area for suite members:

And a view from the outdoor seats of one of the suites that we visited:

From the suite, we had a great view of the batter’s eye and natural vegetation area that I’d enjoyed seeing a day earlier. The fountains were currently turned off, but our guide told us a funny story — when the fountains and the bullpens were put in, the team’s management opted to position the visiting team’s bullpen immediately adjacent to the fountains, as you can see here:

Why? Well, the prevailing winds blow from left field to right field, which means that some of the spray from the fountains gets blown on the visiting team’s bullpen — not very appealing during an April or September evening game, as you might imagine. You’ll notice that the Rockies bullpen in the above image is tucked well out of the way on the right.

Next, our tour took us past a Todd Helton display …

… through a series of upscale hallways …

… and finally, to the Coors Field press box. It’s always a thrill to visit any ballpark’s press box, and I find that whether it’s a short-season club or a big league club, the press area just feels like a special place. During games, it’s a beehive of activity. When we visited, though, the area was mostly quiet. As our guide talked, I took a spot in the front row of seats to enjoy this perfect view of Coors Field:

You can see a lot of Coors Field’s features in the above shot. The outfield concession stands, where I’d bought my ribs and chocolate-dipped bacon the night before, are seen stretching from the left field foul pole to beneath the red “King Soopers” sign next to the video board. The Rockpile section is the elevated section beyond straightaway center, while The Rooftop is high up in right-center field.

Here’s a cool behind-the-scenes item from the press box — this is Tracy Ringolsby’s laptop computer:

Ringolsby came and went as we sat in the press box. During this time, one of the members of our tour group (a loud-mouthed guy who had to offer a comment on virtually every point our guide made from the start of the tour to the end) went over and introduced himself to the scribe, only to be quickly reprimanded by our guide and reminded of the rule he’d stressed when we entered the room a few minutes earlier — this is a working press area and no one using it is to be disturbed.

As you can imagine (although you’ve probably never thought about it) the idea of powering a stadium has to be a huge infrastructure undertaking. And, as such, there are miles of cables strewn about the stadium. I looked overhead before we left the press box and noticed this housing with cable after cable neatly laid out. I snapped the following photo not only because it looked interesting …

… but also because it reminded me of this photo I took when I toured the press box at Camden Yards in 2011.

From the press box, we went down below Coors Field to see some more behind-the-scenes stuff. Tours never go into the home clubhouse, but you can get into the visitor’s clubhouse if there’s no game that day. Of course, with a game scheduled that night, we weren’t allowed into the visitor’s clubhouse, either. So, you’ll have to settle for a shot right outside the Rockies clubhouse:

(For the record, I did press my eye against the tiny crack between the two doors and I could see a few players walking back and forth inside the clubhouse. I didn’t hold that pose for long, though, so as to avoid having my face caved in by a rapidly opening door.)

Before we headed to the last (and best) part of our tour, I noticed a locked door with this sign on the outside:

It made me wonder just how much tape the Rockies go through.

The tour concluded on the field, and we had a handful of minutes to walk around the warning track behind home plate and even sit in the visitor’s dugout. Although I’ve been lucky to be on the field at a handful of MLB (and a bunch more MiLB) parks, this is always one of my very favorite experiences. Just feeling and hearing the crunch of the warning track beneath my feet is something that will never get old. Here’s the view from directly behind the team’s logo painted on the grass behind home plate:

And here’s yours truly from that same spot:

Before our time ran out, I had a chance to sit in the visitor’s dugout for a few minutes:

And also hang out here:

I can’t recommend the Coors Field tour enough. The tour lasts about 80 minutes, and is just $8 for adults for this upcoming season. Of course, by the time the tour wrapped up, I was already anticipating that evening’s game — and I’ll have that blog post published very soon.

Colorado Rockies – September 19

Want to guess what time I got up on my first morning in Denver?

If you guessed 3:45 a.m. local time, you’d be right.

Now, before you label me a sleep-deprived maniac, let me tell you two things — my body was clearly still on east coast time, and I was thrilled to be in a new city for three days of baseball at my 63rd different ballpark. Deciding that I wouldn’t wake my wife like a tot on Christmas morning, I quietly let myselfout of our hotel room and went down to the lobby of the Westin Denver Downtown. My wife and I hadn’t done much exploring of the hotel the night before, and I was itching to check out some of the amenities. It’s definitely one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed at over the years, so I’m anxious to share some pictures over my next few blog posts.

My first stop was the super-cool pool deck that you might’ve seen me post about on Instagram during my trip. It’s probably my favorite feature at the hotel, as it’s the first pool I’ve seen that is part indoors, and part outdoors — and, as you might guess, it was pretty quiet about 4 a.m.:

After walking around the hotel a bit, I set out for an early morning walk, anxious to smell the mountain air before the streets got busy with vehicles. The Westin is situated in the heart of Denver in an area known as the 16th Street Mall. The mall is an open-air pedestrian mall that’s more than one mile long and stocked with 300+ stores and 50+ restaurant. You can’t actually drive down 16th Street (although I mistakenly did the day before — but that’s another story) so it’s a great place for pedestrians and tourists to browse. Anyway, I walked around the mall a bit and then zigzagged my way through some of the neighboring streets, noting some eye-catching scenery like this:

Once I’d walked for a bit, I returned to the lobby to hang out until my wife arrived, and then we went back to our room in time to watch the Rocky Mountains come into focus, which was absolutely amazing:

If you’re visiting Denver for any reason and book a room at the Westin Denver Downtown, make sure ask for a room that faces the mountains. As you know, I’m a sucker for a hotel room with a view, and it’s certainly tough to top a mountain range! While the mountains were certainly the star attraction out the window of our room, it was also impressive to see Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the NFL’s Denver Broncos, and Pepsi Center, home of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. Can you spot the two stadiums in the photo above? Let me know in the comments below.

After having breakfast near the hotel, my wife and I did a handful of touristy things around the city, but once mid-afternoon arrived, it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready to walk over to Coors Field. My wife, meanwhile, had a different plan, and hopped in our rental car and drove off to check out the Denver Botanic Gardens. She’s not the biggest baseball fan, but to be fair, if we’d traveled to Denver to see the botanic gardens, I might’ve sneaked off to a ballgame.

I loaded my camera stuff into my backpack and began the short walk from the Westin to Coors Field, getting more excited with each city block that I put behind me. Soon enough, the glorious ballpark came into view, and I snapped this panorama from across the street:

I was immediately impressed with the exterior beauty of the park, but it was just the tip of the iceberg (or tip of the mountain, perhaps?) in terms of how I felt about the look of this ballpark. Admittedly, Colorado isn’t a team I watch on TV very much; I live on the east coast, so most of the Rockies games aren’t at an ideal time, and I don’t follow the National League as much as I do the American League. This meant that I was in for plenty of positive surprises throughout my entire visit to Denver, starting before I even entered the ballpark.

As you can see from this photo …

… I got to Coors Field just after 4 p.m., which was well in advance of the gates opening. That was part of my plan, though, as I wanted to wander around the exterior for a bit. I’ve mentioned in other blog posts that I love red brick ballparks, so it was a thrill to simply walk the exterior perimeter of Coors Field and enjoy the mammoth structure towering over my left shoulder:

The streets around the ballpark were still fairly quiet …

… but the energy picked up by the time I made it around to the center field gate, although at least half of the fans waiting in line were St. Louis Cardinals fans (and one confused guy with a Rockies jersey and Cardinals cap). I hung out in the line for just a little bit, and soon enough, I was through the gates (and metal detectors, ugh), up the stairs, and onto the concourse:

Wooo! Look at those lovely wide concourses — I love the feel of big concourses that aren’t claustrophobic. There are a handful of MLB parks that are simply too confined, and while tight confines might have their own charm, I’ll always favor those that don’t make me feel like a sardine.

I made my way through the concourse until I got to the natural landscape area beyond the fence in straightaway center — wow!

I’d obviously seen this area on TV, but didn’t get a true appreciation until I saw it in person. Just imagine the sound of the fountains mixed with the music wafting over the stadium speakers, the cracks of the bats from batting practice and the shouts of the players on the field. I was in heaven.

After taking in the natural oasis for a few minutes, I hustled over to the adjacent bleacher seats and snapped this panorama:

(The haziness you see on the right of the image is barbecue smoke — more on that later.)

As I stood there and basked in the view, I was feeling pretty darned lucky to be spending three days in Denver.

I didn’t bother with trying to snag a BP ball. Instead, I took a walk along the outfield concourse, noting all the delicious food options that I’d be undoubtedly diving into — if not during my first game, then definitely over the next couple days.

I also scoped out the play area in the left field corner, which is a must-visit spot if you’re taking in a game at Coors Field with kids:

Next, I shot this photo of the Rockpile section in center field to give you an idea of what it looks like:

This ended up being a spot in which I’d spend plenty of time over the next three days. It provides a fantastic view of the playing field, and its prices are dirt cheap — certainly among the best I’ve ever seen in the major leagues. Seeing this section made me think about my favorite unique seating sections in baseball. Let’s just take the major leagues — let me know about your favorite spots, and why, in the comments section. (And, after I’ve received a few comments, I’ll chime in with my favorite spots, too!)

By now, I’d spent a fair bit of time checking out the scenes around center field, but had yet to make my way toward the home plate concourse. That obviously had to change, so I set out to walk down the concourse on the third base side — stopping to enjoy this perfect scene for a few minutes before I went:

One cool sight that I saw (and visited during each of my three games at Coors Field) was the game-used kiosk along the concourse. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that I love collecting game-used gear when I can, so I took in the Rockies game-used selection of bases, helmets, jerseys, bats and balls with great interest:

The one knock on the kiosk? There were no prices listed for anything, which made it annoying to browse the available options without any idea of whether anything was good value or not. Of course, this certainly wasn’t enough to sour my mood, so after browsing for several minutes, I continued through the concourse …

… until I made it to the Blue Moon Brewery at the Sandlot. You probably know Blue Moon beer, right? Well, it was originally created by the Sandlot Brewery, located in Coors Field. (In fact, it was originally known as Bellyslide Belgian White, which is something I learned on my Coors Field tour the next day.) Anyway, Coors has since bought the brand, and the beer is still brewed at the brewery inside the ballpark. And, in the photo you’ll see below, there’s a smokehouse restaurant attached to the brewery that sells all sorts of tasty fare — and offers seating right along the edge of the concourse, too:

Once I’d wandered around the home plate area for a bit, I headed back to the outfield to climb atop the Rockpile section. As I said earlier, it provides a perfect view of the field, but you’ll also see that this vantage point gives you a great impression of the stadium overall, and even the Denver skyline in the distance:

I spent several minutes just standing there and taking in the sights. Just being at a ballpark always makes me smile, so it’s nice to occasionally slow down and breathe the (mountain) air a bit.

Of course, I was also itching to do more exploring of Coors Field, so I made my way behind home plate, climbed all the way up to the top row of the upper deck, and snapped this photo:

And here’s the scene as a panorama:

Since I was already on the upper level, I wanted to check out Coors Field’s newest big attraction, The Rooftop. It’s a two-level bar/eatery/hangout that is nearly 40,000 square feet in size and not only provides panoramic views of the field and stadium, but of the city’s skyline, as well. Here’s how this area looks from across the way:

As I made my way onto The Rooftop and began to marvel at the sights, another sight caught my eye — my enormous head on the video board! I definitely did a double take when I looked up and saw a screenshot of one of the tweets I’d sent when I arrived at Coors Field. I’ve been lucky to be on the video board at a few ballparks over the years, but this was definitely the biggest I’d ever seen myself:

Several fans’ images were cycling through, so I’d see myself, then wait for a few minutes for other photos to cycle through, and there I’d be again. Hilariously, though, the cycling stopped at my photo at one point — it was as though the program running the images had frozen. And that meant that my face was fixed on the video board for maybe three or four minutes straight. I couldn’t resist scurrying to a different spot of The Rooftop and snapping another shot:

I didn’t actually spend too long up in this location on this day, but I devoted a lot of time to The Rooftop during my visit the next day. For now, though, I went back down to the main concourse, headed behind home plate, and enjoyed watching the Coors Field grounds crew finish the last of the pregame field prep as the seats slowly began to fill:

I love the look of a ballpark as the sun begins to set, which is something that occurred earlier than I’m used to on this visit. September 19 is among the latest I’ve ever attended an outdoor baseball game since I started my travels, which meant that the sun was already low in the sky before first pitch. That was fine with me, though, as I provided great views like this one of right-center and The Rooftop:

The game soon began, and after watching the first inning from the center field concourse, I decided that I was time to eat — based on my food-scouting mission from earlier, I felt that a made-to-order burger, onion rings and a shake from the nearby Helton Burger Shack were in order. Can’t go wrong with that choice, right?

Well, that wouldn’t be in the cards, as evidenced by this sign:

I’m not sure which player hit the bomb that sabotaged my dinner plans, but no worries — it was an interesting occurrence and brought back memories of a 2014 visit to New Hampshire’s Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. As I was watching batting practice, a home run sailed over my head and smashed a window of the adjacent hotel. I snapped a photo of the broken window and it got shared a lot on social media. If you’re interested in that story, you can find my blog post about it here.

Anyway, I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed a glass shard-filled burger, so I’m glad that the powers that be decided to close the Helton concession stand. That meant that I needed a new choice for dinner, and the choice was easy. I’d noticed the Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que concession stand earlier — in part because the delicious smoke that was wafting through the concourse was impossible to ignore. There was a long lineup at Famous Dave’s, which is always a good sign. I ordered a pound of Memphis dry rub rib tips, and while I’m not the hugely rib fan in the world, these looked too good to pass up:

They were delicious. The rub was the perfect blend of seasonings and the sweetness of the barbecue sauce I added to my container for dipping purposes complemented the smokiness of the rib tips perfectly. Definitely a meal worth getting when you visit Coors Field.

Of course, that wasn’t the only thing I bought from Famous Dave’s. For “dessert,” I washed down my rib tips with three slices of chocolate-dipped bacon; I’d never previously tried chocolate-dipped bacon, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. So, so delicious:

After I’d eaten (and enjoyed a post-rib and bacon rest) I realized that there’s another big incentive to the Rockpile section. If you sit atop it, and turn to your right, you’ll have a perfect view of the sun setting over the Rockies. The view was so good that probably 20 or so fans came up to where I was sitting and shot photos of the scene; it was just too beautiful to pass up. As for my photos, here are a couple that show the progression of the sunset:

Once the sun was down, I made my way around this guy (who, in fairness, was just retrieving the cellphone he’d dropped) …

… to go grab a frozen lemonade, which I ate on the Rockpile:

Next, I watched an inning from this spot …

… and noted just how accommodating the Coors Field ushers were. At some parks, you’ll get shooed away if you stand in this area for more than a couple seconds, but the local ushers weren’t hassling anyone. As long as the cross-aisle was kept clear for people to walk, the ushers had no problem with fans watching the action from this spot. Definitely another check mark for Coors Field in my books.

As the game progressed, I decided to make another visit to the upper deck, so I took a long elevator ride …

… and a few moments later, I was exactly a mile above sea level. How did I know? Check out this cool Coors Field feature — see the purple beam? That mark is 5,280 feet, or one mile, above sea level:

I caught the game’s final innings from a seat that provided this spectacular view:

And, once the final out had been recorded, I made my way back down to street level, having a quick chuckle at this sign …

… and made the short walk back to my hotel, where I fell into bed eagerly anticipating my second full day in Denver.

Traveling to Denver – September 18

The first day of any baseball trip is always filled with excitement and anticipation, and that’s especially the case when I’m headed somewhere new. Those were the feelings coursing through me bright and early on the morning of September 18 as I packed up the car and headed to the airport in advance of a flight to Denver. In a trip that came together rather quickly, I booked three days in Denver so that I could check out Coors Field — my 12th MLB park and 63rd ballpark overall — extensively. My wife was joining me on this trip, too, which made things even more exciting.

It was also cool — and a bit of a relief, to be honest — to know that I didn’t have a game booked on my travel day. I’ve always booked a game on my travel days in the past, and while it’s giddy driving or flying and anticipating that night’s game, it makes for an awfully long day. And, if there’s a flight delay, which is what happened to me last fall on my way to Texas, there’s a risk of missing the game entirely.

We were scheduled to fly from Ontario, Canada, to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., where we’d have a short layover and then fly onto Denver. This was our view as we waited to catch our first flight of the day …

airport-view

… but soon enough, we were in the air and, a short while later, on the tarmac at Dulles. I specifically say “on the tarmac” because we exited the plane outside, rather than through a jetbridge, and walked into the airport from there. It wasn’t an arrangement I’d previously experienced, and it was nice to get a bit of fresh air, given that we’d be in airports or airplanes for about nine or so hours straight. The outside time gave me a chance to snap this photo with our plane, too:

malcolm-with-airplane

I’d researched the dining options for Dulles in advance of our trip and I knew I wanted to eat at Smashburger. It turns out that our arrival area was just a few gates from the airport’s Smashburger location, so a few minutes after arriving, I was sitting down to enjoy this bad boy:

smashburger

For the record, it’s a bacon cheeseburger and those are “smash fries” beside it. The fries aren’t smashed, of course — the “smash” part just means they’re tossed in olive oil, rosemary and salt, and they were definitely tasty.

With a couple hours to kill at the airport, we spent most of the time staring at exciting sights like this one:

empty-dulles

Soon, though, we were back in the air and pointed toward Denver. Here’s a shot of the view out my window as we got closer to the Mile High City:

denver-approach-from-air

It was exciting to not only be visiting another ballpark, but to also be getting the chance to see baseball in a different state. Colorado is the 18th state that I’ve visited for baseball.

We touched down in Denver a little earlier than scheduled, and I hurried outside like a nerd to smell the mountain air. This was something I talked about a fair bit in advance of the trip, but I found that my first gulps of the Denver air smelled like exhaust, given that I was standing in the bus/shuttle pickup area outside the terminal:

first-view-of-denver

That was OK, though. Even though the view immediately outside the terminal wasn’t overly exciting, it was a thrill to see the Rocky Mountains in the distance.

At the Denver International Airport, you have to take a shuttle from the terminal to the car rental area, so that’s what we did — and, soon enough, I was grinning like a nerd beside the Toyota Rav4 that we’d rented for the trip:

malcolm-rental-car

(And, yes, I was still wearing my fanny pack. That’s right.)

It took us about an hour to get from the airport to our downtown hotel, the Westin Denver Downtown. After quickly checking in, we headed out to explore the city a bit. We were staying in the 16th Street Mall district, which we’d done intentionally. Not only was our hotel just a short walk from Coors Field, but it was also smack dab in the heart of the Denver tourist district. This meant that hundreds of restaurants, shops and tourist attractions were within walking distance, which was awesome. There were so many appealing choices for dinner, but we picked a place called Modern Market — and I devoured this pizza topped with prosciutto, gorgonzola, pear slices and arugula:

modern-market-pizza-denver

The combination of everything was delicious. I could go for another right now, in fact.

We were zonked by the time we finished dinner, so we went back to the hotel and crashed — but not before I took this shot of the nighttime view from our room, though:

westin-denver-downtown-night-view

The Rocky Mountains were in the distance, although they weren’t visible at this hour. I’d have to wait till morning to see them. The bright lights you see in the distance are the stadium lights at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos. Coors Field wasn’t visible from our room, but it wouldn’t be long before I was checking it out.