I have compiled a list of the top 30 baseball games I’ve attended. I’ve done my best to consider the game and not the surroundings, but sometimes they can’t be ignored (i.e. PNC Park). Most of the games are at one of the worst ballparks in the history of the game which held the greatest team in the history of the game. Some are surrounded by 55,000 other screaming souls and some have only a few hundred nearby.
This list is highly debatable, but only by myself and those who were fortunate enough to see these great games with me. I was always accompanied by good friends and family. The timeline runs from as early as I can remember to last October. For those who joined me to these great games, thank you as you were as much of the story as the games themselves.
We’ll start with games 26 through 30.
1984, Metrodome, Minnesota Twins vs. Seattle Mariners
If I recall correctly, and there’s probably no one to back this up; this was my first baseball game ever. I don’t remember anything about the game other that who we played. What I do remember is feeling almost queasy when my parents and I walked from the concourse to the upper deck seating area. The immenseness of the stadium was something I’d never experience before. I’d never seen so much green (even if was Astroturf).
Thinking back, it’s really sad I began going to games at a dome. I think it has helped me appreciate real ballparks even more. It’s kind of like starting your career at Wal-Mart. Every other job is that much better knowing you’re not at Wal-Mart.
I always dreaded going to church Sunday mornings. Of the 52 Sundays in a year, my family skipped morning mass about three or four times. I always felt relief those mornings, but there was no better feeling than my dad popping into my room Sunday morning with a coy smile and asking, “Instead of church, do you want to go to the Twins game?” This is the equivalent of asking a soldier if he’d rather be stationed in Costa Rica or Afghanistan.
I’m pretty sure the Twins lost because I can remember asking my dad as we began to leave if we won and he said no, Seattle won.
Seattle! I saw the Mariners prior to Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro and Edgar Martinez. Maybe they had Alvin Davis, but there wasn’t much to the Mariners back then.
The Twins may or may not have had Kirby Puckett at that point. Kind of makes me feel old knowing I went to a game Puckett wasn’t on the team yet. That was his first season and he started in May. If he was on the team, it was definitely before he became the legend he is now.
This may or may not be the game I was at: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/MIN/MIN198404150.shtml
July 3, 2006, Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City, Twins vs. Royals
It wasn’t the prettiest Twins’ win I’d ever seen, but we did manage to win the one game out of three my friend Nick and I saw.
There was a pretty big crowd since there were fireworks after the game. It was my first trip to the beautiful Kaufmann Stadium. We sat next to a local guy who gave us his fifth row tickets behind third base for the next game since he wasn’t going to be able to go. He sent Nick and I on a scavenger hunt into downtown Kansas City to where the tickets were hiding behind an ashtray attached to the building of the business he worked at. We had our doubts free tickets would really be where he said they were. Good people in Kansas City.
As for the game, the Twins pulled ahead in the ninth after a wild pitch. The Twins really didn’t win it; it was more of the Royals losing it. Johan Santana started it and looked like his usual self until he gave up three or four runs in the seventh. The crowd went crazy with every run he gave up. I think they knew getting runs off Santana is like seeing a shooting star. For the lowly Royals to score three runs off the former and future Cy Young winner was a treat.
After the Twins pulled ahead in the top of the ninth, manager Ron Gardenhire brought in his closer, Joe Nathan. Santana was great, but Nathan stole the show.
While Santana fools hitters with a wicked change in speeds, Nathan confuses them by throwing balls that look as though they’re coming nowhere near the strike zone. He struck out two of the three batters looking — they never took their bats off their shoulders. They didn’t argue with the ump and they didn’t complain. They knew they had no chance.
It reminds me of a story I heard of a rookie batting against Walter Johnson in the beginning of the century. After two called strikes, the rookie walked from the plate. The ump said, “You have one strike left.” The batter said, “And you can it. It won’t do me any good.”
Sunday, June 22, 2003, Miller Park, Milwaukee, Twins vs. Brewers
My Godbrother Nick and I spent Saturday night at the Pearl Jam concert in East Troy. Sunday morning we drove from Janesville with my Godfather Steve to see our beloved Twins, hopefully, take one out of three from the Brew Crew. They did.
The game was pretty one sided. The greatness of the game came from the bats of utility man Denny Hocking and the 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau.
Denny Hocking hit a home run. Need I say more? To the casual fan, yes. Hocking hit with very little power. He was mainly used to rest the full-time players and for late-inning defensive substitutions. His home run went over the right-field fence and I can remember yelling as the ball made its way, “Denny Hocking! No! Denny Hocking! Yes!”
As for Morneau, he hit the farthest home run I have ever seen. The fans knew it was gone before it left the infield. Blasted to dead center field, the ball hit the bottom of the scoreboard. To those who know Miller Park, it’s at least 460 feet from home plate. Nick, Steve and I were laughing in excitement as it screamed over Brady Clark’s head. The ultimate compliment to a baseball play is giddy school-girl laughter from Nick and I. Torii Hunter has stole many bases standing up, Johan Santana has struck out many batters with his Bugs Bunny changeup and Justin Morneau hit a monstrous home run to the sound of our giddy laughter.
July 22, 2005, Jacobs Field, Cleveland, Mariners vs. Indians
On the baseball trip of my life I dragged my poor girlfriend Candice to four major league parks in five days. After RFK in Washington D.C., PNC Park in Pittsburgh and before Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, we hit the home of the Twins’ division rivals, the Cleveland Indians.
The park was gorgeous, but it didn’t make me an Indians fan. There was extra incentive to root against the Tribe since they were playing against one of my favorite players, Ichiro.
We moved toward the third-base line of the lower deck when Ichiro struck. It wasn’t in his usual way either (steals, bunts, base hits). With Seattle down 3-2 and a runner on, Ichiro blasted a home run over the right-field fence. The crowd was silent, but my insides were screaming joy. Candice happened to take a picture of the Japanese star as he struck the round tripper.
More drama arrived in the ninth inning when the Mariners brought in the former Twin, Eddie Guardado, to close. Eddie was known in Minnesota for getting the job done, but it was never pretty.
It was his usual routine for Seattle as he got the first two batters out quickly and then allowed the next two to get on base via a walk and single, giving the Indians’ fans hope. The final batter fouled off pitch after pitch while Candice and I waited near the center-field exits. I felt bad for her since she just wanted to get out of there, but I couldn’t leave early knowing I missed something. Eddie prolonged the torment a little longer before finally getting the 27th out for the Mariners.
Seattle 4, Cleveland 3. http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CLE/CLE200507220.shtml
July 21, 2005, PNC Park, Pittsburgh, Rockies vs. Pirates
This is the one exception to my list where the surroundings are more important than the game. The Pirates won with Zack Duke pitching a great game and Jason Bay hitting a home run.
PNC Park is the Grand Canyon of ballparks. It’s the Yosemite Valley. It’s so well done and beautiful, I found myself gaping at how gorgeous the park is with the game playing in the background. The only thing wrong with PNC Park is the home team. However, ever since my visit, I’ve become a Pirates fan in hopes someday the park gets a good team.
My girlfriend Candice and I grabbed a beer and dinner at a restaurant across the street from the park. Sitting there, I began to get giddy looking at the architecture of the park. The bridge crossing the Alleghany River, which is adjacent to the park, was closed to car traffic before games, leaving it open for fans to walk across. Seeing the inside of the park from the other side of the bridge made me feel like a kid going to his first big league game. I couldn’t wait to get inside. The combination of the statues of Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente, the anticipation to get inside and another beer sitting outside the park, made me act like an eight-year old who’d just downed four Pixie Sticks on Christmas morning. I think Candice got a second-hand high off my happiness.
After walking in, I bought a scorecard from the first vendor I found. If the park wasn’t getting enough points, it got bonus points for giving free pencils with the purchase of a scorecard. This was a park putting the fan over the dollar.
After taking a lap around the concourse and taking some pictures from the upper deck, we made our way to our seats in right-center field. An old man working as an usher approached me as I looked to see where our seats were. He looked like a baseball fan I’d love share drinks with as he told stories of Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente and maybe even Honus Wagner. He asked for my ticket and I could only think of the ushers at the Metrodome who would only point 80 yards away to where your seat is. There’s no sense seating baseball fans in a football stadium.
What happened next blew my mind and made PNC Park the greatest park I’d ever been to. The old man took our tickets, walked us to our row, walked up the row to our seats, pulled a rag from his back pocket, wiped off our seats and said, “Enjoy the game, now.” I could only stand there open-mouthed, astonished over a park that was not only the most beautiful I’d ever seen, but also held the most gracious service.
I’ve been to the old Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, AT&T Park, Comerica Park and Target Field. They’re all full of beauty and history, but the park across the Roberto Clemente Bridge tops them all.