Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Bobble Reds

Fresh from our Hall of Fame BP session, Thomas and I forged ahead on our great, American adventure, gunning the boat 90 miles upstream to Great American Ballpark.

And Cincinnati, Ohio, our 6th state in just 3 days. There, waiting for us, the hometown favorite Reds, or Red Stockings, aka the Big Red Machine. A's rivals in the 1990 World Series, when Jose Canseco predicted Oakland would sweep it, only for the exact opposite to happen.

All grudges were set aside, however, for Mat Latos bobble head giveaway night. For the 2nd night in a row, Thomas bartered with a scalper to snag us field level seats on the cheap. America at its finest.

We had heard rumors the Great American was a bandbox, and flexing our muscles in the Slugger Factory cage had put us in a home run humor. To our advantage, the Reds were playing the Rockies, a team whose home field Coors grooms some serious sluggers of their own. Even better, the Reds were starting someone I'd never heard of, and the Rockies were starting Jon Garland, who was a decent pitcher approximately 10 years ago.

This game did not disappoint. It featured two towering Troy Tulowitzki homers, and not one, not two, but 3! Carlos Gonzalez cranks, one at an estimated 476 feet. (As Carlos was on my fantasy team, this boded quite well for me. But to be considerate visiting fans, we admired the blasts with subdued golf-claps.)

While both teams were crushing moonshots left, right and center, Thomas and I wandered out to the giant Riverboat beyond the outfield whose columns light up in flames every time a Reds pitcher strikes someone out. Unfortunately for the Reds, there was still plenty of lighter fluid in those giant tiki torches by the end of this one.

What else we learned: Red fans love Joey Votto. Like, they're obsessed. One dude even wrote a song about him that he somehow found a way to publish on iTunes while, evidently, having no musical talent whatsoever. I mean, the guy went 0-4 in about 8 pitches and they still cheered him on.

It was also at this point we began to realize that a steady diet of bratwurst and beer was not going to pay off in the long run, so we opted for the healthier chicken sandwich option, which was a solid switch.

Finally, in spite of a poor audition in front of us A's fans, the Reds are a good team, and one we thought the A's could see in a rematch of the 1990 Series this year. Though, thanks to fast-forwarding time another 4 months to October 2nd, 2013, our crystal ball has told us a rematch is not in the cards, as the Reds would lose to the Pirates in the one-game wild card playoff.

Final Score: Rockies 12, Reds 4

Slugger at the Bat

The morning after our epic Cardinals game, Buzz and I rolled out of St. Louis and headed due east toward Cincinnati. We began our trip with the great art of the East St. Louis McDonald's where Buzz and I took our breakfast.

Shortly we reached the great state of Indiana. It turns out Indiana is pretty huge. And comprised of long stretches of isolated roads. But they do have White Castle:
I will say it was surprisingly pretty in the south of the state, with rolling hills, winding roads, and idyllic horse farms. We got pretty close to stopping in the alluringly-named town of Santa Claus, Indiana, but decided we needed to press onward.
Eventually, we reached the mighty Ohio River and crossed into Kentucky. One and only stop: Louisville and its famous bat factory.
Louisville Slugger still makes all its bats right at this factory. The tour walked us through the evolution of their bat making, from an original individual hand carved lathing station to their cutting edge machine, named something like the BFG 2000, that magically turns out bats every 30 seconds, each with immaculate precision and hairline tolerances.
Slugger still has contracts with many of the big stars, including Joey Votto, David Wright, Dustin Pedroia, and Brandon Phillips. MLB underwrites the bats for big leaguers, and they order them by the case.

By far the coolest part of the tour was the batting cage tucked away at the back of the factory. If you are not looking for it you will miss it. This is the best kept secret deal there: you can get the cage with any of their stars' bat models and swing away for the dirt cheap price of $1.00 per 10 balls.
Buzz and I hit it hard. At first I picked out the Ty Cobb bat. The guy chuckled when he handed it to me and said, "you're a better man than I." At 42 ounces, it felt like a Fred Flintstone club. I quickly traded it in for the Brandon Phillips model. All told, we tried Longoria, Wright, Pedroia, and Phillips.
Buzz was a gap hitter with power to the alleys. I stroked a few doubles and went oppo to the right field wall.
While we cranked bombs in the cage, Louisville Slugger artisans painstakingly prepared a customized bat for me. I chose the Hornsby style with its dark stained ash and gold leafed embossing. It was a work of beauty.

After getting our big hits and padding our stats, Buzz and I wrapped things up just as the factory closed down at 5:00. Good timing. We still had some driving to do.

Nightcap in Cincy featuring Reds and Rox!


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Get Your Kicks

Tuesday morning found us across the border in Joliet, northern Illinois, prepped for a retro cruise south down Route 66 toward St. Louis.

Our first stop was a pure maple 'sirup' shop in Funks Grove, and after pulling up to an isolated wood cabin flanked by rocking chairs and a wood chipper out back, we feared for our lives. However, the lady inside turned out to be not homicidal and we made it out with organic sirup that we purchased voluntarily.

Later in Atlanta, IL we found a giant statue of Paul Bunyon holding a hot dog, and ate patty melts at a 50s style diner across the street. Turns out the patty melts would come back to haunt us as we found our car nearly out of gas and our stomachs full of it.

After an important fuel pitstop in Mt. Olive (which randomly earned us two scratchers for half-priced Cardinals tickets that didn't actually scratch), we hit the capital of Springfield to tour Lincoln's law offices, pay our respects to the original floorboards and contemplate the relevance of Sarah Palin bobble head dolls in the gift shop.

By evening, we crossed the mighty Mississip into St. Louis and found a view of the gateway arch from our hotel room.

Busch Stadium was a sea of cardinal-red-clad, fired up Midwesterners who were passionate about the team. Their opponents, the Arizona D-backs, blew a 3-run lead, which seemed to signal their sure demise as the Big Mac deck in left field started rocking to the comeback. To everyone's shock, however, Allen Craig and the hometown birds couldn't deliver that game-winning hit in the 9th, and this one would go to extras.

5 extras, to be exact. By the 14th inning, shortly after midnight, these birds would be snake-bitten by a Paul Goldschmidt single with a man on. Thomas and I were secretly rooting for a Diamondback win, (though the St. Louis fans were supportive and rowdy, I just don't admire Matt Holliday's 'tude' and the Cards' playoff luck) so this was another 'W' in my book, and also another 'W' by the visiting team on our trip.

Diamondbacks 7, Cardinals 6: F/14


Monday, 3 June 2013

This Is Good, This Is Real Good

The 757 to Milwaukee?

No that's not your plane, yours is this one rollin in...

Our first stop of Stadium Tour, Round 2 was a spur of the moment Sunday afternoon jaunt down 880 to see our beloved A's. Biggie and Virginia were there to give Thomas and me their blessings for the trip (V took convincing, but Uncle Biggie bribed her with a giant foam A's cowboy hat and a lollipop.) Turns out this was the perfect sendoff as the A's nipped the White Sox 2-0 on getaway day at the Coliseum to complete the sweep.

We then followed the boys in green and gold out to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a Monday night game versus the hometown Brewers. But, not before donning cheese hats at the airport and later touring the Pabst Brewery. Apparently, the 1953 Red Sox once did the same tour 60 years ago, and they had the name book to prove it.

Inspired, we tailgated on Schlitz's and PBRs in the Miller parking lot (irony) and watched local fans play corn-hole (apparently not as dirty as it sounds). We were about to head in when a seagull (lake Michigan gull?) deposited a shit directly on my sternum, which happened to be covered by my Athletics hoodie. Fearing this to be an omen for the game, we cleaned and stowed the hoodie back in the rental car prior to entry.

Miller Park was beautiful and eerie with the massive clam shell roof closed. At about half capacity, the fans' echoes made it sound like a giant indoor water park.

Very quickly, Marco Estrada and the Brewers 'swam' into trouble when Coco Crisp deposited a pitch into the right field bleachers to lead off the game. Apparently, the sea gull crap was, in fact, a foreshadowing of the quality of the Brewers pitching and defense that night. By the 4th, this one was turning into a laugher, with the A's ahead by six and eventually winning by 8. Even the ebullient Bob Uecker sounded bored calling the play-by-play by the 7th, though we loved hearing his classic voice humming through the main concourse speakers.

We experienced most of the carnage as quietly and respectfully as we could from the right field 'party deck,' thanks to free seats, beer and brats from Rob, whose company helped build the stadium roof and deck. Turns out Rob is the father of one of Thomas's colleagues, so we were hooked up for this one. Thanks Kieran and Rob!

The one loss came on a sausage race bet (won by the Italian when we bet on Brat), but by then, morale was high and properly schlitzed.

Final score: Athletics 10, Brewers 2


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Buzz and Thomas: Midwest Chapter

Breaking News: After 3 years and many hours of baseball later, Buzz is back on the road, embarking on a Midwest stadium tour starting June 3rd. Biggie is sidelined with hamstring issues (aka work), but we've brought in a pinch-hitter, Thomas Harvey. And this time, the A's are involved. Stayed tuned for updates!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Burn On, Big River

Many of you have probably heard that Douglas and I decided to split up. It was an amicable break, and deep down I still love Buzz.

But before the shines rub off our timeless jaunt, let me say a few more words about our final stops on tour.

PIttsburgh had treated us well. We'd read newspapers in swanky lobbies, admired expensive cheap art at the Andy Warhol Museum, and suffered delicious indigestion from fry-topped sandwiches. We were ready to move on.

To Cleveland.

As far as we could tell, Cleveland is brown. Brown factories, brown rivers, brown sandstone, brown food. Cleveland Browns. From the stadium, you can take in the city's attractions. The Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, Progressive Field, The House LeBron Built, and a charming eatery called The Quaker Steak & Lube.

Before we saw the smokestacks and khaki, however, Buzz and I made a pitstop to visit the house from the holiday cult hit, "A Christmas Story." As kids, we had watched Ralphie and Randy every December at 12 Sotelo. Maybe even 321 Ramona. Our knowledge of the film compares to that of Ghostbusters and Pee Wee's Big Adventure, and so, when we saw on TripAdvisor that the house tour was ranked the #2 attraction in Cleveland, we pulled over.

Unbelievable call. The tour guide was a charming nerd who bumbled her way through funny anecdotes and where-are-they-nows. Buzz and I walked around, took pictures by the leg lamp, sat in the very chair where Ralphie's Old Man would read his paper and crouched beneath the sink under which Randy cowered. It was great.

Cleveland, even now I can remember, oh the Cuyahouga River, goes smokin' through my dreams.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Pittsburgh Pirates

Biggie and I had high hopes for PNC Park, and for the most part, it didn't disappoint. The facility is brand-sparkling new, we had a stunning view of the bridges across the river to downtown Pittsburgh, it was free Pirate t-shirt giveaway day, and we got seats near home plate for under 30 bucks a pop! Of course, the last two facts are probably tell-tale signs that attendance is suffering as a result of the Pirates playing poorly, and our expectations were also met in this department.

Geoff Mack took a bus from Pitt to meet Pete and me at the stadium. Geoff and I spent some quality time ragging on Biggie for keeping Milwaukee's closer Trevor Hoffman on his fantasy baseball team in spite of Hoffman's performing so atrociously that he was not called to close out the Pirates when a save situation arose at the end of the game. Biggie was not amused.

As far as the game itself went, the results were not surprising. Paul Maholm (pronounced Ma-Ha-Lom, kind of like "Thank you" in Hawaiian) started for the Bucs and yielded his typical mediocre line of 7 IP, 4ER, 3BB, 4K en route to an eventual 4-3 loss. Here Biggie is pictured doing his best impression of Paul.

Though the game was close, you just had that feeling the whole time that the Pirates were not going to stage any late inning heroics, especially not if Bobby Crosby was there to kill the team mojo.

Whoever is still a believer in the aforementioned Crosby, former A's rookie of the year and currently a second-string second baseman for the scurvy-ridden, scuffling Bucs, you should really not be. The guy still features his classic un-clutch antics. Including hitting into a come-backer with a runner on second, forcing him into a run-down, which then Bobby himself got into by winding up on second base and getting caught in a pickle on the next play. So, instead of nobody out and a runner in scoring position, somehow, there were two outs and nobody in scoring position, all thanks to Mr. Crosby.

The Pirate Parrot, on the other hand, did his best to bolster the moral of the crew. He is now one of our favorite mascots, though a distant second to the awesomeness that is the Philly Phanatic.

Geoff, Pete, and I finished the night off by heading to some bars closer to the Ravens' Heinz Stadium, watching UFC on the TVs with a little too much enthusiasm for our own good, and calling it a night. Great to hang out with the cuz.

All in all, we really liked the PNC experience, but the Pirates themselves were such a lackluster team that it dampened the mood of the park itself, therefore rating second to Camden.

Final Score: Brewers 4, Pirates 3