Summary: Summer of Midwest Baseball

Jenn had the ambitious goal to spend Summer 2010 hitting all of the Midwestern ballparks that we hadn’t already been to. We didn’t quite get to all of them (next year, Minnesota!), but we did cover a lot of mileage to see games:

  • July 18: Rockies at Reds, Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati OH [blog] [photos]
  • July 31: Orioles at Royals, Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City MO [blog] [photos]
  • August 18: Padres at Cubs, Wrigley Field, Chicago IL (we had been there before; we took Jenn’s parents there for their anniversary)
  • August 20: Giants at Cardinals, Busch Stadium, St. Louis MO
  • August 28: Yankees at White Sox, U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago IL (in 2000 we had one of our worst baseball experiences there; this time was somewhat better)
  • September 25: Marlins at Brewers, Miller Park, Milwaukee WI [blog] [photos]

Only three of those contributed toward the goal of seeing a home game for every team in Major League Baseball, though it was our first visit to the Cardinals’ new park.

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Milwaukee: Hofbrau House Old German Beer Hall

For our lunch in Milwaukee before heading out, we had picked out the Hofbrau House Old German Beer Hall for some appropriate German pub food.

It’s safe to say that we didn’t get the full effect by being there at 1:45 pm on a Sunday afternoon. We had to eat at the bar because none of the tables had been cleared after the Sunday rush, and the only one running the place was the guy behind the bar. There were only a half dozen patrons left, and half of them cleared out while we were waiting for our food. So it was hardly the raucous place that Yelp had lead me to expect.

The beer special prompted Dave to order a liter of beer (it was half price, making it cheaper than a half-liter), while I ordered root beer, after a complicated conversation with the bartender in which I finally learned that the soda was neither Coke brand nor Pepsi brand. We had plenty of time for Dave to drink from his ridiculously large glass stein, while we watched NFL football on the TV directly above our heads. We ordered cheese curds and Weißgerber Bratwurst, both of which were quite tasty.

Before we hit the road, we swung by the Starbucks in the Hilton a few blocks away to get me some coffee for the four-hour drive ahead of us. Let’s just say that Dave wasn’t feeling much pain after downing a liter of beer in one hour. A good excuse for why we don’t have any photos of the place. *smile*

Milwaukee: Crisp fall morning along the lake

Downtown Milwaukee, fall morningWhile yesterday’s weather had been dreary and damp, the weather today was stereotypically celebrated autumn weather: sunny, with a crisp breeze, definitely jacket weather.

We left the Days Inn near the airport where we spent the night at a bargain rate, and headed directly for the shore of Lake Michigan. We drove north up the roads that skirt the lake, through the lakeside neighborhoods south of Milwaukee, which were quite charming. We stopped for a few moments at an overlook to take some photos and admire the sunny skyline and the sailboats on the water.

Milwaukee Art Museum - Quadracci PavilionThen we headed for Veteran’s Park, parking on the side of Lincoln Memorial Drive because the parking lots were closed due to a race that seemed to have long since finished. I had intended for us to check out the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center, designed by Eero Saarinen. Somehow, though, we missed it. Maybe we were distracted by the crazy boat-like architectural design of the Milwaukee Art Museum in its immediate vicinity.

Rainbow and Pig WindsocksInstead we ended up just walking around Veteran’s Park, which had a pleasant level of activity without seeming busy. People were walking, rollerblading, running – even one (grownup) guy playing with his remote control car and making it peel out. There were a few dozen sailboats out on the water, though the marina was more full than empty, due to the brisk temperature and the back-to-school fall attitude. Overall, it was pretty peaceful, though I could imagine how bustling it must be during the warmer months.

We browsed for a few minutes in the kite shop in the middle of the park, then finished walking around the pond that lined the road. It was just right for a Sunday morning stroll.

Milwaukee: Miller Park

Alice Cooper: Well, I’m a regular visitor here, but Milwaukee has certainly had its share of visitors. The French missionaries and explorers began visiting here in the late 16th century.
Pete: Hey, isn’t “Milwaukee” an Indian name?
Alice Cooper: Yes, Pete, it is. In fact, it’s pronounced “mill-e-wah-que” which is Algonquin for “the good land.”

Miller Park marquee

In contrast to our swanky treatment at Kauffman Stadium (okay, so we had a parking pass and 100-level seats… not exactly a chauffeur and a luxury box), we determined to do our Milwaukee Brewers experience as cheaply as possible. The $5 seats on StubHub somehow ended up costing a total of $19.85… still, the lowest we had paid all season. But, they weren’t bad seats! Right behind home plate, in the nosebleed 400 level.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We drove up to Milwaukee from Champaign the day of the game, with Dave’s lead foot getting us there in record time. (I won’t even say how quick it was, because I don’t want to incriminate anyone.) We stopped at our hotel and checked in, then made our way up to Miller Park.

Miller ParkYou can get a very good view of the stadium from the freeway, and boy is it an interesting piece of architecture. Think of an airplane hangar with a large steel ladybug-shaped roof, and you’ll get the idea.

It had been rainy-ish all day, and we fretted as we drove about what would happen if the game got rained out. About halfway there, Dave realized: the stadium has a roof on it! The game won’t get rained out!

This was the first indoor baseball game Dave had ever been to, and he found it very surreal. To be fair, the lighting at Miller Park has an unusual quality, when the sunlight filtered through closed windows meshes with the light coming from the stadium kliegs. The really great thing, though, was that it was probably 10-15 degrees warmer in there than it was outside. It was still drafty and not exactly warm, but much better than being outside in Milwaukee’s late September temps.

Bud Selig statue at Miller ParkI should mention that we walked around before the game and admired some of the amenities, such as the picnic shelters in the parking lot (for group tailgating), the brand new statue of Bud Selig (which even *he* found barely admirable), a very cute Little League park outside the stadium, and a fun, though creepily lit, kids’ play area inside (which appears to be free of charge – take that, Kauffman Stadium!).

The game itself was nothing memorable, especially since neither Dave nor I has strong feelings for the Milwaukee Brewers nor the visiting Florida Marlins. The Marlins ended up winning 4-0. We had a nice time. The stadium was pretty nice. The fans were nice. There were a couple of alcohol-free family sections, which I thought was a nice, family-friendly idea. I ate a yummy loaded baked potato.

Afterward, due to a typical lack of creativity and planning, we ended up at Rock Bottom in downtown Milwaukee for a couple of drinks and a little nosh. I recommend the new pub antipasto if you happen to go. *smile*

Kauffman Stadium, Royals vs. Orioles

Crown Vision at Kauffman StadiumWe bought tickets via StubHub that included a parking pass, which was SWEET. We pulled up into the stadium, showed the attendant our pass, and he gave us a blue hang-tag and said, “The guy up there will direct you.” We pulled right up near the stadium and were directed to a parking lot mere feet from the gate. So this is what celebrities feel like! *wink*

Jenn in front of fountains at Kauffman StadiumWe arrived quite early (4:30 pm) to see the stadium before the game and also to meet up with friends. The evening was a tribute to the Negro Leagues, so there were all kinds of festivities – free Kansas City Monarchs caps, several Negro League players signing autographs, fundraiser concessions to benefit the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (which is in KC), as well as unrelated fun things like live music and face painting.

Our friends on the CarouselIn Kauffman Stadium there are waterfalls and fountains along the outfield wall, so we watched those for a while. There is also “The Outfield Experience”, which features all kinds of fun stuff for kids to do – baseball-related things like base running as well as a carousel and five-hole putt-putt course. Once our friends got there, we hung around in this area for quite a while, because it was a good way to keep their 3- and 5-year-old boys busy.

For dinner, Dave got one of the fundraiser hot dogs, which was unfortunately not very satisfying. I got pulled pork and baked beans, which was pretty yummy (though of course not as good as the pulled pork at Camden Yards).

View from our seatsOur seats were great – in the lower level up the first baseline. The game was a little odd, because the players were wearing Negro League tribute uniforms, so it really didn’t feel like we were watching the Royals and the Orioles. The game featured more action than the one we recently went to in Cincinnati, but it was still remarkably quick. It started a little after 6 pm, and was over well before 8:30 pm – perhaps the quickest American League game we’ve ever been to. My Orioles were in the lead for a couple of innings, but blew it in the 8th, losing 4-3. The Royals fans were really excited, though. I gotta give it to them – they’re nice fans, and supportive of their team, even though they are typically terrible. A lot like Orioles fans.

At least during the hot dog derby – which actually featured live runners in hot dog costumes, not just cartoons – my chosen hot dog (relish) was the one that won. *smile*

Trip to Kansas City

Continuing our baseball-driven Midwest tour, we drove today from Champaign to Kansas City, across Illinois and Missouri via Springfield IL and Hannibal MO.

The first half of the trip was smooth, with nice weather, light traffic, and not too much road work. About an hour west of Hannibal, though, the sky started to get really dark; then the water started coming out of the sky. The rain got so bad that I could barely see to drive, so I slowed way down just to keep myself on the road. I wasn’t really driving that slowly – maybe 55 mph – but got passed by a pickup and then a semi, on a bridge of all places. That was ridiculous and didn’t feel very safe, so we pulled off at the next little road and waited for about five minutes. Both the rain and the traffic let up a little, so it felt much safer to be on the highway.

The rain continued off and on for another hour or so, but never quite as bad as it was for those few minutes. Fortunately it seemed we skirted to the north of the worst of the thunderstorms – there were a lot of intense lightning strikes just to the south of US-36 as we drove. I wondered what would happen if our vehicle were to be struck by a lightning bolt. Fortunately we didn’t have to find out.

After we got onto I-35, heading south into Kansas City, it took us quite a bit longer to get into the city than it otherwise would have, because of lane closings due to construction. We were ready to be out of the car by the time we got to our hotel.

We hung out in the hotel for bit to decompress. Then we headed out to have authentic Kansas City barbecue at Gates and Sons BBQ, as recommended by a friend who is a KC native. It was quite the cultural experience, and the ribs were tasty.

After dinner we drove to downtown Kansas City, and found ourselves in the Power & Light District, which features a whole bunch of cool restaurants and bars in a tiny few-block area. We walked around a bit first, just to see what else was around, which is when I became infatuated with the Kansas City Power & Light Building.

The major goal of the evening was to find a sports bar where we could watch the Royals vs. Orioles game, to prepare ourselves for tomorrow evening’s live experience. We ended up in Johnny’s Tavern, which was the perfect choice, because all of the walls were lined with TVs showing various baseball games and other sporting events. Dave even got to watch the Yankees for a while. Unfortunately our teams were not victorious. The Orioles were poised to win, but then the Royals had a walk-off 3-run homer in the bottom of the 9th. At least the rest of the folks in the bar were psyched about it. *smile*

Great American Ball Park

Great American Ball ParkA major goal of our only full summer living in the Midwest is to catch games at a bunch of the Midwestern ballparks. Today we went to Cincinnati to see the Colorado Rockies play the Reds in the Great American Ball Park. We had great seats – four rows up in left field. It’s a well-designed ballpark – seemingly not a bad seat in the house – though a bit generic (other than the fascinating riverboat feature in the outfield).

River Boat Deck in Great American Ball ParkIt was brutally hot – every fan in the stadium was just wilting. The kid in front of us kept complaining to his dad about how hot it was, and the dad’s creative response was, “Hey – shut up.”

The game wasn’t particularly exciting – which was actually a good thing, because a lack of runs makes a game go faster.

About halfway through the game, we got up to escape the sun, and took a walk in the shade of the concourse. Unfortunately that was when the Rockies decided to score – we missed the only run of the game. We strolled over to the area behind center field to the misters, only to find that they weren’t misty enough to really cool things off. We found ourselves standing in a spot only slightly more humid than the rest of the air, and decided it wasn’t worth it.

We had a good time anyway. After the game, we cooled off at Rock Bottom in downtown Cincinnati (is it inappropriate to call it “Cincy”? Do people from there hate the nickname like San Franciscans hate “Frisco”?), then went looking for a Skyline Chili in which to have dinner, as we had been instructed.

Kentucky borderAmusingly, as none of the Skylines in downtown Cincy (see, there, I did it) were open on a Sunday evening, we ended up driving across the river to Kentucky to have dinner at a suburban Skyline Chili. At least we had our authentic Cincinnati chili experience.

On the way home, we decided to play chicken with our gas tank. We figured we had just enough gas to get us to Indianapolis, where we knew there was a truck stop selling gas for $2.59. The gas tank counted down to 0 miles left in the tank, when we were just 10 miles outside of Indy. So we had to stop and put in 1.61 gallons (at $2.84/gal) to get us to the cheap gas. But we didn’t get stranded on the side of the road, outta gas. So we’ll call that game of chicken a draw.