Sunday, June 15, 2008

By The Numbers...

The Tale of the Tape from my journey. A "Pilgrimage Box Score" if you will.

Number of...

Miles Driven

States Driven Through (besides Florida)

Games Attended

Stadiums Visited

Hot Dogs Eaten

All-Star Ballots Filled Out

Times I did the Wave

Money Spent

A Ballpark Pilgrimage?

Game 10: Phillies vs. Cardinals at Busch Stadium

The Pilgrimage ended Friday night in St. Louis. And it was certainly a bitter-sweet day in more ways than one.

As I was just making it into St. Louis on Friday, my Dad called to tell me that my favorite political journalist, Tim Russert, had died of a massive heart attack. I couldn't believe what he was telling me -- I wondered if it was a sick joke for a split second. My friend & faithful reader, Jordan, called 10 minutes later to tell me also. Despite Tiger putting together an epic back nine at the U.S. Open on Friday, I got to the hotel room & turned it to MSNBC immediately. I couldn't help but get "a little more than misty" on several occasions in that hour or so as I watched the coverage & wrote my own thoughts about the news.

I finally pealed away & headed up to the ballpark. I just drove in silence reflecting on Russert's life -- his reputation, integrity, and lasting legacy. Finally, I saw it -- the big St. Louis arch. The gateway to the west. It's a simple structure, really. Unimpressive except for its size. But for some reason holds such a captivating draw & really lifted my spirits. I parked about a mile away from the stadium in the cheap parking & got a little extra exercise on my way to the ballpark.

The new Busch Stadium (or "Busch Stadium III") is extremely impressive. It may be the best of the new-wave ballparks I visited. To me, the coolest thing about the park is that you can see the city skyline, including the arch, through centerfield. They have a fantastic jumbotron, as one might expect, and their scoreboard is the best that I've seen. You can keep up with all the games going on in MLB at the park -- seeing the score, inning, who's on base, how many outs, who's up to bat, etc. for each game. It's really impressive.

I had the BEST seats for this game than for any other game I attended along the way. I was in the highest upper deck on the first row right behind home plate. There may be better seats in the house, but not many.

And I sat next to some great Cardinals & Phillies fans. The great part about this trip is that you can do it solo because of the camaraderie that exists between fans. And the group I sat around Friday night was one of the best: great guys with good senses of humor. We had fun.

I departed early, after the game turned into a rout of the home team (score was 12-1 when I left -- it ended 20-2). But not without sampling a Cardinal dog! They do it right in St. Louis -- a jumbo dog with a good, soft bun. I'll give them a 7.5.

On to the tab!

Gas somewhere south of Chicago
$31.30 @ $4.119/gal.

Arby's for Lunch
$6.00ish... because they are expensive

Courtyard by Marriott via

Cardinals Ticket
+$4.00 ("Processing Fee")
+$5.25 ("Order Processing (including delivery)" ... even though, again, I printed these tickets from home)


Coke & a Hot Dog

... and then there was the Travel Day Home on Saturday ...

Gas in St. Louis
$27.02 @ $3.899/gal.

McDonald's Breakfast

Gas in Clarksville, TN
$34.00 @ $3.999/gal.
$4.30ish in road snacks

Gas in Clanton, AL
$33.01 @ $3.899/gal.

Hardee's late-lunch in Clanton, AL

Gas in Panama City before turning in rental car
$26.00 @ $4.099/gal.

Which brings the Pilgrimage Tab to a grand total OF...


... and I had a blast :)

Friday, June 13, 2008

GAME 9: Braves vs. Cubs at Wrigley Field

Where do I start?

Wrigley Field was beautiful. I definitely dig the "old-tyme" baseball feel. Thursday was apparently turn-back-the-clock day, too, as the Braves & Cubs wore baggy, old-school uni's. Wrigley has kept things a little more traditional than Fenway in that they have not installed any kind of jumbotron out in centerfield. I missed it a little bit when I couldn't see the replays. But it was still nice. I suppose I am more of a baseball purist, and that old stadium & field just give me the warm fuzzies.

One thing about these good, old stadiums though: they pack you in like sardines. And Fenway & Wrigley sell out every game. So be prepared for that.

I knew there some rooftop seats on nearby apartments, but I didn't know how many. There are tons of little companies (as evidenced here, here, and here) that sell seats & standing room to watch Cubs games. And with so many of them, honestly, it really just clutters up the view outside of Wrigley Field.

One interesting part of Wrigley culture: the passing of money & food down the aisles. They have long rows at Wrigley, so when the hot dog or beer guy comes by, you have to wave him down & communicate with hand signals. He may even have you pass your ID down if you look young to be drinking beer. He then passes the food/beverage down the row & passes your change next. It is a social operation. And I think I was sitting between two alcoholics on Thursday, so there was a lot of beer-passing happening on my row.

Even growing up in Florida, I had grown up knowing about the lore of the Chicago Dog. And so I knew that would have to be part of the Wrigley experience. I heard some manly Chicago guy in the row above me tease someone for putting ketchup on their dog, so when I got mine I ate it plain. And it was excellent. When you buy it from a vendor in the aisles, it is kept warm by some steam mechanism. So the bun is soft & warm, and it gets wrapped almost all the way around the hot dog. It was good. Very good. About as good as I could imagine a plain hot dog tasting. I give it an 8 out of 10.

It was cool to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." At other ballparks, it feels cheesy & copied to do that during the 7th inning stretch. But not at Wrigley: I joined in, and it was moving. It felt like church with a few thousand more people.

BTW, while I'm on this, other ballparks need to stop copying Chicago's "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" tradition. That was Harey Carey's thing, and everyone else needs to just let the Cubs have it. Its sad: whenever other ballparks do it, my first thought is, "Hmmm, this would be cooler if I was at Wrigley." Boston got creative and they discovered singing Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" in the middle of the 8th fit them. And it is cool. And unique.

Just had to get that off my chest. That, and EVERY ballpark should play John Fogerty's "Centerfield" immediately before the first pitch of every ballgame!

Cubs won a very exciting ballgame. They had the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th, and the Braves brought in a new pitcher. With his first pitch he beans the batter: game over. Cubs fans celebrated by going out to buy more beer!

I met up with a buddy from high school, Dawn. She, her room-mate, and I all walked down to Greektown and ate at a fantastic little Greek restaurant called Greek Islands. We had a little fried cheese appetizer dish, and I had a scrumptious chicken & rice dish for my main course. And the service was first class. I give that restaurant high marks.

To the Tab...


(Didn't have a full night's sleep, so I was liberal in replenishing my caffeine level with 3 iced tea's along the way to Chicago. There was also a muffin in there for breakfast.)

Indiana gas
$30.00 @ $3.999/gal.


City Parking

Chicago Dog @ Wrigley

Wrigley Ticket
$46.00 (ticket from web site)
+$4.59 ("Convenience Fee")
+$6.00 ("Order Processing Fee (including shipping)" -- NOTE: They didn't ship it to me. I printed my ticket from home)

FREE for me -- thanks Dawn! But probably would have been around six bucks.

Dinner at Greek Islands

Pilgrimage Tab now stands at $1,885.69. I don't think I'm gonna make it in under 2K...

Today I make it down to St. Louis. Cardinals game is scheduled for tonight, but God has also scheduled some nasty weather for tonight. So we'll see what happens.

GAME 8: Twins vs. Indians at Progressive Field

I took in a game on Wednesday night at the ballpark formerly known as Jacobs Field. And I was very impressed.

Before I got to the ballpark, though, I had to drive all the way through Pennsylvania. I drove from Parsippany, NJ to Cleveland, OH, which meant I drove I-80 all the way right through the middle of Pennsylvania. As my Cleveland buddy, Bob, told me when he called, "Its like driving through the middle of Tennessee." Indeed. But the scenery from the highway was nice. Lots of tree-covered, rolling hills in PA. It is especially beautiful near the state line of western NJ & eastern PA -- some rivers cutting through & between hills. It was pretty.

The downside of driving on an interstate road in the middle of Amish country, however, is that no one is willing to take the highway route. I must have passed 300 semi trucks on Wednesday over the course of 450-or-so miles. It was rather annoying, especially when one semi wanted to pass another semi while going about 2 MPH faster than the slower semi.

When I bought my tickets to this game on, there was an option to purchase parking (as there was with other ballgames, including Washington). It was $12, and since I wasn't familiar with the Cleveland downtown area, I went ahead & pulled the trigger. Boy I'm glad I did. This was the best parking ticket ever! It is a parking garage that is connected to the ballpark. The entrance to the ballpark from the parking garage was about 50 yards from my car. And for the entire game, I was no more than two or three hundred yards from my car. It was incredibly convenient. And I even saw people charging more for parking in the street -- what a rip off!

Bob also told me about the Cleveland phenomenon known as "stadium mustard." When I got my hot dog I put some on with ketchup & it was fantastic. The hot dog itself was well-done, too -- soft bun & a good weiner. I had begun to wonder if ballparks cared about the quality of their hot dogs since it had all been downhill since my first game in Baltimore. But this was a quality hot dog. I give the Cleveland dog an 8.5 out of 10.

There is plenty of seating these days in Cleveland. The team is awful. Which is sad, because they were so close to the World Series last year. Myself & others thought they might come back with a vengeance and get back to the World Series this year. But they won't come close. Anyway, since there is plenty of seating, I sat exactly where I wanted in the outfield seats instead of climbing to the upper reserve level. Also, I noticed that there are TONS of luxury box seats at Progressive Field -- more than I've noticed at any other stadium I've visited. And about 80% of them were empty for this game. It was the kind of luxury box where you can sit inside with the air conditioning, or step outside of a sliding glass door & sit in your own personal stadium seats -- that is definitely the best way to make luxury boxes. If ever I'm through Cleveland again, and the team still stinks, then I may look up & see if I can pick off some of those tickets.

Indians lost. Grady Sizemore tried to bring them back late with a 2-run homer that brought them to one run back. But that's as close as they got.

And a big thanks to Bob & his parents for hosting me at their home in Amherst, OH. It was very comfortable & I enjoyed my stay.

On to the tab!

Gas in Pennsylvania
$29.67 @ $3.999/gal.

Lunch @ Wendy's in Pennsylvania

Gas in Cleveland
$37.59 @ $3.8999/gal.

Soda, Hot Dog, & Cracker Jacks at Ballpark

Ticket + Parking
$12.00 (Ticket
+ 4.25 ("Total Convenience Charge")
+12.00 (Parking)
+ 3.35 ("Order Processing Charge")
+14.50 (UPS Shipping)

Pilgrimage Tab now stands at $1,745.75.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

GAME 7: Diamondbacks vs. Mets at Shea Stadium

I attended part of a game at Shea Stadium tonight. I left early when a nasty storm front moved through the NYC area around the 6th inning & caused a delay in the game.

It was pretty crazy. Just a half inning earlier, it was sorta hot & I remember having sighed while looking up at the American flags flapping & remarking to my game buddy, Chris, "I wish we could feel that breeze." All of a sudden, the wind REALLY started whipping around Shea Stadium. Dust from the construction of Citi Field (the Mets new home starting next season) was kicked up everywhere. Trash in the aisles even began to be kicked up & scattered across the field. Some families around us began to scatter for the exits thinking that there was a tornado or something. But we realized that if there was something like that in the area, we surely would have heard from the P.A. guy.

I called my Dad to get a weather update, and that's when Chris & I realized that the game was going to be delayed, it was late already, and we were better off heading toward the exits.

Shea Stadium definitely showed some age. I'm sure that this stadium was a marvel back in the 60's, but its just sort of bland in 2008.

The biggest thing you notice is that Shea Stadium is right in the take-off path of jets from LaGuardia Airport. Every 8-10 minutes, the deafening noise of jumbo jets drowns out any conversation. And Citi Field appears to be more directly in LaGuardia's take-off path than Shea Stadium is. Why didn't they build a dome? I guess it just makes too much sense...

On to the tab!

Gas @ 3.99/gal.

Wendy's Lunch (ugh...)

Crossing George Washington Bridge to Bronx from Jersey

Crossing another bridge to get to Queens

Crossing back over that bridge to get back to Jersey

Two Tickets to Mets Game

Parking at Mets Game

Dinner at Taco Bell

The Pilgrimage Tab now stands at $1,613.74

Cleveland Indians tonight. I won't be in a hotel the next two nights, so I may not have internet access or be able to post updates until Friday afternoon.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

GAME 6: "Yankees SUCK!"

I attended a Monday afternoon game in the Bronx -- Yanks trying to complete a 4-game sweep of the KC Royals. And I feel like I can say "Yankees suck" and have personal life experience that backs that up.

I made my way down to NYC from Kingston, NY on Monday morning. I weaved my way through New Jersey & entered the city from Lincoln Tunnel. When I emerged from the Tunnel, I was excited -- "I'm in NEW YORK CITY!" I was leaning forward in my car to see the tops of all the skyscrapers. I got into the city at about 11 or 11:30 AM, which was a good time to be driving around in traffic. Lots of buses & cabs to dodge. And I do mean dodge. I learned that the painted lanes & such on NYC roads are more like guidelines than hard & fast rules. Saw Times Sqaure. Saw Washington Square. And I made it to my 24-parking destination without any dents.

I then caught the B-train & headed up toward the Bronx. Not at all crowded. Felt safe. A little dirty & grimy. But all in all, I was thinking, "Alright. Not too bad so far."

When I made it to the Stadium, they wouldn't let me in with my back-pack. Apparently, if you're not with a group of people (like, "group seating" -- a couple is not a group), you cannot take a back-pack into Yankee Stadium. Took my back-pack into every other stadium I went to last week. But not Yankee Stadium. I had to go find this bowling alley across the street from the Stadium & "check" my bag. For five dollars, I let my back-pack sit in a bowling alley with complete strangers -- what a bargain!

When I finally got in the Stadium, I ordered a dog & a coke. It was a Nathan's Hot Dog, and I'd give an, "Eh... 6?" And the lady who took my order wasn't friendly at all, either. What is it with New Yorkers?

I found my seat in the right-centerfield bleachers. It was actually a great spot to catch possible homerun balls, but none came close to me. The guys I sat around were pretty friendly -- they saw my 'Bama visor, so several of us started talking college football.

The "collective consciousness" of Yankee Stadium is interesting. It totally sounds cliche, and I can't find the words to express it really, but they are truly "one in spirit." For example, it was a hot day. And when a cloud came overhead that blocked the sun, everyone started appaluding. But then when the cloud passed along, everyone went "Awwww" or "Boooo." And when I've heard announcers say, "And Yankee Stadium has finally come alive," I know what that means now. The stadium was only about 2/3 full Monday, but when they got excited, it is pretty rousing.

As far as the play goes, it was definitely a get-away day. Neither the Yankees or Royals wanted to be playing that game in 90-degree heat. Nobody was working counts. It was a relatively quick game. I was impressed with A-Rod -- I knew he was big, but he really looks like a giant out there on the field. And he hit a big homerun in the 7th inning that tied the game after being down 2-0.

Mariano Rivera came in to pitch in the 9th inning to hold the game to a tie. It was cool to see him trot in to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" (a song about going to sleep... in effect, saying to the Royals, "this guy is about to put you guys to bed."). Mariano Rivera has gotta be one of the coolest athletes of all time -- nothing fazes him. But the first batter hit a homerun off of him in an 0-2 count. I wanted to jump up & down in excitement to see Rivera actually blow a game in person! But I also wanted to leave with all my appendages in tact, so I bottled up all my Yankee hate for the entire game -- even that moment.

I was going to meet some friends after the game, but I was about an hour ahead of schedule. So I was going to sit in the bleachers, catch up on some phone calls, and maybe walk around the stadium a bit after the game to check it out from different viewpoints. Not a chance! The cops totally shoo'ed me out of the stadium. They were jerks. I guess they wanted to go home. But geez. Why can't you let folks hang out instead of going to cram themselves into a subway line? That sealed it -- my Yankee Stadium experience sucked. I don't like these people. And I will now root against all of their sports teams until the end of time.

I rode the subway back down to Greenwich Village to meet up with friends from home, Chris & Katy Donlan. We went to eat dinner at some famous pizza place in the West Village -- I think its called "John's Pizzeria." People wait in line outside to eat this pizza apparently. And while I was not enthralled with the "everything-on-it" style pizza (which is what I usually like), I really did enjoy the cheese pizza (which is what I usually don't like). Apparently the cheese pizza is their specialty. It was very good.

Katy, Chris, and I then went to "Magnolia's to mack on some cupcakes" (reference from Saturday Night Live's now legendary skit, "Lazy Sunday"). Magnolia's is a bakery in the West Village. I actually did buy a couple of cupcakes, and we all went down to sit on the bank of the Hudson River to watch the sunset.

Thanks again for the fun evening Katy & Chris :)

On to the tab!

Starbucks tea & Banana Nut loaf @ Starbucks Monday morning

Lincoln Tunnel Toll to get into NYC

Parking for under 10 hours

NYC Subway Fare
Around $7.25 or something

Checking my backpack at Yankee Stadium

Nathan's Hot Dog & Coke

Magnolia's Cupcakes
I forget... I think it was around $4

Hotel in Parsippany-Troy Hills, NJ

Ticket to Yankee Stadium Bleacher Seat

The Pilgrimage Tab now stands at $1,486.21

I'm hoping to make it in under $2K

Shea Stadium tonight with Chris. Gonna find out if the humans are any more inhumane over in Queens...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Trek to Mecca

I made my way over to Cooperstown, NY this morning to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum. And there is a bit of a distinction there. I'd heard my Dad say that when he visited the hall some 30 years ago, his reaction was, "This is IT???" Apparently they've done a good job building the number & quality of exhibits in the museum portion of the edifice. And I certainly didn't come away wondering if "this was it." Rather, I began to boggle my mind trying to fathom the amount of money in the form of baseball memorabilia is stored in that place. From bats, balls, & uniforms to EVERY World Series Championship ring, there's some money in that place.

Also, in the museum portion of the structure they do well to recognize Pete Rose & his accomplishments. They have one of his jerseys, and he is recognized as the all-time hits king. He's just not celebrated with a plaque in the Hall. And I think that that's an appropriate way to deal with the quagmire he created for himself.

I spent about 3 hours at the Hall, making my way through each & every section. They start from the beginnings of baseball & go all the way through to present day happenings. They have one section dedicated just to Babe Ruth. And another section over, they have a section dedicated to segregation & the Negro Leagues. They even have copies of hate-mail that was sent to Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron, filled with insults & peppered with "n***er boy" references. On the third floor of the museum, they have a whole section dedicated to the all-time stats leaders. On one wall, they have a dedication to all the no-hitters ever thrown. And within that section, there is recognition of Nolan Ryan's 7 no-no's. And I didn't even know that he had 5 other no-hit bids broken up in the 9th inning. Amazing...

The Hall of Fame itself is sort of bland. Its just a bunch of plaques. But I made a point to spend time in front of the ones that meant something to me: Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle (my Dad's boyhood hero), and Wade Boggs (my boyhood hero).

Of course there's plenty of ways to waste money. The Hall has a bookstore & a memorabilia store with all kinds of things. I was even looking at a Wade Boggs HOF jersey until I saw the price tag -- $300.

Once I got there, I was happy that I came on a Sunday. The Hall is near the middle of town, and it does NOT have its own parking. You can only park on the street for two hours at a time EXCEPT on Sunday -- so I was able to park near the Hall for free as long as I wanted. If you want to park longer than 2 hours Monday through Saturday, you have to go about a half of a mile away and pay ten bucks to park. Ridiculous, I say! If you're going to have a Hall of Fame, don't fleece the fan. It's already in the middle of nowhere so that most of the nation has to pay good money to get up there. They charge an exorbitant amount of money for a museum entrance fee. OUTRAGEOUS that you have to pay for parking at the Hall of Fame...

Not only that, but hotel prices in Cooperstown are outrageous. About $200 for a two-star hotel. NO thank you. I'm a couple hours away in a town called Kingston. I drove through Catskill State Park to get here -- a very nice, scenic drive.

To the tab...

$38.50 @ $4.19/gal.

Lunch at McDonald's

(Man am I sick of fast-food)

Ticket into the Hall of Fame

Taco Salad at Taco Bell

Starbucks Tea

(I got two. Man have I missed my tea. Maybe its more British than it is American, but I say baseball parks should sell tea!)

Courtyard by Marriott in Kingston, NY

(ATTN Cooperstown Best Western & Holiday Inn Express: Go stick it! $220 for a room?! You didn't get my business)

Assorted Tolls along Mass Pike

So the Pilgrimage Tab now stands at $1,341.31

And the Pilgrimage Odometer is at about 2,030 miles.

Tomorrow, I get to see a day game at Yankee Stadium. Royals @ Yanks. Since I've never been to NYC, I'm nervous. I'll admit it. I certainly won't be wearing any Red Sox regalia, I can tell you that. ;)