May 2012

Reviewing Transit and Lodging, What Worked, What Didn’t on the 30-30 Tour

A brief look at each city, what worked, what didn’t as it related to the transit and lodging arrangements.

Most fans who plot one of these trips will have the option of a rental car in the cities they fly into and for cities where a bus/train option works best, they can just drive that same rental car. So know that this is written from the perspective of a person who cannot drive and cannot have the car as an option of transit in or between cities.

Games 1 and 2 at Arlington and Houston I was with friends, though I did already have a flight booked between DFW and Houston. Had I been doing that portion with no friends, I already knew that I would have to make a choice, stay at a hotel in Arlington with transit to and from the game, while cabbing it to the airport, or staying near the airport in a transit zone and going cab to and from the stadium, Arlington as some will know is in a dead zone and has no public transit, unlike other areas of the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex.

Houston presents a challenge in that while the ballpark and Hobby airport are both in transit zones, Bush Intercontinental is on the far northeast side of town and is harder to get to via public transit.

Atlanta, I stayed near the airport, knowing that I had an early flight the next morning. MARTA does go near the airport and near the stadium, so had I been on a more relaxed schedule in the ATL, MARTA would have gotten me to both areas it does appear. Because I had to be at Turner Field extra early, I did get a cab to the game and the friends I met for this game dropped me off at my hotel, so here it all comes out even in the end.

St. Louis is one of the better stories when it comes to this topic, because a well-designed MetroLink light rail drops at both air terminals and does likewise at bush Stadium. I knew this, so staying at a hotel near the airport and catching the train was a very good option. The ticket machines are not real friendly to the blind, yes they have braille but you don’t know what goes to what button as it relates to the various fare types, a local would know this, not a visitor. I took the train to Bush and I ended up catching a ride with the people I met at this game, though I had originally planned on going back by train.

KC, a city I’ve been to before and one that I knew was another one of those challenges. Neither the airport nor the ballpark are in an area that is well connected to anything transit wise. For this reason, this was a rare case of choosing to stay near the ballpark. Had I been thinking, rather than taking a cab from the airport to the hotel and back the next morning, I would have gone Super Shuttle and saved myself about 80 bucks.

Game 6 at Tampa which I also knew would be a challenge was more about splitting hair. Going from my hotel near the airport to Tropicana, I had enough time to make a two hour ride through three buses from a stop just off the hotel parking lot to a stop just yards from the baseball stadium. The cost for that two hour and three bus ride was less than $10.. Of course this option was not available going back and would have not worked given the late hour, so the 40 minute cab fare back was $50. Fortunately, because I was at a hotel near the airport, it was a free shuttle next morning to the airport for my flight to New York.

Game 7 at the Mets, I landed at JFK and knowing I was on a limited schedule and knowing I had to get to the hotel, I paid the $25 for Super shuttle and worked my way to the hotel on 63rd in Manhattan, then grabbed a bite, then took the subway including a transfer over to CitiField. This same effort got me back to the hotel that night and then it was a short subway ride the next morning to Penn station for the Amtrak to Washington, DC.

Game 8 at the nationals brought my first surprise. I stayed in the Georgetown area of DC, a major part of the city, yet there was no rail stop near the hotel. The shuttle driver was going to drop me at the nearest rail stop but decided to just drive me to Nationals park, very kind of him. Because my transit plan did not work the way I intended in DC, it meant $20 in cab fare back to the hotel after the game, plus $20 each way on Monday, that morning to get to Amtrak so I could go up to Baltimore, and that night so I could get back to the hotel after taking a midnight train from Baltimore back into Washington.

Game 10 at Philadelphia, another surprise. I know Philadelphia has relatively good transit, but I was told it would take more than 2 hours each way to get from my hotel near the airport to Citizens Bank park, so here goes another $50 in cab fare, $25 each way, in a city where I had planned on going transit the entire way.

Game 11 took me back to New York. This time, I was able to use transit to get to Amtrak in Philly, then repeat the process on the subway once in new York. The next morning, I took the subway, to Jersey Transit to the Newark airport for my flight to Boston. All that rush and dealing with the ticket machines in Jersey, I think I would in the future just take the train to Boston from Penn Station. Speaking of Boston, I realized that in this case, my hotel which was not as close to the airport as I thought did not have a shuttle to Logan and it was no easy trip on transit, the trip via the T took a solid hour 20 with a transfer. The hotel did offer a shuttle from the rail stop once I made it there on Thursday, but that service started too late on Friday and so I had to grab a cab back to Logan to get out to Minnesota.

Game 13 in the Twin Cities, here is another case of something well thought out. Like St. Louis, the light rail connects the airport and stadium. Special arrangements in this case with the Twins and others provided me transit between the ballpark and my hotel, but if needed, the rail would have easily taken me from the airport and back where I could link up with a 24-hour hotel shuttle. So like St. Louis, it is a well-conceived system in Minneapolis.

The stop for game 14 has a similar review, here I was with friends all along, but again the rail does connect Chase Field to the Sky harbor airport in greater Phoenix.

Games 15-16 took me to the San Francisco Bay area. Here, I chose a hotel near the SFO airport, if I had it to do again, I would have stayed in downtown San Francisco proper or found something that was closer to the main transit links. While my hotel did offer a shuttle to the airport, it was not easy to find. Add this to the fact it took two trains to get to each stadium, two BART trains for Oakland, a BART and a MUNI train for the game in San Francisco and it became one of the more challenging transit trips, more so than I thought it would be in San Francisco. Their ticketing systems could use some work too.

I knew southern California was not known for good transit, so I was prepared to fight the cab battle for the dodger game, the 17th on the tour. I thus intentionally stayed in downtown LA less than a mile from the Amtrak station, a very smart move on my part. I took Amtrak to San Diego and my friend Liz was my ride for the padres game, as well as the next day in Anaheim. She also saved me a ton of trouble going back to LAX, which I had originally planned on my own. That would have been a hike, though Super Shuttle would have been a reasonable option and I should have taken it to my hotel when I landed at LA two days earlier, would have saved me easily $30.

After my red eye to Toronto, I landed and got a cab to my hotel, which it turned out was not as close to the airport as advertised and they did not offer a shuttle until 7AM, though my flight was in before 6AM and others were already on the ground. Odd that a major international city and a major hotel at such an airport would not offer a shuttle from the airport until 7, all I wanted to do was get in and sleep, so it was worth the $30.

It would have been a very round about transit trip to the game, though I had known forever that I would be with my friend Brenda for this one. If not, I might have made other arrangements and stayed in town and again made use of something like Super shuttle or at least the Canadian version to get to and from the airport.

As I got to Detroit for game 21, I had my shuttle from the airport to the hotel, I knew I would have to get a cab to the game. The regular route is about 15 miles, but a detour greatly added to that and my cab fare, $65 became the total. Detroit I realized like some other cities, does not provide a real good option, either stay near the airport and pay to get to the game, or stay in downtown and pay to get to and from the airport.

Game 22 at Denver, again I met a friend for this one, so I did not have to worry about transit, but having been to Denver before, I knew that there was a light rail that went from the airport and it got to at least a reasonable distance into downtown, so if I had to then go cab to the game, it would not be over a huge distance. My hotel again was near the airport.

Game 23 at Seattle, here another great setup like St. Louis and Minneapolis. I got a shuttle to my hotel from the airport, took that shuttle back to the airport, took light rail to the stadium, took light rail back to the airport, and got a shuttle. Very, well done and the machines were completely accessible, best marks of the trip are for Seattle in this respect.

When I left for Milwaukee, I prior experience told me stay near the airport and just get a cab to the ballpark, no real good option exists otherwise. So I did so and for the most part, it went off without much trouble.

Cleveland worked out a lot like Seattle, I stayed near the airport and my hotel turned out to be right across the road from the rail station. The train dropped near the ballpark and if I went there enough, I’d eventually know the route so well I would likely not even need a hand and could guide others there in the dark.

The next day which would be game 26 in Cincinnati, I took a cab because this day was a bus trip. I’ve told the story about that crazy driver, let’s just say he ran a closing draw bridge. I’m glad I didn’t become cold in Cleveland. Once getting to Cenci, I was in a good situation, the hotel, bus terminal, and ballpark were all close to one another. I knew to do it this way because I’d already planned to bus back out the next day for Pittsburgh.

The day of game 27 at Pittsburgh and the related bus trip was crazy, more an issue with greyhound and lost bags though, once in Pittsburgh I met friends for this game. So I did not have an experience with the Pittsburgh transit to truly get a feel for what would work better, staying near the airport, or downtown near the stadium.

For game 28, it was on to Miami. This is an area that has some rail and bus systems, but it is a hard area to stay in. Stay downtown and you have no airport shuttle, stay near one of the airports, you have to get a cab to the game. I ended up staying between the two airports and paid for shuttles to take care of my arrival between the airports and the hotel, but it also meant cabs between the hotel and the ballpark. This was also the one case of a hotel that did not have any Braille markers on the rooms or elevators.

After Miami, it was on to Chicago and what has quickly become one of my favorite cities to travel around in. the transit system, while not the easiest, is set up in such a way where each line seems to have its own route even when it is in a station that it shares with other lines. You don’t have multiple lines using the same platforms, which makes it much easier for me. All announcements are made in a clear voice and it is all automated. If I spent enough time in Chicago, I could get around their easier than in most cities, maybe Seattle stays a notch ahead because of that great ticketing system they have. But I loved Chicago, I mean for $14 on a three-day pass, I had the train from my hotel near O’Hare airport to US Cellular and back, train the next day from the same stop at O’Hare to Wrigley and back, then trained the next morning from O’Hare to Midway for my flights home. All that for $14 and much better service than I had in some cities for $50 or $60 in a cab. If I sound like I was very happy to get to Chicago and say goodbye to taxi services, you would be correct.

The key as I discovered is truly knowing the cities. It’s one thing to know where the better hotels and restaurants are, where to not hang out, Etc. but if you are like me and having to rely so heavily on transit systems, sometimes it seems you might be better off staying near the ballpark, rather than near the airport if you are flying in. If possible and you have a plane or train option, the train may be better in that it is often based in an area closer to the ballpark, unlike most airports that are on the outer portions of the cities and not easily tied into the main transit routes in the heart of town.

IN terms of cities where I used transit, my favorite experiences would clearly be St. Louis, Seattle, Cleveland, Chicago, and New York while Minneapolis, Phoenix, and Atlanta would get good marks. San Francisco and Boston were surprisingly more difficult for me, though not the outright sources of frustration that cities like Kansas City, Detroit, Miami, Dallas fort Worth, Tampa St. Petersburg, and Los Angeles are, because they just are so lacking a good transit system that connects major landmarks in the city.

To me, cities that can always provide visitors with a good transit linkage between the airports, train stations, and bus terminals to major points of interests, stadiums, arenas, symphony halls, museums, and other types of venues, are going to be a step ahead of those cities which lack this necessary capability.

Just my thoughts, any comments?

Reflections on experiences with Ballparks, News Media

Two days removed from the final game of the 30-30 tour and one day since I’ve been home, I offer some reflections on my experiences in the ballparks as well as some thoughts about the news media.

First as for the actual ballparks, one thing I quickly learned is that they are in some ways designed in a similar manner. The key is how the sections are numbered and how the seating is divided.

Dodger Stadium has elevator service to all five main seating areas of the stadium for instance, but other stadiums like the two in New York have their upper two areas of seating on one concourse, you just climb a ton of stairs. It is thoroughly confusing to have a 400 level and just a few steps above it, wow here is the 500 level. Why not just call the entire thing 400 and make the upper level higher numbers of rows, because at Citifieldd, it would make more sense to the fan like me who cannot see the seating chart.

None of the current club sites go into detail about where certain sections are within the ballpark. It would be very, very helpful for these sites to state the list of all sections on each level, then within each level, spell out where those sections are in relation to the field. It also would be very helpful to spell out how the seats are numbered, right to left, left to right, or as in KC, the lower the seat number, the closer one is to the plate, so that the seats number starting with #1 on the right and moving left if on the third base side, #1 on the left and moving toward the right if on the first base side. Confused yet?

This information should tell us which sections are between first and home, behind the plate, between home and third, on the foul line between the corner and first or third base, in left field, left center, center, right center, and right field. DO NOT refer to seats being by the bullpen, if a fan is not familiar with all aspects of a given ballpark, especially if he or she can’t see it, the bullpen means nothing. Pick your favorite ballpark, then look at three others and you will realize that bullpen placements are significantly different.

The clubs should be more specific as to the seats that have in-seat service and those that don’t, since some clubs offer clubs seating that provides this and club seating that is nothing more than fancy general seating (see Comerica Park).

Drop the use of letters for certain rows followed by numbers. Row 12 in San Francisco is no damn row 12 on the upper level, it was however row 12 in San Diego. Talk about misleading the consumer? If I could see the damn seating chart, I would have known this, but alas, we all know the reality of that situation.

For fans who have issues climbing a lot of stairs and the like, it would also be helpful to know which row of seats is level with the main entry point to each level of the stadium. IN a couple cases, in Philadelphia and Washington, my row of seats was right at the level point of where you entered from the concourse, no climbing or descending stairs of any kind. In Philly, I was in row 6, in Washington I was in row J, both upper Concourse seats.

Some Braille signage would also be of some benefit. Frankly the little markers on each seat that have an engraved seat number could also have the same Braille engraving made into the metal piece that is attached to the seat itself.

Finally, one complaint which echo’s that of fans who I attended multiple games with. Announce the visiting players with a clear enough and loud enough voice that we all know who is batting, who the relief pitcher is, or who is pinch hitting. Some teams announce the visitor with this monotone voice as if they fear the players in the other dugout, we are not talking about a bunch of guys from the dark side of the force field here. Those same teams announce their own players basketball arena style and true baseball fans HATE THAT. As it also relates to this, two other things I’d like to see changed at a majority of ballparks. Lower the volume on the teeny bopper music and when announcing who is coming in, greatly lower that volume so the announcer is clearly heard ABOVE the music. It is sad when a great PA voice is being overpowered by the music (Colorado). Additionally, I know it is common for sports teams to have this sort of in-game entertainment type announcer, usually a female who serves as eye-candy for the guys who can’t be faithful to their wives and girlfriends. But good God folks, if you are going to use some pretty young thing to do this task, save our ears the pain of a squeaky high pitch voice that sounds like it belongs on a sophomore cheerleader in high school and get us a woman with a real voice and real speaking talent who can actually talk and be understood over a bleeping stadium microphone. If these women spoke like the very talented and very capable Renel Brooks-Moon who is the PA announcer in San Francisco, I would not be making any comment of this sort. If it means going for someone who is not quite as hot looking, but who can certainly sound hot and be understood, please do us all a huge favor and skip the eye candy for a real voice with real speaking talent.

Now as far as the news media is concerned, I now know why TV guys are so frustrating to anyone who gets interviewed. They ask the same questions, do no background work to find out the details about someone and go for a quick sound bite. The best interviews I had on this trip, a newspaper writer in Pittsburgh and two radio interviews in Toronto and Kansas City. A Houston station did a very good piece, but more on them in a moment. As far as TV goes, the sports cable networks were not hard to work with, the most difficult people were the local TV reporters, who at times acted as if I needed to jump and be on their schedule. They were forgetting that this was my trip that I had scheduled, forgetting that I did not drive a car and was at the mercy of cabs and public transit systems and schedules.

I appreciated a couple of teams scheduling interviews as a group cession so all involved could ask their questions at the same time, Minnesota and Cincinnati. But it was amazing how often details were mishandled which would confuse anyone who read various articles about my journey. A couple of articles said I was 38, wrong the correct answer is 39. All the Cincinnati reporters said I was from Texas, sort of right, but I am a Texas native who has called Wyoming home for better than a year. The Houston station said this blog was an audio blog, it’s a written blog. I do not even know that any of the audio will be posted, the video will go on to the just created blindbaseballtraveler YouTube page but that is several days if not weeks away, and the photos are another massive undertaking in its own right.

Speaking of Houston, ABC 13 did a very nice piece on me and this journey, it was filmed April 30 while I was at Minute maid park, stop #2 on this trip. When did it run, Monday May 28, two hours after the 30th game ended at Wrigley Field. Frustrating because now other ABC stations are running this on their websites and I am sure I will get calls from some reporter wanting to meet me in some city, when the reality is that they missed their chance. I’ve been done with the journey for 52.5 hours as I write this, yet they made it sound as if I am still on the road. Again, talk about misleading.

What is clear to me and I can say this as a person who majored in journalism, some reporters do not nearly enough homework and truly do not take the time to understand the people they are doing a story on, much less making sure that they get even the smallest background details strait. Now I know why I am glad I did not go to work in the media business.

Lastly, a quick note about home team radio. Most teams do not have their home broadcasts on a delay, but a few clubs, the Rangers, Tigers, Rockies, Brewers, reds, and White Sox have stations that insist on having a 3-20 second delay. The Rangers do something that all other clubs who find themselves in this boat must do, put in a low power FM system in your stadium and take your feed of the broadcast and run it over that frequency. The feed can be exactly like that over the network, it just is heard in real time, not 10-20 seconds late. When the Reds hit a grand slam Thursday night, the fireworks went off in the stadium before the WLW broadcast even reached the point of the batter swinging at the pitch. UNACCEPTABLE!

Blind Fan completes Ballpark Journey

At around 7:05 CDT on Sunday night April 29 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, , the unthinkable journey of a lifetime began, a journey to every ballpark in Major League Baseball. At just past 4:30 CDT Monday afternoon May 28, the dream baseball trip of a life time came to a fitting conclusion, a very nice running catch of a pop fly ended the Cubs 11-7 win over the Padres at Wrigley Field and so to ended the 30 day, 30 ballpark tour that swung back and forth across North America.

Why I did not write long pieces on this blog and focus on short Facebook updates on the Blind Baseball Traveler Page, it was simply a lack of time. Most days, between spending countless hours waiting on cabs, local trains, or in a couple cases buses to shuttle me from hotels to ballparks and back, doing the same going from a local hotel in one city to an airport or train station, then repeating the process upon arrival before then doing the same round trip to and from the game, well you get the idea. Several nights were filled with a lack of sleep, I had many nights of 5 or fewer hours rest, a couple nights I managed no more than 2.5 hours. Factor in a nasty head cold that came upon me during the day May 20 after I had arrived in Denver from Detroit, well I think you get the picture.

In the coming days, I will relive the journey as I go more in depth about some of the highlights and lowlights that such a major travel undertaking presents. The stories here and in the book that almost seems a required project at this point, will say many great things about the baseball teams, will be mostly positive about the ballpark experience, but it will frankly paint a negative picture of the travel business. Sure these things happen to others, not just me, but the picture that has been painted for me is rather dark and disturbing, though two companies are not on my crap list if you get my drift. Amtrak and Southwest get high marks, I’ll leave it there for now.

Among the quick items of interest, I missed the Josh Hamilton historic performance by a night, his four homer game was May 8 at Baltimore, I was in Philadelphia that night, Baltimore was my stop the night before. Justin Verlander nearly threw another no-hitter in Detroit, coming two outs short on May 18, I was in Toronto on that night and the next afternoon as fate would have it, Detroit was the scene of my visit and #21 overall.

We had one rain delay of an hour 51 on May 11 at Minnesota, but no games were lost due to weather or other issues. We had only one shutout and it did not come until the 27th game at Pittsburgh, Pirates over Cubs 1-0 on May 25. One game ended on a double play and it was the same game that featured the only grand slam, May 24 at Cincinnati as the Reds knocked off Atlanta 6-3. Another no-hit game was thrown during my tour, May 2 at Anaheim while I was at St. Louis. Other chances at historic baseball accomplishment or even common accomplishments avoided me for 30 straight games as well, no cycle, no triple play, no inside the park homer, no three homer game by any player, no back-to-back-to-back homers by any team, no complete game for a starting pitcher, no extra inning games, no games ending with a walk off in the bottom of the 9th. IN fact, in only one game did the outcome change hands in the 9th inning, Yankees blowing a 1-0 lead and falling 4-1 at home against the Rays May 9.

Personal highlights for me along the way. Rangers, walked on the field along the warning track covering the entire field with my friend Heather Compton, tour of other stadium facilities. Astros, meant and was photographed with the Houston Mascot, participated in the in-stadium contest called Stros Verses Joes, I named 34 states in 15 seconds, the designated Astro named 19. Braves, took in batting practice on the field near home-plate, tour of other stadium facilities, joined friends at all of the afore mentioned games.

Cardinals, upgraded to lower level seats behind home plate. Royals, complete ballpark tour, sat in the high end lounge. In this case, it was a package I could purchase and the Royals were first class in every way. Met several Royals players, Jeff Francoeur may be the nicest guy in baseball. Also met the Royals announcers on radio and TV, Rex Huddler is great and the quote of the trip came from Denny Matthews. He asked who my travel agent was, I responded that I did this all on my own. He paused for a brief second, then simply said, “damn”.

Rays, Mets, and nationals, no involvement with these teams, though I did meet some very nice fans at all three stops.

Orioles, full ballpark tour, on the house. Later that night, joined Lorna’s cousin Jane and her husband Less for the game, they are both very nice.

Phillies, no involvement from the team, did TV interview however, also met the student who I had assisted with a project, which his group based part of on my stadium tour with my blessing.

Yankees and Red Sox, no involvement here, though I did manage to get a photo on the infield track in Boston following the game, thanks to my friend Lubna and her husband Andy for that one.

Twins, met Joe Mauer, took in BP on the field near home plate and got a tour of the facilities. Had a wonderful time with Scott, a Twins season ticket holder during the game.

Diamondbacks, another ballpark tour and the fourth outfield I got to see, ran the bases, joined by my friend Mary Kate for this one.

Athletics, no involvement from the team, met some nice fans though who became followers of the FB page.

Giants, full ballpark tour, checked out the unique outfield, threw a pitch off the mound! Met a very cool set of fans at this game as well.

Dodgers, appeared no involvement from the team, though they did come by and recognize me with some gifts before the game started. Had a lot of fun with two older female construction workers, now there is a different kind of girl for ya, die hard baseball fans too, Jenny and Linda rock.

Padres and Angels, joined by my friend Liz for both games, you were a joy to be with Lizzy. No involvement from the Padres, I really wanted to see Petco, the Angels on the other hand did present me with some things from their club and I got an on field photo near home plate as well.

Toronto, they offered me a full field tour. I had to cancel, was just too tired from the overnight flight from LA. They came to me when the game started and presented me with some gifts from the organization and they were true to their Canadian nature, very kind and gracious.

Tigers, call this the unfortunate mix-up. I had what appeared an arrangement to see the field after the game, but when the day came, no one from the organization came to me at any point during the game. I received an email a few days later, when the community relations coordinator I had worked with realized her mistake. She offered to let me come have the same experience when I am in Detroit again, and I thanked her for that offer, but who knows when I’ll make it back. I think the next goal, get Lorna to all 30 ballparks, but that will be a 3, 4, at most 5 ballparks per year effort spread out during the next 7-10 seasons.

Rockies, no involvement from the club, though I did meet a very nice woman for this game who is a fellow ballpark traveler, Meggan, you were great even though I was falling ill later that day and just not my usual self.

Mariners, I would have taken the public tour but because I was under the weather, I slept all afternoon in Seattle after a rough ride from Denver early that morning. That night, they brought me some gifts from the club, did a video feature about my journey that ran on the scoreboard after the 4th inning, the Seattle experience was one of the best and that was on a night when I certainly did not feel my best.

The Brewers, again still fighting the cold, I had a very sleepless night, but held up through the game at Miller Park. I got a quick look at the outfield after this game and I apologized to the Brewers for not being more excited about the experience, I was running on one fuel cell at that point.

The Indians were another major team experience, met Shelly Duncan, what a nice player he is. I got to tour the entire facility, checked out the outfield, even went to the press box and talked with the radio crew between innings. While the cold was gone, it had created other problems, mainly a cough and the resulting loss of my voice to a degree, a condition which stayed with me the remainder of the way. Best of all, I was upgraded to a dugout suite and a hand full of season ticket holders were also upgraded to join me that night.

The Reds, another great experience similar to Cleveland minus the radio visit. While not upgraded to a suite, I was down in the very lower level right behind home.

The Pirates, no involvement from the team, but I had a great interview from a newspaper reporter and his piece was one of the best of the entire trip. I also met my friend Beth and her husband Mike for this game, we had a lot of fun. That day was hard though, little sleep and a lost set of baggage, thanks Greyhound, wheels fall off the bus.

Marlins, no involvement from the team, but again had a nice experience.

Cubs and Sox, both involved in some way, Sox take the edge here though. I got photographed on field at both games, met the Cubs owner, while with the Sox, upgraded to a seat that was 10 feet from the netting behind the plate and here too like Cleveland, I met the radio broadcasters between innings.