Tagged: Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays – March 31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weird and cool, huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soft drinks in cups = OK.

Soft drinks in bottles = not OK.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, to summarize:

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

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

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

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

Toronto Blue Jays – June 21

I try to visit Rogers Centre every two years, which means that after not seeing a game at the stadium since the spring of 2013, I was way overdue to travel to Toronto.

Time to do something about that.

For this visit, I think I was more excited about the hotel I’d be visiting than the game itself, despite being a longtime Blue Jays fan. That’s because I had one night booked at the Delta Toronto, which is one of the city’s newest hotels and the tallest hotel in the Toronto skyline. Even more importantly, it’s located about a Jose Bautista home run distance from Rogers Centre, and the ballpark-facing room photos that I’d obsessively browsed online offered as impressive a view as I’ve ever had from a hotel. (And, if you know me, you know one of my very favorite things is a hotel from which you can see the ballpark.)

I opted to take the train to Toronto instead of drive, as I was swamped with work and sitting on the train would allow me to get caught up on some writing during the trip. The VIA Rail train arrives at Toronto’s Union Station, which is the city’s central travel hub downtown, and I was pleased to see that I could actually access the Delta through a series of walkways and pedestrian bridges.

Anyway, I arrived super early, as I was hoping to get into my room before check-in, and I wanted to give myself some time to check out the new hotel and tour the area around it, too. When I passed through a walkway from Union Station to the Delta, I found my path blocked by a large group of men stretching on the floor — I quickly noticed that they were all wearing Vancouver Whitecaps uniforms, and were obviously doing their pregame stretching routine at the hotel before playing Toronto FC in Major League Soccer action later that afternoon. Always a good sign when a major league sports franchise is staying in the hotel you’re visiting, right?

My early arrival meant that my room wasn’t quite ready, so the front desk clerk asked if I wanted to visit the exclusive Club Lounge on the 46th floor while I waited. Umm, that was a no brainer!

When I reached the lounge, I rushed to the window to check out the view, and this is what I saw:

delta-toronto-club-lounge-view

How’s that for incredible? The focal points, of course, are Rogers Centre and the CN Tower, but you can also see Ripley’s Aquarium, Roundhouse Park and a whole lot more. See the island on the left? That’s the tip of the Toronto Islands, home to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. And, since I love my panoramas, here’s the same view in panoramic format:

delta-toronto-club-lounge-view-pano

While the view was the main attraction, the lounge was outstanding, too. Here’s how it looks:

delta-toronto-club-lounge-inside

With the exception of an attendant and a couple people working on laptops, the lounge was empty, so I toured around it and learned that there were complimentary drinks and snacks — including red licorice, which I may or may not have overindulged in. It was cool being so high off the ground; I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in a hotel so tall, so I had a blast looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows and identifying the sights below that I recognized.

Soon enough, I was called because my room was now available, and I was in for even more of a treat. Here’s a photo of how my room looked; this shot is off the hotel’s website because it looks better than the ones I took:

delta-toronto-room

I’ve been lucky to stay in some outstanding hotels over the years, and this room is easily on the shortlist of the very best, both in terms of in-room amenities and view. My room was on the same side of the building as the lounge I’d just left, so the view was similar, albeit with a lower vantage point as it was on the 33rd floor. Here’s the view from the desk, which I took just after the dome started to open:

delta-toronto-view-dome-opening

Would you like to see a dozen or so shots of the dome in various states of opening? No? Fine, I’ll respect that. (But I’ve got the photos ready if you want to see ’em.)

I was fortunate to be in a corner room, so I had a spectacular view in two directions. The outer walls were entirely made of glass, truly giving a panoramic feel to the world outside. I normally don’t devote too many words to hotel bathrooms, but this one was outstanding. It featured a soaker tub set up to offer amazing views of the city and lake:

delta-toronto-soaker-tub

I was loving the room, but there would soon be baseball to watch — and even though I’ve been to Rogers Centre a million times, I was still eager to arrive early. So, I quickly changed into my Gregg Zaun shirsey …

malcolm-zaun

… in the hopes of having it autographed by the former Jay and current Sportsnet studio analyst, and headed downstairs. As you could tell from the earlier photos, the Delta is very close to Rogers Centre, making it a perfect choice for baseball fans or those who want to stay in a central area downtown. This is the view from the sidewalk directly outside the hotel:

view-of-rogers-centre-from-delta

When I got closer to the stadium, I turned around and snapped this photo of the Delta:

delta-toronto-outside-view

Then, at exactly 4:36 p.m., I claimed the first spot in line at Gate 2 …

rogers-centre-gate-two-first-in-line

… and began the process of standing there for another 54 minutes until I was able to hustle inside the park. When you enter through Gate 2, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before, you’re in right field. I was the first fan into the second deck seats less than a minute after my gate opened, and I was soon looking at this view:

rogers-centre-second-deck

My plan was to spend 10 or 15 minutes seeing if a BP home run would come my way. I’ve had reasonably good success snagging BP balls at Rogers Centre with minimal effort over the years, and hoped that being in the virtually empty second deck for the lefty hitters might yield some results. Unfortunately, it did not, so I soon began to tour the park and note the changes since my last visit. My first visit was the game-used room of the team shop, which is always a cool place to check out. The prices are beyond ludicrous, but I always get a kick out of seeing artifacts from the team and ballpark. Here’s the rubber that sat under Mark Buehrle’s cleats when he pitched his 200th inning of 2014, for example. Yours for a cool $2,500:

rogers-centre-game-used-rubber

Speaking of pricey, how about a Blue Jays pub table for $650? Buck Martinez books not included:

toronto-blue-jays-table

After opting not to spend three or four figures on anything at the shop, but thoroughly enjoying perusing everything, I went back to the main concourse and headed over behind home plate:

rogers-centre-home-plate-pregame

And, as I made my way over to the third base side, I looked up and could see the top of the Delta poking above the upper deck:

delta-toronto-rogers-centre

Beyond wanting to see the hotel from inside the stadium, I had another reason for heading to the third base side — I wanted to visit the broadcast studio and flag down Zaun for an autograph and a photo. After all, I figured he’d get a kick out of my shirt. To my dismay, he had a rare night off, and a couple other panelists were talking with host Jamie Campbell:

rogers-centre-samsung-broadcast-booth

Argh. Of all the luck.

I decided that it’d be appropriate to quell my tears with some food. Rogers Centre’s food selection has changed dramatically over the years since I started The Ballpark Guide. My all-time favorite concession stand at the park was the Quaker Steak & Lube stand that sold delicious chicken wings, but it’s no longer there. My second-favorite food item was sold at the Shopsy’s concession stand, which has also gone the way of the dodo. (By the way, the sandwich that I’d always get at Shopsy’s was called the Bill Cosby Triple Decker, which I imagine is no longer available anywhere except perhaps a cell block.)

After a full lap of the main concourse to note all the new food selections, of which there were many, I opted for the buffalo cauliflower poutine. It’s a dish that was new for 2016 and had been receiving lots of publicity, so I was curious to check it out. (Plus, I also thought it’d be fun — and rare — to have a veggie at the ballpark.) I grabbed the food and ascended to the upper deck to eat it. Here’s how it looked:

rogers-centre-buffalo-cauliflower-poutine

As I dug in, I was surprised at the lack of fries. The “poutine” label, to me, suggested that there’d be fries at the bottom of the container, but that wasn’t the case. Rather, the pieces of breaded and fried cauliflower made up the bulk of the meal. They were topped with cheese curds, buffalo sauce and fresh parsley. The verdict? It fell into the odd “good but I wouldn’t order it again” category. The fried cauliflower was definitely tasty, but I found there was a lack of variety in this meal. Soon enough, the cauliflower was soggy from the melted cheese and hot sauce, so everything sort of clumped together. I definitely appreciated the meal’s creativity, though — even if it wasn’t something I’d likely order again, it was fun to try something so unique.

The game began as I ate, so I enjoyed watching the first inning from a section I don’t think I’d visited much in the past. Of course, the ever-present Rogers Centre usher had to come over and check my ticket. I had a ticket for a section in the 500 Level in right field, but had stopped in a nearly empty section in left field to eat. For the record, the usher “let” me stay but admonished me to leave the section as soon as I finished eating.

Anyway, it takes more than an overzealous usher to get me down, so I finished my meal, enjoyed the unique view from my seat …

rogers-centre-upper-deck-pano

… and then decided to head over toward my seat in right field.

As I walked through the 500 Level concourse for the first time since 2013, I noticed a change. Ever since the Blue Jays became good again, the 500 Level has once again come alive. In the glory years of the team, the seats in the upper deck were often packed. During the team’s down years, though, many sections were blocked off and several of the 500 Level concession stands remained closed, giving a bit of a ghost town feel to the sections and concourse toward the foul poles. It was nice to see this part of the stadium so lively during this visit, and I imagine it’ll stay that way as long as the team continues to be competitive.

Moving from the 500 Level concourse to the seating area, I did a bit of exploring around to look at some of the varied/bizarre seating options that I hadn’t previously noticed during my Rogers Centre visits. This photo shows the top row of Section 504, which is the first section to the right field side of the video board:

rogers-centre-section-504-seats

I initially thought the seats behind the “504” sign were sort of a cool area, but you might beg to differ if I showed you the view from those seats:

rogers-centre-section-504-view

Ugh.

After watching the game from this section for a bit, I continued to meander around to see the various sights. I noticed my hotel from a different part of the stadium, with the base of the CN Tower visible on the left:

delta-toronto-from-rogers-centre

My next stop was the WestJet Flight Deck in center field, which is one of the hottest places to catch the game in the entire stadium. Here’s how this party deck looks …

rogers-centre-westjet-flight-deck

… and here’s the view from this area:

rogers-centre-westjet-flight-deck-view

Later, I returned to the team shop as it was a little less crowded, and that gave me a better chance to look at the game-used items. Perhaps the coolest thing I saw there was Roberto Alomar’s glove from the 1992 and 1993 World Series championships:

roberto-alomar-glove

It was, as you might expect, not for sale.

I spent the last part of my visit watching the action from behind home plate, enjoying views like this one:

rogers-centre-behind-home-plate-game

 

I’ll admit, though, that my visit ended before the game’s last out. I’m not typically a fan of leaving a game early, but I ducked out of Rogers Centre a couple innings before the game was over so that I could get back to my hotel room and shoot some time-lapse images of the evening scene. Although it’s tough to beat the idea of being in the stadium, the idea of watching the sun setting over it from an awesome hotel room was pretty appealing, too.

Here’s how that view looked:

At about the midway point, you’ll see the Rogers Centre dome close, which I think looks cool.

I spent the rest of the evening enjoying the outstanding view, occasionally peering down at the street 33 floors below …

street-below-delta-toronto

… and then I drifted off to sleep with the glorious scene of Rogers Centre and the CN Tower in front of me. My sleep, however, was rather short-lived by design — I had my alarm set for 3:30 a.m. so that I could get up when it was still dark, set up my GoPro again, and capture the sunrise in time-lapse mode. It was fun to watch the city come to life through my window:

(By the way, if you’d click to give each of those videos a thumbs-up, I’ll send you a virtual high five. Subscribe to my channel and I’ll send a double high five.)

When the sun rose the next morning, I — you guessed it — enjoyed the view some more before having an awesome breakfast at the hotel restaurant and then going back up to my room just to hang out and enjoy the view until it was checkout time. Given the cool corner bathroom, I sat on a stool next to the tub, drank a black cherry lemonade, and just relaxed:

delta-toronto-my-leg

The Delta Toronto definitely provided an outstanding visit, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for baseball fans. You can’t beat the view or the easy proximity to a ton of major attractions, as well as the impeccable guest rooms and top-notch service. It’ll definitely be my choice when I visit Toronto again to see the Blue Jays.

Detroit Tigers – June 5

The first day of my trip to Detroit lasted about 21 hours from the time I got up till the time my head hit the pillow, and it was absolutely awesome. Although the rainy weather was a brief concern on June 4, things were looking a lot brighter when I slid back the drapes of my sixth-floor room at the Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown to see this view on the morning of June 5:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-bright-day-view

As you can see, not a cloud in the sky ahead of the afternoon game between the Tigers and Blue Jays at Comerica Park. The game was set for 1 p.m., when meant the gates would open at 11 a.m. It was a Max Scherzer Cy Young Award bobblehead giveaway day, too, so I wanted to get to the ballpark well in advance to assure I’d be at the head of the line like the day before.

Until that time, I hung out in my great hotel room, did some writing and watched SportsCenter. As I said in my previous post, this is a great hotel for baseball fans visiting Detroit. Not only is it close to Comerica Park, but it’s within a short walk of a ton of restaurants, entertainment choices (the Greektown Casino is just a few steps away) and more. The hotel also has free Internet, two in-house restaurants, an indoor pool and fitness center and earned a 2014 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. I know this is the hotel I’ll choose next time I visit the Motor City, and you’ll be pleased if you make that choice, too.

When it came time to make the two-block walk to Comerica, I first wanted to get a picture of the outside of my hotel. In doing so, I briefly lived the life of a rebel by standing here …

detroit-no-standing-sign

… before taking this shot to show the hotel from the street:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown

Surprisingly, when I got to Comerica Park about 10 a.m., there were virtually no fans in sight. I mean, there were a few people buying tickets and taking photos and such, but the gates were mostly sparse:

comerica-park-gate-with-small-crowd

I figured there was no point in standing in the non-existent line for an hour, so I took a short walk to a great memorabilia shop just a few steps from the park. The shop in question is next door to Cheli’s Chili Bar, which is roughly at the corner of East Adams and Witherell streets. If you plan to buy Tigers memorabilia, I highly recommend this spot — everything is a good chunk of change cheaper than the team shops at the ballpark.

After browsing for about 15 minutes, I headed back toward the “big tiger statue” gate, pausing briefly to snap this photo of myself:

comerica-park-malcolm-at-gate

See how I’m wearing one of my shirts with my website’s logo? Just a few minutes later, as I stood in line a few people back from the gate, a college student in front of me said, “Excuse me, but are you from The Ballpark Guide?” I told him I was, and he said he discovered the site the night before while searching for Comerica Park autograph tips. He said he browsed the site (and my blog, I think) for a couple hours! I was thrilled to meet someone who’s used the site, as it’s nice hearing firsthand how people benefit from the information I provide, given the countless hours I put into everything.

As we chatted, the lines behind us quickly began to grow, and it wasn’t long before the scene looked like this:

comerica-park-fans-at-gate

When the gates opened, I grabbed my bobblehead and hustled down to field level to check out the scene. I had a sneaking suspicion that despite it being a day game, the teams would be hitting because they’d missed BP yesterday. Turns out, I was right. And, like a day earlier, I was inside the park a few minutes early. Check out the time on the bottom of the video board:

comerica-park-video-board-day-2

(I only mention the time because gate attendants are normally such huge sticklers for waiting until exactly the specified time to let people in.)

The Tigers were still hitting, and while I would’ve been happy to snag a ball, I wasn’t going to fight too hard for one. I went to the right field stands and just enjoyed the spectacular view, while also taking various photos of players when they were close to me. Here’s the aforementioned Scherzer, for example:

comerica-park-max-scherzer-bp

If you followed my blog back in 2011, you might recall that I got his autograph during my visit to Comerica Park.

The Tigers players weren’t the only ones shagging balls during BP. Here are the kids of Joba Chamberlain and Victor Martinez:

comerica-park-chamberlain-martinez-kids

During Detroit’s BP, I watched jays reliever Sergio Santos throw a long-toss and bullpen session, and then watched starter Drew Hutchison do the same. On his way back across the field to Toronto’s dugout, he walked close to me and I got this photo:

toronto-blue-jays-drew-hutchison

While I waited for the Jays to start hitting, I quickly removed my bobblehead from its package and snapped this photo. Usually, I photograph stadium giveaway items at home, but I thought this backdrop would look cool:

comerica-park-max-scherzer-bobblehead

And, yes, if you’re wondering, the bobblehead accurately reflects Scherzer’s heterochromia iridum.

Because I wasn’t bent on getting a BP ball, I decided to skip Toronto’s session and get wandering around the park. My first stop was the Jungle section …

comerica-park-jungle-rooftop

… followed by the New Amsterdam 416 Club. The flames in the foreground weren’t lit yet, but here’s proof to the story that Babe Ruth loved his alcohol:

comerica-park-new-amsterdam-club-416

After a couple visits to the park’s team shops, including a walk through the two-level shop…

comerica-park-two-level-team-shop

… I was forced to make a pivotal decision that would shape the remainder of my ballpark visit. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly; as Spider-Man said, with great power comes great responsibility.

I decided to make the pledge to be the designated driver for the day:

comerica-park-designed-driver-soda

I kid about it, but this is a great program that more teams should do. You sign up and commit to be a DD, and you get a voucher for a free soda, which is awesome, given the price of drinks at the ballpark. Anyone want to chime in to say if their home park does this? I know Cleveland does it, and Toronto does a classic Toronto version — you sign up and get entered in a draw to win a prize. No free drink, though. Sorry ’bout that.

With my voucher in hand, I headed back to the Big Cat Court to look for a hot dog for what amounted to my breakfast. Turns out there’s a perfect breakfast-themed hot dog, although its name would indicate the opposite. The Late Night hot dog is topped with shredded cheese, bacon bits and a fried egg, and was just what the doctor ordered for me … not a real doctor, though. No real doctor would endorse this bad boy:

comerica-park-hot-dog-fried-egg

Like yesterday, I climbed to the upper deck to eat the hot dog. Unlike yesterday, though, this one wasn’t as tough to eat as the Poutine Dog. The Late Night dog was delicious. I’m not the biggest fan off eggs, but this egg was cooked perfectly and the cheese and bacon came in just the right amounts. And the dog was good and snappy. The breakfast of champions, especially when washed down with my free soda.

After devouring my “breakfast,” I moved to the seats behind home plate, but still in the upper deck, to take a series of photos that would become this panorama. As always, you can click it to make it bigger:

comerica-park-upper-deck-behind-home-plate-panorama

My next mission was to head back down to the main concourse to do something strictly for the story. If you know much about Comerica Park, you’ll know the carousel in the Big Cat Court isn’t the only amusement park-style ride. There’s also a baseball-themed Ferris wheel, and that’s where I soon found myself. Rides cost $2, and as I stood in line waiting my turn to board, I had a horrible realization: I absolutely can’t handle amusement park rides.

Now, I know a Ferris wheel is pretty mild, but I’ve incorrectly assumed that certain rides would be safe in the past, only to lose my lunch. In fact, I thought of my best childhood friend, Lennie, on whom I’ve barfed multiple times. If he’s reading this now, I know he’s thinking, “Oh no, here it comes again.” The only issue was that he wasn’t with me to barf on, so I’d have to share my breakfast with a stranger. I started to feel confident in the fact that the wheel seemed mild, but then realized all that was in my stomach was a soda and a hot dog with a fried egg, cheese and bacon. And, even as I watched the wheel turn at about 0.001 MPH, I thought, “This is trouble.”

No turning back now, though, and when a father and two his two young sons joined me in the car, I thought, “You poor, poor people don’t know what you’re in for.”

As we set off, though, I didn’t feel myself turning green. In fact, after one full revolution, I knew things would be thankfully be OK, and I snapped some photos of the world outside. Here we are well above street level …

comerica-park-looking-down-from-ferris-wheel

… and here’s a look across to the other cars on the wheel:

comerica-park-baseball-ferris-wheel-ride

The ride was great, and I definitely recommend checking it out. Don’t be afraid to give it a shot if you don’t have kids. I pulled off the shadiest move possible — a solo guy on a kids’ ride — so there’s nothing for you to worry about.

After mentally kissing the ground once I stopped off the ride, I hustled down to field level in time for the first pitch, where I took this photo of Justin Verlander dealing:

comerica-park-justin-verlander

I spent the remainder of the inning here, getting photos like this one of Jose Reyes advancing to third on a Jose Bautista single:

jose-reyes-toronto-blue-jays

And Adam Lind fouling off a pitch:

adam-lind-toronto-blue-jays

The weather was absolutely perfect — hot, but perfect. I decided to grab one of my favorite ballpark refreshments, a frozen lemonade, and climb to the upper deck to watch a few innings:

comerica-park-food-frozen-lemonade

I spent five innings in this spot, which was as close to the video board as you could get:

comerica-park-video-board-victor-martinez

This spot gave me a great vantage point for the back-to-back home runs hit by Juan Francisco and Brett Lawrie in the sixth inning, and once that inning wrapped up, I went back to the 100 Level cross-aisle for a few more action shots, like this one of Melky Cabrera taking a hack:

melky-cabrera-comerica-park

With just the eighth and ninth innings remaining at this point, I ventured up to the one remaining area I hadn’t been — the upper deck in right field. Here, I had this spectacular view:

comerica-park-upper-deck-right-field-view

Toronto beat Detroit 7-3, completing a three-game sweep of the American League Central leaders. I was sad to finally leave Comerica Park, but looking forward to getting back to my hotel and relaxing before the eight-hour drive home the next day. First, I stopped at the Five Guys Burgers and Fries just a short walk from the Hilton Garden Inn to grab dinner, and then was back in my room for the evening to soon watch the sun set over the city:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-city-sunset

Because I showed you the nighttime view from my window in panorama form at the end of my previous blog post, here are a couple different photos. This is the back of the video board at night …

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-night-comerica-park-video-board

… and here’s the gate I could see from the hotel. I think the concrete tigers are asleep:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-night-comerica-park-gate

So, what’s next for me? Well, I don’t have any plans completely solidified. My work schedule has been crazy but I’ll definitely be traveling again this summer. I’m eyeing up a couple small trips in July and a longer one in August, and hope to have details about at least the July outings soon. I’ve also got a big announcement about a project I’m working on very soon, so keep your eyes open for that. As always, if you’ve enjoyed reading about my adventures, please check out this page on my website to read about the simple ways you can support my trips.

Detroit Tigers – June 4

Although it’s my mission to visit as many ballparks across the major leagues and minor leagues as possible as I continue to build my website, The Ballpark Guide, there are times I can’t resist making a return visit to one of my favorite places. I’ve been to 53 different ballparks since 2010, but ever since I saw a pair of games at Detroit’s Comerica Park in 2011, I’ve been itching to get back. You can read about those visits here and here. Fortunately, I had a chance last week to make a whirlwind trip to the Motor City for a pair of Tigers games.

My day began shortly after 4 a.m. and I was on the road just after 5 a.m. for the eight-hour drive to Detroit. To cross into the U.S., I’ve often taken the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Windsor, Ont., with Detroit. It was drizzling and gray for the latter half of my drive on this trip, so I decided to use the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, located just a short distance west of the bridge. After crossing through customs, I entered the tunnel, which gives the illusion that you’re in a different dimension. This picture isn’t Photoshopped or anything, either. This is actually how it looks down there:

driving-through-detroit-windsor-tunnel

When I emerged from the tunnel in downtown Detroit, I had just a few blocks to drive to reach my hotel. I booked two nights at the Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown for a few reasons. I’ve stayed at numerous Hilton Garden Inn locations over my years of traveling for The Ballpark Guide and have consistently had positive experiences. This particular location is one of the top-ranked Detroit hotels on TripAdvisor and its location is ideal. It’s just two blocks from Comerica Park, which you can’t beat. I often love staying downtown when I’m visiting a downtown park. You can’t beat leaving your car at the hotel, walking through the city to check out the sights and then being back in your hotel room after the game when other fans are sitting in traffic.

The Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown has valet parking, so you don’t have to fuss with finding overnight parking in the area. Once I left my car, I checked in at 3 p.m. with the help of one of the friendliest front desk clerks I’d ever met, who presented me with a gift bag as she gave me my room keys. I’m always excited to get up to my room to check out not only the amenities, but also the view, and both delivered big time. Here’s a look at the room:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-room

I’ll have some more details on my room in my next blog post, but you can see that it looks perfect — king-sized bed, desk, huge TV and more. And as for the view, that was perfect, too:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-first-window-view

The large, tan/gray building in the center of the picture is the Detroit Athletic Club, but you can see Comerica Park to the left and right of the club. To the right, you’ll see some of the upper-deck seats and the rear of the scoreboard (complete with the enormous tiger on top) and to the left of the club, if you look carefully, you can see more tiger statues just beside the red-brick building. (This is how much of a baseball nerd I am — analyzing the baseball-centric view out my window.)

Time to check out the gift bag I received upon check in:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-gift-bag

It contained a card welcoming me to the hotel and a variety of tasty snacks that I enjoyed in short order. I still had some time to kill before heading down for the game, so I enjoyed standing at the window and taking in the various sights, many of which I recognized from my visit to Detroit in 2011. Here’s a view, for example, of the legendary Fox Theatre and, to the bottom right of the image, you can see one of Comerica Park’s distinctive gates:

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-window-view-fox-theatre

At about 4 p.m., I loaded my backpack and set out for the short walk to the ballpark. This is the view from the street right outside the hotel’s entrance:

comerica-park-walk-to-park

Football fans will recognize Ford Field on the right, which is home of the NFL’s Lions. Comerica Park is directly across the street, but just out of sight in this shot. Within just a couple minutes, I was standing on the sidewalk in front of Ford Field with this view of the rear of Comerica Park’s video board:

comerica-park-behind-video-board

Despite the rain, I was pretty pumped to be once again seeing the Tigers in person. This time, however, I had even more reason to celebrate — the Tigers, who are my second-favorite team, were hosting the Blue Jays, who are my favorite team. I’ve seen the Jays several dozen times in Toronto, but this would be the first time I’d see them on the road. I wanted to buy my ticket at the ticket office on the other side of the park, so I began the walk down a deserted East Adams Street:

comerica-park-empty-detroit-street

I was happy to once again see the tiger-themed gate at the corner of East Adams and Witherell streets, but dismayed at the noticeable change since my last visit:

comerica-park-tigers-gate

Yep, metal detectors. These safety features banes of existence will be mandatory at MLB parks in 2015, but the Tigers are among a few teams using them this season. Metal detectors aside, here’s what the glorious-looking gate looks like in panorama form. You can click on all panoramas in this post to make them huge:

comerica-park-tigers-gate-panorama

I bought the cheapest ticket available — $12 for a spot on the Jungle Rooftop Bleachers, which is an amazing section at Comerica — and snapped a quick shot of my ticket:

comerica-park-malcolm-ticket

I still had 30 minutes to kill until the gates opened, which meant plenty of time to take a wander around the ballpark and capture the scene. The first shots I took were to build this panorama, which looks quite different that the one I shot back when I visited Detroit this January, don’t you think?

comerica-park-fox-theatre-panorama

And, of course, there were lots of tiger statue photos, like this one …

comerica-park-tiger-statue

… and this one:

comerica-park-tiger-statues

Hard not to say that Comerica Park has the best-looking gates in baseball, right?

I eventually made a full lap around the park, stopping to snap this photo of the General Motors headquarters, which is several blocks away and dominates the Detroit skyline:

detroit-street-gm-headquarters-building

By this time, the gates were soon to open, and I grabbed the first spot in one of the lines in front of the metal detectors. The pavilion around the gate is made up of countless bricks donated by fans and ex-players. You know the drill. Anyway, the bulk of these bricks are fan messages, but when I looked down between my feet, I saw a name that caught my eye:

comerica-park-whitey-herzog-brick

Baseball hall of famer Whitey Herzog played his last season of baseball as a Tiger before a lengthy managerial career, and it was neat to see the name of someone I instantly knew.

I spent the remaining few minutes before the gates opened talking with a couple members of the park’s security team about the metal detector situation. They said the new system was a pain. One actually joked that he should rent a spot in the parking lot, set up a trailer and have a “check your weapon” business: People leave their weapons with him for $10, and then pick them up again after the game.

The crowds around the gate were sparse, despite it being a fan giveaway game. After successfully passing through the metal detectors and being the first fan into the ballpark through these gates, I was handed a Tigers cloth shopping bag:

comerica-park-stadium-giveaway-grocery-bag

(I just informed my wife this bag is too important to use for shopping, and she rolled her eyes and sighed.)

I was thrilled to finally be back inside Comerica Park. As you might have seen if you read my two blog posts from 2011, my second game was postponed due to rain, so I’ve been anxious to return to this park ever since. It was awesome to get to the seating bowl and see the logos of my two favorite teams on the video board:

comerica-park-video-board

And look — it was only 4:57 p.m.! The gates had opened a few minutes early, which never seems to happen.

Since the Blue Jays were starting to filter out of the first base dugout to stretch, I zipped down to field level to take some shots. Here are relievers Todd Redmond and Dustin McGowan kicking off a run together:

comerica-park-redmond-mcgowan-running

And the bullpen staff celebrating after completing a run:

comerica-park-jays-bullpen-warmups

Jays pitching coach Pete Walker, who has one of the better mustaches in the majors today, was just a few feet in front of me:

comerica-park-pete-walker-blue-jays

Once the relievers headed into the dugout, I went that direction, too. Although the dugout was empty, it wasn’t long before Jays TV announcer (and former Jays player and manager) Buck Martinez appeared, and was obviously making a point about the intricacies of pitching to a couple other Toronto reporters:

comerica-park-buck-martinez-dugout

As I hung around the dugout, I had a good, clean view of my theoretical seat for the night in the Jungle section. Check it out:

comerica-park-jungle-rooftop-bleachers

It’s my favorite section at Comerica; close to the action, affordable and a fun, party atmosphere. You can’t beat it, and I definitely recommend buying your ticket here if you’re visiting Detroit for a Tigers game.

Because it was drizzling, batting practice was off. This meant that with about 1:45 till game time, I had a lot of time to spend wandering around and taking in the sights. My first stop was the concourse booth that sells authentic Tigers items, and it was a blast to browse the game-used balls, jerseys and equipment, as well as the myriad signed items:

comerica-park-authentic-autographed-kiosk

One of the staff members was trying to sell me a Victor Martinez signed helmet that was $600.

“Think of it this way,” he suggested, when I offered it was a bit outside my price range. “This time next year, it’ll probably be worth …”

“$400?” I interrupted, making a joke because I knew the direction he was headed before he got there.

“No, $700,” he said, but then admitted, “I have no idea who the player is, anyway.”

After deciding not to part with $600, I began a lap around the park, stopping at the statues in left-center to capture Ty Cobb in his famous spikes-up slide:

comerica-park-ty-cobb-statue

Each park I visit seems to have a different setup for the batter’s eye. At Toronto’s Rogers Centre, it’s a black, slightly tattered screen mounted over some empty seating sections. At Cleveland’s Progressive Field, it’s part of Heritage Park. The batter’s eye at Comerica is made of ivy, but has a walkway directly behind it for fans to pass from left field to right field. It’s sort of a bizarre blind spot:

comerica-park-behind-batters-eye

Here’s a look at the area from the far side, after I’d emerged and was standing in right-center:

comerica-park-outfield-right-side-of-batters-eye

Because I was in the park so early and the crowd was light due to the rain, there was almost no one in the Big Cat Court when I arrived with dinner on my mind. The Big Cat Court is a fun spot; it’s known for the tigers-themed carousel, but the area’s circular design allows for a multitude of concession stands around the perimeter. I resisted the temptation to take a solo ride on the carousel …

comerica-park-tiger-carousel

… and instead headed for the Gourmet Hot Dogs stand. I’d heard about the Tigers introducing some notable hot dogs at the start of the season, and after conferring with a couple fans on Twitter, decided this should be my dinner plan. Take a look at this menu …

comerica-park-food-gourmet-hot-dogs-menu

… and tell me what you’d get. (You can leave a comment at the bottom of this post or hit me up on Twitter.) Against the orders of my future cardiologist, I opted for the Poutine Dog. That’s right — a hot dog topped with french fries, cheese curds and smothered with gravy. As per usual, I took a photo of my food before tackling it. Ready?

comerica-park-food-poutine-hot-dog-1

And, as I’ve done in the past with difficult-to-eat items, took the long climb to the upper deck so I could eat it without making a scene. Once I’d grabbed a spot in the very top row of the stadium, I literally looked at the dog for about two minutes to figure out my eating strategy. I’d neglected to grab a fork, and had no idea how to dig in. But then, it hit me. I opened the end of the cardboard container much like the landing crafts used in the Allied assault on D-Day — history buffs will get the reference:

comerica-park-food-poutine-hot-dog-2

Doing so provided newfound access to the mass of gluttony. Soon enough, the only evidence that remained were a few curds on the ground and, I’m sure, some gravy on my face.

Next, partly to burn off a few of the calories I’d just taken in, I descended back to field level to hang out behind home plate. I can’t stress enough how awesome the Comerica Park ushers are. They’re hands down the best I’ve encountered on my travels throughout the major leagues. At some parks, you’re not allowed to get behind home plate before the game. Not a problem here. And when game time approaches, there’s no mass push to get every fan out of the area. Now, this isn’t to say I try to sneak into a seat at field level, but I do enjoy hanging out on the cross-aisle behind the field level seats. And although there are signs saying that standing is prohibited, the ushers don’t employ the Gestapo techniques common at other parks. Rogers Centre, I’m looking your way. It’s an extra reason to visit Comerica Park. The ushers truly make you feel welcome and you get the sense the team appreciates you buying a ticket. Anyway, here’s where I was standing, just to the third base side of home plate:

comerica-park-malcolm-at-field-level

While I stood in this area, the rain let up and the grounds crew removed the tarp. Success! It wasn’t long before the Tigers started to filter into the dugout. Here’s starter Rick Porcello having a last-minute chat with Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones:

comerica-park-porcello-pitching-coach

(Check out the giant jar of gumballs in the background.)

I stayed in the front row behind the Tigers dugout during the anthems, getting the opportunity to snap photos of guys like future hall of famer Omar Vizquel, now a coach with Detroit:

comerica-park-omar-vizquel

And manager Brad Ausmus sharing a laugh with Justin Verlander:

comerica-park-ausmus-and-verlander

By the time first pitch came around, I headed over to the first base side, standing in the cross aisle behind the Jays dugout. From here, I was able to get a bunch more close-up shots of the players, but I’ll just share this wide-angle one I took of Porcello delivering to Melky Cabrera:

comerica-park-porcello-pitches-to-cabrera

Cabrera crushed the next pitch into the seats in right field for his ninth home run of the season and celebrated with Jose Bautista right in front of where I was standing:

comerica-park-bautista-cabrera-hr-celebration

Speaking of home runs, I was pumped to get another chance to see Miguel Cabrera in the bottom of the first. He’s probably my favorite current player who doesn’t wear a Blue Jays uniform, so I stayed put to watch his first plate appearance. This was the swing he put on a fastball from R.A. Dickey …

comerica-park-miguel-cabrera-home-run

… and this was the result:

comerica-park-chevrolet-fountain-cabrera-home-run

That’s the Chevrolet fountain in center field going off after the ball landed in the left field stands for Cabrera’s 11th home run of the season. Being so close to home plate when Cabrera made contact, I can unequivocally tell you it sounded different than the average hit. Absolutely incredible power, and a treat to watch.

I moved my position closer to the rear of home plate for the remainder of the inning, enjoying this outstanding view:

comerica-park-home-plate-view-panorama

And then, with the game underway, resumed my travels around Comerica Park. My first mission was to head up to the Jungle Rooftop Bleachers area, not to find my seat, but rather to check out the New Amsterdam 416 Bar, which is new since my last visit. It’s an upscale, bar-style hangout between the Jungle and the right field seats. It’s got a bunch of comfy seating, and even a flaming bar. That’s not what I mean. A bar that flames? That doesn’t sound right, either. Well, just look at the photo and you’ll see some flickers of the flames:

comerica-park-new-amsterdam-club

Next, my travels took me past the Fox Theatre, where I snapped this shot of the sun beginning to set …

comerica-park-fox-theatre-parking-lot-sunset

… and up to the upper deck. From here, I was able to spot my hotel, which I hadn’t been able to see yet. See the Grand Valley State University building? Look right above it and you’ll see a red-bricked building with white window frames. That’s the Hilton Garden Inn Detroit Downtown:

comerica-park-hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-view

I watched a few innings from the upper deck, happy to take a seat after being on my feet for the last four-plus hours. The game was entertaining to watch — after the teams traded first-inning home runs from the Cabreras, the score remained close and I cut the tension by hitting a Little Caesars kiosk and buying a slice of pizza that was hands down the best ballpark pizza I’ve eaten. I couldn’t resist Little Caesars, given the connection to the Tigers. Mike Ilitch, the Tigers owner, got the start of his billion-dollar empire by founding Little Caesars.

Now, this next part might make you hungry, so be forewarned: The individual slices are square pieces so you get that delicious cheese-coasted crust on two sides. As an added bonus, you can get pouches of dried red pepper flakes to sprinkle on your slice. I’m contemplating going back to Detroit just for another piece or seven:

comerica-park-food-little-caesars-pizza

I spent the game’s latter innings in the outfield seats with this spectacular view:

comerica-park-left-field-night-panorama

One of the great features about Comerica Park is its view of the Detroit skyline, which you’ve seen in the previous images. One of my favorite parts of the skyline is the David Broderick Tower, which is characterized by its enormous mural of whales. I could see part of this building from my hotel room and, as I sat in the left field seats, had a great view of it at night over the Comerica Park statues:

comerica-park-city-night-view

The Jays blew the game open in the late innings, scoring three runs in the eighth inning and two in the ninth to claim an 8-2 win. The final out took place at 10:22 p.m. and from my seat below the video board, I had easy access to the final box score:

comerica-park-tigers-jays-final-box-score

The walk back to my hotel was quick and provides another reminder why the Hilton Garden Inn is your best choice if you’re visiting Comerica Park. If you’re a little nervous about walking in the city at night, I can assure you that the walk from the park to the hotel is perfectly safe. Not only are there plenty of cops directing traffic, but you’ll find yourself in a throng of fans for the entire walk.

I was anxious to get back to my room and check out the night scene, and it didn’t disappoint. In the following panorama, you can see not only Comerica Park, but the bright lights of the Fox Theatre and plenty more. What a view!

hilton-garden-inn-detroit-downtown-night-view

I enjoyed the view on and off for the evening and finally got to bed after 1 a.m., or about 21 hours after my day began. A few short hours later, I’d be heading back to Comerica Park for a day game with perfect weather, Verlander on the mound, a return visit to the hot dog concession stand and a whole lot more.

Snowy Comerica Park

I’ve got just 10 sleeps until my first baseball road trip of 2014, which I’ll be blogging about next week. In the meantime, though, I wanted to share one quick ballpark adventure I had over the winter.

Back in January, my wife and I made a quick to Detroit to see an Adam Carolla stand-up show at the Motor City Casino. I’ve been to Detroit a couple times in the past, including in May of 2011 for a pair of Tigers games at Comerica Park. You can read my fan guide to Comerica Park by clicking on the park’s name in this sentence, and blog posts about those two trips here and here.

Anyway, I’m a huge Adam Carolla fan and since he doesn’t travel to the east side of the continent very often, I couldn’t resist buying tickets. Where does baseball come in, you ask?

Well, first of all, we stayed at the casino hotel and ate dinner at one of its restaurants. From our seats, we could see both Comerica Park, the current home of the Tigers, and the site of old Tiger Stadium. The spot that Tiger Stadium once occupied is now a vacant lot. You probably wouldn’t even notice it, except the flag in center field still stands. I didn’t take my camera to the restaurant, and the dark, gray evening wasn’t very conducive to photos. There’s a great photo on Wikipedia, however, that show exactly what I’m talking about:

tiger-stadium-current-site

See the tall building on the left of the image? That’s the Motor City Casino, and the restaurant is behind the tall windows on the upper floor.

The morning after the show, we set out for the long drive home, but not before taking a drive around Comerica Park. It was neat to see the winter version of the park. Here’s me in front of the statues of Ty Cobb and Willie Horton, which are beyond the outfield fence:

comerica-park-winter-malcolm-statues

And here I am in front of the famous tiger statue at the Witherell Street gate:

comerica-park-malcolm-tiger-gate

The tigers on the side of the building were wearing snow caps:

comerica-park-snowy-tiger-heads

And we could see the snowy field as we peeked through from the sidewalk:

comerica-park-snowy-field

As we stood on Witherell Street, I snapped a series of photos to build this panorama to show the snowy scene looking away from Comerica Park’s gate:

comerica-park-winter-panorama

The building in the center is the historic Fox Theatre.

I really enjoyed my visits at Comerica Park, even though my second game was rain shortened. If you didn’t see the notice on my website last week, I’m excited to say that I’ll be heading back to Detroit in June as part of a road trip. The rest of the dates and cities aren’t confirmed right now, but I can definitely say I’ll be at Comerica to see the Tigers host the Blue Jays on June 4 and 5.

If you enjoy reading about my baseball adventures and want to support them, there are a few ways of doing so, especially if you shop on Amazon. Please take a look at this link to find out how you can support my trips at no extra cost to you — and receive my thanks on Twitter, too!

My First Ballgame

“Would you like to go to a baseball game?”

That question, posed to me the morning of July 2, 1988, is what began my passion for watching live baseball.

I was six years old and a huge Toronto Blue Jays fan, but I hadn’t yet got the chance to see my team play live. On the weekend in question, my family was assembled at the cottage of my maternal grandparents for Canada Day. I imagine we celebrated the holiday with a barbecue, swimming and maybe even fireworks. And I’m sure I convinced one of the grownups to play catch with me. I don’t remember those details, but I do remember my dad, uncle and grandfather asking me early on that Saturday morning if I wanted to see the Jays play.

It took me all of zero seconds to give me response, and we were soon packed into the minivan for the 90-minute trip from the cottage to Exhibition Stadium. I remember thinking it was pretty cool that I was on a guys’ trip — no girls allowed.

I’ve been thinking about that first game a lot lately, and trying to recall specific moments. I remember a handful of notable moments from that day. I’ve been able to fill in the other details with the help of the day’s box score I found on Baseball-Reference.

The Jays were pounded 11-3 by the Oakland A’s. In those days, the A’s 2-3-4 hitters were Dave Henderson, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. That year, the trio smashed 98 home runs and drove in 317 runs. Yikes.

I remember lots of home runs during the game, and the box score confirms there were four. Henderson and Terry Steinbach hit home runs for Oakland, while Cecil Fielder and George Bell hit them for Toronto. I remember being ticked off about the A’s home runs and overjoyed with Toronto’s blasts, as any young Jays fan would be.

I also remember Mike Flanagan getting the start for Toronto and laying a total egg. The box score tells me he went 2.1 innings, surrendering 5 hits and 7 earned runs. Truth be told, I actually remember thinking, “I hate Mike Flanagan” while we were driving back to the cottage after the game. The problems of a six-year-old kid, I guess.

Unfortunately, no family photos from that day seem to exist, nor can I find my old ticket stub. I can clearly remember where we were sitting, though. Exhibition Stadium was originally built for football, and the seating arrangement for baseball games could be best described as awkward. Because of the vast football sidelines, the field-level seats when the stadium was configured for baseball felt like they were a mile away, and the seats down the lines were also ridiculously far from the action. We sat in the upper deck way down the first base line; the Internet tells me the seats were benches and the tickets cost $7, but I don’t recall those details.

I don’t remember what we ate, although I’m sure I had a hot dog or some ice cream. I also seem to recall staying in our seats the entire game — a big-time contrast from how I watch baseball now. The souvenir I took home from the game was the team’s 1988 yearbook. It not only brings back memories to flip through it now, but some of the pictures are absolutely hilarious. I carried this magazine around with me for what seemed like a year. In actuality, it probably was, as I didn’t see my second live ballgame until 1989.

Here’s the cover, which shows its age, despite my obsession with keeping things in their original condition:

1988-blue-jays-program-cover

You might notice some light pen marks on the letters “YEAR,” which I vaguely recall making before getting cold feet and stopping short of finishing the whole word.

A lot of the player pages take me right back to 1988. Here’s Fred McGriff, who was hands-down my favorite player of the era:

fred-mcgriff-blue-jays-yearbook-1988

(You can imagine how thrilled I was to meet McGriff last season at Rochester’s Frontier Field during the Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams game.)

Here’s a picture that screams 1980s — Juan Beniquez with a poorly fitting fat, enormous wristbands, super-short sleeves and a gold chain with a home plate-shaped medallion AND a baserunner:

juan-beniquez-1988-blue-jays-yearbook

Remember when Cecil Fielder was skinny? If you watched the Jays in the 1980s, that’s the Fielder you remember:

cecil-fielder-1988-blue-jays-yearbook

It’s hilarious to note that Fielder is listed at 220 pounds here, and the story about him talks about his good hands “for a big man.” If only they’d had a crystal ball in 1988.

Many of the advertisements are downright hilarious — and I imagine even more so if you’re younger than I am. First of all, there are a bunch of cigarette ads throughout the book, which is something you certainly don’t see anymore.

As far as other ads, here’s a full-page ad of a bank bragging that it has “instant teller” machines that are open … wait for it … 24 hours a day!

cibc-1988-ad

There’s also an ad for a state-of-the-art Panasonic VCR. Jealous?

panasonic-1988-ad

And what self-respecting connoisseur of VCRs would find himself without a 1988 Chevrolet Corsica?

chevrolet-1988-ad

Of course, any man about town might mix business and pleasure by taking his “portable computer” to the ballpark:

toshiba-portable-computers-1988-ad

(That last ad might be the best of all.)

That 1988 Jays team went 87-75 but didn’t make the playoffs. It did, however, have one of the best rosters the team has ever fielded. The outfield of George Bell, Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield is unquestionably the team’s best outfield trio of all time, and the infield of Kelly Gruber, Tony Fernandez, Manny Lee and Fred McGriff was also pretty solid. Ernie Whitt and Pat Borders split the catching duties, and the starting rotation was Mike Flanagan, Dave Stieb, Jim Clancy, Jimmy Key and Todd Stottlemyre. The set-up man was Duane Ward and the closer was Tom Henke.

It would be another year before the Jays were bound for the playoffs. That year, the Jays moved from Exhibition Stadium to SkyDome, and I went to a few games and have the programs to prove it. Interested in another post like this? Leave me a comment below and let me know!

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!