O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave

This picture doesn't do justice to just how hot it was that day. But Nationals Park, despite its climate in July, is a great place to watch a baseball game.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Independence Day weekend than visiting our nation’s capital and taking in a baseball game, and this past weekend, that’s exactly what my parents, a couple of our close family friends and I did. Nationals Park is the fourth newest park in baseball, and it’s the home of the newest team (albeit a renamed Montreal Expos team) in baseball. Washington’s been wanting baseball back in the capital for years; does the new team and the new stadium fill the void? In short, yes. Read on for my full review.

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain

Like every winter, I’m anxious for this one to end. Not particularly because it’s been cold here in Columbia, SC, but because the end of winter means the beginning of baseball season. Pitchers and catchers for many teams reported to Spring Training today, and while the Indians aren’t required to report until next week, many of them are in Arizona already preparing for the upcoming season.

Which is why, when I read the title of this article, I smiled a bit and started to read.

Wake me up when September ends

Albert Pujols

Today is August 27th, which means football season is nearly upon us. More importantly, though, we’re just over a month away from the baseball postseason. It’s been a pretty odd season (actually, it’s been a pretty odd month of that season), so I figured I could look back at my predictions from before spring training and see how they’re stacking up. In fact, I’ll be classy about this and get started…wait for it…after the jump! (I’ve always wanted to say that.)

Americana 2009: My annual list of baseball parks to visit

Since an unexpected opportunity arose today to take a trip to the Baltimore/DC area, I decided that today I would finalize my list of baseball stadiums to visit this year. To review, last year I visited:

  • Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland, OH
  • Great American Ballpark, Cincinatti Reds, Cincinatti, OH
  • Shea Stadium, New York Mets, Flushing, NY
  • Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees, Bronx, NY

I planned on visiting a couple more, but at least I was able to see Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium before they closed. This year, hopefully with a little bit more disposable income, I’ll be able to visit the following stadiums:

  • Progressive Field, Cleveland, OH. Sort of goes without saying, but I hope to attend quite a few games at Progressive Field this year (and hopefully the Indians will be a fun team to watch at home this year).
  • Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD. Since my mom will be taking a trip to the Baltimore area in May, the opportunity seems perfect to visit one of the more important stadiums in baseball. Camden Yards was only built in 1992, but more importantly was the first stadium to go for the retro, one-purpose feel, as opposed to the multi-purpose doughnut stadiums of the 60s, 70s and 80s. The Orioles haven’t been competitive for years, but the park is consistently ranked high in terms of customer experience and from my early scouting, tickets are a good value.
  • Nationals Park, Washington, DC. Until Yankee Stadium and Citi Field open in April, this is the newest park in baseball. Similar to the Orioles, the Nationals aren’t very competitive so it’s likely that prices will be reasonable. I haven’t been to DC since 8th grade (which seems hard to believe, it feels like I was just there recently), so that’ll be fun too. This park would be lower on my list, but since I’ll be around there in May, it seems like a good opportunity to knock it off.
  • Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO. I’ve always been a casual fan of the Cardinals (mostly because of Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa) and St. Louis is a great baseball city. Prices here are less reasonable, as the team is competitive and the people of St. Louis are baseball-obsessed. I’d like to visit in July sometime, for an ultra-American, ultra-traditional summer’s night of baseball.
  • Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City, MO. As long as I’m out in Missouri, might as well see the other great baseball stadium. Renovations are being done now that should make Kaufmann Stadium even better than before. If possible this is a team I wouldn’t mind seeing the Indians play on the road, since the Indians have a high chance of winning and the Royals fans are said to be the nicest in baseball (I guess you can’t really afford not to be, at that point).
  • PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA. To think, if the recession had happened a couple years ago, PNC could have bought the naming rights to Jacobs Field and we could have had TWO PNC parks. This is probably the best value out there, at least for me – the stadium is only three hours away, the team hasn’t been competitive in nearly twenty years, and the people in Pittsburgh are a bit preoccupied with their football these days. I’m targeting an August visit for this park.
  • Fenway Park, Boston, MA. I’ve been to Fenway Park once, but it was when I was less interested in baseball and I’m not sure I appreciated it as much as I could have. Also, I was there in June last time – this time, I’m going for a September game. As far as tradition, it doesn’t get much more traditional than Fenway in September. It’d be really nice to get a divisional showdown between the Sox and Rays or Sox and Yankees (yikes, that just sounds dangerous), but any game in September would be good.

Overall I’d be pretty happy if I knock these stadiums out this season, but if I don’t get them all that’s okay too. For 2010, I’ll definitely look to visit New York again and see the new stadiums, and then I’d like to go out west to Colorado, Texas, or maybe even California.

Anyone want to share gas money?

Play Ball!

Well, it’s finally here: Opening Day 2008. Actually, it’s Opening Morning 2008, but nonetheless, in about 10 hours the Indians will take the field against the White Sox. But today is far bigger than a game in Cleveland: Opening Day is taking place all over the country. In New York, the Yankees will open their season against the Blue Jays one last time. In Los Angeles, Joe Torre will begin another chapter of his Hall of Fame career. In Chicago, the centennial season begins as the Cubs play the Brewers and try to end a 100-year World Series drought.

And actually, as you know, the season has already begun. First it was in Japan at about this time a week ago (timecheck: it’s 5:43 AM), and last night the Washington Nationals began a new era in the nation’s capital with a win over the Braves. The Japan games were nice – kind of a gimmick, and I did enjoy seeing the Red Sox lose – but I have to feel like the Red Sox feel like the real season begins tomorrow.

I caught most of the game in D.C. tonight, and for what my opinion’s worth, Nationals Park looks like a great baseball stadium. However, did anyone notice that the behind-home-plate camera (the one that is usually on-screen when a ground ball is hit to short, for example) was high? Kind of felt like we were looking at the action from a blimp. I guess I could get used to that if I watched those broadcasts all the time, but I wasn’t able to judge the height of a line drive and the speed of a grounder as easily as I am from a Progressive Field broadcast.

In the end, last night, Ryan Zimmerman, the franchise third basemen for the Nationals, christened the new park appropriately with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth. You could kind of feel that it would happen that way once that passed ball slipped through Lo Duca’s legs in the top of the ninth, and pretty much as soon as that ball was hit I could tell it was gone. Anyway, good for them. If you don’t remember, the Indians opened at Jacobs Field much the same way, with a game winning single in the 11th inning against the Mariners (Wayne Kirby anyone?).

My first Opening Day that I cared about was in 1996, so I guess this year is my 13th Opening Day. I remember a few of them, but a lot of them seem to run together as many childhood memories seem to do. Most of these are Home Openers, so they might not have been the first game of the season, but you get the idea:

  • 1996: Opening Day was snowed out, but rescheduled for the day after and the Indians lost to the Yankees 8-0. I remember reading it in the paper the next day but don’t think I saw any of the game.
  • 1999: I remember watching this Opening Day in science class in 7th grade… don’t really remember what happened, but I think Fryman hit a grand slam.
  • 2005: I remember looking forward to this Opening Day a lot and I was pretty let down when the Indians couldn’t even score a run.
  • 2006: This was the first year I actually went to Opening Day. My friend Alex was trying to scalp our last ticket until a few minutes before the game started so I was about 10 seconds away from missing the first pitch. We had terrible seats (relatively; most seats in Progressive Field are pretty good) but the Indians won 12-6 against the Twins. Travis Hafner hit two monster home runs, Casey Blake hit a grand slam, and it was overall a pretty fun day. I think that day was also the day I got caught in my first downpour here at Case so I ended up wearing shorts (my only dry pants) to the game…it was cold.
  • 2007: I’ve been to over 50 games at Progressive Field; I don’t know that I’ll ever forget this game. Seeing snow fall through the architecture at the stadium was just surreal; and with the way the events transpired throughout the day and the weekend, you kind of got the feeling it would be a special year for the Indians.

I’ve noticed Opening Day is kind of a singularity. Everything is at 0: 0 wins, 0 losses, 0 hits, 0 at-bats, 0 runs, 0 home runs. If you tried to calculate a batting average at the beginning of the year, you’d end up calculating 0/0, which is one of those undefined values in math and you’d have to end up using L’Hopital’s Rule (and you’d undoubtedly find that the average is 1 – no matter how many times I got 0/0, the answer seems to always eventually get to 1).

I’ve been looking forward to this day for almost 5 months – since the end of the 2007 baseball season. I’ll be watching the Yankees/Blue Jays game on ESPN at 1 PM and then switching over to the Indians at 3 (and if you’re reading this Mom, I will go to class… maybe…). So in closing, good luck, go Tribe, boo Red Sox and play ball!