You might wanna buckle up. Or at least grab a pillow and get comfortable, because there's a laawwwwng post ahead =p
I know this will come as a shock to you all, but every so often, MrsIanRogue and I travel around the country to visit the other MLB parks currently scattered about. Our goal is to see a game at each one, not just wander around the outside or take a tour.
We checked off numbers 23-26 in early May, and this will be the write-up of our experiences. Not just of the parks, but the trip in general.
For starters, we left for the airport at about 4:00am on May 5th. We're decidedly not morning people, but when traveling to the east coast, we find it worth it for a few reasons. Firstly, we don't arrive at our destination late at night, so we can get settled in that first day. Secondly, by getting started so early on the west coast, it kind of gives us a head start on acclimating to east coast time. By the time it's a typical bedtime at our destination, we're pretty much ready to call it a night. Anyway, I don't think we've ever had a smoother trip through check-in and security than we did that morning. I think from the time we got dropped at the terminal curb to the time we were sitting at our gate took somewhere between 10-15 minutes. We've taken some early flights like that before and been reasonably satisfied with how long it took, but that was crazy.
Once we got to Atlanta, we had our first lovely experience with accessibility issues. Wanna get to the trains for the baggage claim? Go right down these stairs, or the convenient escalator. Oh, you need an elevator? We have one. Good luck finding it. No, not that one. Alllll the way over there, and if you know just where to look you'll see one sign for it. Trust me, that was just the beginning for our experiences in Atlanta. (I promise, I won't spend the whole post complaining, but it is something that sticks out more than it ever used to. And it's the kind of thing you don't pay attention to until it's directly affecting you.) Anyway, we got our rental car, a Hyundai Tucson, which we found out had a couple issues after we left the rental car center. The DC outlets didn't work, and we found some trash in the car (I guess they were in a hurry to get it sent out or something). But we also found a USB charger in it, so their lack of cleaning it thoroughly worked out in a way. Not that it was useful at all in this car, but we kept it for later. We happened to drive past the new ballpark on our way to our hotel, and while we technically had time to go to the game that evening, we didn't have the energy for it.
The next day was our first game of the trip: Giants at Braves. We got to the park just after gates opened, to have time to wander around and see everything. The first thing we noticed was that the area between the parking garage and the ballpark was very... I guess the word I'll use to describe it is "commercial." Any of you who have been to Disneyland/Walt Disney World recently and been to the Downtown Disney/Disney Springs Shopping Districts probably would have found it feeling similar to those. It seems like the intent was to have it be like the Ballpark Village at St. Louis, but this felt different from that, like they missed the mark. It was still a work in progress, so maybe that'll get better at some point.
Walking around the concourse, there was a lot to like about the place. The kids area was interesting, bigger than pretty much any other kids zone I've seen at other parks. One thing I thought was cool was the Mizuno Glove Experience. You can borrow one of their ballgloves for the game. Sure, they're hoping you like it enough to buy one, but that's still a cool idea.
The concourses themselves were nice and open, they didn't feel cramped at all. The park had a nice, bright feel to it.
Even in the more enclosed areas, the air was pretty fresh. The giant ceiling fans they had everywhere are an excellent idea; other parks should take notes. Their Monument Grove area was pretty nicely done, too. Lots to see about the team's history, we could tell they put a lot of effort into it.
While we were there, a couple saw us with our Giants gear and our backpack with all of our team pins on it, so we started chatting about our ballparks trips. They were from Monterey, and doing the same thing as we are. When I asked how many parks they've been to, they replied "38." I think we have a while to go before we catch up to them =p We've found that the backpack with the pins is a great conversation-starter wherever we go.
Before the game started, we also got to meet skyblue17, and it's always a good time meeting other McCoven =) I hope we didn't come across as too weird =p
Our seats were located on the field level, on the RF side. When we got to our section, we got our next "welcome to Atlanta". It's not unusual for the wheelchair section to have either folding chairs or some other removable seats. The usher had to go get one from another section for me, which is fine. That wasn't the issue; the odd thing here was that our seats were facing the RF Wall. In order to see what was going on, I had to turn 90 degrees to the right, and my feet and our backpack were encroaching into MrsIanRogue's spot.
She was able to turn her chair too, but the people to our right were now directly in front of us unless we leaned to see around them. Lots of fun for a 3-hour game... A simple solution to this would be to simply sell 2 fewer seats per section so that the corner is the end of the seating, rather than have 2 people with obstructed views. But then they can't sell as many tickets, I guess.
Partway through the game, I went to get food. It looked like there was a nice variety available, but we usually get the same thing at each park (or as close as possible to the same thing) for easier comparison from place to place. MrsIanRogue gets a hot dog, I get a bratwurst. The hotdog was "fine," in that there was nothing to really complain about, but there was also nothing particularly notable about it. The bratwurst was... not good. The bun was soggy from steam, and the sausage was bland and soft as well. I couldn't tell when I'd gone from bun to sausage, and that's rather off-putting. They didn't have any kind of mustard other than Heinz yellow mustard, which would be fine for a regular hot dog, but not for ostensibly more complex foods. This was the game that made us decide that we no longer need to always get the same thing at each park. From here on out, we'll get what sounds particularly novel or interesting.
The game itself was fun, though. The Giants did just fine, as I'm sure you're all aware. No real reason to rehash that here. The in-game experience was mostly ok. The usual between-innings sponsored costumed race (Home Depot for this one) and the like. HOWEVER: they lose ALL THE POINTS for having that godawful Chop. And then there's the bigass war drum they have by the scoreboard:
I thought the Chop was cringe-worthy on TV or radio, but being surrounded by it is... something else. Luckily they didn't have opportunities all game long to do it, so we only had to really endure it repeatedly during the 9th.
Overall, the park is pretty nice, albeit completely unnecessary. I find it ridiculous that they left Turner Field for non-baseball reasons that are well-documented, so I won't really go into that here, as I'm sure there are people who have said things much more eloquently than I could. That, coupled with the Chop, means that I don't have any desire to return to this park.
After the game we drove the 15 miles to Atlanta proper, to the site of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, which is now a parking lot for Turner Field. They had the location of home plate and the basepaths, along with the section of outfield wall that Hank Aaron hit #715 over.
Bonus edited photo for sharper color:
It was interesting to be standing where he stood, imagining what it would've been like to be there for that homer. I've seen the footage, and being where it happened is a pretty cool feeling. After driving the basepaths, we explored a bit of downtown Atlanta before heading to dinner. We opted for a place right near the hotel, called Frontera Mex-Mex Grill. We were kinda figuring it'd be more Meh-xican than anything, but it sounded interesting and was right by the hotel. In addition to some more accessibility issues, we can say that the food wasn't anything spectacular, so at least only half of that was a surprise.
The next day, we had some time to spend before getting to the airport, so we explored a bit of downtown Atlanta. At the airport, after dealing with more incredibly unnecessary and frustrating accessibility issues, we boarded our flight to Texas. Something tells me that we won't be returning to Atlanta. We landed at DFW, got our car (a KIA Sportage this time), and passed the Rangers park on our way to our hotel. I have to say, my initial impression of Texas is that the people were quite friendly, face-to-face, but they turn into absolute lunatics when behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Our hotel was in Mansfield, which by coincidence, had a sports facility called Big League Dreams. Rec leagues play here, and the 8 fields they have are all mini-versions of famous ballparks from around the country. This particular location had Wrigley Field, Crosley Field, Sportsmans Park, Ebbets Field, the Ballpark in Arlington, the Polo Grounds, Fenway Park, and Yankee Stadium. When you're on the field, it's kind of like you're there at the old parks. Here are Wrigley Field and the Polo Grounds:
I bet it's a lot of fun to play games at these fields. We really enjoyed just exploring the complex. Apparently it's pretty busy in the afternoons and evenings, but we were there in the late morning and the only people there were groundskeepers.
After that, we drove back up to the DFW area to have lunch at a place that, according to one of my coworkers, is some of the best BBQ in all of Texas. I knew it'd be great even going from the car to the entrance, it smelled amazing. I think it may have ruined BBQ for me though; the bar has now been set so high that I don't think I'll be able to find anything around that holds a candle to this place. Afterwards, we stopped at the Fort Worth Water Gardens to kill some time before heading to the ballpark. It's a pretty cool place, and I'm glad we stopped there.
Next stop was Globe Life Park in Arlington, home of the Rangers. Our first impression upon driving towards it, was "Yeesh, AT&T Stadium is ginormous." Anyway, parking was straightforward, and we took a walk around the outside of the park to see what we thought of it.
There were lots of nice touches to it. The exterior had lots of interesting things without feeling too jumbled.
The concourses were nice and open, too. High ceilings, lots of air flow. I liked the look of the place.
When we got to our seats, we found that they were permanently bolted to the floor, which is kind of at odds with the whole "wheelchair accessible" thing. Basically, MrsIanRogue's options were to transfer to the seat halfway up the row, or sit in her wheelchair at the end of the row, in a spot that technically was supposed to remain clear. We opted for the latter, which in this case worked out because the game was so poorly-attended. That really shouldn't matter, though; if someone purchases accessible tickets, it's reasonable to expect that those tickets should actually be usable without the ushers scratching their heads and going "Well, shoot. I guess you could sit over here..." Anyway, once we had solved that issue, the game was pretty good. The upper deck was pretty high, though. Here's a photo of the foul poles, which weren't as high as the floor I was standing on
During the game, I saw that the sky was turning a cool color from the sunset, so I went to investigate. From the upper deck concourse, I could see the progress they were making on the new park:
I think I know why everyone says things are bigger in Texas: There aren't any mountains to obstruct your view.
Other than the fact that the park is really big, and they could stand to redesign their accessible seats, I thought it was a pretty cool ballpark. I honestly don't know why they feel like they need to move to another one next season. I found this one to, overall, be better than lots of the other parks we've visited.
The next day, we stopped at the Dallas World Aquarium before making our drive down to the Houston area. It's an interesting place, and I kind of think "aquarium" sells it short; lots more than just fish there. Birds, monkeys, sloths, bats, plenty of animals. It was a fun and interesting way to spend the first part of the day. On the way down to Houston, there's kind of a whole lot of nothing. Except crazy truck drivers that will drift in the lanes so much that they nearly run you off the road. I think we were inches away from leaving the asphalt and hitting the gravel and dirt on the shoulder. That was a harrowing experience, and not one I'd recommend you try... Other than that, it was an uneventful drive to the hotel.
We didn't have anything planned for the next day, so we just stayed in, for the most part. Kind of took a day to recharge for the second half of the trip. We did get lunch at Piada, which I'm still really hoping makes it out here to CA. When I found out there were some near Houston, we made it a point to plan to go to one. The next day we set out to visit Coral Sword, the gaming cafe that Hunter Pence is part-owner of. It's in an older section of town, a bit more rundown than your typical downtown spot. We got there and found that there are no accessible parking spaces. Not just that they were all taken, there simply weren't any. The nearest place to park was the small, poorly-maintained lot behind the building, which wasn't too bad distance-wise, but was anything but good, surface-wise. The ramp to get up the curb was all the way around to the front, so to get to that we would've had to get over some very uncomfortable terrain, and it was maaaaybe just wide enough to be legal. The threshold to get into the shop was just fine for someone not in a wheelchair, but would've been at least difficult for someone who is. Any one of these issues would probably not have been enough to deter us, but add all of them together, and we decided it wasn't worth it. So, disappointed and a bit exasperated, we just left and went to a park in downtown for a bit.
When we got to the ballpark, we found that the parking lots with accessible spaces weren't actually $10 like we saw online, but $40. Not a great first impression, Astros. After we parked, we walked around the outside of the park, and the landscaping at this one was better than at Arlington, but the exterior of the building itself was pretty boring. We did like the sidewalk stitching, though:
Inside the park, the concourses were spacious enough, I guess. But the airflow wasn't that good. Right by the seating areas it wasn't too bad, but the rest of the interior was kind of humid and musty. They could do with finding some way to improve ventilation, and that would go a long way in improving my impression of the park. In the seating area, the park is very nice, at least with the roof open. The downside was that at first pitch, the sun was right in front of us:
Once it sank behind the skyline, the view was much nicer.
My favorite ballpark food was at this park. I got the chicken and waffle cone, and it was excellent. The mashed potatoes were nice and fluffy and flavorful, the waffle cone was soft without being soggy, and the honey mustard drizzle on it was a nice balance of tangy to sweet. After the game they set off fireworks, which were pretty cool, though not as awe-inspiring as some shows we've seen (not even counting Disney parks here, some ballparks have done more impressive shows). All in all, it was a good park. Not one of my favorites, but there was a lot to like. Honestly, I liked Arlington better, overall.
Afterwards, we drove part of the way back to Dallas, since we had a flight out of there in the morning (we chose to fly out of DFW instead of Houston for a few reasons). We stayed at a really crappy Super 8, arriving at about 1:30am and getting back on the road at about 8:00.
DFW's security checkpoint, in a word, sucks. The terminal we were in didn't have PreCheck. That would've been less of a problem had we known in advance, but we didn't find this out until after we'd arrived at the terminal. We packed our carryons with PreCheck in mind: our electronics were in various parts of our bags, our liquids weren't isolated, etc. We tried to make sure we got everything pulled for the scanners, but of course we missed a couple items. As a result, our bags got to go through the scanners 3 or 4 times. But hey, I got to keep my shoes on, so that makes it all better, right? At least we made it through eventually.
We got to Denver in the early afternoon, so we had some time to just explore the area. We got the rental car (Once again, a Sportage) and then headed for a shop I'd heard of that specializes in retro 80s and 90s stuff. We found some really fascinating things in there, and picked up a pretty cool Marvel action figure set as a thanks-for-watching-our-cats gift for our housesitter. After that we stopped in at a music store about a half-block from the 80s shop, because I really love going into shops like that. It's been family-owned ever since they opened, just after the Great Depression. We chatted with the manager there for a while, and when he heard that I work at a music store in CA he was more than happy to show us around, even taking us behind the scenes to the repair shops. It was a very refreshing way to spend some time. We then drove around downtown Denver, just seeing the sights. We stopped for a couple pictures at Molly Brown's (the Titanic survivor) house and the state capitol. We then went to dinner at Casa Bonita, which I'd heard of through a friend and on Atlas Obscura. And which is apparently immortalized in an episode of South Park. "Unique," while accurate, doesn't do the experience justice. For example, here is a photo of the cliff-diving pool they have:
Combine that with explorers, outlaws, and other wacky performances, and you can almost forget that the food is pretty nondescript. Except for their sopapillas, which were some of the most awesome things I've ever eaten.
The next day was our last ballpark: Coors Field. I've had people tell me it's a lot like AT&T Park, and I can certainly see why. There are a lot of similarities, and that's not a bad thing. The concourses are nice and big, there's something to see pretty much anywhere you look (without being overdone), and it just has a nice atmosphere. They had banners everywhere for awards their players have received, and to commemorate the ballpark's "firsts." They were prevalent without seeming garish.
Bonus Big Cat mention
It was a very nice place to see a game, even though Dinger was there. With his mom. As though one of them wasn't enough. I liked how the scoreboard wasn't just a standard rectangle, but had the mountains outlined at the top:
I thought that was a pretty cool touch. The day was a bit gloomy, but we'll take it, especially when the first forecast was saying it was going to hit about 92, and the second forecast said it'd be thunderstorming all weekend. Overall, a very nice park, and one I'd be happy to return to. Other than Dinger, there's very little to criticize.
After the game, we headed back to the hotel to pack for the flight home the next day. We ordered takeout and just spent the rest of the night taking it easy. The next day we headed back to the airport, and had a much less eventful time getting through security and to our gate. The flight back was pretty smooth, and actually a lot of fun. We flew with Alaska on this leg, and it was one of the Virgin America planes that was still in use, so we could watch on-demand episodes of Inside the Clubhouse. I spent the flight watching episodes about the 97 team, the Bonds Wall of Fame Ceremony, Vogelsong's retirement, and a few others. It was great. It was a great way to close out the trip.
When we got home, all I wanted to do was sleep for a few days, but I had to go to work the next day...
Our next trip starts in just under 2 weeks, so you can look forward to another one of these posts... sometime after that.
I have tons more photos than I shared here, so if you want to see anything about what I wrote about, let me know in the comments and I can post some (if they came out well enough that we kept them, anyway).
26 down. 4 to go.
Thanks for humoring me if you read this far. Extra McCoven Chow for you.