Two Guys & a Map
If It's Tuesday, This Must Be The Giants Tour
On April 22 we headed for Phoenix. While waiting to get on the plane to Chicago (where we’d change planes) we noticed the two men in line behind us were both wearing New York Yankees apparel. DC can’t pass up the chance to talk about his beloved Yankees and we discovered they were going to Chicago for a rare Wrigley Field / US Cellular Field doubleheader like we had the year before. This one was even more unusual as the two Chicago teams were playing the two New York teams. We had a pleasant chat with them and the woman in front of us who was a White Sox fan on her way home, making for a promising start to the trip.
After checking in at our hotel near Phoenix, we immediately headed for Chase Field. There were still several hours until the game was to start but we were Two Guys on a Mission. Dave is a die-hard Washington Capitals fan. When this trip was planned, the Caps had the worst record in hockey and the chances of a playoff game in April were remote at best. But an amazing second half of the season got them into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in five years, playing a team hated by all long time Caps fans, the Philadelphia Flyers. The series had come down to a seventh and deciding game that very night.
We found a sports bar right outside of Chase Field. Dave was thrilled to find it had one television tuned to the hockey game, although his enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the fact that the other four people watching were Flyers fans. One, who was actually from Philadelphia, was particularly enthusiastic. So Dave found himself in the rather surreal position of sitting in a bar at 4:30 in the afternoon, more than 2000 miles from home, in a city surrounded by desert, watching hockey with an equally rabid fan, albeit one who was rooting for the other team.
DC acted as a buffer between Dave and the Flyers fan but the Philadelphian, while assertive and loud, was actually kind of fun to talk to. Even so, the tension increased when the game went into sudden death overtime. Sadly for Dave, the Flyers scored about six minutes in to end the Caps season. Dave was gracious in defeat – congratulations were offered, a handshake was made and the Flyers fan hugged Dave and said “Great series. Root for us in the next round.” Yeah, right. Dave may have been gracious in defeat but there was no way THAT was ever going to happen!
DC guided Dave (who was somewhat in shock and never did quite recover that night) across the street and into Chase Field.
There is one word to describe Chase Field—HUGE. It looks like an airplane hangar from the outside. The upper deck is high and steep and many of the 53,000 seats are up there. The scoreboard is huge. While it contains a lot of information, the presentation is very busy, making it difficult to actually take in. The playing field is huge – parts of center field are more than 410 feet from home plate. It does have the quirky feature of a swimming pool in the right center field stands. We’re not big on the covered stadium concept but the retractable roof probably comes in handy during the incredibly hot Phoenix summers. While not the worst place to see a game, the vast size makes Chase Field seem impersonal and industrial.
The San Francisco Giants were in town and blew a lead to lose 5-4 in a game started by two former Cy Young Award winners. High priced free agent Barry Zito of the Giants did not pitch well (in fact, he was demoted to the bullpen after this game) while the Diamondbacks’ Brandon Webb pitched (and hit) well enough to win.
The next morning, with our body clocks still on East Coast time, we were both awake at 4:00 AM so we headed for the airport in the hope of maybe catching an earlier flight to San Diego. Thanks to the kind folks at Southwest Airlines, we were able to do just that and arrived in San Diego three hours earlier than we’d originally been scheduled to. That turned out to be fortuitous, as we packed a lot into our one day there.
Two Guys and a Map aren’t just about baseball – we try to get some (other) local culture wherever we go (Dave will argue that watching hockey in a sports bar counts.) We went to Balboa Park, the largest urban park in the U.S., home of the world famous San Diego Zoo and several museums. The zoo is very nice and we enjoyed it but its steep entrance fee made us realize how lucky we are – the Washington D.C. area, where we live, is unique in that most of the museums (including the National Zoo and the Smithsonian) don’t charge admission. We wandered into the San Diego Model Railroad Museum on a whim and thoroughly enjoyed that. The level of craftsmanship involved in the train layouts is incredible.
We then headed downtown. The U.S.S. Midway, an aircraft carrier commissioned right after the end of World War II is now a floating museum anchored in downtown San Diego. We spent a couple of hours there, then walked around a bit – the city is beautiful, the people are very friendly and the weather was great. Soon after, we headed for the ballgame.
PETCO Park is terrific, right up there with Pittsburgh’s PNC Park as one of our favorites of the newer ballparks. The exterior is in the style of a lot of Southwestern architecture, with sand colored stone and palm trees. Inside is equally nice. Like Camden Yards in Baltimore, an old warehouse has been incorporated into the park. Unlike Camden, the warehouse in San Diego actually is integrated into the playing field. The left field foul pole is on the side of the building. It’s a really unique touch.
We have to mention the “guest services personnel” at PETCO - they were terrific. We spent some time talking to Marguerite, who takes her job very seriously – she was nice as nice can be and even came over to where we were sitting to give us “My First Time at PETCO Park” buttons. One unusual quirk – the people working the concession stands loudly hawking their wares in the same manner as vendors who work the seated areas. Neither of us had seen that before.
Something else took us by surprise - we noticed many people wearing cold weather clothing as they filed into the park. We expected that in San Francisco, but certainly not in San Diego. Marguerite told us the winds came in off the bay and that it actually gets quite cold. She was right but it was nothing like going to Wrigley Field in April, so we were okay. We did consider buying sweatshirts until we saw the prices - we settled for hot chocolate instead.
Usually the visiting team isn’t a factor in our scheduling - it’s more where we want to go and when we can go there. So it was merely a coincidence that the night after seeing the Giants in Phoenix, we were seeing them again in San Diego (and would see them again two days later in San Francisco.)
Gregg Maddux took the mound for the Padres, bringing our Cy Young Award winners for this trip to three. He was excellent, as was Matt Cain of the Giants. After eight innings the score was 1-0 in favor of the Padres which meant it was “Trevor Time.” We figured it was all over as Trevor Hoffman, the Major League’s all time leader in saves, walked in to the tune of AC/DC’s ‘Hell’s Bells (which makes for quite an entrance.) But Bengie Molina of the Giants hit a home run to tie the game. By this time jet lag had set in and DC insisted on going back to the hotel. We still were able to watch the game once we got there – it went 13 innings, with the Giants eventually winning 3-2.
The next morning it was on to Oakland. The game began at 12:30 so we went directly from the airport to McAfee Coliseum, the home of the Athletics.
There is not much to say about the stadium itself except that the A’s need a new one. It has served its purpose for over 30 years and football is its main purpose. When the Raiders football team returned to Oakland in 1995 a large structure was built where the stadium had previously been open in center field. That made a stadium that was bad for baseball even worse. DC astutely observed that “this place got stuck around 1990.”
The Athletics have never drawn well, even when they had excellent teams, so almost the entire upper deck is covered by tarps. The one distinguishing feature is the huge foul territory. Pitchers must love McAfee Coliseum.
Friday morning we headed into San Francisco, parked by AT&T Park, then hiked a couple of miles up to the Fog City Diner where we hooked up with our old pal Ruth, who we’d worked with at the University of Maryland many years earlier. Ruth is a great friend and we never pass up a chance to see her.
After lunch we hiked up a very steep staircase on Telegraph Hill to the Coit Tower. San Francisco is a beautiful city and you get a great view of it from the top of the hill and an even more spectacular one from the top of the tower. We parted ways with Ruth after that and headed back to the ballpark.
We’d been to AT&T Park in 2002, when it was known as Pac Bell Park. This is the gem of the new ballparks. It’s right by the water, with a great view of the Bay Bridge from the upper deck. There are only a few rows of seats in the right field bleachers, which back up to a cove just outside the park. It’s called McCovey Cove in honor of the great Giants left handed slugger Willie McCovey and during games kayaks and boats gather out there in hopes that someone will deposit a home run ball in the water. This was especially true during Barry Bonds’ chase of Hank Aaron’s all time home run record.
We arrived during batting practice and found only two craft floating out there. We struck up a conversation with one of the kayakers, who told us his partner had been incredibly lucky, getting Bonds’ 660th AND 661st home run ball. Number 660 was a particularly important home run to Bonds, as it tied him on the all time list with his godfather, Willie Mays. So the kayaker gave him the ball in exchange for two jerseys, each autographed by both Bonds and Mays. Number 661 went up for sale on EBay and he was floating in part of the profits from that, a very nice new kayak with the Giants logo professionally painted on.
We headed in and saw a great game. Jonathan Sanchez of the Giants was fabulous and Aaron Harang of the Reds matched him most of the way. Sanchez took a shutout into the ninth and struck out 10. Harang gave up three runs but two were let in by the Reds bullpen. A very well played game with Bengie Molina again coming through with two RBI in a 3-1 Giants victory.
The next day we headed home. DC’s camera battery died that morning so we weren’t able to take any pictures from the plane but the scenery was beautiful – snow covered mountains, then desert as far as the eye can see.
We can’t finish this without giving credit to Mary Beth – she has entertained us with scoreboard messages to DC over the course of several trips but she influenced us in an entirely different way this time. After joining us for one day on the 2006 Life on the Mississippi Tour, she became totally convinced that we are Two Idiots Who Are Lucky To Find Anything Even With a Map (read the account of that tour to find out why.) So she had given DC a present – a GPS (Global Positioning System) unit, which can give directions from anywhere to anywhere in the continental U.S.
Being traditionalists, we fought this for a long time but when she pointed out it’s a different kind of map, we begrudgingly brought it along - but we came to love it. While it does cut down on adventures (for example, in 2006 we’d never have seen downtown Clear Lake, Iowa if we’d had it and it’s a lovely town), it also comes in very handy when you're trying to find your way out of an unfamiliar city after a night game. We named her (it has a female voice, so we know it’s a “her”) “B.B.” That’s a story in and of itself. Just know that the GPS is both never wrong and always right.
Next up – just a little over two weeks after this tour, we hit the Big Apple for a mini-tour, bringing us a little closer to visiting every Major League Ballpark.
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