When I broached the idea of seeing four major league baseball games in a span of 48 hours, with about 14 hours of driving inter-dispersed among the 48 hours, I sat on the fence...teetering back and forth about whether this was the act of a couple of hardcore baseball fans, or whether it was the final step towards the looney bin.
So was all the effort worth it? Was it hardcore? Was it insane? (Warning: what you are about to read is an epic...split up into digestible parts, but epic nonetheless. Not epic as in good...just long. Be prepared.)
Game One: Quadruple "A"
My brother warned me that the Great American Ballpark was a really nice minor league ballpark, kind of like those players that dominate AAA ball, but can't quite climb the Mendoza line in the majors. I can't go quite that far in assessing the Reds' home, but there is definitely a minor league feel to the park. It's intimate, it has fireworks, and it's very...very...red. It's easy for a camera to spot a Mets fan in the crowd, as black and orange seem to clash with all the red seats, the red shirts, and the blood spilled by Reds fans as...
All right, maybe not quite that red. But as you can tell from the picture above, there were plenty of Mets fans at GAB on Tuesday night. And the boys at Faith and Fear in Flushing would be happy to know that one of those Met fans was sporting the now classic number shirt seen in many cities around the world, and now in Ohio...though I wasn't fast enough to grab a picture of the guy, you guys will just have to trust me that he was there.
We spent the first three innings in the Riverfront Club, which is basically fancy food, real plates, and free beer. What's better than that? (If you go, try the cream of shallot). How about the kid waiter who watched Paul Lo Duca's first home run with us, not batting an eye when we clapped politely?
This was quickly followed by the poor kid getting admonished by his boss for not keeping the tables clean.
"I don't care who you root for, as long as I get paid. I'm actually a Mets fan anyways."
Then there was the bitter Reds fan sitting at the bar who noticed my Pedro jersey and starts in with the bartender...her rant went something like "blah blah blah blah blah all these Mets fans blah blah blah blah blah blah they're just like Cub fans blah blah blah blah blah blah".
Then it was off to our big time seats about 22 rows up from the Reds dugout, and sitting next to a Cincinnati celebrity...namely: Rocco Castellano, a fitness instructor and attitude adjustor who has been on local radio, and is not only good people, but he's actually a Mets fan from New Jersey. Wearing a Pedro Martinez jersey in enemy territory, it was good to have a fitness instructor on my side (because I'm too anemic to defend myself, as you know). As for the attitude adjusting, I wonder if Guillermo Mota has been a recent beneficiary of Rocco's expert teachings. If not, he probably should be.
Definitely make a pilgrimage to the place for no other reason than the fact that you can run to the bathroom and get back to your seat without missing a pitch. You couldn't do that at Shea unless you used an empty cup at your seat. And also, try the deep fried twinkies. Just stay away from that chili/spaghetti mess unless you have had tetanus shots.
We were lucky to be present at the game on the all-important 26th anniversary of Woody Woodward almost being hit by a ten pound sack of flour at Dodger Stadium. And it was another not so great day in Reds history 36 years later...as not only did Lo Duca hit his second dinger of the night, but my brother spent the entire night heckling Adam Dunn. Good times had by all (especially the guy in his fifties who was literally dancing in the street after the game because Orlando Hernandez threw him a baseball and he caught it), as the Mets had their first five game winning streak of the season (you know, I heard that no team ever made the playoffs without a five game winning streak), and my road record ran to 5-0. But as you know, all good things...
Game Two: What's Up Old People?
We knew it was going to be one of those special kinda days when we rode the elevator with Thom Brenneman at Wednesday afternoon's Mets/Reds tilt. Say what you want about Brenneman (and I have), but the guy not only called Boise State's Fiesta Bowl masterpiece, he has now also called Appalachian State's massive upset over Michigan. That's cache, my friends.
We traveled up to the upper deck to find my niece, at the game with her schoolmates...and along the way found a Reds usher clapping wildly for Aaron Harang as he was announced as the Reds' Roberto Clemente award candidate (and seeing how empty the upper deck was that day, we have strong suspicions that the usher was, in reality, Aaron Harang's mom.)
So my brother finds his daughter in the upper deck among her schoolmates (great school system in Cincinnati...as soon as the class saw us two mooks in our Mets jerseys, the teachers spurred their kids to chant "Let's Go Reds" at us. That's some mighty hospitality there...must be that "midwest polite") and gives her a Mets hat to wear. She then asks her daddy with a big smile on her face: "Are you going to watch the game with me?" My brother...still stinging over the fact that his daughter had him in the bathroom at GAB while Pedro Martinez was striking out his 3,000th career batter on Monday...said "nope, I just came to give you your hat".
That's good parenting.
What he probably wanted to say was that we had much better seats than the class. For reference, here's approximately what row Q gets you at Shea Stadium:
Meanwhile, here's row Q in Cincinnati:
Not bad, eh?
But before we got back to our row Q, I took this picture in the concourse of a painting featuring the Big Red Machine:
You'll notice the former Met in the lower right corner...that's correct, George Foster. I took this picture thinking "oh, here's an opportunity to rip on Foster in my next blog entry for never, ever diving for a fly ball in a Mets uniform".
Wouldn't you know that a few feet to the left of the picture that I was going to segue into a George Foster joke, was George Foster himself? Yes...George Foster was signing autographs for the throngs of people waiting in line to buy his signature on an 8X10 for $25.
Well, actually, it was more like the throng of person waiting for his autograph...so you know I couldn't let this opportunity go by without getting a picture with the man, and getting a personalized 8X10. George Foster...who once hit a triple in a Mets uniform, but was now wearing a Reds jersey during this session, was taking a picture with little ol' me. That's when this exchange occurred:
Still confident after all these years.
GF: Try not to beat up on us too bad today, OK?
MD: You know when the Mets signed you, it was the first step in the Mets
becoming relevant again.
GF: I thought I was the only one who figured that out.
(Foster would later do an interview on the Diamondvision, and when asked to give a message to the senior citizens on Senior Citizens Day, the 59 year-old Foster's inspirational message was: "What's up old people!")
The game featured temperatures that reached 105, the Mets being shut down by some guy named Tom Shearn, and Joey Votto getting his first major league hit, a bomb off of John Maine (along with the appearance of maybe the greatest name ever for a baseball player: Buck Coats.) And I gotta say: I've never had so much fun at a 7-0 beating in my life. Consider that for the final three innings, we sat here:
This picture was taken right before my conversation with Jose, which was basically me asking Jose if he was enjoying his day off, and Reyes nodding his head and flexing his muscles...telling me he needed to get stronger (probably more mentally than physically, I'd say).
Mets fans had taken over the rows behind the dugout, having a good time talking to their team...but wondering why Moises Alou wouldn't smile at them. Rest assured that Moises isn't a dour guy. He's just afraid that if he smiles, he'll pull a face muscle and be out for three weeks, so he's just thinking of the team in this instance.
A funny thing happened during the ninth inning down 0-7. Mets fans were getting up a "Let's Go Mets" chant. Certainly a far cry from some of the seemingly constant complainin' about the team back here in New York to hear a group of fans blissfully backing the team with the stench of the Phillies series seeming more and more like a distant memory. It was a glorious thing. But it had to be interrupted by a higher calling, which was my brother heckling Mike Stanton:
"Hey Stanton, Prince Fielder called, he wants his pants back!"
No matter that he was closing out a day game doldrum for the Mets, we had to extract our pound of flesh from a Hall of Hate charter member (my only regret was that I couldn't tie a Krispy Kreme to a fishing pole and dangle it in front of Stanton in hopes that he's chase it. Next year.)
Game Three: Free Parking
Here was the challenge of the day...get from Cincinnati to Chicago in four hours, find parking, and get in our seats by 8:05 for our first ever trip to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs and the Dodgers. Who could blame us for thinking we had a chance...as not only did we hear on the radio that batting practice was delayed by a thunderstorm, but that the Braves had come back to defeat the Phillies 9-8 after being down 0-5 when we left GAB, keeping the Mets lead at five games. This prompted my brother to call a Phillies fan to rub it in, with me doing the tomahawk chop in the background.
Yes, things were coming together.
The festive atmosphere we anticipated at Wrigley caused me to start singing the Amy Winehouse song "They tried to make me go to rehab but I said 'no, no, no'" for the better part of three hours (my brother probably needed rehab after acquiring that earworm from me). Unfortunately, we missed most of the festive, rehab-free atmosphere of Wrigley as we didn't get to the park until the bottom of the fourth (while missing some guy from Reno 911 throwing out the first pitch).
Then it took two innings to park the car.
Luckily, we ran into a couple leaving the game who my brother subconsciously willed into giving us their parking sticker so that we wouldn't have to find the missing parking attendant and give up upwards of forty dollars to park and watch three innings of baseball...as we didn't sit down in Wrigley until the bottom of the sixth. (So let this be a lesson to those of you thinking of trying this kind of trip: Cincinnati to Chicago is impossible if you want to see every pitch. Can't be done. Believe me, we tried. Any faster, and we would have had Jackie Gleason and Boss Hog tailing us.)
But three innings in Wrigley was more than enough for one night (and in my mind, it still counts as two games in one day...pretty cool.) Night games in Wrigley, even if consumed in a small dose, are an event. What more could you want from a baseball game than an electric crowd, a beer, and national television?
How about not having a pillar in front of your seat?
No wonder I was able to get these tickets so easily online. No matter, because I scored my Derrek Lee bobblehead doll (which upon entering my apartment, immediately leaped from the box and hit a home run off of my Heath Bell bobblehead doll) thanks to our Chicago mole who was actually there early enough to be one of the first 10,000 fans to enter the park (don't worry, for his efforts I paid for his ticket...I'm a compassionate one).
They're singing ...Go, Cubs, goOh, sorry...I got my earworms mixed up.
Go, Cubs, go
Hey, Chicago, what do you say
The Cubs are gonna win today.
Go, Cubs, go
Go, Cubs, go
They tried to make me go to rehab, I said: Go Cubs Go
After the game featured the only Wrigley reference to my Mets hat (the infamous travel hat, by the way) which came from a vendor who was selling a t-shirt on Waveland which referred to the sexual preference of the St. Louis Cardinals. He spots my Met hat and says:
"You must hate the Cardinals as much as we do."
Which was met by three simple words that came out of my mouth: "Yadier...f***ing...Molina".
In one respect, brothers in arms.
Game Four: One With...
Now Wrigley Field was great. But I did have a couple of complaints. The one Cub souvenir that I really wanted was a Cliff Floyd shirt. I figured that going into a Cubs shop across the street from the Field and seeing t-shirts immortalizing the likes of Matt Murton, Carlos Marmol, and Ronny Cedeno would up my chances of finding a Cubs shirt featuring a Chicago native. But alas, my efforts to find a "Floyd 15" shirt was futile. And as much as I love Cliff, I wasn't dropping a buck-sixty on an official "Floyd 15" jersey.
My other complaint were the bathrooms. Call me crazy, but relieving myself in a community sink isn't my idea of fun. (If you've been there, you know what I mean.)
But no Cliff Floyd tee, hijinks in the bathroom, and the lack of opportunity to boo the resting Jeff Kent for a second straight day were made up for by the hot dogs. Guys and gals, do yourselves a favor. Go to the hot dog stand and order a "one with". Just trust us.
And then, after Andre Ethier broke the Cubs hearts with a three run home run off of Ryan Dempster in the ninth (apparently, the Mets aren't the only team that has Dempster's number), it was time to end our trip, and take the long trip home. So was it worth it? Was driving and riding all these miles to see four ball games in 48 hours worth the effort?
So I guess my vote is for hardcore.
But you know, we passed by Indianapolis on the way back home from Wrigley on Thursday night. We could have caught a quarter of the NFL opener on our way back to Cincinnati.
Hey, what do you think...we're insane?