As many of you know, one of my bucket list items is to go to all 30 major league ballparks. From 2001 to my retirement in 2018, I attended 14 different parks, an average of not quite one per year. I figure that if I average 4 per year in retirement, I can accomplish my goal in 2022.
This summer, in a span of only ELEVEN DAYS, we took in games in 3 parks: St. Louis, Cleveland and Toronto. Because the experiences were so close together, the differences in the teams and the parks stood out starkly. Instead of the usual “top 10” picture format, I have included just 3 pictures from each stadium, trying to capture the ambiance of each location.
Stadium 15 — Excellence and Confidence in St. Louis
Busch Stadium, home to the St. Louis Cardinals, is an iconic ballpark. And the fans are proud of it. When I told a local fan in the seat next to us that this was my 15th ballpark, his response was “so you finally got around to the best, huh?”
Within their five-team division, the Cardinals are in first place. They play like they expect to win, and the crowd expects it as well. The stadium was built in downtown. Some seats look out on the Gateway Arch, and all the seats gaze out on a downtown abuzz with construction. The stadium was nearly full, and the fans showed up in bright red Cardinal gear. When the team fell behind, there was no panic, and the home team came back and won handily, 6-3.
Our son Ben drove down from Des Moines for the game, and we had a fabulous time together. Food was good, from the fresh, made to order Asian stir-fry to the “hot out of the fryer” mini-donuts. It threatened rain all morning, but cleared up just in time for a beautiful, 70 degree spring day of baseball. What is not to like?
Stadium 16 — Anxious Hope in Cleveland
In contrast to St. Louis, the Cleveland Indians were supposed to win their division, but found themselves in second place behind the surprisingly good Minnesota Twins. Unlike St. Louis, which seems to always have a good team, Cleveland has suffered through years of struggle, with only two bright spots, one in the mid-nineties, and again, to a lesser degree, in the last few years, when they have won their division.
Again, we attended a weekend day game. And once again, the weather was fabulous. In fact, I cannot imagine a more perfect day for baseball than the one we experienced.
Whenever I go to a park, I root for the home team, unless they are playing the Mariners, which was the case on this day. Both teams started rookie pitchers, with very different results. The Mariners hit a grand slam home run in the first inning and never looked back, winning the game 10-0.
Originally referred to as the “Jake” (for Jacobs Field), this park, like the Mariners is a newer stadium designed with a retro look. I love it. The scoreboard screen is massive, and the view of downtown over the pattern-cut grass is mesmerizing.
Stadium 17 — Gloom and Despair in Toronto
The contrasts between the two previous games and the night game for the sole Canadian baseball team are stark. Instead of a meaningful day game in the beautiful sunshine with a full stadium of eager fans cheering their contending ball club, we came to a relatively meaningless night game featuring a last place team that had not scored a single run in the last two games and has little prospects in this one. Although the roof opens, it is closed because the weather outside is cold, making the Astroturf field seem even more fake. The attendance is listed at 15,000, but my guess is that that includes many season ticket holders who didn’t show up. I would put the crowd at closer to 10K. Half the vendor stands are closed and the other half have no energy.
Fan contrasts were striking. When St. Louis fell behind, nobody flinched, because they expected their team to bounce back, and they did. In Toronto, when the visiting team scored a run in the first inning, the dejected fan behind us said, “Well, that’s the game.” And, prophetically, it was. By the time Toronto scored their first run, they were already down by 9 runs, and that 9-1 score would be the final result.
On the plus side, the seats were cheap, particularly with the Canadian exchange rate. The same seats that cost us $40 in Cleveland 3 days ago were $15 each here. The climate-controlled arena was comfy. And the same Minnesota Twins who were vexing Cleveland fans brought their own baseball fireworks, with good pitching, defense, and power hitting. So at least SOMEBODY had a good night.
Oh, and Toronto at night is stunning. I just wish the stadium roof had been open to see it during the game.
Next up? We are trying to squeeze 2 more games in this year: Milwaukee and Minnesota, hopefully in close proximity in June. Those will be the last two parks we will be near in 2019.