Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Padres and Toreros and Cubs, Oh My!

I have been spoiled with the offseason offerings of my favorite baseball team. For as long as I've been aware, the Cubs have held the Cubs Convention in the middle of January in the frozen tundra of Chicago, providing a jolt of baseball excitement for the longest suffering fans in sports. The convention has always sold out, but I have been able to attend three times and the reminder that spring training is right around the corner is always welcome.

Within the past few years I have heard about several other teams hosting pre-season fan get-togethers, including the Padres. Reports the past few years have been that the FanFest was a professionally run and much enjoyed event, so I made a point to keep my eyes out for any information about the 2014 event.

Fortunately it fell on a weekend that I was able to get away and, after acquiring "early entry" passes from a friend of a friend, my brother, Chris, and I were standing in line outside of Petco Park far too early on a Saturday morning.

Having never been before, I wasn't sure how the autograph sessions worked. All I knew was that there were vouchers for the various sessions and that you needed a voucher to get the autograph. I misunderstood what I was told by a Padres employee and thought that the earliest sessions would be available to the early entry guests and tickets for the others would be staggered throughout the day.

Chris and I grabbed our vouchers for the Yonder Alonso/Robbie Erlin session and headed over to the Padres Garage Sale. The sale is where the Padres sell all sorts of things left over from the previous season(s), including jerseys, bats, caps, and banners that hung around the ballpark.

There was a sizable crowd when we got there, but it wasn't unmanageable and we managed to peruse all of the items without any issues. While flipping through the jerseys I happened across a 1984 Padres "throwback" jersey that had been worn and signed by Anthony Rizzo and I was sold immediately. The funny thing is that I had thought just that morning that had I gone to the FanFest the year prior, I could maybe have grabbed a Rizzo jersey since he had been with the club sporadically throughout the 2011 season.

I wound up spending a little more than I had planned to acquire the jersey, but it is now one of the prize pieces of my baseball memorabilia collection, and well worth the expense in my mind.

After finally checking out, which took a very long time due to Wi-Fi issues with the credit card readers, Chris and I looked at the time and saw that we still had over an hour before we could even start queueing up for our autograph session, so we decided to enjoy a walking tour of the Padres clubhouse and facilities.

I had already seen the clubhouse on my tour of Petco nearly a year before, but it was a good way to kill time and there were various areas open that had not been accessible on our tour. Plus, it's always fun to see the "behind the scenes" areas of the ballpark.

After the clubhouse, we popped out into the Padres dugout and relaxed for a few minutes as we decided what to do next.

There were several tents set up in the outfield grass, so we decided to see what was happening out there. Sidenote:One of the benefits to going to a fan event for a team that plays in a warm climate is the ability to walk on the field, a perk that is not offered on any ballpark tour that I have experienced, or even read about.

While on our way out to left field, we ran into the Friar and had to get a photo with him. The tents seemed to be for local radio stations and all of the lines to reach them were quite prohibitive, so I leapt at the outfield walls a few times, like I was robbing a home run, completely disregarding the fact that I have no jumping skills whatsoever, and decided to head up to the Alonso/Erlin signing.

The best part about having the voucher for the session was that the queue was basically just sitting in the nice shaded seats and waiting for the players to show up. They arrived on time and were fairly quick with the signings, even though they were both very good about talking with the fans who came up.

I had Alonso sign a ball for me, but unfortunately I wasn't paying close enough attention and he signed in blue sharpie before I could ask him to use my own pen. I told him that I thought this could definitely be an All Star year for him and he thanked me and said that he was feeling really good this offseason.

I had decided not to get Erlin on a baseball, so I didn't have him sign anything, which I regret in retrospect.

At this point Chris and I headed back to where the vouchers had been distributed to try and get some for a later autograph session. As it happened, the vouchers were not staggered throughout the day, they were given out as soon as the previous session had run out of vouchers. So, rather than waiting until 10:00am to give our the 11:30am vouchers, they were given as soon as the 11:00am session had "booked out."

The system makes sense and I don't have a real issue with it, though I wish that there had been better communication with the fans and more of a premium given to the early entry (read:season ticket holders) attendees. For example, two of the more desired autograph sessions were Jedd Gyorko and Andrew Cashner, both of whom only had one autograph session in the late afternoon. I would have hoped that the Padres would have had them available early, as a premium for the early entry folks.

While bummed, Chris and I weren't devastated, as we were trying to make it to USD for the USD alumni game featuring Cubs top prospect, Kris Bryant, and after getting out and throwing a few pitches in the Padres bullpen, that was just where we went.

After finally finding parking on campus, we made our way to Fowler Park, the brand new USD baseball facility. To say that it is a gem is to sell it short. This tiny, college ballpark is nicer than some major league spring training facilities that I have visited. (Maryvale, I'm looking at you!) and if I were a student, I think I would be wiling away far too many hours not studying, sitting in the grandstand.

When we arrived, Bryant had already been officially presented with his Golden Spikes Award, for the best college baseball player, and the game was in the bottom of the first inning. After sitting down I noticed a crowd of people in the stands by the third base bullpen not watching the game.

I made my way over, and sure enough, there was Kris Bryant, signing autographs for anybody who wanted one. I had him sign a ball for me and inscribe it "Go Cubs!" which he did with no hesitation. Bryant didn't play in the game, presumably as part of the contract he signed with the Cubs, but there were a lot of other alumni who did, including Orioles starter, Brian Matusz.

One of the highlights for me was hearing the guys on both the current USD team and the alumni giving each other a hard time and I found myself cracking up after several exchanges.

As the game drew to a close, we made out way to the first base dugout where the alumni team was situated. In addition to Bryant, another Cubs prospect, Corey Black was there throwing a bullpen session and I was hoping to have him sign a ball for me as well, a goal which sadly ended in failure.

After the game I stood by the dugout with several other fans, hoping to grab a few more autographs. As Matusz walked into the dugout, two kids next to me asked him if he'd sign. He said, sure, with a big smile. The kids then asked him for a ball since they "didn't have anything for [him]." Matusz then said he didn't have one and disappeared into the dugout, ruining it for the rest of us.

While standing there, I heard rumblings about going to wait for Bryant by the clubhouse door after the game and thanks to my patient brothers, we were able to meet him again and get a photo. My brother, Jonathan, also had him sign a ball with a "Team USA" inscription.

All in all it was a fantastic weekend to welcome back baseball and a great boon to my Cub collection, despite both events being held in San Diego. Not long now and spring training games will start and then the regular season will be upon us. I can't wait, as I have big plans this year!

Thanks for reading, and keep tripping baseballs!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

All Good Things Come To An End

To start off, let me address the obvious. There are no pictures in this recap. Despite bringing my camera to all 17 previous games that I attended in 2013, never having any issues, it was the Dodgers in my final game to declare that I could not bring my lens in with me. I was told that despite it being available at many consumer retailers, to bring the lens with me I would need a press pass. 

I was forced to return to the car and deposit the only companion who had joined me for every single game this year. Yes, I could have put on a different lens, but I was angry and the shorter lens would have essentially done me no good, since we were--quite literally--stranded in right field. 

Since I was still battling the bit of illness that had kept me out of the finale of the San Diego series, Lauren and I decided that skipping the first game of the Dodger series might be in my best interest. I was determined to go to the second game, since the Dodgers were giving away a bobblehead of Rick Monday saving the American flag. In a Cubs jersey. If you don't know the story behind that, click here. That being my primary goal, we decided to treat ourselves to the "All You Can Eat" Pavilion in right field.

The pros of sitting in the pavilion include all the hot dogs, nachos, peanuts, popcorn and soda that you can eat and drink up through the 7th inning. The major con was that once you enter the gates to right, you are stuck there. It makes sense, not wanting people wandering in and out or taking food to people in the cheap seats, but it makes it significantly inconvenient for wandering the stadium, though being camera-free, that was less of a concern for me.

We loaded up on snacks and found our seats next to the Cubs bullpen. Actually, we found someone else's seats next to the Cubs bullpen. Our assigned seats were taken by a group who decided to lounge across the whole bench. Not feeling like making a fuss we sat a row down and right next to the fence separating us from the pen. We got to watch Travis Wood warm up and then we were forced to retreat to our seats, when the real owners showed up. Unlike the people at the Padres game we had the common courtesy to look ashamed at being caught.

With a little grumbling the people in our original seats moved over and we set ourselves to watch a game we expected the Cubs to lose. After all, Clayton "Cy Young" Kershaw was opposing the Cubs who were playing at essentially their lowest point of the year. The Cubs were able to get to Koufax, I mean Kershaw, with some unexpectedly clutch hitting and managed to hang on to a 3-2 victory, despite ex-Dodger, Kevin Gregg, causing some heart-attacks in the 9th.

The most exciting part of the game was the fact that Bob Newhart was in attendance, and rooting for the Cubs along with us. Except in a luxury box. Far away from us. He was with us in spirit! 

I guess that was the point that we were at in the season, where Bob Newhart was more exciting that what occurred on the field, but when you are basically playing to stay out of the cellar, these things happen.

Camera incident notwithstanding, I find Dodger Stadium to be the worst place that I saw a ballgame this year. The facilities are very dated and there is little to no charm to redeem that fact. It is a concrete monster stadium, built in an era of concrete monster stadia and is largely unremarkable. Add to that a largely unfriendly and clueless fan base with aggression issues and you have an unpleasant place to experience a game. I say this not only as a visiting fan, but even as a neutral observer, having come to Dodger games with random opponents. This all doesn't even address the hell that is parking and entering/exiting Chavez Ravine. I'm sure I'll be back next season when the Cubs come to town, but I probably won't try to catch any more random games. It's too much of a hassle and there is little payoff reciprocated for the effort required to visit. 

With that, my season comes to a close. 

This season was by far my most ambitious and I was very pleased with how it turned out for the most part. Obviously I'd love to have seen better results on the field with both the Cubs and the Angels, but I had fun nonetheless.

This year I attended 18 games in 5 stadia, saw the Cubs in 3 different states as well as all 5 of the previously mentioned stadia. I got one baseball and one autograph at a game. I saw Mike Trout's cycle and the most impressive comebacks that I have ever seen, one good and one awful. The teams I was rooting for went 12-6 for a winning percentage of .667 and I am 20% complete with seeing every major league ballpark.

Onward to next season and trips to Wrigley Field for the 100th anniversary, US Cellular Field and Miller Field, with a possible side trip to Fort Wayne to see the minor league Tin Caps. Overall a successful year, I'd say. I got to spend a lot of time watching the game I love with a lot of great people and that's the best part. Aside from the rare Cub win.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Cubs Come South to San Diego

Extended road trips notwithstanding, I always do a small trip from my home in Orange County to see the Cubs when they visit my home town of San Diego (and usually add in a Dodger Stadium trip too, but that will come later). This year was no exception.

With one of my brothers having partial season tickets to the Padres, and another having connections to a full season ticket package, attending the 3 Cub games in late August was not an issue in the slightest.

Game one was a Friday night affair and my date for the night was my brother, Chris. We had seats on the third base side in the second level, which were great. We also got hot/cold grocery bags styled after one of the Padres uniforms, and wound up with Trevor Hoffman. I was more than ok with that. Thus ends my satisfaction with the evening.

All started well. We got a great parking spot and were early enough to do a loop of the ballpark, seeking out food. I wound up getting a pulled pork sandwich from Randy Jones' Barbecue, which was pretty tasty, if a little messy. The Cubs were in a bit of a slump, but I had full faith that they would turn it around against the Padres, despite their historically abysmal performance against the National League West. It ended up being firework night at the park, but the only fireworks I saw were the ones that took place on the field.

The game started and the Cubs were off like gangbusters. They scored 6 runs in the top of the first and drove Padres starter Edinson Volquez from the game after only 2/3 of an inning. This was great. This was exciting. This was...not to last.

Edwin Jackson was the starter for the Cubs and he started strong as well, only giving up 1 hit in the first 3 innings. Then the Cubs remembered that they were the Cubs and Edwin Jackson succumbed to the sub-mediocrity that was the hallmark of his first season with the Cubs. He allowed a 3-run home run to Jedd Gyorko in the 4th, a 2-run triple to Will Venable in the 5th and an RBI triple to Logan Forsythe in the 6th and any advantage the Cubs had from crushing Volquez was gone. It didn't help that they had been unable to solve the parade of relievers that followed, literally being shut out for the entire game following the first 2/3 of an inning.

The bullpen was it's usual reliable self as James Russell gave up a home run to Venable and Blake Parker allowed Gyorko to hit his 2nd of the night.

And that, as they say, was all she wrote.

The next day, my other brother, Matt had tickets so he, Chris and I went and sat on the first base side, on the field level. After we sat down, the seats in front of us were taken by some individuals that not only looked like they didn't belong there, but acted like it as well. Therefore I was not surprised when the seats real owners came and claimed their rightful seats. What was funny was the reaction. The family never looked at the people, didn't say a word and just shuffled off.

I've been known to poach my share of seats in my time, but on the occasions where I get caught, I apologize and try to make up some excuse so I look like a decent person. Nope. Not these folks. It was just such a bold move. I was disgusted, but at the same time, somewhat impressed.

The Cubs fared far better in this game than the one prior, and Jeff Samardzija pitched 8 strong innings and Darwin Barney had a home run and a double accounting for 2 of the Cubs 3 runs. In addition, we were treated to a beautiful San Diego sunset. Somehow the sunsets are always prettier and the hot dogs always taste better when your team is winning.

I was supposed to go to the Sunday matinee finale game, but wasn't feeling great, so I stayed home and let 2 of my other siblings go, which was probably a good decision, as the game was a long extra innings affair and I had to return north to the OC and there is nothing I like less than leaving a game early, especially when it is close like that.

The Cubs ended up losing in extras, and continuing their NL West curse, only going 1-2 at Petco Park.

Would the trend continue as the Cubs headed up the I-5 to Dodger Stadium? (Hint: yes, it absolutely would)

Until next time,

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Our Inaugural Baseball Adventure: Day 5. Chase Field

Today was the last day of our inaugural baseball adventure and we figured that we would go out with a bang. We were going to tour Chase Field, have lunch at Alice Cooper's restaurant and following our schedule from the rest of the trip, get to the ballpark for batting practice and enjoy the game. Of course, as Robert Burns once wrote, "The best laid plans of mice and men..."

We woke up in plenty of time for the noon tour, and after grabbing food at the continental breakfast offerings at the hotel, we headed out. 

We had not been outside during the middle of the day during the previous few days and Phoenix and now we knew why that was such a brilliant idea on our part. The temperature was registering at 105 degrees and it was so humid that you could almost chew the air. While uncomfortable, we figured this was good for us and our tour plans. After all, who would want to tour the ballpark when it was so hot and miserable? The roof would be open, which meant no air-conditioning. We figured we would probably have the tour to ourselves. We figured wrong.

As we approached the box office we noticed a sign in the windows indicating that the tour was sold out for the day. My guess is that when you live in a furnace like Phoenix eventually the heat stops bothering you and you just surrender to the discomfort and go about with daily activities like normal. This put a major kink in our plans, as we now had 5 hours to kill until the gates were to open for the game. 

Despite having just eaten breakfast at the hotel we decided that moving on to our lunch plans was the best idea, since it was sure to be air-conditioned and we could sit and relax for a little bit. It was only a few blocks from the stadium, so we arrived fairly quickly. The menu was huge and offered a lot of good looking options, but one stood out to me. The Big Unit hot dog. Named after former DBacks pitcher, Randy Johnson, it was a full pound, 22 inch long dog that was once featured on Man v. Food. I knew I had to try it. 

I was actually able to finish the dog, as well as eat a majority of my fries and still get up and walk myself out of the restaurant afterward. I was pretty proud of myself. 

The meal took us about 2 hours, at a fairly leisurely pace, but we still had 3 hours to kill. Researching it on our phones, there was supposedly a mall nearby, and consumers that we are, we figured that would be a good way to use our time and, once again, hopefully be in glorious air-conditioning. Unfortunately, after walking several blocks in the area that the mall was supposedly located, we called it quits and wound up spending a bit more time in a Starbucks with cold drinks and browsing in a few smaller shops until it was time to get to the ballpark.

Once again, I made my way down to the Cub dugout, hoping to get at least one autograph before the whole trip--and season-- were a bust in the autograph regard. Thankfully, Junior Lake came over and started signing and I was actually able to get him to autograph the ball that I had gotten the day prior. Next to Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, Lake was the Cub I most wanted to get on this trip, so I was thrilled. 

While waiting by the dugout I started talking to another guy who looked about my age. It turned out that he was a DBacks employee in their guest relations department who had interned with the Cubs in the minors and was taking a few days off to come and see the Cubs play. He was a really nice guy and told me about the baseball job fair that gets held every year at the Winter Meetings. I forgot to grab his name, so DBacks employee/Cubs fan, here's to you!

Our seats were right next to the Cub bullpen and I figured I had a good chance to get another ball, but my efforts were in vain. We were seated next to a Cub fan and his 2 DBack "fan" friends. They were the type who were so invested in the game and telling you how much they loved the team...yet didn't know any of the players names or anything abut the team. They got sloshed pretty quick and we had lots of wanderings to do during our last night at Chase Field, so we were spared a lot of annoyance. 

After a few innings we got up to check out the outer concourse of the stadium that featured many of their All Star Game statues, as well as a display for their 2001 World Championship. The DBacks did the best job displaying the statues that I have seen yet, having them all together and in an area that was easily accessible to fans. I think we did well visiting during the game, since any other time we were in the immediate area, before or after the game, the area was packed.

We took our photos and then went into the team store. I have decided that I am going to collect a commemorative baseball for each of the ballparks I visit, and I still needed to grab a Chase Field ball. I also wanted to get a t-shirt that the DBacks had created to raise money for the 19 firefighters who lost their lives in the Yarnell fires. As I was buying these, a fan came up to me and started teasing me that I was switching sides. I told him that no, I was just donating to the Yarnell fire relief fund. He walked away fairly sheepishly after that.

After that we grabbed some food and returned to our seats. 

Jeff Samardzija was good, allowing 3 runs over 5 1/3 innings and Ian Kennedy, in his final start for the DBacks, was not, but the Cubs bullpen was it's usual self and we found ourselves looking at extra innings, after Kevin Gregg blew the save and allowed the DBacks to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th. Luckily, our "friends" in our row had to leave, since they worked the next day, and we found ourselves alone. Aw shucks.

Nate "The Great" Schierholtz lived up to his nickname by driving in the winning run in the top of the 12th, adding to the 4 RBI that he already had in the game, Hector Rondon nailed down the victory for the Cubs and just like that, the baseball portion of our adventure was over. We loitered around for a bit taking photos, which was nice, as we are used to being thrown out of the stadium the second that the game finishes, and slowly walked back to the hotel, where we were able to sleep in until our mid-day flight the next day. 

As always, the full set of photos from this day are available here!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Our Inaugural Baseball Adventure: Day 4 . Chase Field

Phoenix is many things to many people. Actually, Phoenix is one thing to everyone and that is hot. Somehow mid-July is no exception. How strange. Lauren and I had consciously made the decision that there was nothing we needed to see so much that we needed to leave the comfort of our hotel room during the heat of mid-day, and so, our second day in the desert was spent relaxing, recouperating  and generally trying to do as little as possible. I edited some photos from Denver and Lauren played games on her phone as we basked in the glorious air-conditioning.

Thankfully, the hotel offered a free continental breakfast, which we treated with relatively light fingers and were able to stretch into a brunch-type situation, which saved us from having to go out for lunch. We planned to eat lightly at Chase Field and then grab some food after the game at the British pub that we had noticed the night prior.

Feeling refreshed and relaxed we made our way to the ballpark a while before the gates opened to stand in the entry line and bake ourselves.

There is nothing quite so welcome as the entry to an indoor venue that is just eminating air-conditioning. A literal oasis in the desert. 

I dashed down toward the Cub pitchers on the warning track and got Michael Bowden to throw up a baseball to me, which I gracefully bobbled, but was able to pull in at the last minute. I quickly documented it for the internet to gaze upon and then tucked it away in my pocket as I headed toward the end of the dugout.

Once again, the Cubs were somewhat stingy in the autograph department and my new ball remained free of signatures for one more game.

Our seats were right next to the DBacks bullpen, which are traditionally my favorite seats in any ballpark, and we had a great spot to watch Patrick Corbin warm-up. I asked  coach Glen Sherlock for the warm-up ball, and I thought I had a good chance, until he noticed the little kids sitting behind me wearing DBacks gear. 

Against that kind of adversity I was dead before I started. 

We wound up sitting next to an awkward “first date/old friend reunion” couple, who were perfectly pleasant enough and engaged us a number of times throughout the game. The girl got drunk pretty quickly and kept “whispering” to me that even though he companion insisted she root for the DBacks, she was secretly rooting for my Cubs because she was from Iowa, where the Cubs AAA team was located.

As previously stated, perfectly nice enough, but by the tie the later innings rolled around, I was just hoping for a little bit of peace and quiet.

During one of our wandering adventures, we discovered the DBacks offered a “Value Menu” where hot dogs were less than 2 dollars and there was a fairly wide selection of cheap eats. This helps cement the DBacks in their self-proclaimed role as “The Friendliest Team in Sports.” 

As for the game itself, the battle of the NL All-Stars went fairly handily to Mr. Corbin as Cubs starter, Travis Wood had one of his worst starts of the season, allowing 4 runs and giving way to a catastrophe of a bullpen that gave up a combined 6 runs in 2 innings. I think the less said about that, the better.

After leaving the park, we slowly made our way to the British pub, where we expected to enjoy all kinds of British pub food, but we learned that the kitchen had closed 15 minutes prior to our arrival. While a good value, the value hot dogs weren’t enough to fill our bellies and after a drink each, we headed back to the hotel, by way of Circle K, where we both grabbed some sort of frozen creation to be our dinner.

Upon reaching the hotel, we decided to do a bit of exploring, since we were told there were laundry facilities available, and we could have done with having a bit done. The hotel was in the midst of a big remodel and when we reached the floor that allegedly had the laundry we were met with flickering light bulbs, bits of construction equipment littering the floor and a feeling that the twins from “The Shining” would be standing right behind us.

We were troopers and explored each room, in hopes that maybe, just maybe we would find the mythical laundry room. We did not. However, on the other hand, we weren’t brutally murdered by ghosts, so, really, it was a wash.

We headed to our actual room and enjoyed our Circle K feast before going to bed in anticipation of our big adventuring day in Phoenix set for the following day.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Our Inaugural Baseball Adventure: Day 3. Chase Field

4 o'clock comes far too early in the morning for my liking, but, as we had an early flight to Phoenix, that was the time my alarm went off on our last morning in Denver. We got ready, packed any last minute things we needed for the morning and made our way downstairs to the hotel lobby to wait for the airport shuttle.

Being so early, I completely expected it to only be Lauren and I waiting. I was wrong. There were a good 10-15 people loitering around the lobby, so when the shuttle pulled up, we hopped first in line to grab our seats. Except the shuttle was already full, for the most part. Lauren was able to grab a seat and I wound up standing next to her for the duration of the drive. With no handrails or hanging straps or anything. It was an interesting adventure, but we survived and hopped into the obscenely long line at security.

Seriously, it wasn't even 5:30 in the morning yet, why were all these people awake? We eventually made it through and rode the subway train to our gate. We were sitting, waiting for the plane as the sunrise began and if nothing else, Denver sure knows how to do a nice sunrise.

The flight was uneventful and we arrived in Phoenix on time, if not a bit early, so we called and the hotel shuttle came and picked us up. Fortunately, this time it was just us so we got to sit. We chatted with the driver on the brief ride to the hotel and he told us that Chase Field would be around "7 long blocks" from the hotel. This threw a bit of a wrench in our plans since we were planning to walk each day, but 7 long blocks in 100+ degree heat made us question things a bit. The driver was nice enough to suggest that at game time we get in touch with the front desk and if the shuttles weren't in use, they could drop us off, which I thought was nice.

It was still very early in the morning when we reached the hotel, so we expected the room wouldn't be ready and we would drop off the bags and go and grab breakfast somewhere. We lucked out and were able to check in immediately. We debated still going to breakfast but nothing struck us as particularly excited so we opted to nap instead. It was a good option.

After we awoke, we realized the day was getting away from us, and if we wanted to get to Chase for batting practice, we should probably scope out the area and get a bite to eat. Both of our smartphones suggested that the stadium was a lot closer than we had been lead to believe and as we left the hotel, we could see it immediately. It wound up being, at most, a 10 minute walk.

Knowing that made a detour for food a lot more relaxing, since we didn't have to worry about how to make a long trek from wherever we ate back to the hotel to try and convince them to let us use a shuttle, which might not have even been possible.

We decided to eat at a Mexican-Native American restaurant called the Canyon Cafe. When we first approached it, we were somewhat concerned due to the lack of customers and mixed reviews on Yelp!, but it was hot and we were hungry, so in we went. I was immediately greeted by a couple of Cub fans and we chatted a bit as we waited for our table to be ready.

When we were seated, we were given a basket of the best tortilla chips that I have ever eaten. They were dusted with some sort of spice blend and they were incredible. I think we went through at least 2.5 baskets full.

The entrees were amazing as well, and I had my first taste of green chile. Not as scary as I had previously assumed. Lauren loved her entree as well, and our bunuelo/ice cream dessert had us essentially licking the plate. In addition, with the bill, they brought out 2 white chocolate tamales, compliments of the chef. It was a very good thing.

After we paid, we rolled ourselves a few blocks and wound up at Chase Field. From the outside, there's not a whole lot to see. Not a lot of unique character or charm. It just looks like a big concrete slab, so I felt a bit disappointed as we joined the long line of Cub fans waiting to get in.

As we were passing through bag check, the usher looked in my bag and saw that it was all camera equipment. He looked at it, looked up at me and said, "Make sure you record lots of memories, and get in a few yourself!" It was the most charming response I have ever gotten to my photography.

Once we got in, and were hit with that glorious air-conditioning, I rushed us down near the Cub dugout to seek out baseballs and autographs. Sadly, I came up empty again. When I came to our seats in the left field bleachers, Lauren was staring up behind home plate and told me that she wanted to go up there. I said sure, as we wanted to explore the whole park, but put it out of my mind as the game started.

We were positioned right behind Alfonso Soriano and the fans were just being moronic towards him. They would shout until he turned around and then mocked him for looking. He still made every defensive play that came to him and was never caught flatfooted, but the fans would laugh like drunken hyenas every time he turned around. It got pretty old by the end of the game.

That being said, I enjoyed the bleachers. Again, I felt a lot closer to the action than in Anaheim or San Diego, even more than in Colorado.

Around 3 innings in or so Lauren decided that she was going on her trek to the uppermost part of the stadium. I opted to stay behind and watch the game. Chris Rusin was pitching a great game and the offense was not quite as anemic as it had been going into the game.

I should also note that the reason that the reason that Rusin was starting the game was because one of my favorite Cubs, Matt Garza had finally been traded earlier in the day to the Texas Rangers. I knew it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Garza would be gone before the trade deadline, but it was still upsetting. I was following all the drama earlier in the day back at the hotel and I wonder what the neighboring rooms thought as there was a fit of yelling and profanity in the middle of the afternoon as the trade was announced.

Lauren made her way back to me, and I learned that it was a good thing that I didn't attempt the trek. While she enjoyed it, it was unlikely I would have made the trip without a tank of oxygen and a sherpa. It's ok--that's why we have cellphone photos.

After another inning or so, I decided that I wanted to wander a bit too, so we made our way around the concourse checking out various standing room only areas to watch the game. That's another thing that both Colorado and Phoenix had in abundance but I had not ever noticed in any of the California parks, the standing room only sections. I don't know if it had to do with earthquake laws or building codes or what, but I liked them.

Lauren grabbed a Jack Daniels lemonade beverage and we were mere feet away from Junior Lake's first home run. Just a slight difference in velocity or location and I might have been able to get on the field for batting practice and a meet and greet the next day!

We eventually found our way back to the seats after a few mishaps in misjudging their location. We found our way back eventually and watched Kevin Gregg finish up the first Cub win of the trip. Once again, we had an usher try to take some photos of us with the field. Not quite as bad as the poor man at Coors, but you'd think these guys were never asked to take photos!

We slowly made our way out toward our hotel in the stifling heat, passing a British pub along the way that we vowed to visit the following evening, and in just a few minutes we were in the blessed air conditioning, relaxing and getting ready for the next day.

The full set of photos for today can be seen here

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Our Inaugural Baseball Adventure: Day 2. Coors Field.

After an exciting and suspenseful evening (Would we find a taxi? Would we ever make it back to the hotel? Did Lauren ruin Christmas by eating Rudolph?) we were up bright and early and raring to go. Not only was it a Sunday matinee game, but we wanted to grab breakfast before the game and the food challenge that awaited us.

My sister lived in Denver, actually right next to Coors Field, for a few years and always spoke highly of a breakfast place called Snooze. We were excited to try breakfast there and had our taxi drop us off in front. We saw people milling around the door, which should have been a sign, but walked in to put our name in anyway. The hostess told us that the wait would be approximately an hour and a half. We gave her my cell phone number to text when the table was ready, but we knew we wouldn't be back.

After searching Yelp! for some more local recommendations we decided on The 20th Street Cafe, which had mixed reviews but was cheap and we were able to be seated immediately. I had biscuits and gravy with a side of bacon and Lauren had the typical breakfast platter.

As I was eating my breakfast, lost in my own world, all of a sudden I felt a nudge next to me and I looked up to see Can older lady sliding in next to me and asking for some of my food as a joke. I was immediately taken aback, but she was wearing a Ron Santo t-shirt and so I told her that any friend of Ronnie was a friend of mine.

She was there with two younger members of her family and they sat at a table adjacent to us and we exchanged comments throughout the meal. I love meeting other Cub fans, it's an immediate bond as you know that you have both shared the years of pain and heartache. That sounds awful, but it's really quite nice.

We paid our bill and were at Coors just as the gates opened. We picked up our tickets and stopped for lots of photos outside the stadium, but eventually made our way inside. After the pint glass fiasco of the night prior I was afraid that there might be an issue getting the day's giveaway of a Troy Tulowitzki bobblehead, but it went flawlessly and we were soon on our way down to the field.

There were no ushers hassling us as we walked down to the Cub dugout, unlike ushers at every other ballpark I've been to, so I thought we'd be in great shape. I was wrong. Lauren was stopped after following me down, but she told the usher that I was just coming down to take pictures for a few minutes. The usher was very understanding and even offered to take some photos for us. I wasn't going say no and blow our cover, so we got several more nice photos of us with the field in the background. No complaints here.

As the Rockies celebrated their 20th year, they had a special 20th anniversary baseballs that they used when they played in Denver and I wanted one. Pretty badly. So I settled in to beg the players, unfortunately to no avail. While I was panhandling for a ball I saw that Junior Lake (call-up at the start of the series and surprise offensive stud) was signing at the end of the dugout. I knew I had no chance to fight my way down to the mob, so I stood pat and was rewarded with a big goose egg on both baseballs and autographs, however as I was making my way to our seats I did get the text that our table was ready at Snooze.

By this point it had gotten hot. Really hot. So I decided it was time to make my way to the seats where Lauren had retreated earlier with a bottle of water. Once I got there I saw that there was a Cub signing autographs right where I had been, in addition to the fact that Lauren told me that one of the Cubs shagging fly balls right in front of her had not tossed up a ball because there was nobody in the "right jersey." Timing, folks. It's all timing.

We watched the pre-game festivities and the first inning but the heat was absolutely killing us and we had wanted to explore the ballpark a bit anyway. So we vacated our seats and went to see what Coors Field had to offer.

We made our way to the Team Store, where we ventured in search of air conditioning and something to commemorate our trip. I decided that since I didn't get a 20th anniversary ball from the players, I would just go ahead and buy one. So now for every stadium I visit, I will be purchasing some sort of commemorative ball. Relatively cheap, compact and easy to display. I think it was a good choice.

We wandered the concourse for a bit when Lauren mentioned that she had seen a sign for shandies and she wanted to try one. For those unaware, a shandy is a combination beer and lemonade. It sounded nasty to me too but it was quite refreshing and I actually enjoyed it.

With the slight courage boost provided by the shandy, I knew it was time to do the thing that I was the least excited to try at Coors Field, and yet knew I needed to try. I speak, of course, of Rocky Mountain Oysters. Seafood this ain't. I walked boldly up to the concession stand and told the woman behind the counter that I'd like an order.

She looked at me in disbelief.

I said that I felt like since I was in Colorado, I needed to try them.

She proceeded to laugh and said, "I'm glad I'm not you."

With that vote of confidence, I returned to the table where Lauren was waiting and set them down. After we properly documented them I took the bull by the...well, you know...and took my first bite. It was chewy. Not much flavor. Honestly, they were boring, outside of the fact that I knew they what they were. I eventually had to take some French fries in with each bite just so there was some textural variety and flavor.

I didn't finish the order and now I never need to try those again.

Moving on, we continued our wandering and saw Todd Helton's burger joint, and several remembrances of the Rockies National League Championship year when Lauren decided that we should go and see the "mile high seats."

These seats are literally a mile above sea level and are designated as such by being the only row of purple seats in a stadium of green. It was a bit of a hike up, as there were no escalators running, but getting to see something so unique was worth it.

The view wasn't too shabby either.

After our trek, it had cooled down a bit and we returned to our seats, sno-cone in hand to watch the end of the game. Sadly, the annoying fan behind us was still there. In full voice.

"Hey! There's 2 strikes! Only 1 to go!"

"That's what you want! To get a hit!"

"All right! Score the most runs and you'll win!"

It was a real treat to get the deep commentary and analysis from a real expert like this idiot. It got to the point where we were openly mocking him.

"OK! Oxygen! That's the stuff you wanna be breathing!"

"Do the hokey-pokey! Turn yourself around! Now THAT'S what it's all about!"

Thankfully, there was a sweet older lady sitting next to us who we spoke with throughout our time in the seats. We told her of our adventure and she seemed excited and genuinely told us 'thanks' for visiting Denver.

In one of the more bizarre things we saw on the entire trip was the dental hygiene race, in which a tooth raced toothpaste and a giant toothbrush. These mascot races are becoming more popular, with the sausages in Milwaukee, the presidents in DC and, as we were soon to see, the "legends" in Arizona, but the oral care race was truly something else. And that's the "tooth"!

The Cubs fell again to the Rockies despite a fairly decent pitching performance from Edwin Jackson, going 7 innings and earning a quality start.

0-2 to start the trip was not exactly how we wanted to leave Colorado.

We picked ourselves up and after trying to choose a place to eat for close to a half hour, finally decided that room service and packing for our 4 am hotel shuttle was probably the best plan for our last evening in Denver.

Yes, readers. We really do live the high life! The Mile-High life, for at least 2 days.

The complete set of photos for this game can be found here