Saturday, April 9, 2016

Opening Day! Opening Day! Opening Day! Opening Day!

The MLB season opened on Sunday and I was in St. Petersburg for the occasion. The Blue Jays were getting their campaign underway in one of three games taking place that day. I had never seen them open the season on the road; two years ago I saw them play their second through fourth games at Tampa Bay, but had missed the first, so was rectifying that oversight on this trip.

The 4:05 start gave me plenty of time to tour the area around Tropicana Field after checking out of my hotel. Two years before I had a few drinks at the Brass Tap but it had closed in the meantime, so I went to the Amsterdam on Central Avenue, which had cheap and tasty BBQ outside and craft beer inside. They even put on the opening game of the season between Pittsburgh and St. Louis so I relaxed for a couple of hours, keeping my eye on StubHub for a ticket.

There were scalpers around but they were looking for more than I was willing to pay, hard to blame them as this is the only game where Tampa Bay will sell out. My limit was $30, and one guy simply scoffed and said "Good luck". Well, his kind wishes must have helped as I found a single in the lower deck for $32. I had to go to a FedEx Print Center to print out the ticket as Tropicana Field doesn't allow electronic entry (always make sure there is a nearby place where you can print tickets before buying). After getting the hard copy, I walked back toward Tropicana Field, only to happen upon a bar called World of Beer which was offering $4 local brews. With over an hour still to go until first pitch, I decided to stop for a quick pint, and let Sharpy know about this place. He replied "I'm sure Cliff and Norm are there", referring to the characters from the old sitcom Cheers. A throwaway comment, but when I finally made it to the Trop, it was none other than Norm himself, George Wendt, who threw out the first pitch. Quite a coincidence; that is him below singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the 7th-inning stretch.

My seat was down the left field line (view below), a good deal for the price. Next to me were Karina and Dawn, two sisters from Toronto who had spent the past month in Dunedin for spring training, during which they had won a trip to this four-game series. They had flown back to Canada for one night and then headed right back to Florida the next day. They provided some interesting commentary during the game and were welcome seat mates. Toronto won 5-3 behind 8 strong innings from Marcus Stroman and a 2-run homer from Troy Tulowitzki, making me happy indeed. After the game, I drove to Gainesville for the night, and found another branch of the Brass Tap where I celebrated the start of another baseball season and a Jays victory.

The next day I continued on to Atlanta for the Braves home opener, the last in Turner Field history. Yes, after just 20 years, the Braves are ditching the Ted and moving to Cobb County, where SunTrust Park will open in 2017. Once again I used StubHub, picking up a ticket in the second row of the upper deck for $25, a bit much given that they didn't even sell out. Fortunately I had found a free parking spot on Pryor Street and was able to get a free soda through the designated driver program, so overall it was still a reasonable deal for a home opener.

It was a beautiful day as you can see above, and I took the time to wander around. The iconic Coke bottle has a "Please Recycle" message on its base, rather ironic as they are going to tear down this venue after just two decades of use.

Just behind the bottle is a mural which I quite liked. These little touches are what make each ballpark unique, and I'm sure the new one will have plenty of them too but at a much higher cost.

I was hoping for a quick game as I had to fly back to New York at 9:00, but as it often the case, it was not to be. The Nationals were the visitors and they took an early lead on a Bryce Harper homer in the first, but Freddie Freeman matched that in the bottom half. The same scenario played out in the fourth with ex-Met Daniel Murphy homering for Washington, while Adonis Garcia replied for the Braves. I wanted one team to take a lead, but no more runs were scored in my presence. In the bottom of the 8th, the Braves had two on with two out, but I could not stick around for the outcome as I had to get to the airport and get through Hartsfield's notoriously long security lines. The Braves scored on a bases-loaded walk in that inning, but gave up a run in the top of the 9th and lost 4-3 in ten innings.

I made it to the airport and actually saw the top of the 10th inning on TV. Security took over half an hour, but of course, once I reached my gate, I found out my flight was delayed 30 minutes, so I could have stayed for a little longer. In the end, I got back home just after midnight, another trip in the books.

As it turned out though, flying back that night allowed me to see yet another home opener on Tuesday. The Yankees and Astros had been postponed on Monday, with the makeup set for Tuesday afternoon. Tickets were very cheap and my buddy Andrew drove up from Philadelphia to join me. It was very cold and windy, but the sun was out, so we made our way to far left field where the sun was shining. The temperature difference was about 20 degrees and soon most fans followed suit, leaving those shaded sections nearly empty.

Houston won 5-3 in controversial fashion as Carlos Correa ran inside the baseline on a short grounder, forcing Dellin Betances to throw wild. Three unearned runs were the eventual result but I'm not complaining. After the game, umpire Dana DeMuth said Betances’ toss was so high that in his judgment it was just a bad throw. Good enough for me as a Yankees loss is almost as satisfying as a Blue Jays win.

After a couple of days off, my home opener count hit 4 as I returned to Citi Field to see the Mets thump the woeful Phillies 7-2 on Friday afternoon. StubHub stops selling tickets to MLB games (except the Yankees) two hours before first pitch but other resellers are not so constrained and I was able to get a ticket on SeatGeek for $23, half of face value, just an hour before game time.

I left my apartment at 12:20, as the ride usually takes 35 minutes. However, my New York nemesis, the MTA, decided to reduce the number of trains on the 7 line before the game. Trains are supposed to arrive every 6 minutes, but I waited 15 at Queensboro Plaza and the train was slower than usual too, arriving at Willets Point at 1:10, the scheduled start time. The delay was long enough to make me miss the first couple of batters. They were Phillies, so it didn't matter much, but it is still frustrating that these things happen all the time with MTA, despite fares being raised every year. You know the Mets are opening, why not ensure that 7 trains are running on schedule? SeatGeek allows for electronic entry, so in the future I'll go to the ballpark first and buy my ticket once I am there.

Next Up

I plan to attend any weekday afternoon games in New York because there is nothing quite like afternoon baseball while everyone else is at work, so I'll be at the Mets again on Wednesday when they host Florida as well as a trip to Philadelphia on Thursday for an afternoon tilt against the Padres, but the only other MLB games I'll be seeing involve the Blue Jays in San Francisco, Arlington, and Denver. My focus this year will be on the minors as I try to complete the AAA and AA parks this season. The first step will be a trip to Albuquerque, El Paso, and Midland next weekend. Check back for updates then!



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