Tagged: Chicago White Sox

Philadelphia Phillies – July 14

One day after a marathon, 24-inning doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park, I got up early to work on my blog for a very short period before hopping in the car for the half-hour drive to the ballpark. My road trip for The Ballpark Guide was rolling on, despite averaging about five hours of sleep over the last week.

On my first visit to CBP, I parked for $15 but on my subsequent walking tour, came across a $10 lot even closer to the ballpark’s gates. Go figure. That’s where I headed during this visit and, after parking and walking for a couple minutes down a side street, here’s what I was looking at:

citizens-bank-park-first-view-day-2

(Cue the sound of triumphant trumpets playing.)

I was in plenty of time for the 1:35 p.m. start; instead of rushing to buy my ticket as I had a day earlier, I took a quick lap around the ballpark, stopping to note McFadden’s Restaurant and Saloon, which you can enter before the gates open:

citizens-bank-park-food-mcfadden's

Of course, with it being about 10:30 a.m., a greasy cheesesteak wasn’t exactly what I wanted just yet. Instead, I went to the corner of Pattinson Avenue and South 11th Street to take a series of photos to make this panorama. Because the crowds weren’t too heavy yet, I think this shot gives you a cool look at what the area looks like:

citizens-bank-park-outside-avenue-corner-panorama

After taking a series of photos that show Citizens Bank Park parking options, which I’ll show on my website rather than here, I grabbed my ticket …

citizens-bank-park-ticket

… and picked up the day’s giveaway item, a Phillies travel mug:

citizens-bank-park-phillies-travel-mug-giveaway

Being able to get into the park soon after it opened gave me the ability to get down to field level without crazy fan traffic. I headed to the third base side first and watched a handful of White Sox sign autographs for kids. While here, I snapped this photo of Hector Santiago signing an autograph:

citizens-bank-park-autograph-signing

I then made a beeline over to the first base side where a number of Phillies were hanging around. My mission wasn’t to get autographs; instead, I was hoping to get some up-close shots of some players, which I’d failed to do a day earlier. As I watched a couple pitchers signing autographs, my eye caught a tall player out toward center field, and I instantly recognized him:

citizens-bank-park-roy-halladay-1

Doc! I had no idea Roy Halladay would even be in Philly during my visit, Halladay played catch for several minutes as he continues to rehab after his shoulder surgery this spring. It was absolutely awesome to watch him. After his throwing session, he and a coach stood in right field and talked for several minutes:

citizens-bank-park-roy-halladay-2

Halladay then made the long walk to the Phillies dugout and disappeared, while I stood grinning like a nerd, I’m sure, that I just happened to see him for the first time since he played for Toronto:

citizens-bank-park-roy-halladay-3

About an hour before first pitch, I decided to get some lunch, Philly-style. Faced with the prospect of choosing between the park’s three cheesesteak vendors, I picked Campo’s. As I waited in the sizable line, I heard a commotion behind me and as I turned, I saw former Phillies slugger Greg Luzinski walking past. That’s him with the tan shirt and ridiculous calves:

citizens-bank-park-greg-luzinski

Luzinski was a four-time all-star and had a pair of seasons in the mid-1970s in which he hit at least 34 home runs, drove in 120 or more runs and batted at least .300. He ended up with more than 300 home runs during his 15-year career.

Once I grabbed my cheesesteak from Campo’s, I went up to the Budweiser rooftop, climbed up the small set of bleachers and took this photo:

citizens-bank-park-food-campos-cheesesteak-wrapped

And then this one:

citizens-bank-park-food-campos-cheesesteak

As for my verdict? It was … good. I realize that’s not the best adjective to assign anything, but this cheesesteak certainly wasn’t great, nor was it awful. The next time I’m in Philly, I’ll have to try the other brands of cheesesteak at CBP to make a comparison, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the Campo’s selection. Of course, every cheesesteak company bills itself as the best in the city, so I had to start somewhere.

As I sat on the bleachers, an usher ventured over to ask if I had a ticket for the section. I explained that I didn’t, but I was using the empty bleachers as a spot to eat my meal, and then I’d be gone. I expected the the usher to tell me to get lost, but she was fine with me sitting there and asked where I was sitting. I explained that I had a standing-room ticket and, after furtively glancing around, she took about five minutes to explain to me how to sneak into certain sections to grab a seat without being caught by ushers. Not a conversation you’ll come across every day, right?

My next stop was in the upper deck. From my vantage spot, I could look down at a semi-crowded Ashburn Alley:

citizens-bank-park-ashburn-alley-above

If you look carefully, you’ll see a number of bronze-colored plaques embedded in the bricks down the length of the alley. They represent different standout players from throughout the team’s history — great idea, right? Yes, but what an awful location. Whenever I visit a park, I love looking at the historical displays, but these are virtually impossible to admire. Any time you’re in Ashburn Alley, so too are hundreds of other fans, which means several hundred feet are continuously trampling over the plaques. What a bad design idea.

I was enjoying my spot in the shade because, like yesterday, it was extremely hot again at Citizens Bank Park. As I kept out of the sun for a few minutes, I took this panorama that shows the relatively empty seats about 45 minutes before first pitch:

citizens-bank-park-upper-deck-panorama

Remember yesterday’s post, in which I stood right beneath the green Citizens Bank Park sign beyond center field? Here’s another shot of that area, but this one also shows the Liberty Bell:

citizens-bank-park-park-sign

Before I left the upper deck, I walked over to the seats behind home plate to get this shot, which I think looks pretty cool. Every ballpark, of course, has a unique view with some perks and some drawbacks, but I love how you can see downtown Philadelphia here:

citizens-bank-park-upper-deck-view

By the time I got back down to the 100 Level, there was still a good amount of time till first pitch, so I headed to the Memory Lane area off Ashburn Alley to see if I could get a close-up view of some of the plaques I couldn’t see yesterday. Unfortunately, the area was once again blocked off (it was open when I was in the upper deck) so the closest I could get to the plaque area was this:

citizens-bank-park-phillies-wall-of-fame-plaques

I spent right up until game time checking out the silent auction tables on the concourse. I love when teams do this and, while the prices are mostly crazily inflated, it’s fun to check out a variety of autographed and game-used memorabilia. Here are a couple game-used jerseys from John Mayberry, Jr. and Domonic Brown, for example:

citizens-bank-park-silent-auction-jerseys

And an autographed Chase Utley bat:

chase-utley-phillies-signed-bat

I watched the first inning of play from this spot in the left field corner …

citizens-bank-park-left-field-corner-view

… and then, in need of some refreshment, I hit the Philadelphia Water Ice concession stand for some frozen lemonade:

citizens-bank-park-food-philadelphia-water-ice-lemon

The menu included a cherry and lemon swirl flavor, which I thought looked good — but when I ordered it, the cheery fella behind the cash literally grunted, “Out.” If you imagine the noise a hippo would make after you threw a rock at it, that’s the noise he gave me. I’m sure it will come as a surprise to you that his tip jar was empty.

I spent the remainder of the game, which Chicago won 4-3 (in extra innings, no less), walking around Citizens Bank Park, checking out the sights and taking a pile of photos. I love the openness of this park — from virtually every location, you can see the surrounding area, which I think is great. It’s a crummy feeling to be in a bowl-style park without any idea of what the area around you looks like. That’s certainly not the case at CBP. I talked about the ballpark’s close proximity to Lincoln Financial Field and the Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s post, but check out this panorama that captures the scene:

citizens-bank-park-surrounding-area-panorama

And here’s a cool-looking shot that shows several of CBP’s parking lots, as well as the downtown skyline beyond:

citizens-bank-park-parking-lot-panorama

Unlike yesterday’s long, awesome day at the ballpark, this visit seemed to fly by, despite the game going into extra innings. Before long, I was back in my car making the short drive to my hotel for the weekend, the Hyatt Place Philadelphia/King of Prussia. If you read my most-recent post, you’ll remember how impressed I was about this hotel upon checking in — everything from the friendly, professional front-desk staff to my huge room to the cupcake and welcome note waiting for me. After a great day at the ballpark, I was looking forward to chilling in my room for the evening. Before I kicked off my shoes and relaxed, though, I drove about four miles to an Outback steakhouse for dinner — something that’s become a bit of a tradition on my baseball road trips.

Whether you enjoy Outback or not, staying at the Hyatt Place Philadelphia/King of Prussia gives you a ton of eating and shopping options for your downtime. The hotel is virtually within sight of the enormous King of Prussia mall, which is the largest mall in the country, apparently. As such, you’ve got dozens upon dozens of nearby restaurants to consider. And if you’re the shopping type, the mall has more than 400 stores.

A bunch more features about the hotel are worth considering when you’re planning to visit Philadelphia. It’s got free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast, a 24-hour gym and a variety of sandwiches, salads and other quick bites to eat for sale just off the lobby — one of my favorite features of Hyatt Place hotels. And the guest rooms are enormous. I’ve used this analogy before, but this room was significantly bigger than my first apartment.

Here’s a look at the outside of the hotel:

hyatt-place-philadelphia-king-of-prussia-outside

And here’s the bathroom, which I’ll explain below:

hyatt-place-philadelphia-king-of-prussia-bathroom-area

You know how some hotels have small bathrooms that make getting ready in the morning a pain? At this hotel (and the last Hyatt Place I visited), the “bathroom” isn’t its own room — it’s an open area outside the actual bathroom, which is really convenient. Lots of light, a huge mirror and more counter space than you’d ever need.

Finally, here’s the sectional couch in my room — perfect for lounging after the game and watching Baseball Tonight:

hyatt-place-philadelphia-king-of-prussia-living-room

Despite three extra-innings games, my visit to the City of Brotherly Love flew by and although my road trip was quickly coming to an end, I had one more awesome ballpark and game to check out.

Philadelphia Phillies – July 13

After a week on the road, I’d hit several ballparks and seen hours and hours of baseball, but had yet to visit an MLB park. Time for that to change!

On the morning of July 13, after an awesome visit with Jeremy Nowak and his family the night before in New Jersey, I set my sights on the City of Brotherly Love. The plan was to spend Saturday and Sunday in Philadelphia and watch the the Phillies host the Chicago White Sox for a doubleheader on Saturday and a Sunday afternoon game.

It didn’t take long to get to Philly and when I parked and opened my car door, I was hit with air that was thick and muggy enough to cause my camera lens to fog up as I took this photo:

citizens-bank-park-parking-lot-humid

Nonetheless, this was my first view of Citizens Bank Park, the eighth MLB park I’ve visited since 2010. The parking scene at CBP was fun and had the general atmosphere of an NFL game. There were thousands of people tailgating and, as a tailgate scene, it’s the best I’ve come across among the MLB parks I’ve visited. Here’s a panorama that shows the scene; in addition to Citizens Bank Park, the other big structure you can see is Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles:

citizens-bank-park-parking-lot-panorama

The spot I’d parked was just a few minutes’ walk from the ballpark, which was good, as I still needed to buy my ticket for the afternoon’s doubleheader. I approached this glorious scene …

citizens-bank-park-front

… and a moment later, had this in my hand:

citizens-bank-park-ticket

One of the cool things you’ll notice about the area surrounding Citizens Bank Park is the selection of statues recognizing past Phillies greats. This idea obviously isn’t unique to Philly, but it’s done really well here. This statue of Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts, for example, has a life-like quality:

citizens-bank-park-robin-roberts-statue

Although the ballpark’s gates had just opened, I wasn’t in a hurry to get inside. I’d be spending a ton of hours at Citizens Bank Park over the next two days, and my immediate priority was to survey the scene around the park. I walked past the front entrance to Lincoln Financial Field:

lincoln-financial-field-gate

The enormous Xfinity Live complex, which is right in front of Wells Fargo Center, home of the Flyers and 76ers:

xfinity-live-philadelphia

A statue of Mike Schmidt:

citizens-bank-park-mike-schmidt-statue

And free ice cream samples from Turkey Hill:

citizens-bank-park-turkey-hill-vanilla

Mmm! It might have been just after 11 a.m., but I couldn’t resist a sample. I chose the vanilla bean flavor, and it was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that after eating it, I can’t deny that I made a return to the ice cream stand to try the other flavor, salted caramel:

citizens-bank-park-turkey-hill-caramel

Loaded with energy, I continued my tour around the park and finally entered via the right field gate — after a rather intimate pat-down, of course. One of the best things on any baseball road trip is your first couple steps inside a new park. I always feel a combination of excitement mixed with a “where do I go first?” feeling. The logical choice at Citizens Bank Park, of course, is Ashburn Alley, which opens early and is a fun place reminiscent of Yawkey Way at Fenway Park. Here’s a shot looking down Ashburn Alley and, as you can see, the field is on the left and a ton of concessions line right the right side:

citizens-bank-park-ashburn-alley-view

The concession stands in this area feature a who’s who of notable Philly food — Campo’s cheesesteaks, Tony Luke’s cheesesteaks and Chickie’s & Pete’s. I recognized the latter name from Trenton’s Arm & Hammer Park, where I tried the chain’s famous crab fries. After just eating a couple containers of ice cream, however, food wasn’t exactly on my mind. Instead, I took a trip up to the Budweiser Rooftop, which sort of reminded me of a similar area at Detroit’s Comerica Park. From up here, I had this glorious view:

citizens-bank-park-budweiser-rooftop-view-panorama

Whenever I visit an MLB park, I’m always anxious to check out some of the notable scenes I’ve seen on TV. If you’ve ever seen the Phillies on TV, and I imagine you have, you’ll probably recognize the green Citizens Bank Park sign beyond the outfield. From the rooftop, I was able to get right under the sign, look up and take this picture:

citizens-bank-park-sign-close-up

The view from the Budweiser Rooftop is awesome, no matter where you look. Turn your back to the field and you’ll have a picture-perfect view of Philly’s skyline:

citizens-bank-park-philly-skyline-lower-deck

I quickly identified the Budweiser Rooftop as a place I wanted to visit during the game but, for now, I still had lots of exploring to do. After checking out this statue of longtime Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas …

citizens-bank-park-harry-kalas-statue

… I started my walk through the concourse and stopped at the Phillies Authentics store, which had an awesome selection of game-used stuff:

citizens-bank-park-phillies-authentics

Next up, I decided to return to Ashburn Alley to check out Memory Lane, which presents the team’s history year by year. You can actually see it in the panorama from the rooftop deck, but here’s a closer look at some of the displays:

citizens-bank-park-memory-lane

Part of the area, however, is blocked off at select times. Why? Because the visiting team’s bullpen is directly below the security guard in the blue shirt, and I’m guessing bullpen staffs over the years haven’t had positive encounters with the Phillies faithful:

citizens-bank-park-bullpen-access-cut-off

After taking a bit of trip down, well, memory lane, I continued the retro feel by checking out the Mitchell & Ness Alley Store, which sits at the end of Ashburn Alley. This isn’t the official team shop; rather, it sells a wide range of M&N gear and it was hard not to go on a spending spree. Check out the goods:

citizens-bank-park-mitchell&ness-team-shop

After a full loop around the lower-level concourse, I climbed up to the park’s upper level to check out the scene. From here, I had an awesome view of Lincoln Financial Field:

lincoln-financial-field-from-cbp

A somewhat dizzying look down toward field level:

citizens-bank-park-seating-levels

And, once the game began, a nice view of the video board:

citizens-bank-park-video-board

I continued to wander around the upper deck, taking in the scenes while keeping en eye on the game. When I made it over to the left field corner, I had a great view of Harry the K’s bar, the Budweiser Rooftop and Ashburn Alley:

citizens-bank-park-upper-deck-view

I also had a good view of the city’s downtown:

citizens-bank-park-philly-skyline

And I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this giant burnout on the concourse itself, which made me suspect a staff member had been driving his cart somewhat aggressively after hours:

citizens-bank-park-concourse-burnout

Next, I went back down to the main level to check out the team shop — I always enjoy browsing team shops, but the frigid air conditioning inside definitely beckoned on this hot, humid day. The multi-level shop was great, as expected. IT had a “deal of the day” on 2012 bobbleheads, and I bought a Roy Halladay one. The sale dropped the price to just $5, and while I was browsing the available players, a 40-something guy next to me loaded up his arms. When his wife gave him a quizzical look, he said, “These are all $5. They’re a great deal. I’m getting all of them.”

And her response: “For yourself? … FOR YOURSELF?!?!?!”

As great as the store was, know what wasn’t awesome? When you exited, you walked right into the death cloud of Citizens Bank Park’s smoking area. Awful. Smoking facilities should always be well outside the park’s gates. One thing that amused me, though, as I escaped the death cloud, was the first garbage can outside the team shop’s exit — looks like it’s turned into a place to stick the sticker off your Phillies hat:

citizens-bank-park-garbage-can-stickers

Time for some baseball watching! My standing room ticket meant I couldn’t get down into the field-level seats to take any action shots, so I put my zoom lens to the test and, from the concourse, got Darin Ruf fouling off a pitch:

citizens-bank-park-darin-ruf

And Carlos Ruiz, whose signature hot dog I’d eaten a couple days earlier in Reading:

citizens-bank-park-carlos-ruiz

Partway through the game, I could see action in the Chicago bullpen and went over for a closer look. Of course, I couldn’t get into the closed-off area I showed earlier, but I could stand in Ashburn Alley and get a pretty good view of Donnie Veal warming up:

donnie-veal-chicago-white-sox-bullpen

And Addison Reed chilling on the steps by himself:

addison-reed-chicago-white-sox-bullpen

The game was breezing right along; in the eighth inning, Antonio Bastardo (who’s since been suspended in the Biogenesis case) came in to pitch and I went back up to the Budweiser Rooftop for this perfect view:

citizens-bank-park-cf-view

Late in the game, the sky opened much in the same way it had the night before at Yogi Berra Stadium. Before long, this was the view from the concourse, where I’d run to take shelter:

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I wasn’t the only person with this idea — take a look at just how congested things were during the 41-minute rain delay:

citizens-bank-park-crowded-concourse

Once the sky cleared up again, the game resumed but went to extra innings. (Just what players forced to play a doubleheader hope for, right?) Chicago won 5-4 in the 11th. The nightcap also went into extra innings before the Phillies won 2-1 in the 13th to bring the day’s total to 24 innings. In those two games, Domonic Brown went a combined 0-for-9. Ouch.

Obviously, it was a long, exciting day, but by the end, I was exhausted. I’m tentative to even calculate the house I spent at Citizens Bank Park! I was excited to drive to my hotel and crash. For my two days in Philly, I chose to stay at the Hyatt Place Philadelphia/King of Prussia, and I was glad I did. I stayed at a Hyatt Place for the first time back in May when I visited Cleveland’s Progressive Field, and really loved the hotel. This one was awesome, too. It’s about 20 or so minutes from the Citizens Bank Park and, while I could’ve stayed closer, it was nice to be in the suburbs. The drive gave me a chance to see some of the city’s sights and the hotel itself is close proximity to a ton of stores, restaurants and so on.

When I checked in, the staff were immensely friendly and welcoming — so much so that when I got to my room, this freshly baked cupcake and a welcome note was waiting for me:

hyatt-place-philadelphia-king-of-prussia-cupcake

As for the room, it was giant. After a week of changing hotels daily, it was nice to find a place where I could stay for a couple nights and relax a bit — and have the space to spread out. Here’s the view from the door, which shows the size of just part of the room:

hyatt-place-philadelphia-king-of-prussia-room

And here’s the king-sized bed and the TV that swivels so you can see it from the bed, living room area or desk:

hyatt-place-philadelphia-king-of-prussia-bedroom

Since I was spending two nights at the hotel, I’ll have more details about it (and more photos) in my next blog post. I crashed soon after checking in; after all, I had to get back to Citizens Bank Park in just a few hours!

Toronto Blue Jays – April 18

The day of my first Blue Jays game of 2013 was long, but awesome. It included an exceptional hotel, tasty chicken wings, fun explorations of Rogers Centre and a ball during batting practice.  That’s the Cole’s Notes version, but if you want to read, oh, about 3,000 more words on the day, please take a look at this link.

I wasn’t hoping to top Day 1 on Day 2, which would again feature Toronto hosting the Chicago White Sox. Instead, my priorities were to write the giant entry you might’ve previously read, wander around my hotel a bit more and enjoy the Jays game that night.

If you read my previous post, you’ll know that I stayed at the Westin Harbour Castle. I described the outstanding view and the treats that greeted me when I arrived in my room, but as for the room, here’s what the TV stand and desk area looked like:

westin-harbour-castle-toronto-room

And here’s a shot from next to the bed — the door you see at the right of the photo isn’t the front door; that’s down a hallway that’s out of sight:

westin-harbour-castle-room

To be honest, my photos hardly do the room justice. If you want to check out the hotel’s official photos, you can click this link.

I’ll wrap up my thoughts on the Westin Harbour Castle by sharing a few final points. It’s certainly one of the top couple hotels I’ve ever visited, and everything about the stay was remarkable. The view and room were wonderful, of course, but the professionalism and courtesy exemplified by every hotel employee I met was notable. At some hotels, the front-desk clerk acts inconvenienced when you check in. Here, I was greeted warmly by everyone I met and truly made to feel special. The Westin Harbour Castle will unquestionably be the hotel I pick during my next visit to Toronto, whenever that may be. I strongly encourage you to make the same choice. A special thanks to Valerie, Bin and Emile for taking the time to say hello and ensure my stay was a perfect one.

In fact, if you plan to visit Toronto this year to watch the Jays in action, there’s an extra reason to choose the Westin. Buy your event tickets in advance and when you call to make a reservation between now and September 2, 2013, mention that you’ve got tickets to a game and you’ll get a special rate as part of the hotel’s Special Toronto Events and Sports Games Offer.

I spent much of the day blogging, but by mid-afternoon, I was wrapped up and wanted to take a short walk outside to see if I could tell which was my 31st-floor room from the park below. It turns out that I had no such luck, but here’s the outside of the hotel:

westin-harbour-castle-outside-view

About 4:30 p.m., I packed up and made the walk over to Rogers Centre again. I decided to take a different route to the stadium this time, and I was rewarded with a cool angle that I’ve never seen as I approached:

rogers-centre-outside-view

There were a handful of people around, but given that the Maple Leafs were also playing that night, the crowds remained thin all evening. After buying my ticket, I took my usual ticket shot:

rogers-centre-blue-jays-ticket

As you can see, I decided to get a 100 Level outfield ticket this time. I stood a heck of a lot during the previous day’s game, and since I’d already explored Rogers Centre extensively, I wanted to spend some time just sitting and enjoying the action on the field. To mix things up, I decided to enter at Gate 4, which is largely unremarkable except for the view if you turn 180 degrees from the gate:

rogers-centre-cn-tower-base-view

Here I am at Gate 4 — if you look closely, you’ll see my in the reflection on the door:

rogers-centre-gate-4-malcolm

Part of the reason I picked Gate 4 is because it enters into the stadium’s 200 Level, unlike my usual entry point at Gate 11. I had success getting a batting practice ball in the 200s a day earlier, and wanted to see if I could get another one. When I entered the 200 Level seats, I was the only fan in the area:

rogers-centre-200-level-seats-empty

Unfortunately, there were no balls to be had, likely because the ushers had collected them before I got there or perhaps because no balls had reached the second deck. I didn’t stay in the area for long. After taking this shot through the left field foul pole (or, more appropriately, foul net) …

rogers-centre-right-field-foul-pole-net

… I zipped down to field level on the visitors’ side, where I had a close-up view of guys like Adam Dunn:

rogers-centre-adam-dunn-white-sox

And manager Robin Ventura and assistant hitting coach Harold Baines:

rogers-centre-chicago-white-sox-ventura-baines

Once BP wrapped up, I took a quick panorama of the view from behind home plate:

rogers-centre-home-plate-panorama

By now, it was time to eat. I’d had sushi for lunch, and while it was delicious, it’s not the type of food that keeps you full forever. This time, I pledged to try something different, and checked out the King Club Carving Table bar area, where I bought a Budweiser-braised top sirloin sandwich:

rogers-centre-food-budwesier-braised-beef-sandwich

It was delicious, but was it good enough to crack my all-time top 10? I don’t think so, but it had a generous serving of tender beef, an onion bun, caramelized onions and horseradish, plus the Bud BBQ sauce. As you might’ve noticed from the above photo, I ate lunch in the outfield and as soon as I downed the last bite, I made my way over to the seats above Toronto’s bullpen where I watched R.A. Dickey warming up:

blue-jays-ra-dickey-warming-up-bullpen

Just before the anthems, I found a 100 Level section in left-center where I could look up to my left and see people in the new 200 Level Outfield Patio:

rogers-centre-200-level-outfield-deck

And when I looked over to my right, I had this view of Toronto’s bullpen staff:

rogers-centre-blue-jays-bullpen

Now, I don’t pretend to be a scout, unlike many baseball fans on Twitter, but Dickey looked awesome during his warmup. He was shaky in two of his first three starts of the season, but he was doing an excellent job at keeping the ball down while warming up with Henry Blanco and I wanted to see if my observation carried over into his start. Sure enough, he was on. Dickey struck out the first two batters he faced, two more in the second inning and had seven Ks while allowing just two hits in his six innings of work. It was the type of performance that should’ve carried Dickey to a complete-game win, but he exited with tightness in his throwing shoulder — yikes. As you can see here, the situation attracted a crowd:

rogers-centre-ra-dickey-shoulder-stiffness-mound-visit

Remember how I talked about new Jays shortstop Munenori Kawasaki in yesterday’s post? I was keeping a close eye on him again. He continued to stretch between virtually every pitch. I like this photo, which shows Emilio Bonifacio, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie shooting the breeze while relief pitcher Aaron Loup warms up … all while Kawasaki is, you guessed it, stretching some more:

munenori-kawasaki-stretching

When he wasn’t stretching, he was very animated at shortstop. After each out, he bowed to outfielders Bonifacio and Melky Cabrera …

munenori-kawasaki-bow

… and then struck a pose indicating the out:

munenori-kawasaki-two-outs-sign

He was very entertaining to watch, and while the Jays weren’t quite as exciting (what with their four hits and all), they still managed a 3-1 win:

rogers-centre-blue-jays-win

When I got back to my hotel, I snapped this shot of the city, which shows the Air Canada Centre and plenty of traffic given that the two teams play just a few blocks from each other:

toronto-night-view-from-westin

All in all, it was two awesome days for me and I’m glad to have visited Rogers Centre again. My next trip will be the opposite of a quick two-day event to familiar territory. I’m just putting the finishing touches on it, but I can tell you it will likely begin May 17. I’ll have details soon. Thanks for reading!

Toronto Blue Jays – April 17

With the exception of being away from home, I love everything about my baseball road trips. The ballparks and games themselves are the focal point as I continue to build The Ballpark Guide, but my trips are often full of other fun adventures, like doing interesting touristy things and staying in cool hotels. I’ve driven to and from Toronto countless times, so when I got up at 6 a.m. yesterday to get ready for my second baseball game of 2013, I decided I wanted to get to the city quickly, rather than do some sightseeing along the way. Why?

I can’t deny that I was excited for last night’s game, but I was super excited to check out my hotel. I love staying in hotels, and from the minute I booked a two-night stay at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle, I was pumped to check in. I’ve heard about this hotel for years and have always heard it to be a prime spot for baseball fans. Now that I’m here, I can definitely confirm this sentiment.

The Westin is one of Toronto’s nicest hotels and has a prime location right on the shore of Lake Ontario. It’s just a short walk from a number of downtown attractions, which is ideal because parking downtown is expensive and driving downtown can be a hassle, given traffic and the permanent construction in the city’s core. It was easy to find my hotel, though, and I’m rather directionally challenged. It’s just a couple minutes off the highway and before long, I was parked and checking in. As far as the nearby attractions, they’re too many to list extensively. If you’re into fine dining, for example, consider the Westin’s restaurants or take just a short walk to hit dozens of area eateries. There are also at least two grocery stores about five minutes away if you want to load up on snacks for your room. One thing I did before visiting was check out the hotel on Google Maps, and just scroll around a bit to see what’s in the area. If you want to do the touristy thing, the CN Tower, Hockey Hall of Fame and all sorts of shops are just a short walk away.

I was told that I’d enjoy my room, but WOW — I didn’t have any idea it’d be this great! I’m on one of the upper floors and have a lake-facing view. Here’s a shot out my window, although the photo hardly does the view justice:

westin-harbour-castle-room-lake-view

You’re looking at a ferry taking people over to the Toronto Islands, a group of islands just a stone’s throw from the city’s downtown. As a side note, I went over to the islands once — during a Grade 8 trip to Toronto with my school band to play the anthems at the SkyDome. The spot that we boarded the ferry is directly below my window here at the Westin. And here’s another side note that baseball fans will enjoy — in 1914, Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run at Hanlan’s Point Stadium, a ballpark on the island. He was playing Double-A ball at the age of 19 and was still a half-decade away from tearing up Major League Baseball.

Most of one side of my room is made up of windows, so I truly have a panoramic view of the lake and islands. If I look out the window on the right side of the room, I can see Centre Island and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport:

westin-harbour-castle-centre-island-view-airport

I’m pretty pumped about the view, but the room itself is outstanding, too. But before I get to the room itself, check out what was waiting for me when I got in:

westin-harbour-castle-welcome-note

Yes, it’s a welcome note AND a mini baseball bat filled with baseball-shaped candy! I should explain — since booking this trip late last week, the Westin has been following me on Twitter and knows about my love of baseball. How cool is it that they’d make the effort to find a baseball-themed welcome gift for me? It’s outstanding, but it wasn’t the only thing waiting for me. On top of a nice platter of fresh snacks, there was this:

westin-harbour-castle-stella-artois

My room is about 400 square feet, which is significantly larger than my first apartment. Since I’m staying here two nights, I’ll get to more details about the room and the hotel in my next blog post — I’ve still got some exploring to do!

The gates at Rogers Centre open 90 minutes before first pitch, so I figured I wanted to get to the stadium shortly before 5 p.m. I’d have time to walk around and take some photos, buy my ticket and get a good spot in line. First, though, I toured around my floor of the Westin and looked out the different windows to get varying views of the city. Hockey and basketball fans will like this one:

westin-harbour-castle-centre-air-canada-centre-view

As you can see, I’m right across the street from Air Canada Centre, which is home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. What a view! Soon enough, I made the short walk over toward Rogers Centre. The walk took about 15 minutes; you could do it in less time, as much of that time was spent waiting for street lights to change. It’s a nice walk and if you’re new to the city, gives you the opportunity to walk past the ACC and Toronto’s historic Union Station, as well as walk in the shadow of the CN Tower.

I’ve been to Rogers Centre virtually every year since it opened in 1989, I believe. And regardless of how many times I visit, it’s always exciting to approach the stadium. After crossing the pedestrian bridge over the railway tracks, I looked up to see the stadium’s famous statue called The Audience. (Side note — it’d be nice to see some statues of Blue Jays legends outside the stadium, too.) Whenever I see this statue …

rogers-centre-statue

… I can’t help but recall visiting Rogers Centre (then known as SkyDome) in 1989 for my birthday party. I remember thinking the statue, for whatever reason, was the coolest and funniest thing ever.

There weren’t many people around when I bought my ticket shortly before 5 p.m. and, as usual, I headed toward Gate 11, which is where I like to enter the stadium. Once there, I took my usual ticket shot:

rogers-centre-ticket-shot

I often enjoy taking panoramas of the outside of ballparks, but at Rogers Centre, it’s very difficult to get far enough away and still have a clear view. I kept walking backward and as you can see here, I still couldn’t get far enough away to get the entire height of the park in my frame:

rogers-centre-outside

After embarrassingly tripping on a step (the perils of walking backward while looking through a camera, I guess), I looked to my right and Gregg Zaun walked right past me! He played 16 years in the majors, including a stint in Toronto, and has worked for years as the studio analyst during Jays games. I didn’t want to run ahead of him and snap a photo, so I took this one:

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I’ve zoomed in to show his World Series ring, which he won in 1997 with the Marlins:

rogers-centre-gregg-zaun-world-series-ring

How do people feel about the Jays current logo? I love it. I wasn’t a huge fan of the last couple incarnations, so it’s fun to see a logo that I enjoy so much adorning all sorts of things around the park, including many light posts:

rogers-centre-banners-outside

The half-hour or so that I had to wait in line went quickly, and as soon as I entered the stadium, I made a quick turn to my left to head down to the left field corner. This is the route I always take when the gates open; sometimes you can find a batting practice ball here, or just hang out in hopes of catching a ball. I, however, wanted to get an early shot of the team’s new 200 Level Outfield Patio, which has been featured repeatedly on the team’s broadcasts:

rogers-centre-200-level-outfield-patio-far

I’ll have more photos of it later on, but it’s the structure with the railings between the Budweiser and Rogers logos. It’s free for anyone to enter, has nearby bars and a souvenir stand and, most importantly, has three levels of standing room. I figured that given its new popularity, it would be packed during the game. It was, but it was never packed enough that I couldn’t get a spot when I tried.

I often try to get a batting practice ball by hanging out in the 100 Level outfield seats or in the corners at field level. This time, I wanted to go up to the less-crowded 200 Level, so I made the quick jaunt up the dark ramp:

rogers-centre-dark-ramps

Seriously, how dark is this area? If you didn’t know better, you’d swear you were somewhere you shouldn’t be. I know this photo is less than thrilling, but I wanted to show how dark things are without using my flash. Things were brighter and more exciting when I got up to the 200 Level seats, and I took a moment to grab this shot of myself with the White Sox batting practice in the background:

rogers-centre-malcolm-during-bp

I had to be quick; as I hoped, the balls were flying into the 200 Level fairly consistently. While I was standing in this area, I was thinking how I’ve been to Rogers Centre so many times. I don’t want to have my blog posts seem formulaic or mundane, so I decided I should try to take some shots of things I haven’t previously shared. As I looked around, the phone in the Toronto bullpen caught my eye:

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I also get a kick out of these three seats; I always see them from afar but this might be the first time I’ve stood right next to them:

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And speaking of being next to things, check out the view to my immediate left:

rogers-centre-200-level-outfield-patio-close-up

Yep, it’s the new standing room area I mentioned earlier. As for Chicago’s BP, catcher Tyler Flowers was putting on an impressive display. He crushed several balls into the 100 Level seats, and before long, blasted this one into the seats just to my right:

rogers-centre-batting-practice-ball

Adam Dunn was putting on an even better performance. He was routinely hitting 200 Level bombs and even hit a handful off the facing of the fourth level; I specifically noticed one hit between the Cito Gaston and Pat Gillick names in the photo below. Talk about power:

rogers-centre-decks-adam-dunn-bp

I decided not to hang out and try to get more balls. I was pleased to get one, so I made a beeline for the new standing room area to my left. I’ve got to say that it’s absolutely awesome. I’ve ranted about the ushers at Rogers Centre in the past, but those watching over this new area seemed really proud to welcome fans to check things out. I took a number of shots, but I’ll share just a few for now. Here’s one taken through the giant “B” in the Budweiser sign:

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And here’s one that shows the layout of the area before it got crowded:

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As you can see, there are three levels, tables and a number of sections have wooden bars for your food and drinks, or just to lean on. It’s a perfect spot.

The 200 Level has a number of cool additions since I last visited this part of the park. I was excited to see two bars named after former stars Roberto Alomar:

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And Joe Carter, although I cringe when I see how they’ve left out a crucial comma:

rogers-centre-joe-carter-bar

After making one complete circuit of the 200 Level, I went down the ramp to check out the team shop. As I mentioned last year during my Rogers Centre visits, the new Memorabilia Clubhouse section is absolutely amazing. It’s full of game-used and game-issued stuff, and the only disappointment was not seeing the club’s two World Series trophies, which were on display here last year.

There was a cool assortment of game-used balls for sale:

rogers-centre-jays-shop-game-used-balls

And other neat things, too. Did you know that for just $800, you can get a broken Jose Bautista bat?

Since I was on the 100 Level, I decided to head over to the Sportsnet studio to watch the pre-game show with Jamie Campbell and Gregg Zaun:

rogers-centre-jays-pre-game-campbell-zaun

I watched most of the show and from there, went over to the first base side during the anthems. Here, I caught my first glimpse of new Blue Jay Munenori Kawasaki, who was called up to fill in at shortstop with Jose Reyes hurt. Kawasaki has quickly become a popular figure in Toronto for his hustle and for bowing after plays:

rogers-centre-jays-during-national-anthem

(More on him later.)

I spent the first inning standing in this general area, where I took the photos to make up this panorama:

rogers-centre-third-base-side-panorama

But by now, my stomach was growling. It’d been a long day and I was ready for something filling. I toured around for a bit, noting the new (and delicious-smelling) food options, but caved and went with my favorite thing to eat at Rogers Centre, the chicken wings at Quaker Steak & Lube:

rogers-centre-food-quaker-steak-lube-wings

After buying my food, I often grab one of the many folding chairs stacked up around the 100 Level and eat while watching the game through the railing. It’s a perfect strategy if you have a 500 Level ticket, as there’s no way you’ll make it up to your seat while your food is still remotely warm. I’ve done this for years, but this year, I was dismayed to notice that the chairs are locked up — see the padlock?

rogers-centre-locked-chairs-100-level

As for the wings, they were delicious and very meaty, as always. I got my usual flavour, Louisiana Lickers … and ordered it in my usual way: “The Louisiana one, please.” I wonder how many people actually say “lickers.” I stood to eat dinner behind the 100 Level outfield seats and after I was finished, noticed that the Jays new-look team has apparently brought all species out to Rogers Centre:

rogers-centre-bear-fan-costume

No big deal; just a guy in a bear costume, enjoying the game. My next stop was the outfield standing room area again, which was considerably more crowded than last time I stopped by:

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It wasn’t difficult to find an open spot on the third level, however, and I lucked out because this screen was directly above me:

rogers-centre-stats-board-standing-room

Game broadcasts nowadays are so good that it’s easy to feel at a slight loss for information when you attend games in person. Being able to watch the live game while consulting the screen for stats was baseball heaven!

The view from this area is really good. Photos always make things look a million miles away, but here’s the panorama I took from the area:

rogers-centre-200-level-view-panorama

Late in the game, I decided to watch an inning or two from the concourse behind home plate, partly to watch Kawasaki. He’s a slap hitter who reminds me very much of Ichiro — and it’s not just that they’re both from Japan. Both have an insane dedication to stretching and calisthenics. Both guys routinely stretch between pitches while at bat and while in the field. At one point, the Jays showed a video of Kawasaki performing a handstand during pre-game stretching. As for the stretching, see what I mean?

rogers-centre-toronto-blue-jays-munenori-kawasaki-stretching

Kawasaki had an outstanding at bat while I stood behind home plate. With two strikes, he fouled off at least five pitches until he drew a walk. (He finished 2-for-2 with a walk to boost his batting average to .364.) My favorite picture of him is this one:

rogers-centre-toronto-blue-jays-munenori-kawasaki

Even though I’d bought a 500 Level ticket, I hadn’t quite made the trek up to the nosebleed seats just yet. In the bottom of the sixth, and with the Jays getting pummeled 5-0, I went up to the 500s and had this view of the video board …

rogers-centre-video-board-colby-rasmus

… and this view of the field:

rogers-centre-upper-deck-500-level-panorama

Remember my quest to find new things to photograph? I’ve never noticed it, but the foul poles at Rogers Centre (which are actually netting) are held in place by giant, crane-like arms:

rogers-centre-foul-pole-crane

I spent up until the middle of the ninth inning up in the 500s, and then slipped down to the 100 Level concourse to watch the Jays’ last at-bat. The Sox had tacked on two more runs to make the final score 7-0, which drops Toronto’s record to 6-9. What a disappointing start to the season. Fans are already panicking, and while that’s a little premature, it’s frustrating to see the team faring so poorly early on.

Nevertheless, I’ll be back at Rogers Centre for the final game of the series against the White Sox, and I can’t wait. I’ll be blogging about the game, and more about my stay at the Westin Harbour Castle, in the next day or two. If you’ve recently found this blog, please consider following me on Twitter to keep up to date with all my road trip plans and visit The Ballpark Guide. If you’re planning a baseball road trip of your own, my website has a ton of tips to help you make the most of your ballpark visits. If you find that my website has saved you a few bucks or increased your enjoyment of the game — or if you just enjoy reading about my travels, please consider making a small donation to help the cause. Thank you!