Monday, March 9, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Saturday I blew off hockey (thank god) for a day of baseball and traveled up to Toronto for some World Baseball Classic action. I think the WBC is fairly pointless. It doesn't mean as much to us as I think it does to some of the countries involved and if my team had a player participating who was actually worth worrying about, I probably would be leery about them potentially getting hurt. But Toronto is a hop, skip and jump away, tickets were super reasonable (mine was $39 for the 200 level) and it is a rare opportunity to get to watch a bunch of Major Leaguers at one time. It worked out really well because the US/Canada game started at 2 which made it very feasible for me to drive up Saturday morning, catch the game, eat dinner and drive back home.

The drive was a little slow due to traffic (construction and an accident) and weather (lots of rain and fog). I managed to arrive safely and in plenty of time for the game. I'd never watched a game in a dome and let me tell you, it's pretty weird. My seats were slightly under an overhang so I couldn't see the roof from there but I was hyper aware of the lack of things like sun and clouds and wind. I suppose if I watched games there all the time I'd get used to it but I don't know. I really missed seeing blue sky over the field. The effect was even more noticeable since it was cold, rainy and foggy outside and then eerily perfect inside.

National anthems

I was a fan divided. I am an American so I suppose I should have been cheering for the U.S team. But Jason Bay, the only significant Pirate of the last 15 years or so - he was a legitimate All-Star and not a "well, we gotta get a Pirate in here" All-Star - is Canadian. Also, the Canadian crowd was booing all mentions of Derek Jeter along with Derek Jeter himself and I was more than happy to join in on that. Plus the US did not start Roy Oswalt who I really had my heart set on seeing. Booooooooo!

Hi, Jason! I miss you!

The video board was beautiful as were all the ribbon boards. Everything was very streamlined and simple. My only complaint would be the diamonds you see under the player in the photo above. The result of the at-bat was put up like on a scorecard but it ended up looking kind of busy and overly complicated. It's hard for me to say because I do know how to keep a scorecard but does the average fan know the difference between a K and a backwards K or what something like 3U means?

The other thing that's kind of weird about the stadium is that you're locked into your level. Your ticket tells you what gates to enter the stadium through and then you can't go anywhere else. So there was no wandering down to field level for me.

Sorry, Lee. This is as close as I could get to Your Boy.

I didn't really follow the last WBC so I wasn't sure what kind of crowd or atmosphere to expect but both turned out to be really pretty awesome. I'm sure it helped that the home team was involved but there were over 40,000 people there and they were really into the game. Joey Votto (of the Cincinnati Reds) is from the Toronto area and he got an especially warm welcome every time he came to bat. The crowd around me went absolutely bonkers when he hit a home run and when he drove in a run in the ninth inning.

The only bad part about the crowd was this yahoo in front of me:

There's a special level of hell for fans who use Thunderstix and an extra special level for the person who created them. Thanks for nothing, guy.

When I was taking in the stadium I noticed the image below and immediately wondered who the heck Tom Cheek was and why he wore number 4306. I took the picture partly so I would remember to look it up when I got home.

Tom Cheek was the Blue Jays' radio broadcaster from 1977 to 2004 and is probably most famous for his call of Joe Carter's World Series winning home run in 1993: "Touch 'em all, Joe! You'll never hit a bigger home run in your life!" I've heard the call before many times but never knew who it was. Anyway, Cheek called 4,306 consecutive regular season games and when he was placed on the Blue Jays' Level of Excellence that number was used in lieu of a jersey number. I was just reading something the other day about Dave Zinkoff of the Philadelphia 76ers having a banner in the Wachovia Center. I think it's a very cool idea to honor long-time announcers and I hope the Sabres will consider something like that when Rick Jeanneret retires.

It turned out to be a really fun game to watch. It definitely had the feel of an exhibition game at first but as it went on the players seemed to buckle down and the crowd really got into it. The US led for most of the last few innings but the Canadians had a chance to tie it up and/or take the lead in the ninth and I admit, when Jason Bay stepped to the plate with Canada down by two with a runner on, I was totally pulling for him to be the hero. Alas, it wasn't meant to be and the US won.

On a total side note, you guys, when did Chipper Jones get so old? He was a snot-nosed rookie during the prime baseball years of my youth and suddenly he's an almost 37-year-old veteran? Does not compute.

Anyway, after the game was over I waited for the crowd to clear out a little and then walked down to the front of my section so I could get a good look at the roof. Totally bizarre to see a full field under a roof. When you watch games on TV, I think you kind of forget they're taking place inside.



A very kind bystander noticed me staring at the roof and took a few minutes to explain to me how it all worked. He pointed out where the roof separates and described how all the different sections open. He also described how the stadium opens for football games and where the 50 yard line and end zones are. It was really interesting and considering the stadium is almost 20 years old now - again, where does the time go? - all the technology involved is pretty amazing. If that guy happens to stumble across this, thanks for taking the time to chat with me. It made my day.

After the game I took a little jaunt around the city. As hard as it may be to believe, I'd never been to Toronto before Saturday and it is amazing. I knew it was a big city but it's totally different actually seeing it in person. It's like a smaller, cleaner, safer New York City. I didn't take any pictures because it was getting dark and the weather still wasn't very cooperative but I came home with a wad of brochures and immediately told Mark we were going back ASAP. I can't wait to explore things more fully.

I ended my trip with dinner at Richtree Market, a place that came highly recommended by a friend. Richtree is designed to mimic a European food market with different stations set up throughout the restaurant - pasta, seafood, grill, salad, and lots of crazy mouth-watering desserts just to name a few.

Click on the photos if you want a closer look.

I stole these from the internet and have no idea who took them. Sorry, unnamed photographer!

When you come in, they give you a swipe card, you grab a tray and at each station they just add what you ordered to your card and you pay for everything when you leave. It's much more convenient than having to pay at each station but it does make it pretty easy to lose track of how much you've spent. Happily, the food was really good. I had a sirloin (medium, as all meat should be), made to order in front of me along with sauteed mushrooms and absolutely amazing mashed potatoes. They were extremely lumpy and full of skin (as all mashed potatoes should be). I finished the meal off with a strawberry crepe, topped with chocolate sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice-cream although I was extremely tempted by the belgian waffles. It was awesome and the whole atmosphere of the restaurant is very busy and charming. Don't sit on the patio. I don't think you get the full effect out there.

The drive home was a bit of a disaster. It was pouring from Toronto to Buffalo and that made for a very slow drive especially since I can barely see in the dark to begin with. But I made it home in one piece, pretty pleased with my day and anxious to get the real baseball season started.

A couple of notes for the baseball fans among you:

First of all, don't forget to check out my brother Lee's blog, New York Mets Online, for all your Mets needs. He co-writes it with some friends and it's pretty good stuff. Lee, I'll think of you when I'm watching all those Mets games in HD this summer. Heh heh.

Second of all, Lee is starting up a fantasy baseball keeper league. If you're interested in joining in and want more information, email me at the address at the top right hand of this here blog and I'll pass along more info to you.


Caroline said...

Rich Tree! I always go there for lunch when I'm in Toronto. Good food and it's fun to go around and pick out what you want.

Vanek's Hair said...

I laughed hard at your comment about being "surprised" that I like T.O. I had a chance at a WBC tix but passed them up for my alma mater(Boooo Siena).

I would have enjoyed the baseball. I stand alone on this blog as Phillies phan. I nearly threw up in my mouth abouth Tom Cheeks call. (Which I remember all to well). Thankfully Brad Lidge burned those memories away

Lee Andrew said...

I know a lot of people don't care about the WBC but the games have been fantastic. Fun upset by the Netherlands, US/Canada was good and Japan/Korea was great. The Netherlands nearly pulled off a second upset against Puerto Rico.

The Mets have the most players in the WBC, 15, and it doesn't bother me at all. I think playing real competition before the season is a good thing. Who cares if David Wright can hit the Royals Triple A pitcher? But if he hits a home run off of Yu Darvish then that's something. If they get hurt that's unfortunate, but it happens. Spring Training, WBC, regular season, All-Star game, playoffs. It happens, every team has to deal with it.

If it makes you feel any better, Chipper Jones is old now but he's still a snot-nosed punk. Speaking of things that make you feel old. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the Fresh Prince of Bel-air! What??

Did you know that Derek Jeter complained about being pulled early? Of course nobody is talking about it because its Derek Jeter but I found it ironic that the "team captain" was acting like a baby when Jimmy Rollins (who should've been starting anyway) said after being pulled in the second game, "when the manager takes you out, you come out." As much as I hate the Phillies, I'd take Jimmy Rollins as a team captain over anybody on the team.

Gambler said...

Thanks for looking up Tom Cheek! I totally forgot by now, but when we were in the Rogers Center for the International Bowl in January, my family and I spent a while wondering what the hell that number was supposed to mean. I really do hope the Sabres do something cool like that for RJ. He deserves it.

amanda said...

I love that restaurant! I get the oddest combination of food, but somehow it all works...

Heather B. said...

In my brief time as a hardcore Astros fan, Brad Lidge burned things away in a different way. Through the whole World Series last year all I could think about was how he totally blew that year Houston was in the Series. Eff you, Lidge. (Just kidding. I like him and I'm glad he salvaged his career.)

Lee, I can't even name 15 Mets! And I admit, I haven't watched any other WBC games.

Gambler, please pass on the Tom Cheek info to your lovely family. I took a picture of it just so I wouldn't forget because I knew by the time I got home I wouldn't remember the name, the number or wondering about either one of them.

Amanda, the weird combinations you can come up with are awesome. And no one even knows you're being weird because they have no idea what you've eaten already. I think that might be the best part actually.