August 5, 2010 [LINK / comment]
Ballpark blitz: 4 stadiums in 2 days!
Even though I didn't see as many baseball stadiums as I did on my "Great Baseball Road Trip" one year ago (when I saw seven), this year's trip through the Upper Midwest was almost as satisfying. "S-weet," you might say. Much like my whirlwind tour of New York and Chicago stadiums on three successive days in October 2008, I saw four stadiums in three cities over the course of two days, including two for the first time ever, as well as one "semi-retired" stadium. Unlike that trip, however, this time I saw an actual game. In addition, I also walked on the ground (asphalt, now) where two much older stadiums once stood.
On Sunday afternoon, the first day of August, I watched the Twins host the Mariners at gorgeous, wide-open Target Field, which opened just four months ago. It was raining almost all morning as I drove from North Dakota through central Minnesota, and I feared that my plans would be foiled by Mother Nature. What a cruel irony that would have been. (The first rained-out Minnesota Twins home game since the Metrodome opened in 1982 happened on May 7, and was made up one day later. The game on May 25 was suspended after five innings due to rain, and was completed the next day.) Fortunately, the overcast skies dissipated as the game progressed. To my surprise, the game was sold out with hundreds of fans still waiting in line, even though it was against a non-contending, non-rival opponent. The official attendance was 40,374, and given that the seating capacity is only 39,504 (less than I had thought), that implies that about 900 standing-room-only tickets were sold. The Twins' starting pitcher, Francisco Liriano, had a splendid outing, striking out eleven batters and giving up only two hits over seven innings. The great Ichiro Suzuki struck out and did not even reach base. The only scoring took place in the sixth inning, when the Twins' designated hitter Jason Kubel smashed a ball to right center, coming within a foot or two of getting a grand slam. Veteran Jim Thome is the usual DH, and I had wondered aloud why he wasn't in the lineup that day, but then had to eat my words after Kubel hit that bases-clearing double. (He then scored after a hit by Danny Valencia.) I was also disappointed that neither of the Twins' big stars, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, were playing that day. In the end, it didn't matter, as the Twins beat the Mariners, 4-0, thereby completing a three-game sweep. See MLB.com.
[After the game, I drove to the other side of downtown Minneapolis and walked around the Metrodome, which the Twins called home for 28 years. Officially, it is now called "Mall of America Field." It is adorned with Vikings symbols, but I noticed that there are a couple outdated signs that indicate that the Twins still have their offices there. Given the tight squeeze of surrounding streets, any future expansion of the Metrodome aimed at raising ticket revenues for the Vikings would appear very difficult.]
On Monday morning I arrived in Milwaukee and paid a visit at Miller Park, one of the most awesome and imposing structures I have ever seen. You can see those huge roof arches from several miles away. I took a variety of pictures outside and then went inside to have lunch at T.G.I. Fridays, which gives one a good view from the balcony above the left field wall. By amazing coincidence, at the very same moment there was a press conference in center field, announcing that Farm Aid 25 benefit concert will be held in Miller Park on October 2. The leading performers will be Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, and Dave Matthews. (See the official farmaid.org Web site.) After I was done taking pictures, I went over to the monument honoring the Milwaukee Braves at the site of Milwaukee County Stadium. There is an elaborate little league field, evidently at the same spot as the diamond used to be.
Then I drove south along I-94 into Chicago, which was horribly congested, just so I could see U.S. Cellular Field up close for the first time. (Since I had visited Wrigley Field in 2008, and time was of the essence, I decided to pass it by this time. That same evening, the Cubs were trounced by the visiting Brewers.) At the main entrance at the northwest corner there is a monument to the White Sox' three World Series championships (1906, 1917, 2005), featuring manager Ozzie Guillen holding up the trophy. (Ozzie had just made a controversial comment about Asian ballplayers getting better treatment than Latinos, and the White Sox front office cautiously disavowed his opinion on that.) I took a variety of pictures, walked across the street to see the home plate historical marker at old Comiskey Park, tried in vain to get inside The Cell to take pictures, and then headed back home to Virginia.
The montage below is just a preview of the many photos I plan to post in the near future. For the time being, I have added five new photos to the Target Field page, including two panoramic views. I will add photos to the other five stadium pages over the next few days. I'll have more to say about those four stadiums that I saw in the days and weeks to come.
Favre un-retires again?
Coincidentally, on the very next day after I passed through Minneapolis, the Vikings' quarterback Brett Favre let it be known that he is retiring. But then "after further review," he decided that he is not so sure. What a "facre"! (Spelling joke.) There is a huge banner with Favre's face and the words "Fueled by determination" on the outside of the Metrodome / "Mall of America Field," and workers may have to hurry and take it down before the football season starts in about a month. Or maybe they can change the words to "Fueled by equivocation."
A-Rod hits HR #600
Alex Rodriguez finally broke through the psychological barrier that was apparently hindering his bat, hitting a home run to center field in New Yankee Stadium yesterday. It was fitting that it landed in Monument Park, or on the protective netting, that is. It would have been a little tacky if the ball had just cleared the fence in the short right-center field, as another of his recent homers did. Say what you will about his past use of performance-enhancing drugs (or his ego), at least he did make a frank admission and an apology, which is more than you can say about Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa. Or Pete Rose, for that matter. If the Hall of Fame were to exclude A-Rod, they would have to exclude just about everybody from the Steroid Era. I say, let him in, maybe after an extra wait of a year or two.
Nats put Dunn on waivers
As the trading deadline approach, I was deathly afraid that the Nationals would trade away Adam Dunn, their star slugger and first baseman. Fortunately, no other teams made a good enough offer to justify letting him go, which means there is a good chance he will at least finish the season in Washington. The Nationals put Dunn on waivers, MLB.com. I wish they had signed Dunn to a new multi-year contract earlier in the season, and I'll bet Nats GM Mike Rizzo feels the same way now. After hitting two more homers at Chase Field last night, leading the Nats to a 7-2 win over the Diamondbacks, Dunn now leads the National League in home runs, with 28. That plus his very solid batting average (.276) means that Dunn will command a high salary during postseason negotiations. The Lerners have deep enough pockets, and if they really want to generate fan enthusiasm over the long run, they ought to pay Dunn what he deserves.
Nats trade away Guzman
Veteran infielder Cristian Guzman was put in an awkward situation this year, as a promising youngster -- Ian Desmond-- proved his worth at the plate. To Guzman's great credit, he didn't object to being moved over to second base, and on many days he didn't play at all. It was thus not a big surprise when it was announced last month that he was being traded away to the Texas Rangers. They are currently leading the American League Western Division, and will need a reliable hitter as the postseason approaches. The franchise is in bankruptcy proceedings right now, and it could be sold in the next month or so, pending approval from the MLB owners. It's a supremely embarrassing situation to succeed on the field while failing at the ticket office.