Friday, June 5, 2015

Off Day - A Little Bit of the Middle of Nowhere

Following the Pittsburgh Pirates game, we had a day off from baseball which allowed us to slowly take our time traveling from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati.  We started the morning, by riding up the historic Duquesne Incline - a funicular (or inclined plane railroad) - from the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh up Mount Washington.  It was a very different ride up the side of the mountain, and have to admit the ride was a little nerve-wracking.

Once we made it up the old rickety tracks, the views were absolutely great of downtown Pittsburgh, the ballparks, and the confluence of three rivers.  The confluence is the point where the Allegheny, Monongahela, and the Ohio river all meet.  Here are some of the photos from the top of Mount Washington.

And the ride back down:

After safely reaching the bottom of the mountain, we loaded up in the car and made our way from Pennsylvania back into Ohio (and, yes, more Ohio Turnpike fun).  As we made our way a little down the road, we finally had to make a stop for fuel - what better place than the middle of nowhere, North Lima, OH.  A very, VERY small, rural town where everyone seemed to own their own 4,000-SF house with a couple of acres of property (would probably guess that no one even locked their front doors).  While in town, we stopped at a random breakfast joint to the re-fuel ourselves - a wonderful, big breakfast that hit the spot - eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, and a waffle all for $6....

After the meal, we decided to take surface streets rather than get on the freeway just to "take it all in" - very different experience to see how differently people live in other parts of the country.  Oh, and came upon a random drag race competition literally in the middle of no where!

We then made it to our next stop for the day - the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH.  

The museum was very well laid out - there was a lot on the history of the NFL and its origins which was very interested to follow along with.  The exhibits then proceeded into the super bowls (really wish I remember more of the 80's Super Bowls), and then ended in my favorite part of the museum which was all of the bronze busts of the each of the Hall of Fame inductees. 

The Million-Dollar Backfield:

And I did manage to find one thing that seemed a little our of place in the football hall of fame....

Once we wrapped up in Canton, we made the last leg of the drive for this trip - we drove to Cincinnati....well, technically Covington, KY which is just on the other side of the Ohio River.  We checked into our hotel (it was an Embassy Suites so we enjoyed the free happy hour) and then walked across the bridge to get dinner in Cincinnati before calling it a night and getting some rest for a day game at the Great American Ballpark in the morning....

Sunday, May 24, 2015

2015 Game #5 - Pittsburgh Pirates

Woke up on Saturday morning and after watching all of the local news stations setting up and getting ready for the verdict in the local police shooting trial, we knew this was our indication to get on the road earlier than planned to avoid any downtown excitement.  We made it out of town no problem and into Pittsburgh in time for lunch hour - destination was Primanti Brothers, which is a local Pittsburgh area chain that is famous for its sandwiches that are made with cole slaw and fries on the sandwich.  Of course, we had to visit the original location which was in Pittsburgh's historic Strip District.  The sandwich was washed down with a Yuengling Lager, which is brewed at the oldest brewery in America.

After we lunched, we dropped off the car and the luggage at our hotel which was just across the Allegheny River from PNC Park.  We walked across the Roberto Clemente Bridge to arrive outside of PNC Park on a gorgeous 80-degree Pittsburgh day for a 4:05 PM Pirates game.  

As we arrived to the stadium, the Pirates were hosting a Saturday Block Party outside of the stadium where they closed off roads, had a live band, and were serving beers which could be drank on the streets and areas outside of the ballpark.

After grabbing a tall boy of Miller Lite, we did a full lap around the park to see the different entrances and the waterfront walk just outside of the outfield.  

We entered the stadium early enough to get our Josh Harrison bobblehead on giveaway day and made out way to our seats - pretty much behind home plate about 20 row up.  When buying tickets, I knew I wanted to get seats in this area since the stadiums is supposed to have some great views.

Whenever I read reviews on MLB ballparks, all of the list/articles seem to include AT&T Park and PNC Park in the top.  I had high expectations about this stop and it really did not disappoint (I think the weather helped out) - the layout was great, the neighborhood amenities were top notch, the views were amazing, and the fan energy level was high and they were all fully engaged.  A top stadium to watch MLB, but I think AT&T edges it out as the best spot in the country!  

A few other things to note in the stadium.... Starting with the ramp rotunda - the ramps leading to all levels of the stadium down the third base line also serves as a standing room area only area should anyone not want to sit in their seat but rather stand from this view.

Above the left field bleachers, they have their Hall of Fame Club which is open to all ticket holders - there is an indoor bar with a fully-seated restaurant should you choose to eat there, and a few rows of standing room only areas to watch the game from this area.

The beer of choice for the ballpark is their custom Pirate-logo'd IC Light (IC stands for Iron City).

Now, for the most exciting part of the whole game (maybe even the whole trip) - on the scoreboard popped up an advertisement for Chickie's & Pete's Crab Fries!!!  For all of you die-hard blog readers, you will remember this is my favorite concession item from Philadelphia that I had 5 years ago.  Needless to say, I jumped out of my seat and waited in the long line - worth it, they were amazing (sorry there is only a photo of the empty container, too focused on eating and not thinking of photos):

The Pirates put a beating on the visiting New York Mets (a lot of Mets fans in the crowd for this game).  After the victory, the Pirates play a song called "Raise the Jolly Roger" and raise a Jolly Roger Flag out in the center field - a unique and fun tradition.

After the game, we ventured back to the hotel to get cleaned up a bit, walked down to the confluence of three rivers (more on that from the next blog post), and then made our way to Jerome Bettis' restaurant (PNC Park and Heinz Field are about 4 blocks from each other and this restaurant is right in the middle).  Let's just say Jerome knows football better than he knows food.  Tomorrow is an off day before a Memorial Day game in Cincinnati, more to come...... 

2015 Game #4 - Cleveland Indians

Road trip!!!  For the remaining portion of this trip, we will do some driving around the middle part of the country - we started off Friday morning by picking up our rental car, hitting the road (via the Ohio Turnpike), and making our way to Cleveland.

The drive was pretty simply and we arrived to Cleveland on a clear, sunny day.  We were able to check into our hotel early (which was a building that had been converted from one of the first indoor malls in America) and the staff pointed us to E. 4th Street in the Historic Warehouse District to get some lunch.  Following lunch, we walked across town towards Lake Erie - Cleveland was actually a great town that was very clean and full of very friendly people!  I would definitely like to come back to Cleveland and have some more time to explore.

As we walked out to the water, there was some very cool architecture and then we passed by the Cleveland Browns stadium.  

From there, we spent some time at the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame.  There were countless exhibits with all sorts of different Rock N' Roll artifacts - from records to concert outfits to musical instruments to Johnny Cash's tour bus.  And one of my favorites, all of the rejection letters to bands like U2, Eagles, etc.  After viewing all of the exhibits, I sat in the theater and watched a 90-minute film highlighting all of the inductees into the HOF - very interesting.  

After the hall of fame, we quickly returned to the hotel to change for the baseball game and headed out to find a pre-game watering hole.  We wandered into a sports bar about two blocks from Progressive Field - Harry Buffalo.  Now, not only was there an Indians game tonight, there was also a Cavilers playoff game - this basketball game was not being played in Cleveland but since the Cavs arena was next door to the Indians ballpark the area was bustling with energy and the bars were starting to fill up.  We found three seats at the bar with our bartender, Renee, being absolutely wonderful!  She gave us all of the inside tips on the area, but more importantly the tricks of the trade around Progressive Field (turned out all of the advice was spot on once we got inside).  After getting a little snack and some drinks, we headed to Will Call - for this game Kevin secured tickets from a friend of his who is a relief pitcher for the Indians - Marc Rzepczynski.  Once we got our tickets, we headed in and sat in the family section of the ballpark.  The seats were in the 200-level which is actually the upper sections off the main concourse, only about 6 rows deep.  

During the game, we walked out to the Heritage Park in Left Field to check-out some of the history of the team, the monuments, and the notable player names on the wall.

At Progressive Field, both teams have bullpens in left-center field (a 2-level bullpen) that you can walk right up behind the catcher area with only netting separating the fans from the players.

In right-center field, the have a bar area called The Corner - this area features a full bar and was packed full of people.  Everyone in this area seemed to be focused on the TV screens and the basketball game - I believe this is was accounted for high concentration of Cleveland fans.

Following the game, we were given family passes to head into the clubhouse to see Marc - we followed our guy, Buddy, through the bowels of the stadium.....we thought we would be inside, but we actually got to go into the Indians dugout to see the players and watch the fireworks show!!!!  A few shots from inside the dugout while we were down there:

What a unique and awesome experience - thanks to Marc for setting us up with the tickets and trip to the dugout.  Besides the constant sticking to the floor of the dugout from all the chew spit, it was perfect!

During our pre-game trip to Harry Buffalo, we made sure Renee would be able to get us back into the place even though there would be a large crowd watching basketball - sure enough, no issue and we bellied back up for some victory drinks!  We walked back to the hotel to call it a night and get ready for the next stop, Pittsburgh......