Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ballpark Tour 2014

Larry and I just completed our third annual ballpark tour visiting four ballparks in five days, none of which we'd been in before.  That makes 14 parks for our three tours (for past reports see here and here).

Ballparks Visited

St Louis                Busch Stadium            Seating Capacity:  43,975       Opened: 2006
Kansas City          Kauffman Stadium      Seating Capacity:  37,903       Opened: 1973
Dallas/Ft Worth    Globe Life Stadium     Seating Capacity:  48,114        Opened: 1994
Houston                Minute Maid Park        Seating Capacity:  40,963       Opened: 2000

Game Results

July 9     At St Louis            Cardinals 5, Pittsburgh 2                   Attendance: 43,941    Time: 3:24
July 10   At Kansas City      Detroit 16, Royals 4                          Attendance: 21,775    Time: 3:17
July 12   At Texas                Los Angeles Angels 5, Rangers 2     Attendance: 37,253    Time: 3:17
July 13   At Houston            Boston 11, Astros 0                         Attendance: 20,681     Time: 3:23

This year we saw the two biggest blowouts of our tours; the Tigers destroying the Royals 16-4 and the Red Sox beating the Astros 11-0 in a game that was not as close as the final score.

We observed a significant discrepancy between announced and actual attendance at every ballpark, with the possible exception of Kauffman Stadium.  For instance, at Busch Stadium the announced attendance was only 34 less than the capacity of the park and that's why we ended up in the last row of the last section of the upper left field deck.  It looked like at least 20% of the seats in the stadium were never occupied though the tickets had been sold.  The two blowout games also left few folks by the 9th inning (Larry and I stay to the end of every game).  At Kansas City there were probably only 3-4,000 hardy souls and certainly fewer than 5,000 in the 9th of the Astros-Red Sox game.  We were also surprised to see a large number of Cardinals fans leaving Busch after the seventh inning stretch.

Best Fielding Play:  Actually it was two plays by Rangers rookie left fielder Jake Smolinski.  In the second inning robbing Josh Hamilton with a diving catch and making an even better play at a critical moment of the game in the third when Albert Pujols came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out.  Pujols smashed a line drive into the left-center field gap which looked like a guaranteed bases clearing double when Smolinski made a great diving catch.  You can watch both of them here.  We were sitting on the left field line and can attest to the difficulty the sun was posing for fielders. 

Pirates second baseman Neil Walker gets an honorable mention for two outstanding plays against the Cardinals including one on which he roamed into left center to catch a pop fly.

Best Effort For the Least ResultsLorenzo Cain, right fielder for the Kansas City Royals.  In the 16-4 stomping by the Tigers the only Royals player to impress us was Cain.  He went 0 for 5 but hit the ball very hard four times and made a couple of fine outfield plays running down line drives.
  (Lorenzo Cain is my name . . . )

The Ballparks

I've become easy to please.  I liked 'em all and would gladly go back to each one.

Busch is located right in downtown St Louis which we like.  Great atmosphere and good seat layout.

The Royals stadium is suburban with a bucolic and relaxed atmosphere resembling some of the spring training parks I visited in Arizona.  Very pleasant to walk around the park prior to the game particularly in the outfield and the fountains are a beautiful touch.  Easy access and parking.

The Texas Rangers stadium also is in a suburban location but is constructed in a closed-in design which makes it feel like an urban park.  The interior walking area where the concessions are located reminds one of an older stadium but has a lot more room in the concourse.  Parking was incredibly easy both coming in and going out.

Minute Maid in Houston is located just on the edge of downtown and . . .  well, it's different. We'd never been in a domed stadium with the dome closed and it was a little unsettling.  The sound was odd.  You could hear the bat hitting the ball very distinctly but the crowd noise sounded subdued (of course that could have been due to the nature of the game we saw).  It felt a bit like watching a game in a mall.  But the seat configuration and sight lines were very good for the most part and I did like the choo-choo train in left field and the concessions area and concourse were spacious and clean.  

Best Scoreboard:  Minute Maid Park, Houston.  Lots of information in visually easy format.  The out of town scoreboard was the best I've seen.

Player You Most Wish Had Retired After Last SeasonRaul Ibanez, Royals.  Ibanez has had a good major league career with more than 2,000 hits and 300 homers over nineteen season but is now 42 years old.  After starting the season with the Angels, Kansas City recently picked him up for reasons that are hard to fathom.  Entering the game hitting .150 in almost 200 at bats he looked completely over matched at the plate and badly misplayed two balls in left field.  It was sad to watch.

Most Ridiculous Game:  Red Sox beating the Astros 11-0.  The Sox had 27 base runners including 17 in the first 5 innings.  The Astros turned five double plays (and nearly a sixth) and the Boston hitters blew a lot of other opportunities to drive in runners or the score could have easily been 18-0.  The 'Stros managed all of three singles but balanced that by committing three errors and managing zero walks and twelve strikeouts against Clayt Buchholz who entered the game with an ERA above 6.00.

The Seats

Our seats in the last row of Busch provided good sight lines except for deep left and left-center fields located right beneath us.  Great value for $12.

At Kauffman we purchased $50 tickets ninety minutes before the game and ended up in the second row on the left field line halfway between third and the foul pole. 

For the Rangers game we bought $55 tickets about five hours before the game and sat in the same location as Kauffman except we were in the first row (we did better than Bob Uecker).  Of course our seats were in the sun, it was 97 degrees at game time and they'd moved the game up to 6:15pm so we didn't dare go to sit in our seats till the second inning for fear we would melt.

At Minute Maid we purchased $60 tickets in advance which got us into the first row in the upper deck on the first base side.  Tickets like those we had at the Kansas City and Texas games were selling for $128.  We found out from some Astros fans that the ballclub doubled ticket prices with the Red Sox coming to town.
(Big Papi swinging)

Loudest And Most Annoying Music:  Busch Stadium.  Turn it down!

Most Unintelligible Public Address System:  Kauffman Stadium.  Couldn't understand a word.

Best Former Name For A Ballpark:  Minute Maid Park was originally known as Enron Field when it opened in 2000.  The Astros owners had to pay Enron creditors $2.1 million in order to be able to drop the name!  I would have preferred if they'd kept it to remind us of the Roaring 90s.   

Some Unsolicited Advice For Major League Baseball

The game times were much longer than our prior tours averaging 3:20 while in 2012 the average was 2:59 and a mere 2:40 last year - in fact, every game this year was longer than any game we saw in 2012 or 2013.  Baseball needs to do something to speed up the pace.  One immediate fix is enforcing the amount of time between when the pitcher gets the ball and when he throws which is supposed to be 12 seconds when the bases are unoccupied but which is never observed.  In one agonizing sequence I timed the very slow and deliberate Pirates pitcher Brandon Cumpton pitching to Matt Holliday of the Cards who, between every pitch, likes to meander around the stadium before getting into the batter's box and then proceeds to squirm and fidget before settling in.  For three consecutive pitches the intervals were 25, 30 and 28 seconds.  Even if you changed the rule to allow the pitcher 15 seconds in all circumstances between throws but enforced it games would be shortened by 20 minutes.   

Best Ballpark Food: The beef brisket at Broadway BBQ in Busch Stadium.

Best Food Away From Ballpark:  Lunch at Arthur Bryant's BBQ in Kansas City, MO.  I had about a pound of rib tips with fries and red cream soda.  They threw in a loaf of bread in case that wasn't enough.   Here, see for yourself (photo taken after I'd already made headway on the meal).

We could not eat a meal for 24 hours afterwards which disrupted our plan to go the following day to Oklahoma Joe's BBQ in Kansas City, Kansas as we were still incapacitated meaning we missed this:
HomeScreen_8-21g short bottom.jpg
We'll go there next time.

Most Unexpected Scenery:  The Flint Hills, Kansas. Cruising along on I-35  between Topeka and Wichita, just south of Emporia, we came across this sign on top of a small ridge Flint hills kansas.jpgand suddenly we were plunged into emptiness.  We saw no dwellings for the next 25 miles and our vista extended at least 30 miles in every direction.  The Flint Hills are an eroded form of bedrock containing bands of flint running through east-central Kansas from near its northern border to the northern part of Oklahoma in a swath nearly 200 miles long and 80 miles wide at its maximum or about three times the area of Connecticut.  Because the land was unsuitable for farming it was never plowed and used primarily for grazing cattle leaving it as the most dense coverage of intact tallgrass prairie in North America.  It didn't look quite this green but this picture from the National Park Service Tallgrass Prairie Preserve website gives a good idea of the contours of the land.
The setting sun over the Flint Hills casts shadows across the wide expanse of tallgrass prairie.

Best Non-Ballpark Attraction:  The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.  Go.  Kansas City was home of the Monarchs, one of the most successful Negro League teams and also where, in 1920, the first independent Negro Baseball League was organized.  The museum is small (you can see the whole thing in 90 minutes) but extremely well done taking you through the entire history of African-Americans in baseball from the Civil War through the first decade after Jackie Robinson integrated the sport in 1947 (for more see 42 and, by the way, did anyone else notice Jackie's widow, Rachel, who turns 92 next week, sitting with Bud Selig at Tuesday night's All-Star Game?) which means it tells the larger story of African-Americans in American society during those years.  It honors the accomplishment of those who played in the Negro Leagues and leaves you wondering how Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, Judy Johnson, Martin Dihigo, Satchel Paige (of whom you can read more in Don't Look Back) and others would have fared if given the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues during their prime.  It was an odd period when black players couldn't play in the Majors but at the same time Satchel Paige was barnstorming with white pitchers Dizzy Dean and Bob Feller throughout the 1930s and 1940s on tours to which they drew black and white fans in numbers that exceeded the attendance of most major league games.

Worst Non-Ballpark AttractionNew Orleans where we spent the last night and morning of our trip.  Some advice for those of you who have not yet made it to the city - don't bother, at least if you are beyond college age.  It's hot, humid & fetid.  This was my second visit and I just don't get the appeal of the place. Yes, I know that a lot of great music came out of the city but, and this is very important so please pay attention - you can now hear that music in many other places in America (for one of the best read Pops).

West Coast in 2015!


  1. Really enjoyed your informative reviews and insightful commentary plus the great supporting pics and videos...not just another day at the ballpark, for sure! dm

  2. This was a great post. The level of detail and the description of surroundings( everything from Flint Hills to Bar B Q) and the history of the game are perfect touch which enhance the understanding of the subject and capture your enthusiasm. Better than most SI or other sports magazines. You should submit this to Sporting News. I am now ravenous for Arthur Bryant's. My question is this : based on your experience, what is the best seat in the house? Where is the best place to watch a game? Geat stuff. Keep it up.