Saturday, August 30, 2008

Travelblog, Part 3--The Stadiums

During my trip, I attended games at all five Major League ballparks in California, and here are my report cards for each in the order in which I visited them…

Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles (C+)  All I’ve heard for the last 30 years or so is what a great stadium the "Taj Mahal of Baseball" is.  In one of my favorite books of all-time, From Dodger Dogs to Fenway Franks, author Bob Wood traveled to every Major League stadium in the summer of 1985 and rated them, and he just raved about Dodger Stadium, and gave it his #1 ranking.  Many other stadium rankings by fans and media outlets like Sports Illustrated and ESPN place DS at or near the top of the lists, but I’m sorry to say that I found the place to be highly overrated.  Mr. Wood rated Kansas City’s then-Royals (now Kauffman) Stadium #2—"A Masterpiece…in plastic" he called it because we still had Astroturf at the time—but even the Astroturf-era/pre-renovation Kauffman Stadium would blow Dodger Stadium’s doors off.

My biggest problem with the place is one doesn’t have access to the entire stadium like in most ballparks.  You’re stuck on the level that your ticket is on and there’s no moving up or down, thus I was unable to roam around and see the park from all angles (including the bleachers) per my usual.  I was also surprised at the generally poor upkeep of the place, like the rickety condiment cart that was about to collapse (see pic with my vaunted Dodger Dog) and the cheesy 60-watt bulbs used in the light fixtures under the upper deck roof.  Mr. Wood wrote about concourse floors that were "clean enough to eat off of", but I saw nothing of the sort, and the infield grass—something Mr. Wood also raved about in his book—looked very ratty in places.  The place is definitely showing its age, and although I’m aware that there are major renovation plans in the works, the Dodgers are co-owned by that schmuck Rupert Murdoch, so there’s plenty of money in the till to do a little bit of basic upkeep in the interim.

Media-types are often so quick to dog on the fans for being late-arrivers at Dodger games, but they can’t help but be late!  Traffic getting into the stadium is a nightmare (not really the stadium’s fault), and even though I allowed over an hour to get from my hotel near Anaheim to the game, I barely made it in time for the first pitch.  Hell, I could see people still arriving at the parking gates during the 6th inning!  The parking lots there are a total clusterfuck, and it also didn’t help that I had to walk a country mile from the back of the parking lot behind the stadium that overlooks downtown all the way down to the bottom of the hill to the left field corner behind the bleachers to buy my ticket, then go all way back up the hill to enter the stadium itself.  Nuckin’ futs!

Another supposed perk of Dodger Stadium is all the stars you’re likely to see there, but the only one I spotted through my binoculars was Tommy Lasorda posing for photos with fans down in the luxury seats behind home plate.  I do give credit to the L.A. fans for at least being enthusiastic instead of laid-back like I’d always heard they were, and the stadium does have a beautiful vista beyond the outfield, but overall, I was very underwhelmed by the Dodger Stadium experience, thus I’m being very generous with the C+ grade.  I’ll take Kauffman Stadium over it any day…

Petco Park, San Diego (A-)  A beautiful park in a great setting right downtown amongst all the eateries and bars in what’s called the Gaslamp District.  If you go to the top row on the first base side and look outward, you get a nice view of the Coronado Bridge and part of San Diego Bay.  Petco would’ve gotten an A from me except for the area of obstructed view seats down the left field line (see pic) next to the old Western Metal Supply Co. building that they incorporated into the stadium itself.  Cute idea, but from these seats, you can’t see the center fielder or the left fielder, nor can you see the video board for replays of the plays you missed.  There’s no excuse for this in a modern stadium.

By the by, I visited the San Diego Sports Hall of Fame in nearby Balboa Park, and was fairly impressed with it, apart from one glaring and curious omission—there were no exhibits there for the San Diego Sockers, who dominated both indoor and outdoor soccer in the early ‘80s (10 league championships in all) and the Sockers were the Oakland Raiders of the MISL to us Kansas City Comets fans—i.e., the Evil Empire!  Apart from two individual members of the team (forward Juli Veee and head coach Ron Newman) being inducted into the SD HOF, there was nary a mention of what was easily the most successful sports franchise in San Diego history.  Even the San Diego Chicken was on display at the museum, but the Sockers got snubbed.  Come to think of it, so did Fred Sanford’s favorite roller derby squad, the San Diego Sapsuckers...

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland (C-)  I refuse to call this place by its current corporate name, especially since I’m less-than-impressed with McAfee’s computer software!  So this is the home of those evil empires known as Charlie Finley’s A’s and Al Davis’ Raidas, huh?  As with most ‘60/’70s multi-purpose stadiums, the Mausoleum serves neither football or baseball very well, although ironically I had a great seat—for a Raiders game.  My bleacher baseball ticket would’ve landed me on the 35-yard-line about halfway up for a football game (this pic was taken from my seat), as I got to sit in Mt. Davisthe monstrosity that was built in the outfield to lure the Raiders back from L.A. in 1995 that destroyed the beautiful views fans used to have of the hills and mountains off to the east of the stadium.

I also found it rather humorous how us bleacherites were granted access to the normally restricted hoity-toity areas closed off for Raider games.  It was the same story on the opposite end of the stadium behind home plate where part of the club level occupies the middle deck.  I do give them points for including a nice pictorial history of Oakland sports along the walls, as well as a Raiders Hall of Fame display.  Although I didn’t do any sampling of the food, the Mausoleum appeared to have a nice variety of eats beyond just hot dogs and nachos—the garlic fries sure smelled good, anyway!  I also had fun checking out the various quirks of the place, like the dreaded "stairway to hell" that leads to the field seats for Raider games (see pic).

On the downside, they have the upper deck of the stadium tarped-off to make the baseball crowds appear larger, a practice that I find to be quite abhorrent (the Florida Marlins do this too).  Even though the A’s are having a bad year, the fans were still into the game, and the atmosphere was far from dismal—I can only imagine what the place is like during a Raiders game!  They do the best with what they have in Oakland, but still, baseball in a football stadium (or vice-versa) just doesn’t work, and I sure hope the A’s are able to finally get their new proposed ballpark, Cisco (Kid?) Field, down the road in Fremont.

By the way, I now see where Oakland gets its second-class reputation from after cruising around their downtown—it’s a bit of a dive there!  Dirty streets filled with lots of unsavory cretins—little did I know I would later find exponentially more undesirables over in Oakland’s sexier neighbor across the bay!

Mays Park, San Francisco (A)  The home of the Giants and Mr. Steroid King has only been open eight years and has already had three different names, so I’m taking a cue from fans on the Internet and just calling it Mays Park, after the "Say Hey Kid" himself, Willie Mays, whose statue adorns the main gate of the stadium.  I’d heard lots of good things about this place, and most of them were accurate—this is an outstanding baseball park!  It’s definitely well worth a trip to the upper deck on the third base side before it gets dark just to check out the awesome view of the bay with the big ships lurking in the background.  The view from the first base side is just as awesome, with the Bay Bridge standing guard beyond left field.  I normally don’t like to wear a sweatshirt to a baseball game, but after another hot summer here in K.C., I absolutely loved the Fall-like winds coming off McCovey Cove!

Everything about this park is top-notch, like the huge Hi-Def video screen in centerfield and one of the better P.A. systems I've heardthey even have a chick P.A. announcer here.  The big playground with the Coke bottle tube slides in left center field is rather nifty, as is the "knot hole" section in the right field wall where you don’t even need a ticket to watch the game through the outfield fence.  The Giants also had various displays scattered about the park to commemorate their 50th anniversary in the Bay Area that were a nice touch.  Of all the new breed of ballparks, I put this rascal right up there with Safeco in Seattle and PNC Park in Pittsburgh.  Too bad the game was such a clunker, as the Florida Marlins skunked the G-men 6-0.

A word to the wise if you’re attending a Giants game—take the bus to get there.  Parking around the stadium is pretty scarce, and what little there is of it is quite expensive, as in $25 a pop!  In fact, I highly recommend the buses over the cable cars for getting around in S.F.—they’re clean and efficient and devoid of idiot tourists.  You can buy an all-day pass for the cable cars and buses on the Muni for $11 and it’s totally worth it.

Anaheim Stadium, Anaheim (B+)  I know it’s called Angel Stadium now, but I still prefer its original name.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one, as it was a mid-‘60s park that went through a major renovation over ten years ago, but they somehow managed to bring it up-to-date after the football Rams bolted for St. Louis and they were able to remove most of the outfield seating that once totally enclosed the stadium.  There’s a bit of a changing-of-the-guard in the L.A. area these days, as the Angels are starting so supplant the mighty Dodgers in terms of stature, and with good reason—they field a much better team, and their ballpark experience is a lot more enjoyable in Orange County.  If nothing else, the Big A offered the cheapest parking—$8 as opposed to 15 bucks or more at all the other parks I visited on the trip, plus getting in and out was a snap, even with a big crowd on hand.

It’s amazing to look at old photos of Anaheim Stadium when it was first built basically out in the middle of nowhere, and compare the photos of today with all the urban sprawl that surrounds the place.  Today it’s strip mall heaven in Anaheim, along with lots of office parks and condos everywhere, not to mention the stately arena across the way formerly known as Arrowhead Pond, home of the NHL’s Mighty Quacks of Anaheim.  The stadium itself looks great in spite of its age, although there’s a little too much green to clash with the Angels’ red for my liking.  I’m with the rank-and-file of stadium aficionados and could also do without the phony rockpile and waterfall in center field that looks so out-of-place with its surroundings.  I also maintain that the giant Big-A scoreboard (see pic) should have been reinstated to its proper place in left center field after being evicted to the edge of the parking lot by the freeway when the Rams moved in.  All in all, Anaheim Stadium ain’t a bad place to watch a ballgame, even in the heart of downtown suburbia.

My Previous Stadium Grades
These are my grades for all the ballparks I've actually been to...

Current ballparks
Royals/Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City: A+ (Yes, I know, I’m biased!)
PNC Park, Pittsburgh: A
Safeco Field, Seattle: A
Coors Field, Denver: A
Comerica Park, Detroit: A-

Jacobs Field, Cleveland: B+
Wrigley Field, Chicago: B+
Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati: B
The Ballpark In Arlington, Arlington, TX: B
Oriole Park At Camden Yards, Baltimore: B
Miller Park, Milwaukee: B
Comiskey Park II, Chicago: B-
Metrodome, Minneapolis: C-

Defunct/demolished stadiums
Tiger Stadium, Detroit: A-
Busch Stadium, St. Louis: B+
Municipal Stadium, Kansas City: B+
Comiskey Park I, Chicago: B
County Stadium, Milwaukee: B
Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati: C
Mile High Stadium, Denver: C
Arlington Stadium, Arlington, TX: C-
Municipal Stadium, Cleveland: C-
Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia: C-
Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh: D+
Astrodome, Houston: D

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