Tag Archives: Stadium Series

Stadium Series: My experience with a Bay Area doubleheader

Visiting all 30 MLB stadiums isn’t an easy task, so trying to visit multiple venues in a single trip makes it easier to accomplish. As someone who eventually wants to complete the accomplishment, I try to visit more than one stadium whenever possible. I went to Nationals Park and Camden Yards on back-to-back days a few years ago, and I got the chance to do it again this year.

Of the stadiums I had not yet visited, AT&T Park was at the top of my list at which to see a game. With the Astros set to play a series there this season, I decided that was going to be the stadium I wanted to travel to this year. With the A’s in close proximity to the Giants, it offers me a chance to double-dip with AT&T Park and the Oakland Coliseum. The teams’ schedules were such that they were both playing at home while the Astros were in San Francisco for a short Monday-Tuesday series with the Giants. There was an early start for Tuesday’s game — 12:45pm PT first pitch — with the A’s starting a two-game series against the Dodgers at 7:05pm PT that night, it gave me plenty of time to get to the Coliseum following the Astros-Giants game to complete the Bay Area doubleheader and see games at both stadiums on the same day.

The three-games-in-24-hours began with the first of two between the Astros and Giants on Monday night, allowing me to get my first in-person experience at AT&T Park, which is always ranked near the top of Best MLB Stadiums lists — and for good reason. It is located in downtown San Francisco but, more importantly, is next to the San Francisco Bay, with a section that is now unofficially known as McCovey Cove, which has become the ballpark’s signature feature. Its location also provides for great views of the landscape surrounding the stadium, including the Bay Bridge beyond left field. In McCovey Cove, there are several people in kayaks who wait for home runs that are hit into the water. That doesn’t happen often, as the the “splash hits” counter that tracks such balls — hit by Giants players — shows that the home team has gotten 78 balls into the Cove since the stadium, originally named Pacific Bell Park, opened in April 2000. And of those 78, 35 were hit by now-retired OF Barry Bonds.

Another notable feature of AT&T Park is the giant Coca-Cola bottle and baseball glove in left field. Those are part of a kids’ section of the park, and on the back of the soda bottle are two slides for kids to play on. Outside the ballpark, the Giants pay homage to the team’s history, dating back to the franchise’s time as the New York Giants. As part of that history is a Wall of Fame, showcasing plaques dedicated to some of the best players in the team’s history, including notables like Willie Mays, Gaylord Perry and Vida Blue, but also less-famous players like Shawn Estes, Marvin Benard and Kirk Rueter, whose contributions to the Giants are more distinct than their overall places in MLB history.

While AT&T Park is known for its beauty, the main attraction is still the games that are played there. On Monday, that meant a pitching matchup of veteran Astros SP Charlie Morton, who is having a career year in his 11th major league season, facing rookie Giants SP Dereck Rodriguez, the son of Hall of Fame C Ivan Rodriguez, who is pitching well as he gets his first taste of the majors. The Astros’ offense was shorthanded for this series with SS Carlos Correa, 2B Jose Altuve and OF George Springer all on the disabled list at the time. And with it being an interleague game in a National League park, DH Evan Gattis — who entered the series with 21 home runs — was limited to pinch-hitting duties. The injuries and lack of a DH meant guys like 1B Tyler White and OF Jake Marisnick, who is a good defender but not much of a hitter, started Monday’s game. For the Giants, after their top four hitters in the lineup — OF Andrew McCutchen, C Buster Posey, 3B Evan Longoria and SS Brandon Crawford — their bottom half of the order also left something to be desired.

The less-than-ideal lineups for both teams and strong pitching by Morton and Rodriguez led to an as-expected low-scoring affair, with the game remaining scoreless through the middle of the sixth inning. The Giants finally broke through on the scoreboard in the bottom of that inning, when Crawford hit a solo home run with two outs to make it 1-0 in favor of the home team. That would remain the score through eight innings, as the starters — who each went seven innings, with Morton striking out eight and Rodriguez getting seven outs via the K — and the first relievers out of the bullpen pitched well. For the Astros, that first player out of the ‘pen in the game was controversial RP Roberto Osuna, who was making his first appearance for the team and first overall after completing his 75-game suspension. He pitched great, needing just five pitches to complete the 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth, to ensure the Astros were down just one run entering the ninth.

The Giants called upon closer Will Smith to get the final three outs and secure the victory, but he did not have his best stuff that night. After getting C Max Stassi to pop out, Smith walked SS Alex Bregman, then OF Josh Reddick made the second out of the inning when he flied out to center. That final out proved elusive for Smith to get, though. After Reddick’s at-bat, Smith walked 3B Yuli Gurriel, then gave up the big hit — a three-run homer off the bat of OF Marwin Gonzalez, giving the Astros a 3-1 lead. It was the first home run Smith had allowed in just shy of 55 innings. After the longball, Smith did get the third out when White grounded out to short.

With the Astros having taken the lead in the top of the ninth, manager A.J. Hinch turned to his closer, Hector Rondon, to try to do what Smith could not and earn the save for his team. He got Longoria to strike out leading off the inning, then Crawford singled to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of 1B Austin Slater. He struck out, leaving it up to 2B Joe Panik to extend the game, but he lined out to end the game and give the Astros the come-from-behind victory.

Astros win Game 1

All told, the teams combined for just eight hits — four for his team — with the four combined runs all being scored via home runs. Osuna earned the win in his Astros debut, with Smith suffering the loss and Rondon recording his 12th save of the season.

Tuesday afternoon saw a pitching matchup of Dallas Keuchel going for the Astros and Madison Bumgarner taking the mound for the Giants. It was another low-scoring affair with the Giants scoring first, this time with a RBI single by 2B Chase d’Arnaud to score Crawford in the bottom of the second inning. That 1-0 lead would hold up until the top of the eighth inning, when RP Ray Black relieved Bumgarner, who struck out seven in seven scoreless innings. When Black entered the game, Gonzalez doubled to lead off the inning. Black then got Gurriel to strike out, but in the next at-bat White hit a two-run home run to left-center field, giving the Astros a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom half of the inning, when RP Collin McHugh came into the game and retired both batters he faced before being relieved by RP Ryan Pressly, who got Crawford to line out to end the inning. After an uneventful top of the ninth, Rondon came in to try for his second save in as many nights. He got the job done again, allowing just a walk and closing out the 2-1 victory for the AL West leaders.

After a BART ride to Oakland, I went to the Coliseum to complete the second half of the two-stadium doubleheader. Unlike AT&T Park, the Coliseum is routinely ranked among the worst stadiums in MLB and will need to be replaced soon if Oakland wants to avoid the A’s moving out of the city. That said, it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, given what I have heard of it. There’s nothing special or notable about it and is a cavernous structure with many empty sections in the seating bowl because it is — for now — shared with the Raiders, the last stadium that is shared by MLB and NFL teams. There was a bigger-than-expected crowd for a weeknight A’s game, given that the Dodgers were in town and there were a lot of the team’s fans at the game; the attendance of 33,654 was more than 15,000 better than the team’s season average of 18,552.

As for the game, it was a slow-moving game that saw both starters pulled pretty quickly, with A’s SP Sean Manaea lasting only 2.2 innings in which he gave up three earned runs and Dodgers SP Rich Hill going 5.1 innings of two-run ballf, in a game that the Dodgers won 4-2 after the bullpen 3.2 scoreless innings, with closer Kenley Jansen striking out two batters in the ninth inning to close out the game. DH Khris Davis accounted for the home team’s only runs, with a two-run home run in the sixth inning that led to Hill coming out of the game. The Dodgers had a more balanced offense, with OF Kike Hernandez, DH Matt Kemp, 1B Cody Bellinger and C Austin Barnes each driving in a run in the winning effort. Before the game, Oakland native and former A’s batboy M.C. Hammer threw out the first pitch.

With AT&T Park and the Coliseum now crossed off the list, I have visited 14 of the 30 current major-league stadiums. That means I should reach, and possibly pass, the halfway point of my journey to visit all 30 stadiums during the 2019 season.

Ballparks visited map

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Stadium Series: Recapping my first visit to Minute Maid Park

In December I wrote about my trip to Green Bay to see the Texans play the Packers at Lambeau Field. Last week, I took another sports-related trip to see another Houston team play in person. This time I went to Houston to see the Astros play at Minute Maid Park for the first time, attending the final two games of the series against the A’s and the three-game series against the Yankees in the Astros’ final homestand before the all-star break.

Austin

My trip began in Austin, where I spent a day before heading over to Houston. I didn’t get to check out as much of the Texas capital as I would have liked in my limited time there, but I did get to check out Graffiti Park at Castle Hills, a public art display that anyone can contribute to, and the Congress Avenue Bridge bats, who emerge from underneath the bridge around sundown nightly during the spring and summer months.

 

Congress Avenue bats

The bats at Congress Avenue Bridge

Houston

Then it was off to Houston for the main purpose of the trip, to check out Minute Maid Park for the first time. It is the 12th current Major League Baseball stadium I have been to and, as an Astros fan, one that I’ve been wanting to go to for a while. I would have liked to have seen the stadium in person when Tal’s Hill was still there, but it was still a nice stadium even with that unique feature having been removed during the offseason. And with the Astros maintaining the best record in MLB, it was a good time to attend games there in person, with the team playing well and interest in the squad higher than it usually is.

 

Game 1 (6/28/17)

The Astros lost the first game of the three-game series against the A’s the night I was in Austin, but I was there for the second game of the series. SP David Paulino got the start for the Astros and SP Jesse Hahn took the ball for Oakland in a game that proved to be anything but a pitcher’s duel. Paulino shut down the visitors with a 1-2-3 top of the first, then Astros OF George Springer got the offense going with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first, and the first Astros at-bat I would experience at Minute Maid Park. That got the train moving, as it does whenever an Astro player hits a home run at the stadium. Springer’s dinger was just the beginning of the scoring in the game, with the Astros scoring a total of nine runs in the first three innings. The A’s also got into the offensive action, scoring eight runs in the game, including seven between the second and fifth innings. The Astros tacked on a couple extra runs later in the game, eventually winning by a margin of 11-8. The home team totalled 17 hits on the night, with Springer’s leadoff homer the team’s only home run of the game. Oakland, on the other hand, scored their eight runs on eight hits that included five home runs, including two off the bat of OF Khris Davis. Hahn lasted just two innings, allowing six runs to score. Things weren’t much better for Paulino, who gave up seven runs in four innings. The Astros offense was able to make up for the subpar pitching, though, with all nine players in their starting lineup got at least one hit and six Astros recording multiple hits, including three-hit games for Springer and OF Josh Reddick.

 

That game also marked the 10th anniversary of when former Astros C/2B/OF Craig Biggio recorded his 3,000th career hit on June 28, 2007.

Part of a video montage honoring Biggio's 3,000th career hit

Part of a video montage honoring the 10th anniversary of Craig Biggio’s 3,000th career hit

Game 2 (6/29/17)

The Astros’ bats continue hitting for the series finale against Oakland but the visitors’ bats cooled down, losing 6-1. The A’s scored first, taking a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning but it was short-lived as the Astros scored two runs in the bottom of the inning to take a lead that would last throughout the game. The player of the game was Astros SS Carlos Correa, who hit two home runs in the game, both two-run shots, in the fourth and sixth innings. Astros SP Brad Peacock only allowed the one run in his five innings of work, but he needed 106 pitches to get through the fifth. He walked six batters and struck out seven in a good but inefficient outing. The bullpen went four scoreless innings to protect the lead after Peacock departed.

For this game, I chose to stand on the home-run porch in center field, where there is a gas pump, seen below, that tallies every home run that the Astros have hit at the park since it opened in 2000 (known as Enron Field at the time).

 

Game 3 (6/30/17)

The Yankees are in town for the weekend, with a decent amount of their fans at Minute Maid. The Astros took an early 1-0 lead in the first inning and were up 3-1 after four, but things went downhill from there. SP Lance McCullers Jr. had a good outing, allowing three runs in 5.1 innings with six strikeouts, but the bullpen did not help him out. RP Michael Feliz was the first reliever in the game and gave up three runs — two earned — in just .1 innings. RP Reymin Guduan then followed him. He went .2 innings and was charged with three earned runs, thanks in part to RP James Hoyt, who gave up a grand slam to Yankees OF Brett Gardner in the seventh inning. In all, the Yankees scored nine runs in two innings — five in the sixth and four in the seventh — to go up 10-3 after seven. The Astros added a run in the bottom of the eighth inning to make it 10-4, but Astros manager A.J. Hinch realized the game was out of reach so he brought in OF Nori Aoki to pitch in the top of the ninth, the first time Aoki has pitched in a game since high school. He had trouble finding the strike zone at first, with nine of his first 10 pitches being balls, and he allowed one hit, two walks and three earned runs in his inning of work. Yankees slugger Aaron Judge served as the DH in the game, going 0-4 including flying out to center field off of Aoki for the final out of the top of the ninth inning.

While this game didn’t go as well as I would have liked, it’s entertaining to see a position player pitch, and I believe that was the first time that has happened at a game that I have attended in person.

 

Despite the blowout loss, many of the fans stuck around for the whole game and stayed for the postgame fireworks that the Astros have following every Friday night home game. With the roof being closed all week due to the heat and humidity, it was the only chance for me to experience Minute Maid Park with the roof open.

 

Game 4 (7/1/17)

Saturday featured another competitive game to begin the month of July, with neither team scoring until the Astros put two runs on the board in the bottom of the fifth thanks to a home run from 1B Yuli Gurriel. Astros SP Francis Martes lasted five-plus innings before giving way to the bullpen, which blew a lead for the second straight game. RP Will Harris took over with runners on first and third and nobody out in the top of the sixth inning. Yankees OF Jacoby Ellsbury was the first batter Harris faced, and he walked to load the bases. C Gary Sanchez then singled, putting the Yankees on the board with an RBI. SS Didi Gregorius then batted with the bases still loaded, and he hit his first career grand slam — the second straight game the Yankees hit a grand slam off of an Astros reliever. That five-run inning put the Yankees up 5-2. The Astros got a run back in the bottom of the sixth with a Correa home run, but Yankees OF Clint Frazier hit a solo homer in the seventh inning to put the visitors up by a score of 6-3. Then the bottom of the eighth inning happened. Yankees RP Dellin Betances began the inning by striking out Springer, then walking 2B Jose Altuve, who would steal both second and third. He would score on a Correa groundout. C Evan Gattis followed that up with a solo home run that made it a one-run game. Betances then walked DH Carlos Beltran, who was pinch-run for by Reddick. Reddick advanced to second on a botched pickoff attempt and then stole third base. OF Marwin Gonzalez walked, putting runners on the corners with two outs. Yankee manager Joe Girardi brought in closer Aroldis Chapman, looking for a four-out save. But the first batter he faced, Gurriel, doubled. Both runners scored on that hit, giving the Astros a 7-6 lead. Chapman then struck out 3B Alex Bregman to end the inning, but not before four runners crossed the plate to give the home team the lead. Astros closer Ken Giles came into the game in the ninth to close it out. He got pinch-hitter Judge and Frazier to both pop out to Gurriel at first base for the first two outs of the inning. Then Gardner came up to the plate …

Gardner singled but, for some reason, took a very wide turn around first base thinking about going to second. He finally thought better of it and dove back toward first, but the relay from Reddick to Correa to Gurriel was in time to get Gardner on the game-ending 7-6-3 putout. Astros win the game 7-6 on a bad base-running play by Gardner.

 

Game 5 (7/2/17)

The final game of my trip to Minute Maid Park — and the Astros’ last home game before the all-star break — lacked the excitement of the night before. Yankees SP Luis Severino didn’t have his best stuff, giving up three runs in the second inning on a two-run home run off the bat of Gonzalez and a Reddick RBI double. The Astros then scored a couple more times in the fourth inning with a two-run double by Correa to make it 5-0. They would add another run in the sixth and two more in the seventh for a 8-0 lead. Yankees 1B Chris Carter tallied an RBI single in the top of the month for a meaningless run that only served to avoid the shutout. The Astros won the game by a final of 8-1. Astros SP Mike Fiers had a similar game to Peacock a couple days earlier in which he pitched well but inefficiently. He was only able to go four innings, walking four batters and striking out seven. RP Chris Devenski relieved him, recording four strikeouts in two innings of work that allowed him to pick up the win.

 

Overall impressions

Based on the five games I went to there, I like Minute Maid Park. Even though it opened 17 years ago, it still feels like a new stadium, with good views of the field from all over the stands. Even after getting rid of Tal’s Hill, the stadium has some unique features that make it easily identifiable, including the train and the home run-tracking gas pump on the home run porch in the outfield, which itself is a nice place to stand and watch at least part of the game — and a good spot to try to catch balls during batting practice or if a home run is hit there during a game.

So my journey to Minute Maid Park ended with the Astros going 4-1 in five games. Here are some more pictures I took at the stadium and around Houston.

 

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Stadium Series: Crossing an item off my sports bucket list — My experience at Lambeau Field

I like going to Major League Baseball stadiums that I’ve never visited before because baseball stadiums, while each adhering to the field dimensions regulated by MLB, have their own distinct features and quirks that separate them from the others, whether it’s the now-gone hill and pole in center field of Houston’s Minute Maid Park, the Green Monster at Fenway Park in Boston, or the famed ivy on the outfield walls at Wrigley Field.

I don’t have the same feelings about NFL stadiums because, for the most part, there is nothing notable that distinguishes one from another.They are pretty much cookie-cutter facilities without unique features. There is one exception to that rule, in my opinion: Lambeau Field in Green Bay. That is the one NFL building that I feel is a classic that all football fans should visit in their lifetime. For me, that journey took place this past weekend.

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I am a fan of the Texans, who only played at Lambeau Field one time previously — a 24-21 Houston victory on Dec. 7, 2008. With the NFL’s scheduling formula, the Texans only play in Green Bay once every eight years because the teams play in different conferences. Knowing that, I knew if I didn’t go to the Week 13 game this year, I didn’t know if I would ever make it to Lambeau. Seeing a game at Lambeau Field has been on my sports bucket list for a while, so I made the trip from New York to experience a Packers weekend in Green Bay.

Stadium Tour

My Lambeau Field experience began on Saturday morning, with a tour of the stadium. I had never gone on a stadium tour before, but that was one of the things I wanted to do on this trip. It did not disappoint. It was informative, with tour guide Mike sharing a lot of information about the history of the team and facility, and took us to places throughout the stadium, most notably through the tunnel Packers players run through to take the field every home game and onto the outer edge of the field. It was a pretty cool experience to be standing there looking out at the nearly 80,000 empty seats — or, more accurately, bleachers — that just over 24 hours later would be filled with rowdy fans cheering on their team.

While being on the field was the highlight of the tour, there was more to the 90-minute-long experience. Other highlights of the tour included getting a panoramic view from a deck high above the south end zone, which is the highest point in Green Bay. Other stops included areas of the stadium that are accessible to people who buy suites and the Champions Club, which Mike described as similar to a country club, that has indoor seating in an area filled with Packers memorabilia, including Super Bowl rings, and access to the aforementioned viewing deck near the south scoreboard.

Packers Hall of Fame

After the tour, my next stop was to visit the Packers Hall of Fame which, as you’d expect, is filled with memorabilia and information about the history of the team and its best players. Highlights of the Hall of Fame include a room that houses the Packers’ four Lombardi trophies, of course named for the team’s famous head coach Vince Lombardi, and a replica setup of Lombardi’s office including the actual desk, chairs and telephone he used while serving as the team’s coach. There were video exhibits showcasing such events as highlights of 1967’s Ice Bowl — which was reportedly the impetus for Lambeau getting the nickname the Frozen Tundra — and the original Lambeau Leap, which was first performed by S LeRoy Butler on Dec. 26, 1993. Among the more unique memorabilia included in the Hall of Fame’s collection is pieces of goalposts from key games throughout Packers history and the trade agreement 1992 deal that sent young QB Brett Favre from the Falcons to the Packers for a first-round draft pick that would ultimately become RB Tony Smith, who totaled 329 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns in his NFL career.

The Game: Texans at Packers

Then came Sunday and the game between the Texans and the Packers. The weather provided what I was hoping for — snow, which I feel is the part of the true Green Bay football experience. There was light snow for most of the morning and throughout the game. With a noon kickoff, there were already people in the parking lot tailgating by the time I got to Lambeau shortly before 9am. The weather didn’t deter fans from getting to the stadium hours early to partake in the usual drinking, eating and game-playing that is associated with tailgating. But it’s not just in the stadium parking lot, it extends beyond the grounds of Lambeau. The owners of nearby homes surrounding the stadium allow people to park in their yards and set up mini-tailgates for a fee — generally ranging from $10-40, depending on the home’s distance from the stadium. Nearby restaurants and bars also run their own pregame tailgate parties, offering unlimited food and drinks for a fee. I opted to go with the tailgate at Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, which had Super Bowl champion and Packers Hall of Fame WR Antonio Freeman in attendance signing autographs.

At noon, it was time for the main attraction of the weekend, with a kickoff temperature of 31 degrees and snow falling throughout the duration of the game. As mentioned earlier, the majority of the stadium — the original bowl plus some of the earliest additions — is made up of aluminum bleachers, which can get uncomfortable on cold days so many people either bring their own seat cushions or rent one upon entering the stadium. The newest additions in the upper levels of the stadium offer more traditional stadium seats.

As for the game itself, both offenses got off to slow starts — each team lost a fumble on their first offensive drives of the game — with no points on the scoreboard until Packers QB Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to WR Randall Cobb nearly halfway through the second quarter for a 7-0 lead that stood until Texans QB Brock Osweiler tied to the game with a touchdown pass to TE Ryan Griffin midway through the third quarter. The Packers then took a 14-point lead with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter — a pass to a wide-open WR Jordy Nelson early in the period and a three-yard run into the endzone by RB Aaron Ripkowski with 4:18 remaining in the game, putting Green Bay up 21-7. The Texans responded around the two-minute mark with a 44-yard catch-and-run by WR DeAndre Hopkins, but a missed PAT by K Nick Novak kept the score at 21-13. After a failed onside kick, the Texans were able to keep the Packers from earning a game-clinching first down, but with only one timeout remaining on the drive, the Texans got the ball back with just four seconds remaining. With the ball at their own 12-yard line, the Texans tried a short pass followed by several laterals as a last-ditch effort to score, but that failed as the Packers handed the Texans their third straight loss in front of a crowd of 77,867.

Both teams now sit at 6-6 on the season, with the Packers in third place in the NFC North and the Texans falling into a first-place tie with the idle Titans and, following Monday Night Football, the Colts in the AFC South.

Overall, even though the team I was rooting for lost, it was a good weekend as I finally got a chance to experience Lambeau Field for the first time. It is a trip that I would recommend any NFL fan should take at some point — including the tour — because of all of the tradition and history associated with the team and the stadium.

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