Tuesday, May 28, 2013

FIELDS OF DREAMS - Safeco Field, Seattle, Washington

Currently residing at #14 on our list of Major League Baseball stadiums is this park with a giant umbrella in rainy Seattle.

Safeco Field is home to the Seattle Mariners of the American League. Yet to play in the World Series, the team has won the American League West Division Championship in 1995, 1997, and 2001. They were the wild card selection in 2000. The Mariners also share the single season record for wins with 116 wins in 2001 (also Chicago Cubs, 1906). Many All Star and Hall of Fame caliber players have called this team home over the years; Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Rickey Henderson, Edgar Martinez, and Ichiro Suzuki who was recently lost to the Yankees. Each year it seems, baseball analysts pick this team to win their division but lately have been falling short. 

In 2010, a management bloodbath led to the coaching staff being fired. This season, they're saved from the cellar by the new American League West member, the struggling Astros.

Safeco replaced the unloved Kingdome.

Here are the stats…
Year opened: 1999
Surface: Kentucky Bluegrass/ Perennial Ryegrass blend
Construction cost: $517 million
Capacity: 47 ,116
Field dimensions: Left field – 331 ft.; left center – 390 ft.; Center field – 405 ft.; right center – 385 ft.; Right field – 326 ft.
Home teams: Seattle Mariners (American League, MLB) 1999 –present
Events attended: one game

Safeco Field sits south of downtown Seattle proper, just outside of the free bus zone. It is an outdoor stadium that also has a retractable roof to protect it and the fans from the city’s frequent precipitation. The naming rights were bought by an insurance company.

The park feature four levels of seats, the field level, a terrace level, a small club and suite level, and the upper deck. There are also seats in the outfield. The concourse is open, so you can still see the game when you go to get your snacks.

There is wheelchair accessible seating throughout the park at all levels. We did not have any problems buying more than one companion seat. Tickets are now under dynamic pricing where demand sets the price...seems kinda unnecessary for such a lackluster team. We bought our tickets one day in advance at the Mariner’s Team Store in downtown Seattle. Ticket prices range from $7 bleachers to over $400 in the Diamond Club.

Yes, this is the mid-game crowd.  Why couldn't we buy better seats?

Another problem I had was that these tickets placed us right behind a camera well, severely obstructing our view. This was a game with maybe 3-5,000 fans in attendance. Luckily, the ushers let us move to better seats but why sell us such bad seats, at the high end of their ticket range, when we asked for the best seats, and many more better seats were available? And why such high prices for these seats, especially with a bad team and very low attendance? Lower the prices and get more fans to show up for the games.

The team was terrible the year we were there and their play showed it on the field. Hopefully, the team will someday resolve its issues and give the people of Seattle a better team but as of 2013, that day is still on the horizon.

Food here is good but expensive, just like the tickets. The signature item here is the sushi. A lot of stadiums now serve sushi but it’s usually premade like you’d find in a supermarket. I have to give a lot of credit to this stadium due to the fact that they have sushi chefs on site that make your order as you watch…a true sushi bar.

Besides the usual hot dogs and such…which are good…there is also Ivar’s, a local fried seafood landmark, barbecue, Mexican food, and a rotisserie stand. Across the street is the Pyramid Brewery which has a large beer garden and hall with a happy hour before the game. I highly recommend going there and having some of their great hefeweizen with great prices to match before entering the park.

Public transit got a huge boost when the Link Light Rail opened up. Frequent service to the stadium from downtown and points south is now available. When we visited, there was some commuter rail service to selected games (not ours) and inadequate capacity bus service from King Metro. There is also loads of parking nearby.

For a newer stadium, I have to say that Safeco missed many marks. The food is excellent as is (now) the public transit. Other than that, you’ll be paying a lot for a mediocre to average baseball experience. That’s why it only rates only a dismal 14 out of 18 on our stadium list. Still, it’s better than three other west coast parks…Dodger Stadium, Angel Stadium, and Oakland…but that’s not saying much.

Save up to $500 when you book your flight +hotel!

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
Updated for 2013

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

FIELDS OF DREAMS: Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois

Wrigley Field is home to the Chicago Cubs of the National League. It is the second oldest major league baseball stadium still in use, only Fenway Park in Boston is older. They won back-to-back World Series championships in 1907 and 1908. It’s now been 105 years since they did it. Chicago is known as the hard-luck team, probably best personified by the vilification of Steve Bartman , a fan who caught what could have been the second out ball in the 8th inning of game 6 of the 1998 league championships. They were winning over the Florida Marlins, who quickly rebounded to win the game and the series.

It’s been like that for Cubs fans.

Big names who have called The Friendly Confines home over the years include Ernie Banks, Ryne Sandberg, Joe Tinkers, Johnny Evers, Frank Chance (Tinker to Evers to Chance), Rogers Horsnby, Dizzy Dean, and Sammy Sosa. Legendary broadcaster Harry Caray also called the press box home.

If you’re a baseball fan in Chicago and root for the Cubs, you’re a Northsider. Southsiders follow the White Sox. Currently, the team is ahead of only the Houston Astros in the National League Central Division.

Here are the stats…

Year opened: 1914
Surface: Grass
Construction cost: $250,000
Capacity: 42,157
Field dimensions: Left field – 355 ft.; left center – 368 ft.; Center field – 400 ft.; right center – 368 ft.; Right field – 353 ft.
Home teams: Chicago Whales(Federal League) 1914-1915; Chicago Cubs (National League, MLB) 1916 –present; Chicago Tigers (APFA –football) 1920; Chicago Bears (NFL) 1921 – 1970
Events attended: one game

Wrigleyville is a lively, kind of middle to upper class neighborhood just north of downtown Chicago. It’s got a great vibe with restaurants, bars, and such. Just seems like a nice place to hang out. In the middle is Wrigley Field, named after chewing gum magnate and former team owner, William Wrigley, Jr.

I’m kind of amazed that the capacity is so high, it seems so much more intimate with only two decks and a bit of bleacher area in the outfield. I would have guessed 36-38,000, not 42,000.

Since it’s such an old stadium, there are plenty of obstructed views…your ticket will note it if it is. Old stadiums are nice in a historical, museum kind of way…especially when it still used as it was intended. However, historical places like this can leave a lot to be desired for disabled customers.

Wheelchair seating is sparce but it didn’t seem hard to get. Wrigley has no written companion seat restriction policy…we had no problem getting 4 companion seats. The way the accessible seating here is done is that a couple of regular seats have been removed here and there from the top row of the lower deck and a wheelchair goes in instead. There is also one area right behind home plate that is served by one of those lifts that are attached to the staircase railing. Not too bad for an antique like this. Tickets are now priced dynamically and range from $20 for upper deck reserved against cellar dwellers to  over $300 for club seats against the premiere teams like the Cards. You are paying a bit of a premium for seeing such a popular and historic park…there is also a 12% entertainment tax on top of that.

Transit is excellent with an accessible El station right next to the stadium.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Kathy (kthypryn) under CC-BY license

Wrigley is also know for the apartment buildings across the street that set up bleachers on the roof to watch the games.  After some years of contention, the stadium has agreements from some of the owners to share in the ticket prices that they charge.  Some of them are also wheelchair accessible, see the sites for the team endorsed rooftops here (check the amenities and FAQs to see which are accessible).

Food is pretty much standard ballpark fare but they also have Italian beef sandwiches available.

Unfortunately, I can’t comment too much on the beer selection because we didn’t have any and all the snack bars, save for one, in our area were closed. The one that was open was serving Pabst Blue Ribbon.

The coffee wasn’t bad, though…

The one thing you do not want to do is come here on a cold day. We did. 26 degrees with a wind chill of 16 degrees. That and the fact that there is no cold like Chicago cold made for a challenging day at the ball park at best.

It had snowed the day before (this was around April 20th). The pitcher could only throw meatballs and, even though Sammy Sosa hit one out, the Cubs ended up losing. In a post game interview, the pitcher said he couldn’t feel his fingers anymore. We bought furry Cubs blankets from the gift shop and huddled together. It wasn’t enough…we left in the bottom of the 4th to retire in front of the heater in our hotel room.

Of course, this experience cannot be typical. I feel like I really didn’t get the full effect from Wrigley so I’m not going to hold the bad weather against it. I’d really like to go back someday in the summer to really experience it.

I am, however, ready to put it slightly ahead of Fenway because the accessible seats are better, as is the accessible transit. Neither of them would rise to the level of old Yankee stadium…which I know is nowhere near as historic but did have a very historic feel to it…but even with their accessibility challenges, I hope they never get rid of these absolutely gorgeous old ball parks. That puts Wrigley at number 4 on our list.

Every baseball fan, disabled or not, should visit Wrigley sometime in their life.

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Updated 2013

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

FIELDS OF DREAMS: Fenway Park, Boston, Massachussetts

Five days after the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic, Fenway Park opened up just south of downtown Boston.  100 years later (as of this week), with a few modifications, the park is still going strong.  It’s the oldest stadium in Major League baseball.

Think of all the history this place has seen.  Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk willing his shot to stay fair, the ball rolling through Bill Buckner’s legs, the curse of the Bambino and the 86 year World Series drought, Carl Yastrzemski, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling’s bloody sock, and finally…two world championships in the 2000’s.

The current lineup includes such names as David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jacob Ellsbury, and Mike Napoli. The team just couldn't function under manager Bobby Valentine last year so new skipper, John Farrell is guiding the team in 2013.   Maybe there's something there because, as of this writing, they're tied for first place with their biggest rival, the Yankees.  The team also has the record for the most consecutive sell outs, not a hard feat with such a small stadium and a powerhouse team. 

Here are the stats:
Year opened: 1912
Surface: Grass
Construction cost: $650,000
Capacity: 37,402 for night games, 36,974 for day games
Field dimensions: Left field – 310 ft.; left center – 379 ft.; Center field – 389 ft.; right center – 420 ft.; Right field – 302 ft.
Home team: Red Sox (American League-MLB) 1912 - present

Fenway is quirky.  It’s old.  It looks and feels old.  The first time I stepped foot into the park, I saw the rust, the grime, the pallets of beer kegs, the trucks…and I thought I was in the loading dock.  Nope, this is the concourse where you’d go to get food and beer during the game.

It’s most famous feature is the giant wall in left field that is 37 feet tall called the Green Monster.  There’s a street on the other side and the wall keeps the stadium into its lot.  A ladder and a garage door are on the outfield wall.  Both are in play and can make the ball bounce in crazy directions.  The right field foul pole is only 302 feet out.  Weak hitting second baseman Johnny Pesky figured out how to hook a ball just right to get around this pole earning it the name of Pesky’s Pole.

The scoreboard in left field is manually operated.  Not from nostalgia but because it’s just that old.

We have been to the park two times.  The first was on the day that the hated New York Yankees eliminated the Sox from the playoffs in 1999.  We struck up a conversation with groundskeeper Al Forrester, who was sitting in a chair outside.   When he learned we were from Los Angeles, he asked “do you have a camera?”  Yes we did.  “Go on in,” he said.  We did and wandered around the empty stadium to our heart’s content.

Several years later, we came back and took a formal tour because the games that week were sold out.  This time, we got to walk along the warning track, see inside the dugouts and scoreboard, and see the private club behind home plate.

It’s the most time we’ve spent inside a stadium without seeing a game.  With that in mind, here are our impressions of the park.
The Other Side of the Green Monster

On game day, it’s festive outside the park with food booths, souvenir shops, restaurants, and bars.  If you can’t get into the game, watch it at one of the local watering holes across the street.    Even on non-game days, there is still quite a bit of activity in the area around the stadium.  It’s a fun place anytime.
The seats are a bit small.  There are newer seats located on top of the Green Monster and on top of the right field roof.  Wheelchair accessible locations are available throughout the park, although the accessible seats at the top of the Green Monster were built with huge obstructions.  Their website says they’ve been re-designed, I have not seen them since they were.
Tickets a pretty darn expensive and hard to come by at the perennially sold out park.  Disabled fans can call (877) RED-SOX9.  Prices run from $22 to well over $300. 
I have no idea how the food here is but in addition to the usual fare lobster rolls, Italian sandwiches, pulled pork, and our favorite East Coast treat…fried dough…is available here.
Transit for able-bodied fans is great.  The Kenmore Station…the closest one to the stadium…is marked as accessible on the MBTA’s map but on the station list says “no accessible features.”  We had to disembark at another station a mile away and walk the remaining distance.  Also note that this area is served by the Green Line, Boston’s oldest transit line and the most accessibility challenged one.  Maybe they’ve added accessibility to the Kenmore station since we were there, but their website is contradictory on it.
Very limited parking is available near the stadium.
I’d love to see a game here someday, just to see one in the oldest stadium.  Be aware that there may be accessibility issues when you go here and prepare for them.

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Updated for 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

FIELDS OF DREAMS - PETCO Park, San Diego, California

Today, our most popular post ever on the blog.  Yes, ever...no, I don't know why...but here's an updated look at San Diego's Petco Park.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Nehrams 2020 under CC-BY-SA license

Dropping a notch to #13 on our list of Major League Stadiums, Petco Park is the home of the San Diego Padres who moved here from Qualcomm Stadium (formerly Jack Murphy Stadium) in 2004.  It is a downtown stadium in the middle of the Gaslamp District, San Diego’s dining and entertainment heart, and across the street from the convention center.  It is one block away from the ocean. 

Here are the stats:
Year opened:  2004
Surface: Grass
Construction cost: $450 million
Capacity: 42,445
Field dimensions: Left field – 367 ft.; left center – 390 ft*.; Center field – 396 ft.; right center – 391 ft.*; Right field – 382 ft.
Home team: San Diego Padres (National League, MLB) 2004 – present
Events attended: One game

*Note: field dimensions with the asterix were moved in for the 2013 season to make the park more hitter friendly.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
hober under CC-BY-SA license

Petco was incorporated into the downtown redevelopment zone and preserves a historic building built into the left field stands, the Western Metal Supply building which was declared a historical building during the early phase of the stadium development.  This delayed the project (along with political issues – San Diego is known for being very tight with the tax buck) two years.  Eventually, it was just incorporated into the stadium.  It now houses a restaurant, the gift shop, and the team’s offices along with a few seats for the fans.
It’s a block from the ocean but faces the other direction.  This is because batters would be looking into the setting sun if it faced the beautiful ocean view.  The view started looking out over a construction zone but is in the process of being developed.

Tony Gwynn had his number retired the day we were there
Wheelchair seating abounds at all levels and a quick call to the team’s office can take care of you and your companion’s needs.  We had no trouble at all getting a wheelchair and two companion seats, plus four more seats for my sister’s family in the adjacent row.  The Padres practice dynamic ticket pricing.  That means prices fluctuate according to demand.  This year's Padres don't seem to be a team that would be in such high demand but a quick check on their site shows prices running from $10 to over $100. Call (619) 795-5005 for help with accessible seating.
The outfield is a park on non-game days.  During a game, it’s a large grassy area to spread a picnic blanket on.  A cheap standing room only ticket gets you access here.  There’s also a sand pit at the center field wall for the kids to play in.  It’s called “The Beach” but since the park is named after a pet shop, I call it “The Litter Box.”
Food here is on the slightly-better than mediocre side.  There’s a good variety of food but most of it is pretty bland.  I’ve been told that the food on the club level is excellent, but that is off-limits to most ticket holders.  Draft beer selection is excellent.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
cooljuno411 under CC-BY-SA license
In the adjacent Gaslamp area, there are a number of mostly pricy restaurants where you can get a pre-game or post-game meal.  A few nearby bars also have cheap beer deals you can take advantage of before the game.  We like to take advantage of this to ease the budget once inside the stadium.
The staff here is very friendly and helpful.  The team’s web site, though, makes it seem that there is scarce parking in the area and will sell you distant parking from the stadium for some pretty hefty prices where you can take a shuttle to the park.  We found a non-affiliated parking structure just across from the third base entrance where $10 got us 24 hours of parking.  There was plenty to go around too.
Transit access is among the best we’ve seen.  The accessible San Diego Trolley has two stations at the stadium.  If you’re coming from up north, say Orange County or Los Angeles, it’s easy to take Amtrak’s Surfliner to San Diego, then the trolley from there to the stadium.

Many hotels are in the neighborhood and around trolley stations further out such as Mission Valley.  The best, if you can get a good rate, is the Omni San Diego Hotel which is connected to the stadium via a foot bridge and has its own entrance into the park.  We did get a $99 rate there but that’s not the usual price.

Before he managed the Padres, Bud Black was the pitching coach with the Angels.  
Here he is with Darryl and Tim along with former Angel utility player, Jeff Davanon.
The team is doing miserably this year under the direction of manager Bud Black.  Between them and the Dodgers, it's hard to say who's the worst team in the division right now.
All in all, a good park.  In the middle of the pack, average but just above mediocre.  It doesn’t capture my spirit like PNC Park or the old Yankee Stadium, but it’s still well above other stadiums on the west coast.  I’d say it’s second in the west only to AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Copyright 2010-Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved
Updated for 2013

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

FIELDS OF DREAMS - Sam Lynn Stadium, Bakersfield, California

Sam Lynn Stadium is just north of downtown Bakersfield on Chester Avenue, halfway between downtown and Oildale, next to the Kern County Museum.  It is the home of the single A Bakersfield Blaze, an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. If it was in the major leagues, it would be the third oldest stadium, between Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium.  As it is, it's pretty ancient even by minor league standards.  It's now 70 years old.  It shows its age but the club has started renovations including new seats, paint, and grass.

Players that have spent time here on the way to the show include Pedro Martinez, Don Drysdale, Mike Piazza, Eric Karros, and many more.

Here are the stats:

Opened: 1941
Surface: Grass
Construction cost: ?
Capacity: 3,500
Field dimensions: Left field: 328 ft., Center field 354 ft., Right Field 328 ft.
Home Team: Bakersfield Badgers (1941-42); Bakersfield Indians (1946-55); Bakersfield Boosters (1956);  Bakersfield Bears (1957-67); Bakersfield Dodgers (1968-75); Bakersfield Outlaws (1978-79); Bakersfield Mariners (1982-83); Bakersfield Dodgers (1984-94); Bakersfield Blaze (1994-present)

Games Attended: 6

The ball park is finally getting some rehabilitation.  The last major rehab was in 1993 when the wooden grandstand was replaced with the current concrete structure behind home plate.  The playing field was upgraded last year.  Still, it's a fun place to watch a game with dedicated fans, easy access, low prices, and low-budget down-home goodness.

Wheelchair access is superb.  Although there are accessible seats in the cheap seats down the foul lines, the best seats are not expensive or hard to get.  There are six platforms behind home plate that will easily accomodate a wheelchair and a couple of companions.  They are in the front row, the only stadium I know that has so many wheelchair seats in the first row right behind home plate...the best of any seats in the house.  Ticket prices range from $7 to $10.

Parking is free and plentiful with handicapped parking in the front two rows.  This is also foul ball territory, so park your car facing away from the stadium.  Public transit is very limited.  Routes 1 and 2 of GET transit bus service serve the stadium but only on weekday nights.  On weekends, the routes shut down around 7pm.

The fans here are pretty dedicated to the team and they actually have a pretty good number of season ticket holders.  They are very knowledgeable about the team and players.  They are also very friendly and are easy to strike up a conversation with.

Food here, consisting mainly of ballpark staples such as hot dogs, burgers, nachos, etc., is pretty good.  Great beer selection of low priced standards such as Pabst, Bud, and Coors plus a nice selection of assorted craft brews on tap.  

Promotions include $23 Tuesdays with four tickets, four hot dogs, and a bag of popcorn, which makes a night at the ball park cheaper than going to the movies. Thirsty Thursdays features a 2-hour happy hour (one hour before game through 1 hour after first pitch) with $1 Heinekens in the shade tent.

Unique features of this ball park are it's orientation.  Depending on what source you believe, it's either the only one, or one of two, ball parks in the world that face due west.  This means that the batter is facing the setting sun so a huge batter's eye was built to block it and games start as late as 7:58 pm to compensate.  The park was built this way because at the time, it was in the middle of a horse racetrack and that was the only way to fit it in.

Another feature is the distance to center field.  At 354 feet, it is the shortest distance in all of professional baseball.

The mascot is a dragon called Heater.  Whoever is in the costume is a step above the last one, who had no enthusiasm at all. This one's pretty good.

All-in-all, it's a stadium long overdue for a makeover and you squint into the sun but it is still a great, fun, comfortable, and historic place to watch a ball game.  I'll come see a game here anytime.

(You can see more of Sam Lynn Stadium, along with some video, on our Bakersfield trip report here.)

Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick