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......

Saturday, May 23, 2015

2015 Game #3 - Detroit Tigers

Jeremy and I successfully completed our train journey through Canada and arrived in Windsor, Ontario.  From there it was a 15-minute taxi ride across the border (easy process) and we arrived at our hotel in downtown Detroit where we met up with Kevin who had flown in from CA.  When we arrived, the Tigers were playing a game that evening - we did not have tickets for the game, but we decided to walk towards the ballpark to get a sneak preview of the good pre-game hang-outs.  Though everything in Detroit has a Red Wing component to it, we still enjoyed ourselves at a couple of spots within two blocks of Comerica Park - Cheli's Chili Bar and Hockeytown Bar.

After dinner and a few drinks, we called it an early night as we knew we needed to rest up to be ready for a 1:00 PM game the next day.  To start off the pre-game fun on Thursday, we went back to Cheli's to get some food and beer.  Cheli's has a very interesting - and in my opinion, a great - set-up - When you first arrive, the parking lot is fenced-in and set-up with plenty of table and chairs as well as a beer truck and BBQ food area.  For food I figured I could not go wrong by ordering chili at Cheli's Chili Bar - I was not disappointed.  

Once you enter the actual building itself, there are 3-stories - a bar and dining room seating on both the first and second floors with a private event space available to rent out on the third floor.  Additionally, there is a rooftop bar that is open until the start of the game - the three of us headed up for a few drinks and watched the ballpark area as people began to arrive for the day's game.  

Before entering the game, we walked around the entire stadium to check-out the different entrances to Comerica Park and found it interesting there wasn't a "main" entrance that seemed to serve as a grand entrance.  Here are a few of the gates from around the ballpark:

We made our way through the gates and towards our section, when we encountered a unique ballpark usher experience - the usher took our tickets, walked us all the way to our actual seats and then wiped the seats down with a towel before we sat down.  For this Tigers day game versus the Astros, we were able to get front row seats (actual chairs, now bleachers) in the RF Grandstands - felt like I was right up in the action, great view of the scoreboard, and a good crowd of local Detroit fans around us!  

After taking a lap around the main concourse of Comerica Park, we discovered some unique features of this ballpark - there are fountains above center field which shoot water after a Tigers home run or victory; there are amusement rides - a ferris wheel of baseballs and a carousel of tigers; a large bar area featuring beers from around the world; and, on the upper deck level, an outdoor lounge area called the New Amsterdam 416 Bar (416-feet from home plate).  

We returned back to our seats to watch an extended baseball game - the Tigers blew their lead in the 8th inning which resulted in extra innings.  However, with a walk-off home run to lead off the bottom of the 11th inning, the home team claimed victory!

Following the game, we went to find a sports bar to catch the Gaints sweep of the Dodgers - we ended up a Coach's Corner (not recommended to anyone).  We made one final stop at the Old Shillelagh to get a final, final before calling it a night.  The next day is rental car pick-up and a (short) road trip to Cleveland, until then.....