Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We Interrupt This Blog...

I take a girls-only trip each year to an "away" baseball stadium. I've traveled with a variety of girlfriends, but this year it was just two of us -- me and my friend Elaine. I tend to take notes & photos and share them with friends on the internet, usually via message board. This year, I'm going to share it as a blog entry here.

***Reminder: clicking on any picture will bring up a bigger version of it.

Friday Game

Elaine & I have pretty much exhausted all of the stadiums within reasonable driving distance. This year, we chose to go to Denver, Colorado for the Memorial Day weekend series. Because it was cheaper to fly back Monday, rather than Sunday, we purchased tickets for all 3 games. We also bought tickets to take the Coors Field stadium tour.

On Friday, we flew from St. Louis to Denver, landing around 3:30 p.m. By the time we found our shuttle to downtown, waited on other passengers, and actually arrived downtown, it was after 5 p.m. The game started at 6:40 p.m., so we quickly checked into our hotel, took a few minutes to get a bit organized, and began walking (we thought) towards the stadium. After a couple of blocks, we asked someone for help, only to find out we were heading the wrong way. Oops. My sense of direction was flip-flopped. I had to turn my “game board” around.

By the time we arrived at the stadium, we had missed batting practice. We each grabbed some supper from a concession stand and began making our way down to our seats, which were 8 rows behind 1st Base. We paused part way down the steps out of respect for the Star Spangled Banner, but then sat down and gratefully began eating. I had a Denver Dog – a hot dog smothered with red & green peppers, grilled onions and sauerkraut. It was quite tasty, but a mess to eat.

After a few minutes, a friendly looking fellow walked over and made eye contact with me, saying, “You must be IlliniAmy”. Turns out he’s one of my internet buddies from a Cardinal fan website. We’ve spoken off & on for about 8 or 9 years on various Cardinal fan websites, but had never met in person (‘course, him living in Colorado had something to do with that). Bob, known as redbird, is a level-headed, but dedicated fan.

The Cardinals put on an offensive explosion and won the game 10-3.

Some random thoughts on Friday’s game:

• Tyler Greene is fast, or as my daughter Shaling would say, “really, really, really fast”. It was fun to watch him run the bases.
• Sitting that close to first made it even more obvious than it is on television how much Albert Pujols “talks up” the first base umpire and opposing first base coach.
• I enjoyed hearing the guy in front of me matter-of-factly tell his daughter that Yadier Molina is from the Dominican Republic. He’s actually from Puerto Rico.
• Speaking of Yadier Molina, what is up with those neck tattoos?
• I also enjoyed hearing the guy behind me tell his wife matter-of-factly that the Cardinals are in the American League.
• I showed incredible restraint and refrained from correcting either guy. I must be growing up.
• I noticed that the Rockies fans only minimally booed Albert Pujols…barely noticeable. That is quite different than the other “away” ballparks I’ve visited. He is usually booed quite mercilessly.
• On the other hand, they booed Matt Holliday quite loudly, and considering how long he played there, I found that a bit sad.
• During the singing of “God Bless America”, there is a lot of side cheering and whistling at the word “mountains” of the lyric, “from the mountains to the prairies”. I found that sort of local pride to be really cool.

Saturday Tour

On Saturday, we took a guided tour of Coors Field. Our tour guides, Walt and Carol, did an amazing job of showing us their gorgeous stadium. Coors Field cost $215 million (in 1991 dollars) to build. $165 million of that came in the form of tax dollars (bonds). The bonds were scheduled to be paid off in 2011, but were actually paid off in 2000. It took 2 ½ years to build Coors Field, and it is currently the 4th oldest of the 16 National League Ballparks. It opened in 1995. Sun Life Stadium, home of the Florida Marlins, opened in 1987. Dodger Stadium opened in 1962. Wrigley Field opened in 1914. However, 10 of the 14 American League stadiums opened prior to 1995.

Coors Field has the largest playing surface in all of Major League Baseball – 3 acres. There is an upper section of seats in centerfield known as The Rockpile. Tickets in this section are always $4, no matter the day of the game or the opponent. Those tickets are only $1 for children under 12 and for senior citizens. In the upper deck of the stadium, there is a row of purple seats that marks the “mile-high” spot of the stadium. The seats in the outfield are angled toward home plate to improve the view.

The original design of the stadium called for 36,000 seats. However, the owners decided to add more seats based on the attendance figures during the two years the Rockies played at Mile High Stadium. They averaged 58,000+ per game those two years and had the largest crowd EVER at an MLB game (80,227) on their inaugural opening day. They currently average around 38,000. The nearest other MLB park is in Kansas City, roughly 650 miles away. Eric Young was the first player ever to come to the plate as a Colorado Rockies. He hit a home run that at-bat and the place went nuts.

The playing surface is Colorado grown bluegrass. The same company that services Coors Field services Wrigley Field and the University of Notre Dame. The infield dirt is crushed lava and red clay. Underneath the grass and dirt is 10 inches of sand and peat moss, then 2 miles of drainage pipe. There is also 45 miles worth of electric heating coils under the surface. They are turned on each February or March. It takes about 10 days to 3 weeks for the playing surface to reach 58 degrees. At that point, the grass begins growing as if spring has arrived. The grass is cut twice on game days and the infield is cut with a mower that does NOT have any wheels.

Besides numerous suites, all named for mountain peaks, Coors Field also has conference rooms. Some companies will have sales meetings, etc, then stay for the game. Some people get married and have their wedding receptions there. Two of the conferences rooms, located directly across from each other, have a marble home plate and a marble pitcher’s mound, respectively. The home plate and the pitcher’s mound are exactly 60 feet 6 inches apart, just like out on the field. There are two jail cells in the basement of the stadium. If unruly fans ignore ushers’ request to calm down, the police show up and put them in one of those cells.

There is a restaurant within the ballpark called the Mountain Bar Ranch & Grille. It is open on game days only, with two seating times – one when the gates open and one at game time. The second group may remain there for the duration of the game. There is a Wells Fargo Club, similar to the Redbird Club at Busch Stadium. The Wells Fargo Club has outside seating only, whilst the Redbird Club has both inside and outside. Both have gourmet foods and desserts.

Troy Tulowitzki, their shortstop, wears uniform #2 because Derek Jeter was his favorite player. In 2007, he became the 13th person in MLB history to turn an unassisted triple play. For some reason he then tossed the ball to first baseman Todd Helton, who inexplicably tossed the ball into the stands. Usually, such historic balls are kept. They did retrieve the ball from a fan, but the MLB Hall of Fame wouldn’t accept it, because it was no longer pure. The fan wrote a letter of authenticity, attesting that it is the ball Helton tossed to him and is the ball with which Tulowitzki turned the triple play. The Rockies have it on display.

The purple dinosaur mascot is nicknamed “Dinger”. They selected a dinosaur for the mascot, because while digging in the dirt during construction of the ballpark, some bones were found close to where home plate is located. The bones were determined to be over 66 million years old and are assumed to be those of a triceratops.

In 1997, Mike Piazza of the Dodgers hit the longest home run ever at Coors Field. The ball flew roughly 496 feet.

Coors Field is located in LoDo, lower downtown Denver. According to Walt, it was a very dangerous place during the 1980s, even during the day. The entire area has been completely renewed. It’s beautiful, historic, and safe. Elaine & I really enjoyed exploring the area.

Wall of All-Stars

Mountains peeking through the steel beams

View from the upper deck

The Mile-High row

The two bullpens

Old-fashioned scoreboard of other games

Statue of Liberty donated by the New York Yankees after they hosted the All-Star Game.

Mickey Mouse donated by the Anaheim Angels after they hosted the All-Star Game.

Racks of bats in one of the club areas

View from the pressbox

This is a wall in the pressbox. They mispelled Ryan Spilborgh's name, but the damage is from a foul ball he hit. This is why I do NOT want to catch a foul ball.

Underneath the "King Soopers" sign is security. Underneath the blue & purple Platte river sign is where Mike Piazza's home run landed.

The field & dirt track

View from the visitors dugout

The visitors dugout

I didn't realize Colorado had allowed medical marijuana.

Saturday Game

Elaine & I ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant named D’Corazon on Blake Street (the same street as the stadium). It was recommended by a friend of mine, Tim, who used to work in downtown Denver. He urged me to try their green chili sauce. I ordered pork chops smothered in the green chili sauce and it was amazing.

We then went to the stadium early, to be sure and get in when the gates opened, as the first 10,000 fans received free Todd Helton t-shirts. Before the game, I met up with another one of my internet friends, Ben (known as Brodie!). We had a pleasant and enjoyable chat. I made the mistake of ignoring advice to bring my jacket on Saturday, because it was quite warm during our walk to the stadium. However, by the time the game started, the temperature had dropped drastically and I was getting quite cold.

Jaime Garcia, the Cardinals pitcher, had a bad night (to say the least). He gave up 6 runs in the first inning. He was at 80 pitches by the end of the second inning. A complete game is typically between 105 and 125 or so pitches. Eventually, I received a text from my brother Scott, wanting to know what the (heck) was going on. He followed that up later with “I think it is time to find something else to do in Denver.”

The game dragged on long enough that I got cold enough to go to the team store and overpay for a blanket. I brought home a lovely fleece Colorado Rockies blanket. While wearing the blanket wrapped around me on my way back to our hotel, I felt like my own kind didn’t recognize me, because I looked more like a Rockies fan than a Cardinals fan.

The Cardinals ended up losing 15-4. Based on the score and the weather, I wondered if we had taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up at a Denver Broncos game.

The fountains come on after a Rockies home run or a Rockies victory.

Sunday Game

On Sunday, Elaine & I took a rather long walk around the downtown Denver area. We probably walked at least 3 miles total. Then we met up with some friends of mine, Chris & Mary, for lunch. Chris & Mary are on a multi-purpose trip out west. They went to the Sunday game, then were headed for Cheyenne, Wyoming. They are going to take in Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore as well. We all ate lunch at a sports bar, The Sports Column. I had really good sweet potato fries with jalapeno catsup. I wasn’t sure I’d like the catsup, but surprisingly, it tasted more sweet than spicy.

Sunday was Military Appreciation Day. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire pregame ceremony, but found myself in tears of gratitude and pride. A group that trains dogs to assist soldiers returning to civilian life was honored. A group of Purple Heart recipients was also honored. A country music artist, Kory Brunson, performed a song titled, “We Know You’re Out There”. It was beautiful. On the video board, an assortment of photos of veterans, children, and other patriotic images was shown. Eventually, specific soldiers were honored on the board, including a local soldier killed in action, Pat Fitzgerald (the Arizona NFL player killed in action, and Seals Team VI. There was thunderous applause. There was also a missing man formation flyover.

The game was probably the best game of the weekend for a true baseball fan. It was not a blowout. It was a close game that kept the outcome in question the entire time. Losing 4-2 in the 9th inning, the Rockies scored a run to narrow the lead to 1 run. Then, with Eric Young Jr. & Dexter Fowler on base and two outs, Carlos Gonzalez hit a long foul down the left field line. Daniel Descalso, playing third, sprinted hard, just getting to the ball in time, but was unable to keep it in his glove. If he’d caught it, the game would have been over. Fortunately, he eventually hit a ground out to the shortstop, but it made for an exciting ending, with fans of both teams on their feet.

After the game, we walked over to The Cheesecake Factory for supper. Though St. Louis has one, I’ve never eaten at one before. After Sunday’s experience, I’ve decided it’s a good thing there isn’t one in Springfield. It’s T-H-A-T good. Next time, I’m skipping my meal and going right for dessert. The menu is a BOOK that takes several minutes to read. The dessert section alone is 3 pages long. The cheesecake I selected was a Red Velvet & White Chocolate one. It had two layers of red velvet cake and two layers of vanilla bean cheesecake – soooo creamy. It was adorned with real whipped cream. Good thing Elaine & I had done all of that walking in the morning.

Pictures from our walk:
I liked the artistic way someone decorated the fence around the construction.

The project isn't schedule for completion until 2016.

This is "My Brother's Bar" and it was featured on the Food Network.

Pictures from Pregame (Military Appreciation Day):

Pictures from the game:
Military Helicopter Flyover

Similar to the sausage races in Milwaukee, Colorado has a goofy face between innings. However, instead of people in costumes, it's video game style.