Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chattanooga Lookouts

The book that will chronicle the fantastical road trip that this blog covers is now 40% funded via Kickstarter cloud funding. You can be part of history and help bring "Gone to the Dogs" to print by visiting my kickstarter page. At least watch the video and see how handsome I am.

cannot tell you how many times I have tried to catch a Chattanooga Lookouts game. At least 5 or 6, but every time my schedule of passing through did not merge well with their playing schedule. The nerve of some teams! The first few times I tried the Lookouts were playing in Historic Engel Stadium. With my penchant for old ballparks I really lament not being able to see a game there. You have probably seen it on the big/small screen. It is where most of the baseball action from the film “42,” which chronicles Jackie Robinson’s breach of the color barrier is played/filmed.

The Lookouts have new digs on the banks of the Tennessee River. AT&T Field has a nice red brick facade that gives it the veneer of a real and old-timey park. Inside the structure is mostly cinderblock with the press box and other structures made from corrugated aluminum. While it isnt’ the prettiest of Double A parks I have been in, the team built it with its own money. It was not funded by the taxpayer, and that is something that garners immense respect. I’d rather look at a smallish scoreboard than a drive-in movie sized jumbotron and have my tax dollars go to something more mundane….say road repair? Nicely done Lookouts.

There is also the lighted, Christmas ornament-looking, baseballs affixed to the exterior that make the venue unique, as well as the fact that is on a sloping hill. This was the first park on my journey that had an escalator just to get you to the main gate/ticket window area. It is in the mountains after all. It is also located in smack dab downtown Chattanooga, making it a very community oriented ballpark. The grandstand is partially roofed to keep the rain off the fans and large rotating fans hang from it to keep a breeze flowing.

Bun-nice and fresh.
Taste-the Tyson frank made a respectable showing.
Toppings-a little thin, and there were those damnable packets of relish.
Price-$3.25 is a decent price for the dog.
Portability-comes in a clear plastic sleeve. Wrapper is better, but the sleeve was ok.
It Factor-not much happening on the specialty dog front in Chattanooga.

Location-downtown. Top score.
Access-all modes and kudos for the ELECTRIC bus.
GA Ticket Price-$5 for the cheap tickets. The way it oughta be.
Cleanliness-not bad, but could use a good sweep and hose down.
Fans-nice crowd considering it looked like rain. They loved the game as well.
Ambiance-nearly perfect, could be my judgement was skewed since I visited Engel Stadium just before. But hey, it’s my blog.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability5GA Ticket Price5
It Factor2Fans5

Even without the Lookouts you would want to stop in Chattanooga, just because it is Chattanooga. And yes, that have that damn choo choo. I was only there a day and got tired of that affiliation...I am sure the residents are fed up with it as well. But the town also has some great Southern League action. As a Dodger affiliate the team is usually stocked with talent and you can have a great outing at the ballpark and enjoy a tasty dog as well. In the area? Stop, play, eat.

Special Feature: How to Get a Foul Ball (filmed at Port St Lucie Mets Ballpark)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Atlanta Braves

The book that will chronicle the fantastical road trip that this blog covers is now 40% funded via Kickstarter cloud funding. You can be part of history and help bring "Gone to the Dogs" to print by visiting my kickstarter page. At least watch the video and see how handsome I am.

They say life is a journey and not a destination. If this is true then it is the passengers on your journey that make it special. On Sunday I visited Turner Field which was the 30th and final Major League Baseball park for the season. I have now officially had a dog in all 30 MLB parks. And it was a close call. I met my buddy Troy Clarida at the park. Troy and I were shipmates on the USS Waddell (DDG-24) back in the early 1980s. We were integral parts of one of most fearsome weapons teams to sail the seas. Troy worked on the large calibre 127mm guns and I on the missile systems. Plus we drank a of beer together and ate food we could not identify while gallivanting around the South Pacific. It was a real privilege to down my last MLB dog with an old shipmate...even if he did smuggle in his own gluten-free bun. 

The skies above Turner Field were pretty damn gray when I arrived. There’s some history to this. During the past 3 years I have tried to catch a Braves game with Troy twice...both times we were rained out. It was looking like a third time in a row, just what I didn’t want for my final MLB stop. We were able to snag what the Braves call “Skyline” tickets. They are called such because they are high up and on the side that offers a skyline view of downtown Atlanta. They go on sale 3 hours before game time and cost ONE DOLLAR. Bravo Braves, bravo.

That dollar gave us entrance to the the mainly red brick edifice that bears the name of the former Braves owner and its wide main concourse. Turner Field was one of the earlier “retro parks” and it has a great ambiance, dog selection, location, and pretty much all that I love in a ballpark. So what do you do with a venue like that? Blow it up. Despite Turner Field only being about 15 years old, the team is building a new facility in the burbs that is slated to open in 2017 or so. A shame really, as it is a great park. And after 15 years nearly new. Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, by comparison, are both over 100 years old. Who knows what they will do with the “old” park. Can I have it?

Bun-my bun was laden with gluten and delicious.
Killers Tom and Troy, Destroying Dogs
Taste-the National Deli frank was decent, but I have had better.
Toppings-you have to ask for onions as the counter, and they give you PLENTY. Grilled peppers are also available.
Price-$4.25 is not anything to brag about, but nothing to complain about either.
Portability-a nice paper wrapper, complete with the Braves logo.
It Factor-there is a stand it the main food section that offers up a great selection of specialty dogs.

Location-downtown Atlanta.
Access-walk, bike, MARTA, drive...all modes of access available.
Another Ballpark Chaser. Read His Shirt
GA Ticket Price-3 hours before the game there are a limited number of tickets available for ONE STINKING DOLLAR! Braves win that prize.
Cleanliness-nice and clean.
Fans-you mean the fans that made the wave mainstream in baseball and invented the tomahawk chop? Top score.
Ambiance-looks and feels like a baseball venue. I have no idea why the Braves want to replace this gem.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability5GA Ticket Price5
It Factor5Fans5

La Familia Norton
And the rain? It drizzled until about the 5th inning, then it really poured. The tarp came out and I am sure the game was called. It lasted 5 ½ innings, enough to call it an official game. Troy and I dodged a bullet on that one.

After the game I met another old friend. Weary Hot Dog Explorers do get tired of food on the road and in ballparks. Amy and Steve Norton (I know Amy from when I had a real job...which I did at one point in my life) invited me to their home just outside of Atlanta for the two things road trippers cherish the most: a home cooked meal and a shower. Amy served up some fantab lasagna (I had almost forgotten what Italian food tasted like) and I was entertained by the terrific twosome of Claire and Cale (ages 5 and 2 ½). It is encounters with folks like Troy and the Nortons that make the trip bearable at times. Seeing old friends while completing the MLB portion of my quest made the rain seem insignificant.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jacksonville Suns

The book that will chronicle the fantastical road trip that this blog covers is now 40% funded via Kickstarter cloud funding. You can be part of history and help bring "Gone to the Dogs" to print by visiting my kickstarter page. At least watch the video and see how handsome I am.

I had been to a baseball game in Jacksonville in the early 90s. I wasn’t sure it they still played in the worn but cozy ballpark I had seen them in before. When my GPS steered me to Bragan Field, it was obvious that the Suns have built new digs. The mostly red brick structure with dark green supporting steel framework is very reminiscent of the Ballpark in Arlington (now called Globe Life Ballpark). It sports a modest party deck area, a smallish grass berm GA seating area, some outfield bleachers and a concourse that seems a bit tight. One of its most unique features is the stairway leading up to the main concourse once you are in the main gate. It reminds me of a much older and less efficiently built ballpark until one clears this feature. The quaint interior belied the slick exterior. I had the feeling I was in a much older ballpark that had seen Joan Rivers’ plastic surgeon for a facelift.

In a trip that has been a collection of weird coincidences (of which will be chronicled in the book “Gone to the Dogs”) I received my first bobblehead giveaway, the night before I had visited the bobblehead museum inside the Miami Marlins ballpark.

Bun-nice and fresh.
Taste-despite probably being the first name you think of when you think of hot dog wieners, this was the first ballpark that served Oscar Mayer franks. They were pretty good, and the slightly burned frank added to the texture and taste.
Toppings-a decent selection.
Price-$4 is a little pricey for a minor league hot dog.
Portability-nicely done in larger paper wrapper.
It Factor-JAX falls short here. You get the regular dog, or there is a brat to choose from.

Location-near enough to downtown JAX to be considered a downtown park.
Access-walk, bike, drive, bus.
GA Ticket Price-the Suns could do better for a grass berm seat than $7.50.
Cleanliness-typically, most ballparks get an easy top score for this. The ballpark in Jacksonville, while by no means nasty, had more trash than any ballpark I had been to floating around. The restroom was also out of pump soap and paper towels, and I was there an hour BEFORE first pitch. I suppose I caught the Suns on a off day, but I call them as I see them.
Fans-large and engaged crowd.
Ambiance-overall Bragan Field had the feel of a real baseball park.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability5GA Ticket Price4
It Factor2Fans5

I suffered the biggest quandary of my journey in Jacksonville. It was getting late and I had to be in Atlanta for a 1:30 pm Braves start to complete my final stop of MLB parks. It was a long 5 hour drive and I wanted to knock off a few hours before stopping for the night. I had to leave right after the game to do that. But the Suns had arranged for one of my favorite spectator sports to be conducted on the field right after the game...midget wrestling. Did you hear me MIDGET WRESTLING! Who doesn’t love that? I hadn’t see that since I was a kid, and then only on TV. In the end, I opted for the safe option and headed out of JAX as soon as the game was over, visions of elves, elves in tights doing the Atomic Elbow move,  dancing in my head during the drive to the Georgia state line.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Miami Marlins

The book that will chronicle the fantastical road trip that this blog covers is now 40% funded via Kickstarter cloud funding. You can be part of history and help bring "Gone to the Dogs" to print by visiting my kickstarter page. At least watch the video and see how handsome I am.

Yes, This Really is a Baseball Park
I just hit ballpark number 29….one more to go to complete all 30 MLB parks. And the one on Friday night was a interesting one. Marlins Park in Miami is a slick new park that has the most high-tech retractable roof in baseball. It is white and glass on the outside and looks strikingly like...an airport. The attached parking garages do not help, they look like attached parking garages and nobody wants to see that. It also restricts the view of the ballpark from many angles, and it is a lovely structure, it just doesn’t look like a ballpark. The low-flying aircraft, headed for the real airport a few miles away, add to the illusion. At the ticket window I didn’t know whether to ask for a general admission ticket or a round trip ticket to Las Vegas.

Once inside the park has some of the widest concourses of any stadium. It could accommodate huge crowds, if that were an issue for the Marlins...which it isn’t. The concourses are pleasing to the eye, but once you set foot in the seating area your eyes are assaulted by a technicolor bomb. I get it, Miami is colorful and you want to pay tribute to your hometown. But the colors should be appealing, not make me nauseated, I have a hot dog to eat for cryin’ out loud. The centerpiece of the gaudiness that is Marlins Park is in the outfield. It is a sea-theme thingamajig that does some sort of spinning and/or jumping and/or lighting when the Marlins hit a homer. Franky, I am not sure what it is.

Baseball...and Culture
On the positive side there is some highbrow culture to be had in the stadium. Firstly, there is large print of “The Manager.” A baseball manager painting by my favorite American artist Roy Lichtenstein. And there is my favorite attraction in any of the ballparks: the bobblehead museum. Hundreds of oversized heads bobbing in unison as some sort of mechanism keeps the figurines in a near continuous shaking of the noggin. It is mesmerizing. And beyond the outfield wall is a huge glass window with a splendid view of the Miami skyline. With its futuristic style and explosion of clashing colors Marlins park can best be summed up by a mashup of two of my favorite TV shows as a kid: Lost in Space Meets Scooby Doo.

Oh, and they sell hot dogs too:

Bun-fresh and slightly toasted on the inside. Nicely done.
Taste-the Kayem frank had a good solid taste.
Toppings-the Marlins excel here. Nice cart with a great selection.
Price-$6..say what? Does that include a wash and wax for my car?
Portability-a cardboard boat AND a paper wrapper. It does a great job but the boat isn’t really needed.
It Factory-surprisingly thin in a city known for food. There is the Spicy Island Dog, but other than that few other hot dog options.

Location-downtown, butted right up against Little Havana
Access-walk, bus, bike drive, lots of options.
GA Ticket Price-$18 is pretty steep considering the location of the seats.
Cleanliness-one of the cleanest ballparks I have visited.
Fans-entire sections empty, and judging from the cheering, most of the fans were from San Francisco and rooting for the Giants.
Ambiance-I don’t want to demean the quality of the stadium. It is so gaudy that it is ugly and so ugly that it is beautiful. But it don’t look like no baseball park. I am thinking soccer when I see this place. Splendid venue, just not for hardball.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability5GA Ticket Price3.5
It Factor3.5Fans3

All in all a Marlins game can be much like a visit to the airport. It’s hard to park and it is expensive, you have to wait in line to get a ticket, you have to pass through tough screening and a metal detector, the food inside is way overpriced, it’s crowded, announcements are made on the public address system that you cannot understand and its full of people who have come from all over. And when I left it took me half an hour to find the exit...I spent 30 minutes looking for baggage claim.

NEW FEATURE! I am experimenting adding videos. Do they add to the blog? Oh...don't hate me because I am beautiful.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Port St Lucie Mets

The book that will chronicle the fantastical road trip that this blog covers is now 40% funded via Kickstarter cloud funding. You can be part of history and help bring "Gone to the Dogs" to print by visiting my kickstarter page. At least watch the video and see how handsome I am.

The second part of my fantabulous baseball day, in which I saw two games in different venues, took me to Tradition Field, home of the St. Lucie Mets. It screams Mets with its blue and orange trim. From the outside it looks slick and futuristic, complete with my favorite amenity...free parking. Why free parking? Average parking at a MiLB game is $5, MLB is about $15. There are 30 MLB games to eat a dog at and at least as many MiLB...you do the math. Free parking keeps me from being destitute, and when I am already semi-homeless that is really all I got going for me. Did I mention I was on a budget?

Most impressive, is the huge concrete overhang that shields the lion’s share of the main grandstand from the rain, and it always rains in Florida at some time during the day. I kept looking at it thinking if it broke off a huge chunk of concrete would take out a good many fans. I didn’t sit underneath it. Just below it is the press box area and below that the luxury suites for fans who come to eat and drink in air conditioning at someone else’s expense (although, I’d be in there in a second if invited). But what really bugged me about this park, was the bugs. The tiny no-see-ums that I would gladly detonate a thermonuclear weapon to exterminate. You will be happy to know that although I used to work with nuclear weapons, I no longer have access to them. You can sleep easy.

The stadium interior was super clean and well-maintained. I liked it but it has a bit of a sterile feeling to it. The fence is too perfectly semicircular without any angles to it. The bus stop roof over the left field picnic area looks out of place, although I am sure it does a splendid job of keeping patrons dry. The scoreboard is a hi-def jumbotron that should make other clubs envious and the palm trees just outside the fence add a coastal aire to the place. All that blue and orange...it hurt my eyes. Tradition Field by the way has a super friendly and accommodating staff. They will make you trip to the ballpark a trip to remember.

Bun-fresh and steamed, just like it oughta be.
Taste-Nathan’s usually has a great frank. This night it wasn’t up to its usual quality. It was dollar dog night so that might explain a lot.
Toppings-just a pepper selection short of a perfect score.
Price-$3.50 for the regular price is pretty darn good.
Portability-again with the heavy aluminum foil, and again my bun was smushed. Tom no likey smushed buns.
It factor-yawn.

Location-seems to be a trend in Florida, not downtown and in a complex or some sort of shopping center.
Access-mostly a drive to park. Maybe that is why there is free parking.
GA Ticket Price-$6.50 for a good seat is a great price in a really good ballpark.
Cleanliness-nice job keeping the place clean.
Fans-really nice crowd, and most stayed for the second game of the double header.
Ambiance-not top score but still not bad for the spring training home of the New York Mets.

DogBallparkTotal Dog/Game
Portability4.5GA Ticket Price5
It Factor2.5Fans4

What Can I Say? I'm a Dog Person

Combine a double header with dollar dog night and you have a winning combination. I was happier than a pitcher after an inning-ending triple play. I would absolutely recommend having a dog in this park, I would bet the dog is tastier on non-dollar dog night. You could get a hamburger instead, but then I would have to unfriend you on facebook.