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April 24 - Birmingham Barons vs. Mississippi Braves, Regions Park
April 25 - Mississippi Braves vs. Huntsville Stars, Trustmark Park
April 26 - New Orleans Zephyrs vs. Albuquerque Isotopes, Zephyrs Field
April 30 - Miami Marlins vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, Marlins Park

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By the end of 2008 we’d been to every major league ballpark. When new stadiums opened in 2009 and 2010 we visited them in order to maintain that distinction. So it was pretty obvious that our 2012 trip would include a stop in Miami to visit the brand new Marlins Park.

Usually ballparks we want to visit are the main factors in deciding where we go, with other culture a secondary consideration. That was partially true in 2012 as Miami was definitely going to be included. But beyond that, culture was the driving force in our destination choices.

Dave and DC met in a record store. We are both big music geeks. So we decided that since we were going to be in the South, we would fulfill a long time mutual ambition – attending The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Jazz Fest, as it is commonly known, takes place over two long weekends each year - the last one in April and the first one in May. DC’s daughter Aliyah was graduating from college the first weekend in May so we zeroed in on building a trip around the last weekend in April.

At first we were planning to drive from New Orleans to Miami, stopping at minor league parks along the way. But we weren’t too impressed by the possible destinations so we ended up with another plan, based more on cultural landmarks we were interested in rather than ballparks. Still, we got to four ballgames in the days before and after Jazz Fest.

Alabama and Mississippi

On Tuesday April 24 we flew into Birmingham, AL. Our first stop was the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

The Institute has a narrower scope than The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, concentrating primarily on what happened in Birmingham. But there is certainly a lot to cover - Birmingham was a center of the Civil Rights Movement in the South during the 1960s. It is where Bull Connor turned firehoses and dogs on protesters and where Dr. Martin Luther King wrote his famous Letter From Birmingham Jail. It’s very well organized and informative, well worth visiting.

Next door is the 16th Street Baptist Church, site of a 1963 bombing by white supremacists that killed four small girls. The explosion in 1963 blew a hole in the wall, destroyed the original steps and killed four girls, aged 11-14. It wasn't until 2002 that the last killer was convicted. Across the street is Kelly Ingram Park, which served as a staging area for many Civil Rights marches. It was there that the famous pictures of Birmingham firemen turning high pressure water hoses on marchers were snapped.

As we walked around the neighborhood, we heard the Temptations song 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone'. Following the sound, we stumbled across a small park dedicated to Eddie Kendricks of The Temptations, a Birmingham native. We also visited The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame (not much to that, it’s three small rooms) and ate soul food for lunch at Mrs. B’s.

16th Street Baptist Church

16th Street Baptist Church

Eddie Kendricks Park

Eddie Kendricks Park

Regions Park

Regions Park in Hoover, AL

Then it was off to our first ballgame of the trip. The Birmingham Barons are a Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. They play in a suburb of Birmingham called Hoover. Regions Park is a typical minor league ballpark – small, intimate, nothing fancy. Its big claim to fame is Michael Jordan played his home games there during his short foray into baseball. Despite being less than 25 years old, 2012 was to be the last year it served as home to the Barons – a new, downtown park was being built for them.

Dave was holding a map when we pulled into the parking lot. The man taking the money looked into the car and said “Map? You’re not from around here?” We replied that we were from the Washington D.C. area to which he responded “That’s great – we like your Yankee dollars down here.” DC pointed out that Washington is actually south of the Mason-Dixon Line to which the parking guy responded with “It’s still Northern. Lincoln lived there, didn’t he?” We all got a laugh out of that (we think he was kidding but decided not to debate him further) and headed for the gate.

The two guys sitting next to us were rooting for the Barons opponents, the Mississippi Braves. It turned out that Chris Masters, the Braves starting pitcher, was a good friend of theirs. They had driven from Atlanta to watch their buddy pitch. Sadly for them, he didn’t last long, getting knocked out before recording an out in the second inning, having given up two runs, three hits and five walks. That kind of set the tone for the game with Birmingham winning 9-6 while the Braves made two errors and issued thirteen walks (not that the Barons pitching was anything special – they walked seven.)

After we left Regions Park we drove for an hour and spent the night in Tuscaloosa, the home of the University of Alabama. The next morning we met up with our favorite Bama student for breakfast. Wendy is the daughter of our friend Kevin. She is a member in good standing of the Two Guys and a Map Hall of Fame , having attended Two Guys games in 2007 and 2008.

After breakfast, we hit the road and several hours later we arrived in Vicksburg, MS. Vicksburg was an important location in the Civil War. By the early 1863, Vicksburg was all that kept the Union from controlling the entire Mississippi River. If they took the town, they would cut off important Confederate supply lines as well as isolate the Confederate states west of the river from those to the east.

Union troops under U.S. Grant tried but failed to take the city by force. So they laid siege to Vicksburg and waited for the Confederates to run out of food. They did and finally surrendered on July 4, 1863. The surrender, along with their loss at the Battle of Gettysburg the day before, is considered to be the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. It was pretty much all downhill for them after that.

Because Vicksburg was a siege, the battlefield park is not as dramatic as others such as Gettysburg. It’s mostly fortifications of one army overlooking fortifications of the opposing army. But they have one thing on display there that we found fascinating.

During the Vicksburg campaign, a US ironclad river boat, the U.S.S. Cairo, became the first ship ever sunk by an electronically detonated mine. It sank in the Yazoo River and stayed there for 102 years, until it was discovered and raised. Because it was lying in mud, it was in very good condition given its circumstances. The Cairo was restored and put on display at Vicksburg. That was the highlight of the battlefield park as far as we were concerned.





U.S.S. Cairo

The U.S.S. Cairo

Then we backtracked, to the suburbs of Jackson, MS. After checking in to our hotel, we headed out to Trustmark Park, the home of the Mississippi Braves (who had been the visiting team in Alabama the previous night.) Trustmark Park was very similar to Regions Park – small, intimate, nice but not a whole lot of distinctive character. The Huntsville Stars pitching was not much better than Mississippi’s had been the previous night as the Braves whipped the Stars by a score of 9-1.

But we weren’t around for the end of the game. In fact, we didn’t see much of it at all. Because we were going to Jazz Fest, the dates for our trip were pretty much set in stone. This meant that for the second time on a Two Guys trip, Dave, a diehard hockey fan, was on the road when his beloved Washington Capitals were playing a decisive Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

However, we had noticed when checking in that the cable channel carrying the game was available in our hotel. After watching Dave spending more time checking his phone for hockey updates than watching the baseball game that was happening right in front of him, DC suggested we head back to the hotel. So after three innings we did just that.

We ordered room service (i.e., pizza delivery from a local restaurant) and watched the game. For the second time on a Two Guys trip, the hockey game went into sudden death overtime, with the winner advancing to the next round and the loser’s season ending. Unlike the game in 2008, this time the Capitals won, dethroning the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. We apologize to anyone who was in the room next to us at the hotel for Dave’s unintelligible but loud shout of triumph when the winning goal was scored.

New Orleans

Lake Pontchartrain Causeway

The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, heading towards New Orleans.
At this point the city was barely visible to us (on the far left).

The next morning we headed for New Orleans, taking a slightly longer route than Google Maps suggested in order to take The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.

Lake Pontchartrain is the second-largest inland saltwater body of water in the United States. (Whoever said “After Great Salt Lake in Utah”, pat yourselves on the back.) The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is a 23.83 mile long bridge which makes it the longest continuous bridge over water in the world. We figured being able to say we’d crossed that was worth a few extra minutes of driving time so we did it.

We began our stay in New Orleans by lunching on Po' Boys in the French Quarter and then crossing Rampart Street into the Treme neighborhood, home to Louis Armstrong Park. We spent the next couple of hours on a walking tour of The New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park.

The National Park isn't a defined parcel of land. It includes Louis Armstrong Park but spills out into the neighborhoods around it as well. First stop, in Louis Armstrong Park, was Congo Square, where slaves were allowed to gather on Sundays to socialize, market goods and make music.

We also saw the building that housed the J & M Recording Studio; Preservation Hall and the site of Storyville, New Orleans famous (but long gone) red light district (New Orleans is quite proud of their bordellos – two of the stops on the tour were largely devoted to them.)

Louis Armstrong Park

Louis Armstrong Park

French Quarter

The French Quarter

Doreen Ketchens

Doreen Ketchens and Jazz New Orleans
play on the street in the French Quarter.
A few days later they played Jazz Fest.

J & M Studios

Rock 'n' Roll history was created here.
Now it's a laundromat.

Then it was off to the suburb of Metairie for another baseball game. The New Orleans Zephyrs are the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. Unlike the two Double-A parks we visited, which back up to wooded areas, Zephyr Field is right on the main drag through Metairie so the backdrop isn’t much to look at. It was larger than Regions Park and Trustmark Park but other than that, it was similar – a decent park but not exceptionally exciting. The trend towards poor pitching we’d seen in the first two games of the trip continued as New Orleans won by a score of 9-4.

The next day was Friday, the first day of Jazz Fest. (The first weekend features music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The second goes Thursday through Sunday.) We were on one of the first shuttle buses to the Fair Grounds Race Course, the site of the festival.

Jazz Fest is a music festival held every year since 1970. New Orleans is a melting pot of many American music styles – blues, gospel, R ‘n’ B, Cajun, zydeco, Latin, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and more. Jazz Fest primarily celebrates those musical styles and has expanded over the years to feature not only local acts, but major national ones as well.

There are multiple stages set up all over the grounds, some in tents and others outdoors. Some are quite small; others are capable of handling huge crowds. There are also dozens of food vendors and artisans selling their goods. It’s quite the sight.

Welcome to Jazz Fest

All sorts of big name acts play Jazz Fest. The 2012 lineup included Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Foo Fighters, My Morning Jacket, The Eagles, Jimmy Buffett, Bon Iver, Cee Lo Green, Al Green, The Beach Boys, Bonnie Raitt and many, many more. Plenty of New Orleans legends play the festival each year – Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Pete Fountain, Ellis Marsalis, Buckwheat Zydeco, BeauSoleil, Allen Toussaint and The Neville Brothers were only a few of them on the 2012 bill. But almost immediately we discovered that the most fun at Jazz Fest could be walking into a tent or up to a stage and getting knocked out by a band we’d never heard of. (Just ask Dave about The Electrifying Crown Seekers.)

We discovered that there is both a blessing and a curse to the great lineup of musical acts. The blessing is obvious. The curse is that you often find yourself wanting to be two places at once – or more. There were five acts we wanted to see onstage at the same time during the last two hours of the first day. We managed to see them all – first we spent about 45 minutes at The Beach Boys first show with Brian Wilson in many, many years (DC is a huge Beach Boys fan), then we went from stage to stage, seeing at least a few songs by each of the others.

Trad jazz at Jazz Fest

Jazz Fest crowd


Trad jazz from Louis Ford and His New Orleans Flairs

It's a colorful crowd. People carry flags so their friends can find them.

We had the crawfish.

While Jazz Fest has many of the negatives that come with an outdoor festival of this size, it’s extremely well managed – the lines for both food and porta-potties were short, all members of the event staff were very friendly, bands went on at the exact time they were scheduled and sound quality was, for the most part, extremely good. The weather cooperated too – it was hot but not unbearable and the skies were clear.

We spent hours walking from stage to stage, listening to rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, traditional jazz and blues. We ate crawfish. We saw New Orleans brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians, both onstage and parading across the grounds. We met up with our old friend Allan, who had been our boss at the University of Maryland Record Co-op where we first met. We chatted with total strangers.

It was a blast. So we did it all again the next day.

Jazz Fest Mardi Gras Indians

Texas Tornados


Mardi Gras Indians

The Texas Tornados on the Fais Do Do Stage

The staff gets down with the crowd

There were a lot of folks there on Friday. But that was nothing compared to Saturday, when it was wall-to-wall people. Allan, a veteran of six Jazz Fests, told us it was the most crowded he’d ever seen it. This was especially evident when we went to see Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, who drew an enormous crowd to their show. We heard that officials thought that more than 70,000 people were there on Saturday, which would be a one day record for Jazz Fest attendance.

We lucked out – Dave’s friends Alan (not to be confused with Allan) and Carrie were there with a friend who had a car. They were nice enough to give us a lift back to our hotel at the end of the show, getting us back there about an hour after Petty walked off stage. The day before it had taken us about two hours on the shuttle bus and given the much bigger crowd, it would have taken us a lot longer on Saturday so we really appreciated it.

(A complete list of who we saw at Jazz Fest is at the bottom of this page)


We knew we had just scratched the surface of what New Orleans has to offer and we would have loved to have stayed for the third day of Jazz Fest. But this trip was designed around seeing the new ballpark in Miami. Travel between New Orleans and the Miami area almost always requires a change of planes, making for a long travel day. Because the Marlins were playing in the afternoon, we couldn’t have flown out Monday in time to get to the game. So we had to leave New Orleans on Sunday.

Along with ballparks and culture, the third determining factor in choosing where we go is the opportunity to visit friends and family. So the silver lining to missing the third day of Jazz Fest was that we were able to visit with Dave’s friends Nikki, Matt and Micah. We arrived in West Palm Beach late in the afternoon. Sunday is Tacos and Scrabble Night at their house and we spent a fun evening eating and playing with them and their friends Casey and Jordan.

The next morning Nikki dropped us off at the commuter train station and we rode from West Palm Beach down to the Fort Lauderdale area. Right after college we had shared a town house with our friend Andy. Shortly after that he had moved to Florida. Andy and his fiancée Lori were waiting for us at the train station. Andy drove us down to the Little Havana section of Miami, where Marlins Park sits on the site of the old Orange Bowl football stadium.

The reason there are no pictures of either Trustmark Park or Zephyr Field on this web page is that they simply weren't all that interesting. The Regions Park picture gives a pretty good representation of all three ballparks we visited before Jazz Fest. This didn't prove to be the case with Marlins Park. The Marlins owner used to be an art dealer and he wanted (and got) a very modern looking building. We both prefer the old fashioned brick stadiums so we weren't too impressed by the outside.

Nikki, Micah and Matt

Nikki (with Izrina), Micah
and Matt (with eyes wide open!)

Andy and Lori

Andy and Lori

Marlins Park

Marlins Park is surrounded by buildings,
making it difficult to get a good picture.

But we were pleasantly surprised by the inside. First of all, it’s a HUGE improvement over Dolphins Stadium, the previous home of the Marlins, which we visited in 2007.

We both have an anti-dome bias but Marlins Park had all the things we find make a roofed ballpark more tolerable – natural grass, lots of natural light and a retractable roof allowing them to play outside when the weather is good. It was raining quite hard when we got there so we really weren’t going to complain about the roof on this day.

And it’s small. VERY small. Marlins Park seats less than 38,000 people, the smallest seating capacity in in Major League Baseball. We walked around a good portion of the park before the game and it seemed like there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.

Other features of Marlins Park include two aquariums built into the low wall behind home plate (sadly, we weren’t able to get a good view of those – they seem to be there for TV broadcasts more than anything), local foods at some of the concession stands (although those were kind of hidden), a large glass wall that lets in lots of natural light and a view of the Miami skyline, an extremely informative and readable main scoreboard plus a very good auxilary scoreboard and a Bobblehead Museum.

Marlins Park

Inside Marlins Park

Marlins Park

The main scoreboard

Marlins Park

Only on deck hitters get a good view of the aquarium.

Marlins Park

It sits on a vibrating plate so the heads are always bobbing.

Marlins Park

Click here to see it in action.

But the thing that most people talk about at Marlins Park is the art installation beyond the centerfield fence that lights up and moves when a Marlin hits a home run. It’s about 75 feet tall with brightly colored marlins, flamingos and seagulls. When a Marlin homers, everything starts moving and lights turn on and … well, you have to see it to really get it. It was awesomely tacky.

Ozzie Guillen, the Marlins manager, had committed a major faux pas a couple of weeks before we got to Miami. He had told an interviewer that he loved Fidel Castro, causing a huge stir in a city with a very large anti-Castro Cuban population. While Marlins Park was very noisy much of the time we were there, we noticed there was no sound at all when Guillen’s name was mentioned during lineup announcements.

We had very good seats on the first baseline but there was an air conditioning vent blowing air directly on us. There were four empty seats one section over from us so after a few innings we moved. Right after that a Marlins player hit a line drive foul that ricocheted off of Lori’s ankle. It hurt but she was a gamer and after a little time and applying some ice, the pain disappeared.

The Marlins played very poorly, committing three errors, and lost 9-5. We DID get to see the home run display twice.

After a nice dinner out, we went back to Andy and Lori's place where Dave was able to watch the Capitals win again. The next morning we were up at 4:30 AM. Andy was nice enough to get up at that hour and give us a ride to the airport. By 9:30 AM we were home, faced with the reality of work.

With no new ballparks scheduled to open in the near future, there were no definite plans for the next Two Guys trip - but we were thinking about destinations before the plane touched down.

                                                                                                        Who We Saw At Jazz Fest

Friday, April 27
Louis Ford and His New Orleans Flairs
Henry Gray and The Cats
The Electrifying Crown Seekers
The Wimberly Family Gospel Singers
The Classic New Orleans Revue featuring Frankie Ford, Al Johnson and Robert Parker
Cindy Scott
Tim Laughlin
Kirk Joseph's Backyard Groove
Eric Lindell
Chuck Leavell and Friends with Special Guest Bonnie Bramlett
Irma Thomas' Tribute To Mahalia Jackson
The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour
Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band featuring Terrance Blanchard
Buckwheat Zydeco
The Texas Tornados featuring Flaco Jimenez, Augie Myers and Shawn Sahm

Saturday, April 28
Southern University Jazzy Jags
Tonia and The Left Field Band
Cameron Dupuy and The Cajun Troubadours
Walter Cook and Creole Wild West Mardi Gras Indians
Jeremy Lyons with Members of Morphine
Luther Kent with guest Allen Toussaint
Storyville Stompers Brass Band
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
Voices of The Wetlands All Stars featuring:
       * Tab Benoit
       * Dr. John
       * Cyril Neville
       * Anders Osborne
       * Big Chief Monk Boudreaux
       * Johnny Vidacovich
       * Johnny Sansone
       * Waylon Thibodeaux

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