Cincinnati Reds at Atlanta Braves
On the bump: Homer Bailey vs. Ervin Santana
Distance traveled: 629 miles
Soundtrack: The sounds of Underground Atlanta
The pluses: It had been a good 15 years since I’d last seen a game at Turner Field, but it was fun to revisit the home of my favorite National League team growing up. We did the full MARTA-to-the-Braves-shuttle experience to get to the park from the Inman Park neighborhood, and it wasn’t bad at all, minus the stroll through the bizarre Underground Atlanta.
Our seats were just outside the right field foul pole, which provided a birds eye view of the outfield. Then we moved even further up — to the top row — to sit with some friends for the majority of the game. It’s pretty high up there, but the video board is a decent size.
For a stadium as old as this one (opened for baseball in 1997), it doesn’t feel ancient. The concourse beyond centerfield features a massive video board for fans to keep up with the game while they eat and drink — although creating a better view of the field from that concourse might have made more sense.
I failed to do the usual pre-game research on food options, and ended up at Smoke House BBQ, which has pretty solid reviews. The pulled pork BBQ was good with a heavy slathering of sauce. The cole slaw was just mediocre and the mac and cheese was lukewarm and not very tasty at all.
I didn’t feel like splurging on a $15 steak sandwich from Kevin Rathburn’s, but the H&F Burger stand in the outfield pavilion might have been the better option. Either way, there appears to be a decent variety of food options, including all the standard fare.
The game was exciting and ended with a disputed play at first base that required video review to confirm the Braves’ 5-4 win.
The minuses: It was a gorgeous Friday night for baseball, and yet the stadium was very sparsely filled. The move to Cobb County will take care of that, I’m told. And yet, for a team whose fickle fanbase couldn’t sell out playoff games a couple years ago, I’m not so sure.
There was a child reading, by herself, in the nosebleeds by us. Good on her for hitting the books, but on a Friday night at the ballpark? As I was saying above…
But credit to the jorted member friend of a friend who showed up with a hand drawn “America’s Team” poster made out of the pizza box and held it up all game long. That’s resourceful, responsible fandom at its core. And if the in-stadium cameras ever patrolled the last row in the right field upper deck, he would have been jumbotron gold.
From the upper deck there’s a cool view of the city skyline in the distance, which lit up with the setting sun. But unlike the parks I enjoyed the most during my trip last summer, Turner Field lacks any especially memorable quirks or quintessential Atlanta features. Yes, there’s a giant Chick-fil-A cow, and sure, there are tons of division champion banners hanging below the Delta sign in the outfield, but there’s nothing particularly original about the place. It was clearly modeled after Camden Yards — as were many of the stadiums built after it — but it’s just a pretty standard ballpark.
Overall take: Great night for a game, and the Braves are a fun team to watch, but Turner leaves something to be desired. Perhaps the new stadium out in the burbs will find what’s missing and give the fanbase a shot in the arm that will last them until Atlanta’s postseason push.
Friday night at Mile High
The pluses: Located downtown at the corner of Blake and 20th Streets, the park is in an ideal spot for pre and post-game bar and restaurant hopping. Despite its age (opened in 1995), it has a modern feel both in and out with wide concourses and lots of open air space above the outfield seats. The greenery and water fountain in the centerfield rockpile provide a unique backdrop and the park faces the mountains, which gave us a wonderful sunset in our club level seats down the right field line.
While the food options were surprisingly generic on the club level (aside from a restaurant with outdoor seating that overlooks right field), there are plenty of good options in the main concourse from standard ballpark fare to BBQ and Asian noodle bowls to all kinds of deep fried items.
I went for the Todd Helton burger - a beef patty made with brisket, shoulder and sirloin topped with cheese, onions and pickles on a (too big) bun brushed with special sauce. All in all, quite tasty. And the onion rings that came with it had good crunch, even if they were cold.
As for the beer, I went with a Banquet (Original Coors to us East Coasters), since the Club Level lacked more unique local and I knew I’d get my fill the following day at a couple Fort Collins breweries.
The minuses: The lack of food variety on the club level - aside from a decent-looking carving station and your standard vendor fare - was disappointing, but I suppose many of those people are inclined to head to the restaurant to get their fix. For a Friday night game on a warm July evening, the turnout was far from stellar and the upper deck was mostly barren. That said, the fans were into the action - aided by a tremendous pitching performance from Tyler Chatwood (11 Ks) and eight runs from the home team in the first four frames. The park shows it’s age a bit in places, but overall it’s holding up very well.
Overall take: Great location, great scenery and a great game made this a terrific first experience at Coors. The food hit the spot and the beers were big and refreshing on a hot night. They did a great job with this park from the get-go, and it still ranks up there as one of the best in the bigs. Now, they just need to work on replacing that generic “The Player” statue out front with a Rockies great — maybe he’s just keeping it warm for Mr. Helton.
The Bender won’t die.
Milwaukee Brewers at Washington Nationals
On the bump: Wily Peralta vs. Stephen Strasburg
Distance traveled: 8 Metro stops
Soundtrack: DC commuter chatter
The Ballpark Bender Box Score
Total miles traveled: Somewhere around 1,946
Home team record: 4-2
Average scoring margin: 2.2 (4 one-run games)
Home runs: 9
Top pitching performance: Chris Sale (CWS) - 8 IP, 3 ER, 4 H, 2 BB, 13 K
Worst pitching performance: PJ Walters (Min) - 2/3 IP, 6 ER, 1 H, 5 BB
Top hitting performance: Andrew McCutcheon (Pit) - 3 for 5, HR, 2B, 3 RBI
Best defensive play: This ridiculous diving stop and behind-the-back flip by Victor Martinez (Det)
Worst defensive play: This ridiculous Gordon Beckham/Connor Gillaspie (CWS) gaffe on a routine game-ending pop-up.
Calories consumed: far too many to count
The Buccos are alone in first.
The pluses: For the first time in a long time, the Pittsburgh Pirates are alone atop the NL Central in late June. We witnessed their 49th win of the season (and seventh straight) along with the sellout crowd at PNC Park to cap our eight-day roadtrip - and what a fitting ending it was.
It was pouring when we arrived in the Steel City barely an hour before first pitch, but the clouds cleared, leaving us with a mid-70s night at the yard. Everyone raves about PNC, and now I know why. The stadium faces the downtown area, and minimal outfield seating provides a wide open view of the bridges and city skyline. It’s majestic.
The park is one of MLB’s smallest and it has a cozy feel to it, especially when jam-packed. Our seats were directly behind home plate about 30 rows up, which was an ideal spot for taking everything in. The video board - while smaller than others - is used effectively and the PA announcer was solid.
I was on a mission to get the brunch burger (pictured below), but I didn’t realize it was only available at the Hall of Fame Club restaurant under the outfield scoreboard. It took about 2 1/2 full innings to get out there, order, get the food and get back to our seats, but it was worth it. The burger was nice and pink in the middle, the egg just fried enough to avoid being runny (not what you want on your hands at the ballpark), and the cheese and bacon completed the breakfast flavor package. The doughnut was on the softer side (again a good thing), making it more like a sweet bun than an overly sticky/glazed mess. I surprised myself by eating the whole thing with ease. (I’m worried my food intake tolerance is at an all-time high after this trip.) The Pennsylvania beer selection is great at specified venders, and the pierogis (above) - while bathing in a little too much oil - were quite tasty when topped with a pile of sweet grilled onions. From Primanti Bros. to wings, to crab fries, to Asian food, to BBQ pork sandwiches with pierogis on them, there are loads of other good-looking food options.
The crowd was very into the game and the seven-run explosion in the second inning help fuel their enthusiasm all night. That always makes a big difference.
The minuses: Yes it was a Friday night sellout, so you’d expect the concourse to be full and the walking pace to be slow, but it took for-ev-er to get from one section to the next. The food lines covered the entire width of the concourse, causing traffic jams as bad as those on 376 in rush hour. The concourse is simply too narrow. The waiting game also spilled into the restrooms where there were lines of men at least 7 or 8 deep at every stall and urinal, again backing everyone up into the opposite wall. More congested bathrooms than a playoff hockey game or a Redskins game at FedEx. But other than that, we really didn’t have any gripes.
Overall take: The setup of the stadium provides a spectacular backdrop for baseball, which really enhances the experience. Great food, good beer and the best team in baseball all in one place? PNC Park gets my full stamp of approval and my blue ribbon for this Ballpark Bender. (My dad’s favorite stop was Miller Park.)