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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

On a side note #1 : Baseball Weekend 2018

  Not horror related at all but I just wanted to write a bit about last weekend which in my world was baseball weekend. About four years ago my friend Tom and I decided to start taking advantage of his retirement and go on a baseball weekend once a year. We had been taking turns travelling to each others homes to see baseball, he is a big Orioles fan and I am in the religion which is Red Sox Nation. We also went to a Hagerstown to see the minor league Suns play since it is not far from Tom's house. Since it started we have visited Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Detroit and Toronto. We don't necessarily have to see our home town team on these excursions so there is more flexibility in the scheduling. In fact beside seeing the Red Sox and Orioles at each others parks this year was going to be the first where we saw one of the teams on the road.  It is a trip pretty much to drink a little beer, see some baseball and just keep a very nice friendship going.
  This year we met on a plane to Milwaukee where we visited Miller Field. I can't say I really follow the Brewers since they moved to the National League but this year they look to have a playoff team and playing them on the Friday we were going was another first place team, the Atlanta Braves so I was anticipating a really good game with a sellout crowd. We are at the halfway point and this is the time where fans start to really pay attention to their team. (Or lose interest because the team is so bad.) In modern US sports it seems there are real winners and losers in whether a team will be a contender, with teams in big markets being able to just outspend the rest of the league, leaving most teams without a chance at a serious playoff run. It is true that the added Wildcard play in game has allowed more teams to sniff the playoff  but there are only 10 slots in the playoffs so 20 teams a year just ride out the long season of dwindling fan bases.
  The flight on Southwest was not full making the travel really easy from Boston, stopping in Baltimore meeting up with Tom and finishing in Milwaukee was easy as pie. Not thinking things through enough in our planning we planned to rent a car for the trip and drive to Minneapolis for the second part of the trip. This ended up being foolish. Car rental prices were very expensive and in hindsight we could have flown to MN cheaper from Milwaukee. I do have to say it was nice to have a car to check out the city. We got in early in the morning and it was nice to be able to take the scope of the city. My impression and I do not mean to offend anyone is it is two cities in one. There is this dynamic port on Lake Michigan with parks and boating and great places to walk while there are also a lot of areas away from the shore that appear to be struggling. The port side of the city is beautiful, lovely parks along the shore made to be walked and biked were just great. Busy businesses and lots of people out and about. The lake is beautiful and we enjoyed walking out on the pier and taking in the view looking back across the water. To get there we took a round about way to get there and also saw a city with struggling neighborhoods where streets where in need of maintenance, shops are closed and just looked to need revitalization. I am sure that this is true for most cities, the economy which has been great for the wealthy, but that benefit never seems to trickle down into the neighborhoods where working class people live. After writing this last bit I decided to look on the interwebs to see if that is how the rest of the world see the city. Sure enough there is a long history of segregation and extreme poverty in parts of the city while being a somewhat desirable city for business development.  Milwaukee is the 9th most impoverished large city in the US, with almost 30% of the population living below the poverty line. The struggle is how to make all citizens benefit from the business that comes to the city.
  Before heading to check in at the hotel we had to have lunch. I do a lot of my research on Beer Advocate as far as finding places with good food and good beer. The closest place from my prepared list of possibilities was the Comet Cafe a hipster popular place with a pretty decent beer selection and a very good menu. Lots of younger city people filled the place which consists of a bar and counter area in the middle, tables and booths along the walls with some outdoor seating on the sidewalk. Busy but not slow it was the perfect place to satisfy the hunger we had built up. The taps change each week and feature quite a few of the local breweries, as well as having a decent bottle selection. The food was really good and the beer as well.  Right down the street from the Comet is Good City Brewing, a beautiful room with the added feature of having a small but sunny roof deck. So after eating we went over to sample some beer there. In the case of both places the parking is on the street metered, easy enough for a Friday at noon, I can not attest to what it is like in the evening.
  We had a hotel Hampton Inn & Suites Milwaukee West, a depot for people like us going to Miller Park we met at least a dozen people doing the same thing we were doing seeing baseball in other cities than their own. It was a price stay over 200 dollars a night but we felt it was worth it. Near enough to the ball park and a place with a shuttle to take you to and pick you up. We settled into our rooms and knapped before heading over to the ballpark a bit early for the 7pm game.
  Miller Park is a beautiful ball park, built and ready for play in 2001 was to replace Milwaukee county stadium it has a unique fan shaped convertible roof that can be closed in case of rain in about 12 minutes. The steel girder look is aesthetically pleasing, with high walls and small amounts of foul territory the fan feels close to the game. A couple of fan attractions are cute and entertaining, when a Brewer hits a home run Bernie Brewer, the blonde mustached mascot takes a slide into the splash zone above left field on a big yellow slide. During an intermission in the game there is a sausage race sponsored by Johnsonville, like the Presidents race in DC the racers wear tall costumes and race from center field around the warning track to home.In this case all the runners are different kinds of sausages. The Italian sausage won during our game. In the seventh inning after singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"  the fans also sing "Roll Out the Barrel".
  The game we saw was great, two first place teams and it in general was a well played game. The Brewers scored five runs in the 3rd inning to take a 5-1 lead but the Braves fought back closing to 5-4 before running out of innings. Very enjoyable baseball, far a while at least you can see the game recap here. I was surprised that the stadium was not filleed seeing that both teams lead their divisions  the crowd of 31,000 was active and engaged the whole game. They seem like good fans. Looking at attendance records for the stadium I see that this is about the average crowd. Coming from the Boston area I am more used to seeing a filled ball park. Of course the Brewers have only been in the playoffs a couple times since 2000 so maybe the fan base is waiting to see if they can hold on to first. Still I expected a sellout on a Friday night. Catching the shuttle back to the hotel was smooth and we ended the night talking to a nice couple from green bay at the hotel bar. All the people I talked to in Milwaukee were really friendly, even the Yankees fans I met on the shuttle back to the hotel. The trip to Milwaukee was a good one, over all it may have been a bit pricey on the hotel side but possibly worth it for the convenience. The shoreline is something to see though so if you make it to this town make a point to get to the lake.
CHS Park home of the St.Paul Saints
  The next day we checked out and hit the road for Minneapolis, its about a five hour drive but a fairly easy one pretty much interstate 94 all the way. The good thing about the route is that it is not too crowed a drive and we cruised at good speed all the way. Coming into St. Paul right at CHS Field the ball park for our Saturday night game. Yes we are mixing in some Professional Independent League baseball, the St. Paul Saints. My best friend from Boston English High School, Lee Adams is the announcer for the Saints and hooked us up with some sweet tickets for the Saturday night game against the Lincoln Saltdogs. Thanks for that Lee! I wish we could have spent more time catching up. The Saints won the game but that is really not the story of the night. I will come back to that but first a couple local stops to note. We had lunch at Barrio a local Mexican chain that serves higher end meals that are delicious. Sitting out on the sidewalk seating on a beautiful day we enjoyed a really well done meal. Just around the corner from the CHS Field it is the perfect place to have dinner before seeing a game. Also just another block away is Barrel Theory Beer Company, a fine addition to the area making really good beer many of which can be purchased in cans on the premises. The Yas Queen was a particularly delightful fruity sour. Now getting back to baseball, the Saints crew puts on the most family friendly fun night of baseball that I have seen. Baseball purist may not want all the distractions but if you are looking for an affordable, super entertaining baseball experience with your kids this is the place to get it. The crew is a cast of characters entertaining the crowd on the field and in the stands.
  The troupe of actors working with the announcers keep things lively between innings and the comedic game call is so great that there is always a smile on your face. I can't say enough about what a lively engaging sports event this is, you really have to go and see it to appreciate the hard work the Saints put into making your trip to the ball park a great experience. Now the baseball although good has a more uneven talent level with a mix of some very good players mixed with guys trying really hard. Certainly the Saints have seen their share of really good players and I enjoyed the game and the experience and certainly would do it again if in the area.
  We stayed that night in the Minneapolis Hilton a larger hotel right downtown, this worked out to be a great location. It was a 10 minute walk from the hotel to Target Field the site of our third game in three days, the Minnesota Twins vs the Baltimore Orioles. If we had been smarter in our planning we would have skipped the driving from Milwaukee and just flown in to Minneapolis from there. The rent a car was really expensive and the train from the airport is not that far from the hotel in Minneapolis. Lesson learned on that one but anyway we wanted to get out and see some of the city before the day game so we took a short trip to Minnehaha Falls, a lovely 170 acre park in the city. When it came time came we pre-gamed at a surprisingly decent brewery I had missed in my research before the trip. Just a couple minutes from the stadium was Clockwerks Brewing, an incredibly comfortable spot to have a few beers and get out of the heat. The beer was good and the staff friendly and helpful.   The game itself was a hot one, not in the score, the Twins romped 10-2 but in the heat index maxing out past 100 degrees.
   Target field is a nice enough ball park with plenty of options for food and drink, although water was the main drink in the heat at the 1pm start time. It did not blow me away but it was nice. It may have been the heat but the crowd was not into it on this day, only really seeming into the game when prompted by the announcer or when something good was done by their team. Granted this game was over before it started with a sweep over the weekend of the horrendous Orioles. We like the Clockwerks so much we returned there after the game before heading out to dinner. Another nice meal at the Minneapolis Barrio and we were back to the hotel for an early turn in and flights home the next morning. I had a couple beers at the hotel bar and a very nice evening of conversation with a couple of women from North Dakota, thanks Crystal and Jess. I promised them I would post pictures of my garden since I uniquely try to grow it in the bog behind my house.  I should have just told them to follow me on Instagram @the_soresport but I was not thinking to clearly, Those are below:
From on the porch.
Rectangle plot near the bog edge.
To get out into the platform in the bog, in spring it can be underwater.

And a few more baseball images I pulled from my ipod:

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