Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chicago, IL - The Cub

05/31/2011 - Chicago Cubs - Wrigley Field

Roughly 1,000 miles into our journey, we arrived at our "true" destination - Chicago, Illinois. You see, we have family in Chicago and when you tell people that you are embarking on a cross-country journey with a one year old, it's easier to explain with a "we're going to see family" than a "we're going to baseball games." You may know our hosts from such posts as Waco, TX and the Baylor Bears and after what seemed like forever on the road, it was great to see familiar faces (NOTE: I originally typed friendly faces but we were in the midwest - every face is a friendly face).
We stayed in Evanston, which is northern suburb of Chicago, and headed into the city on the "L", which is Chicago's elevated train. As the train rumbled above the city, we were offered occasional glimpses of downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan and then before we knew it, we arrived at the Addison stop, climbed down the stairs, and were right in the middle of Wrigleyville. For those who have never been to a ballpark set in the middle of a city, it is a sight. On gameday, pedestrians take over with streets blocked off from cars and restaurants pouring out onto the sidewalk turning a Tuesday afternoon into a party. As we were posing in front of the iconic Wrigley Field sign and I realized that although I've been a lot of cool places, I could now say that I've been to Yankee Stadium (the old one), Fenway and Wrigley. As any baseball fan would acknowledge, that's something to brag about.

Walking into the stadium, we were greeted by the smell of cooked meats and decades of beer soaked into concrete. We found our section and hiked up the stairs, all the while hoping that we hadn't paid to sit behind a pillar (the really old stadiums tend to have some obstructed views - it's charming, provided that it's not your view that's obstructed). Fortunately, the seats that we scored off Stubhub (quite cheaply, I might add), gave us clear sight lines of everything except for a little bit of short center field. For those unwilling to risk it and unwilling to pay for the primo seats, I suggest the bleachers. The bleachers at Wrigley are, from everything I've read, an experience. We unfortunately didn't have time for two games while in town and since you can't pass freely from the bleachers to the rest of the stadium, it'll have wait until our next trip to Chicago. Nevertheless, the 7 of us had a blast doing all the things that make a Cubs game unique. We sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at the 7th inning stretch. We listened to the organ play. We watched Carlos Zambrano lose his cool and snap a bat over his knee. And by the end of the night, I'm pretty sure that we had converted my niece into a baseball fan (hot dogs and nachos in a helmet will do that!).

Unfortunately, the Cubs blew a ninth inning lead and fell to the Astros. But it didn't ruin our fun and I got to explain to our hosts that the white "L" flag that was raised above the manual scoreboard after the game was a tradition to help people passing by on the trains to know if the Cubs won or lost that day. Up until 1988, the Cubs played all of their home games during the day so it was common for commuters coming home from work to be passing the stadium after the game was over. As we exited back into Wrigleyville, we were picked up by the sea of people heading back to the L or into the bars. While it looked like the postgame party was just getting started, we had too many kids with us to consider anything other than the red line express home.

I love seeing the different parks and stadiums throughout the country and finding what makes them unique. In some cases, it's a local cuisine or a famous fan that dresses up for every game. Other times, it's the attitude of the locals and their passion for their team. But every once in while, you can just sit down and enjoy what a stadium doesn't have that makes it unique. No electronic scoreboard. No jumbotron. No excessive advertising plastered everywhere. You can just sit there and stare over the real grass field and the ivy covered wall and out into the skyline of Chicago and smile.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Milwaukee, WI - Bernie Brewer

5/29/2011 - Milwaukee Brewers -Miller Park

Our favorite stop of the trip, by far. Milwaukee is a city with a nice amount of space around it which leads to unclogged roads, cheaper parking and as a result, a lot less hassle when it comes to getting to your parking place. And once there, you look around and see tailgating. At a baseball game. I'm not talking about a few people here or there unwrapping some subs or something. This is full-fledged, get out the Weber, throw the pigskin around the parking lot stuff throughout the entire lot. At that moment it occurred to me that between Brewers, Badgers and Packers games, these people have - within an hour radius - about 100 days of tailgating a year. Before I could even comment, Mrs. Mascot Hunter looked at me and said "I think we're home!"
As we made our way from the Uecker lot over to the entrance, we were nearly run over by the Racing Sausages who were on their way to meet their adoring fans and pose for photo-ops. After snagging a few pics ourselves, we entered
Miller Park and were immediately overwhelmed by the smells of cooked meats. The stadium opened in 2001 and is unique in that it has the only fan-shaped retractable roof in baseball. Due to storms in the area, the roof was closed for our game and it struck me that it was the first time that I ever watched an indoor game. Besides the roof, the most noticeable aspect of the stadium is Bernie's slide, a bright yellow, two-story sliding board that juts out of the left field bleachers and is used anytime that the Brewers hit a home run or clinch a victory.
We had purchased tickets on StubHub and managed to land just beyond the first base bag in the back of the lower section. Miller Park has one of the most wide-ranging seating prices you'll find, with tickets ranging from the $100, right-on-top-of-the-action seats all the way down to the Uecker seats, a $1 tickets that offers you a moderately obstructed view. We walked all through the stadium and made it as high as Bernie's Terrace, which is the 400 level high above left field, and I can tell you that the $35 each we paid for the lower bowl was well worth it. Acrophobics beware - while Bernie's Terrace is cheaper and gets you closer to the moustached man himself, it is WAAAAAAAAY up there.

The most famous part of the game is, of course, the Famous Sausage Race. Taking place in the middle of the 6th inning, it is the daily race between the five Famous Klement's Racing Sausages (video coming soon). Our winner was Hot Dog and while I made it my goal for the day to eat all five of the contestants, my stomach ran out of room after Bratwurst, Polish Sausage and Hot Dog. Although their website states that racers must be employees of the Milwaukee Brewers, it has been my mission for many years now to be in this race. Hopefully one day, the good folks in the land of brats and beer will make an exception for a chubby guy with a dream!

The only miss on our trip was Bernie, who hung out in his dugout for the entire game. It is to be noted that the Brewers offer a Bernie's slide experience, which allows you to enter the stadium early, meet and greet with Bernie and even slide down his slide. Unfortunately, one of our group did not meet the 8 years old and older criteria (plus it's $200 a person), so it'll have to wait for next time. And yes, there will certainly be a next time!!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Meet the Sausages

Brett Wurst (Bratwurst)

Stosh (Polish Sausage)

Guido (Italian Sausage)

Frankie Furter (Hot Dog)

Cinco (Chorizo)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Detroit, MI - Paws

5/27/2011 - Detroit Tigers - Comerica Park

The first stop on our road trip was Detroit, Michigan, home to the Detroit Tigers. Their current home, Comerica Park, opened in 2000 as a replacement for Tiger Stadium and is located in the heart of downtown Detroit. Our path into town took us right down Michigan Avenue and while it wasn't quite lined with the potholes and burning cars that the news makes it out to be, you immediately realize that this once thriving automotive city has indeed fallen on hard times. Parking next to the stadium was easy and an average cost for a ballgame ($20) and the giant Tigers at the main entrance were a very unique touch.

It was Polish Heritage Night in Detroit, which is why our friend Paws here is dressed up a little different from his usual garb. We were treated to pregame dancing on the field by costumed groups and the Polish National Anthem, which kinda sounded like a polka and really made me feel like I should be drinking and singing along. And before I get any Polish hatemail, I mean that as a good thing!

Detroit is known for their Coneys so we ordered up a few only to be greeted by this cheese, chili and onion-covered caloric monstrosity. I assure you that after some digging with a knife and fork that I was able to locate the hot dog inside of this mess and that it was delicious. Even after eating these, the smell of fresh-roasted cinnamon pecans that took over the concourse was too much to resist and we picked up a few bags to get us through the night (and as it turned out, the rest of our roadtrip).

The weather was downright frigid but it didn't stop the fans from packing the place for the Friday night game against the Red Sox. And despite Detroit's reputation as, let's just say not the most kid-friendly town in the US, Comerica Park was amazing for having a little guy. They had a kids area as well as a ferris-wheel and a merry-go-round for a nominal fee to keep everyone happy. As for the game itself, the Tigers fell behind early and were never really able to handle Tim Wakefield's knuckleball. Even with the cold, the rain and the score, the fans stayed until the end, belting out Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" in the middle of the eighth inning. Unfortunately, the team that was "born and raised in south Detroit" came up short 6-3.

We were on a tight schedule so there wasn't any time for sightseeing while in Detroit but that doesn't mean there isn't anything to suggest. Detroit is the birthplace of Motown and the Hitsville U.S.A. building still stands as a museum to one of the greatest musical styles ever produced. Right across the street from Comerica is the Fox Theater, which is an amazing building both inside and out and based on the names of upcoming acts currently gracing the facade, is doing its job to keep commerce flowing into a proud city that seems to be on its way to getting firmly back on its feet.

Next post... Meet the Sausages (or is it Meat the Sausages?)

Sunday, June 5, 2011


We just pulled back into town after one of the more epic baseball road trips imaginable. We (that would be yours truly, Mrs. Mascot Hunter and our 16 month old Junior member) took an 11 day swing to MLB games in Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago and Cincinnati. Keep checking back over the next week or two as I get the individual games posted - as well as some other things from our journey - but for now I can offer a picture of Mr. Redlegs with a squirt gun and a summary of our trip, by the numbers...

11 days
7 states (PA, OH, MI, IN, IL, WI, WV)
2,078 miles
14 tubed meat products consumed
8 mascot photos
96 degrees - high temp @ Cincinnati on 6/4
52 degrees (and raining) - low temp @ Detroit on 5/27
$267.03 spent on gasoline
4,870 La Quinta rewards points earned
$885.39 spent on food and entertainment
1 pound lost (apparently a diet of stadium food just sheds the pounds)

Next post... Detroit Tigers

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Baltimore, MD - The Oriole Bird

5/20/2011 - Baltimore Orioles - Camden Yards

Our never-ending trek through the American sports landscape found us back in Baltimore, MD last night, this time at the home of the Baltimore Orioles. I've been an O's fan since birth and while I wish I could provide some sort of glowing recap of the game (or the last dozen years for that matter), the fact is that the O's lost to their beltway rivals, the Washington Nationals. In fact, they did it in record setting style, yielding 17 runs. The only good new to report was that we missed the last field goal as the night extended past the littlest mascot hunter's bedtime (seriously, do the Washington Redskins ever even score 17?).

Fortunately, we're about the experience and not the outcome and as usual, Camden does not disappoint. When baseball's stadium design renaissance began in the early 1990s, Camden Yards was the pioneer. It was the first stadium built in a long time that didn't have the multi-sport cookie-cutter park feel to it. It opened in 1992 to tremendous fanfare and nightly sellouts. Built adjacent to the old B&O Warehouse the dominates the right field skyline and only blocks from Inner Harbor, it is the perfect example of an urban stadium that is easily accessible and fan-friendly.

While it's always fun to go to a new location, whenever I return to somewhere that I have been many times before, I always seem to find something new. During my (probably) 30 trips to Oriole games, I've never had the privilege to sit right behind the dugout until last night. What I learned was that those posh seats with the cupholders... they don't work if you are 6' 1". I had one knee wedged in the seat in front of me and my other foot shoved back under the seat. I felt like one of the $4 pretzels. In fact, before first pitch we had relocated closer to the foul pole into seats that allowed me to enjoy both the game and having feeling below my knees.

The clown-car seats notwithstanding, it was a great night. As big cities go, Baltimore is fairly easy to get in and out of (both in finding places and avoiding horrendous traffic) and the people are very friendly. I was astounded to see how many beer vendors knew the patrons by name (and vice versa) - although that could also have something to do with the Orioles success lately. We got to hang out with the Bird, sing Thank God I'm A Country Boy at the 7th inning stretch and see plenty of offense (even if it was the other team).

I think the Orioles are on their way back. The pitching is young but improving and management is making the right decisions to build for the not-so-distant future. I really hope that I'm right because as great as Camden Yards is, a sold-out Camden Yards was truly a sight to behold.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Harrisburg, PA - Grrrrounder

4/17/2010 - Harrisburg Senators - Metro Bank Park

What an improvement. I tried to think of more creative ways to start this post but for someone who had been to Senators games as a kid, someone who's first impressions of minor league baseball were shaped by metal, bleacher-style seat stadiums with outfield walls that appeared to be billboards fastened together... Like I said, what an improvement.

Metro Bank Park is located on City Island, which is a tiny island just west of downtown Harrisburg. It's accessible from both sides of the river and boasts not only the beautiful new home to the Double-A affiliate to the Washington Nationals, but also an arcade, batting cages, a mini golf course, sand volleyball and much more. We started this site to show people how to turn a game into a full-day activity and Harrisburg is one of the few places that you can do this without even moving your car. Add the fact that Hersheypark (the sweetest place on Earth) is right down the road and you have the makings of a full weekend.

The game itself was fairly well attended, especially considering it was 37 degrees at first pitch and Nats phenom Stephen Strasburg had just pitched the night before. Truthfully, the one bright spot of the Nationals struggles the last few years is that their farm system is stocked with young talent that you can see up close and personal for a discount until they make it to the big leagues. And Metro Bank Park and my previously mentioned upgrades? Well, you now get a seat instead of a spot on a metal bleacher (and a good seat at that) and they added tabletop seating to the outfield wall, a nice touch that almost feels like the merging of a bar and a ballgame. Also, for those that like a closer view of the action, you can sneak below the stands to check out the bullpen and get incredibly close to the field of play. With the arrival of Independent League teams in the area over the last decade, Harrisburg took the initiative to keep up with the competition and did a great job.
There was, however, one issue with the stadium that I felt needed mentioned. Without getting political, I think it is fair to say that there has been some unhealthy political discourse in our country the last few years. A lot of Americans seem fed up with taking the politicians crap and paying for it. So when I went to the food stand behind home plate looking to buy a hotdog and was greeted by this sign asking me to pay $5 for Senator Shits, I was appalled. I was outraged. And then I was re-directed to the boardwalk fries stand in center field, which was delicious. Seriously, guys, maybe take a step back and notice that you are stringing together a few letters that might not belong in a row.
Regardless of the ill-conceived signage, Metro Bank Park is a great venue for a game with an incredible amount of activities in the area. Whether you spend the day on City Island with your family, take a date to the nearby attractions of Hershey or hit the bars and restaurants along Front Street, a Senators game is great way to spend the day.