Saturday, August 28, 2010

America's Pastime

I was going to write up a post about the baseball games I got to see a while ago, but then I forgot, then some more time passed, and here we are now, with me getting back to it: baseball, the great American Pastime! Not quite as great (or popular) as the NFL these days perhaps, but a nice relaxing way to spend an evening or an afternoon.

I've been to a good number of baseball games before - from San Diego to Seattle to Philadelphia to a lot of places in between (The new Giants Stadium in San Francisco is the best. Though Seattle's very own Safeco Field is up there too), but I had never seen either of the two oldest, venerable, most famous stadiums in the major leagues: Boston's Fenway Park, where the Red Sox play, and Wrigley Field, on the North side of Chicago, home of the green ivy and your favorite lovable losers, the Cubs. So, off I went planning my advance across North America, keeping famous baseball stadiums in mind:

Of course, my first North American stop was New York City

And they've got a fairly famous baseball team here too - something called the Yankees, at the New Yankee Stadium, shown here. I would've actually been more excited to see the old, more historic Yankee Stadium, but that had been replaced by this shining new stadium last year, so that's what we get. I would have been really, really excited to catch a game here (or even at the new Mets Stadium in Queens), but I happened to be in New York during baseball's All Star break, so no games for you! In fact, I even missed the hours for the tour of the stadium... So, enough with the Yankees then - on to Boston!

Boston, the city, I had visited on a number of occasions before, so I wasn't really inclined to do much sight-seeing, I did catch up with Mary Catherine (of Lake Baikal fame) here briefly, but really, my main raison d'etre in Boston was to catch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, so on a beautiful summer evening, around 7 o'clock, I arrived at my Fenway seat and settled in to watch the Red Sox take on the Texas Rangers

Welcome to Fenway Park! Every game is sold out...

The Green Monster under the lights. I thought you'd be a little bigger, a little more monstrous actually, Green Monster? ('Green Monster' is what they call that big green wall over there, Mom)

My seats weren't very far from the Red Sox bullpen, so here's an action shot of the warm-ups

Unfortunately, the beautiful summer evening did not last, and around the fourth inning, the game was paused indefinitely due to rain. This was all a part of my Egypt hangover month of travel, where each new city I'd arrive in would greet me with rain and clouds after the interminable heat and sunshine that was everywhere in Egypt: Tunis, Naples, Rome, Paris, Bristol, London (of course), New York, Boston, Montreal, Buffalo... they each got me a taste of overcast skies and rain. I stuck with it though, waited out the delay, taking a chance to explore the stadium, and sample the local bratwurst offerings.

An hour later, the action resumed, and we all trooped back to our seats. Sadly, the weather didn't get the memo that we were all back, while the umpires were clearly inclined to try and get the game finished, so we were experiencing a little more New England drizzle than I felt I had really signed up for

The skies continuing to look ominous over Fenway

I put up with the rain for about another inning, and promptly packed up and headed out of the stadium - I'm all for catching a Sox game at Fenway, but getting soaked wasn't part of the plan. Fenway itself was really cool to see - it's certainly very small, very cozy, distinctly old school. The fans used to be known as the most knowledgeable baseball fans in America - as the ticket prices have risen sharply, the most die-hard, most knowledgeable fans have stopped being able to afford tickets, so while there still isn't an empty seat to be found in the house, I didn't necessarily think the makeup of the crowd was any different than what you'd expect at a baseball game anywhere else around the country.

And speaking of anywhere else around the country, a couple of weeks later, after a detour through Canada, I reached Chicago, home of the Cubs. I was once again here for just a single night, staying with Ellen, a new couch-surfing buddy, and we headed off towards Wrigley Field to catch an evening game against the St. Louis Cardinals (somewhat ironically, last time I had been in St. Louis, I caught a game there against the Cubs...).

Approaching Wrigley!

Ellen and I over by our 'seats' - all the games at Wrigley are sold out too, so we ended up with standing room seats, which was actually just fine by us!

National League MVP Albert Pujols taking a swing

'Beyond the Ivy' seats - Wrigley Field feels really small! Part of the reason is that the outfield seats don't go up very high, so the houses beyond the stadium, across Waveland Avenue, get a clear look onto the action

I accessorized in some St. Patrick's Day Cubbies attire and got a picture with Ernie Banks

We once again didn't make it all the way through the game... no rain this time, it's just that it went into extra innings, and we had a visit to Al Capone's old jazz club still ahead of us (which was awesome, by the way). Wrigley Field, I enjoyed even more than Fenway - they are both small, cozy and somehow feel closer and more genuine than most of the gigantic, new, corporate-sponsored stadiums, but Wrigley has a little more of a quiet, relaxed vibe to it than does Fenway. Maybe it's just the ivy on the outfield walls, or maybe it's because the Cubs are the lovable losers (last championship in 1908, next one does not currently appear to be imminent), while the Red Sox have become all smug, corporate, and expensive(!) after breaking through their own curse (read: cheapness of a former owner) and winning a pair of World Series titles in the past ten years.

And that, in short, was my America's Pastime baseball experience. Some day, catching a game at the two New York stadiums needs to happen, but I've gotten the two venues that I really wanted to see out of the way: Fenway and Wrigley! Oh, and I did pass by some other baseball venues along the way, but I wasn't quite so inclined to catch a game at either one of these:

Some fun decorations on the side of the Rogers Stadium in downtown Toronto - generally regarded as a particularly unattractive stadium... At least, I imagine, the CN Tower makes for a nice background

Seeing a game at Denver's Coors Field would be pretty cool actually (and ironically enough, the very same Chicago Cubs were apparently arriving in town just as I was taking off), but I didn't have the time - Seattle was calling by now!

And now that I'm back here in Seattle and not really traveling anymore, a whole new American Pastime has come calling: The Burning Man Festival in the Nevada Desert.

No, I've never been before, and I can't really describe it all that well - if you are not familiar with this particular form of insanity, you are best off just looking at their website and waiting for my blog posts afterward (no, not during!). Irina has gone the past two years, and she seems to absolutely love it, so this year I've decided to join her (and 50,000 of our fellow 'burners') - if she and I made it through Colombia, Israel, and Egypt unscathed, this is bound to go well too, right!?

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