Ten Days in Texas!

Question: What has 261,797 square miles, 27,469,114 residents and me?

Answer: The state of Texas between May 12 and 22!

That’s right — I’m heading to Texas again!

globe-life-park-malcolm-sign

I had an outstanding visit to the Lone Star State last September, taking in a Texas Rangers game and a pair of Houston Astros games, and from the minute I arrived back home, I was anxious to return. I didn’t know when I’d be able to get back to the state, but I’m pleased to announce that I’m heading there very soon. This time, I’ll be spending two days in five of the six cities that host a minor league team, and I’m absolutely stoked to get this trip underway.

I’ll be up bright and early (like, at the airport at 3 a.m. early) on May 12 to fly to Chicago, and then to Austin, where I’ll make the short drive to Round Rock and the adventure will officially be underway. Here’s what my schedule of games looks like:

Thursday, May 12: Oklahoma City Dodgers at Round Rock Express 7 p.m.

Friday, May 13: Oklahoma City Dodgers at Round Rock Express 7 p.m.

Saturday, May 14: Frisco RoughRiders at Corpus Christi Hooks 7 p.m.

Sunday, May 15: Frisco RoughRiders at Corpus Christi Hooks 2 p.m.

Monday, May 16: New Orleans Zephyrs at El Paso Chihuahuas 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, May 17: New Orleans Zephyrs at El Paso Chihuahuas 11 a.m.

Wednesday, May 18: Frisco RoughRiders at Midland RockHounds 6:30 p.m.

Thursday, May 19: Frisco RoughRiders at Midland RockHounds 7 p.m.

Friday, May 20: San Antonio Missions at Frisco RoughRiders 7 p.m.

Saturday, May 21: San Antonio Missions at Frisco RoughRiders 7 p.m.

Visiting these five ballparks means that by the time the trip concludes, I’ll have seen MLB/MiLB action in 62 different ballparks since 2010. Also, I’m getting a chance to see two leagues for the first time — El Paso and Round Rock play in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, while the other three teams are members of the Double-A Texas League.

I’ve decided to schedule two days in each of these cities for several reasons. First, I’d hate for a rainout to ruin my chance at seeing a park if I were only in town for one day. Additionally, two days will mean that my travel schedule isn’t as crazy as I’ve sometimes had in the past, which will mean more time to blog while I’m away and, hopefully, more time to do some sightseeing, too. Please feel free to send me any tourist ideas by posting in the comments section below, tweeting me or sending me an email. Time permitting, I plan to check out things including the USS Lexington floating museum in Corpus Christi, Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso and a handful of other things elsewhere.

I’m also excited to say that with the exception of flying to and from Texas and catching a flight from Corpus Christi to El Paso, I’ll be renting a car and driving. This means that I’ll have the chance to tour the cities a bit and see the sights, which will be awesome.

In addition to blogging, I’ll be tweeting about my adventures along the way, as well as shooting video with my GoPro to share on my YouTube channel. I did a bit of GoPro stuff last season (mostly time-lapse videos) but wasn’t pleased with my videos and didn’t post them. I’ve made some adjustments by buying some additional gear and I know I’ll now be able to put together some cool videos that will provide you with a cool fan experience for each of the parks I visit, so please think about subscribing to my YouTube channel and watching for those upcoming videos.

I also want to take a moment to thank those who have supported my trips in various ways, whether it’s sending money by PayPal or shopping through my Amazon affiliate program. As you can imagine, there are considerable costs to traveling, and this trip is arguably my most ambitious yet. That said, I’d really appreciate your continued support. If you get a kick out of reading my blog and want to help keep my adventures coming, I’d kindly ask you to visit this page on my website. It details how you can support my travels by shopping on Amazon, which might be something you’re already doing. All it takes is a quick click each time you shop and doing so doesn’t cost you a penny more. Plus, if you buy something and get in touch to let me know, I’ll send you a public or a private thank you!

I’ll update this blog post if any of the travel plans change, but in the meantime you can follow me on Twitter to read the latest updates and follow along on my adventure.

 

A Major Website Is Using Two Of My Photos

Even though my priority when I travel for The Ballpark Guide is to document the parks themselves, I’m always eager to get a chance to snap some action photos when I’m able. The minor leagues are ideal for action photos, of course, because you can get extremely close to the field — and some of my favorite action shots came back on the last day of the 2014 MiLB season in Jamestown, NY. You can read all about that experience at this link; it was a memorable one because it was a doubleheader that would serve as the last two games in the history of the New York-Penn League’s Jamestown Jammers, who moved to West Virginia after the season.

Anyway, I ended up taking more than 500 photos over the course of the doubleheader, and most of them were individual shots of players. Afterward, I connected with a bunch of players on Twitter, sent many of them my photos by email and some of the guys even started using my shots as their Twitter profile or header images, which was super cool.

One guy I shot on this day was D’Vone McClure, a fourth-round pick of the Indians who was playing for their Mahoning Valley affiliate. As I crouched beside the dugout on the Mahoning Valley side of the field, McClure looked in my direction for a few moments while he was on deck — and this meant that I could get a bunch of shots of him from just a few feet away. This shot, in particular, isn’t an “action” shot per se, but it’s one that I really liked:

d'vone-mclure-mahoning-valley-scrappers

I started following McClure on Twitter after the game and he even followed me back. I tagged him in some of my photos and he sent me his email address so I could send him the originals. I’ve been eagerly hoping for McClure to rise through the ranks of the Indians system, but that hasn’t been the case. He played just nine games last season and was released by the Indians during spring training of this year.

But the good news is that we all might to get to watch McClure again — on TV on Saturdays.

The former outfielder, who was also a standout wide receiver in high school, just committed to the University of Arkansas to play on its football team — and that’s where my photos come into play.

Late last week, Danny West, a reporter who covers the Razorbacks for Rivals.com, contacted me and asked to use a photo of McClure that I’d taken on that day in Jamestown for an upcoming article about McClure committing to the U of A. I sent him the shot I posted above, as well as a couple others — and he ended up using two of them!

Check out Danny’s story here to read all about McClure’s path from the minor leagues to Div. I football, or take a look at this screenshot that uses my photo:

dvone-mcclure-article

Pretty cool, huh?

I’ve had a few different news organizations use my photos over the years, and it’s always a thrill.

Speaking of thrills, I’m almost ready to announce my latest ballpark trip, so keep an eye out for that!

Playing Tourist in Pittsburgh – August 29/30

Two days after I had a chance to spend a full day playing tourist in Cleveland back at the end of August, I arrived in Pittsburgh bright and early for a pair of Pirates games at PNC Park. Last season was the second straight year I had the fortune of seeing two games at the beautiful downtown ballpark, and the second year that I’d be staying at the top-notch Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown.

My plan was to get to the city well in advance of my hotel’s check-in time, park for free in the hotel lot and do some sightseeing. A year earlier, I’d noticed that the hotel is directly across the street from the Senator John Heinz History Center, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that includes the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. Here’s a shot that shows the hotel on the left and the museum on the right:

hampton-and-museum

Anyway, I’d been short on time and wasn’t able to visit during my previous stop in Pittsburgh, so I was determined to make time during this visit.

So, just a couple minutes after leaving my car in the hotel’s parking lot, I was standing directly in front of this:

sherman-tank

This is a WWII Sherman tank that sits in front of the museum. It’s obviously quite hard to miss and certainly a head-turner, given that it sits just a few yards from the street. Once I’d taken this photo, I bought my ticket and started to check out the sights — and, boy, were there lots of things to see! The museum is 275,000 square feet with displays on multiple levels. Although I was anxious to get to the sports area, I was interested in the various historical displays, too.

Here’s a 1936 Ford DeLuxe sedan with a body made of stainless steel:

stainless-steel-car

It was designed by Allegheny Steel, a Pittsburgh company, along with Ford. If you’re wondering, the museum concentrated on exhibits with ties to Pittsburgh, but there were a ton of great general American history things to see, too.

You’ve probably seen the iconic “We Can Do It!” WWII propaganda poster featuring the female production worker known as Rosie the Riveter. What you might not know, however, is that the poster was designed by a Pittsburgh artist named J. Howard Miller. In addition to the numerous copies of the poster on display, there was a statue of the poster’s character:

rosie-riveter-statue

The museum had a ton of WWII displays, which was interesting because I was obsessed with WWII history when I was a kid. (And I still have a hard time turning the channel away when I come across a WWII documentary on TV.) The next display I saw was impactful — this photo shows nearly 7,000 dog tags hanging from the ceiling, and each one represents five Pennsylvanians who lost their lives in the war:

dog-tags

Whenever I’m in a building, I tend to favor the stairs over the elevator. I was glad that I sought out the stairs at this museum, because they have a sports theme. Check it out — the ninth stair is labeled as the Bill Mazeroski stair, the 21st stair (the landing, actually) is the Roberto Clemente stair, and so on:

pittsburgh-sports-museum-stairs

For whatever reason, the museum was largely empty during my visit. In fact, on some of the upper floors, I’d only come across another two or three people. This obviously meant that some of the floors were extremely quiet … which was fine except for that fact that when I heard a booming voice and saw this historical reenactment figure talking on this screen that I initially thought was a mirror …

scary-video-guy

… I must’ve jumped a foot in the air. I didn’t stick around to hear what this mustachioed gent was telling me; as my heart rate slowly returned to normal, I continued browsing and stopped at another sobering display. This one is a calendar that shows the industrial-related deaths in Allegheny County from July of 1906 to June of 1907. We certainly take workplace safety for granted in many industries today, but look at this calendar — anything from 35 to 60 people killed in workplace accidents per month over the course of this year:

county-death-count

The good news it that it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The museum was certainly packed with uplifting displays, too, and things only got more exciting as I made my way through the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum portion. Here’s a life-size model of the Franco Harris “Immaculate Reception” play:

franco-harris-immaculate-reception

A Jason Kendall replica locker stall:

jason-kendell-locker-stall

And a Willie Stargell autographed jersey:

willie-stargell-signed-jersey

The museum had a number of interactive displays, too, like this mini-putt hole:

mini-putt-area

I’m not sure of its significance in terms of Pittsburgh sports history — or maybe it was just there to keep kids occupied. Either way, I gave it a go. I hit my ball roughly from where I took the above photo, laid it up where I’ve placed the “X” on the photo and then had a short putt to get this result:

ball-in-hole

After deciding to walk away from my mini-putt career while still on top, I checked out this Buck Leonard signed ball and Homestead Grays jersey …

buck-leonard-display

… and then spent some time in this enormous room dedicated to Pirates baseball:

pittsburgh-sports-museum-pirates

There were seats from old Forbes Field (which I’d visit a couple days later and you can read about at the end of this blog post):

forbes-field-old-seats

And a life-sized statue of Mazeroski:

bill-mazeroski-statue

If you’ve read my blog posts about visiting PNC Park, you might recall my picture of the Mazeroski statue outside the ballpark or that I got a replica souvenir statue during my visit last year.

There was even an Official Green Weenie from 1965:

pittsburgh-official-green-weenie

If you aren’t acquainted with this bizarre object, here’s the official description from a plaque at the museum:

Broadcaster Bob Prince developed the green weenie as a good luck charm for the Pirates. Fans were encouraged to point the weenie at the opposing team and shake it, bringing bad luck to the opposition.

That might be the best description I’ve ever read.

After I’d spent a bit of time browsing all the baseball stuff, it was over to the football display, where I threw a few passes to John Stallworth and Lynn Swann:

pittsburgh-steelers-passing

And then used my hand to show just how big former Steelers tackle Max Starks’ (6’8″, 345 lbs.) size 19 cleats are:

max-starks-shoes

There were a ton of other cool displays at the museum but, hey, why don’t you just make time to check them out if you ever visit Pittsburgh for some ballgames?

Once I stepped outside the museum, it was time to check into my hotel and quickly get ready to head over to PNC Park. You can read all about that visit here.

Fast-forward to the following morning and it was time to do some more touristy/sightseeing stuff. The Pirates were playing an afternoon game, which meant I was up early to check out the sights before I entered the ballpark.

My main goal was to visit Point State Park, which is the park featuring the famous Pittsburgh fountain that you’ll often see on TV broadcasts when you’re watching the Pirates or the Steelers. As you can see from this map, it’s very close to PNC Park and an easy walk from my hotel, which I’ve marked with a star — and you can click to enlarge the map:

pittsburgh-map

The walk along the shore of the Allegheny River is picturesque. Not only do you get to enjoy checking out the bridges and the water, but PNC Park is within view, too:

pnc-park-across-river

As I walked past the ballpark, here was my view:

walking-along-river

Point State Park is directly ahead and on my left, while kayaks moved quietly through the water to my right. It was perfect.

From this point, I also had a nice view of Heinz Field:

heinz-field-pittsburgh

But the scene got even better when I finally made it to the park, which is the meeting point between the Ohio River, Allegheny River and Monongahela River. The park is so vast that it’s hard to capture it in a single photo from the ground. Here’s a panorama I took:

point-state-park-pano

And here’s a wider-angle shot of the fountain and Heinz Field directly behind it:

point-state-park-fountain

Point State Park should truly be on your itinerary if you visit Pittsburgh for any reason; I truly regret not making time to check it out a year earlier. In addition to the park itself, there are lots of things you can see from this vantage point. For example, here’s the Duquesne Incline, which is an inclined railroad built in 1877 that travels a distance of 800 feet and climbs 400 feet:

duquesne-incline-pittsburgh

I spent a couple hours walking around the park, just hanging out on the benches and, in general, enjoying the view. And, sometimes, snapping shots of myself that make it look as though the fountain is coming out of my head:

malcolm-in-front-of-fountain

During this time, I also stopped to take a photo of this plaque that is embedded in the ground right at the point of the park …

point-state-park-plaque

… and was amused a little while later to see that the plaque was the exact site for a small wedding that was taking place:

point-state-park-wedding

As you might expect, given its location, the Point State Park area played a key strategic role in Pittsburgh’s history. It was the site of Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne, which you can read all about online. I won’t try to recount these forts’ extensive history here. Everywhere I looked, though, there were signs of the forts. See the stone layout in the foreground? It was put in place to show the elaborate outline of Fort Duquesne:

duquesne-fort-outline

A short distance away stood the Fort Pitt Museum, a cannon and the Fort Pitt Block House, which was constructed in 1764:

fort-pitt

The fort itself was built between 1759 and 1761, and was visited by George Washington on three occasions, which is extremely cool. Here’s a plaque commemorating these visits:

fort-pitt-plaque

Admission to the block house was free, so I went inside and took this photo through one of the observation ports in the wall:

fort-pitt-viewing-port

I didn’t spend long inside the block house, so I was soon back outside touring the park. I saw a couple practicing some partner yoga …

partner-yoga

… kids playing catch and a park employee playing Frisbee golf with some tourists. A couple final landmarks for you — this is the entrance to the Fort Pitt Tunnel, which is visible from the park:

fort-pitt-tunnel

And here’s the Carnegie Science Center with the USS Requin submarine docked out front:

carnegie-science-center

After I took the above photo, it was time to say goodbye to the park (not aloud, of course) and retrace my steps to the Roberto Clemente Bridge, cross the river and enjoy everything PNC Park has to offer.

The next morning, I got up early in anticipation of the eight-hour drive home, but I had a fun stop to make first. Before I drove away from Pittsburgh, I wanted to visit the site of old Forbes Field. It was the home of the Pirates between 1909 and 1970 and was demolished in 1972 after a pair of fires. So, there’s not much that remains to the old ballpark, but some of the park’s old fences are intact. It was a short drive from my hotel to the Forbes Field site, which is on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.

I parked on the street, grabbed my camera and hopped out of the car — only to realize that I’d have to wait for several minutes to take some shots. I’d had my hotel room so cold with the A/C and it was so hot and muggy outside that the camera lens instantly fogged up severely. Nevertheless, after walking around for a few minutes, the camera was good to go and I was able to take a handful of photos. Here’s the historical marker:

forbes-field-plaque

Part of the fence and the flagpole:

forbes-field-fence-1

And a little more of the fence with its ivy covering:

forbes-field-fence

I spent a little time walking around the site (it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in Pittsburgh) and then it was time to get back on the road, given the length of the drive ahead of me.

As always, it was a great time in Pittsburgh — both at PNC Park and getting a chance to play tourist — and I hope to get back to the city again soon.

 

 

Playing Tourist in Cleveland – August 27

For all the traveling I do for The Ballpark Guide, I don’t often have much spare time to play tourist. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve had the opportunity to check out a bunch of great attractions over the years, but it can be a real challenge to find considerable time to devote much time to sightseeing. (Not complaining, by the way!)

That’s why, when I was putting together my second-last baseball trip of the 2015 season and had games in Cleveland on August 25 and 26 and an indy-league game outside of Pittsburgh on August 28, I was excited with the idea of having an off-day on August 27. My schedules are such that off-days are rare — actually, I’ve never had one on any of my trips.

I’ve been lucky to visit Cleveland for Indians games a number of times over the years and have done a bit of sightseeing, but never a full day’s worth. So, on the morning of my lone off-day, I was up early and headed out toward the North Coast Harbor area of the city to check out a whole host of touristy things. Once I parked my car and started the short walk to my first destination, I stopped and took this photo that shows some of the attractions ahead:

cleveland-north-coast-harbor

From right to left, you’re looking at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Great Lakes Science Center and, directly behind it, FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns. (Not to be confused with FirstEnergy Park, home of the minor league Lakewood BlueClaws, which I’ve visited twice.) I’m a huge music fan, so I planned to spend several hours at the rock hall:

rock-hall-of-fame-cleveland

I don’t know if I ever knew of Cleveland’s connection to rock music history, but checking out this historic plaque cleared that up for me:

rock-hall-of-fame-marker

My first stop before entering the hall was the late Johnny Cash’s longtime tour bus, known as “The House of Cash.” It’s parked outside the rock hall and while admittance was closed during my visit, I took this exterior photo …

rock-hall-of-fame-johnny-cash-bus

… and then hurried into the hall just a few minutes after it opened for the day. Tickets aren’t cheap — adult tickets cost about $25 — but you can spend several hours checking out all the artifacts, so the value is really good.

Now, if you’re not a music enthusiast, you might want to skip ahead a little bit. Also, I’m a guitar player and general guitar nut, so you’ve been forewarned that guitar photos are coming. Otherwise, here are a bunch of varied and interesting (to me, at least) photos of items that have played a role in music history, in no particular order.

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s 1961 Fender Stratocaster:

rock-hall-of-fame-srv-guitar

A bunch of Chuck Berry artifacts, including a guitar, suit jacket and handwritten lyrics:

rock-hall-of-fame-chuck-berry-guitar

Jeff Beck’s 1954 Fender Esquire, looking like it’s been played a minute or two over the last 60 years:

rock-hall-of-fame-jeff-beck-esquire

Joey Ramone’s leather jacket:

rock-hall-of-fame-joey-ramone-jacket

(You’ll have to pardon the glare in some of these photos. Virtually everything was protected by thick glass and, in general, the lights were dim throughout the hall to help preserve the items.)

The original lyrics sheet to AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” along with one of Angus Young’s famous schoolboy outfits:

rock-hall-of-fame-ac-dc-lyrics

A pair of Jay-Z’s shoes:

rock-hall-of-fame-jay-z-shoes

Dickey Betts’ 1954 Gibson Les Paul:

rock-hall-of-fame-allman-guitar

Bruce Springsteen’s rough lyric notes for “Born to Run.”

rock-hall-of-fame-born-to-run-lyrics

The second line of the song is, “At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines,” and you can see that The Boss was working out a bunch of variations to this idea. I’m a big Springsteen fan, so this was incredible to see.

Speaking of Springsteen, here’s a hotel telephone message that shows that Springsteen missed a call from Cat Stevens of all people. It’s dated January 7, 1978  — and, hey, Cat Stevens’ phone number is there if you want to try to give him a shout:

rock-hall-of-fame-cat-stevens-phone-message

By the way, kiddies, back in the day before smartphones, this is how messages were taken.

The handwritten lyrics sheet for “London Calling” by The Clash, which looks a little worse for wear:

rock-hall-of-fame-london-calling-lyrics

Michael Jackson’s jewel-studded glove:

rock-hall-of-fame-michael-jackson-glove

And, just for the general hilarity, Sly Stone’s vest from 1970 — I’m sure no drugs were involved in the designing, making of wearing of said vest:

rock-hall-of-fame-sly-stone-thing

Ringo Starr’s drum kit that he used from 1964 to 1968:

rock-hall-of-fame-ringo-starr-drums

One of Mick Jagger’s outfits from the 1980s, although I imagine he might be wearing it right now if it wasn’t behind glass:

rock-hall-of-fame-mick-jagger-outfit

The family couch from Jimi Hendrix’s childhood home, complete with stains and cigarette burns. This is where Hendrix sat while he mastered the guitar:

rock-hall-of-fame-jimi-hendrix-couch

All told, I spent about four hours touring the rock hall before I stopped for a terrible lunch at the cafeteria, browsed the gift shop and then headed outside to continue my sightseeing. I decided not to stop at the Great Lakes Science Center — I suppose I like music more than I like science — but I did want to check out the William G. Mather Great Lakes freighter that operated between 1925 and 1980, carrying ore, coal, grain and more throughout the Great Lakes:

william-g-mather-cleveland1

I don’t know very much about big ships, but I always enjoy checking them out when I get the chance. Back in 2012, I spent part of a day touring Battleship Cove outside Boston in what’s probably my other biggest day as a tourist. And, while I didn’t bother to board the William G. Mather, it was cool to walk its entire length (618 feet) and marvel at its sheer size:

william-g-mather-cleveland

After checking out the ship for a bit, it was time to continue my walk by visiting Voinovich Park, a park that juts out into the lake and provides a great view of the city’s skyline:

cleveland-skyline-panorama

I sat for a little bit on a bench and watched the boats and airplanes pass — the Burke Lakefront Airport is also part of the North Coast Harbor complex, so there was an almost steady parade of small planes flying past me on their descent:

cleveland-airport-plane

Voinovich Park was super peaceful. Despite so much going on in the surrounding area, it was really relaxing to sit and enjoy the sound of the water and all the interesting sights around me. It’s definitely a spot that I’ll return to on my next trip to Cleveland, time permitting.

Once I’d watched the boats and planes for a while, I decided to continue my walk. I wanted to check out more of the scene and still be able to get back to my hotel, the Hyatt Place Cleveland/Independence, before it got too late in the day and I got stuck in traffic. I went to a Cleveland Browns game several years back, so I wanted to take a look at FirstEnergy Stadium and grab some photos. It’s sort of hard to tell in this photo that I snapped as I approached, but there were a lot of people waiting in line outside the stadium and milling around in general:

firstenergy-stadium-cleveland-browns

Given the time of year, I wondered if perhaps the Browns were having some sort of open practice, so I was curious to check out what was going on and maybe add a fun twist to my day. Soon enough, though, I realized that 99 percent of the rapidly growing crowd was made up of teenage girls, so I tossed the football theory out the window. I couldn’t make much sense of what the event was, but I decided that pushing my way through the throng of teens wouldn’t be a fun experience, so I started to make the walk back toward my car. About a minute from the stadium, there were a bunch of police officers — several cars and even the bomb squad truck towing a very curious-looking trailer. I stopped to check it out and when an officer approached me, I asked what was going on at the stadium.

“One Direction concert,” he replied, sounding sort of amused.

“And they called you guys in, just in case?” I asked.

I know nothing about One Direction, but it sounds like maybe some people do not like the group as much as the hundreds of teenage girls that I saw a few minutes earlier.

Anyway, the police officer was super friendly, so I asked him about this funky-looking trailer that the bomb squad truck was hauling …

cleveland-pd-bomb-squad

… and had a really informative discussion about what this device is and what it does. It’s called a total containment vessel, or TCV. When the bomb squad’s robot picks up a suspicious package, it places the object inside this white sphere, which is made of steel and lead. The package can then be detonated safely and the TCV will provide air quality readings so that the nature of the bomb can be assessed. I asked if this was for pipe bombs and other things of that nature, and was wildly surprised to hear that a nuclear dirty bomb can safely be detonated inside the sphere — wow!

I guess the officer sensed my fascination and curiosity, so he asked if I wanted to get my photo taken in front of it. The answer:

malcolm-cleveland-bomb-squad

Although I could’ve asked a bunch more questions, I didn’t want to interfere with the officer, so I started to head back to my car. As I thanked him for his time, he asked me where I was from, and I told him about my baseball trip. He shook my hand (“crushed my hand” is a more accurate assessment) and told me to feel welcome in the city and to approach any police officer without hesitation if I ever needed something.

By the time I made it back to my parking lot, it was jam packed and the parking rate had doubled! Satisfied with my parking success, I hopped in the car and was back relaxing in my hotel before long — after I’d enjoyed an enormous steak dinner at a nearby Outback.

Houston Astros – September 22

What’s better than an absolutely awesome, jam-packed first day in Houston?

The feeling I had waking up on the morning of September 22 and knowing that I had another full day to explore Minute Maid Park, enjoy my downtown stadium-facing hotel and soak up all the fun that a baseball road trip provides.

I woke up super early so that I could set up my GoPro on one my window ledges and capture the sun rising over Minute Maid Park. Pretty majestic view, right?

While the GoPro snapped hundreds of shots that I used to build this time-lapse video (I’d love if you could click the thumbs-up button, by the way!) I started to browse the photos that I’d taken at the Astros game the night before and catch up on some highlights on ESPN of the previous evening’s action — all while enjoying hanging out in my outstanding hotel room.

In case you missed my previous post, I was fortunate to be staying at the Westin Houston Downtown — one of the nicest hotels in Houston and a perfect choice for fans visiting the city to see the Astros. Its great location aside, my guest room was one of the nicest I’ve ever been in. I was fortunate to get a corner room, which meant there were windows on two sides of the room, giving it a nice, open feel. Here’s one look at the room:

westin-houston-downtown-room-1

And another shot:

westin-houston-downtown-room-2

It was a great experience to relax in my awesome room for a bit, but soon it was time to explore the hotel a little. The hotel really plays up its close proximity to Minute Maid Park — each of the conference/event rooms in the hotel has a different baseball-related name and one of the on-site restaurants is called the Ballpark Cafe. Given the name of my website and blog, it only made sense to check the place out for lunch.

Boy, was I impressed! This was no ordinary lunch — it was one that I can easily count among the very best meals I’ve ever eaten.

You can check out the Ballpark Cafe’s menu here to view all the impressive fare. Despite what I ate the previous night at the ballgame, I was hungry again and absolutely enticed by many of the menu’s items. I started with the Yellow Tuna Tataki dish, which featured sliced tuna with edamame aioli and ginger soy sauce; for my main course, I had the Certified Angus Filet Mignon, served with Patron green peppercorn sauce, mashed potatoes and asparagus.

Now, I’m no food reviewer, but I can tell you that every bite of each dish was absolutely outstanding. The meal was one of those that I consider myself fortunate to have eaten.

Once I’d eaten, I headed back to my room to relax for a bit before snapping this shot of downtown Houston out my window …

downtown-houston-from-westin

… and then setting up my GoPro to take another few thousand shots that I could use to build another time-lapse video. I like how the clouds cast shadows on the buildings in this one:

Once I my GoPro finished its work and I enjoyed a bit more lounging in my room, it was time to pack up for the super-short walk over to the ballpark.

Having a second day in an MLB city is ideal because it doubles the time you can devote to checking out the park and the area around it, so I soon found myself exploring areas that I hadn’t had a chance to see a day earlier. My first stop was another parking lot that provided a spot where I could take this panorama of the outside of the ballpark:

minute-maid-park-outside-pano

I spent the next little while wandering around the exterior of the park, taking shots like this one:

minute-maid-park-outside-gates

And this one, of the park’s notable tower structure:

minute-maid-park-tower

Despite the searing heat, the pregame walking was a blast — it’s always awesome to get to check out MLB facilities. Soon enough, it was time to head inside. A day earlier, there were a few people ahead of me in line; on this day, I was the first fan into the park through my gate. Needless to say, the scene was pretty quiet even a few minutes later:

minute-maid-park-empty-seats

I took advantage of the early lack of a crowd to head down to the visiting side’s dugout so that I could see some of the Angels players up close. I had no trouble securing a spot in the front row where I had an awesome view of the action. Shane Victorino, who is a player I’ve enjoyed watching for years, was so close to where I stood that I heard him actually say “Aloha” to a fan who’d joined me in the front row. A moment later, I snapped this shot of the Flyin’ Hawaiian playing catch …

shane-victorino-pregame-tossing

… and I was amused that he’d yet to put on his belt. It’s hard to see in the above photo, but Victorino was wearing a custom Nike warmup shirt that paid tribute to his Hawaiian heritage. Here’s a zoomed-in shot of another picture I took that depicts the logo:

shane-victorino-t-shirt-closeup

Soon enough, this guy captured my attention:

albert-pujols-throwing

Albert Pujols has been one of my favorite players since he came into the major leagues, so it was awesome to see him so close. I’d previously seen him back in 2012 at Fenway Park and, of course, a day earlier in Houston, but now he was immediately on the other side of the dugout railing and just a few feet away. I took a ton of pictures of him, including this one that I really like:

albert-pujols-throwing-2

When Pujols finished tossing, he moved over toward the cage to begin stretching, so I followed him as best I could and took shots like this:

albert-pujols-stretching

Afterward, he moved back toward me and I took a bunch of shots like this, which show just how close he was:

albert-pujols-marucci-pregame

OK, convinced that I was stalking Pujols? You’re sort of correct, but let’s move on, shall we?

I took one more photo from the dugout area — this shot of Collin Cowgill’s glove …

collin-cowgill-glove

… and then it was time to find some other parts of the park to explore. My first stop was the second deck in right field, where I took this shot of the custom iron work on the railings:

minute-maid-park-railing-detail

And this panorama of the scene from where I stood:

minute-maid-park-pano-second-deck

As you might have noticed in the panorama, the huge windows beyond left and center field were casting crazy shadows on the field. I like how this shot of four Angels and their shadows turned out:

minute-maid-park-player-shadows-bp

I continued on my quest and noticed a couple cool MLB All-Star Game artifacts from past seasons, including this cowboy boot from the 2004 game in Houston:

minute-maid-park-boot-2004-all-star-game

And from the 2010 game in Anaheim:

minute-maid-park-mickey-mouse-2010-all-star-game

Sort of interesting that these two statues represented the home fields for the two teams playing in the evening’s game, huh?

By this time, first pitch was starting to sneak up, so I took advantage of the opportunity to check out the concession stands like I had done a day earlier. This time, I made up my mind pretty quickly — I went with a chicken fried steak sandwich that featured Nolan Ryan Texas Beef. (He’s got a beef company in Texas, as you might have guessed.) Here’s a shot of this glorious sandwich:

minute-maid-park-food-chicken-fried-steak-sandwich

It was delicious! I’d never eaten chicken fried steak in the past, but I figured that a visit to Texas was the right time to try it. The steak was nice and tender and it didn’t take long until this hulking sandwich was just a memory.

I took a post-meal digestion break by watching a few minutes of the Astros pregame show …

minute-maid-park-astros-pregame

… before heading over to the third base side of home in time for the start of the first inning:

minute-maid-park-first-inning-view

I was glad to have this spot because the visitor’s side of the first inning proved to be eventful as Mike Trout …

minute-maid-park-trout-home-run

… and Pujols hit back-to-back home runs:

minute-maid-park-pujols-home-run

Fireworks aside, it was awesome to have such a close view of the action. Here’s Houston’s 5’5″ Jose Altuve, who is one of the more exciting MLBers to watch:

minute-maid-park-altuve-at-bat

After I’d spent a few innings in this spot, it was time to continue exploring the park. I headed all the way up to the upper deck and over toward the train that you’ve undoubtedly seen on TV broadcasts. This next shot gives you a behind-the-scenes view — I took it while standing at the end of the train tracks; obviously, the train only travels as far as the windows that you see in the center of the image, but it was neat to have this vantage point of the train:

minute-maid-park-train-tracks

Upon looking at the train, I went out to the seats and found an open area where I watched a couple innings with this view:

minute-maid-park-pano-upper-deck

From up here, I had a different view of the train:

minute-maid-park-train

I don’t think I’d realized from seeing the train on TV over the past several years that it has a driver — although I admittedly don’t watch Astros games very often. I also thought it was funny how the train car has the Nolan Ryan Texas Beef logo on it, yet it’s carrying a load of oranges as a tip of the cap to the company that holds the ballpark’s naming rights.

Once I’d spent a bit of time with this bird’s-eye view, I went back down to the main level and checked out one of the team shops. I was drawn to one of the historical displays featuring seats from the old Astrodome:

houston-astrodome-seats

Did you know that it was originally called “Harris County Domed Stadium” when it opened in 1965? I sure didn’t.

As I often do during the latter half of the game when I’m visiting a ballpark on consecutive days, I found a seat with a great view of the action — behind home plate, in this instance — put my camera away and simply enjoyed the remainder of the game. After the final out, I made the quick walk back to my hotel room and got to bed in anticipation of getting up at 4 a.m. to fly from Houston to Chicago, Chicago to Toronto and then drive home.

Thanks for joining me to read about my adventure in Texas. It truly was an outstanding experience and one that I look forward to experiencing again soon!

Houston Astros – September 21

After an exceptionally long travel day getting to Texas and a whirlwind tour of Globe Life Park in Arlington, it was time to take a short flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Houston, and get ready for Astros games on back-to-back nights. My flight between the two cities was short and before long, I was hopping in a cab outside George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston for what turned out to be about a $75 (in Canadian dollars) cab ride to my airport. Stupid exchange rate.

Of course, my temporary frown over the fare was turned upside down when I was dropped off in front of the Westin Houston Downtown, which I’d quickly realize was one of the best hotels I’ve ever visited. I’ll share some details and photos about my hotel stay in this post and my next post, but let’s start by discussing the hotel’s location. Well, it’s a short discussion, really — it’s across the street from Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros! I’ve said it before, but I LOVE hotels that offer a ballpark view. I mean, I’m nuts about them. I’ve been fortunate to stay at a number of hotels that offer this feature over the years, so I knew I’d be in for a treat in Houston. Of course, your guest room has to be facing the ballpark, so I held my breath as I made my way up the elevator, down the hall and into my room. I hurriedly ran to the window and saw …

downtown-houston-view-from-westin

… a nice view of downtown Houston but no Minute Maid Park. Not the end of the world, right? I thought about my situation for a minute and although I’m not a complainer, I returned to the front desk to see if there was a way I’d be able to get a room on the ballpark side of the building. The desk clerk checked but revealed that all those rooms were booked. A little discouraged, I returned to my room and looked around. I’d been so crazed to run to the window when I first arrived that I didn’t realize I had a corner room.

Corner rooms = two walls with windows.

I swung open the drapes on the newfound window and, ta-da, here was the view:

minute-maid-park-room-view-from-westin

Slightly too bad that there was a church steeple in the way, but I had a spectacular view of Minute Maid Park and, with the retractable roof currently open, I could see some of the seats and part of the video board inside the stadium.

So, so awesome.

I had some time to kill before the game, so I ordered a chicken Caesar salad and a couple of bottles of water from the cafe on the ground floor of the hotel and scarfed them down while enjoying my awesome view. Minute Maid Park’s allure was too strong to keep me in my hotel room for much longer, so I quickly gathered up my camera stuff and headed over to the park. First, though, I snapped this shot in the hotel lobby to show you just how swank the scene was:

westin-houston-downtown-lobby

I was hit with a wave of 90-degree heat when I stepped out the door of the hotel, but even the mugginess couldn’t dampen my excitement at the scene before me:

minute-maid-park-from-westin-houston-downtown

This shot, for the record, is from the valet parking area of the hotel and shows that when I said the ballpark and hotel are across the street from one another, I wasn’t exaggerating.

After my missed flight a couple days earlier meant that I had to cram two days’ of sightseeing at Arlington’s Globe Life Park into one visit, it was a huge relief to know that I had two full days to check out the area inside and outside Minute Maid Park. When I crossed the street, I turned around to take this shot of the hotel from the outside …

westin-houston-downtown-front-day

… and then it was full steam ahead to check out Minute Maid Park. When the park was built prior to the 2000 season, it carefully incorporated Houston’s Union Station, which opened in 1911 and was named to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1977. You’ll see inside the Union Station ballpark entrance shortly, but for now here’s a plaque that connects the old train station with the ballpark:

minute-maid-park-union-station-sign

I was excited to see a wide variety of baseball-related features around the park. Some were somewhat subtle, like these baseball stitching effects in the concrete:

minute-maid-park-sidewalk-baseball-stitches

And others were perhaps more noticeable, including a variety of plaques in the sidewalk that were recognizing past Astros greats:

minute-maid-park-nolan-ryan-plaque

 

The left field entry to the park was a fun hub of things to see. There were a bunch of plaques …

minute-maid-park-outside-plaques

and a small-scale baseball field, complete with statues:

minute-maid-park-outside-diamond

 

And if you decided that you’d enjoy sitting and watching the imaginary action on the field, there was a perfect spot for you:

minute-maid-park-outside-stands

I checked out everything in this area for a little bit and it was still early enough before the game that I was essentially the only fan around. After being satisfied that I’d seen everything around the left field entry, I retraced my steps and began walking down Texas Avenue, which is the street on which the ballpark’s home plate entry is located. Much of the walk was lined with baseballs:

minute-maid-park-balls-sidewalk

Here’s what the home plate entrance looked like:

minute-maid-park-home-plate-gate

And here’s a shot of the famous tower structure that’s so highly visible from the outside of the park:

minute-maid-park-tower-outside

After I took this shot, I wandered over to the season ticketholder parking lot and the diamond club entrance, which was guarded by a security guard standing in the full sun and chugging on a 2L bottle of Dr. Pepper. I’m not sure he was getting the hydration that he thought he was. Anyway, I took this panorama from the parking lot, which is partially cut off along the bottom because the lot was lined by bushes that prevented me from getting back far enough:

minute-maid-park-outside-panorama

By now, I was starting to get really hot and I figured I had the option of asking the security guard for a swig of his Dr. Pepper or heading to the Union Station entrance and enjoying some air conditioning before the park’s actual gates opened. I chose the latter and a few minutes later, I was standing here:

minute-maid-park-union-station-entrance

With a bit of time to kill before I could get inside the park, I was happy to see that there were plenty of things to see while I waited. There were a ton of awesome displays of game-used gear and other Astros-related artifacts that were a blast to browse. Here’s a shot (pardon the glare) that shows some game-used uniforms:

minute-maid-park-houston-astros-game-used-jerseys

A display that notes the connection between the Astros and the space program:

minute-maid-park-space-items

The #132 jersey, for example, was taken into space aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2010. Awesome!

And, finally, the game-used jersey and cap that Mike Fiers wore during his no hitter at Minute Maid Park exactly a month before my visit:

houston-astros-mike-fiers-jersey-no-hitter

Once I’d perused all the displays and wandered around the room a little more, I was ready to line up to get inside the ballpark. I spent 20 minutes standing in line behind a local Little League team that was taking part in some pregame thing on the field, and then, at 5 p.m., I entered my 11th MLB park and 57th park between the majors and minors!

The Union Station entrance puts you roughly in the left field corner, so I hustled toward the field and was greeted with this sight:

minute-maid-park-houston-texas-flag

(No confusion about which state I was visiting, right?)

As you can see, the roof was thankfully closed. I was happy for the opportunity to see it open from the hotel window earlier, but given the day’s heat, had no suspicion that it’d be open for the game.

The scene on the field was as follow: The Astros were nearing the end of their batting practice and the visiting Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were getting ready to hit. Here’s what the scene looked like in panorama form from the left field foul pole:

minute-maid-park-panorama-left-field-corner

Upon taking this photo, I faced a big-time dilemma about what to do next. I love standing and watching batting practice (and seeing if I can snag a ball) but it’s hard to think about staying put when there’s an entire stadium to explore. I reached a compromise with my internal conversation by watching BP for a few minutes from this spot …

minute-maid-park-bp-view

… and then setting out to begin exploring Minute Maid Park. If you’ve seen the ballpark during TV broadcasts, you might recall the cool-looking arched structure beyond the fence in left field and left-center. It’s a standing-room area for fans during the game and immediately behind it there’s a wide walkway that runs from the left field gate area over to center. It’s a fun spot to be during BP and during the game — I got to experience both — because long home runs smack off the facing of the wall above you, which a) makes a super loud noise and b) creates a scramble below as all the fans try to grab the ball when it falls into the seats. Anyway, located in the seventh arch moving from left to right is the Home Run Pump, which tallies all the Astros home runs since they moved into Minute Maid Park. It’s a popular spot to stand during games, but since it was still about two hours before first pitch, the area was mostly isolated when I took this photo:

minute-maid-park-home-run-pump

After moving on from the Home Run Pump, I stood above Tal’s Hill, a unique (and ridiculous) feature in straightaway center:

minute-maid-park-tal's-hill

For anyone who’s wondering the #7 painted onto the hill was in honor of longtime Astro Craig Biggio, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.

I watched a few more minutes of batting practice from this spot, enjoying the hubbub of activity on the field:

minute-maid-park-center-field-bp

Next up on my stop, as I made my way down the concourse from center field to right field, was the team’s game-used and autographed memorabilia stand:

minute-maid-park-game-used-store

If I could describe this spot in one word, it would be: OhmanIneedtobuyeverythingherebuthowwillItakeithomeontheplanewithme?

I love collecting game-used stuff, as you might have read in previous posts, so I desperately wanted to buy something to remember my Houston visit — especially when I saw that lots of the stuff was more affordable than I would’ve expected. The only problem was that I hadn’t checked any luggage on my flight, so my two carry-on bags were as full as I could make them. Hmmm. What to do? Fortunately, I had two days to decide.

Here’s a cross-section of some of the cool things for sale, ranging from not very affordable — a Nolan Ryan signed jersey for $700:

minute-maid-park-nolan-ryan-autographed-jersey

To pretty darned affordable — dozens and dozens of batting practice-used jerseys for $50:

minute-maid-park-game-used-bp-jerseys

There were lots of other neat things, too, like this game-used first base with lots of cool wear:

minute-maid-park-game-used-base

And a whole host of bats:

minute-maid-park-game-used-bats

I considered my first visit to the stand a recon mission; I took stock of everything for what turned out to be multiple later visits, and then continued on my walk. When I got around to behind home plate, I saw that the Little League team I’d been standing behind was now on the field watching BP. You can see them in front of the first base dugout in this panorama:

minute-maid-park-panorama-first-base-plate

I also grabbed a shot of myself in this same spot …

minute-maid-park-malcolm-field

… before moving over to the area directly behind home plate to take the following panorama:

houston-astros-behind-home-plate-pano

At a handful of parks, security prevents you from accessing the seats behind home plate, even during BP. I was pleased to see that wasn’t a factor at Minute Maid Park. In fact, every staff member — ushers, security, etc. — I met was exceedingly courteous. Other teams could learn a thing or two from watching Houston’s staff, let me tell you. Case in point — here’s the cross-aisle in front of the Insperity Club:

minute-maid-park-seats-behind-plate

Fans were free to walk through this area before the game with no harassment from anyone. I can think of several parks off the top of my head that you can’t even dream of cutting through such an area.

I continued my walk and enjoyed taking in all the sights. It was awesome to know that I had two days to explore the stadium; no stress over trying to see everything and plenty of time to take it all in. As I walked around, I was loving the design of Minute Maid Park and, in particular, the arches. They definitely give the park a cool, vintage feel. I grabbed this shot of myself in front of some the arches and one of the park’s signs:

minute-maid-park-malcolm-sign

Eventually, I made it all the way back to the seats in the left field corner where I’d began my journey. This shot shows you the small seating section in this area, known as the “Crawford Boxes,” some of my beloved arches and the signs above that would rattle loudly when hit by batting practice home runs:

minute-maid-park-crawford-boxes

With the Angels now hitting, I wanted to find a spot in the front row behind the dugout to see the action and take some photos. Again, accessing these seats was easy and laid back; no overzealous security checking peoples’ tickets or getting people in trouble for leaning against the dugout. (The latter sounds ridiculous, but I’ve experienced it.)

Here’s a shot I got of several Angels waiting while Albert Pujols took his turn in the cage:

minute-maid-park-angels-bp

Each time after hitting, Pujols would stand on the opposite side of the cage so any photos I took of him were pretty obstructed. But, when he wrapped up his session, he made his way  semi-close to me to sign some autographs for the fans on the field:

minute-maid-park-albert-pujols-autographs

I stood behind the dugout for as long as the players were on the field, and once they moved into the clubhouses, I was on the move again, too. Since I’d already made one circuit of the main concourse, I took a climb to the upper deck where I captured the scene in this panorama:

minute-maid-park-panorama-behind-plate-upper-deck

I actually spent a little while in the upper deck just relaxing. There was a spot with a nice blast of air conditioning, so I enjoyed just hanging out and watching the scene unfold before me. The stadium was slowly starting to fill, so it was cool to see people making their way into the various sections and watch the grounds crew do its thing.

Eventually, Houston starter and eventual 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel made his way from the dugout toward the bullpen to begin his pregame throwing, so I scrambled back down to the main concourse and hustled over to find a spot close to the ‘pen. On my way, I paused briefly to snap this shot of the living roof that makes up the batter’s eye at Minute Maid Park. I haven’t seen anything like this before, I don’t think:

minute-maid-park-batters-eye-green-roof

The crowd wasn’t very thick around the home bullpen, so I was able to get a spot in the front row to watch Keuchel toss the ball around in the outfield for a while:

dallas-keuchel-houston-astros-long-toss

When he moved into the bullpen, I shifted my position slightly and found a great spot directly behind his catcher so I could take some cool straight-on photos. If you look carefully at this first one, there’s a random piece of Dubble Bubble on the mound in front of the rubber:

dallas-keuchel-houston-astros-bullpen-gum

Soon enough, Keuchel kicked the gum away; you’ll see that it’s no longer present in this photo I took a couple minutes later:

dallas-keuchel-houston-astros-bullpen

I watched the entirety of Keuchel’s bullpen session and when he headed toward the dugout a few minutes before first pitch, I found a spot in left-center where I snapped this panorama in the top of the first inning:

minute-maid-park-panorama-right-center

The first few innings breezed past, in part because the view from this spot was so perfect. Eventually, I abandoned my spot to find a seat in right-center. The overhang of the deck above provided a cool view — you could basically just see the field. I also liked the vintage-style scoreboards hanging from the ceiling:

minute-maid-park-right-center-field-view

Pretty soon, it was time to go hunting for something to eat. I’d been checking out the options during my initial walk around the concourse and, boy, was I impressed. I was also a bit of a loss — there were so many enticing items to consider. The concession stand that intrigued me the most was called Street Eats and the menu looked delicious:

minute-maid-park-food-selections

Here were the choices:

Chicken Waffle Cone: Waffle cone stuffed with mashed potatoes, fried chicken and drizzled with honey mustard and sprinkled with green onions.

Texas Hold ‘Em: Texas Toast with smoked pulled barbecue chicken, coleslaw and fried jalapenos.

Brisket Curly Fries: Curly fries topped with brisket, queso, queso fresco and green onion.

If you have the choice, which one would you go for, and why? Feel free to let me know in the comments below. As far as I was concerned, the Chicken Waffle Cone was the clear-cut winner, so that’s what I ordered. Unfortunately, the staff at Street Eats was struggling, to put it mildly. The Chicken Waffle Cone proved to be the big seller at the time, and it was nearly 25 minutes until I got mine. Ridiculous, really, but all was forgiven when I was handed this monstrosity:

minute-maid-park-food-chicken-waffle-cone

How does that look? Pretty incredible, right? Part of me wondered if — given the novelty nature of the item — it wouldn’t taste that great, but it was absolutely awesome. The fried chicken, which I’d originally suspected might be the weak link of the dish, were meaty and perfectly cooked. The potatoes were tasty and the tangy taste of the honey mustard and green onions topped everything off perfectly. I ate everything that was spilling out of the top of the cone with a fork, and then when I was left with just a waffle cone filled with mashed potatoes, I walked around the concourse eating it like an ice cream cone in order to get a few laughs.

After eating, the game was already in its late innings, so I did as I often do — put my camera away, found a seat with a perfect view of the action, put my feet up and enjoyed the rest of the game. The late innings of a game can often feel melancholy, but I certainly didn’t have any such feeling as I knew that I’d soon be headed back to a great hotel and the next day, I’d be doing everything over again. As soon as the final out took place, I hopped out of my seat, found the stadium exit across from my hotel and was looking at the exterior of the Westin at night:

westin-houston-downtown-front-night

And, I’m thankful to say, I was relaxing in my superb room about two minutes later — and eagerly anticipating my second day in Houston.

Texas Rangers – September 20

I’m in Texas!

globe-life-park-malcolm-sign

Well, not now. But I was. You know what I mean.

As you can probably tell in the above photo, I was super-duper-mega stoked to be visiting Arlington to see the Texas Rangers in action at Globe Life Park. If you’ve already read about my mammoth travel day, you’ll know that I was supposed to see the Rangers on September 19, too, but that the travel gods had different plans. Nevertheless, when I woke up on the morning of September 20, I was glad I was finally in Texas and ready to see some Lone Star State baseball.

Given that I’d now be in Arlington for only one game instead of two, I wanted to make the most out of my visit. I was thrilled to be getting a media credential for the game, which meant that I wanted to get to the park early and check things out before the gates opened.

My hotel, the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Arlington/DFW South, was just less than two miles from Globe Life Park, so I set out about 9 a.m. for the short walk down to Ballpark Way, which runs directly to — as you might guess — the park. I was so excited for my first sign of Texas baseball that I took this picture of the Ballpark Way sign:

ballpark-way-arlington-texas

Just after taking this photo, I could see Globe Life Park standing in the distance, just beyond this Chevron gas station:

globe-life-park-first-view

The excitement that was building on my walk to the park was quickly zapped when the sidewalk abruptly ended and I was left looking at a six-lane bridge over the interstate. While I was hoping there’d be a pedestrian lane, there definitely wasn’t, as you can see in this Google Street View image:

texas-rangers-street-view-ballpark-way

It didn’t seem particularly smart or legal to walk down the center island, nor take the shoulder, so I reversed my steps back to the hotel to find a different method of transportation. (By the way, you can see Globe Life Park to the right of the road in the distance. The roller coasters you see are part of the sprawling Six Flags Over Texas.)

The good news is that if you’re a guest at the hotel I visited (or several others located around the area) you can get a free trolley pass that allows you to travel easily between nearby attractions. I picked up my pass at the front desk, photographed it …

globe-life-park-trolley-ticket-arlington

… and sat at the trolley stop to wait for the next ride.

The wait wasn’t long, although it was crazy hot, and soon enough I was seated on this trolley finally heading for Globe Life Park:

globe-life-park-trolley-ride

I normally plan to visit MLB parks over the course of two days to make sure I have enough time to take in all the sights. That was the plan for this trip, of course, until my unavoidable travel delays threw a wrench into the plans. I must admit that when I hopped off the trolley and stood on the sidewalk in front of the ballpark, I was a little overwhelmed. Fortunately, the thing that got me out of my head was the beauty of the structure in front of me. Globe Life Park is simply outstanding looking and I’m already itching to go back! I love the brick, the glass and the arches that make up the park’s construction, and it was a thrill to start walking down the sidewalk and take some pictures. One of the first shots I took was this one of myself, which includes part of the park’s gorgeous design and, of course, the state flag of Texas:

malcolm-in-texas-blog

Here’s a follow-up shot that shows the pavilion in front of the park:

globe-life-park-gate-from-outside

And, of course, the scene in panoramic format, which you can click to make huge:

globe-life-park-pano-front

I spent a while checking out the scene outside the park, but not as long as I’d have liked. I was eager to get inside and soon found the media entrance:

globe-life-park-media-gate

After I’d picked up my pass, this was my first sight of the field:

globe-life-park-first-view-of-field

Ahhhhh, heavenly!

Time to feel a little overwhelmed again. This was the first time I’d had full media access to an MLB park and my mind was racing. I wanted to go to the press box. I wanted to go to the dugouts. I wanted to GO ON THE FIELD! But, as always, I also love the idea of strolling the concourse at a virtually empty park. ARGH! What to do?

(Talk about a first-world problem, eh?)

Obviously, the solution was to fit as many things in as I could. This included a walk through a stretch of the concourse …

globe-life-park-empty-concourse

… and continued with a visit to the press box. My first priority in this awesome spot, even before taking any pictures, was to get hydrated. I headed to the media dining room and devoured several glasses of ice-cold water — that Texas heat is no joke. Next, I took this photo of the field from the front of the press box:

globe-life-park-press-box-view-pregame

I spent a few minutes hanging out in this area and just enjoying the spectacular view in front of me. Most of the working media had yet to arrive, so the area was pretty quiet with the exception of a handful of people tapping on their laptops. Although I was definitely enjoying my visit in the press box, I was more than intrigued with the idea of taking the elevator down below the concourse and to the clubhouse level. I figured I could return to the press box later in the day, so I took an elevator ride and soon enough I was standing here:

globe-life-park-tunnel

The tunnel was pretty quiet, other than the occasional cart driving past or a staff member hustling somewhere. For the next several minutes, I wandered through the tunnel and saw a bunch of cool behind-the-scenes stuff. Here’s the sign outside the Rangers media room:

globe-life-park-rangers-interview-room

The stage all set for the post-game concert that would take place on the field:

globe-life-park-music-concert

And there was and endless pile of shelves containing boxes upon boxes of chips, peanuts, nachos and drinks:

globe-life-park-tunnel-food-supplies

What most intrigued me, however, was this doorway:

globe-life-park-opening-to-rangers-dugout-tunnel-1

The Rangers players walk from their clubhouse through this doorway, down a tunnel and into the dugout. So, naturally, that’s the path I took. Here’s another look at the entrance of the door. At the far end, you can see the steps leading up from the dugout to the field:

globe-life-park-opening-to-rangers-dugout-tunnel

The tunnel to the dugout was lined with cool things to see. There were lists of all the Rangers who’d won MLB awards over the years and a series of images that showed the progression of the team’s logo, which I thought was cool:

globe-life-park-rangers-tunnel-logos

Tired of tunnel coverage? No? Excellent. Here’s one final shot I took before I entered the Rangers dugout — check out the horseshoe hanging over the doorway:

globe-life-park-tunnel-to-rangers-dugout

It was obviously a huge thrill to step into a big league dugout. I’ve done it before, but only during tours and not on game day, so it was cool seeing the players’ equipment laid out in anticipation of their arrival. Here are the Rangers helmets, elbow guards and batting gloves, for example:

globe-life-park-rangers-helmets

Josh Hamilton’s gear is in the second row, second from the right, and I was close enough that I could’ve put it on. I didn’t, for the record.

The team’s benches were still empty at this point, but the drinks, snacks and gum were all carefully laid out:

globe-life-park-rangers-dugout

I spent a few moments in the dugout and was the only person there at the time. It was definitely a big moment to be standing in an MLB dugout alone just a few hours before first pitch. Soon enough, though, I was excited to climb the steps onto the field. When I did, this was the glorious view:

globe-life-park-pano-on-field

Wanting to really document this exciting moment, I took a bunch of photos.

A shot of me:

malcolm-on-field-at-globe-life-park-1

A shot of my shoes on the warning track dirt:

malcolm-on-field-at-globe-life-park-feet

A panorama from behind home plate:

globe-life-park-pano-behind-home-plate

And another shot of me from the same spot:

malcolm-on-field-at-globe-life-park

I was stoked to be standing in this spot, but I quickly noticed two things that made it even better.

1. The giant video board atop the right field seats was showing the Blue Jays/Red Sox game:

globe-life-park-video-board-jays-game

2. The Rangers began to filter out onto the field, walking right past me in the process.

globe-life-park-players-coming-onto-field

I enjoyed watching the players’ interactions with one another and, by this time, with a small group of fans that had made its way down to field level. After just hanging out and soaking up the scene for a few minutes, I wandered over to the visitors’ side where I spotted Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Taijuan Walker:

taijuan-walker-seattle-mariners-autographs

Not very often you get this vantage point of a player, right?

I soon continued toward the left field corner and stopped to take this panorama:

globe-life-park-pano-left-field-line

Here, I stood for several minutes and watched the Mariners play catch. I love watching pregame warm-ups and always take the opportunity to observe the proceeding from as close to the action as possible. I think it’s safe to say that this spot …

globe-life-park-malcolm-in-front-of-dugout

… has provided the best view of the pregame sights that I’ve encountered so far!

Although part of me was eager to begin exploring the rest of the park, I certainly wasn’t in any rush to leave the field. It was too bad that batting practice wasn’t taking place, but even just standing on the field and being so close to the players was a huge thrill in itself. The next picture I took with my brother in mind, as he’s a fan of Cholula hot sauce — plus, you’ve got to be impressed with this awesome seating setup, right?

globe-life-park-cholula-porch

Eventually, I made my way back toward home plate and looked around. An usher had just finished carefully placing peanuts, popcorn and bottled water in the fancy seats behind the screen, as you can see here:

globe-life-park-front-row-snacks

I continued to hang out on the warning track between home plate and the Texas dugout for a little while longer until the players began to filter off the field:

globe-life-park-players-leaving-field

Once most of them had left, I figured that I’d follow their lead and head off the field, too. All told, I’d spent close to an hour exploring the tunnels and walking around on the field and it was definitely one of the biggest highlights for me since I started The Ballpark Guide in 2010. Such an amazing experience!

I stepped through the gate between the field and the lower seating bowl and began making my way up toward the cross-aisle so that I could get some shots of Globe Life Park from a different angle. After taking this panorama …

globe-life-park-pano-lower-seating-bowl

… it was time to return to the concourse and take a serious look around. The thing that drew my eye the most was the absolutely incredible concession options. It’s probably not breaking news for me to inform you that Texas indeed has Texas-sized food, but seeing these creations up close made my jaw drop.

Would you like to take a break for a snack? I don’t think it’s wise to view the following pictures on an empty stomach.

Ready? OK:

globe-life-park-texas-rangers-food

This is a shot that shows the park’s five signature oversized creations. In the middle of the picture, you can see a full-sized baseball bat that works as a reference point. Keeping the bat in mind shows you just how ginormous these options are. From closest to me, you’re looking at:

  • Kaboom Kabob: A two-foot-long kabob of chicken and vegetables covered in a Teriyaki glaze and served over rice. ($16)
  • Tenaco: A two-foot-long taco shell filled with one foot of ground beef and one foot of ground chicken, topped with lettuce, nacho cheese, pico de gallo, jalapenos and sour cream. ($26)
  • Beltre Buster Burger: A one-pound burger topped with a half pound of bacon and slathered in grilled onions, Monterrey Jack cheese and served on a pretzel bun. ($26)
  • Choomongous: A two-foot-long sandwich made of Teriyaki beef and loaded with spicy coleslaw and Sriracha mayo. ($26)
  • Boomstick: A two-foot-long, one-pound hot dog covered in chili, nacho cheese, grilled onions and jalapenos and served on a hoagie roll. ($26)

Of these, the Boomstick is probably the most famous, as it has made its way around baseball-related social media since it was unveiled. But, I was pretty darned impressed and slightly morbidly curious about each of the other items, too. As much as I would’ve liked to eat one of these, it wasn’t sensible to think about tackling on my own. If I’d had a travel partner, though, I think my first choice would’ve been the Tenaco. What about you? What would you want to eat? Let me know in the comments below.

I loved how the Rangers made visibility a priority with this concession stand. Obviously, many fans would be curious to see this food, and the windows around the stand meant that people could gawk at the cooking and assembly processes. Here’s a shot I took of the kabobs and hot dogs being kept warm:

globe-life-park-texas-rangers-food-kebabs-hot-dogs

And for size context, here’s someone tending to the food:

globe-life-park-texas-rangers-food-hot-dogs

In terms of delicious-looking and huge meals, the above five were far from the few I saw. Here are three others that aren’t as big, but definitely look delicious:

globe-life-park-texas-rangers-food-butcher-block

  • Steak sandwich: Sliced steak with creamy horseradish, grilled onions, lettuce and tomato on a Ciabatta bun. ($15.50)
  • Sausage sundae: Mashed potatoes topped with parsley flakes, one scoop of brisket and one scoop of mac and cheese, all served between a split sausage. ($13.25)
  • Brisket sausage: Sausage with barbecue sauce and onions on a hoagie roll. ($10)

Hungry yet?

Despite being majorly enticed by the food options I was seeing (I was really tempted to grab the sausage sundae) I wanted to continue checking out the sights before sitting down to eat. The next stop I made was the team’s game-used area on the concourse. At this risk of overusing this analogy, it was also Texas-sized and given that I’m a big-time collector, I had a blast checking things out. Here are a couple game-used jerseys:

globe-life-park-game-used-jerseys

Game-used bases at half price:

globe-life-park-game-used-bases

By the way, a game-used base is on my bucket list of sports memorabilia. So, you know, if you’re doing any last-minute shopping ….

After the game-used section, I made a quick trip through the team shop, which was really crowded. First pitch was approaching and I wanted to get some food and grab a seat, but I first took this shot at an outstanding selection of Rangers drinkware:

globe-life-park-team-shop-cups-mugs

By now, I couldn’t ignore my excitement for some unique type of food any longer. I perused another few concession stands and found something that really enticed me: Brisket mac and cheese balls:

globe-life-park-food-brisket-mac-and-cheese-balls

What you’re looking at is a combination of brisket and mac and cheese, rolled together and formed into balls, and then breaded and deep-fried. They’re topped with nacho cheese and BBQ sauce, and I can tell you that they were absolutely delicious. Good smoky flavor from the brisket, gooey satisfaction from the mac and cheese and a nice crunch from the breading. Freaking awesome combination.

Here’s what the inside of the balls looked like:

globe-life-park-food-brisket-mac-and-cheese-balls-2

I will say, for the record, that nacho cheese in general is a complete abomination. I’ve begrudgingly eaten my fair share of it, but I always find that if it was swapped for some freshly grated cheese, the meal’s appeal would just skyrocket. Anyone with me on this?

After eating — and after a couple minutes of recovery time — I headed over to the Texas bullpen where starting pitcher Derek Holland was beginning to warm up. I was impressed with the ability to walk down into the section and right up to the rail just a handful of feet from Holland, all without any interference from the ushers. I found the Globe Life Park ushers to be extremely friendly and welcoming. In all my travels around the park (and my media pass wasn’t overtly displayed much of the time) I was never asked for my ticket or to move elsewhere. Love it!

As for Holland’s warmup, look how close I got:

derek-holland-texas-rangers

After he finished tossing and jogged to the Rangers dugout, I continued my pregame sightseeing with a trip through the restaurant above the outfield. There was quite a crowd gathered, which made me curious, so I made my way through the group and saw that longtime Rangers great Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez had just finished a segment on the local Fox Sports affiliate and was signing a few autographs for the group:

globe-life-park-pudge-rodriguez

I wasn’t close enough to get his signature and he only signed for a minute before heading off somewhere. The crowd followed him out, which meant that I had a chance to check out the restaurant …

globe-life-park-restaurant

… before descending back to the outfield concourse.

The game was just about to begin, so I took a seat in left field where I had this great view:

globe-life-park-pano-left-field-seats

Whenever I travel to a new ballpark, I always enjoy checking out the video board. I find that the way major league teams display their information varies significantly, so I’m curious about what I’ll see. Remember that huge video board above the right field seats in the photo I posted earlier? Here’s how the video quality looked:

globe-life-park-video-board-prince-fielder

After I watched a bit of the game from left field, I used my media pass to visit the seats behind home plate where I had this spectacular view:

globe-life-park-pano-behind-home-plate-game

I watched an inning or so from this spot and then decided it was time to get something else to eat. I was in the mood for something sweet; I don’t normally have desserts at the ballpark, but once again Globe Life Park was offering up so many delicious options that I needed to find something memorable. And here it is:

globe-life-park-food-bacon-waffle

What’s hiding under that mass of whipped cream and chocolate syrup, you might ask? Why, a sweet-and-savory combination of a thick slab of maple-glazed bacon wrapped in a waffle, of course. I carried this delicious treat all the way from the main concourse to the upper deck so that I could enjoy it with a new view of the stadium. On the way, an usher called me over and asked what the heck I was carrying!

I realized after I’d finished eating my dessert that I’d neglected to take a photo of my media credential. If you follow my blog, you’ll likely have seen dozens of these photos over the years, but because my Rangers one was stuck to me rather than hanging around my neck on a lanyard, I had to turn my camera around and take a picture of the pass stuck to my shorts:

globe-life-park-press-pass-malcolm

My next mission was to use my GoPro to take some time-lapse shots of Globe Life Park that I could turn into a YouTube video. I’ve done a few of these in the past and am starting to get the hang of it. I’ve always been fond of time-lapse stuff and I’m definitely going to be doing it at each of my future ballpark visits. In the past, I’ve published a time-lapse video I shot at a Syracuse Chiefs game and another that I shot from my hotel window in Pittsburgh. Feel free to check either of them out — and, while you’re at it, I’d love if you’d consider subscribing to my YouTube channel! Anyway, I set up my GoPro on the ledge of the upper deck …

globe-life-park-go-pro-mounted

… and shot several hundred photos over the course of part of an inning that I turned into this video:

As I sat while my GoPro went to work, I had a good view of the pavilion in center field and the suites that you often see when you’re watching the Rangers on TV:

globe-life-park-center-field-suites

After I’d finished my time-lapse shots, I took a walk around the upper-deck concourse and was surprised so see that fans are allowed to smoke in this area, provided they’re within a designated area. I don’t know if I can think, off-hand, of another MLB park in which you can actually smoke inside it. Looking outside the stadium from the upper deck provides you with some great views of local attractions. From here, I could see the nearby Six Flags amusement park …

six-flags-dallas-arlington

… and AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys:

at&t-stadium-dallas-cowboys

If you’re wondering what the area outside the park looks like as a panorama, here’s your answer:

globe-life-park-pano-outside-park

My next stop after the upper deck was back to the press box, where I had some water and lemonade and enjoyed the air conditioning for a few innings. Most of the seats along the press box’s upper level are reserved, but I was able to grab an empty spot where I could see most of the field and also watch the game broadcast on a TV right in front of me:

globe-life-park-press-box-view-game

The above photo ended up being the last shot I took inside Globe Life Park. After I snapped this photo, I went back down to the concourse and watched the game’s remaining innings from various spots with my camera in my backpack. When the game ended, I went outside and looked for a trolley that I could ride back to my hotel. I found one, but it wasn’t set to depart just yet, so I took a short walk to snap the photos that I could turn into this big panorama:

globe-life-park-pano-outside

Then, it was time to hop onto the shuttle, listen to the Dallas Cowboys game on the radio (they were on the road, not playing just across the parking lot) and head back to my hotel. I dropped my gear off, took a short walk to a nearby steakhouse and — in a move that might tick off Ron Swanson — bought a salad to take back and eat in my room where I relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Although I was late getting to Dallas, I had an absolutely amazing time. I would’ve loved to see two games at Globe Life Park and have more time to explore the sights and, let’s be honest, fill my gullet with more delicious food. But, hey, maybe I’ll be there again soon — I certainly hope so!

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to sharing two blog posts about two awesome days in Houston. Keep an eye out for them!

Curious about my next travel adventures? Be sure to follow me on Twitter for my latest updates.

My Longest Travel Day Ever – September 19

What’s the earliest you’ve ever set your alarm clock?

For me, it was 12:30 a.m. on September 19. After I’d slept for about four hours, the beeping of my alarm signaled the start of a long day of travel that would take me from Ontario to Detroit and, ultimately, Dallas/Fort Worth.

When I booked my flight to Texas several weeks earlier, I decided that it made sense to fly out of Toronto, despite the fact that I live between four and 4.5 hours away. Using Toronto for my departure meant that I could get a shorter flight to Dallas, although I’d be stopping for a quick layover in Detroit. Since I wanted to get to Dallas early enough to check into my hotel in the suburb of Arlington and get ready for the night’s Texas Rangers game at Globe Life Park, it meant leaving Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in the morning.

My flight was scheduled for 10:16 a.m., so I figured it would make sense to drive to Toronto the night before, grab a hotel near the airport and then catch an early-morning shuttle over to my terminal. Of course, being a cheapskate frugal, I bristled at the idea of paying for a hotel room that I’d sleep in for just a few hours — hence my decision to sleep in my own bed, get up at 12:30 a.m. and drive through the night to Toronto. I pulled out of my driveway less than half an hour after waking up and, thanks to a shortage of traffic along the route, parked my car at Pearson about 5:30 a.m. — much earlier than necessary, granted, but I couldn’t risk cutting it too close because of a flat tire or another unforeseen event along the way.

Despite being a relatively unseasoned air traveler, I found my terminal — thanks to some obsessive map checking ahead of time — and was soon standing in the security checkpoint line with several dozen other bleary-eyed travelers. When I reached the customs counter, I was blown away at how quickly the process went compared to driving through customs. The conversation literally was:

CBP agent: Destination?

Me: Dallas, then Houston.

CBP agent: Business or pleasure?

Me: Pleasure. I’m going to some baseball games.

CBP agent: Have a good trip.

On the many times I’ve passed through border checkpoints on my baseball road trips, I’ve been asked questions about which teams I’m seeing, which hotels I’m visiting, why I go to so many baseball games, whether I’m meeting anyone, whether I’m playing in any of the games (!), what food I’m carrying and a bunch more. Does anyone else find that airport customs is easier than road customs?

I normally blog about my baseball trip plans in advance, but for this trip I wanted the details to be a surprise. I’d shared that I’d be traveling but hadn’t told anyone the specific details, so I was obviously pretty pumped to finally get through security, find a seat and send out this tweet:

first-texas-trip-tweet

 

With a couple hours to kill before boarding my Delta flight, I wandered around Terminal 3, occasionally stopping to watch the planes and take photos of the early-morning scene on the tarmac:

toronto-pearson-airport-out-the-window

Eventually, it was time to board the small jet that would take me to the Motor City and, soon enough, we were in the air and I was peering out my window at Toronto as it passed below:

toronto-from-air

The flight to Detroit was scheduled for just over an hour and it was awful. Despite the clear skies in this photo …

sky-from-plane-to-detroit

… the trip was rife with enough turbulence that I had to really concentrate to avoid getting sick. What made me feel more nauseous, though, was seeing the Detroit arrival time of 11:25 a.m. come and go with us still in the air and yet to begin our descent. I knew that my 48-minute layover in Detroit wasn’t a lot of time to get to my next departure gate even if we were right on time, but arriving late was a major concern.

The flight attendant soon announced that because of poor weather, we’d taken something of a detour in the air and it had lengthened our flight. By the time we touched down in Detroit, it was 11 minutes before my flight to Dallas was scheduled to depart. I checked my departure gate and compared it with the arrival gate I was standing in, and had to actually chuckle. The two gates were comically almost as far away as they could be, as you’ll see below. The bottom red star is where we arrived and the top red star is where I had to get to:

detroit-airport-map-my-route

Determined to give it my best effort, I set out with my backpack on my shoulders and my rolling carry-on bag dragging behind me to run through the airport like a cliched scene out of the movies. The distance between the two gates was more than a mile, and with several sets of stairs and crowds to navigate, I didn’t reach my departure gate until the plane to Dallas was set to leave.

But wait — the departure had been bumped back 10 minutes! I stood and peered through the terminal window to see my plane sitting there, just taunting me. Unfortunately, I also caught sight of a huge sign pointing out that the plane doors would be shut, by law, 20 minutes before the scheduled time of departure. I pleaded my case — somewhat loudly, one might argue — to the airline rep but rules are rules, and soon I was standing alone at the gate, feeling slightly embarrassed at how sweaty I was from my run as I watched my plane to Texas begin to taxi away.

I knew that because my missed flight wasn’t my doing, Delta would just put me on the next available flight, so I made my way to the customer service desk, told my sob story and waited for the agent to print my next boarding pass. He quickly got me booked on the next flight to Dallas, but my eyes bugged out of my head when I saw that it was scheduled to depart 7.5 hours later.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

Yep, 7.5 hours.

That’s 450 minutes, for those keeping score.

This meant that when the Texas Rangers would be taking the field that evening, I’d still be sitting in Detroit. No game for me on this night, so I was sure glad I’d scheduled my trip to allow for two days in Dallas/Arlington.

The Delta agent apologized and handed me a voucher for free lunch at the airport, which was a nice consolation prize. I figured there wasn’t anything I could do but make the most of my long layover, so I wiped some more sweat off myself and began the prospect of hunting for lunch.

Fortunately, I was hugely impressed with Detroit Metropolitan Airport. It was loaded with enticing lunch options, and I found a LongHorn Steakhouse; if I wasn’t going to be eating dinner in Texas tonight, at least I’d have some red meat and look at a pair of bull horns mounted on the wall. I went with a half-pound burger loaded with bacon and blue cheese and a side of Caesar salad. No photo, unfortunately; I think I was still in a state of shock over my predicament.

I won’t give you a minute-by-minute account of the next seven hours spent at the airport. I will say, however, that I did walk just about every foot of the terminal and could probably draw you a map of everything with no effort. If the airport was closer to downtown, I’d have been tempted to hail a taxi and take a trip to Comerica Park, just to take some photos.

The coolest thing I saw at the airport was the famous Light Tunnel, which connects separate sections of the terminal. It feels like you’re entering a different dimension — the tunnel walls and roof light up in a variety of colors in time with music that’s pumped through the area. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and is difficult to explain. Sensing that I’d have trouble putting the sight into words, I used my GoPro to film a trip through the tunnel. Check it out — and crank up the volume to get the full effect:

While the Light Tunnel was great, and this fountain was also cool …

detroit-airport-fountain

… I was mostly looking at scenes like this:

detroit-airport-empty-seats

In between walks, I’d find a semi-quiet place to sit and listen to my iPod next to a charging station. I’d sit for a while, and then grab my suitcase and roll through the terminal from end to end for what usually felt like the 79th time. This was the pattern I repeated until, during one pass through the terminal, I noticed a set of escalators that I’d somehow missed before. Figuring I was embarking on some uncharted territory, I excitedly began the ride down but had a moment of panic when I saw the escalators ended straight in front of a pair of sliding glass doors — doors that opened into the non-secured part of the airport. When I reached the end, I quickly turned around to gauge the pedestrian traffic behind me, thinking I’d make a sprint back up my escalator. Clearly, a security guard who was watching me was reading my mind, and said, “It’s against the law to try to go back up. Try it and you’ll be arrested and fined.”

Dejected, I exited through the glass doors, explained my predicament at a customer service desk and was pointed in the direction of the security checkpoint. That’s right, I’d have to go through the entire security check process again!

Fortunately, the process went smoothly — and I even had the good fortune of having my hands swabbed for explosives — and 30 or 40 minutes later I was back in the secured part of the terminal pacing around as I had before.

About the same time as first pitch in the Rangers game, I was finally seated on my flight to Dallas and took my last photo of the day — a shot of the Detroit tarmac as the sun was setting:

detroit-airport-before-takeoff

The flight from Detroit to Dallas was much smoother and the view coming into Dallas at night was spectacular. I didn’t shoot any photos, as they’d hardly do the view justice, but I could see several landmarks I recognized, including the Bank of America Plaza, which is famous for its green outline at night.

It was between 10 and 11 p.m. when we touched down in Dallas — the times were starting to be a blur at this point — and the airport was absolutely dead except for the people off my flight and a janitor buffing the floor. It seemed like an “empty airport” movie cliche. In any case, I found a taxi quickly and arrived in my Arlington hotel sometime between 11 p.m. and midnight. By the time I went to bed, I’d been up for more than 24 hours and, staggeringly, also up for about 44 of the last 48 hours. That’s a stretch that’s tough to beat, right?

No time to fuss over being tired, though. In less than 12 hours, I’d be touring around Globe Life Park with a media pass provided by the Rangers.

Pittsburgh Pirates – August 30

Spending two days in the same city is always a blast, so after a great first day in Pittsburgh, I was excited to rise early on August 30 and get my second day underway. The Pirates were once again hosting the Rockies at PNC Park, but unlike a day before, the game was an afternoon game. This is the best possible scenario for baseball road trippers — you get to experience the park both at night and during the afternoon on subsequent days.

I took a look out my hotel window as soon as I got up and saw that the weather looked perfect over downtown Pittsburgh, which was a good way to start my day:

downtown-pittsburgh-morning-view-pano

So, I packed up quickly and headed out in search of adventure. As usual, I wanted to get into the ballpark as soon as the gates opened, but being up early meant that I had a good chance to explore some of the sights around the ballpark, including Point State Park, which is the spot where the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela rivers meet. It’s also the place with the giant fountain that you often see on TV broadcasts when you’re watching the Pirates. For a quiet Sunday morning, there was lots to check out at this tourist-friendly park, and I’ll be sharing some photos and anecdotes in an upcoming off-season blog post.

For now, though, I’ll share this shot of PNC Park taken from the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, which I walked along to Point State Park:

pnc-park-from-across-river

And here’s a shot of me on the trail with the ballpark in the background:

malcolm-in-front-of-pnc-park-2

I spent a couple hours playing tourist before retracing my steps, crossing the Roberto Clemente Bridge and getting in line to enter PNC Park. As soon as I got inside, I went straight down to field level on the Rockies side where I planned to get an autograph or two. As I waited, I watched pitcher Yohan Flande do some jogging back and forth. I positioned myself directly in front of him and shot a bunch of photos, including this one:

yohan-flande-colorado-rockies

It was sort of a funny moment — I shot photos for several minutes, and he silently ran toward me, then away from me, and then back toward me. He never acknowledged me with a nod or anything — not that you’d expect him to — but did sort of quizzically look at me a few times. I wonder if he was questioning why the heck I was standing there shooting photo after photo.

After Flande left, I gathered with some other fans to watch the soon-to-be-retired A.J. Burnett chatting with three members of the Rockies and teammate Jeff Locke:

pnc-park-players-before-game

It was cool to see Locke in person in the major leagues; I previously saw him pitch with the Double-A Altoona Curve way back in June of 2011 while visiting the Harrisburg Senators. You can see a photo of him from that day here.

Soon enough, Colorado reliever Christian Friedrich approached where I was standing and began signing autographs. He was a first-round pick in 2008, taken three spots ahead of 2015 MLB all-star Gerrit Cole. I normally don’t like getting autographs on tickets, but I didn’t have anything else handy, so I handed him my ticket from yesterday’s game and got it signed:

pnc-park-christian-friedrich-autograph-ticket

After I’d received the autographed and tucked it safely away in my backpack, I shot this panorama from field level:

pnc-park-field-level-pano

If you look carefully, you can actually see Friedrich signing on the far left.

Before leaving the area in search of something to eat that would technically play the role of my breakfast, I took a shot of the out-of-town scoreboard:

pnc-park-out-of-town-scoreboard

While the scoreboard itself is cool, take a look at the area directly above where it says “National League” and “American League.” This is the viewing area that I mentioned in my previous post and also referenced when I wrote about visiting PNC Park last season. It’s a great spot to enjoy the game and while the first row is reserved for wheelchairs, you can often enjoy an inning or two standing against the concrete wall. If you plan on visiting PNC Park, make it a priority to watch some of the game from this spot if you can.

My quest for some food led me to the Quaker Steak & Lube concession stand near Section 110. I often eat at the QS&L stand at Rogers Centre in Toronto and had some delicious onion rings at the PNC Park location during my visit last August.

Amusingly enough, those onion rings served as my breakfast during that 2014 Sunday matinee game. Now, almost exactly a year to the day later, I was standing in line to buy chicken wings that was serve as breakfast. Apparently, my eating habits have not improved.

As for the wings, they weren’t Quaker Steak & Lube’s best effort. In fact, I’d say they were the worst QS&L wings I’ve eaten at a ballpark. Dry, not flavorable and only slightly above room temperature are three drawbacks to chicken wings in my book. Nevertheless, here they are:

pnc-park-food-quaker-steak-lube-wings

As you might’ve noticed from the background of the chicken wings picture, I’d eaten in the upper deck on the first base side. Once I finished eating, I realized that I could see my hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown, from where I sat — which makes sense, I suppose, given that I could see PNC Park from my hotel room! Here’s a shot that shows the hotel and a bunch of Pittsburgh’s iconic bridges:

pnc-park-upper-deck-view-hotel

As first pitch approached, I went off in search of some more food, given that the chicken wings didn’t really satisfy. My quest took me down to the Riverwalk area and, in particular, the Rita’s Italian Ice concession stand. I’m a big fan of this sort of icy frozen treat, and I ordered the black cherry flavor:

pnc-park-food-rita's-ice

I’m pleased to report it was delicious and included several actual black cherry chunks; I’m slightly embarrassed to report that this sugar-laden snack was technically part of my breakfast.

Part of my priority for this visit was to watch the game from various vantage points that I hadn’t visited a day earlier. As I walked toward a cool area you’ll see in just a minute, I stopped to take this shot of the Roberto Clemente statue and the area around it:

pnc-park-roberto-clemente-statue

The statue is directly outside the gates, as you can see, but I think this photo does a good job of showing just how close the Clemente Bridge is to the park’s gates. As you can see, the bridge and the gates are just a few steps apart.

(Also, there appears to be a real-life pirate at the bottom of the photo.)

After taking this shot, I cut through the air conditioned Hall of Fame Club, which is located behind the left field seats. This area is impressive — it’s an upscale eatery with a view of the field and an extensive bar and menu, but it’s also open to anyone with a ticket. Whereas some upscale spots in MLB parks aren’t accessible, this one is definitely fun for everyone to check out. Directly outside the Hall of Fame Club sits a standing-room area, which is where I stood to watch the game’s opening innings with this view:

pnc-park-left-field-view-pano

You don’t get the downtown Pittsburgh skyline from this spot, but I think you’ll agree that the view is outstanding.

I next watched some of the game from this spot on the third base side of home plate:

pnc-park-main-level-view-pano

The overhang limits your full view of the city’s skyline, but it’s easy enough to see if you simply duck a little. After a couple more innings in this spot, I watched a little from the Riverwalk and then set off for another few laps around beautiful PNC Park to take in the sights. Many of the shots I took during my walk were similar to those I showed in my last blog post, so I won’t duplicate them here.

When the game wrapped up, I made the short walk back to the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-outside

As you might have read in my previous post, this hotel is awesome for baseball fans visiting Pittsburgh. Its close proximity to PNC Park means you can comfortably walk to and from the game and won’t have to fuss over parking. There are a number of key tourist attractions, including those that I visited before the game, within an easy walk from the hotel.

The rooms are awesomely spacious, too — here’s a shot of just part of my suite:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-room02

I’m not sure when I’ll be back in Pittsburgh, but I do know that when it comes time to book my hotel room, I won’t hesitate to contact the Hampton Inn for a third time.

Next up, I’ll have a bunch of posts about my outstanding trip to Texas!

Pittsburgh Pirates – August 29

After spending August 28 with the independent Washington Wild Things, it was time to take a step up to the big leagues with a trip to Pittsburgh for a pair of Pirates games. I had the chance to visit the Steel City last season and loved PNC Park, so it was a no brainer to return again this year. I stayed in the same hotel as last year, too, and you can read more about that awesome experience later in this post.

Since Washington is on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, I got to the city well before my 3 p.m. hotel check-in time and the 7 p.m. Pirates game, so I spent a few hours at the Senator John Heinz History Center, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that also features the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum and is located directly across the street from my hotel. I took a ton of pictures during my visit and will be sharing them in an off-season post.

When I got into my hotel room, I took the following photo that shows the great view out one of my room’s windows:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-window-view

The tall stadium lights you see close to the center of the image are, you guessed it, PNC Park. If you think the view looks familiar, you’re right! My hotel room view was virtually identical last season. In fact, I might have been staying in the exact same room.

After relaxing for a bit, I packed up my camera stuff and began the short walk over to PNC Park. The route between the hotel and the ballpark takes you right along the edge of the Allegheny River on a picturesque pathway that looks like this:

pittsburgh-bridges

Part of the path was flooded during my visit in 2014, so it was nice to be able to walk the length of the route this time. Once I’d walked for a few minutes, I could clearly see the PNC Park sign, framed below the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which is closed to vehicles and used by pedestrians on Pirates game days:

pnc-park-clemente-bridge-from-sidewaljk

As I did last year, I crossed the bridge by walking right down the center line …

pnc-park-clemente-bridge-walk

… but this year, I noticed a cool detail on the images painted on the bike lanes — the cyclist is wearing a Pirates cap, Clemente’s #21 jersey and old-school stirrups:

pnc-park-clemente-bridge-bike-lane

I got to the park about an hour before the gates opened and the crowd, as expected, was bananas. It was Bill Mazeroski statue giveaway day, which meant that fans were lining up very early to ensure they got their hands on the keepsake. I wasn’t too worried about getting in line right away. I knew that I’d be among the first 10,000 fans to enter PNC Park, which meant I’d get a statue whether I was at the start of the line or toward the end of it.

So, once I picked up my ticket …

pnc-park-ticket

… I walked around to the home plate entrance to take this panorama that shows the Honus Wagner statue and the ballpark behind it:

pnc-park-pano-wagner-statue

As you can see, the crowds in this area were pretty minor. That’s because the park’s Riverwalk entrance, which is located adjacent to the Roberto Clemente Bridge, opens 30 minutes before all the other gates in the park. After shooting these photos, I walked toward the river, where there’s a Mazeroski statue that many fans gather around:

pnc-park-bill-mazeroski-statue

After shooting this photo and taking a brief look at the river, I lined up at the right field gate and was only about a dozen people from the head of the line:

pnc-park-right-field-gate

Within a few minutes, the line was growing and I noticed the guy directly behind me was randomly munching on a chicken wing. I figured he’d maybe carried it from a nearby sports bar, but I was downright confused when he finished it and mysteriously produced another one. Since he was right behind me, I couldn’t blatantly turn around to eye up where the wings were coming from, but he certainly wasn’t holding a take-out container. My guess was that he had them stashed in a grocery bag he was carrying, and they kept coming out one or another over the next 15 minutes or so. A short while later, the eating stopped and his wife arrived … with a giant container of chicken wings in her hands. I wasn’t invited to their feast, for the record.

When the gates opened a short while later, I took this quick shot of my boxed statue …

pnc-park-bill-mazeroski-figure

… before making a beeline for the seats in right-center so I could watch a few minutes of batting practice with this perfect view:

pnc-park-pano-batting-practice

Next, I visited the Chevrolet kiosk where I filled out a questionnaire in order to receive this bag, which I’ll probably give away over the off-season in some sort of contest:

pnc-park-pirates-chevrolet-bag

It took a while to get the bag, given the crazy crowds at PNC Park. With the Pirates doing so well, it seemed like half the city of Pittsburgh was in attendance. While the Riverwalk wasn’t hugely crowed, this is what the main concourse looked like:

pnc-park-concourse-crowd

Yikes.

I s-l-o-w-l-y made my way through the crowd until I made it over to the rotunda in left field, where I climbed to the top and shot this panorama:

pnc-park-pano-rotunda

By this time, the pre-game festivities were starting and they were special. The Pirates were honoring their 1960 World Series team, which meant that Mazeroski and several of his teammates were in attendance. Although I was far from home plate, I could comfortably see the baseball legends gathered on the field …

pnc-park-pirates-1960-world-series-team

… and due to my location on the rotunda, I also had a great view of the video board, which loomed next to me on my left. After first pitch, I watched a little bit of the game from the rapidly filling rotunda before heading back to the Riverwalk in search of something to eat. First, I snapped this panorama of the downtown Pittsburgh skyline:

pnc-park-pano-river-and-city-view

If you’re not familiar with PNC Park, perhaps its biggest appeal is the magnificent view of the city it provides. Whenever you walk on the side of the park closest to the river, you’ll always see fans standing and shooting photos of the view. It’s definitely an awesome feature.

I wanted to find something to eat along the Riverwalk area, simply because it wasn’t as crowded and I figured I might be able to find a bench to sit down while I ate. My choice was a plate of Riverwalk fries, which is a serving of fries topped with cheese sauce, bacon bits, chives and sour cream:

pnc-park-riverwalk-fries

Although I’m not a fan of the fake stadium cheese, the meal was tasty. The fries were actually really good, which sort of surprised me. The toppings were substantial and, overall, the meal was definitely filling. If you’re a fry lover, I definitely recommend checking this out during your next visit to PNC Park.

By the time I’d finished eating, the sun was starting to set. That’s one thing about ballgames in late August — you don’t have a lot of time to take photos with the daylight. I spent an inning or two watching the action, and then returned to the Riverwalk to hang out. I was amused to notice that even though I couldn’t see the game from where I was standing, it was a blast to just hang out on the Riverwalk and watch the boats, skyline and anything else that caught my eye, while also following the game on the nearby TV screens — and I certainly wasn’t the only person taking this approach. Still, as a baseball fan, I could only stay away from the on-field action for so long, and soon found myself standing in the viewing area above the scoreboard in right field. The front part of this section is reserved for fans in wheelchairs, but others tend to grab a standing spot against the wall and can enjoy a great view of the action. Here was my view:

pnc-park-scoreboard-view

Once I’d enjoyed this area for a bit, want to guess where I went? If you picked the Riverwalk, you win! I often find that it’s a challenge to take decent nighttime photographs, so I wanted to use the perfect view to fiddle with my camera’s settings and find something that would work. I’ll spare you all the super-dark and washed-out images that I went through until I was able to get shots like this one:

pnc-park-clemente-bridge-night

By the way, the Riverwalk area I keep talking about? Well, it looked like this during my visit:

pnc-park-riverwalk-night

Despite the appeal of this cool area, I climbed up to the upper deck where I had a great view of the game. I sort of snuck toward the edge of the seating area to take a series of photos but was quickly spotted by an usher. I prepared to be told to scram, but instead I was pleasantly surprised with how he addressed me: “Spend all the time you want,” he said. “In fact, why don’t you stand in my spot?” He pointed to the little alcove on the end of the section that he’d previously been occupying and I thanked him profusely. Since I run into crabby ushers more than I’d like, I was thrilled with how friendly this guy was. I explained that I’d come a long way to visit PNC Park and that I appreciated him letting me shoot from this angle. “Don’t mention it,” he said. “This is your park.”

This outstanding vantage point allowed me to shoot a bunch of photos, including my beloved Riverwalk from above:

pnc-park-riverwalk-night-above

A panorama of the park from way up high:

pnc-park-pano-upper-deck

And the crowded rotunda, where I’d stood earlier:

pnc-park-rotunda-night

I spent the remainder of the game basically repeating the pattern I’d enjoyed since the start of my visit — some time on the rotunda, some time on the Riverwalk and some time spent simply wandering around and enjoying the sights.

When the game wrapped up, I was excited to get back to my hotel, the Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown. As I said earlier, I stayed at this hotel when I visited Pittsburgh last season, and it was so perfect that I was definitely excited to visit again. Since I stayed for two nights this time, I’ll be sharing some details about the hotel in this post and my next post, but let’s start with the location. The hotel is one mile from PNC Park, which is a perfect walking distance before and after the game — and I can assure you that I was comfortably back in my hotel room before many fans were on the road heading home. The hotel also doesn’t charge for parking, which is extremely rare among downtown hotels and a huge perk if you’re looking for ideal accommodations close to PNC Park.

Here’s a shot of the hotel taken earlier in the day while it was still bright out:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-outside

And here’s a shot of my room, which had a sofa and an ottoman, desk, king-sized bed and a bunch of other great features:

hampton-inn-suites-pittsburgh-downtown-room

Need more reasons to pick this hotel for your next baseball trip? It’s one of the top Pittsburgh hotels on TripAdvisor, has a great fitness center and indoor pool (which I enjoyed the following day of my visit), free Wi-Fi, complimentary breakfast and more. One of the other intangibles is the great view. I could see PNC Park out my window and also had a perfect vantage point of the city’s downtown skyline. I used my GoPro the following night to shoot this time-lapse video of night falling over the city:

My day in Pittsburgh seemed to go very quickly, but the good news is that I’d get to enjoy another day seeing the Pirates in action, exploring the city on foot and hanging out in my hotel. I’ll have that blog post up soon!