Thursday, June 22, 2006

Midwest Baseball Road Trip

This past weekend, I journeyed along with my brother to St. Louis and Chicago to pick up my car that the military was nice enough to drop off 600 miles from my home. Instead of letting the man get me down, I decided to make a baseball weekend out of it. I took in the St. Louis Cardinals/Colorado Rockies game on Friday night and then drove to Chicago where I watched the Tigers dismantle the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday.

The Gateway to the West.

I arrived in St. Louis on Friday morning. This gave me a few hours to site-see around the downtown area. After a failed attempt to enter the Edward Jones Dome (wearing an Edward Jones Investment shirt I should add), I walked over to the New Busch Stadium. The block just before the stadium featured the “Official St. Louis Cardinals Team Store” in a make-shift trailer. I believe they were still finishing the store at the stadium. Anyhow, I went inside the double-wide to check out Cardinals merchandise. I had pretty much decided that I was going to buy my son (18 months old on Friday) an Albert Pujols jersey. After discovering earlier in the year that the Tigers had an awful supply of toddler-merchandise, I didn’t expect to find much. To my surprise, the Cardinals had everything I could’ve wanted and more. They had Pujols jerseys in every size imaginable in every style imaginable. I was all set to buy it until I read the price tag. That’s when I found out that things are different in St. Louis. Unlike the Tigers, the Cardinals have been good for a long, long time. As a result, people are expected to pay more for watching a contending baseball team year in and year out. This goes for Cardinals’ tickets as well. The price tag on the jersey read $75. I was prepared to spend $40. So, I left without the jersey but unexpectedly impressed by the toddler selection.

Since I didn’t have tickets for the game yet, I walked over to the stadium where I got my first up-close glimpse of New Busch Stadium. The worst tickets available were $31. $31 will get you premium seats at Comerica Park. When the Tigers start winning consistently in the next few years, you can bet that the Tigers will follow the Cardinals’ lead and raise ticket prices considerably. Since teams don’t raise prices during the season, a ticket to a Tigers game this year is the best bargain you will ever see in MLB. You can get tickets for as low as $6. My advice to you is to see them cheap while you can.

New Busch Stadium seen from the St. Louis Arch.

Anyhow, I arrived for the game about 30 minutes before the opening pitch. New Busch Stadium is nice. I can honestly say that it has nothing on Comerica Park though. I kind of expected more from a stadium that still has the new-stadium smell. You’d think it would have all of the bells and whistles but anything extraordinary was noticeably absent. It wasn’t bad. I enjoyed the game and the atmosphere. I have no complaints about the stadium. I think it just made me appreciate Comerica Park more. St. Louis is just like Columbus, Ohio where Ohio St. is all that matters. The Cardinals rule the town. The stadium was at capacity for one of the least attractive games the Cardinals will play this year. First of all, St. Louis was without Albert Pujols. Second, the pitching match-up was below average at best. Third, the opponent was one of the least recognizable teams in baseball. Yet, 90% of the stadium was wearing red. I can honestly say that I did not see a single Colorado fan among the sell-out crowd.

New Busch Stadium brought to you by Budweiser.

New Busch Stadium brought to you by Bud Light.

I enjoyed St. Louis immensely. It’s an underrated town to say the least. The skyline from the stadium is second to none with the St. Louis Arch in the background. The stadium seems more like a place for a game to be played than a landmark which is probably how the St. Louis faithful want it anyways. St. Louis is unquestionably a great baseball town.

The St. Louis skyline.

After an unfathomable and grueling seven hour trip to Chicago (it’s supposed to take 4.5 at the most) due to countless traffic holdups, I was able to change from merely a “baseball” fan to my preferred role as a Tigers fan. My home team was in town to play at one of the most historical ballparks in baseball history. Immediately upon arriving to the Windy City, we went to Gino’s East for some delicious Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. I had never been to Gino’s so I was looking forward to comparing it to Pizza Papalis which is a local favorite in Detroit. The online reviews make Pizza Papalis sound like a single (A) farm team compared to Chicago’s best pizza. After Gino’s, we went to the ESPN Zone in Chicago where we sat at the bar for five hours watching the Tigers/Cubs, White Sox/Reds, and Edmonton/Carolina. Time flew as we acquainted ourselves with various characters at the bar. As was the case on the streets and at the game, the ESPN Zone was littered with Tigers fans. Cubs fans must have been overwhelmed and White Sox fans were clearly irked if their reactions at the ESPN Zone were any indication. After leaving the ESPN Zone, we headed to my brother’s friend’s apartment to watch Winky Wright battle Jermaine Taylor. Let’s just say that Taylor was lucky to leave that fight without a loss. Wright could’ve all but guaranteed a win if he had just shown up in the last two rounds. Even still, Wright probably deserved the win.

On Sunday morning, we hit up Giordano’s (Chicago’s number one pizza according to various outlets) for an up-close comparison to Gino’s East. After bites one and two, I was convinced that Giordano’s was better. However, that would be like judging a boxing match on the first two rounds. After those two bites, it was all Gino’s. Giordano’s clearly had better cheese. Although cheese is important, it’s not important enough to offset Gino’s advantage in crust, toppings (pepperoni and sausage), sauce, and size. The win goes to Gino’s. However, the big winner of the weekend was Pizza Papalis. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Pizza Papalis was better than Gino’s or Giordano’s but I certainly won’t say that Pizza Papalis is overmatched. Chicago-style pizza gets a reputation for being the best deep-dish in the world. However, it’s silly to say that any deep-dish pizza outside of Chicago doesn’t stand up. An oven in Chicago is the same as an oven in Detroit. Pizza Papalis is excellent. I can’t say that I left Chicago feeling bad about being 300 miles away from Chicago-style pizza because Papalis is more than adequate.

Wrigley Field in all its glory.

We then left Gino’s for Wrigley Field. Just to give you an idea of what the area is like around Wrigley, imagine a baseball stadium falling directly across from the Huxtable’s residence. The surrounding area is hardly consistent with that of your typical big-city stadium. It’s an unassuming site that blends in with North Chicago’s humble scene. I immediately noticed a big difference between my St. Louis experience and what I was seeing outside of Wrigley. Whereas the New Busch Stadium featured a bevy of fans donning Cardinals’ red, Wrigley field was more like the stomping grounds for a mass of formerly repressed Tigers fans. A Tigers fan in a taxi held a giant broom out the window as to indicate the pending Tigers’ sweep. I initially wanted to greet fellow Tigers fans since I thought they’d be few and far between but had I done that, I would’ve never gotten to the game. The scene was truly remarkable.

Inside Wrigley Field is just what you’d expect from a stadium that’s older than 99.9% of the World’s population. It’s old and uneventful to the naked eye. However, when put into proper prospective with the old scoreboard, bleacher-laden outfield, unpredictable winds and the ivy walls, it’s quite an experience for any baseball fan. The game started off with a bang for the Tigers. I was initially nervous that Mark Prior would take advantage of a strikeout-prone Tigers’ lineup but those worries were put to rest immediately. The Tigers hit three home runs in the first inning and eight home runs all together. Kenny Rogers picked up a double, and more importantly, his 200th career win. The Tigers dominated the Cubs in every way possible.

Our initial seats were sub-par at best so we went to the upper deck where we happened upon the best view in the stadium. Seriously, is there a better view than the first row of the upper deck? If I were going to buy season tickets, there is no question that this would be the place. Foul balls were plentiful. The view of home plate and the mound was fantastic. Mark Prior was rocked in his first start back. He was taken out to a scatter of boos but those boos quickly turned to cheers as other fans realized how ridiculous it was to boo a guy who hadn’t pitched in a year. Anything short of an injury was good news for Prior and the Cubs with regards to his performance. The Tigers were working on all cylinders as Brandon Inge and Chris Shelton had two home runs a piece and Vance Wilson went deep from the three-hole. I can all but guarantee that will never happen again.

Mark Prior B.G. or Before Granderson!

Mark Prior A.G. or After Granderson!

On our way out of Chicago we passed US Cellular Field which is, of course, the home of the Chicago White Sox. Hopefully it won’t be long before I attend a game on the South Side. Realistically, there is little chance that a game will ever be as fun from a fan’s perspective as the Cubs game on Sunday. I’ll just be hoping for a Tigers’ win.

I'll be back for you!


Anonymous said...

I see that the Dan Ryan reconstruction isn't that bad on a Sunday, or that you are a brave man.

Anonymous said...

I doubt that the cardinals ticket prices has anything to do with that they have been good for awhile and a lot to do with something else. I was at Turner Field for a braves game earlier this month and ticket prices were even cheaper then Comerica. You could literally get tickets for a dollar at the gate.


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