Dream Come True: Opening Day at Fenway

Dream Come True: Opening Day at Fenway

I love the Boston Red Sox.

Ever since I became a fan of baseball, they arbitrarily became my favorite team. I love the idea of the long-suffering fan base, I loved that they were rivals of the New York Yankees, and I loved the idea of the Curse of the Bambino, which had been going on for about 80 years when I started following them.

The reason they became my team was simple, as my sister was on a trip to Boston, and I asked her to buy me a Sox hat. It started there, and has lasted ever since.

This will be my view from the bleacher seats.
This will be my view from the bleacher seats.

After being lucky enough to watch them win three World Series titles during the tenure of my fandom, I feel grateful that I chose them as my team, even if it was a random selection.

After completely falling in love with the game, I will finally be able to fulfill one of my bucket list wishes: I will get to go to a game at Fenway Park. And not just any game, but I will be able to go to Opening Day, to start a season after they won the championship. I have long dreamed of going to Fenway, and have been to Boston before during the season, but that was during the 2005 playoffs, when they were facing the White Sox, the year after they won their first, curse-breaking Series in 2004. There was no way I would have been able to afford tickets to that game. So I watched, along with the rest of the city, in bars. The Red Sox lost that series, but the city was still abuzz with the team, still basking in the afterglow of their series win the year before. I had decided that when I returned to Boston, I would see a game, if not several games.

I may not have the chance to see more than one, but I will be there for the most important, and celebrated, games of the year, outside of the playoffs.

A friend won tickets to opening day, and when she was not able to go due to her small children, I bought them from her. Quickly, I booked a flight to Boston, as they were more reasonably prices than I would have expected, and so it goes. I will get to sit in Fenway, watch the team I love, and party with the other faithful of one of the most popular teams in baseball.

To say the least, I am truly excited. April 4th can’t come quickly enough!

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At the Ballpark: Safeco Field (Seattle Mariners)

At the Ballpark: Safeco Field (Seattle Mariners)

Seattle is one of my favorite US cities, and Safeco Field has become one of my favorite big league ballparks. Part of this may because of the proximity of the stadium to me (or relative proximity, I suppose). The Mariners are my defacto home team, since it is only about a 14-hour drive to get from my house to their stadium. Like I said, the proximity is relative. Since Seattle is closer than other major league cities, I have been to more Mariner games than any others across baseball. This is not to say I am a season ticket holder, by any stretch of the imagination, but I have been to four games there, which defeats any other stadium in my travel history.

Safeco_Field_nightSafeco is a great place, a great stadium. Nestled in downtown, you can look out into the outfield, and see the incredibly impressive Seahawks Stadium, just across the way. Two have two amazing, modern, and quality stadiums right next to each other, right on the waterfront, and close to everything in town, is truly a great demonstration of city planning. Around Safeco, you are around the center of the action, and most of the highlights of the city are within walking distance of here.

The stadium itself is proof that all of these modern stadiums will offer the best of the best, in order to draw in the best crowds they can 81 times per year. Granted, the Mariners haven’t exactly provided the most stellar on-field lineups in recent years, but now with stars like Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano, the team should improve, as should the average crowd.

Ticket prices in Seattle are great, where $40 can get you incredible first or third base seats, only a few rows up from the dugouts. And, since the team has struggled in recent years, it is always easy to get tickets. Of course, you should plan ahead, but walking up to the gates before a game and getting seats is never a major issue. Great seats seem to always be there for any game.

The amenities in the stadium are solid as well. There are tons of food options, perhaps the best variety I have seen in a ballpark. You can get everything from your unhealthy doses of hot dogs and beers, to pretty damn good sushi, or seafood. Who knew a lobster sandwich from a baseball stadium would actually be really good? And affordable, as far as stadium costs go.

safecoCertain sections in Safeco are where you can be catered, and feel extra lazy. For one of my games there, we were in these seats, below the overhand of the upper deck, where there are waitresses that will bring you all your food and drink needs. The menu items cost a little more than walking up to the lines yourself, but sometimes you want a beer and don’t want to miss any of the game. In these instances, I will pay the extra buck or two to have somebody get it for me and bring it to my seat. Another bonus of this service is that you are able to pay for your items with a credit card, and save your cash for something else. A small bonus, but something that I liked about it.

Seattle, being a city known for rain, of course has a stadium with a retractable roof. I find that many stadiums that are indoors lose all of their appeal and baseball traditionalism, but at Safeco, when the roof is closed, it still feels like you are at an outdoor ballgame. The stadium is still open and airy, and you never get that feeling that you are closed in to watch the event. For baseball, I want to be outside, to feel the slight chill of the summer night air. It didn’t feel to me as though this was an issue with a closed roof in Seattle, something I give the stadium creators a lot of credit for.

The fans in Seattle are some of the best in baseball, that I have experienced. The general person is knowledgeable about the game, and very friendly. People respect that you have traveled a long way to see their team, and even in the down times, they still love their Mariners.

I had the chance to witness a couple of cool games there, including one of the legendary Ichiro’s final games as a Mariner, before moving on to the evil Yankees, and a 2-hit shutout gem of a game thrown by Hernandez, one of the best pitchers in the game.

The last time I was at Safeco, at the conclusion of the 6th inning, a man left his prime seats in the first row behind the Texas Rangers dugout, and gave us his tickets. He said that he had to leave, and he wanted us to have them. Gladly accepting, we were able to watch the rest of the game with our beers sitting on the Rangers dugout, a mere couple of feet away from their players. We got to watch the game as the Rangers were throwing sunflower seeds at Yu Darvish, their (at the time) rookie pitcher acquisition from Japan. It was a truly awesome ballpark experience, and one that speaks to the generosity of Mariner fans. It was a perfect conclusion to our couple of days at the park there.

Safeco Field is a secret gem in baseball. The Mariners may not get the media attention of the mega-market teams, but quietly they have created one of the most positive baseball viewing experiences in the league.

I know that I will be back to Safeco in the future. Because it is closer, and because it is great.

At the Ballpark: Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)

At the Ballpark: Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)

The friendly confines.

Wrigley Field is, without a doubt, one of the most legendary stadiums in baseball, and in all of sports. It was with this ballpark in mind that I drove thousands of kilometers to see a game.

Wrigley_field_720And it did not disappoint.

Wrigley Field is nestled in the beautiful and charming Wrigleyville area of Chicago, where shops and restaurants line the street, and hey, look, there is a baseball stadium on the street corner there. Walking into the park, and through the tunnel, you can’t help but feel awe when you first see the green grass of the diamond.

During my trip there, (it was in May), the famous outfield ivy was not fully grown, and clung to the outfield walls like brown death, but it was still cool to see in person. The stadium has earned its nickname, as the place really does feel cozy and friendly. The views from the seats are incredible, and even though I was in Row 30 or so, it felt like we were still on field level, getting a fantastic view of the game. It was incredible. The ┬áslope of the seats is quite gradual, so even if you are sitting further back on the first level, you don’t feel like you are a mile over the players. It all feels pretty equal, and this helps with that “friendly confine” feeling.

wrigley2And the day I was there, it was a perfect day for baseball. The Cubs eventually lost the game to the Florida Marlins, thanks to a blown save by Carlos Marmol and an implosion in extra innings, but it was truly a magnificent experience.

The people there, while not the most outgoing of fans that I have ever come across, love their Cubs, and die a little with each of the many, many losses they have garnered over the past one-hundred-and-some-odd years. Who knows what would happen should the Cubs actually win a World Series one of these days. Chicago wouldn’t stop partying until the next season began, I’m sure.

The park is easy to find, and the public transportation to get there is great. You can essentially get dropped off right across the street from the stadium. It is far more convenient than the more distant US Cellular Field, where the cross-town White Sox play. There are tons of great places for a snack, meal, or beer before or after the game, and the whole area around the park is bustling before game times.

Since Wrigley is so old, having opened around the beginning of the First World War in 1914, there are many ancient things in there that come across as charming, since this field has been through so much history, to the point where it has become history. The washrooms are small and cramped, with long lines, and nothing more than a long trough to pee in (nothing like really getting to know your neighbors and the person across from you, I guess!). There is no electronic scoreboard, which is fantastic, since I have found these multi-million dollar HD scoreboards to often be a distraction from the game. Wrigley doesn’t need the flashiness. You are there to see baseball, and you can really maintain your focus during the game. The whole idea of the rooftop seats is one of the coolest things you might see in any major league stadium. Across the street, you can buy a ticket, sit on a roof and watch the game take place. Sure, they wouldn’t be the greatest view in the world, but it has that hip factor to it in the same way that the Monster Seats in Fenway do. For those in the stadium, seeing the buildings across the street peering over the outfield grandstands is one of the great, and classic, views in all of baseball. So many stadiums have now developed these outstanding scenic cityscapes in the outfield, but one cannot argue with the fact that Wrigley was one of the first to have it done. It is great to look at, and to see the sun set over the legendary park.

wrigleyFor me, Wrigley was all about the personality. This stadium has it. It is not a common, modern stadium where everything is amazing and shiny and new. There are not high end restaurants and massive team shops all over the place. Wrigley is a baseball stadium, in the truest sense of the word. There are hot dogs and beers, and small places to buy Cubs gear, but in the end, you come to Wrigley to cheer for the Cubs, and little more. It is a park that has that magical quality to it that you see in movies about baseball. It is a place where legends have played for 100 years.

And it was well worth the drive to get there.

At the Ballpark: US Cellular Field (Chicago White Sox)

At the Ballpark: US Cellular Field (Chicago White Sox)

Chicago is a great American city, one that is deserving of all the kudos and reviews that it receives. It is a start where there is tons of art, great food, incredible music.

And, Chicago is one hell of a sports town.

The NBA Bulls had their magical run of championships with Michael Jordan at the helm, creating a modern dynasty with two 3-peats in the 90’s. The Cubs, despite their century of futility, are still one of the most popular ball teams in the States, and have provided some memorable moments over the past years, finding new and impressive ways to lose. The Blackhawks of the NHL have come back from the depths of brutality to become a true force in the league, winning Stanley Cups in two of the last three years. The Bears may not be winners, but they are a consistently strong and beloved team in the city.

white soxOh yeah, there are also the White Sox. The forgotten team in the great city. Sure, they are more successful than the Cubs, even winning an improbable World Series in 2005. But they continue to be the second team in a two-team baseball town.

While the Cubs are nestled in the comforts of Wrigleyville, the White Sox are stuck out seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The stadium is near a subway station (or semi-near, anyways), and a massive parking lot, which takes away from any surrounding splendor that so many other modern ballparks are becoming known for. Even though it isn’t, The Cell seems like an old concrete beast reminiscent of the stadiums built in the 70’s and 80’s. It is really far nicer than they were, but being in such an open space gives off such an appearance.

Walking into the stadium, there is a lack of the same sense of awe that other ballparks have created. It is a nice place, and doesn’t at all seem dated even though it was built in 1991 (which is now considered to be an older stadium, with so many teams getting brand-spanking new parks in the last decade).

One major flaw with the stadium, is the brutally chilly winds that soar in from the outfield. Granted, the day I watched a game there, it was already a cold May day, but the wind made it frigid. Instead of consuming my usual amount of beers (a lot), we were forced to drink coffee and hot chocolate to warm ourselves and our freezing cold hands. In fact, it was so cold that day, that even though there was a double-header, we could only muster the first game against the Seattle Mariners. This was coming from a couple of Canadians who were definitely used to the cold.

The amenities at The Cell are fine. The food is solid, and it was a pretty sparse crowd there, so the lines were always quick and reasonable. The team shops inside were pretty good, although much smaller than I had seen at other parks. If there were a sellout during the playoffs, or another highly intense and important game, I could see it getting a little ridiculous in there.

As far as pricing went, it was a far cheaper place to see a ballgame than at Wrigley Field. The tickets are definitely reasonable, as we had decided on seats along the right outfield side, not the usual up-close and personal seats we had become accustomed to. The sightlines were solid, and the seats themselves were as comfortable as anywhere else.

US. Cellular FieldOverall, there is nothing to complain about at the New Comiskey. Wandering through the outfield, there are some cool statues and things to look at, but it really did lack the panache of other parks.

While the White Sox have been better than the Cubs over the past decades, based on their home, it is understandable why they are the more ignored of the two teams. A good stadium, a solid team, but it truly seems to lack soul.

Golden!

Golden!

Sometimes, waking up at 5 AM is well worth it.

The Canadian men’s hockey team made it well worth while for the millions of Canadians who crawled out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning (or pulled university-style all nighters), by winning the Olympic gold medal with a dominating 3-0 win over Team Sweden.

The morning never seemed so sweet. Or so golden.

goldThis was a dominant performance. The Canadians went to work, won the battles, controlled the puck in Sweden’s zone. Over the course of the game, despite a couple of very good chances turned away by Carey Price, it seemed like the Swedes never really had a sniff. I feel for them, because they are a great team and probably deserved a better game, with their three main offensive forces not in the game due to injury. But that’s the way the tourney goes, and they are definitely a worthy silver medal team.

Canada, once again, can relish in the victory.

This Canadian team was maligned, as most Canadian teams are, from being under a microscope for so long. Sidney Crosby, the best player on earth, was criticized for not contributing enough offense. He scored the important 2-0 goal on a breakaway today, and has been Canada’s best player over the past two games. Even Chris Kunitz, who most people didn’t think belonged on this team in the first place, scored the defining 3-0 goal on a beautiful laser of a slapshot. Jonathan Toews, another forward who had been held goalless, put away the winner in the first period.

This was a team effort, and regardless of the plethora of NHL megastars on the roster, the Canadians played like a team. They remained committed to the team game through the tournament, especially on the defensive side of the game. They could have got nervous and broke down and tried for the offense that the crowds wanted, but they refrained, playing a well-structured game that looked impenetrable against the offensively gifted Americans and Swedes.

At times, it looked like Team Canada was just toying with them, playing keep-away in their end of the rink.

What I liked most about this team, is that they strapped on their hard hats and went to work in a very mechanical fashion. They did what they needed to do, played how they needed to play to win. They didn’t celebrate their goals too hard, or their victories too much. They just scored when they needed to and won games. All of the games. Even upon winning the gold medal, their celebration was sedate compared to the amazing anarchy of Vancouver. They had done their jobs, and done them well. Their goal was accomplished.

For an Olympics that lacked the raw excitement of a home country hosting, such as in Vancouver 2010, this was a great cap to an incredible few days of hockey, and overall, a great Olympics by Canada. 25 medals, including 10 gold. Pretty impressive for our small nation of 33 million people. We can compete with the big boys, the Americans and the Russians, as well as the other winter powers, such as the Dutch, Norwegians and Germans.

We didn’t end up with the most gold, or the most medals, this time around. But because of the men’s hockey, it feels like we won the Games.

Olympics: The Canada vs. USA classics

Olympics: The Canada vs. USA classics

Great week to be a Canadian hockey fan!

First off, there isn’t much to be said about that women’s gold medal hockey game that hasn’t been said already. An absolute classic. The women played their hearts out, and this needs to be considered one of the great rivalries in all of sports. They fought each other tooth and nail, and it was great to see Canada emerge as the gold medal winner for the fourth straight Olympics.

Yes, there were questionable things happen in that game. The penalties at the end and in overtime that went against the Americans were not of the entirely obvious variety (fancy way of saying one was a terribly weak makeup call and the other was going to get called no matter what, the fact they called it cross-checking on the breakaway was laughable).

women2That ending will go down in Canadian sports history. The goals, the post, the comeback. Amazing hockey.

It was great to hear the entire school erupt when the Canadians got their goals, and make their comeback. I know how excited our staffroom was to watch the overtime at lunch. Amazing.

For the men, there is little bigger than a Canada-US game. Sure, the traditional rival of ours is Russia, but the US is the new one, since Russian hockey seems to have fallen off a cliff in recent years. The US are the enemy, our biggest challenger. Canada’s 1-0 semi-final victory was no way the classic that the women’s duel was, but with that score, it was filled with tense moments, which is strange considering that Canada seemed to absolutely dominate this game.

bennDespite our lack of goal scoring and finish, how incredible has Team Canada been at possession during these Games? Watching, it seemed like the whole game was played in the American end. Which is perfect. Now, it would be nice if we finished a couple of those possessions with some goals!

An absolute classic week, and we get to look forward to the 5AM (mountain time) wakeup call to see if our men can secure the double hockey gold once again.

Go Canada Go!

Olympics: Women’s Hockey (USA vs. Can)

Olympics: Women’s Hockey (USA vs. Can)

The way we all expected it to be, and the way that it should be. The gold medal game in the women’s hockey tournament will come down to the two world superpowers in the sport, the United States and Canada.

womenThere was no doubt this was going to be the final game that we were going to see, even with the IOC adjusting the format of the women’s tournament in order to ensure more competitive games, and avoiding the embarrassing 16-0 blowouts we have become all too familiar with over the past Olympic Games. Well, they succeeded on this point. There were no double-digit destructions, which is nothing but good for the sport that is trying to hold onto its spot in the Games.

Canada vs. the US is the fiercest rivalry and battle in the woman’s game. And we should welcome one more battle between the two teams. They did play in the round robin portion of the tourney, with the Canadians winning a close one (of course), 3-2.

These two teams do not like each other. They are both filled with stars and legends of the women’s game. They even brawled in a couple of their warmup matches before the Olympics. This game is the ultimate selling point for people out there who are not familiar with women’s hockey, and to young girls that need to see the best of the best, and that need to see that women’s hockey is a great sport, that can be as hard fought as any of the men’s games.

Best of luck to both teams, they of course both deserve to be competing for the highest honour in their sport. Let’s hope for another Canadian victory, as we have seen in the past Olympics.