Baseball (Rail) Road Trip 2023!
Well, I accomplished most of my objectives while riding the rails out to the Pacific Coast and back earlier this month, attending games in three stadiums that I had never seen before, taking a tour of another one, inspecting the exterior of a fifth stadium that is currently in use, seeing two former stadiums, and visiting the site where a temporary stadium once stood, and passing two current stadiums while riding on the train. Finally, I saw four well-known football stadiums, some while walking by and some while on the train.
June 12 -- New Orleans: I changed trains in the Big Easy, and took advantage of the brief layover to make a closer inspection of the Superdome, now bearing the moniker of the Caesars casino firm from Las Vegas. (I only came within a block or so during my first visit there in February 2021.) I was hoping to sneak in somehow, but workers were busy doing renovation work, and all the open doors were guarded, so I had to content myself with just a quick peek from outside. Conveniently, the Superdome is only a few blocks away from the AMTRAK station.
June 13 -- Houston: My first destination was the Astrodome, located a few miles south-southwest of downtown. I had made a telephone call a couple weeks earlier, in hopes of getting access to the Astros' former home, but was told that no one from the public is being allowed inside for the time being. Maybe next year they will start doing tours, I was told.
Late in the afternoon, I returned to downtown Houston via light rail and walked about five blocks to Minute Maid Park. I spent about a half hour walking all around the stadium, photographing all the nooks and crannies and making mental notes about the retractable roof, gate locations, ticket sales windows, etc. along the way. I finally confirmed that the brick building beyond left field was in fact at one time a passenger railroad terminal. It's strange because there are no railroad tracks anywhere close to there anymore. Finally I entered at the Left Field Gate. I took advantage of the special $22 ticket deal, including a hot dog, popcorn, and soda in addition to the with an upper-deck seat (in the upper deck behind the dugouts on the first base side), which turned out to be "obstructed view." You can see all of the field (except for the right field corner) from there, but the massive tressel upon which the retractable roof slides blocks the view of the left field seating areas and the scoreboard in right center field. Patrick Corbin was pitching, and he got through the first four innings unscathed, but in the fifth inning the Astros finally got to him. Two players I had never heard of (Mauricio Dubon and Kyle Tucker) hit solo home runs, and two innings later the Astros tacked on two more runs to make it 4-0. In the top of the 8th, Luis Garcia hit an RBI single to put the Nats on the board, but then the Astros scored two more in the bottom of the inning. Relief pitchers Chad Kuhl and Thaddeus Ward took responsibility for the latter four runs. Final score: Astros 6, Nationals 1.
The outcome of the game was not surprising, given the relative strengths of the two teams this year, but for me the most important thing was to be able to relish the glory of the Nationals' World Series triumph at this locale nearly four years ago...
June 16 -- Los Angeles: After a long train ride across the southwestern desert, I arrived at Los Angeles Union Station early on a Friday morning, and checked into my downtown hotel. After playing tourist at the Santa Monica pier for an hour or so, I got off the Metro Rail train at the University of Southern California Campus, and then walked a couple blocks to L.A. Memorial Coliseum. I was told by the guard that I just missed some public event but that it was too late to get inside, but I could do so tomorrow. Unfortunately, I just didn't have the time. Next door at the BMO Stadium, where the L.A. soccer team plays, preparations were underway for a Blink-182 concert that evening.
Next I walked for nearly two miles eastward through some residential neighborhoods in central Los Angeles, past some homeless encampments that gave me the creeps, finally arriving at the site where L.A. Wrigley Field once stood. The land is presently used in part for a neighborhood playground, a senior center, and a specialized medical clinic of some sort. Even though I had a pretty good idea of where home plate and the grandstand used to be, I was unable to find any historical marker.
In the evening, I zipped over to Union Station to await the free shuttle bus to Dodger Stadium, and was immediately disconcerted by the long line of fans waiting for the next bus. That evening just happened to be "Pride Night" for the Dodgers, promoting the team's support for LGBTQ people with rainbow-adorned flags, jerseys, etc., etc. Well, a group of protesters decided to express their disapproval by blocking the parking lot, causing many thousands of fans to arrive very late. So, the 200 or 300 fans waiting for the bus ended up arriving at the game at the end of the third inning, about an hour late. They dropped us off in back of the bleachers beyond right field, and I was awestruck as I entered that historic, beautifully-maintained palace. The palm trees and the fading twilight create an entrancing ambience. After roaming the stadium to take photos, I got settled into my seat, which was toward the front of the third deck behind home plate on the left side. The view was great, and not nearly as high as the third deck would be in most stadiums; that reflects the fact that Dodger Stadium has a relatively small first deck. The game was pretty competitive, and the fans were thrilled when Freddie Freeman hit an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game 5-5. In the bottom of the 11th inning, the Dodgers had a golden opportunity to at least catch up to the Giants, who had just scored two runs. With one out and the automatic runner on second base, Mookie Betts hit a high infield popup that third baseman Casey Schmitt somehow dropped, and then the pitcher (Jakob Junis) threw the ball over the first baseman's head, but for some reason the runner on second failed to run to home, and was caught in a confusing rundown after Mookie Betts tried to reach third base. I could not believe my eyes! That pretty much ended the home team's chances, and they lost to the Giants 7-5. The Giants were in the midst of a winning streak that put them ahead of the Dodgers in the NL West, with the Arizona Diamondbacks in first place.
June 17 -- Los Angeles: My original plan was to take a train from Los Angeles to San Diego and see the game at Petco Park on Saturday afternoon. Because of uncertainties stemming from the landslide that had shut down the rail line between the two cities, I decided to forego a visit to San Diego. AMTRAK has a connecting bus in the area where the rails are closed, but with all the extra stops, there was a chance of something going wrong, and my tight schedule could not accommodate much deviation. I would just use Saturday to see Angel Stadium instead, I figured. Unfortunately, however, I learned they were not giving tours that day, and the lady in the office handling public inquiries did not return my call. It wasn't worth spending half a day getting from downtown L.A. to Anaheim and back just to see the outside of the stadium, so I visited Hollywood and other parts of L.A. instead. (NOTE: That night, the Giants beat the Dodgers by a horrendous 15-0 margin, and they finished the unexpected sweep the next day.)
June 18 -- Oakland, CA: My train from Los Angeles pulled into Oakland right on time, and I was hopeful that I could get to the Phillies vs. Athletics game at least an hour early and thereby snag one of the freebie Hawaiian shirts that were given out to the early-arriving fans that day. Unfortunately, the train [from Oakland's Jack London Square station to] the Coliseum/Airport station was delayed for more than an hour because of (supposedly) traffic congestion at a drawbridge, but apparently also because someone tried to commit suicide by lying down on the tracks. And so, once again, I arrived at the game after three innings had already been played. I had a nice initial impression of Oakland Coliseum, which is often maligned for being decrepit or not well suited for baseball. (The latter criticism is obviously accurate.) For the most part, I was treated very well by stadium personnel, and they gave me an official certificate for being a "first-timer" in the Coliseum, along with an A's pin. The food service people were horrible, however, and I wasted over a half hour trying to get a smoked sausage and beer, finally being told that it was too late for beer by the time I got to the front of the line. I suppose it is hard to get motivated to work hard when the team that employs you is planning to move to a different city. Attendance that day was good (24,326), perhaps reflecting the Hawaiian shirt giveway. It was nice to see three former Nationals among the Phillies: Trea Turner, Kyle Schwarber, and Josh Harrison. For some reason, Bryce Harper wasn't serving as designated hitter that day; he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and can't throw very hard. Since I arrived late, I missed seeing Schwarber's leadoff home run in the first inning, something that he became famous for while playing with Washington two years ago. The Athletics staged rallies in the 7th and 8th innings, but could not quite catch up to the visiting team. Final score: Phillies 3, Athletics 2.
June 19 -- San Francisco: One day later (Monday), I took the BART train across the bay, and after some hassles, obtained tickets for a guided tour of Oracle Park. Once again, the skies were clear, just perfect for taking photos. Our guide was very friendly and knowledgeable, and I really enjoyed learning about the Giants and their exquisite (privately-financed!) sporting palace. The other folks in the tour probably thought I was weird for taking photos of interior structural elements, etc., but that's what it take to get my diagrams as accurate as humanly possible!
June 21 -- Seattle: After another long train ride, I arrived in Seattle on Wednesday night, about six hours late. It was the one big screwup by AMTRAK in an otherwise very punctual and efficient series of train connections. It left me with very little time to see much of Seattle, unfortunately, so I just hustled down from my lodgings in Chinatown to take a quick look at T-Mobile Park before returning to the train station. The trains go right under the retractable roof, so in a sense you could say I was "inside" T-Mobile Park! This marks yet another example of how I often seem to visit MLB stadiums in the same year as the All-Star Game, or else just one year from it. If I had gone to San Diego I would not have visited Seattle, or T-Mobile Park.
June 23 -- Milwaukee: As the eastbound train to Chicago entered the city of Milwaukee, I had a brief view of what is now called "American Family Field"; it was known as Miller Park when I visited there in 2010. For the record, while our train was heading south in Chicago later that afternoon, I also saw Guaranteed Rate Field, home of the White Sox, but did not manage to get a photo, as I have done in the past. No big deal. During the subsequent night, our train passed through Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky, but I'm not sure if I could see Great American Ballpark.
Thus concluded the "mother of all baseball road trips"! The My ballpark visits page has been updated with all those new stadiums. And of course, the diagrams for most or all of those stadiums will be revised in the near future based on the first-hand observations I made of them.
Nationals put an end to slump (?)
After a very respectable (14-15) performance in the month of May, the Washington Nationals went straight downhill in June. Throughout my trip, they repeatedly struggled to avoid being swept in one series after another. Finally, it seems, they have pulled out of the proverbial "nosedive." During their road trip to the Pacific Coast, they managed to beat the San Diego Padres in two games out of three, and then did the same thing in Seattle. On Tuesday evening relief pitcher Jordan Weems somehow got out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the 10th inning, after which the Nats staged a 3-run rally (thanks largely to Lane Thomas's clutch 2-run double), so after pitching again in the 11th inning he also got the save. Final score: Nats 7, Mariners 4. In today's "rubber match" game, the Nats won it again, 4-1, That marks the first time this year that the Nationals (currently with a 32-48 record, right at the critical .400 "threshhold of respectability") have won two series in a row!
* NOTE: The data as originally posted at the top was May 28, when it should have been June 28.