Category Archives: Travelogue
As the hubbub and posturing over the Coliseum lease subsides, today we got some good news: the A’s spring training schedule has been released! It’s a momentous spring, too, since it’ll be the last at venerable Phoenix Municipal Stadium before the A’s move 10 miles east to Hohokam Stadium in Mesa. Hohokam is vacant in 2014 as crews make changes to accommodate the A’s after the departure of the Cubs.
Speaking of the Cubs, they’re set to open their Wrigleyville West, also in Mesa, in 2014. That’ll be worth checking out. The A’s play only one split-squad game at the Cubs’ yet-unnamed ballpark on March 5. Even if you miss that, don’t fret because the great thing about the Cactus League is that all of the parks are within a reasonable driving distance of each other. While there’s no neat sideshow like the World Baseball Classic in 2014, there’s still plenty to watch.
If you’re interested in visiting, remember that the A’s work out at the ballfields at Papago Park, which is nearly 2 miles north on the other side of the park from Muni. One thing I’ve never done is walk from Papago (where minor league camp games are held) to Muni, so I might do that this year.
Looking to check out several Cactus League ballparks? Consider that the 10 parks are set up in two clusters of five, to the west and east of downtown Phoenix. The east cluster, which Phoenix Muni is part of, is less spread out than the west cluster. Best to divide and conquer.
I’m targeting the 4-day weekend of March 13 through 16. The A’s play a rare night game at Muni. If I get there in the morning I can take in a game nearby in the afternoon before heading to Muni. There’s also a split-squad opportunity on Sunday the 16th, starting with a game in Muni and ending with the A’s taking on the Giants in Scottsdale.
There’s no league wide schedule available yet, as the teams are given the responsibility to arrange their schedules among themselves and publish when they’re ready. At this early stage, only a handful of teams such as the A’s and Giants have published theirs. Soon I’ll get all of them and put together a grid, the same way I did for the regular season.
One last note – keep in mind that Daylight Savings Time goes into effect on March 9, about two weeks into the schedule. That means all games before March 9 are an hour ahead of the Pacific time zone. From March 9 forward, games in Arizona are at the same time as California because Arizona doesn’t observe DST. The schedule shown is in Pacific time. If you’re planning to attend a game before March 9 and are traveling the same day, remember the time change.
The Turner Field review brought out a nice debate among the commenters about the ballparks of the NL East. Namely, which of the parks was least disappointing? Was it Turner, which is too large and not intimate? Nationals Park, which looks like an office building from the outside? Citizens Bank Park, which feels extremely contrived? Marlins Park, which feels a little too mall-like to be an authentic ballpark? Or Citi Field, Fred Wilpon’s attempt to bring the Dodgers back to the East Coast? Alas, my answer to that critical issue will have to come another day. For now I’ll just focus on the new park in Queens.
As much as the Mets are Wilpon’s team, Citi Field can easily be called The House that Bernie Madoff Built. By the time reports about Madoff’s Ponzi scheme surfaced in late 2008, the bulk of Citi Field had been built. With only a few months to go before the stadium opened, all that remained was some finishing work and to button up the ballpark. All of the expensive parts had been installed. Initial reports had Wilpon losing enough money that he’d have to sell the Mets. It turns out that Wilpon turned to Madoff to set up investment vehicles for various Mets employees. A lawsuit brought by defrauded Madoff investors sought as much as $300 million from Mets (legacy) ownership. They settled for $162 million. The extent of Wilpon’s and Howard Katz’s complicity will forever remain alleged, not proven. Which means that if there was any justice in the world, Wilpon should’ve been forced to sell the Mets.
Yet Wilpon remains, cutting payroll $40 million a year until debts are paid off, quashing hope among Mets fans. Even phenom pitcher Matt Harvey couldn’t escape the Wilpon taint, as his season was cut short in late August thanks to a bum elbow (he got Tommy John surgery last week). No matter, the Mets have a nice ballpark, right?
The thing is, they do have a pretty nice ballpark. Sure, the silly outfield dimensions had to be pulled in to encourage more offense. The Mets Hall of Fame was horrendously belated. At least it’s there, right next to the rotunda. Citi’s spacious, has good concessions and all of the amenities needed to bring in the big revenue when the team starts to contend again. The façade looks reminiscent of Ebbets Field (Wilpon’s obsession) from the outside. It looks nothing like Ebbets (AFAIK) from the inside. The rotunda is impeccable, yet feels somewhat removed from the concourses and the seating bowl.
Look carefully at the picture above. How many glassed-in levels do you see? If you guessed five, you are correct. Behind the plate there are the very exclusive Sterling Suites. Above that is another suite level, then another suite level, then the press box, and finally the promenade club along the upper deck. Every new park provides another example of the stratification of moneyed fans. By this measure, Citi Field is among the worst offenders. That’s the kind of modern, business-driven compromise we’ve come to expect of new ballparks. There are mini rooftops behind the plate that could be perfect places for, oh I don’t know, seats? Just a thought.
Citi Field was built in the parking lot between Shea and the industrial wasteland of Willets Point, much the same way Great American Ball Park went up in the shadows of Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Unlike Riverfront’s enclosed cookie cutter design, which required to have the outfield stands demolished to accommodate the new ballpark in a very tight fit, there was enough space for Citi Field in the lot. Another proposal to build a new form of multipurpose stadium for both the Mets and Jets came and went quickly, allowing then-mayor Rudy Giuliani to focus on separate ballparks for the Mets and Yankees while the football teams partnered up for MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. Building on the same site allowed the team to utilize existing infrastructure, which includes stations for the #7 subway, Long Island Rail Road, and proximity to the Grand Central Parkway, Van Wyck, and Long Island Expressways.
It’s telling that Citi underwent significant changes in its first two off seasons. Bullpens were moved around, the Mets Hall of Fame was added, and the fences were brought in last year. All that generates the feeling that the ballpark was the product of ticking features in a checklist, rather than designing the park holistically. Misgivings have only been magnified by the enormous amount of negative press surrounding the team and ownership. Over time this should subside, and what will remain is that Citi Field is a substantial improvement over Shea, albeit an extremely expensive one. Both Shea Stadium and Ebbets Field lasted 45 years for the Mets and Dodgers, respectively. Hopefully the Mets can get at least 45 years out of Citi Field.
The First Quarter 1965 edition of Modern Steel Construction has marvelous article on the construction of Atlanta Stadium. The multipurpose venue served as arguably the most successful “on spec” stadium ever built. That’s to say that the stadium was built specifically to attract teams to Atlanta, which had no major pro sports franchises to call the city home. Initially, Charlie Finley wanted to move the A’s to Atlanta from Kansas City, but the American League blocked the move. The NFL was slow to approve a franchise move or expansion to Atlanta, until AFL-related parties showed interest. When the stadium broke ground in 1964, league interest was piqued and deals started getting done. First it was the Braves moving from Milwaukee, followed by the NFL expansion Falcons franchise. Both teams had a spacious, modern venue to share. The layout was akin to the Coliseum, with the lower deck seats conforming to the bowl shape. This yielded large foul territory and a lengthy distance from a 50-yard line seat to the sideline. The biggest differences between Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum were that the former was enclosed and built with more structural steel as opposed to the all-concrete Coli.
When Atlanta was awarded the 1996 Summer Olympics, local officials saw a way to reuse the showcase Centennial Olympic Stadium for baseball. To do so, the main grandstand would be built with a baseball-friendly contour. Temporary sections would be built for the Olympics, creating a capacity of 85,000. Those stands would be torn down after the games, allowing the Braves to fill in the rest of the ballpark in left and center field. Eventually the venue re-opened in 1997 as Turner Field (named after the team’s then-owner, CNN magnate Ted Turner). An outline of the temporary stands forms the large entry plaza in left field, while a wall and the outline of the baseball field commemorate the old stadium in the parking lot across the street.
After the Braves moved in for good for the 1997 season, the newly rechristened Turner Field looked like a ballpark in form and function. It had large, wide concourses. A large outfield complemented the Braves’ pitching staff, and the rounded fence was reminiscent of the old Launch Pad. Foul territory was significantly reduced. Yet one couldn’t help but feel that the stadium was cavernous. The split lower deck has a total of 46 rows, a reminder of how many seats had to be crammed in there for the Olympics. No other lower deck has nearly as many rows, including the split lower deck setups in Anaheim, Arlington, and Baltimore. The main concourse at row 30 is dark and somewhat cramped. The next concourse on row 46, airy and huge. The club level cantilever is modest, covering most of the upper section of the lower deck. A ramp in right field extends so far out it feels like it’s in another ZIP code. Including the outfield plaza, the whole site takes up 20 acres. Even the ballpark footprint alone is about 17 acres. Fulton County Stadium’s circular footprint was a meager 10 acres.
What remains is a vast, family-friendly ballpark well suited for the modern fan. The outfield has numerous play areas and attractions, restaurants with fare at many different price levels, and space, space, space. Turner Field was among the first ballparks to implement a large center field scoreboard plaza, and this one makes AT&T Park’s rendition look like an apartment balcony. Along the left field upper deck sits yet another play area called the Coca-Cola Sky Field, a synergy of adapted re-use and branding that would only be possible in Atlanta. The park lacks a signature element to distinguish it from others. There’s no contrived affectation in the outfield. The scoreboard was once the largest, but has been surpassed by others since. The skyline of Downtown Atlanta is somewhat obscured by the Delta Sky 360 Club above the left field seats. Dark blue is the predominant color, though there’s plenty of muted green throughout in the columns, trusses, and railings. And the facade has some brick to cover the concrete, only enough to make it look like someone stopped work about a third of the way through the job.
Turner Field’s real gem is the Braves Museum Hall of Fame. Entrances are along the left field concourse and the outfield plaza, the latter for use on non-game days. Admission is $2 (via a token) during games, $5 at other times, and can be packaged with a $17 stadium tour (which I did not have time to take). The museum is chock full of exhibits celebrating the franchise’s different eras in Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Boston. A statistical leaderboard displays all of the accomplishments of Braves greats, and there are lockers to honor players and notable teams over the years. There’s even a Pullman rail car that fans can enter to experience what it was like to travel from city to city by train. Of course, there’s a great homage to Hank Aaron, plus preserved dugouts and seats from the old Stadium. Best of all, when I checked in via MLB’s At the Ballpark app, I received a coupon for free admission. If you get to the game early and have time, it’s definitely worth the hour visiting the Museum can easily take up.
The only public transit directly serving the ballpark is local bus. The Georgia State MARTA station is the closest at 1 mile away. A better choice is to take the free ballpark shuttle for MARTA riders, which originates at the ever sad Underground Atlanta mall adjacent to the Five Points station. It’s basically set up for fans to walk through the mall and perhaps pick up something before boarding the shuttle to the ballpark. The ride takes 10 minutes and the return trip drops fans off directly in front of the station. My trip was such that I flew into ATL in the morning, took the Red (or Yellow) line to Five Points, then the shuttle to the park. Cost was $2.50 each way, plus $1 for the Clipper-like Breeze card used for area transit. Simple enough.
Turner Field improved on Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in many of the same ways other cookie-cutter-cursed cities had their ballpark experiences enhanced. While Turner isn’t as intimate as PNC or as distinctive as AT&T or Camden Yards, it’s comfortable and has good sight lines and food. More importantly, it stands as an innovative example of stadium re-use and financing, since the whole thing was paid for with Olympic sponsorship dollars. That’s not a point the casual fan will care about. For a stadium geek like me it’s a bonus point. By those measures Turner Field is a major success, and finally a permanent baseball-only home for a once-nomadic franchise.
One of the nice things about a relaxing blowout performance by the A’s is that I can hunker down and get some work done while the game is going on in the background. In this case, it meant finishing the Travel Grid schedule for MLB’s 2014 season. The last two times I made the grid, it took a while to get a system down to automate much of the work. Thankfully I was able to get a copy of the league’s master schedule, which made the cut-and-paste actions extremely easy. As a result I’ve finished the 2014 edition about twice as fast as previous versions.
If you’re not familiar with the previous work, the premise is simple. I’ve taken all of the team home schedules, arranged them by region, and put them in a grid format so that you can plan baseball trips next year. Whether you’re trying to do a weekend, a week, or a 30-team tour, the Travel Grid should help you pick the best dates to attend, especially if you’re trying to fit as many games as possible into a certain window.
For your convenience, the schedule is available in four different formats:
Mid-late May looks like a good time to catch multiple teams in the Northeast. All four Rust Belt teams (Tigers, Reds, Indians, Pirates) will be at home around the Fourth of July. And if you want to follow the A’s around the state of Texas, you’ll have two chances in late April and late June. The third weeks in July and August are good for a Chicago-Milwaukee trip since all three teams will be at home, and if you want to catch all three SoCal teams in one shot you’ll have multiple chances to do that throughout the season. Hopefully the A’s will still be able to call the Coliseum home in 2014. While that gets figured out, feel free to grab a copy of the Travel Grid and start planning.
Note: The master schedule shows a spot for a TBA game on Sunday, March 30. When that game is announced, I’ll update the grid.
Note: This is not a review of either Yankee Stadium or Citi Field. It is a set of observations made with others. Full reviews will be out shortly.
I had the privilege of having guides (of sorts) accompany me to games at the Mets’ Citi Field and Yankee Stadium during the current trip. For the Mets day game on Thursday, reader/commenter/blogger and Brooklyn native llpec endured my chronic lateness to join me. llpec has the unique perspective of having been to Ebbets Field, then transferring his allegiance to the Mets. On Friday and Saturday, I was accompanied by my old friend Erik, a Yankee fan since the Boogie Down era whose favorite player will always be the late Thurman Munson. Both have spent numerous games at the old Yankee Stadium and at Shea Stadium, so they were able to give me insights that can only be earned from multiple trips to these venues.
For llpec, Citi Field would be great if it wasn’t such a reflection of Fred Wilpon. He joked that anyone who complains about Lew Wolff should be a Mets fan sometime – then they’d understand what a bad owner was truly like. Given llpec’s anti-Wilpon railings I was almost ready to disregard some of his observations. But you know what? He was dead on.
When Citi opened in 2009, much was made of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, the grand entrance to the stadium behind home plate. It is huge and beautiful. The problem was that Robinson was never a Met. Wilpon chose to honor his old love of the Brooklyn Dodgers and their trailblazing legend. The idea behind the Mets’ original colors was to salute the two West Coast bound teams, the Dodgers and Giants. Yet there were no tributes to the Giants to be found. And there still aren’t. The Mets Hall of Fame, a lovely room off to the side of the rotunda, didn’t open until 2010, a year after the ballpark opened. The creation of the HoF was part of a mea culpa on Wilpon’s part.
Yet there are still touches that are troublesome. Corners are cut in many places. Toilets don’t have seat covers. Elevators are small and not numerous. llpec’s visually impaired, with virtually no peripheral vision. Citi’s accessibility is poor for a modern ballpark. Most access is through stairs, either at the rotunda or in dimly lit spaces on the concourses. Escalators are present, but they require additional movement along the concourses to reach them. The single ramp in the left field corner is so far away from the normal circulation patterns that I had to point it out to llpec. At Shea, ramps were a prominent circulation method, along with escalators.
About those escalators – in the last year at Shea, a fan died from a late game escalator fall. Since then the Mets have shut down and barricaded the escalators after the seventh inning, instead of running them in reverse in the down direction. Previously they only shut down the escalators while providing access to them in stationary mode. The deadly fall may have occurred when the fan tried to slide down the rail. His widow claimed that the escalator jerked to a stop, causing the fall. There have been instances in the past involving stupid (often drunken) behavior around escalators. Still, just about every team runs them in reverse at the end of each game. Not the Mets. Wait, there was one escalator I saw running in reverse at the end of the game – the one serving the plush Sterling suite level.
Even though the stadium’s final tab ran $900 million, it sure feels a lot cheaper than that, at least in the regular fan spaces.
On the other side of the ledger is $1.6 billion Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. It’s an homage to the Yankees greatness and incredible wealth. Naturally, the only thing bigger than the tributes to the various Yankee players and teams is the tribute to late owner George Steinbrenner III. If Citi Field reflects Fred Wilpon’s cheapness, Yankee Stadium reflects Steinbrenner’s brash opulence. The oft-criticized Great Hall inside Gate 6, which is full of static and electronic signage everywhere, struck me as quite functional once I ignored all the bright lights. Access to the upper levels is easy, and the place holds many of the peripheral concessions and merchandise stands that would normally clog up the main concourses.
The big video screen inside Gate 6 looks bigger than either of the Oakland Coliseum’s DiamondVision screens. The elevators are huge and plentiful. Ramps are easy to get to, though when Erik and I were leaving via the right field ramp something smelled like a toilet (and there was no restroom nearby).
It doesn’t take much for opulence to give way to tackiness. Team stores are glassed-in, mall-like spaces. Drink rails on the lower concourse are all “reserved”. There are the ever-popular obstructed view bleacher sections in center field, blocked by a batter’s eye restaurant. The limestone facade and the back-by-request frieze hanging from the roof seem like anachronisms compared to the rather stark, modern underpinnings. There’s plenty of coated steel and mesh to offset any old touches.
We sat in the upper deck near the third base line for the Friday night game, then the left field bleachers for the Saturday afternoon game. Our upper deck seats weren’t nearly as close to the action as the old cantilevered upper deck. At the same time, it wasn’t as vertigo-inducing as the previous upper deck. The new bleachers are set back further from the field than the old ones, as the Yankees have chosen to follow the trend of expensive field level outfield seats first. Because of the Stadium’s generally hitter-friendly dimensions, the bleachers don’t seem as far from the action as I initially expected. Plus the bleacher creatures are no longer trapped there since they have access to the rest of the general concourses. The bleacher concourse is not perfect, as it requires stairs to connect to the regular field level (100) concourse. The corridor behind the outfield lower level seats is narrow and enclosed, perhaps the one place that’s most reminiscent of the old Yankee Stadium. It also lacks concessions and restrooms, requiring fans to walk to the main grandstand or up to the bleacher level to get either. The corridor provides access to Monument Park, though that only occurs only before games or during tours.
Erik and I also took a tour of Yankee Stadium. The tour is less a showcase of the stadium than it is a tour of Yankees history. Our first stop was the Yankees Museum on the main (second) level, followed by a trip to Monument Park, then some time in the visitors’ dugout. The tour felt severely rushed, as we were constantly being told not to linger for picture taking except at the designated areas. The team considers the Museum and Monument Park as separate museums within the larger museum that is Yankee Stadium. When you’ve won 27 titles, I suppose you’re entitled.
Thanks to a major scheduling adjustment, I was able to fit in a long-held bucket list item into the current trip: a visit to the US Open tennis tournament. Ever since Jimmy Connors’ magical runs in the late 80′s/early 90′s, I wanted to attend the Open. Until now I had always managed to miss it by a week or a month on previous NY trips. Thankfully I was able to secure a ticket ($63) to the night session on Sunday. The ticket also was for the main stadium, Arthur Ashe, which at 22,547 capacity is the largest tennis stadium in the world.
Like most tennis tournaments, there is usually action happening on several courts at once, allowing fans to move from one match to another on the grounds with little difficulty. The exception to the free access is Ashe, which requires separate admission to its all-reserved seating bowl. The US Open is also unique in that it features night sessions, a practice not employed regularly at the other three major tournaments (Australian, French, Wimbledon). During the night sessions matches are played at the show courts: Ashe, Louis Armstrong, and the Grandstand court, which is attached to Armstrong. Early rounds may also utilize Court 17, the round stadium also knows as The Pit.
Ashe is simply immense. Closest to the court, two levels of loge boxes sandwich two levels of suites. At the top of the stadium is the Promenade level, the reserved (non-box) seating area. I sat in Row G, not even a third of the way up, and the players looked like ants. At 10,000-seat Armstrong, the general admission seating goes all the way up to within six rows of the court. Fans can easily go from the east end of Armstrong to the concourse, which just happens to overlook Grandstand.
Architecturally there isn’t much to write home about. The main courts are clad in brick façade, with Ashe rising high above everything. Tennis tournaments are planned in a festival format, where a central area serves up concessions (and sponsorship opportunities), with limited food and beverage options inside the stadia themselves. Restaurants and lounges fill the ground level entry to Ashe, but they are far removed from the action.
The broader site is the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, a large facility operated by the USTA for training purposes. Over the years more facilities have been added, including expanded locker rooms, a hospitality pavilion, and the aforementioned additional stadia. Only two weeks a plan to place retractable roofs atop both Ashe and Armstrong was approved as part of a $550 million. The US Open has seen its share of rainouts and weather delays, so the roofs will be a welcome change. Unlike baseball games, there is little room for postponements because of the short, two-week playing schedule. The other three majors have already installed retractable roofs at their facilities.
I look forward to coming back to attend the tournament again in the next year or two. While most of the matches I watched were blowouts, I was pleasantly surprised to catch the last American in the men’s draw, Tim Smyczek, playing a fifth set against Spaniard Marcel Granollers. Sadly, Smyczek lost that final set 7-5 after nearly breaking Granollers late. Maybe next time, ‘Murica.