On my geas to visit all of the Major League Baseball parks in the U.S. and Canada, I have some rules, one being to eat local food. Well, my dad just sent an article from tomorrow's New York Times that suggests I should always eat at the park:
Hot dogs and peanuts still rule the food court, but I spotted signs of progress almost everywhere on my road trip. There were concessionaires that served humanely raised meat from the fashionable purveyor Niman Ranch. Phillies fans drank beer from biodegradable cups made of corn, and a few might even have filled their cars with biodiesel made from the park’s used fryer oil after the game. And dishes from other baseball-loving cultures have made inroads, like tonkatsu, Japanese fried pork cutlets; sweet-fried plantains from Latin America; and pressed Cuban sandwiches.
Yesterday, though, I had a dog and—it still pains me to think of it—Miller Lite. That's what my hosts served, so that's what we had.
It had to happen some time. Tonight, though not officially part of my 29-park geas, I attended a, well, that is, I went to, um, you see, I was invited to go to a White Sox game. So, yeah.
If you're not from Chicago, you may have trouble understanding why this felt so odd for me. I grew up on the North Side. I'm a Cubs fan. In 37 years I've never taken the El below Cermak Road. And yet, tonight, I went to the Cell.
The upside: I can now actually go to all 30 parks that Major League Baseball accepts as their own, including the unfortunate one at 35th and State. But let me tell you, it wasn't easy, not least because the home team won.
Since my dad lives outside San Francisco, I took him to the second park on my 30-baseball-park geas. He hasn't been to a professional baseball game in years, despite working walking distance from AT&T Park. Something about preferring football. I have no idea why.
So, yesterday, I dragged him kicking and screaming to see the Padres play the Giants.
San Diego won 5-1, which is the sort of thing that happens when the visiting team goes through the entire lineup in the first inning. Pat Misch pitched the whole game, mainly because after his horrible first inning he actually held the Padres off until the 9th:
I liked the park. And I had local food: one of the concessions serves Chinese, so I had some orange chicken on rice. First time I ever ate anything with chopsticks at a baseball game. AT&T Park also had some very good local (or at least California) beers, including Lagunitas IPA and Mendocino Brewing Co. Red Tail ale.
Next up, U.S. Cellular Field back home. I had thought of visiting all 29 other parks and calling the quest complete, as living my entire life without ever seeing the White Sox in person sounded like a good idea. However, a business associate invited me to his company party at the Cell next Friday, so at least I can live my entire life without paying for a White Sox ticket. (If you don't live in Chicago, you may not understand that I'm only half-kidding.)
 I visited five parks before making plans to see all of them.
I started my 30-baseball-park geas with Kansas City, which definitely fits the model of saving the best for last.
First, there's beautiful (ahem) Kauffman Stadium, on the outskirts of the city, surrounded by picturesque fields of asphalt and dandelions. My sense of foreboding, stoked by checking the previous day's standings, increased when I saw the lines outside the box-office windows:
Actually, the game was kind of fun. As they went into the 9th inning, the Royals were up by 5, everyone in the park (except the Twins fans) was happy, the weather was just fine, and I looked forward to going to sleep before 11pm. Then the Twins rolled through almost their entire lineup, sending five guys home in the process to tie it up. Not fatal, but surprising. Then the Royals went through every pitcher they had and only six of their batters while the Twins added another run in the 10th. Final score? Oy:
Inauspicious beginning? I'm not bothered. It takes a certain kind of ball club to drop 10 games in a row. Since Wednesday's loss the Royals have dropped yet two more games, making them a very certain kind of ball club. Plus, what did I expect for my—wait for it—first American League game ever. Yes, that's right, I've never seen a designated hitter before, in person. Odd sort of creature, I must say.
I'm in San Francisco now, and yes, my dad and I are going to a Giants game. They're in 3rd place, playing the 4th-place Padres, so it may be a closely-fought match. I'm looking forward to it.
Meanwhile, once again I have to suffer through this sort of thing:
One more rule I forgot to mention: eat locally. And in KC, that means barbecue.
Tonight I went to the Gates BBQ, in Independence, Mo., as reccomended by the hotel's driver, Martin. Interesting. The pit-fired meat fell right off the bone, with a crunchy outer shell from the intense heat they use. The sauce, though. Hmmm. It wasn't what I expected.
I always associated KC-style ribs with a sweet-tangy, tomato-based sauce. Gates uses a tomato base but their sauce has more heat and less sweet, almost like a Memphis-style barbecue. Plus, the meat seemed awfully salty.
So, not the best ribs I've ever had—those would be the ones my brother and stepmother make as a team—but not too disappointing.
Almost forgot, I drank locally, too, having a Boulevard Pale Ale with dinner. Good clean finish, light flavor, decent beer. This one I'll have again.
Follow-up, 6:15 pm: I just had an enlightening conversation in the hotel gift shop*. It seems that there are two different cultures in Kansas City, and Gates BBQ belongs firmly to one of them. I'm proceeding delicately here because I think I'm a little offended, and I don't want to offend anyone else. Apparently, those in Kansas City who look more like me than Martin does avoid Gates because, well, it's not their style of BBQ on the one hand, and on the other, it's still 1958.
I have to think about this some more.
* Despite planning to have ribs for dinner, I neglected to pack dental floss.
I have a little time before I go off in search of a slab of ribs to explain why I'm in Kansas City.
One of my friends decries people who say "I've always wanted to [insert relatively accessible activity here]..." but who haven't actually done [activity]. For example, on more than one inauspicious first date the guy has said, "You lived in Europe? I've always wanted to go there!" Since she's dating single men who are over 30 and over the poverty line, "always wanted" is obviously not true, becuase they would have gone already.
To honor that, I will say I've not always wanted to see a baseball game in every major-league (and American League ;) park—but I've always mused about it.
Therefore, as a single man over 30 and over the poverty line, I've decided to do it. Since I've already been to five (in order: Wrigley, Dodger Stadium, Shea, Enron Field, and Miller Park), this gives me almost three full seasons to get the last 25 before I turn 40. Here are the rules:
- Spend as little as possible on the quest. This means, among other things, bunching games up geographically and looking for the cheapest airfares available.
- In any park other than U.S. Cellular Field, if the Cubs are not playing, root for the home team.
- In any park where the Cubs are not playing, when a hat must be worn, wear a Cubs hat to American League parks and a Red Sox hat to National League parks, on the theory that the hat would therefore be neutral.
- If the Cubs are playing, wear a Cubs hat and root for the Cubs, obviously.
Which brings me back to Kansas City. I'm here because I had a previously-scheduled trip to San Francisco anyway, and this was the least-expensive option.
Photos to follow. Now, I'm going to get some sizzlin' baby backs.
The Cubs and the other team are both in first place, causing the Tribune to froth about a—wait for it—Subway Series in Chicago this year:
It has been 102 years since both teams were in the playoffs at the same time, with the White Sox winning the only all-Chicago World Series in 1906.
If the Cubs hold off St. Louis for another few days, this could be the first time in 31 seasons the Cubs and White Sox have both been in first place at the end of May. This, however, might not be the greatest harbinger of good times. The "South Side Hit Men" Sox slid to a third-place finish, 12 games behind division winner Kansas City that 1977 season, while the Cubs finished 81-81 and in fourth place.
Funny that mention of Kansas City: I'm going to Kauffman Stadium tonight on my way to California. The Royals, sadly, are tied for last place, having dropped their last nine in a row. I anticipate a riveting evening of baseball.