Baseball

Things I LoveU.S. Travel

ROAD TRIP COMBINES AMERICA’S FAVORITE PASTIME

AUG 2019 16

Want to know an outstanding way to combine seeing the USA and enjoying America’s favorite pastime?  Get out on the road and visit ballparks! (Click HERE for last year’s trip) It’s relatively inexpensive, easy to plan and navigate and you’ll see and do things you wouldn’t normally do without investing a bit of time.

A three-stadium baseball trip was great fun notwithstanding the typical hot and humid weather.  The trip began in Philadelphia and continued on to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and a visit with a great friend from LA now living in Louisville, KY (post to follow).  One needs to allow two days in each city in case a game is rained out.  This being August in the east/midwest, there’s a high probability of that.  About two hours prior to game time in Cincinnati, we were driving to our hotel in a blinding deluge.  The rain stopped, the skies cleared for the most part and the game started on time.

Son Sam was also in Philly for a wedding

I grew up as a devoted LA sports fan, just not of baseball.  It was the original LA Rams, Lakers and, of course, UCLA basketball where my dad played.  Baseball is probably my favorite now which is why I enjoy visiting so many stadiums.  And it’s a shared family pastime, which is a big bonus.  I hardly have the encyclopedic memory of particular games and plays possessed by both the hubby and son, but I can hold my own.  Below is the list of the stadiums I’ve been to so far.  Some are older and/or have been renamed (i.e., US Cellular is now Guaranteed Rate Field).  Two big ones are missing:  Cleveland’s Progressive Field and Detroit’s Comerica Park (e.t.a. Summer 2020).  Cleveland was a near miss in 2012 due to a rain-out but at least I got to see the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame instead.

PHILLY:

Citizens Bank Park is located in what’s called the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.  We walked out of our hotel in downtown and took the Broad Street Line to the last stop.  From there it is a haven for sports lovers — Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, 76’ers and even the Lacrosse team — all in view.  Easy access, ride-share vehicles and taxis just waiting to be hailed if the train isn’t for you.  Vendors sell water, pretzels and peanuts on the way to the stadium.  All that is needed is more Phillies fans to fill the seats.  Oh, and the choice of concessions?  Don’t get me started on how our beloved  Dodger Stadium pales in comparison.

Citizens Bank Park

PITTSBURGH:

PNC Park is widely favored by baseball lovers as America’s best stadium.  It is walkable from the downtown area, has spectacular views from most every seat, is right at the junction where three rivers meet and provides an outstanding fan experience.  Can’t beat that.  It would be hard to find anything about which to critique the venue, therefore it deserves two photos!

View from our seats
PNC PARK

CINCINNATI

Great American Ball Park is also located in the heart of the city.  Again, few fans.  We walked up to the box office at game time and had seats behind home plate at a very reasonable price.  The stadium even has underground parking!  We left the game and walked across the street where there were lots of restaurants to choose from.

GREAT AMERICAN BALL PARK — the Great American Insurance Co. building is in the background.

The concession stands were a bit lacking — no mustard anywhere.  Fortunately a kind person brought me a side order ..

Other trip highlights will be posted in Snippets from the Road.  Here’s a few fun photos from the road trip including Philly foods.  Can we just talk about how outstanding ice cream is in this part of the country?  Died and gone to Bassetts heaven lower left; pies at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market (genius idea to sell half pies!); a Philly cheese steak of course.

Below:  Philly, standing in the shadow of two giants; with Columbus friends Todd Applebaum and Larry Levine for impromptu lunch at Giuseppe’s as we drove through the area; WE WANT A RING TOO …  but with blue sapphires!  This one belongs to a scout for the Cubs attending a game.

I would be remiss in not thanking son Sam for selecting my new phone (OnePlus), which was used to take all of the photos contained here ..

International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

TALES FROM TAIPEI

IMG_1736 Taipei

Taipei is a great example of advanced culture and modern civilization in Asia.  Was that so apparent in a two-day visit?  Yes, it was.  It is nearly as clean as Singapore — debris-free streets and no graffiti.  The airport is modern, the roads are very good and, if one needs a convenience store, there is a 7-Eleven on nearly every corner.  That is not an exaggeration as there are 5,000 stores in the country and possibly more as that number was achieved in 2014.  That’s a lot of convenience for a country of 23 million.  In 2018, they launched an unmanned X-store.  Some fun and fascinating facts about what’s popular in other countries.

Pretending to be awake the first night — 15-hour time change from home.
Excellent local cuisine at Fujin Tree in Taipei
Subliminal messaging? View from the room.
Stunning display at the Mandarin Oriental

Our excellent guide Felix showed us many of the city’s sites in half a day — including Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall with a ceremonial changing of the guard.  He is a towering figure in the country’s history, and considered selfless as he dedicated his life to fighting communism.  There are photos of him meeting pretty much every dignitary of the era — from LBJ to Churchill, George Marshall, Eisenhower and on.  There is a huge figure of him that looks very much like the Lincoln Memorial, which similarity is likely no coincidence.

Felix texting our driver
View from the top of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial
Lifelike replica — a little creepy
Changing of the guard

Included in our tour was Longshan Temple, the Martyrs’ Shrine and the Grand Hotel which now looks very touristy but hosted many celebrities in years past.  Our last stop was Taipei 101, formerly the world’s tallest building at 101 floors.  We had lunch on the 85th floor which included both the view and delicious local cuisine.  There is a massive shopping mall attached to the building with all the usual suspects (brands), modern food court and entrance to the MRT (subway) but we opted for a cab.

Longshan Temple — exquisite detail
Street-level view of 101 stories
From the 85th floor
Grand Hotel — tourists captivated by Russian dancers.
McDonald’s in Taipei. Someone please explain.

A big treat was attending a home game of the Fubon Guardians baseball team.  The cheerleaders were quite the sight — they are called the Angels.  Get it?  Guardian Angels?   A little wordsmithing by the Taiwanese.  The stadium seats 10,000 (mostly empty), but the fans there were ardent followers who cheered along every half inning with the cheerleaders who dance during the Guardians’ entire at bat.  Apparently the home team doesn’t consider this a distraction!

Dodger blue in Taipei
Every damn inning.

I booked us on an early flight to Hanoi in order to not kill an entire day traveling.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Off we went around 5 a.m. for the relatively short but nonetheless international flight departing at 7:20.  Next stop:  the beginning of nine days in Vietnam.

Classic street scene.
U.S. TravelWining/Dining

WINTER BASEBALL MEETINGS … IN LAS VEGAS(!)

IMG_20181210_190036
Kevin Millar and Chris Rose live

Las Vegas is the destination for this fun annual event was a quick getaway for me (with the Hubby and son Sam) — little more than 48 hours there.  For lots of folks (myself included), that is the right amount of time in this crazy town. Cool temps were definitely a plus as the last time I was there, it was at least 110 degrees .. but, you know, “dry heat.”  Ugh.

This is an opportunity to mix it up with fellow baseball lovers, folks who work in the industry and likely some players.  We didn’t go into this “cold,” but rather at the urging of friends who are regular attendees and would help us navigate the landscape.  The home base is Mandalay Bay, but I opted for accommodations at the nearby Aria Resort.  I must say, the rooms are very  reasonable — Deluxe King for $160/night including taxes.  Yes, there’s probably better deals, but I was happy with the rate and the hotel is close to where we needed to be.

My kind of slot machine
View from the room

I even signed up for “MLife” which is the loyalty program/booking site for anything related to MGM Grand properties. There are 14 alone in Vegas (not to mention elsewhere in the US and Internationally).  Will I ever use it again?  Who knows.  But it certainly made it easier to have a site where I could look at all the restaurants and activities.  Of the former (places to eat), one could go brain dead making that decision.  Good lord, the choices are overwhelming.  Not wanting to spend a ton (saving that for next month’s big trip to the Big Apple for the BIG BIRTHDAY), I opted for Rivea at the nearby Delano.  “After Saint-Tropez and London, Rivea finally comes to the Las Vegas restaurant market, offering a renewed take on a French and Italian influenced cuisine from internationally celebrated Chef Alain Ducasse.” 

Paccheri pasta with short rib ragu (amazing)
Loin of Venison

The restaurant is on the top floor of the hotel with gorgeous views of the city.  The menu is a bit small, but the food is delicious and the wine list is excellent.  We were quite happy with the meal, after which we headed to see the action at Mandalay Bay.  The good news with consuming lots of food in Vegas is getting anywhere requires a tremendous amount of walking, so there’s little guilt involved.  Just walking the ground floor of most properties is a trek, not to mention getting to the parking garage for a cab or ride share vehicle.   There wasn’t too much happening but Sam did see Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez and Dodger president Stan Kasten was dining nearby.  Hmmm, what trades were being discussed?  The rumor mill was on full throttle.

Swarovski Christmas tree on display at the Crystal Shoppes — 55 feet tall

We strolled the event during the day but couldn’t talk our way into the massive exhibition hall.  After learning the only other way was shelling out $150 per person to get credentials, we passed.  Without a doubt, the high point of the trip was a wonderful dinner at Carbone, chosen by Sam.  This classic Italian eatery out of Greenwich Village still does a table-side Caesar salad, which few places bother to do. 

Just stop right there ..
Veal parm divided four ways
Carpaccio with mushrooms and capers
Spicy rigatoni a la vodka and gemelli with spicy sausauge
Fork poised over the Nutella tiramisu

Our friend found out a large group would be taking one of the private rooms, and we happened to be seated right in their path.  Wearing one of my Dodger t-shirts under a blazer turned out to be a good idea as my bona fides were established when I stopped first Joe Torre followed by Orel Hershiser for brief chats and photo ops.  In fact, Orel commented: “I can’t believe this woman just flashed me!” He was talking about the t-shirt, of course.  Getting his attention by calling him Bulldog — his well-known nickname — certainly helped.  Both gentleman were very accommodating before moving on.  

With MLB exec and former Dodger manager Joe Torre
With Hall of Famer (now announcer) Orel Hershiser – aka “Bulldog”

Alas, Vegas is just not for me.  Too big, too flashy, too everything … and certainly the last location in the U.S. that allows smoking indoors!  I do see the attraction for many travelers who seek more of everything, especially a good bang for their buck — not unlike going on a cruise ship with 3000+ people.  To each his own, but I’ll stick with a bit of “less is more.” 

 

The colors of Italy — and really delicious cake

 

 

Things I LoveWining/Dining

VISITING ATLANTA & MIAMI HOTSPOTS .. LITERALLY

Baseball — specifically visiting new parks — is the ONLY reason to go to Atlanta & Miami in June, at least for me and the hubby who are humidity adverse to say the least.  But one must go when one can, and this relatively short jaunt fit our calendar.   In addition to exploring local cuisine, we saw some family and friends.
It is an understatement that I wasn’t always a baseball fan.  Upon committing to the hubby — your basic lifelong worshiper of the game — I resisted for the first few years. But then the 1988 World Series happened.  I was not there for the famous Gibson walk-off, but the hubby was.  Fortunately at the time I didn’t know what I didn’t know; and, by the time I did, it was too late to feel bad about missing that historic home run.
Not that I have been deprived, mind you.   I witnessed the heyday of Bruin basketball, led by the Wizard of Westwood, and attended every game.  I was at every home Lakers game my senior year of high school. I was at the Jerry West 63-foot shot.  I went to Rams games and the 1984 Olympics.   In short, I was a raised as a lover of sports.  Just never baseball.
Flash forward, and this trip represents visits to my 36th and 37th MLB stadiums. Not only am I willing to go, I look forward to this!   My only requests (which the hubby knows well): good seats
that are out of the sun.  
First up was Atlanta’s brand new Sun Trust Park, located in the suburb of Marietta, in it’s inaugural season.  No one could provide an answer as to why Turner Field was shuttered after just 20 years (it will now be the home of Georgia State football), but the new stadium “hits it out of the park” for many reasons.
 
Baseball fans find each other — especially when wearing gear that gets one’s attention (O’s in this case)
It is easy to get to, particularly via Uber.  The food choices are really pretty vast, and delicious.  The scoreboard is incredible.  And there are sunscreen stations liberally located throughout the park, a nice touch considering there is no roof.  We particularly enjoyed their ode to years past with tons of memorabilia, an appropriate tribute to Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, etc. This is a storied franchise and the longest by years running in baseball history. Now, if only they would get rid of the annoying Tomahawk Chop, all would be well.
Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz trifecta
Hank’s historic #44
 
 
The game wasn’t interesting — the Braves got clobbered by the Brewers — but we encountered many who were there for the same reasons as we were, to see what the Park is all about.


Beautiful sentiment by the Braves, leaving a seat always unoccupied.
Excellent bbq
Worth the wait??
Without a doubt?

 

While in Atlanta, we had a terrific meal at Rathbun’s, one of four restaurants from local premier chef Kevin Rathbun.  And I highly recommend the downtown Ritz Carlton where we got a terrific weekend rate.  By the way, the decision to rely on Uber instead of renting a car was a savings — not just on the rental itself, but not needing hotel parking which can be pricey.   
Dinner at Rathbun’s:  trout above
Excellent lamb

 

Sunday night baseball at the hotel bar — the Dodgers come from behind to win!

Miami was the next stop — flying in and out of Fort Lauderdale — for our first visit to Marlins Park, opened in 2012.  I rarely fly Delta, but I must say I was impressed with how well both their hub and flight were operated.  Ft. Lauderdale was quite central to seeing friends in Boca (loved Abe & Louie’s), Delray Beach and provided excellent access to the I-95.

Lunch with Mark Zeidman above and dinner (right) with Stephanie & Ned Siegel, all friends from Boca.
Marlins Park to me was unremarkable.  The best thing about it? Nobody goes to the games so great seats are always available!  And the parking structures provide a short walk, so that’s a good thing.  It’s a shame more people don’t attend, considering the team has a good roster … but so far, this year is all about the Boys in Blue, aka our beloved Dodgers, who just keep winnin’ games. This is too much fun!


 

 

Left, with Uncle Mike & Shelley Stone, who live in Boynton Beach.
Below, probably the best feature of Marlins Park is the Bobblehead Museum, where players, announcers and others in MLB are featured in a rotating (slightly shaking) display.
 
For the flight home, I was able to try Jet Blue Mint — their premium seats — and justified the expense because of our 7 a.m. departure. Another home run!  I scored two cubbies — a single “compartment” on either side of the aisle, with a truly fully-flat seat and lots of other fun amenities. My one complaint was the location of the headphone jack which required a contortionist to operate.  Small concession; it was otherwise a terrific experience. 
The hubby settles in on the opposite side of the aisle, and my compartment.  Loved it!

 

Things I LoveThings You Should Know

FINDING JOY IN PLANNING TRAVEL

When a “bestie” recently moved back to her hometown (Louisville), I told the hubby I wanted to plan a trip there for this year. Lest he think that what he likes to do wasn’t part of the equation, I suggested we go to Cincinnati and possibly even Cleveland for baseball (I have not been to either of their current parks). While that itinerary may still occur, he insisted we go first to two other ballparks not yet visited — Atlanta (inaugural season) and Miami (opened 2012).

 

Jumping right on the planning bandwagon is such a delicious treat that I almost can’t do anything else until mission accomplished!  The thrill of planning travel — scoring a room at the Ritz Carlton (with Amex Platinum benefits) for $199?  It is a high for me. I guess that officially makes me a travel junkie.  And if I were to compare the benefits derived from this fun compared to say online shopping of a different kind — clothing, as an example — well, that’s a tough one. I suppose the lasting memories of travel make this particular endeavor more meaningful (and I don’t have to explain the credit card charge — an added bonus for sure).
Looking at the calendar in terms of when to go involves:  1) tax filing deadlines; 2) Atlanta and Miami home stands; and, 3) avoiding summer’s most oppressive temperatures.  Oh, and our own Dodger games, Hollywood Bowl tickets, etc., etc.  In other words, the window isn’t always expansive.  Late June fit the above criteria and it was on to the execution.
If money were no object, I’d simply book American Airlines first class (business and first are typically combined domestically). Alas, that’s not the case.  So coach it is, paying a bit extra for maximum legroom, and putting in requests for upgrades.  Since going east is the shorter flight, these parameters seem fine.  We earn AA miles, and the tickets were quite reasonable.  For the other two legs, instead of flying into nutty Miami, I booked Fort Lauderdale — a much more civilized airport with lots of flights and just 30 miles north of Miami.  We’ll have a car so off we go.  Atlanta-Ft. L is less than two hours and Delta is the best bet: one way for about $100.  Done.
 
The splurge is the flight back to LA.  Non-stop flights via Jet Blue and Virgin leave either early morning or evening.  I don’t love a 7:15 a.m. departure time (but I do like being back in LA by 10 a.m.), so I splurged on Jet Blue Mint — their equivalence of first class — which I have wanted to try.  It is considerably less $$ than American’s seats and who doesn’t love Jet Blue? I’ll let you know my thoughts afterward.  
 
Besides the aforementioned Ritz Carlton in Atlanta, I booked a Westin in FtL (close to the airport):  a generously-sized suite, including wi-fi and breakfast, for $189 per night via AAA rate.  I like the Westin brand plus I earn SPG points.  With rental cars booked (via Amex), this whole process took just a couple of hours.  And it was so much fun!  
 
 
 
What’s the moral of the story?  Practice, practice, practice.  Look at travel planning as something fun to do, not as a chore.  Because a job well done equates to time well spent.  Better yet, call me to map out your trip and go do something else with your time! 
 
Things I Love

THIRTY-FIVE HOURS IN OCTOBER

Oooh, aaah!  The Dodgers made it to the postseason!! That means at least one or more trips to Dodger Stadium, depending on how well they play.  Since the postseason is promised to no team, attending a game is both a joy but also a commitment.  In this case, 35 hours over just two weeks.  After splitting the first two NLDS games in DC, here’s the rest:

 

Different rally towels given out at each game … 

Monday, Oct 11 — Game #3 — 2pm game time!  No worries; we all have smartphones so as to work and watch at the same time. Dodgers lose; back for Game 4 in the series the next day.

A couple of true LA sports fans

 

Tuesday, Oct 12 — Game #4 — 2pm game time again.  Normally fine, except sundown is Kol Nidre, which begins the the most sacred Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur for the next 24 hours.  The game goes long, necessitating an early departure (well, for some of us). Alas, we made it to synagogue and observed the holiday.   By the way, the Dodgers won!
 
 
The series-ending, victorious Game #5 on Oct 14 in DC was dramatic 
and so exciting.  Our two aces, Kenley and Kershaw, 
got the job done with outstanding pitching!

 

After splitting the first two games of the NLCS in Chicago, the series moves back to LA for the next three. Tuesday, Oct. 18 — Dodgers win 6-0; Wed, Oct 19 — we get slaughtered 10-2; and Thurs, Oct 19 — again defeated 8-4.  All told during those two weeks in October, with travel time to and from the stadium, I figure it was roughly 35 hours dedicated to the Dodgers.  And it was a blast.  

Added benefit is spending lots of time with son Sam
The hubby and Sam get a much-appreciated photo op with
Cubs Hall-of-Famer and terrific guy Ryne Sandberg
Thirty-five hours An entire work week for some.  About 17 movies.  Five nights of sleep. Yes, a big time commitment.  And, you know what?  We all clamored for a bunch more.
 
By now, you all know the outcome.  Game 6 at Wrigley was a disaster and MLB got it’s hoped-for World Series wish — the Chicago Cubs vs. the Cleveland Indians. I’ll close with just two words: #GoTribe!
 
 
How can you not love the two opposing managers showing immense respect?
LA’s Dave Roberts did a terrific job in his first year; kudos to the Cubs’ Joe Madden