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August 16, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Great Baseball Road Trip 2009

I accomplished most of my baseball objectives during my recent journey out to the Wild West -- and back to the "Tame East." Whereas I saw six stadiums in two cities (but no games) over the course of three days last October, this time I saw nine stadiums (including two minor league parks and one "retired" major league park) in nine different cities (and three games) over the course of two weeks. I learned a lot during the SABR annual convention in Washington, which was the first objective of the trip. On Friday I listened to former Washington Senator Frank Howard and former Baltimore Oriole Rick Dempsey, along with former Channel 4 sports anchor George Michael. Afterwards, Mr. Howard was gracious enough to sign his autograph for me. The next day I attended several research presentations and was fascinated to hear the reminiscences of three men and one woman (!) who used to play in the Negro Leagues during the early 1950s. Their testimony of hardship and triumph was very moving.

During the convention, I was pleased to meet some prominent figures in the world of baseball research, including Ron Selter, who wrote the recently-published Ballparks of the Deadball Era, which is chock full of detailed information about the various configurations of the classic ballparks of the early 20th Century. It will be of great use in revising my diagrams of stadiums from that era. Gary Gillette, who has been active with the Tiger Stadium Conservancy project frown, was chosen to lead the Ballparks Committee, in which I plan to become active.

Aug. 1: D.C.-Baltimore

During some free time on Saturday, I went over to take some pictures at RFK Stadium, which now serves merely as the home of the D.C. United soccer team. It's too bad I didn't have a high-quality digital camera back when the Nationals played there, from 2005 to 2007...

After the SABR presentations concluded that afternoon, I joined my old friend Dave Givens for a game at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Our drive up along I-95 was delayed by multiple traffic jams and took over an hour, reminding me of how foolish it was to expect that Washington fans would forever remain content to see "home games" in Baltimore. It was the first time I had seen the Red Sox play, and now I now what "Red Sox Nation" is all about. Boston fans seemed at least equal in number to Baltimore fans, nullifying the home field advantage. I was wearing my Yankees ball cap, but nobody gave me a hard time about it, to my surprise. The second batter in the game, Dustin Pedroia, hit a home run, and that turned out to be enough to win the game. The Orioles showed occasional moments of excellence at the plate and in the field, but the Red Sox dominated them, and the final score was 4-0. Attendance was 49,384, exceeding the seating capacity, meaning that several hundred fans paid to watch the game standing up.

Aug. 2: Pittsburgh

Early on Sunday morning I drove up to Pittsburgh to see the Nationals play the Pirates at PNC Park, which fully lived up to the high expectations I had of it. (If I had had enough time, I would have stopped at the site of Forbes Field, but I can always see that another time.) Not only was the scenery wonderful, the game outcome was a big thriller, as the Nationals edged the Pirates 5-3. I was lucky to take a picture just as Josh Willingham hit a home run (with Ryan Zimmerman on first base) that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. That one blast turned out to be one of the biggest turning points of this entire season, as the Nationals ended their four-game losing streak and beginning an eight-game winning streak, their longest string of consecutive wins since June 2 - June 12, 2005. For one brief, glorious moment, the Nats were the hottest team in baseball, a much-needed consolation for Washington-area fans. Speaking of which, I was pleased to see a number of other Nats fans up in Pittsburgh, and it's just possible that the expression of fan support may have tipped the balance in Washington's favor.

Aug. 9: Denver

One week later I found myself in spacious Coors Field, along with my father and sister Connie. Dad is a life-long Cubs fan, but that day was not a good one for the visiting team, which lost, 11-5. Amazingly, the Cubs outhit the Rockies, 17-14. Even more amazingly, none of those 31 hits were home runs, which must have been a record for slugger-friendly Coors Field. It was the first time I had seen Alfonso Soriano play; he happened to be out of the lineup both days I saw the Nats play in 2006, his only year in Washington. For the Clem family, the most memorable aspect of that game was the message board in the right field corner welcoming Alan "Cub" Clem to Coors Field. (Thanks, Connie!) I had a nice chat with a guy sitting in the very back row of the upper deck while I was taking a "grand view" photograph, and took a picture of his family, to be posted later. I had seen a game in Coors Field 11 years ago, but that was at night, so this gave me a much better chance to inspect the stadium's "innards." The concourses are very spacious, and fan access is quite easy. It is a truly beautiful ballpark. Coincidentally, the score the next day was the very same: Rockies 11, Cubs 5. Troy Tulowitzki hit for the cycle, helping the Rockies to take a 3-1 series win over the visiting Cubs. The Cardinals thus widened their lead over the Cubs in the NL Central for the next few days.

Aug. 14: K.C.-St. Louis

On the return leg of my trip, I. At the break of dawn, I stopped at historic Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, where the College World Series has been held for about as long as anyone can remember. 2010 will be the last year for that ballpark, which will be replaced even though it has an excellent location and appears on the outside to be in fine shape. Later that morning I passed through Kansas City and spent some time taking pictures of Kauffman Stadium, where major renovations were recently completed. I couldn't see much from the outside, however, and I didn't have enough time for another tour, like the last time I was there seven years ago. I learned from the Kansas City Star that Arrowhead Stadium (home of the Chiefs) next door is now undergoing major renovations as well.

After a few hours of driving along I-70 across Missouri, I reached St. Louis and drove past Busch Stadium III for the first time. All those red bricks and steel roof arches look very impressive from the outside, but it would help appearances if they could fill the vacant lot where the previous Busch Stadium used to stand. The Cardinals were hosting the Padres that evening, so parking was very tight, as was my schedule, so I had to content myself with a few quick snapshots. I had thought about seeing that game as well as the Reds-Nationals game in Cincinnati on Saturday night, but decided that was too ambitious. My revised plan was to reach Cincinnati in time for the Friday night game, but such was not to be. With all the construction delays along I-64, my optimistic plan was just not possible. As dusk was about to fall, I passed by Louisville Slugger Stadium, where the home team was hosting the Toledo Mudhens. I thought about stopping to see it, and in retrospect I wished I had done so.

Aug. 15: Cincinnati

Although I wasn't able to see the Friday night game in Cincinnati, the Nationals beat the Reds, 2-0. (The home team had won by a score of 7-0 the night before.) I drove into the city on Saturday morning to visit the site of Crosley Field and take some quick photos of Great American Ballpark, where I had seen a game five years ago. The Nats went on to win the next two games (10-6 and 5-4), racking up another series win (3-1) and raising hopes once again that they can end this season on a respectable note. Today, Ryan Zimmerman batted in the go-ahead run as a pinch-hitter, an unusual situation for him.

Overall, my big Summer 2009 trip was very satisfying, even though I didn't get to see all the games I wanted to. I have heard of some hardcore baseball fans who have gone on cross-country baseball treks, but I just can't devote that much time to such an endeavor. I just feel very lucky and privileged to have enjoyed games with family and friends and other fans. During my trip I saw one new major league stadium for the first time (Busch III) as well as another that I had only seen during construction phase (PNC). For two others in which I had seen games before (Camden and Coors) I took a large quantity of of good digital photographs. All of the above-cited stadium pages will up updated with the new photographs over the next few days.

August 2009 stadium montage

CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Busch Stadium III, Kauffman Stadium, Great American Ballpark, Coors Field, and PNC Park. Roll over this image to see the montage from my trip last October.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 16 Aug 2009, 10: 25 PM

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