Tagged: National League

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.

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.

Pittsburgh Pirates – August 31

When I woke up on the morning of August 31 for my second day in Pittsburgh, there wasn’t much time to waste. The Pirates were hosting the Cincinnati Reds with a 1 p.m. start time, which meant I wanted to get to PNC Park by 10:30 a.m. I packed up my stuff, checked out of my hotel on the edge of the city and drove straight to my next hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. It was still too early to check in, but I was lucky enough to park my car for free at the hotel and walk a few blocks over to PNC Park. The hotel stay was outstanding, and I’ll have lots more about it later in this blog post.

It was absolutely pouring, and I figured there’d be no chance the game would be played at all. Still, I figured a soggy day wandering around the park would be more than all right, so I climbed out of my car and ducked into the rainy morning. From the edge of the hotel’s parking lot, I could see the yellow of the Roberto Clemente Bridge and, beyond it, PNC Park:

pnc-park-from-hotel-parking-lot

Several minutes later, I was standing on the center line of the bridge, as I had a day before:

pnc-park-bridge-center-line

I entered the ballpark a short while later and saw, as you might expect, that the infield was covered with the tarp. No surprise there:

pnc-park-tarp-outfield

The steady rain made me not too interested in standing in the seating area getting soaked, so I moved indoors to the Rivertowne Brewing Hall of Fame Club, which is found above the bleachers in left-center field. This spot is an enormous indoor bar and eatery that is open to all fans. It was packed during much of my visit to PNC Park the day before, but wasn’t too crowded during this rainy day. Apparently, I was so happy to be out of the rain that I completely neglected to take a photo inside the club area, so you’ll have to take my word that I was there.

I killed some time in this area and then checked out the team shop before walking down to field level to enjoy this scene:

pnc-park-tarp

Sure, the tarp is a buzz kill, but the overall view is one of the best you’ll see in baseball. The cold, dreary day called for something hot to eat, and I’d spied a Quaker Steak & Lube concession stand during my first visit to PNC Park and decided to check it out. I’ve often said that the chicken wings at the Quaker Steak & Lube in Toronto’s Rogers Centre are among my all-time favorite ballpark eats, but I wanted to try something different this time. I’ve often been tempted by the onion rings, so I bought an order with blue cheese dip and dug in:

pnc-park-quaker-steak-lube-onion-rings

The rings were delicious — thick, hot and a good onion to batter ratio. The dip wasn’t very good, so I’d definitely try ranch or another flavor next time. If you like onion rings, though, give these a shot at any QS&L location. They look pretty perfect, don’t they?

Soon enough, the rain disappeared and the Pirates miraculously announced the game was expected to start on time. By now, fans were beginning to take their seats, but the crowd was light enough that I was able to sneak walk casually into the park’s famous seats in right field. This section is small to avoid blocking the city’s skyline, so it’s a coveted ticket for Pirates games. The ushers are vigilant about restricting access during the game, but I was able to hang out in the area for a few minutes to take this panorama, which you can click to enlarge:

pnc-park-right-field-seats-panorama

After leaving the area, I walked the length of the Riverwalk and over to the corner in left, where I took the long walk up this spiral ramp:

pnc-park-spiral-walkway

Think the climb might’ve been dizzying? It wasn’t, but looking down at the escalators was:

pnc-park-escalators

After spending the next little while just walking around PNC Park’s various levels and taking in the sights, I went back down to the main level and found a spot to stand to watch the game. Like a day earlier, I’d bought a standing room ticket. The dreary day, however, meant I had no problem getting a front-row spot along the railing on the third base side. From here, I had an unobstructed view to the field … unless you think this little fella, resting on a nearby wheelchair, was blocking my view:

pnc-park-praying-mantis

My pictures of the action at home plate are only so-so, but I had a blast watching guys like Billy Hamilton:

cincinnati-reds-billy-hamilton-batting

If you follow my blog closely, you might remember that I saw Hamilton in Triple-A last summer as a member of the Louisville Bats. You can read about that ballpark visit here, if you’re interested.

Once I’d watched a couple innings from this spot, I was on the move again. It’s not that I can’t stand still — it’s that it’s always too tempting to explore a new ballpark, rather than just hang out in the same spot for the entire game. During each lap of the park, I couldn’t resist taking a look down to the river and over the water to the impressive city skyline. At one point, I noticed something on the water that you just don’t see every day:

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I eventually returned to a spot on the third base side and snapped pictures like this one of Pirates starter Francisco Liriano:

pnc-park-pirates-francisco-liriano

As I watched him work, keeping an eye on the ribbon board behind home plate to watch his pitch speed, I noticed something I’ve never seen at a single one of the 50-plus parks I’ve visited since 2010. Take a look at this next photo and you’ll see not only the pitch speed, but also the ball’s horizontal break and vertical break:

pnc-park-pitching-details-board

Pretty cool, huh? Of course, the baseball nerd in me had fun watching for off-speed pitches and quickly guessing the break before the data appeared in front of me. Has anyone encountered other parks that provide this data? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

I’ve often said in the past how I love the speed element of baseball, so it was definitely a thrill to see Hamilton in person again. The next time he was up, I positioned myself to the third base side of home and watched as he flew up the base line on a routine ground out. His speed was absolutely incredible, and I shot a series of photos that I’ve made into this gif:

dt83p

After beating the Reds 3-2 a day earlier, the Pirates fell by the same score in a game that saw Cincy starter Johnny Cueto, who I captured earlier in the game during this bunt attempt, win his 16th of the season:

cincinnati-reds-johnny-cueto-bunt

As fans filed out of PNC Park toward their cars, I was excited to avoid the post-game traffic jam and, instead, take a short walk to my hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. The hotel is just one mile from the ballpark and an easy walk. It’s totally perfect for baseball fans visiting Pittsburgh — or, really, anyone who enjoys staying downtown and being able to walk to various locations. In addition to its close proximity to PNC Park, the hotel is also within walking distance to Heinz Field, the University of Pittsburgh, a downtown convention center and the Senator John Heinz History Center, a museum that is located directly across the street. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit it, but it looked outstanding.) Speaking of the hotel’s location, a huge perk is that guests get free parking. In all my traveling, I can’t recall another true downtown hotel that has this benefit.

The hotel staff knew of my arrival, and kindly gave me a welcome gift bag loaded with snacks upon checking in. That was the first big surprise. The other? Seeing this sign in the elevator — in particular, the part I’ve pointed out with the red arrow — on the way up to my room:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-welcome-sign copy

Wowsers! Did I just say “wowsers?” I sure did.

I was lucky to get a corner suite on an upper floor of the hotel; given the room’s location, it really felt as though I had the best room in the hotel. The view was spectacular — from one window, I could see the river, the yellow bridges and even PNC Park in the distance:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-pnc-park-view

And from the other, I had a great view of the city’s downtown, which I photographed early in the evening …

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-view-day

… and again at night:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-view-night

The view wasn’t the only amazing thing about my room. The room itself was perfect — it was a suite, so it was extremely spacious and had a kitchen area, desk, couch, king-sized bed and more. Check out this shot …

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-room-2

… and this one to see what I mean:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-city-room-1

The Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown is an outstanding choice if you’ve visiting the Steel City. Beyond the perks I’ve already listed, the hotel features free Wi-Fi, free breakfast, a business center, fitness center, indoor pool and more. From these amenities to its ideal location to its free parking to its awesome rooms, you’ll be glad to hang your Pirates hat (or the hat of whatever team you root for) here.

Two more ballpark experiences from my road trip are coming up! Next one: The end of an era in Jamestown, New York.

Cincinnati Reds – May 25

Did you read my last blog post about my visit to Great American Ball Park and my meeting with a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame? I sure hope so, but if not, you can check it out here.

I was scheduled to catch a second game in Cincinnati on May 25 on this road trip, and unlike the previous day’s evening game, this one started at 4 p.m. I’m not usually a huge fan of the 4 p.m. start time, but on this day, it worked out well. I blogged in my hotel until around 11 a.m., and then checked out, loaded my car and drove about a block to find parking for the day. Fortunately, I was able to score a $10 parking lot, which seems pretty impressive given that it was a block from the ballpark. How many other cities can boast this? Boston, I’m sending a somewhat evil eye your way.

Because I was essentially at Great American Ball Park more than four hours before it opened, I decided to check out a couple other sports-related things in the area. My first stop was a largely deserted Paul Brown Stadium, home of the NFL’s Bengals:

paul-brown-stadium-cincinnati-bengals

Before my next stop, I stopped at a Jimmy John’s a couple blocks from the ballpark and bought a sub, which I ate right next to the re-entry gate, which is the gate I referenced in my previous post:

great-american-ball-park-re-entry-gate

After eating, I took the very short walk to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, which is connected to the team shop. I’d read about the HOF during the previous day’s visit, and decided to hit it before I left town. The hall had a special autograph exhibit, in which it had featured all but 15 players from the Reds history. Think about that for a second. The team’s history dates back more than a century, and in that time, thousands of players have suited up for the Reds. This was the single most impressive autograph collection I’ve ever encountered. I’m going to write a separate blog post about it, but in the meantime, here’s a photo that shows how many of the autographs were displayed:

great-american-ball-park-reds-hall-of-fame-autograph-exhibit

I spent more than an hour in the museum before buying another standing room ticket …

great-american-ball-park-ticket

… and heading over to the long lineup at the front gate. The day’s giveaway was an MLB Network drawstring bag, and as is typically the case when there’s a good giveaway, there were lots of people eagerly waiting:

great-american-ball-park-main-gate-panorama

Upon getting through the gate and getting my bag, I headed straight for the left field seats to watch batting practice. This was my view during the 20 or so minutes I watched the Cubs hitting:

great-american-ball-park-malcolm-during-bp

Yes, I’m sitting down with my feet up on the seat in front of me. Why? Because in those 20 minutes, not one ball entered the left field seats. Perhaps this is part of the reason the Cubbies are 14 games out of first place. Given that this BP session was much like watching paint dry, I decided to go down to the field level seats on the third base side. I wasn’t sure what security would be like, and when I sauntered past a guard and descended toward the field, I heard him say something behind me. Ugh. I turned around, expecting to be asked to leave or show my ticket, and said, “Pardon?” He responded with, “How’s it going?” WOW! I’ve apparently put up with too many years of Rogers Centre ushers. Imagine an usher asking how you’re doing, rather than trying to pull a heavy on you? Unbelievable.

Anyway, it was good to get down to field level, especially when Alfonso Soriano walked past less than a minute later:

alfonso-soriano-bp

It’s hard to see it in the photo above, but instead of having his name stitched into his glove, Soriano has “El Monstruo.” Now, I didn’t take Spanish in high school, but I’m guessing that means “The Monster.” One more note on Soriano — last year, I toured the Sam Bat factory, which is the company that makes bats for “El Monstruo” and many other MLBers. You can read about that awesome tour here.

Watching BP is fun, but I always get a kick out of infield practice. And from my vantage point next to the Cubs dugout, I had a great view of the action. Here’s third baseman Luis Valbuena making a throw:

luis-valbuena-chicago-cubs

I hung out there until BP wrapped up, and then went all the way up to the upper deck, where I’d also explored a day earlier. As the grounds crew worked to get the field ready, I took the photos to make up this huge panorama:

great-american-ball-park-panorama-third-base-side

Next, I stopped to see the Machine Room bar and the Power Alley Patio, the latter of which is pictured below. It’s a group picnic area, but what a spot to watch a ballgame!

great-american-ball-park-power-alley-patio-view

When the game began, I found a standing room spot on the first base side of home plate and just hung out and watched the action. From here, I had a pretty clear view of the plate, which allowed me to get shots like this one of Starlin Castro fouling off a pitch:

great-american-ball-park-starlin-castro-foul-ball

Reds manager Dusty Baker:

great-american-ball-park-dusty-baker-cincinnati-reds

And Soriano — you’ll notice he’s holding his Sam Bat:

alfonso-soriano-sam-bat

Turns out that very photo of Soriano and his Sam Bat might’ve been the last photo taken of the bat. On the next pitch, here’s what happened:

alfonso-soriano-broken-bat

A quick note about Reds fans — they’re extremely passionate and both games I attended in Cincinnati had huge crowds. I took this photo to show just how packed the ballpark was:

great-american-ball-park-fans

(The photo sort of reminds me of the heavy crowd I captured last season at Fenway Park. I took a similar photo in this post.)

Next, I took a walk around the concourse where I ran into a good exchange between three drunken fans and a quickly growing contingent of the Cincinnati Police Department. Here’s the abridged version:

Drunken woman mouths off at other fans. Fans mouth back. Back-and-forth arguing ensues. Security and cops are summoned. Friend #1 of drunken woman tries to get between her and cops. Bad idea. He gets told to back off. He ignores request. He gets taken to the ground and handcuffed. Friend #2 whips out his cellphone camera in attempt to be a hero and document the “police brutality.” Cop doesn’t like Friend #2’s fast movement and draws and points his Tazer. Cop says, “Reach into your pocket again and see what happens.” Friend #2 tries to gain sympathy from the crowd that has gathered. No one is impressed. Friend #1 gets taken to jail. Drunken woman and Friend #2 get kicked out of ballpark. I continue on my walk.

One of the features about Great American Ball Park that continuously caught my eye was the view. Don’t get me wrong — the view inside the park is great, but the view outside the park is spectacular. I love being up high in a ballpark and being able to look out over the city. Because the park is next to the Ohio River, the view is impressive:

great-american-ball-park-panorama-looking-toward-river

Did you click on the above panorama? It looks better when it’s big. Back to the game: In the sixth inning, I got this cool picture of Todd Frazier. On this hit, he drove in Votto to tie the game 2-2:

todd-frazier-hit-against-cubs

That sixth inning proved to be the difference for the Reds, who scored four runs in the frame and won 5-2. Aroldis Chapman closed out the game once again, fanning two batters in the process.

Once things had wrapped up, I made the very quick walk back to my car and after getting caught in the traffic jams caused by the Taste of Cincinnati event, which was taking place downtown that weekend, made the short drive to my hotel for the night.

This time, I was staying a little outside the city, but still just an eight-minute drive from Great American Ball Park. My hotel was the Kingsgate Marriott Conference Center at the University of Cincinnati which, as you might guess, is on the university’s campus. Despite being so close to the city, the campus is very green, which was cool to see. In fact, here’s the view out my window:

kingsgate-marriott-conference-center-at-the-university-of-cincinnati-view-out-window

The staff members I dealt with at this hotel were hugely helpful and friendly, and even offered me a complimentary drink from the cooler in the snack area. As far as the room, I had a nice, big room with lots of natural light, as it had windows on two sides. The room amenities were up to the usual standards of the Marriott chain — comfy bed, desk, big TV, large bathroom, and so on. This hotel currently ranks seventh among Cincinnati hotels on Tripadvisor. Here’s a look at the room from the front hallway:

kingsgate-marriott-conference-center-at-the-university-of-cincinnati-room

And the desk and TV:

kingsgate-marriott-conference-center-at-the-university-of-cincinnati-desk-and-tv

If you’re a baseball fan visiting Cincy for a Reds game, I definitely recommend this hotel, especially if you enjoy staying slightly outside the city but not overly far away from all the attractions. The hotel is just a few minutes from two cool University of Cincinnati stadiums — Nippert Stadium, home of the Bearcats football team and Marge Schott Stadium, home of the baseball team. I didn’t make time to visit both stadiums, but wish I had. Nearby sports facilities aside, the Marriott Conference Center at the University of Cincinnati is close to a long list of eateries; there’s a Papa John’s less than a mile away and after getting settled into my room, I ordered a pizza while I blogged and watched a ballgame on TV to round out a perfect day. If you aren’t into fast food, the hotel has a pair of eateries — an upscale restaurant called Caminetto and a casual bar called the Bearcat Lounge.

The next morning, I got up early and punched Bowling Green, KY, into my GPS. The adventure continues!

Cincinnati Reds – May 24

This was the highlight of my day:

fergie-jenkins-with-malcolm

The awesome moment took place during my May 24 visit to Cincinnati to watch the Reds and Cubs at Great American Ball Park. But you’ll just have to keep reading to know it happened.

Despite having visited Cleveland’s Progressive Field a couple times over the last few summers, I’ve never continued on to Cincinnati. I’ve really wanted to get to Cincy, though — Great American Ball Park looks awesome on TV and I’m a big fan of Joey Votto. I passed through Cincinnati on the way to Dayton and Louisville, and now heading back toward the city, it was exciting to finally see it approaching and know that’s where I’d be stopping for a couple days:

first-view-of-cincinnati

By the way, visiting Cincinnati has been the only thing that’s made me able to spell the city’s name without auto-correct. I’ve been a very good speller since I was a kid, but whenever I’ve needed to write the city’s name, I’ve always gone with “Cincinatti” or “Cincinnatti” before figuring it out.

As I pulled into the city, I was excited about checking in to my hotel, too. For the first night of my stay, which was a Friday, I picked the Residence Inn Cincinnati Downtown. Why? Well, I liked the fact that it’s a couple blocks from Great American Ball Park and if you look on Tripadvisor’s list of Cincy hotels, you won’t have to look far to find the Residence Inn — it’s ranked number one in the entire city. If those aren’t reason enough to stay here when you take a trip to see the Reds, here’s something else neat to consider: The hotel is in the historic Phelps Building, which dates back nearly a century and looks cool from the outside:

residence-inn-cincinnati-downtown-outside-front

Of course, as soon as you enter the hotel, you’re greeted with modern amenities and, as I quickly found, exceptionally friendly and helpful staff. When I got up to my room, I was shocked at how huge the suite was. I love staying in suites on my trips, and this one was huge — a kitchen, living room, office, bedroom and a huge bathroom. Here’s the office area:

residence-inn-cincinnati-downtown-office

And the bedroom:

residence-inn-cincinnati-downtown-bedroom

The next picture isn’t great, given the reflection in the glass, but this was the view out my window. It’s the hotel’s courtyard that features a fountain and fire pit. Pretty nice, huh?

residence-inn-cincinnati-downtown-outside-courtyard

It was nice, given all the driving I’ve done on this trip, to be able to park my car and forget about it for a couple days. The traffic around Great American Ball Park is extremely heavy before and after games, and I was happy to be able to get to the stadium quickly by foot. The stadium isn’t the only local attraction you can reach with ease from the Residence Inn Cincinnati Downtown; because you’re right smack downtown, a ton of attractions, including museums and a casino, are a short walk or taxi ride away. If you’re the type of road tripper who enjoys getting to a city and experiencing it all without sitting stuck in traffic, this is the hotel for you.

After relaxing in my room for a couple hours, I packed up to make the quick walk over to Great American Ball Park. There’s a big park in front of the hotel, and from here, check out what I could see:

great-american-ball-park-view-from-hotel

That’s right — the stadium lights were well within sight! I-71 runs past the stadium, but I had no trouble finding a road that cut beneath the highway and soon enough, I knew I was on the right path when I saw this:

great-american-ball-park-outside-view

I walked up the north side of the stadium and rounded a corner to reach the main pavilion area, which was already super crowded:

great-american-ball-park-front

There are several statues of former players in the area, and I snapped this one of Johnny Bench, which had special significance because I saw him a week earlier at the Field of Dreams game in Rochester:

great-american-ball-park-johnny-bench-statue

I spent the next little while walking around the outside of the stadium. As I’d be here for two games, it was nice not to feel rushed and know that I had plenty of time to document all the sights. From the outside of the park, I could see the kids’ play area, and while I can’t comment on whether it’s better than other play areas, I can definitely say it’s got the best way to get there:

great-american-ball-park-kids-zone-slide

From the back of the stadium, which is close to the Ohio River, I took the shots to make this panorama …

great-american-ball-park-panorama-rear

… and captured the National Steamboat Monument, which I’ve often seen on Reds telecasts:

great-american-ball-park-national-steamboat-monument

With the gates soon to open, I bought my standing room ticket …

great-american-ball-park-ticket-shot

… and started out with a visit to the enormous team shop, which you can access from outside the park:

great-american-ball-park-team-shop-inside

Interestingly enough, the Reds allow you to leave the park to visit the team shop, as they’re not connected — you just get your hand and ticket stamped and have to enter and exit through a specific gate. Most MLB teams don’t allow re-entry, so this is neat. After I look the above photo, I heard a familiar — and heart-sinking — “beep-beep-beep” sound. That’s the sound my camera makes when the memory card is full, and I quickly realized that while I typically transfer all my photos to my laptop every couple days, I hadn’t done so in a while. Just a short while into my Great American Ball Park visit, I needed to be creative. I quickly found a quiet spot and started going through my photos, deleting those from Dayton and Louisville that I knew I wouldn’t need. Normally, I shoot hundreds of photos at each ballpark and edit them on my computer. I was able to delete several dozen and soon enough, I was back in business. A few minutes later, however, I heard the same noise — and realized it wasn’t my camera at all. It was the security noise that beeped when the team shop door opened. The egg was directly on my face, but no harm, no foul.

Once I entered Great American Ball Park, the first sight that caught my eye was a healthy concession stand, and I couldn’t resist taking this photo:

great-american-ball-park-healthy-food

Next, though, I wanted to get my first view of the field:

great-american-ball-park-view-during-bp

Because my next blog post will be all about Cincinnati, too, I’ll hold off overdoing it with photos right now. Instead, I’ll show you a picture I got of the ballpark’s most notable sights — the Riverboat Deck on the left and the Power Stacks on the right:

great-american-ball-park-river-boat-deck-power-stacks

And here’s a little bit of interesting trivia. Each of the power stacks has seven bats atop it. As you might know, seven plus seven equals 14, and who wore number 14 for the Reds? Charlie Hustle himself. MLB doesn’t allow teams to display Pete Rose’s name or number, but this is the team’s quiet tribute to the man. I love subtle things like this — reminds me of the Yawkeys’ names spelled out in Morse Code on the Green Monster at Fenway.

Remember how I said the team shop was huge? It was hard to photograph to put into context from outside the ballpark, but from the upper deck, I could look out and present it from an angle that puts it in perspective:

great-american-ball-park-team-shop-above

Soon enough, the Cubs had wrapped up their batting practice, which meant the Long Haul Bombers were taking the field. Who are they? They’re a traveling softball home run-hitting derby. How do I describe it? Hmm. You know the stereotypical “softball guy?” The aggressive one with the chip on his shoulder because he didn’t play professional baseball? Multiply that guy by a few, and you’ve got the Long Haul Bombers. On one hand, it was somewhat impressive to see guys pound balls over the fence — albeit balls that were tossed underhand to them. On the other hand, I figured these guys would scatter pretty fast if I yelled I was there to administer a performance-enhancing drug test.

I watched the sideshow act for a few minutes and then decided to continue touring. After all, hitting a ballpark for the first time and knowing how much you get to explore is an exciting feeling. One of the first stops I made was the authentics kiosk on the concourse behind the third base side. Unlike the Indians, who use a portion of the team shop at Progressive Field to sell game-used and player-issued items, the Reds only have a stand. It would’ve been nice if it was larger, but I still got a kick out of seeing the items, like this Brandon Phillips helmet and bats from Jay Bruce and Joey Votto:

great-american-ball-park-authentics-team-shop

The park was quickly filling up, and as game time approached, I discovered the Reds’ bullpen. Unlike many parks, in which you can see the bullpen over the outfield fence or along foul territory, the pens in Cincy are mainly visible from the concourse and are protected by netting. For a few minutes, I watched Reds starter Bronson Arroyo get his tosses in:

great-american-ball-park-bronson-arroyo-bullpen

Next, I went down to the lower concourse and checked out a bunch of signed items that the Reds Hall of Fame was selling. After talking briefly with a rep from the HOF, I decided that I needed to squeeze a HOF visit into my day tomorrow, as it sounded promising. As I turned to leave, I caught a glimpse of a familiar-looking face. There wasn’t much of a spectacle around him, but it didn’t take me long to realize I was looking at Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins. I recognized him easily because I’ve got a picture of him in my office. As the only Canadian-born Hall of Famer, he’s certainly someone Canadian baseball fans admire. Jenkins was sitting at a table with a couple staffers around him but there weren’t any people waiting in line, which was odd. I checked with a staff member to find out what was happening, and Jenkins was indeed signing autographs to raise funds for the Reds HOF. I got his signature on an 8×10 and then got the photo with him that you saw at the start of this entry. What an awesome surprise! (I’ll post the signed photo in an upcoming entry, alongside a couple cool game-used items I bought later on my trip.)

Feeling more than elated, I got down to the next order of business — getting dinner. I’d spied a Food Network concession stand a little bit earlier, and since I had luck with a similar stand at Progressive Field, I got in line and checked the menu. This is what I chose:

great-american-ball-park-food-network-bacon-sloppy-joe

You’re looking at the Food Network’s Bacon Sloppy Joe with pepper jack cheese, crispy onions, Fritos and a pickle. It was absolutely delicious.

By now, the game had begun and after eating, I raced to the concourse behind home plate where I caught the early innings with this view:

great-american-ball-park-home-plate-view

I spent the game’s middle innings wandering around Great American Ball Park with one eye on the game and another on the sights. Once the sun had set, I captured another shot of the enormous team shop …

great-american-ball-park-team-shop-at-night

… before climbing to the right field side of the upper deck where I caught a couple innings with this view:

great-american-ball-park-upper-deck-view

After Cubs starter Scott Feldman got his team on the board with a three-run home run in the second (the first of his career), Arroyo buckled down and pitched well. The Reds offense, meanwhile, was lifted by home runs from Joey Votto, Ryan Hanigan and Brandon Phillips and Cincy won 7-4. Aroldis Chapman, who I’d hoped to see on this road trip, struck out the side in the ninth to get his 11th save of the year.

Shortly before leaving the upper deck, I turned and got this shot of the moon over the Ohio River, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out:

great-american-ball-park-moon-ohio-river

I was back in my hotel room working on my blog as the post-game fireworks boomed in the not-so-far distance. In a little more than 12 hours, I’d be back at Great American Ball Park to do it all over again.