Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Baseball Trip of a (Half-Century) Lifetime

If you're a friend on Facebook, you may have seen photos and updates during the trip I just completed with my sons. About a year ago, my wife suggested I take a trip to visit multiple ballparks to celebrate my 50th birthday (this September). I certainly didn't forget her idea, and from August 2 through 17 I made the idea a reality.

We flew to Detroit, and from there drove to Cleveland, then Cincinnati and finally Pittsburgh, where we returned the rental car. We took the train from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, and from there to Washington, DC, where we rented another car (and picked up my dad at the airport). We saw a game in every city, including Baltimore (which we drove to from DC). (We actually saw two games in DC.)

I'll spare you the suspense. Here is my overall ranking of ballparks, most favorite first:

  1. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore
  2. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati
  3. PNC Park, Pittsburgh
  4. Progressive Field, Cleveland
  5. Nationals Park, Washington
  6. Comerica Park, Detroit
  7. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia

I would absolutely go back to every single one of these seven. I had a good time at every one, and no bad memories of any of them. It was a little tricky to rank them too, especially 5, 6 and 7, which were pretty close in my mind.

From what I heard before the trip, I would have predicted that PNC Park would be my favorite. And it was beautiful. We watched the moon rise over the skyscrapers and the Roberto Clemente Bridge over center field, and fireworks above them after the game. And the fans had plenty of energy. But the bandbox field in Cincinnati was fun, and their scoreboard was gorgeous. Maybe it's not a fair comparison, but we were a little closer to the field in Cincinnati and the view of the whole field felt perfect. Plus there was a great sense of history, with banners and statues all around the park, and a fantastic hall of fame museum. But Camden Yards left the best overall impression. Eutaw Street won me over. I've heard many new parks built since Camden Yards copied its modern take on an old-fashioned style ballpark. But none of them (that I'm aware of) copied the idea of actually including a street (with shops inside the B&O Warehouse on the opposite side) inside the ballpark complex. That and the fan energy won me over. Plus the Orioles are a fun team to watch--especially Adam Jones.

My top four ballparks were all right in the center of their cities, which I enjoy. It was easy to find a hotel within an easy walk of each of them (even easy for a 10 and 8 year old). And it's fun to walk among the crowd of fans to and from the field.

If Camden Yards isn't right downtown, it's certainly feels like it. We ate in a restaurant right across the street, walked past several crowded pubs and souvenir stands, and walked two blocks to the Babe Ruth birthplace museum. Yet we parked one block away (for only $16!) and were on the freeway back to DC 5 minutes after leaving the parking structure.

Great American Ballpark is on the Ohio River, right next to downtown. We took a shuttle bus across the river to Newport, Kentucky before the game and saw the impressive aquarium, and ate lunch looking back across at the ballpark. The shuttle took us back to the park in plenty of time for the game. After the game we walked with a friendly crowd that barely thinned out before we got to our hotel.

We walked to PNC Park from the Carnegie Science Museum (very highly recommended) along the river. I enjoyed watching the "tailgaters" in their boats moored along the river walkway. After the game we walked with the rest of the crowd across the Roberto Clemente bridge (which is closed to vehicular traffic before and after the game).

I don't remember anything in particular on the walk before and after the game in Cleveland, but it was certainly pleasant, and family friendly. Not that I didn't enjoy staying in a hotel downtown within walking distance of the ballpark (and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame). I enjoyed seeing several beautifully restored skyscrapers, especially from the inside. One contained Sammy's Grille where Sammy still cooks after 45 years later. The kids loved the friendly service and delicious breakfast. Cleveland's downtown has a feel of a city that is painstakingly restoring many buildings worth saving.

Detroit's downtown, in contrast, is a wasteland. We walked about 4 blocks from our hotel to the ballpark, past boarded up buildings (many with broken windows on the high floors) and decaying signs over shops and restaurants permanently closed for business. We did not walk among many fans. Even though there were over 30,000 fans at the game, after we walked one block after the game we were almost by ourselves. Another block and we were by ourselves. I expect almost all fans drove in from the suburbs.

Nationals Park is in a "neighborhood" of DC called Navy Yard. It reminds me of China Basin in San Francisco right after Pacific Bell Park opened. I'll bet in 5 years it reminds me of China Basin now. New condo towers are going up all over the area. And restaurants are starting to make an appearance. The walk to the park in daylight was pleasant enough--there were plenty of families and many Pirates fans walking from parking lots and the subway station a block from our hotel. But after the (second) game, we walked by a big lot gated by shipping cargo containers that was setup by Miller Beer (I think) as a party (drinking) area. The spillover resulted in an uncomfortable walk back to our hotel listening to foul-mouthed 20-somethings talking trash.

The ballpark in Philadelphia was easy to get to via subway from our hotel, but it's surrounded by large parking lots for it and other sports venues across the street, making for a surprisingly long, rather boring walk from the station.

To avoid making this unbearably boring (if it's not too late) I'll now abandon the prose for lists of my favorites and trivia in different categories...

Best scoreboard video screen: Cincinnati (better picture than my 1080p set at home)

Best scoreboard stats and info: Baltimore showed the lineup for both teams and (IIRC) detailed stats for all batters, every at bat

Best scoreboard pitch information: Philadelphia (showed pitch type and speed) and Pittsburgh (showed horizontal and vertical break of pitches and speed)

Best sense of history: Cincinnati (banners and statues in and around the ballpark, plus a fantastic hall of fame museum); Cleveland had a nice hall of fame plaque area in center field

Worst sense of history: Washington (the worst was hanging a banner of Jordan Zimmerman amongst classic Washington baseball greats like Walter Johnson; the only acknowledgements of their past as the Expos were the names Carter and Dawson with players from the Grays and Senators--but no numbers--and a timeline in a history of baseball in Washington series of posters)

Best post-game fireworks: Pittsburgh (possibly the best fireworks I've ever seen); the only other fireworks were in Washington--they were pretty good

Best beer selection: Washington and Philadelphia had kiosks above nearly every section; though I couldn't really go looking for craft beer at any of the ballparks with kids in tow

Best food: My favorite was the the Pitts-burger from Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh, which had fries and coleslaw in the sandwich; I also liked the cheesesteak at Tony Luke's in Citizens Bank Park, though it wasn't as good as the cheesesteak at Steve's Prince of Steaks (also in Philadelphia)

Friendliest ballpark employee (that we encountered, at least): an "ambassador" came to talk to us before the game in Cleveland and game us each "first game in Cleveland" certificates

Ballparks where the players didn't sign autographs for kids: Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Baltimore

Surprised to find the home team dugout on the 1st base side: Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Baltimore

Cities with the most to do during the day before a night game: Washington, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland

Cities I could see myself living in: Pittsburgh, maybe Cleveland

Rainouts: none!

Star players we didn't see because they were on the DL or not playing due to injuries: Troy Tulowitzki (the Rockies played the Tigers), Joey Votto, Andrew McCutchen, Chase Utley (except for one--albeit exciting--pinch-hit at-bat), Manny Machado, Jason Werth

Fans most into the game: Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit

Fans more interested in the wave than the game: Washington, Philadelphia

More intense, energetic, loud fans than Oakland: none

Monday, April 29, 2013

Best Little League Day Yet


I had fun taking the kids to Little League Day at the Oakland A's game yesterday. Here are all the photos I took: https://www.everpix.com/public.html?id=mZ4VSgYs3q0YRmW9.

We got there early (10:30 for a 1:00 game) for the parade. I'm glad we did. After waiting in line, we went through a tunnel under the bleachers out into center field. While going through the tunnel we saw a scene right out of the movie Moneyball. Several Orioles players were taking batting practice in a makeshift cage right next to the ramp we were walking down. 6'3" Adam Jones and 6'5" Matt Wieters were easy to spot among them. They wrapped up just as we walked by, and one Orioles player (who I could not identify) gave a bat and gloves to a little leaguer right next to us!

Once on the warning track at center field, we walked around past first base, behind home plate and had a good look at the A's dugout. We walked right by the bullpen mound where Ryan Cook was throwing. In left field before we left, 6'8" Nate Freiman was shaking hands. (I have to reach up and his hand was still below his shoulders!) I wish I got a photo.

The parade of little leaguers was long enough that the front of the line was coming back out as we were going in, and was still going in as we came out. We took our time getting to our seats, and the parade was still going as we sat down! I'm convinced that Little League Day at the Coliseum, or at least this Little League Day, attracted many more kids than I've seen at the four Little League Day parades I've been to at AT&T Park.

Our seats were just infield from the right field foul pole, right next to the rail. The view was great from there. I usually try to get as close to the A's dugout as I can, but I certainly wouldn't mind sitting in these seats again.

The game itself was yet another lesson from the A's in never giving up. I'd say it was the second most exciting live baseball game I've ever seen. (And I've seen some good ones.)

And we capped it off by running the bases after the game. What a fun day.

[I wrote this while watching the A's tie tonight's game at 7 in the bottom of the 9th, coming back from being down 7-2. Two lessons in two days!]

[I posted the above while the game was tied in the 10th. The Angels scored a run in the 15th, and the A's matched it. Then Brandon Moss finally hit a 2-run walkoff home-run in the 19th. It was the longest game (by time) in Oakland A's history. Now that's a lesson in never giving up!]




Monday, March 26, 2012

Sadly, a typical hotel

The Hyatt Regency Reston blacks out HBO when it's showing movies, asks $5 for a medium-size bottle of water, and an extra $5 for non-lousy WiFi, but puts "You're more than welcome" on my card key. I don't remember saying thank you.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Call me crazy...

...but I’m leaving Netflix.

I wasn’t even remotely considering looking elsewhere, but I was referred to a hiring manager by a former co-worker that I have a huge amount of respect for, so I agreed to meet. It turns out the manager was looking to fill an exciting, impactful position with plenty of room for innovation, for which my skills and experience are a close match. I eventually decided it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Even so, making the decision to leave Netflix was one of the most difficult I’ve ever had to make. I even initially turned down the offer, before realizing just how excited I was by the work I’d be doing.

There is absolutely nothing that any of my co-workers or Netflix as a whole did or didn’t do that led to this decision. On the contrary, I enjoy my work at Netflix and may never again work in such a supportive environment and culture. And I doubt I’ll ever again work with such a talented group of people (unless I someday return to Netflix). I’ve learned a great deal there over the last 15 months, and had more than one person’s share of fun. I’ll miss that job.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Family Holiday Tradition

My daughter had a school assignment to write a story about a family holiday tradition, and to collect stories from everyone else in her family. This is what I wrote for her:

When I was a kid, our family would always go for a drive on Christmas Eve to look at Christmas lights. My sister and I sat in the back, my mother in the front, and my father would drive. Unless my grandparents were visiting, then my sister would sit in the front between my parents (on the bench seat—no car seats in those days) and I would sit in the back between my grandparents.

We'd drive around looking for houses where the owner put up a lot of lights. One house in particular became famous for having lights all over the house and all kinds of sculptures covered with lights in the yard: snowmen, Santa and his reindeer, giant snowflakes, and even animals that would move their heads and tails. As the years went on so many people would drive by that house to look at the lights that the traffic jams became unmanageable. The owner ended up donating all his lights and sculptures to the city so they could put them in a park to avoid the traffic jams. As far as I know the lights are still put on display in that park every Christmas.

Sometimes we'd drive a long distance to go to where there were show-homes for new neighborhoods being built. The developers would cover every inch of the walls and roofs of the houses with lights in solid colors, which made the houses look like they were made of lights. Often it would be snowing, which made the lights look magical as the snow collected in the small gaps between the lights on the roofs.

I don't recall ever having a Christmas without snow. So it was a shock for me when I came to California and saw people put up lights with no snow. I just always assumed the two go together.

One year, when I was about 7, I told my parents I didn't believe in Santa anymore. That year we went for our Christmas Eve drive unusually late, so we were out past midnight. When we got back, there were presents from Santa under the tree! I had memorized every present under the tree before we left, so I knew they weren't there before. And there was a note from Santa thanking us for the milk and cookies my mother left out. The entire family went for the drive, and the house was locked. So it must have been Santa. I decided I did believe.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Goodbye old car, you've seen me through a lot

Lately the VW Cabrio I've had for 11½ years has been showing its age. The strip on the driver-side door (which I glued on about 7 years ago) peeled off (leaving a glue residue that would make it quite difficult to re-attach). The paint has been peeling off the hood. A friend accidentally backed into it behind the passenger door, leaving an ugly dent. And the rear bumper started sticking out from where it wraps around to the sides.

Mechanically it's been a great car. I believe I've only had to pay for three repairs, and if I recall correctly they were all under $50.

But it's old enough that it didn't make sense to put money into cosmetic repairs, and a two-door is just not practical with kids. So I decided it's time for a new car. And since I buy new cars pretty rarely, I was picky. That's a separate story, but I ended up placing an order for a Mercury Milan Hybrid, which I expect in about three weeks.

I decided to donate the Cabrio to KQED. I didn't like the idea of selling it in it's condition, and I doubt I would get much for it as a trade-in. I thought I'd show my appreciation to KQED and PBS for all the great programming I (and especially the kids) have enjoyed for years.

So it was not unexpected, but a little inconvenient when the Cabrio's clutch broke Tuesday. The repair would have cost just about $400, which I didn't want to pay to keep driving it for just a few weeks. Thankfully a friend offered to loan me her second car.

So I called KQED, and just handed the keys to a tow-truck driver for an auction company assigned by them pick it up. They make it very easy.

I felt fine seeing it go, though I did feel a little melancholy on Tuesday when I cleaned out all my stuff. I'm not sentimental about it, and it's been a while since I've enjoyed driving it or felt proud of it. But I have had it a long time.

Thinking back, I realized I had it for over ¼ of my life, and well more than ⅓ of my driving years. I bought it at the start of a new chapter of my life. I had just moved back to the Bay Area from New York City to work for a start-up. In the 11½ years since then I:
  • found an apartment in San Francisco
  • commuted from there to San Mateo
  • helped create two electronic toys
  • met Claire (who became my wife), and moved to San Jose
  • worked for LEGO (in San Mateo, with several trips to Denmark)
  • married, and honeymooned in Greece and Turkey
  • worked for Palm (in Santa Clara)
  • bought a house in Campbell
  • saw the birth of my daughter, now 7
  • worked for Altera (in Santa Cruz)
  • bought our current house in Scotts Valley
  • saw the birth of two sons, now 6 and 4
  • worked for VMware
  • worked for Netflix
In other words, I've seen more excitement and change in my life since I bought this car than in any other time of my life.

May my new car last long enough to be associated with half as many happy memories.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Barry Lyndon: yet another Kubrick masterpiece

After several recent mentions of Barry Lyndon on Daring Fireball, I thought I should re-watch this Kubrick film I recall the least. It's available for "Watch Instantly" on Netflix, so I put it at the top of my queue, and watched it over the last couple nights.

The cinematography in Barry Lyndon is beautifully painterly. Several scenes reminded me of the Rembrandt and other paintings I've seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Of course I cried during the one emotional scene. It's much more effective for some reason because you know it's coming. (And much more effective on me now that I have children.)

Are there any other filmmakers who have made so many masterpieces as Stanley Kubrick?

A little bit of trivia that stood out on Kubrick's excellent Wikipedia page: "…the only Academy Award Kubrick ever received was for supervising the special effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey."

A couple months ago, a Daring Fireball post led me to Jeremy Bernstein's 1966 interview with Kubrick. The video has been removed from blip.tv, but I don't recall it being difficult to find. I believe I downloaded a ZIP of MP3s, which I listened to instead of podcasts for a couple days. It truly is "75 minutes of audio gold".

Update: A friend on Facebook (thanks Aaron) pointed out that Barry Lyndon (as Wikipedia puts it) 'saw a considerable number of sequences shot "without recourse to electric light."' That make this masterpiece an even more impressive achievement.