Ryan Welton

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Tag Archives: baseball

Photos from trip to Denver, Coors Field, visit to National Ballpark Museum

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This is a blog I wrote months ago about a trip I took last year. Mom died during the summer, so this one got shelved, but not just because of that. This post got shelved because I thought it was important to properly caption every one of the photos I was going to post from my trip to the National Ballpark Museum

This post was going to wait until I was able to deal with all five dozen or so photos I’m sharing in this post.

The two things I love most about sports are the uniforms (what we root for) and the stadiums and parks where sports are played. Much churches, sports venues are the architectural centerpieces of America.

Hope you enjoy this one, and if you can, check out the National Ballpark Museum on Facebook (if you can’t visit Bruce in person!). I can’t imagine a museum I would enjoy more except for perhaps the one in Cooperstown.

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The baseball pennant race is red hot, and no divisions are hotter right now than the NL Central and West. Colorado is leading the West by 1.5 games over the Los Angeles Dodgers, parent club to our Oklahoma City Dodgers. The Dodgers are one of the teams I root for hard, and that goes back to the days of Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey.

But the Rockies are a team I root for, too. Just not right now. There is a pecking order to my bandwagon.

For the record, I am a Texas Rangers fan to the core. Always will be.

But I love sports, and I especially love baseball.

And I was fortunate enough to visit Denver last year and see the Rockies at Coors Field. I was impressed by the city, the stadium, LoDo (lower downtown) and a little museum Kristi and I discovered along the way. She actually discovered the National Ballpark Museum before our trip because she’s good like that, and she knows of my love for baseball architecture.

Denver was adorned this fine weekend by deep blue skies and clean air, cool nights and warm days. I went for a run along some trails near Welton Street, not named for me best that I know, and my only complaint was the periodic smell of marijuana smoke in the air.

Alas, even with dispensaries everywhere, I loved, loved, loved Denver.

Beautiful. Cosmopolitan. Green. Good food, good beer, good people.

Our trip to Coors Field was pretty close to my favorite all-around city+ballpark trip ever.

After pre-gaming at a local sports bar, we visited this ballpark museum, about two or three blocks from the stadium. The National Ballpark Museum is a shrine to ballparks dating to the 1800s, the major leagues and the Negro League. It’s a baseball nerd’s paradise.

And we were lucky enough to get a personal tour from curator Bruce “B” Hellerstein. By personal, I mean it was Kristi and me with Bruce for an hour. The visit might have cost us $10 apiece, maybe $15? Worth every penny and plenty more. (Side note: They are a 501 (c)(3) organization and can accept donations.)

What we were told by the museum host is that Bruce is rarely there, but that when he is, you need to take advantage of his presence and pay attention. Bruce Hellerstein is a walking encyclopedia of baseball history and especially an expert in ballparks. My expertise in ballpark history is pretty novice among experts but expert among novices, if you will.

Bruce is a stud among baseball studs.

My interest in ballpark architecture goes back to childhood, visiting Royals Stadium in 1982 and watching the fountains. Before that, I regularly rooted for the Dodgers in the World Series, and I especially loved the games in Los Angeles as opposed to New York, going back to their battles versus the Yankess in 1977 and 1978. What I’m saying there is that, even as a 7-year-old, I picked my World Series team based on venue. (And uniforms. I’ll save that for another post.)

Fast-forward a few years to when we got Camden Yards and Jacobs Field, and my interest in stadiums increased greatly because I grew up mostly with the cookie-cutter, turf-riddled, multi-purpose stadiums such as Veterans Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Fulton County Stadium, Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, Riverfront Stadium, etc.

I was aesthetically deprived until I wasn’t, and then my interest in baseball architecture was greatly heightened. The truth is that this new, early-90s era of stadium architecture was a throwback to early 1900s greatness, not some new innovation.

What’s old became new again.

That’s why it’s especially appropriate that the National Ballpark Museum is in Denver — because Coors Field was architected in the style of older stadiums, especially Ebbets Field and I believe Shibe Park (Connie Mack Stadium).

It has a prominent, rounded front and the entire stadium sits right close to the street.

Coors Field wasn’t ushering in a new era of stadiums. It was a hearty hat-tip to the best stadiums of years gone by.

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That’s all I really have to say about the museum. After rooting on the Dodgers to a 4-0 win over Colorado that night, Kristi went back to the sports bar we first visited that afternoon and split a plate of nachos and a beer and watched some UFC on the big screen with hundreds of other Denver folk. The one thing I remember about the fight we saw was that the loser of the match proposed to her girlfriend on live TV.

UFC fight Jessica Andrade versus Joanna Jedrzejczyk

This is the UFC fight we watched at the bar in LoDo.

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Neither Kristi nor I know much about UFC, so it was the post-match happening that was most memorable.

The things we remember! Anyway, I’m glad I take lots of photos when I visit places. The National Baseball Museum is quite memorable, but there was so much baseball goodness in one spot, these photos will keep the venue and our visit with Bruce in our memories for the rest of our lives.

Or until the next time we visit. And we will!

Now for your perusal, the photos I took from the National Ballpark Museum. Enjoy!

1960 World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates

A piece of baseball history from the 1960 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates

Fenway Park ticket taker

A piece of history from Fenway Park, home of the Boston RedSox.

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Connie Mack Stadium - Philadelphia

This was Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia.

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14 Classic Baseball Parks

Bricks from the 14 classic ballparks built from 1909 to 1923.

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Crosley Field in Cincinnati, memorabilia

Lots of memorabilia from Crosley Field in Cincinnati at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Crosley Field, Cincinnati

Crosley Field, The Illustrated History of a Classic Ballpark

Pennants for the Pirates, Phillies, Braves and Dodgers

Pennants for the Pirates, Phillies, Braves and Dodgers

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Cincinnati Redlegs

Memorabilia from the Cincinnati Redlegs at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

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Final Game at Crosley Field: June 24, 1970

Autographed photo from Crosley Field in Cincinnati, the final pitch at the Reds’ stadium before Riverfront Stadium debuted.

Artifacts from Wrigley Field. White Sox, Giants and Cubs

Various artifacts from Wrigley Field, among other ballparks.

Tiger Stadium brochure

Memorabilia about Tiger Stadium in Detroit

Oakland A's Reggie Jackson in Sports Illustrated

Look at those unis! Oakland Athletics on the cover of Sports Illustrated, featuring slugger Reggie Jackson.

Tiger Stadium All Star Game 1971

Memorabilia from Tiger Stadium All Star Game 1971

Michigan and Trumbull

One of the most famous corners in all of baseball, Michigan and Trumbull — home of the Detroit Tigers.

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Stan Musial memorabilia in St, Louis

St. Louis Cardinals memorabilia at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver. This is Stan Musial.

RedSox Magazine

RedSox Magazine – A Monster Of A View – at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver

Boston - 2013 World Series

A photo from Fenway Park where the Boston RedSox defeated St. Louis to win the 2013 World Series

Legends of the Black Diamond

Heroes of the Negro League were memorialized at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Jimmy Fund Night - Fenway Park

Jimmy Fund Night – Fenway Park – an artifact from Fenway Park in Boston, shown at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Yankee Stadium - the House That Ruth Built

Yankee Stadium memorabilia (“The House That Ruth Built”) featured at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

We Are The Ship - Kadir Nelson

Book at the National Ballpark Museum called “We Are The Ship,” by Kadir Nelson

Comiskey Park in Chicago - Old & New

Photo of Comiskey Park in Chicago during the final game at “old” Comiskey.

Mickey Mantle New York Yankees

Photo of Mickey Mantle batting for the New York Yankees.

Mickey Mantle quote + photo

Mickey Mantle quote at Yankee Stadium

Tony Kubek & Joe Garagiola

Tony Kubek and Joe Garagiola, the guys who introduced me to baseball in the 1970s.

Bruce Hellerstein talks about Dodgers

National Ballpark Museum curator Bruce Hellerstein talks about this Dodgers memorabilia when we visited in Denver in May 2016.

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Bruce Hellerstein

The curator of the National Ballpark Museum in Denver, Bruce Hellerstein.

Los Angeles Dodgers gear at National Ballpark Museum

This was a big Los Angeles (and Brooklyn) Dodgers section at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodgers

The most important figure in the history of baseball is Jackie Robinson. If you haven’t seen the movie, “42,” watch it!

Tony Kubek, Yankees shortstop

A signed photo of Yankees shortstop Tony Kubek, and a newspaper clipping of Tony winning a rookie award.

Yankee Stadium sign, Department of Transportation

This is a sign pointing people toward Yankee Stadium. The sign is from the Department of Transportation and is found at the National Ballpark Museum.

Willie Mays, New York Giants (the catch)

A couple of mini-statues of Willie Mays, depicting “the catch” from Game 1 of the 1954 World Series against the Cleveland Indians from the Polo Grounds in New York.

Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field

The National Ballpark Museum had a little shrine to Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs.

California Angels, the inaugural year

A look at some really old-school California Angels paraphernalia from the National Ballpark Museum. The Angels debuted as an MLB team in 1961.

Texas Rangers, Arlington Stadium

A banner and a program from old Arlington Stadium in Texas, there is also a signed seat, I believe, from Nolan Ryan.

Seattle Pilots

Look at these collectibles from the Seattle Pilots’ one and only season before becoming the Milwaukee Brewers.

Babe Ruth's called shot

A photo/painting and a statue of Babe Ruth’s called shot at Wrigley Field in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series.

Los Angeles Angels, the early days

The California Angels are now the Los Angeles Angels. However, from 1961-65 they were also the L.A. Angels. This is lots of paraphernalia from the really early days of the franchise.

Kansas City Athletics

Before the A’s were in Oakland, they were in Kansas City. Check out this 1960s memorabilia at the National Ballpark Museum.

Kansas City Royals

A pennant from the early days of the Kansas City Royals and Royals Stadium, found at the National Ballpark Museum.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Memorabilia from the early days of both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels, found at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Millers

Memorabilia and paraphernalia from the early days of the Minnesota Twins and the minor league Millers of Minneapolis.

Cubs!

If I remember right, this Cubs logo was painted onto the floor at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Denver Bears uniforms (striped)

Love the striped look of the old Denver Bears, which played from 1885-1954 in its first incarnation and then until 1985 before turning into the Zephyrs.

Denver Bears (1970s-80s look?)

Interesting scripting on these Denver Bears uniforms. I’m betting these are late 70s versions.

Denver Bears memorabilia

More signs and clippings from the rich history of Denver’s Minor League Bears – located at the National Ballpark Museum in Denver.

Baseball Tonite at Bears Stadium

Vintage sign from the Denver Bears, which played in two incarnations in Denver — 1885 to 1954 and then until 1985 before they were renamed the Zephyrs.

Babe Ruth clock

This was a neat artifact from baseball past at the National Ballpark Museum – a Babe Ruth clock. It might be a clock radio?

Reggie Jackson, Mr. October

Reggie Jackson went from great to legend in the 1977 World Series vs, the Dodgers. This presentation at the Ballpark Museum in Denver pays homage to Mr. October.

California Thinkin’: my takeaways from a trip to the Golden State

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A vacation to end the summer symbolizes the start of autumn, on the calendar if not the thermometer. It won’t start to feel autumnal in Oklahoma until November. To escape the last bit of heat in the Sooner State, we went to San Diego and Los Angeles for some sun, sand, surf, baseball, football and general adventures.

Last year, Kristi and I went to Albuquerque for our Labor Day trip.

This year, we went all the way West.

Some quick observations about southern California:

1 — They don’t have the big, sprawling convenience stores we have in Oklahoma and Texas. There’s no Buccee’s not to mention a big OnCue, QuikTrip or Love’s — not in the heart of Los Angeles or San Diego at least. The cost per square foot is too high, Kristi tells me.

Kristi was born in Los Angeles. She knows these parts.

2 — The difficulty of traffic in Los Angeles is probably overstated, based on my small sample size. There was a lot of it, but Dallas drivers go a lot faster. I remember when I first moved to DFW in 1996 and folks raced up Preston and Hillcrest — side streets — at 60 mph.

That was culture shock.

Los Angeles provided more of what I’d call a constant state of heavy traffic. Constant.

Kristi has since corrected me on this.

“Oh, honey, this was a holiday weekend. We didn’t see nothin'” in terms of real L.A. traffic.

As I said, she knows these parts.

3 — Folks are friendly in California, drivers and otherwise. Not sure that they’ll ever be as friendly as they are in our part of the world but I’ll posit this:

— the service at Petco Park in San Diego was best I’ve ever had at an MLB game

— the staff at Hotel Z in San Diego (the Pineapple) was as friendly if not friendlier than any staff we’ve had at any hotel

— I had my usual “random people talk to me in public” experience, which usually only happens down South but to which I’ve often attributed to my winning personality and approachability.

I have this “please come start a conversation” look on my face.

4 — Cell service is poor in California. I don’t know if “poor” is the best word for it, or rather if it should be “not as strong as you’d expect considering it’s California.” I just imagined Cali to be a haven of technical wonder and connectivity. I was left with ‘No Service’ and 4G in a lot of places.

5 — Much of Los Angeles is stuck in another era architecturally, and this isn’t a bad thing if you’re into all-things mid-mod. If the late 50s and early 60s are your stylistic jam, L.A. is your place.

What’s old becomes new again.

As I settle back into routine, I reflect on every new place I’ve visited this year. We spent a weekend at Beavers Bend in southeastern Oklahoma, a few days in north-central Virginia for a wedding, a trek across the South from Atlanta to Myrtle Beach to Asheville to Nashville and then our trip to Los Angeles and San Diego.

The place I could see myself retiring to? Asheville for sure, but with enough money for a decent beach house, Myrtle Beach or Santa Monica — either one — seem pretty appealing.

The entire state of Tennessee is gorgeous. North Carolina, too, I’d imagine. We only traveled through part of it. As for Tennessee, we covered it all along Interstate 40.

I’m refreshed and rejuvenated, as you should be after time away from home. Ready to get to work – the day job, my side interests and personal projects, all of it. I’ll post a few more stories from the road over the next few weeks, too.

And I’ll ponder future vacations.

Kristi and I are talking about London. I’d have to attend a couple football matches, Tottenham Hotspur and maybe some club in a lower flight. QPR? Sheffield Wednesday? Nottingham Forest?

We’re considering a football trip to West Point to watch Army play. They play the Sooners next year, but I think I’d rather be free to root for the Black Knights.

I’d still love to go to Montana and Idaho, catch a Montana Grizzlies football game.

I’d also love to trek through Canada — from Vancouver to Halifax — and maybe catch some hockey or a CFL game.

Dreams for 2019 and beyond.

For now, it’s time to reconvene the hustle.


Pittsburgh baseball pilgrimage capped with visits to PNC Park

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Of all the places I’ve traveled to in the past decade, no place has surprised me as much as Pittsburgh.

I picked the Steel City three years ago as a baseball destination, a vacation to end the summer. I had never been to Pennsylvania, and I think I was fascinated by the city having watched Steelers games over the years and a few WTAE newscasts as part of my employment with Hearst Television. Plus, a friend of mine is from Pittsburgh, and I had heard a lot about the city from her over the years.

Didn’t make much of an itinerary aside from two baseball games, a Friday night and Saturday day game against the world champion San Francisco Giants. The Friday night game was a chance to watch the great Madison Bumgarner pitch, and Saturday a chance to watch Gerrit Cole.

I’ll blog about my other Pittsburgh experiences soon, including a visit to Primanti Bros., the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, the Andy Warhol Museum and a trip up Duquesne Incline.

However, for now, I present to you PNC Park.

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First of all, I knew it was going to be a good day when I was able to negotiate a deal for an all-day parking spot. There was this shaded parking area under a bridge, and it was supposed to be $15 through 6 p.m. and extra for Pirates parking, but I got there by lunch time and told the attendant my situation: I’m a tourist coming to see Pittsburgh, and it’s my intention to be downtown all day, eat at local establishments, root on the Pirates and take a crap ton of photos.

He told me to enjoy my stay in Pittsburgh and gave me the stub that would cover me through the Pirates game.

My first stop was Mullen’s Bar & Grill. I picked it because it was pretty big and had lots of TVs tuned to sports. It was noon, and I was on vacation, so of course I had a beer with lunch.

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But I didn’t have just any beer.

I had a Yuengling, my first. Yuengling is a Pennsylvania institution.

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My taste buds sensed the strong carbonation and robust flavor and were sent to beer heaven. I hate to describe it this way, in 2018, but it tasted like a manly beer. Drinking it made me want to chop wood and work on my car.

Mullen’s is within a couple blocks of the ballpark, and I noticed that the district was already busy with people, early in the afternoon. Mostly it was business people going to lunch, but the party atmosphere at PNC Park ramped up quite early, rocking and rolling by 3 or 4 p.m.

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon at the Andy Warhol museum, which didn’t allow cameras. Of all the artists whose legacy would support allowing randos to take photos and video of their work, it would have been Andy. He would have turned that video into art. I think it’s crazy that museums don’t encourage photos and videos. Crazy.

Alas, I didn’t know that much about Warhol going in and came out of it feeling like I had learned a lot and also understanding why he was such a vital modern artist. Highly recommend a visit, even though I have zero evidence as to why it was awesome. I’ll just say this: he was a beautifully weird, interesting cat. And he loved Pittsburgh.

Enough “culture.” Lol. Pittsburgh surprises many visitors in how significant its art scene is. This article from the Washington Post details the city’s public art scene.

In terms of cool factor, the only city that has compared with Pittsburgh, for me, was San Francisco. This is a strong segue back into sports because AT&T Park (Giants) is my favorite baseball park in America, and PNC is a very close second.

PNC Park is connected to downtown Pittsburgh by bridges sitting over the Three Rivers of Pittsburgh — the Allegheny, the Monongahela and the Ohio. There’s one bridge that everybody walks on to get from downtown to the park, a pedestrian pilgrimage unlike any other in sports. It’s named for one of the greatest humanitarians in sports history: Roberto Clemente.

Clemente died on Dec. 31, 1972, in a plane crash that should have never happened. The plane was overloaded and run by a super shady company. Clemente was headed to Nicaragua to help ensure that food donations were making it to the people who needed it there after a deadly earthquake.

You can’t go to Pittsburgh and go to a Pirates game and not honor Clemente.

So, by this time it’s 4 p.m., and happy hour is already cranked up to ‘We Are Family’ levels across the blocks that surround the Pirates’ baseball cathedral. Hours after I tried my first Yuengling, I was sipping my first Leinenkugel (“Berry Weiss”), people watching and looking for deals from Pittsburgh vendors.

And then I heard a cover band playing some INXS.

OK, that didn’t catch my attention as much as did this guy, who I presume is probably a banker or an accountant letting loose for the weekend. He was nice and toasty and dancing his ass off.

Fast forward to 7 p.m. and the march into PNC Park. My seats for the Friday night contest were behind home plate and high up, my favorite vantage point for watching a baseball game.

I sat next to a 60-some-odd-year-old woman and her crew and had my first pierogi.

Overrated. Don’t get it.

It’s a dumpling, a Polish ravioli.

Don’t @ me. When I visited Camden Yards the next year, my food treat was kettle chips with some kind of creamy crab cake concoction on top. There is no comparison between the two.

But I needed to try a pierogi, and I did and it was underwhelming.

The park and familial atmosphere of PNC Park was not underwhelming, however. It was fantastic. I felt like I was rooting on a local high school team. The fans were nice. Everybody describes St. Louis Cardinals fans as being the ultimate in nice, but I would submit to you that they haven’t visited Pittsburgh. Pirates fans, at least the mid-2010s variety, were friendly without the cockiness.

And this Pirates club was 72-47 to begin the weekend homestand. They were a contender.

Bumgarner and the Giants won the first game, 6-4. For my second game, a Saturday afternoon tilt for national TV, I sat right behind home plate down low. I could see the dust and chalk pop from the catcher’s mitt each time Gerrit Cole rocketed a fastball down the middle.

And instead of sitting by a friendly older lady, I was sitting next to the guy I’ll call the “old sea captain.”

He looked a little like Howard Schnellenberger. He smelled of cigars and sin.

And he told baseball stories from days gone by, so many and with such detail that I wouldn’t doubt it if he turned out to have been a former Major Leaguer. The Saturday game blazed by pretty quickly, a pitcher’s duel highlighted by seven really strong innings from Cole.

A wild pitch in the top of the eighth helped San Francisco even the score at 2-2, and then all was quiet until the bottom of the ninth when with two outs, Starling Marte decided to start the ‘Marte Party’ (pronounced mart-AY part-AY) a little bit early.

Bam. Gone. Celebration at home plate.

And then the Pirates raised the Jolly Roger to indicate a win.

I haven’t been to all the baseball cathedrals in this great land, but there has been none better in terms of atmosphere, location, beauty, architecture and fun than PNC Park.

If only the team could be better more consistently.

Ichiro will go down as best baseball player of our generation (along with Jeter)

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Although Ichiro didn’t call it a retirement today, let’s face some facts. Mr. Suzuki (who?) is 44 years old, and he was batting .205 in 44 ABs so far this season for the Seattle Mariners.

Father Time has caught up to Ichiro.

But let’s not call it a retirement, not for the most complete player of our generation, although I’d caveat that with this. I’ll take Ichiro and Derek Jeter, and you can have everybody else who’s played baseball since the turn of the century.

They’re it. The very best, and neither is tainted by steroids. Not that I know of.

Ichiro announced that he’s headed to the front office, at least for the rest of 2018 and probably from here forward. Here’s to hoping Ichiro spends the rest of 2018 on a goodbye tour across the country. I think he’ll find a nation of baseball fans, genuine baseball fans, who adore the guy.

He’s a badass.

He won both the Rookie of the Year and the American League MVP honors in 2001, only the second player to do that. Fred Lynn was the first in 1975 with the Boston Red Sox.

He has amassed 3,089 hits, a .311 batting average and 16 Gold Gloves in 17-plus seasons stateside, not even considering his nine seasons with the Orix Blue Wave of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan.

He plays with supreme hustle.

His fundamentals are flawless.

The man can bunt, hit opposite field, kill any shift and beat out routine throws on the regular.

He doesn’t talk trash, doesn’t run over catchers at home plate and, best we know, doesn’t have a gambling problem.

Ichiro is essentially Pete Rose minus all the negatives.

As a Texas Rangers fan, Ichiro was maddening over the years. He was practically always good for a base hit in the clutch, and there was a time in the mid-2000s when we could never beat Seattle, often because of him and otherwise because of King Felix.

Ichiro is also one of the most physically recognizable athletes in sports. Sure, part of that is his heritage, but he also always wore his uniform a certain way, tucked deep with high-waisted pants a la Ed Grimley. His batting stance was unmistakeable: he’d hold his bat high with his right hand, touching his right shoulder with his left.

Maybe we should celebrate Clayton Kershaw or Bryce Harper or Mike Trout. Probably Mike Trout.

But for the rest of 2018, wherever the Mariners play, there needs to be a moment in the first game of that road series or, heck, maybe every game where the road fans get to pay their baseball respects to the greatest all-around player of our generation.

Baseball aspirations: Dodger Stadium and an NLDS sweep over Arizona

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Long before I rooted for the Texas Rangers, I rooted for the New York Mets. Those were the 80s, and I was a teenager.

Before that were the Kansas City Royals, the result of weird TV rules in Oklahoma during the early 1980s where more Royals games were shown on Muskogee television than were Cardinals games.

Hated the Cardinals. Always have. Unfairly so given that I love St. Louis and really enjoyed the new Busch Stadium on my visit four years ago. The 2011 World Series didn’t help.

Now it’s the Cubs I kind of loathe. I’d even root for the Cardinals.

But where it all started for me in baseball was with the Yankees and Dodgers, the Celtics-Lakers of its era, the 1970s. New York had Ron Guidry and Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson and Graig Nettles, Roy White, Willie Randolph, Brian Doyle and more.

And the Dodgers had Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey, the most recognizable infield of the 1970s. It seemed, at least it did to a 7-year-old, that one was either a Yankees fan or a Dodgers fan. The choice was easy for me.

New York’s uniforms were drab: gray and black (to a 7-year-old, there was no difference between dark navy and black). But Los Angeles’ uniforms were bright and clean: white with blue lettering and red front-side numbers.

There was no choice, and my first baseball love was born: the Dodgers.

Make no mistake: At the age of 47, I’m set in stone as a diehard Texas Rangers fan. I’ve been that way since the late 80s. They’re my team, and despite their recent taste of success, they have caused me great consternation over the past several years. Given their absence from the 2017 playoffs, I needed to root for somebody, so I picked the Dodgers.

Truth is: I picked the Dodgers at the beginning of the year to win the World Series…over the Astros. My pick is looking pretty good right now, isn’t it?

But do you know what else looks great? Dodger Stadium. It’s the third-oldest stadium in Major League Baseball, behind Fenway and Wrigley — and for those who love mid-century modern design, this stadium is really kind of perfect. It was built in 1962 and to an outsider like me, it sure looks like it’s stuck in the 1960s.

Not that this is a bad thing, architecturally. And not that I’ve ever been.

I’ve visited a lot of ballparks, many of them over the past few years. I’d certainly like to make it to L.A. for a game in 2018 (as World Champs), but I just haven’t made it out there yet. In fact, I’ve never been to Los Angeles.

That needs to change.

Until it does, I’m sharing some pics from Game 1 of the 2017 NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. These photos were taken by my girlfriend’s aunt’s friend Robbie McGraw. See if you can follow along with that!

Did you know that even the coloring of the seats in Dodger Stadium is purposeful? When the seats were replaced in 2006, owner Frank McCourt returned them to their original colors of sky blue, yellow and orange. One was a reminder of the bright blue sky in California, while the yellow represents sandy beaches and the orange California’s bright sun.

Pretty cool.

Enjoy the pics. Hope to make Dodger Stadium one of my next baseball park visits.

Coors Field, Denver’s LoDo district demolish expectations

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Earlier this year, my girlfriend and I decided on a quick weekend jaunt to Denver, another in a long list of stops in my quest to watch a game at every Major League Baseball park. What I didn’t expect was to discover the coolest city in America.

And it’s not just because they have a Welton Street.

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I’ll divide my Denver trip into chunks, and I’ll start at the back end of the weekend trip with the visit to Coors Field, built in 1995 in the Lower Downtown district. The locals call it LoDo. My expectations for this visit were not terribly high as I don’t hold the era of early-to-mid 1990s stadiums in terribly high regard.

Architecturally, Camden Yards is the class of that era, but the whole of the neighborhood surrounding it felt like a warehouse district. That park feels terribly out of place in that part of Baltimore. I’m told Baltimore is an awesome city, but everything felt like a scene from “Homicide,” the NBC procedural set in Bal’more.

On the other hand, Coors Field is an above-average park architecturally with an atmosphere second only to Pittsburgh and maybe St. Louis. On any given night at a Colorado Rockies game, a local in purple is liable to be surrounded by visitors. On this night, we were among Los Angeles Dodgers supporters, although we were quickly told that about 30-40% of attendees of any Rockies game are rooting for the visitors.

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Before we got our tickets punched, we stopped for a couple of beers at some neighborhood pubs and went for a tour of the National Ballpark Museum, which warrants a post all its own. Its curator informed us that the front of Coors Field is actually a nod to old Shibe Park in Philadelphia, home of Connie Mack Stadium.

We caught a lucky break in that the weather in Denver was neither too cold nor too hot. My ballpark trip to Target Field in Minneapolis last year was pretty brutal in that it was 93 degrees with a heat index of 100-plus and no place to find shade. Since that trip last Father’s Day, I have made it a point to inquire about shade at each and every stadium. Shade determines where I sit.

On the other hand, we were dealt an unlucky hand, too. This game between the Rockies and Dodgers fell on Mother’s Day weekend, which means that instead of seeing the glorious home purples and all that Dodger blue, we were stuck looking at gross alternative uniforms, designed by the color-blind. I could go on a long rant about Major League Baseball and their uniforms for special days. The NFL has done it during October for years now, in support of Breast Cancer awareness.

Create content. Don’t mess with the uniform color palette.

We sat along the third-base side, which was behind the Dodgers’ dugout, and even as I write this, I still haven’t seen the Rockies score. Los Angeles’ Alex Wood struck out 10 as the Dodgers won their 100th game ever at Coors Field, 4-0.

Here are a couple shots I snapped before the game.

And then here’s my obligatory food pic. For the record, the food and beer at Coors Field are reasonably priced, and the dog was above average. I love a good Chicago-style hot dog and any chance to get some veggies with my processed pork. The beer was some variation of Blue Moon wheat.

coors-field-food

Just to give you a sense of the fandom at Coors Field, here’s a quick snippet of a video I captured sitting among Dodger Nation.

Alas, I totally get why Coors Field is filled with visitors. This is a destination ballpark in a destination city. The vibrancy of the downtown area, LoDo, pre-game felt like St. Louis. Pittsburgh’s pre-game environment is the best in baseball, although I admit that I might have just caught the Pirates on a good day. The party for a 7 p.m. first pitch on a Friday started at like noon.

coors-field-night

However, the post-game atmosphere in Denver on a Saturday night after a ball game was the real deal. It was happenin’, and it felt celebratory and not chaotic or dangerous. We stopped off at Sports Column where we had some pre-game beers, and it was packed except for a table right up front among the masses enjoying a UFC fight night.

denver-ufc

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, so we ordered a plate of nachos and watched these young women fight. As I remember, this was a good bout, too. However, being an old man, I was ready to get back to the hotel and climb into bed sooner rather than later.

Oh, here are those nachos, and they were excellent. As a whole, all the food we had in Denver over-indexed on the scale of excellence. These are not your mother’s bar nachos.

denver-sports-column-nachos

However, Denver is a city and Coors Field a park that might require multiple visits in the future. I caught a great vibe from the city, the park, Rockies fans — all of it. And this ain’t even the only Denver blog I’m posting. Stay tuned …

 

 

Spring training trip to Phoenix starts with Brewers, Dodgers and a sweet Mustang

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As it rains across central Oklahoma tonight, I hearken back to the start of March and sunnier days. This year, I took my second trip to The Grand Canyon State, Arizona, to watch some spring training baseball.

This is going to be a multi-post blog, otherwise it might not ever get posted. Hell, I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me this long. Once I get it all posted, in parts, I’ll also compile it together into one post.

My girlfriend Kristi made the trip with me, and we were able to catch a nonstop flight to Phoenix. A trip past TSA Pre and just a few pieces of gum later, we were in Arizona, where our first stop was to pick up this gorgeous red convertible Ford Mustang, our rental car of choice.

Kristi paid for it, but she let me drive much of the time. Awesome. Aside from the fact, in retrospect, that my allergies probably can’t handle a convertible, driving this pony was heaven — and I didn’t hesitate to put the pedal to the metal across I-10 and I-17. I don’t normally drive like a speed demon, but I absolutely know how to handle myself on the big city freeway.

And I have to tell you up front that I didn’t love Phoenix upon my first visit in 2016, although I have it on good authority that the reason I probably didn’t like it was that I was staying in a bad part of town. That wasn’t the case this time as we stayed at the Best Western Plus Chandler Hotel & Suites, located in the heart of the Gila River Indian Community on the southeast side of Phoenix. In full disclosure, I work for Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, which owns the hotel.

I’m biased, but I am also extraordinarily picky, and this was a terrific stay. It’s clean, has an adequate workout room, and they serve an awesome, hot breakfast every morning. Plus, it’s close to the Phoenix Premium Outlets, which took a lot of my money on Day 3 of the vacation. Here’s how picky I am about hotels: I typically bring my own pillow and a fan.

OK, maybe that’s not so extreme.

Our first stop was Maryvale Baseball Park, home of the spring training Milwaukee Brewers. We weren’t there to see the Brew Crew. We were there to root for ol’ Blue, the Los Angeles Dodgers. I’m a Ranger, and she’s a Dodger. However, when I was but a wee kiddo, I was very much a Dodgers fan, and I rooted heartily for Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey.

In retrospect, I’m not sure that I wasn’t simply rooting against the New York Yankees in 1977 and 1978, but I’m pretty sure I just liked the L.A. unis a little bit better.

In addition to rooting for the big club, we also root for the Oklahoma City Dodgers, L.A.’s Triple A team. Spring training is a great opportunity to see the minor league studs in action like Cody Bellinger, Willie Calhoun, O’Koyea Dickson, Charlie Culberson and the great Jack Murphy.

Then again, our first task was to find shade. Even at the start of March, PHX is upper-80s with a sun that whips you into submission. Everybody in the ticket line was inquiring about shade, me included. It turns out that the Maryvale park was pretty good about having ample shade, especially on the first-base side. Plus, they have an interesting cover over the walkway that helps cool the place off.

We were just settling in, so I was mostly interested in a dog, a cold beer and a warm seat. Surrounded by Brewers snowbirds, we heard multiple stories of travelers escaping freezing rain and Wisconsin winds. We were happy to be in Arizona; they were freaking delighted.

Besides, I actually picked Milwaukee to snag a wild card spot, which would be a major National League surprise this season. For the record, I picked the Dodgers to win it all.

On this day, it was the Brewers who prevailed, 7-2, but our trip had begun safely and securely with a full 9 innings under our belts and an escape from Maryvale planned. It was time to check in to the hotel and plan our first evening out, dinner at Roy’s in Chandler.

To be continued …

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