Friday, August 28, 2009

Separate and not quite equal at U.S. Cellular Field

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d type. The White Sox should take customer relations lessons from the Mets.

The Baseball Truth gang made U.S. Cellular Park the spot for our Executive Game 9 last weekend, watching the Sox beat the Orioles 4-1.

Will shows off the tickets as we head out to the game. Fans of the televison show "Leverage" will recognize Laurie, who had a big scene in the pilot and was praised mightily by the producers in the DVD commentary.

New Comiskey was the site of the very first Executive Game in 2001, and this was my first visit inside since then, though Will and I had fun exploring the outside just before 2005 World Series Game One.

The park was famously overhauled, and it does seem like a much better place.

The team trimmed some rows from the painfully steep upper deck, painted a lot of the grab concrete, added a neat deck area in centerfield and about a zillion more concession areas in the upper level.

Sadly, they try to keep you up there, too.

We took the train to the park, and after paying tribute to the former Comiskey, we entered the ramps, only to find the lower level blocked off with and an usher checking tickets.

Scott managed to race around all the people playing corn hole and score!
Cars now park on the spot where Tom Seaver pitched. Sigh.

When we got to the top, we discovered that people with upper deck tickets were not allowed in the lower levels at all. Outrageous. I’ve never seen such a rule.

You have to know that I’m one of those people who likes to get to games as soon as the gates open and explore every inch, even if it’s a place I’ve been to before.

I like ballparks. They’re fun places. And once I explore and purchase the necessary program, yearbook and Diet Coke, I can settle in and enjoy the game.

To be sure, the White Sox added all kinds of stores and food concessions in the renovated upper deck concourse. But there were more stores on the lower levels, as well as all the fun in the outfield concourse.

I purchased a program at a concession stand, but there were no yearbooks to be found.

The team also has a new Fundamentals section, with neat interactive games for kids. I knew playing the games wasn’t an option, but I wanted to get photos of the activities, which were pretty elaborate.

I took a step into the upper deck Fundamentals area, only to have an usher stop me and say I couldn't enter without a child.

This was madness.

And I would not be denied, mentioning to friends that I would, in fact, get to the lower level at some point.

The scoreboard erupted after Carlos Quentin launched a bomb into the left field stands.

I approached an employee and told them I want to go to the lower level to go to a store and buy a yearbook since there were none available in the upper regions.

He told me to find the customer relations booth and ask for something called an elevator pass.

Finding this booth, I declared that I wanted a pass because I wantd to spend money in one of the stores, and that it was somewhat insulting to charge someone $30 for a seat in the park and restrict them to only one level.

The worker gave me a pass, reluctantly, noting that there were three people in my party and asking that I return the paper pass back to him upon my return.

Will, Laurie and I made a quick trip down. At one level, the elevator doors opened, and there, briefly, we saw a display case with the glorious 2005 World Series trophy.

But the game was about to start, so after a short walk we hustled back up to our seats.
Future Hall-of-Famer Jim Thome and closer Bobby Jenks in action.

In the third inning I did something I never do: left my seat for a walk around the yard. Will’s a former official scorer, so I knew I could fill in the missing spots in the program upon returning.

With my elevator pass — I did not turn it in — I slipped back down to the main concourse, wandering out to the outfield area, checking out the view from the party deck.

The Sox have always done a decent job of showing off their not-always-glorious history, and new in centerfield were a series of statues of Sox legends. Note to the Mets: This is a cool thing, and you have legends.

Billy Pierce

Nellie Fox

Luis Aparicio

Then I saw the lower level entrance to the Fundamentals area. Knowing the kid rule, I followed a family through the entrance, past the usher and up the stairs.

There were some neat things to see, like a cutout of Scott Posedenik running that sped along a 90-foot track. Youngsters tried to keep up, and the times of both were flashed on a scoreboard.

I checked out some stores — finally getting my yearbook — and headed back to the elevator. Once on board, I asked the operator if it would be OK to stop on the level with the World Series trophy and take some photos.

"Sure! You take all the time you want."

Finally, an employee who gets it.

Aside from the World Series and American League Championship trophies, the lobby had a display dedicated to former Tribune sportswriter Jerome Holtzman.

Photos, views and yearbook secured, I headed back up to the seats in the upper deck, missing two full innings. I assumed my cohorts thought something horrible had happened, since it’s incomprehensible that I would miss that much of the game.

Lame new rules aside, U.S. Cellular is a nice place to see a game. It was certainly the best-smelling stadium I've experienced. The upper deck concourse was lined with food stands, and the team grills onions with the hot dogs and brats, and the aroma fills the area.

The team had some pretty cool souvenir stands, too. I found two dedicated to items on clearance, and snagged an authentic World Series game cap for $10.

The exploding scoreboard is fantastic, and the team still does a nice job saluting its history.

Throughout the upper level, murals showed great players and events in Sox history, including a nice photo of Tom Seaver and a shot from his 300th win.

Hail Seaver!

We attended on a fireworks night, and the rockets started firing with moments of the last out.

Naturally, Chicago is too wild of a town to head right back home.
Scott and Tim hoist a Hudy. Not being from Cincy, I hoisted Diet Cokes.

Will and Scott are Ohio natives and Scott lives outside Cincinnati. Will discovered a Cincy-themed bar not far from his Windy City apartment, and we celebrated the Sox win the Skyline-style spaghetti and chili and they enjoyed Cincy-based brews.

The original Executive Board: Dave, Jim, Scott and Will.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Observations and adventures from Citi Field

The Citi Field punch list helped us explore the Mets' new home, but Dad, Tim, Andrew and I had all kinds of adventures checking out the ballpark from top to bottom, inside and out.

Here are some of the rest of the things we experienced on Aug. 5, when the Mets smacked around the Cardinals.
There's a chance I really, really like my brick!

Our seats granted us access to the Acela Club, which was pretty darn fancy and with a nice view of the field. We didn't eat there, what with all the knishes and other fine New York dining opportunities inside the park.

But Dad and Tim checked out the bar and were glad that they were able to serve iced tea. I'm not sure they were actually drinking iced tea, but I was pestering the hostess for information about where the Dwight Gooden wall signature was being displayed.

Three employees all tried to help me find someone who knew, even giving me a phone number of someone in the stadium who would know such things. Sadly, this is where I discovered the iPhone was having reception issues.

But this attention also furthered our theory that the real Mets employees were replaced by pod people.

Lots of issues with the trash cans. The top one is nice, but what's with the Y tucking behind the N like that? I've never noticed the cap logo doing that. You have to wonder if someone signed off on that and didn't think it was a big deal, or that people would care. Clearly, we do.
Now, I thought this one was really cool. You have the batting helmet -- blue version, even! -- but my Mom took a look at the photo and asked, "Why did they put a helmet atop a toilet seat?"

We traditionally don menacing Mets tats prior to the game because we are most dangerous people. Andrew, of course, tatted up, too.

Sadly, I forgot I was wearing mine when we went to Coney Island after the game. While on line at Nathan's a guy walked up and said, "So, you go to the game today?"

"Yeah! How'd you know?"

"Cus you got Mr. Met on your face."
Luckily, at Coney Island, a strange facial tattoo didn't make me stand out from too many other people wandering around the boardwalk.

I was ready to annoint Daniel Murphy as my new favorite Met after watching how hard he worked during spring training. I know the season's been a disappointment, well, for everyone. But I'm hoping Murph will pick build on this year and pick it up next season.

My Dad snapped this great shot of David Wright moments before he launched his home run.

Alas, it wasn't long before we saw poor Jon Neise crumple to the ground and get helped off the mound. You can see Jerry in the background calling for Nelson Figueroa.

Albert Pujols congratulates Jeff Francoeur on a rare walk.
It was pretty exciting to see Bobby Parnell make his first career plate appearance -- and slap a hit and even come around to score. Then he earned his first career save. Pretty good game!
Mixed emotions about this guy. Part of me salutes him for honoring Gil instead of being among the thousands at the game with a current player on his back.

But as a jersey purist, I just can't. The Mets didn't have names of their backs when Hodges managed. And if I'm going to mock Yankees fans for putting Ruth 3 on their jerseys, I have to be consistent.
Oh man, Mr. Met himself calls me out on the Streak of Shame! Has he not heard that the streak ended last year in Cincinnati?
Yea! Final score 9-0, Mets win, as proudly proclaimed by the scoreboard and message boards!
We all checked in with the brick one last time before heading out.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Counting our way through Citi Field, part 2

Been a crazy couple days recovering from the glorious New York roadtrip and catching up at work.

But it’s time to get back to the Citi Field punch list!

11) Locate the knish stand. My favorite author confirms there are two locations, and since we’re there on a Wednesday, they’ll be open. Explain what a knish is to my son. Yum!

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! In fact, there were several stands, and Cousin Tim made sure we were able to knish nosh. They were excellent! Tim, however, opted for a pretzel. He dropped it at the concession stand, and was bummed. But the Mets employee said, "No problem!" and gave him a new one. We’re convinced the real Mets employees have been replaced by pod people.

12) Visit with my favorite author and ask him to sign a copy of "Faith and Fear in Flushing."

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! And I credit Greg for being persistent and looking for us when the iPhone suddenly couldn’t get service. Actually, not all the ballpark employees are as helpful as Tim’s pretzel vendor. Greg tells the story so much better than I could.

My copy of "Faith and Fear" now resides next to Robert Caro's "The Power Broker" on the "prized and signed" section of the book shelf.

13) Cross the black bridge in rightfield that they still haven’t named.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! The bridge was much more impressive in person than in the photos, a very nice feature. Greg thinks it should be named after Willie Mays. I don’t disagree, but I want something named after Tom Seaver first.

14) Locate the controversial Dwight Gooden signature, sprawled on the wall of the Ebbets Club, removed, framed and now allegedly on display for all to enjoy.

DENIED! Our first failure. I looked all over the place, and even checked with numerous employees. Some very helpful folks even gave me an phone number to call — which is how we discovered the phone issues. Another employee did some checking, and said it was out for a while, but is now under wraps until the Mets Hall of Fame or something along those lines is created. Not holding our breath, of course.

15) Pose with Mr. Met. My friend Dave Pelland says the World’s Best Mascot makes time to greet fans in the area near the Wiffle ball field, which we also shall attempt to crash.

MISSION PARTIALLY ACCOMPLISHED: We didn’t actually pose with Mr. Met, but we did see him close-up from our seats in the sixth row. We ventured out to the Wiffle ball field, which is very cool. It was camp day, so there were a million kids. We had no chance at getting into the batter’s box to take some swings, but we were able to watch a little.

16) Locate, but not pose with, the infamous Cow Bell Man. Just need to see this guy after hearing about him all these years.

DENIED! I’m not distressed about this. It would have been interesting, but there were other, more important things to do, see, and eat.

17) Purchase something with the awful rectangle Inaugural Season logo, know that it is historic. No team can possibly create a worse logo.

DENIED! This stunned me. The only thing I saw with the horrid patch was the patches themselves at the team shop. Rather than pay $15 there, I bought one for half that on eBay.

But there were many things with the far superior logo that has the rotunda, and I snagged some outstanding caps for our celebrants.

This shows me that the Mets are aware of just how brutal that patch is — national ridicule will do that — but were already locked in to having them on the jerseys.

18) Walk past the Aylssa Milano "Touch" boutique. Openly wonder why it exists. Lament that the ballpark has a Aylssa Milano "Touch" boutique but not a Mets Hall of Fame.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! I did indeed stumble upon the Touch boutique while heading up to find Greg. I did lament. But it sort of out of the way, and not as bad as feared.

19) Find out if we can get down into that field level area in right field under the overhang. Discover what the game looks like from Jeff Francoeur’s perspective.
You can see he rightfield corner under the Model's sign. But it's more fun to see the Home Ron Apple rising after David Wright's blast!

DENIED! We didn’t get there. I don’t know if the area is off-limits. It was a matter of priorities at this point. Maybe putting 20 items on the list was a little too ambitious. Last year we had the benefit of a long rain delay that have me an extra hour or so to wander around Shea. This time there was so much to see and enjoy that we really didn’t to get to explore as thoroughly as I thought. Hmmm. Might have to go back again!

20) Sit back and enjoy seeing the Mets with some of my favorite people in the whole world. Last year was about reliving memories and saying good-bye. This time is about making memories and saying hello!

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! In the most spectacular fashion, I must say. Taking my son to his first Mets game in New York — he attended the first inter-league game at Tiger Stadium as a 5-year-old back in 1997 — was very special, especially being able to do it with Dad and Tim, and Greg, who counts as family.

Next we’ll get to some of the non-punch list observations from our wonderful visit.