Thursday, July 12, 2007

Weekend Conversation: Best Baseball Road Trips

It's been a while since we've posted a Weekend Conversation, but in honor of Delino and Sax's SoSG Road Trip (TM), I wanted to take a second to recap one of life's great pleasures: the baseball roadtrip. I'm posting this early as the Dodgers are idle today, and I'll be out of pocket over the weekend.

I have done many baseball roadtrips, involving all but one of the other SoSGers (it's not personal, Lasorda!). And they have always been amazing experiences rich with good times, cold beers, and wacky hijinks.

Going into this weekend's roadtrip, I have seen 23 current MLB stadiums. Many of the ones I visited as a kid have been replaced, meriting a repeat visit to the city (Memorial Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Riverfront Stadium, Tiger Stadium, Jack Murphy Stadium, Candlestick Park, Veterans Stadium, and Cleveland Municipal Stadium, to name a few). But I've always found it a fun way to see America, meet some great fans, and watch the game we love from a new perspective. Along the way, I've met some incredibly hospitable people, eaten amazing bratwursts, and drunk one or two beers. I've also seen some crappy ballparks that should be steamrolled immediately, and even witnessed a stadium that didn't play "take me out to the ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch (eliciting an angry response from me, which probably would have been more articulate had I been sober at the time).

One of the first trips I did was with SoSG's own Eric Karros, in which we hit 11 stadia up and down the East Coast. It took place the summer right out of college, and took up about three and a half weeks of time and an insane amount of driving (something like 5000 miles (take that, Proclaimers!)--tell me if I'm wrong, EK). I remember that we didn't have a cassette player in our rental car, so we had a big ol' boombox and went through about a hundred D-cell batteries, as all the radio stations seemed to be obsessed with Billy Ray Cyrus' Achy Breaky Heart and it was driving us nuts. I remember Karros and myself yipping at each other over something stupid at one point (three weeks in a car together will do that to you), pulling up to an unstaffed toll-booth, and trying to throw in a handful of change that got blocked by the window sill and scattered all over the road (holding up traffic as we picked up all the coins). I remember a 1am visit to a truckstop where, presented with an empty Burger King booth, EK grabbed the microphone from behind the register and announced over the Burger King PA system that we needed help (I believe I ended up eating that burger, but I am positive it wasn't a good idea). I remember accidentally leaving the car doors unlocked in the parking lot at Tiger Stadium, which was in the worst part of town of any stadium we visited (luckily, neither our stuff nor the boom box was stolen). I remember getting to Camden Yards near the end of our trip and thinking that we had reached baseball's Mecca (to this day, it remains one of my favorite stadiums, which I have re-visited on many occasions). I remember running out of money near the end of the trip and being thankful that I was employed in September. And I remember a wonderful trip seeing America and hanging out with a good friend, given a luxury of time off that will be difficult to replicate later on in life.

Years later, I went on a three-day, three-city trip with SoSG's Orel and Eric Karros. This one was particularly cool in that Orel didn't know Karros would be there (Karros flew in earlier) until EK joined us as we walked through the Cleveland airport terminal from our gate to the rental car shuttles. I recall how Jacobs Field was beautiful but how some fans in right field chose to mock Seattle RF Ichiro Suzuki with some disparaging epithets and signs, before the Jacobs Field staff escorted them out. I recall the grand tigers adorning Comerica Park and how much of an upgrade it was over the old Tiger Stadium. I recall seeing billboards for along the way, and the three of us laughing at how .com and .edu must have already been taken (to be honest, Orel remembered this before I just typed it--thanks Orel). And I recall some fantastic brats at Miller Park--yum. Orel and I were so struck by the experience at Miller Park that we almost bought a souvenir that would have been permanently mounted at Miller Park (a baseball, to line a wall of the gift shop, with whatever you wanted to write on the ball); we bailed out at the last second when we realized that we'd never have a chance to come back to visit our $75 investment.

In 2001, I took a four-day, four-city baseball trip, along with SoSG's Delino DeShields and Pedro Guerrero, and this trip was also full of great memories. Like pulling up to Citizens Bank Park, the first stop in our journey, and our first beer from the seats in left field, near the shadow of the great big neon Liberty Bell. Like getting to PNC Park at 10am to start drinking across the street from the stadium, only to have the Pirates call the game due to approaching thunderstorms at 6pm (extremely depressing--I have to go back for a proper PNC Park game! Though I will say that I was awestruck later, after a Pirates staffer (with whom I spoke as they were boarding up the stadium) mailed me the evening's promotional giveaway (Roberto Clemente nesting dolls)). Like reading the ingredients on beef jerky wrapper bought at a gas station (a fatal mistake), and realizing it was made from beef lips. Like meeting up with more friends in Cincinnati and seeing Roger Clemens pitch (though he did not get the win). Like getting to Wrigley Field, the last stop on the trip, and again thinking that I had found baseball's Mecca (again, one of my favorite stadiums). And like one more unbelievable story from this trip, but it's not safe to post; you'll have to ask me over beers sometime.

I have also done some great one-off trips to other stadiums. I visited Safeco Field with SoSG's Orel and Alex Cora (as well as my brother), and we had a mad scramble when we discovered ESPN kicked the game time from Sunday afternoon to Sunday evening, forcing us to grab another night at the Seattle W Hotel (thank you, Starwood points!). I drove three hours each way along boring Texas roads to see Minute Maid Park in Houston while on an overnight business trip to Austin. I visited the BOB (now Chase Field) in Phoenix along with Orel and Pedro Guerrero and a bunch of high school buddies. I got atop Fenway's Green Monster last season. I dragged a gaggle of business school friends (only one of which was a baseball fan) to Coors Field. And there are too many others to mention, but they all have been great times.

I'm looking forward to this weekend's trip. Any baseball road trip memories that SoSG readers want to mention?


Orel said...

There's definitely a punchiness that accompanies baseball stadium roadtrips that makes everything seem ten times funnier than they actually are. If only we could bottle it and sell it to the comedy industry.

Steve Sax said...

Sounds like Tom Green's got an idea for a sequel brewing...

Eric Karros said...

Ah, that post brings back some good memories Sax. A few more from those trips:

From the 3.5 week trip, the "almost" foul ball in Cleveland; seeing Brian McRae leap over - not up, but literally over - the centerfield wall to make a great catch, though it was still considered a HR; being convinced there was a killer hiding under the bed at one of the $20 motels we stayed at; and, of course, Kennywood.

From the 3-day trip with Orel, 4 words: Clown Hall of Fame.

And I believe the BOB trip was where Pedro came to be known as 'Doc Thong' - for reasons nobody wants to hear.

Good times, let's do another one soon -

Damon said...

A couple years ago my friend and I got a hotel in seattle and watched a weekend series vs the A's. The seattle fans are boring but the park is awesome

Steve Sax said...

We are at stop #1! And Dontrelle Willis ain't pitching well, down 3-1 in the fourth.