There And Back Again… A Baseball Tale

IMG_6912The genesis of my recent baseball excursion comes from over 15 years ago. As a lifelong baseball fan I knew that I always wanted to visit the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. In the late 90’s to early 2000’s (the exact time isn’t known… I’ve slept since then) a thought crept into my head that I should make my first trip to Cooperstown coincide with the induction of my favorite player of all time, Ken Griffey Jr. Junior had been voted the Player of the Decade for the 90’s so I was feeling pretty good about his chances of making the Hall. The thought would pop back in my head periodically and I even mentioned it a few years back to my wife, Becky, as something I would like to do. After the 2015 Hall of Fame Induction ceremony I really began scouting out the possibilities for making it happen. The actual planning probably took place over the course of 11 months leading up to the trip and involved me roping in a cohort of mine, Kevin, from work to join me on the trek. Once I pulled him in then the scope began to broaden to try to move me closer toward another goal of mine, which is to make it to all of the major league ballparks. Those were the first steps on this trip unlike any other.

Tangent: Before the trip I received a random comment from someone asking about if I was going to “hear about it” for a long time from my wife for going on a trip without the rest of the family, implying that he would experience exactly that if he planned this trip. The truth is that she may have been equally as excited for me as I was excited to go. And that’s just another sign that I have a keeper! Thanks Beck!

*Note: All images in this article were created using actual photos and then artistically interpreted by the Prisma iOS App.

Day 1 – Kansas City, Missouri to Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Approximately 763 milesIMG_6917

The first day was all on the road, by design. We figured that making the first and last days the most taxing would make sense so that one was when we were most fresh and the other when we were most motivated to reach our destination. The day’s most interesting moments were relegated to when we passed relevant cities or sites. We went by Walt Disney’s hometown and had lunch in Abraham Lincoln’s hometown. [Food Note: Don’t knock a barbecue burrito until you try it. Good eats and nuggets of wisdom such as “Aim. Important in War, Dodgeball, and Restrooms” were found in the first of many cities of Springfield we would drive through on this trip]. The trip through Abe’s home led us to then listen to a book about his final days and that kept us captivated into another country. We passed our first and second Great Lakes of the trip (Michigan & Erie) along the way and skirted past the Big House in Ann Arbor to reach our first destination. Waiting for us? 25 degrees cooler weather with 40% less humidity… and friends. Not a bad way to finish out a long day.

Day 2 – Grosse Pointe to Detroit and Back. Stadium #1 – Comerica Park

After I enjoyed a good night of sleep in the princess room, we had a relaxed breakfast and then prepped for the ride downtown. At that point I realized that my sunscreen was left behind in the Midwest, and this pasty guy doesn’t have the option to go without, so a trip to Target was in order. After getting my important accessory, I headed back to the house and realized that I was departing the Target on 8 Mile road. My generation finds that more interesting than most due to the popularity of  Eminem during my formative years. Naturally, I had to take a picture of the sign. This helped justify my sunscreen run in my own mind (just don’t ask if I remembered to pack it when I left Detroit). Kevin and I then Ubered down to the ballpark and really got the trip going.IMG_6774

Comerica Park Notes:

  • When you have a good mascot and you embrace it, it enhances stadium elements.
  • The Tigers REALLY embrace the use of Tigers in the park and they do it in some pretty cool ways.
  • I’m a sucker for painted steel to go with brick or stone.
  • Their Hall of Fame statue section is really strong along with their retired numbers & Tigers Hall of Famers. Sometimes you forget what kind of history they have.
  • Having Ford Field next door was neat to see.
  • Detroit using “Eye of the Tiger” for a late inning hype-montage had the potential to be cheesy, but they did it well and it turned out pretty cool.IMG_6752

The game itself looked on paper to be a good pitching matchup (Justin Verlander vs. Ervin Santana) that would likely lead to a low scoring game. Then Joe Mauer of the Twins surprised everyone by homering off of Verlander in the first to give the Twins an early lead. Note: This is more surprising because that home run brought his 3 year running total to 22… 6 fewer than his MVP season total from 2009. The bottom of the first then saw Ian Kinsler hit the first pitch of the game for the Tigers over the fence for a game-tying home run. At this point Kevin and I were feeling like it could be a very interesting game. Of course, it then shifted into the expected pitcher’s duel. After many innings of brilliant pitching and stagnant offense the direct sun and no breeze won out chasing us back into the concourse for an inning and a half of watching in the shade (which was not a bad thing). We returned to our seats…well, we switched seats with each other, more on that later… in time to see the best hit of the game. After an idiot ran onto the field and eluded folks for far too long, he finally slowed down and a police officer laid a hit on him that resembled when Ndamukong Suh was hitting QB’s after the whistle for the Lions. That was the bulk of the excitement until the last inning or so.IMG_6807

The crowd was hopeful that Verlander would get to 10 strikeouts for the game but happily settled for 9 as he pitched 8 strong innings and turned it over to the bullpen. That bullpen promptly gave up 3 runs on 2 Home Runs in the 9th and put the Tigers in a bad spot. Then came the bottom of the 9th. A bucket list item that almost was. During the 9th a foul ball came screaming back at us, only it was much more on line with Kevin. Unfortunately, Kevin started out looking down so the ball was almost on him when he looked up, but with good reflexes he did get his hand on the foul ball! Unfortunately, just not enough of his hand and it continued on behind us. Now remember how we had switched seats? Hmmm… we’ll never know! Oh, and Detroit lost. Home Teams begin 0-1 on the trip. Afterward we went downtown to meet our host (everyone say Hi to Kyle) and grab dinner. [Food Note: A dinner of sliders may not sound special, but it definitely can be. If you are in Detroit, Green Dot Stables has a nice variety of some very good flavors. I went with the Cuban, the Korean, the Buffalo Chicken, and then the best of them all, the Bahn Mi slider. Seriously good stuff.] The night was finished off watching the documentary “Fastball” on Netflix. Seriously, it is worth the watch if you get the chance. The estimated speeds of Bob Feller and Nolan Ryan will blow your mind. Overall, a very good start to the baseball portion of the trip.

Day 3 – Grosse Pointe, Michigan to Niagra Falls, Ontario to Oakville, Ontario. Approximately 300 miles.IMG_6808

One of the first parts of Day 3 was the joy of crossing over into a foreign country, and seeing Great Lake #3, Lake Huron. Apparently we were plenty suspicious so we got the extra-long questioning along with the complete car search before we could get into Canada. Good times! After no contraband was found, we finally were able to proceed on our way. It is at this point that I must introduce you to a man named Tim Horton. Tim Horton was an NHL defenseman for 24 years, the majority of them with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also started a fast food chain with a partner that specializes in their breakfast baked goods but also have decent lunch and dinner items. If you ever want to try their food, just look ANYWHERE IN CANADA. There are more of them than McDonald’s in most major cities. There appeared to be as many along our drive as there are Starbucks in Seattle. Once I returned home I searched and found that over 22% of the fast food business done in Canada is done by Tim Horton’s! There are also locations in the upper U.S. (I can confirm for you from first-hand experience that they are at least in Detroit, upstate New York, and Columbus, Ohio). Oh, they also have over 100 locations in the Middle East! Anyway, any time we needed to break up the monotony of our drive, either Kevin or I would point out yet another Tim Horton’s.

As for the drive, the bulk of what we saw before getting to the Niagara Falls area strongly resembled Iowa (except for the copious use of kilometers, liters, Celsius, and the Canadian dollar). There was corn. And more corn. There were wind farms. And highway traffic. And construction. The only difference was that when you drove past Bass Pro Shops they had a Canadian flag flying on the top of the building instead of the American flag. Now once you got closer to Niagara, you noticed a few other differences. You see, the Niagara Falls area has some different elements to their climate than much of Canada so the land is ideal for certain things. Like wineries. And golf courses. And more wineries. And more golf courses. There was a stretch of probably 8 exits where every exit had at least 3 wineries and 1 golf course. It was crazy. If one of those two elements was missing from the exit sign it was replaced by a paintball operation. I’m not sure why, but they also love their paintball up there. So that was what we learned while approaching the falls. If you ever want golf and wine, head toward Niagara!IMG_6783

Now we did eventually make it to Niagara Falls and was it ever worth it. There is photographic evidence that I have been to the falls as a young child, but it’s pretty vague in my mind so this was pretty close to being a brand new experience for me. I also understood very quickly why most people say that it’s better to see the falls from the Canadian side instead of the American side. There is just a better vantage point from Canada to take in the entirety of all of the waterfalls. It’s still beautiful from New York, and if you have a family of 8 and don’t want to have to pay to get passports (or passport cards for those of us who are cheap!) it is still a good option and worth it. As for me, I’ll probably stick with Canada. I can only imagine how much foot traffic the Falls get on weekends. We were there on a Thursday afternoon and there were still thousands of visitors from all over the globe. I took lots of pictures and even took a few for myself! (I think I probably took a dozen or more pictures for people who were trying to get good group selfies while attempting to get the falls in the background. Since I was just strolling along taking in the whole scene I would casually offer to take the picture for them instead. If you ever just want to be thanked by a whole lot of people just walk back and forth along the falls offering to take pictures and that will do the trick.) There’s really not much that I can say to paint the picture of the falls. The elegance, beauty, sound and fury are just things that have to be experienced.

Once we took in the falls we headed off to Oakville where we would stay the next couple of nights. What I didn’t realize when I picked Oakville was that it was a pretty busy town that weekend. The PGA’s RBC Canadian Open just happened to be held there that exact week. Our hotel had families of golfers and NBC/Golf Channel television crews and quite a few fans. That night we ended up watching some of the Open on TV while we ate. For the family that was unsure how long they were staying in town, I hope your son made the cut!IMG_6821

 Day 4 – Oakville to Toronto and Back. Stadium #2 – Rogers Centre

Tangent: Remember when I forgot my sunscreen in Kansas City and then again in Detroit? Well that required an early morning run to the store to get some more for a day outside in Toronto. Only they don’t have CVS or Walgreens on every corner and none of the stores listed nearby rang a bell so I got to do some exploring. Thankfully the Hasty Market wasn’t too far away and had the SPF 5000 that I require.

One of the main reasons we stayed in Oakville was that it avoided most of the Toronto traffic (and ladies and gentlemen…Toronto KNOWS traffic!) and had easy access to the train into the city. Now after taking various types of trains in New York, Boston, Minneapolis and some other places, I had a pretty good feeling of how to navigate the stations and such to get us where we needed to go. Well, in Canada apparently they don’t believe that the amount of signage that many of those trains in the U.S. so figuring out where to get a ticket, and then finding a ticket kiosk that actually worked, and then finding which train number and platform we needed all took a bit more time than I’d calculated. Like 45 minutes longer. But eventually we found everything that we needed and took the train into Toronto.IMG_6952

The first thing on the agenda once we arrived in Toronto was sightseeing and grabbing some food. We had a good tip from Kyle that King and Queen streets were good places for food so we figured we’d head that direction and take in the city along the way. Seeing as how bacon is proof of God’s love for us and Kevin and I are both fans of Jim Gaffigan’s comedy bits on bacon, the choice was pretty simple when we saw Bacon Nation on Queen St. Now the walk to find it, especially when we missed one of the turns, turned out to be significant, but it definitely was worth it in the end. [Food Note: I had the Pig Mac, which was fantastic. I only wish I had another chance to go by and try the Notorious P.I.G. My only question is, why America hasn’t embraced bacon studded buns!] After a delicious lunch it was time to head back across town. For the directionally challenged it’s helpful to have a huge tower in the middle of the city to use to get your bearings. Now as we planned the trip, one of the questions was, what should we visit in Toronto? The CN Tower is the most obvious visual landmark and it’s stunning. However, I don’t like heights and it was twice as much as other options so it lost out. Since this was already a trip to the Hall of Fame, we decided to double-down and go to TWO Halls of Fame. The first was the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto.IMG_6789

By the time we arrived at the Hall we had already walked more than a 10K, so less walking and air conditioning were fantastic options. The hockey hall had elements that were very similar to other halls other than adding an interactive section at the back and having a 3D show toward the front. Some of what I think makes this HOF neat is the building, which has some older charming elements to it and the Grand Hall itself. The Grand Hall is where the legends have their images enshrined (though they have glass etchings of the greats instead of busts or plaques, which allows the pictures to look much more like the players actually looked in life) and all of the trophies are housed. I firmly believe that hockey has the best trophies in sports and it was very neat to see them all in one place. The highlight above all for me was to get to stand next to the Stanley Cup. No hardware in sports can compare to that cup. After that, a drink and a rest were in order before we went back out on foot. We worked our way back toward the stadium by walking across the waterfront (Great Lake #4 – Lake Ontario) and enjoying the beauty of it. It made for a very nice afternoon.  IMG_6796

Naturally the focal point of the day was hitting the game at Rogers Centre that night so we went in as early as we could. Truthfully, the outside of the stadium is nothing remarkable. The neatest part of the outer structure is really the proximity to the CN Tower and how you can view them almost as a single unit. The inside of the stadium was better than the outside had indicated it might be.

Rogers Centre Notes:

  • The upper deck is so steep they have railings in between every row.
  • They have two songs that they do during the seventh inning stretch so things seem rushed. The version of take me out to the ballgame was less than stellar.
  • The quality of the video board was second to none.
  • The whole crowd singing “Hooked on a feeling” was very strong. Even the ooga chaka’s were boisterous.
  • The CN Tower lit up at night is pretty. There are just too many lights around to get a good picture.

With the way the roof is, sitting behind home plate you almost get the feeling like you are at an amphitheater with the stage right in front of you. Additionally, because of the attached hotel on the back side of the stadium, the outfield seats aren’t very deep. This gives the illusion of it being a compact space and the outfield seeming much closer to home than usual. Now, I imagine if we were in the upper seats of the upper deck, that illusion of closeness would probably not be there, but I can’t truly speak to that. It was a really good vantage point for a game. The game itself seemed to keep with the theme of the trip in that the home team lost, and not many runs were scored. Again the game opened fast with, former Royal, Nori Aoki tripling and scoring in the top of the first and then Toronto’s Michael Saunders homering in the bottom of the second. After that, there would be good pitching and little hitting as the Mariners scraped one more run across and the Blue Jays did not match it. (I will note that the next day the final score was 14-5, but alas we did not get to partake in that one!) After the game wrapped up, we took to the Toronto night and headed back to catch our train to Oakville. Somehow with barely audible announcements and no signage we succeeded in getting off at the correct stop and concluded the day. [Sore Feet Note: According to my tracker that day concluded after 23,698 steps or over 11 miles]IMG_6797

Day 5 – Toronto to Cooperstown to Albany. Approximately 385 miles.IMG_6791

This day began with anticipation. The anticipation of passing through another border, hopeful to avoid the complete search, and the anticipation of returning to American measurements! Oh, and the anticipation of visiting Cooperstown for the first time, of course. Aside from how slow it is crossing the border [Travel Tip: When crossing the border on the 405 just keep going as far right as possible each time a lane opens up. By the end you will fly through while the left lane is crawling], there were no surprises and the border guard seemed to believe my story about going to Cooperstown. Now you may be asking why we were going to Cooperstown and then to Albany. Well, I scheduled the hotel rooms over 7 months in advance, and that was far too late to find anything in Cooperstown so Albany won out. It’s actually a very pretty drive between the two. So anyway, our plan was to go to Cooperstown and check out the Hall of Fame before going to Albany for the night. We arrived in town and found that parking was definitely going to be a challenge all weekend. It seemed that there was quite a large crowd there already. After about a mile and a half walk, we got to the Hall and entered to look around [HOF Tip: If you are going for the Induction weekend ALWAYS pay for the membership. The preferred access and free entry for as many days as you want is worth it alone!]. Surprisingly they announced they were closing in about 20 minutes. What I had failed to account for is that on Saturday there is a Parade of Legends (all who return for the Induction weekend) and then a dinner event in the Hall itself for the Hall of Famers. So since we only got the 15 cent tour, we opted to stick around for the parade.

This is the first of a couple of moments that weekend where we were very blessed with how things turned out. Amidst a growing crowd of tens of thousands, two-thirds of them appearing to be fans of Mr. Griffey, we began meandering down the street. We picked out a lamppost on a street corner to perch beside as the crowd was beginning to build. We had no idea that our spot ended up being directly across the street from the speaker (so we could hear what was going on) and the emcee, Baltimore Orioles play-by-play man Gary Thorne. We wouldn’t have picked anywhere else to be. Though we hadn’t actually remembered about the parade before we arrived, we definitely are thrilled that we stuck around for it. We ended up being less than 25 feet from over 45 Hall of Famers as they came up the street. Guys from before my time like Sandy Koufax led the way and were followed by members of the team of my youth like Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. At the end of the parade, we got our first look at the men of the hour, Mike Piazza and the one and only Ken Griffey Jr. It was fantastic. Feeling like we had accomplished everything we wanted for the day, we took off for the 80 minute drive to Albany.IMG_6793

Day 6 – Induction Day – Albany to Cooperstown and back. Approximately 135 miles round trip.IMG_6780

This was the day that led to the planning of the whole trip. I woke up and put on my finest Griffey apparel (thanks Brett) and was ready to go. We knew they were estimating (low as it turned out) 45,000 fans for the induction so time was going to be a factor when it came to planting our chairs for the ceremony. By the time we arrived around 9:00am and walked over a mile from where we parked there were probably already 25,000 spots claimed by lawn chairs, blankets, and bodies. We worked through the crowd to the spot we would take and planted our chairs. Since I had no intention on waiting there in the sun for the next 4 hours, we walked over to the Hall of Fame to see more of the exhibits. Again, the member line was our friend and we moved into the hall quickly. What we found was that it clearly was going to be one of the largest crowds ever and the Hall was packed on every level. Not to be deterred, Kevin and I braved the crowd and took in all of the excellent exhibits. (Note: The one area that defeated us was the gift shop. There was no moving around in there and the lines were crazy. Alas, there would be no Hall of Fame Griffey bobblehead left the next day when I did go in.) The museum was fantastic and seeing it all made for a great morning.

Once we had our fill we headed out to the field where the Induction would take place. By the time of our return there were probably at least 18,000 more folks there with more still coming. We proceeded to find our chairs and take a load off for a while. As we took in the scene it was clear that while the parade crowd had heavily favored Griffey, the proximity to New York City allowed for a multitude of Mets fans to make a day trip out of this and swung the crowd to 50/50 or even a hair in Piazza’s favor. According to the final estimates, Kevin and I were there with 50,000 other baseball enthusiasts, tied for the 2nd highest attendance total for an induction event. The ceremony was great. Both gentlemen were emotional and extremely grateful for the honor. It was funny, on Monday Junior noted that he made the mistake of looking out at Piazza’s dad crying which made him already start to cry so he knew he was going to be in trouble for his own speech. Honestly if you want details, I’ve got it on my DVR or they will air it again on the MLB network I am sure. All I will say is that it was really neat to be in the audience for it as a die-hard fan of Ken Griffey Jr. Once the speeches concluded everyone left and headed back toward town. And I mean EVERYONE! It was truly amazing to look down a street for as far as the eye could see and see only a single mass of people walking in the same direction. Needless to say, navigating out of town was quite a challenge, but it allowed us to go out another way and see the beautiful Otsego Lake in the midst of the Adirondacks. We made the rest of the drive without incident and by the time we made it to Albany we were starving. Thankfully the fish I ordered was the length of my forearm so I was adequately sated.IMG_6786

 

Day 7 – Albany to Cooperstown to Flushing/Queens. Approximately 260 miles. Stadium #3 – Citi FieldIMG_6788

An additional benefit to buying the HOF membership is that you have access to buy a ticket to a Roundtable discussion with the new Hall of Famers on Monday morning. This is why we headed back to Cooperstown one last time. We arrived about an hour before the roundtable so I thought I would just pop into the Hall and look at the newly installed plaques. As I rounded the corner there was a mob and arms and cameras were everywhere. My keen deductive reasoning skills determined that Piazza and Griffey were also checking out the plaques and had lots of attention from the throng. My keen deductive reasoning skills were right. While the mob continued to ogle, I took the opportunity to go to the museum shop and do a little souvenir shopping. When I returned, the Hall of Famers had moved on and I got to see the new plaques. Then I went out to Doubleday Field for the Roundtable. This was the second time that I got quite blessed. I was there late enough that I should have ended up sitting at the far end of the bleachers, but I took a chance and walked up the center aisle. I spotted what might have been a single seat available (Kevin was taking in the Hall with far fewer people to fight than previous days which was more to his liking) and was able to confirm that it was available and it became mine. I was just a few feet to the right of being squared up in front of Griffey! It was amazing.IMG_6949

This ended up being my favorite part of the weekend. It’s amazing how much more relaxed the players are once they get through all of the induction jitters and this is the perfect forum to just listen to stories like you are hanging out at their kitchen table. If you could do just one thing, do this. Of course, I’d really suggest you do everything, just hope your favorite player isn’t getting inducted with someone from New York! Junior told all kinds of stories from driving Willie Stargell to downtown Cincinnati at 11:30 at night when he was only 14 to meeting Ichiro for the first time and thinking he was the size of a 14 year old cheerleader. My favorite was when he was explaining how his mom was. He was around 12 (if I remember correctly) and was pitching in Little League. A mom from the other team was just yelling at him and riding him hard and it was affecting how he played. After he threw another ball, his mom stood up and told him “Hit the next batter”. So he hit the next batter. She then proceeded to stand up and yell at the other mom that if she didn’t shut up she’d have him drill the next kid too! Those are the tales that tell you far more than the back of a baseball card ever could.  IMG_6964 (1)

The departure from Cooperstown was the third time we were blessed. They ended the Roundtable a minute or two early because there was a storm rolling toward Cooperstown and as they pointed out, the bleachers we were on were metal and conduct electricity. Kevin and I started toward the car which was about 5 blocks away. When we had gone 4 blocks, we noticed a local New York pizzeria and decided to grab a quick lunch before we hit the road. It was very good and quick so we were in and out pretty swiftly. It had barely started to sprinkle as we walked the next block and got to the car. As we closed our doors the rain began almost immediately. It then began to pour within a minute. The timing was perfect. We then drove from upstate through many small towns on winding roads up and down hills and mountains. It was absolutely beautiful. Eventually we got to Queens and the rain had let up. We unloaded and checked into the hotel and got up to our room. Then the next torrential rain shower and thunderstorm unleashed on the city! That was the fourth time we were blessed. That storm even generated a well-publicized lightning strike that hit the Empire State Building. Noah Syndergaard (a.k.a. Thor) denied responsibility via Twitter. The rain then let up and allowed us to walk, under the elevated train, to Citi Field.IMG_6799

Citi Field Notes:

  • Go in the home plate entrance and really check out the atrium.
  • See my previous note about painted steel and brick. Always a fan.
  • Walking to a stadium is just neater to me than driving up to it. I recommend it.IMG_6919

We had prepared by checking the radar and knew that there was a chance of another wave of rain later, but it looked like at worst, it would push back the start of the game by an hour which would be no big deal. So we headed over to take it all in. Let me say, the initial atrium when you walk in is one of the best things I’ve seen at any stadium. It is dedicated to the legacy of Jackie Robinson and it is amazingly well done. It truly makes Citi a must-see park by itself. We took quite a few pictures and then worked our way toward our seats. It was at that time that we heard that they had postponed the game. It’s safe to say we were annoyed. We went down to the field anyway so that we could take pictures and take in the whole scene. We did this of course because at the time it WASN’T RAINING. After a bit of cajoling by the folks working there we started to head out. There were quite a few unhappy patrons, including some from Seattle that had driven down from Cooperstown just like us, and it didn’t help that the make-up game was the next day as part of a double-header that only folks with the next day’s tickets could go to! We wouldn’t have been able to go anyway, but I still found that to be in poor form. We walked back to the hotel, because naturally it STILL WASN’T RAINING and had dinner. All it did for the rest of the night was a little light rain, but nothing substantial. I don’t know why they made the decision, but I believe it was a poor one. We finished out the night watching baseball on TV and tweeting angry complaints at the Mets. As a humorous epilogue I must note that when they played the game we were supposed to attend 1) naturally it was low scoring and 2) the home team lost! (I sense a pattern!)IMG_6805

Day 8 – Flushing/Queens to Pittsburgh. Approximately 390 miles. Stadium #4 – PNC ParkIMG_6806

Before leaving town we went over to Corona Park which was across the street from Citi Field in the opposite direction of our hotel. Honestly, the motivation was as much from being fans of the “Men in Black” movies as it was also getting to see the National Tennis Center. It’s not huge, but it is a pretty park and definitely worth a visit if you are there. The Unisphere, from the World’s Fair in 1964, is still impressive today and the walk up toward Arthur Ashe Stadium is beautiful. At least until you get to all of the construction work finishing off the new roof on Center Court. It was a nice detour before hitting the road.IMG_6779

Getting out of New York was as much fun as you would think, but we succeeded and headed toward the final stop before we headed home. I made a point of stating that upstate New York was pretty and I have to reiterate that about Pennsylvania. It was a very enjoyable drive and we made pretty good time, pulling into our hotel around 4:00pm. Our room could see part of PNC Park as well as Heinz Field, so that was nice. We decided to go grab some local food before the game so we headed off, over the Clemente bridge, toward Market Square. There is something underrated about being able to walk to and from the park over a waterway and get where you need to go. Cincinnati has something similar, but Pittsburgh has it perfected. [Food Note: We went to Primanti Brothers. Google it. Read up on it. And if you go to Pittsburgh… GO THERE. I can’t explain it, but the food was so good I can’t even express it. Salami and cheese doesn’t sound like it will blow your mind, but this sandwich did]. Also they have an extremely neat mural on the wall that you can’t help but stare at to try to identify everyone immortalized in it.IMG_6908

After our fantastic dinner we headed back toward the park. Seeing the park from across the river was fantastic. The architects clearly valued the aesthetic from that viewpoint just like they did from inside the stadium. It’s a work of art. We walked back across the bridge and then took a walk around the entire stadium including right along the Riverwalk. It’s hard to believe it’s been around over 15 years, but they should do whatever they can to make it be around for as long as possible. Eventually we got around to entering the stadium to take it in from that vantage point.IMG_6823IMG_6887

There are few stadiums where I would recommend that you intentionally get upper deck seats instead of lower deck seats, but PNC Park is one exception. The view is even better from the upper deck because you get to see everything as it was intended. Nowhere in baseball is there a better example of utilizing the natural beauty of a city as part of the viewing experience of a stadium. Everything inside the stadium is nice, but not necessarily substantially nicer than many other parks in the country. What truly sets PNC apart is how the bridges, the river, and the cityscape aren’t just something out beyond the park, but they are clearly intended to be viewed as an extension of the park. That is why this is always in the Top 2 or 3 parks when people attempt to rank the stadiums. I could continue on, but I will simply say that this should be at the top of your list of ballparks to visit in America.IMG_6899

A game actually took place that evening, which was a bonus in our book. One of the main things we hoped for was to not see another low scoring affair. The pitching matchup was such that it could have gone either way. The Pirates hit a home run in the first inning which was a good sign, but we’d seen home runs in the first two innings of every game, so it really didn’t mean much. Now when Francisco Liriano, the Pirates PITCHER, hit a home run we felt like we just might get our wish. We did, though the home team still did not fare well. As a side note, in Kansas City we often have a hot dog race on the video board. The Pirates have a pirate ship race. That wins cool points by itself, but the fact that they shoot and sink each other won more cool points. Also, it is clear to me that Kansas City needs to come up with a cool hype video for the 9th inning if the Royals are trailing. Between the “Eye of the Tiger” in Detroit and one of Kiera Knightley’s speeches from “Pirates of the Carribean” in Pittsburgh, there are teams that do it a lot better than KC. Anyway, we were treated to a 7-4 game that easily could have been more had it not been for many runner stranded by hitters and even a couple that were stranded by odd coaching decisions. Regardless of that, we happily did see some scoring and took in a game at a simply breathtaking location. The walk back to the hotel was pleasant and thankfully, only 3 blocks. We watched a few highlights on TV and then called it a night, knowing that we had a long drive the next day.IMG_6889

Day 9 – Pittsburgh to Kansas City. Approximately 850 miles to the finish line.IMG_6895

There’s not a whole lot to say about the final leg of the trip. We set out early and made good time. Google Maps saved us about an hour and 45 minutes in two 11-14 mile stretches where jumping off the highway proved brilliant. I think much of the time was spent just thinking about the whole journey and all of the things we’d seen and done. As many people know, I-70 across Missouri is nothing to write home about and seeing it on the heels of spending time in upstate New York and driving across Pennsylvania didn’t help its status. What it did provide was a reminder that we were getting close to home and that was enough to make it exciting. It was an amazing trip that I will never forget and am so thankful to have taken. Kevin, thanks for coming along for the ride!IMG_6943

Final Trip Statistics:

  • States/Provinces traveled through: 10 (11 for Kevin since he lives in Kansas)
  • Great Lakes seen: 4
  • Stadiums visited: 4
  • Hall of Famers seen: 45+
  • Hall of Fames visited: 2
  • Miles driven: 3,115.8
  • Steps taken: 76,476
  • Memories made: Countless

IMG_6903

The End

 

 

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Categories: Baseball

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. Great writing!! Enjoyed your enhanced photos! It was fun to read your description of the trip! Kevin filled us in with a phone call, and we looked at his photos on Facebook, but your report provided some interesting details. – from Kevin’s mom and dad.

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