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TCAnelle's Stadium Tour - NL Central

Posted by TCAnelle , 20 April 2020 · 1,747 views

brewers cardinals pirates
I finally gave up on finding my 2009 pictures of Busch Stadium and finished the NL Central write up. I've made my peace with not finishing the 30 active stadiums this year, so writing about visiting baseball is still the best option until I can go see it again. And without further whining, here's the next division...

National League Central

Chicago Cubs

Wrigley Field

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What if I told you if you would watch a club volleyball tournament with friends in the Dells for two days you’d get to go to the Twins at Cubs to finish out the weekend? What do you do? Well, of course you go watch volleyball and then go watch the Twins. In 2009, when I saw the Twins would finally be in Chicago for the first time since 2001, I knew I had to go. I checked in with old friends who are Cub fans only to discover they were booked for a volleyball tournament in the Dells. Some schedule shuffling ensued, Cubs tickets were acquired, and next thing I know I’m cheering for volleyball then listening to Joe Nathan get the save in the second game of the series as I’m driving past Mt Olympus on the way to Chicago. The Twins were 32-32 after the Saturday win and were three games back of the Tigers after the Pirates and Zach Duke had beaten them 9-3.
My friends lived in St Charles, so we left from there on Sunday morning for a 1PM game. Fortunately, I wasn’t driving and didn’t have to figure out parking. I’m not sure it’s any easier now, but in 2009 we ended up parking in some guy’s alley driveway. I don’t remember what we paid, but our car wasn’t blocked in so I’m sure it wasn’t cheap. We walked past the McDonalds near Wrigley which I think is gone now, or at least the surface lot parking is, and even they were selling spots in their lot. Wrigleyville on a Sunday afternoon in 2009 was nuts. I can’t fathom what it must have been like for a night playoff game in 2016. We made our way into the stadium... and well… it was before the rehab and enhancements. The bathrooms weren’t very good. The concession stands were limited. I don’t remember it smelling as bad as Oakland, but there was a scent I would describe as less than pleasant in the concourse. I didn’t take pictures then like I do now. I wish I had so I could validate the memories.
We made our way to the seats. We were in the lower level on the 3rd base side under the upper deck so we did have a couple of beams to look around. The field itself was lovely. I’d never been to a park with plants lining the outfield wall. The manual scoreboard in center field was novel. Once the game began, I realized how much data I wasn’t getting because Wrigley just didn’t have the same number of screens and boards, even compared to the Metrodome.

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Nick Punto bunted for a hit in the top of the 2nd allowing Gomez to score (don’t tell Parker). Scott Baker would give the run right back in the bottom of the 2nd and another run in the bottom of the 4th. Carlos Gomez hit a solo homer off Ted Lilly in the top of the 6th to tie the game. He probably bat-flipped and annoyed someone, but I only remember cheering. The game remained tied until Jesse Crain and an unfortunate series of hits and an IBB lead to a walk-off single by Ryan Theriot. Twins lost 3-2.
The Twins still won the series, but my one and only game at Wrigley was a Twins loss. And I got in “trouble” for eating ketchup on my hot dog. I eat mustard on them now, please hold the pitchforks. I’d like to go back now and see the updates they’ve made, especially to give it a fair comparison to Fenway which has done a very nice job of keeping the history and yet having decent restrooms. I didn’t make it there for the Twins in 2018. Maybe next time.

Cincinnati Reds

Great American Ballpark

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In July of 2016, life took me to Cincinnati while the Reds were in town, so it was time to get another ballpark off my list. Great American Ballpark sits right on the Ohio River on the edge of downtown Cincinnati. The state line with Kentucky is a few feet into the river, so in theory, a hitter could launch a ball into the next state and it not be hyperbole. To get to the ballpark you can either go by land via Johnny Bench or Pete Rose Way or if you have a boat or live on the Kentucky side you can take a river boat shuttle from the Hooters in Newport, Kentucky. Taking a boat to take a boat to a baseball game was a first for me.

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GABP is faithful to the team name and had all red seats so the green grass of the field is quite a contrast. Red seats also help hide attendance issues. The announced attendance for the game that Sunday afternoon was 23,085 (GABP capacity 42,319), but as we all know that’s tickets sold, not bodies in the seats. The team was 34-58 at that point in the season so it’s not terribly surprising attendance was light. GABP opened in 2003, but it felt more than seven years older than Target Field. Scouts Alley was a bar/tunnel area with exclusive access from the Scout Seats around home plate. It’s since been remodeled which is good, because it was dark and had limited amenities compared to other club areas I’ve been in. The main concourses have a good selection of food and there’s a bar with a huge list of beers. The most remarkable thing about the ballpark is location, location, location. It’s all fine, but the position on the river with access by boat in a city that has a huge boating community is really the most remarkable thing about the park.
The game was against the Brewers and was an eight hit pitchers’ duel between Zach Davies and Dan Straily. I did get to see a Joey-from-Canada hit in the bottom of the 4th so the game wasn’t a total bust. The Reds would finally break the 0-0 tie with a walk-off passed ball by Jonathan Lucroy that allowed Billy Hamilton to score. Reds win 1-0.

Milwaukee Brewers

County Stadium

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I happened to take a couple of pictures with a film camera during my visit to County Stadium or I honestly wouldn’t have recalled the date I was there. I remembered who I was with. I’d started babysitting for a family in high school. They moved around after I was in college, but we’d stayed in touch and they were going to be in Milwaukee to visit family. I missed the kids, so I booked a ticket to see them. We ended up going to a Brewers game, my one and only game at County Stadium.
The Brewers were still in the American League in 1997, but it would be their last year without forcing their fans to watch the crime of making pitchers bat. They were also in the midst of building the airplane hangar that would eventually be known as Miller Park, I mean American Family Field.

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I honestly don’t remember much about the park other than the posts for the upper deck near our seats and a long walk to where we parked thanks to construction starting on Miller Park. The box score tells me the Mariners won 6-5 and the Brewer’s Jeromy Burnitz hit a homer so Bernie Brewer must have taken the slide down to his beer mug (when it still got to be a beer mug). If I’d had to testify in court without Baseball Reference to check the details, I’d have been in trouble. The family would eventually move back to the Chicago area and one of the kids would play volleyball in the Wisconsin Dells before I got to see Wrigley Field for the first time (see above). The kids are grown now and County Stadium was demolished in 2001. Time flies.

Miller Park (soon to be American Family Field)

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Oh, Miller Park… What can I say about an airplane hangar masquerading as a baseball stadium? I never made it to Miller Park in the Metrodome years, but starting in 2012 I had to travel to Wisconsin and Illinois for work, so it was finally time. The Twins were slated to be in Milwaukee in July that year. I plotted out my work meetings and managed to squeeze in my first trip to see the Beloit Snappers, the Twins low A affiliate at the time, spend a few days working, visit my niece and nephew, and get to a couple of Twins games at Miller Park.
I will admit I’m not much of a tailgater and that likely colors my impression of Miller Park. The stadium is about 5 miles from downtown has miles and miles of parking that fills with tailgaters, especially for weekend games. By the time I visited Miller, we’d had two full seasons at Target Field in downtown within walking distance of restaurants and bars. Miller Park felt like it was out on an island. The clamshell retractable roof gives the building an odd look since it doesn’t blend with the brick walls of the main structure. Once you’re inside, even when the clamshell roof is open, you never quite feel like you’re outside since the support structure for the roof is stationary. They also partially close it to manipulate the shadows so it feels even less like you’re outside when that happens. The field itself is nice and there are decent views from most seats. There are seats directly over the bullpens where fans can share their appreciation of the relief pitchers… probably. In County Stadium, Bernie Brewer lived in a chalet and slid into a beer stein. With the move to Miller Park, Bernie was made more kid friendly by having him live in a dugout and slide into a “home” platform. Yes, it’s lame, and yes, it’s ironic in a ballpark named after a beer company, but that’s changing next season.

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Ultimately, Miller is fine. It won’t have any rain outs. There’s always plenty of parking. But, it’s just not special for me beyond being the place where my niece and nephew saw their first MLB game. I got to see plenty of offense on Friday night as the Twins won 11-3. Scott Diamond was 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA after the game and would go one to have his best season in the majors. On Saturday, with my niece and nephew in attendance, the Twins would need six pitchers for an 11 inning 5-4 win. The kids were troopers and made it through the almost four-hour long game. Thankfully, Trevor Plouffe hit a homer off Manny Para in the top of the 11th or that might not have been the case.
I fortunately skipped the Sunday game. It was a 16-4 mess of a loss where Jason Marquis gave up eight runs in 1.2 innings to start the game and Jeff Gray allowed five while recording zero outs in the 7th. Drew Butera got the 8th for his MLB pitching debut. He allowed no hits, walked one, and struck out one… Carlos Gomez, because of course he did.

Pittsburgh Pirates

PNC Park

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I’d been to Pittsburgh in 2003 for work and was fortunate enough to see Mario Lemieux play in the old Igloo back then, but didn’t get to PNC. By 2018, I was actively trying to get to all 30 active stadiums. I still needed PNC and Camden Yards in Baltimore. When the Twins 2018 schedule came out and they started the season in those two cities, I put the vacation days on the calendar.
It was snowing upon arrival in Pittsburgh on April 1, 2018. April Fools! Or not… The next morning and 4 inches later, I was watching the grounds crew shovel the field via the hotel TV. It was the home opener for the Pirates so they were doing everything they could to get the game in on time. The temp was supposed to be in the low 40s at game time so I grabbed my blankets and parka and headed downtown. For those who haven’t been to Pittsburgh, downtown sits at the confluence of the Allegheny River and Monongahela River, which meet at Pittsburgh's Point State Park to form the Ohio River. Three rivers surrounding a downtown means there are lots of bridges. And there’s a funicular!!! The Duquesne Incline takes you up Mt. Washington on the south side and gives you a great view of the city and the many bridges.

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Near the ballpark is the Roberto Clemente Bridge which leads across the Allegheny from downtown. It’s closed to traffic for games depending on game time and becomes a pedestrian bridge. The center field gate is on the other side of the bridge. The lower concourse of the ballpark has a few different levels so you can’t walk the circle without stairs or elevators, but you can walk the full circle. The upper concourse spans foul pole to foul pole around home. With no high outfield stands, the view remains unobstructed. The view of the bridge and the skyline from inside the ballpark easily gives PNC the best view in MLB. Yes, St Louis has the arch and Oracle has the bay, but neither beats PNC in my view. They have a few unique food items like the pulled pork pierogie hoagie. The mascot race is between different flavor pierogies. Onion won the race for the second game. I missed which one won the race for the first game.
I sat along the third base line for the first game a few rows up from the dugout. The view is still good, but the batter’s eye wall blocks part of the bridge and you can’t read the ivy “PIRATES” in center field as well as you can upstairs. I did have a great view of Lance Lynn giving up a first inning grand slam. The Twins would make some noise in the 6th, but would go on to lose 5-4.
For the second game it was supposed to be cold and probably snow again so I went with a ticket in their version of the Legend’s Club. The PBC Level has a few pool tables, several bar and food areas, and some nice leather chairs in front of TVs when you’ve had too much of the cold and snow. The Twins offense showed up for 7 runs. Jake Odorizzi exited after two walks in the 5th, but Taylor Rogers, Hildenberger, and Addison Reed kept the Pirates off the board until Fernando Rodney came in for the 9th, ate some snow, and closed out the Twins’ 7-3 win. Pictures from the two games are posted on Flickr.

St. Louis Cardinals

Busch Stadium 2.0

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This picture is not from the June 2009 games when I first visited the new Busch Stadium. I’ve given up on ever finding them. Either I didn’t take any or they’ve been lost to a crashed hard drive at some point. This picture is from a drive by of the stadium in December of 2012.
It was definitely cooler when I took the picture than the Saturday day game in St Louis on the 27th of June, 2009. The box score shows the temperature at time of game was only 92, but it would rise to 99 after the noon start along with a heat index into the 100s. Family from Missouri and Illinois was supposed to be going to the game with me and my cousin was brining her boys to the game for the first MLB game ever, so of course the heat was the worst it would be all summer. Our seats were in one of the upper levels, but the canopy for the top level isn’t very wide and the orientation of the stadium means that the sun is pretty unrelenting during day games. We finally got shade in the later innings so fortunately, the boys didn’t melt and neither did their friends or my aunt and uncle. The game was terrible for the Twins. Kevin Slowey only went three innings and allowed five runs. Four of the five runs came on two separate two-run homers from a much younger Albert Pujols. My cousin’s boys were thrilled. St. Louis native Bobby Keppel went four innings in the heat after Slowey was done. The boys didn’t really care that Keppel was a local guy. They also probably don’t remember that Keppel appeared in 37 games for the Twins in 2009, most importantly in the top of the 12th inning of Game 163 and forever cementing his name in Twins Trivia history as the winning pitcher. Despite the Cardinals using SEVEN pitchers to get through the game, the only offense the Twins mustered was off Todd Wellemeyer in the top of the second. The Cards would go on to win 5-3.
The weather broke a bit for Sunday’s game plus it started an hour later. My college friends I went with were smart enough to bring partially frozen water bottles and we got shade sooner. Liriano was the starter. He went seven innings and allowed only two runs. Justin Morneau hit a three-run homer in the top of the 1st. Joe Nathan got his 19th save of the year. The Twins won 6-2 in 2:50. A good time was had by all, except for the whole pitchers batting thing.
My memories of the stadium aren’t very complete. I remember the arch and the old courthouse dome that can be seen from the stadium. I remember plenty of brick and polished concrete. I remember the old Busch scoreboard that hangs in one of the concourses. I don’t remember any food options that are unique. It was too hot to eat anything. Old Busch had been torn down by then, but the space that’s now a ballpark village area with Cardinals Nation and other restaurants and bars was just an asphalt parking lot in 2009. There’s also a Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum in that space now, so if the timing works out for me to go the next time the Twins are in St Louis, I’ll have something new to see. And maybe take a few pictures that won’t be lost since everything now gets backed up to the cloud.

TCAnelle’s NL Central Rankings:
  • PNC Park
  • Busch Stadium 2.0
  • Wrigley Field
  • Great American Ballpark
  • Miller Park/American Family Field
  • County Stadium

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