Sunday, September 2, 2012

Game 22: Loonies and Toonies from North of the Border

Part One (Written by Craig)

After a grueling 19-hour drive, we arrived safe and sound in Toronto, Canada. Every time I have heard someone talk about a road trip across the United States, they have been talking about driving from coast to coast: New York to Los Angeles; Washington D.C. to Seattle, Washington; or even Miami to San Diego. In each of those cases, much of the discoveries or realizations about America have comes from juxtaposing a city on the coast to a small town in middle America. The biggest contrast in culture comes not from comparing where you start to where you finish, but rather from contrasting the journey itself to its endpoints.

We certainly got a taste of what that is like earlier in our adventure, but to me by far the most striking cross-country trip has been the vertical one. Consider our timeline from the past few days:

Around noon on Monday, we were staring at mountains in Juarez less than two miles away on the south side of the Mexican border en route to the Rangers game in Arlington. Three hours later, we ate a late lunch at Angelo's BBQ surrounded by deer heads, moose heads, antelope antlers, and even a full alligator skin.

Game 22; all of us looking a little weary after the grueling drive
By 9 pm on Tuesday, we were in Houston singing our second rendition of "Deep in the Heart of Texas."

At 8pm on Wednesday in Kansas City, Missouri, I had just finished my last full meal before leaving the country: a platter of BBQ Fries topped with shredded pork and an ungodly amount of savory Kansas City original BBQ sauce.

Less than 24 hours later, I found myself paying for an artisan hamburger made with 100% grass-fed beef with a five-dollar bill and a toonie at the Rodgers Centre in Toronto, a three-hour drive north of the border.

Perhaps it was the immediacy of the changes, but while the East-West road trip drastically changed my perception of the geography in America and how it changed across states, the South-North trip revealed  something much more telling about how the attitudes of people change.

In Houston, a middle-aged women scoffed at being on the "Kiss Cam," but after a pause permitted her husband to kiss her hand; In Toronto, Ace, the Blue Jays mascot, wears the equivalent of mascot skinny jeans and, according to the Blue Jays website, his mom "works in the fashion biz as a Goose down supplier." That the culture surrounding the game had changed was not nearly as surprising as the way these cultural differences impacted how fans interacted with the game itself.

Perhaps it was because fans in the last few stadiums we have attended were so passive in their support, but the vivacity with which Canadians displayed their national pride was startling. In what seemed like an extreme effort to demonstrate that baseball is not just an American sport, the centerfield scoreboard profiled (I believe) every native Canadian in the Blue Jays minor league system and updated everyone who arrived to the ballpark early on their stats. Impressively, the Blue Jays' decision as an organization to embrace its Canadian heritage rather than be just a distant extention of America's pastime seems to be working quite well. Though the game was by no means a sellout, the fans who did attend were some of the most animated we've seen. When both national anthems were played, the Star-Spangled Banner was observed respectively, much as anywhere else we have been, but the Canadian anthem was belted loudly and proudly seemingly by everyone in the stadium.

Whereas the vast majority of games we have seen in the US were much a passive experience where fans could sit back and simply watch the game, the experience in Toronto was much more of an involved social event. This social aspect meant two things: first, even though fans cheered more loudly and far more frequently than at any other game, the focus was ultimately on the experience than the game itself, and it was perhaps this latter aspect that contributed the experience that Jeff and Damon describe in part two.

On an unrelated note, after seeing our fourth Rays game, I have to say that Fernando Rodney could well easily be the nicest, most fan-friendly player in the Majors. After having a relatively substantive conversation with him at the Rangers game in Texas about Samana, his hometown in the Dominican Republic (where I lived abroad for a few months), he threw me a batting practice ball. In Toronto, I sought his out again, and this time he supplemented the conversation (much less substantive this time, but he did remember me from Texas) with an autograph.

Part Two (written by Jeff, with help from Damon)

Before this trip began, we wanted to know how many people travel to all thirty major league baseball stadiums in one summer. We knew it was rare, but did not know how rare. From our research, we confirmed that it happens, that it is done by more than a few people per season, but not much more than that. (We also found that while others had done it in 38 days, nobody that we could find had done the full trip, driving and seeing every game, in fewer days than that.) One of the things that we wondered was whether we would hear about anybody else doing it this year, or would cross paths with an individual or group at one of the games, who either had done it before, or was also in the midst of it. We discussed the remote chance that this could happen, and left it at that.

Then, on Thursday night, as Damon and Owen discussed the ballparks we've seen in the elevator at the Rogers Centre before the game, a third man in the elevator looked up at them, but didn't say anything. They kept talking. When the door opened for them to get out, the man finally said, "Are you going to all thirty major league ballparks?" When they said yes, he responded, "Get out of here, so am I!"

It turned out that Tim, who started his trip in April, was indeed the person we wondered if we would ever meet. Toronto was game 25 of his 30 game tour, which he was completing over the course of the season (the major difference: he has a job, so he was doing the tour in stretches, partially flying, partially driving). Tim and Damon quickly exchanged information, and talked a bit more, letting him know where our seats would be so that perhaps we could talk during or after the game.

Two or three hours later, Damon and I were sitting in our section high up behind home plate in the sixth inning (Craig and Owen had decided to go watch from the Rogers Centre hotel room), when Tim showed up, re-greeted Damon, and introduced himself to me. For the final three innings of the game, we just talked.

We talked about our favorite ballparks, our favorite players, the difficulty of scheduling a trip of this magnitude, the best moments we saw, the things to check out at other ballparks, and everything else that we could think of. The conversation was so much fun because we haven't been able to discuss our trip in the manner in which we discussed it with him with anybody outside of our group. This trip had previously always been the focus of discussion with other fans because of its distinctiveness. With him, it was our common ground, and the rest was the distinction, and that is what made it so fun. We got to ask how he planned his trip to Coors Field, since it is in the middle of nowhere, which stadium he had just visited, and where he was headed to next. We got to ask where he sat at each stadium, recalling where we had sat just days or weeks earlier and compare our experiences. And we got to tell stories of the people we met along the way. Perhaps most importantly, we got to talk about chasing our baseball dream. About how, if you're willing to put in the work to make it happen, you can. And if you do, how it's all worth it, both for the experiences that you are guaranteed to have, and the ones you discover along the way.

As we head into the final stretch of our journey, we wish him the best in completing his.

Games Watched: 22
Game to Go: 8
Thuuz Score: 32
Stadium: During the game we remarked that the Rogers Centre must have been incredible 20 years ago. Much like the rest of Toronto's infrastructure, however, the stadium could use a face lift. Given the retractable roof, which in addition to providing natural light allows great views of the city — Toronto's Space Needle towers over the stadium — the Blue Jays could replace the current AstroTurf field in favor of a new grass, or faux grass field.
Atmosphere: There was a decent-sized crowd on hand for the game, which we noticed was full of young people and young women in particular. Both genders were dressed to impress and we guessed that the Blue Jays game was something of a pre-game — imagine the irony! — for the late night crowd, which we discovered later that night on a round-about trip to Tim Horton's. Canadians, it seems, know how to throw down. Unsurprisingly, the crowd took on a festive atmosphere — not dissimilar from Taco Tuesday in San Diego — with many cheers from the crowd, if not all at the correct times.
Scoreboard: By far the most modern aspect of the stadium is its scoreboard, which is among the best around. The placement (above centerfield), picture quality and layout are all top notch, but there could have been far more highlights for our liking.
Concessions: Jeff had a good turkey burger with diced tomatoes and what looked like cole slaw and hummus and Craig had a great 100% grass-fed burger, two things offered by very few other stadiums while Damon and Owen both had chicken tenders which were surprisingly good. We're trying to give the Rogers Centre props for being the only stadium to serve alcohol to Jeff, but whatever good came from that was erased by their souvenir cups which were decidedly lame.
Quote of the Day: "Get out of here, so am I!" -Tim, upon hearing Owen and Damon confirm that we are also traveling to all 30 Major League Baseball Stadiums. Possibly the coolest thing we've heard on this trip.
Tim Kurkjian Award: This one goes to Carlos Villanueva, the starting pitcher for the Blue Jays, who struck out six consecutive batters, starting with Jose Lobaton in the bottom of the second inning and finished with Evan Longoria in the fourth. Villanueva finished the game with just seven total strikeouts and six of them — four short of Tom Seaver's all time record, if you were wondering — happened in a span of six at bats. Yup, baseball is a weird game.
Kilometers Traveled: 17329 km
Kilometers to Next Game: 473 km

"Read more" for photos

Damon, Jeff and Tim after the game.

The blue bars in each row provided a nice resting spot for our weary limbs.

The view of our hotel room, with the 30 in 38 sign in the window, from our seats above home plate.

The aforementioned scoreboard.

A panoramic shot of the stadium with the roof open.

Owen in our room, an incredible view of the stadium in the background.


  1. One of the best parts of this adventure, for me, has been/is imagining all of the people and conversations you're having across the ballparks and the country. But, "Get out of here, so am I!!" is absolutely fan-tastic! Good luck in FL.

  2. I am truly enjoying your blog. What I don't understand is how and where you manage to sleep. When I did my 8 stadium tour with my son (see my St. Louis comment) figuring out the hotels was almost as challenging as planning the stadium route. If your by-then unchangeable baseball schedule takes you to a city during a national tennis tournament, a pre-season football game, or freshman arrival day at the university (all three happened to us), you can spend more time making hotel reservations than buying baseball tickets. When I first heard of your trip I assumed you were doing it in some sort of camper van. But you occasionally mention hotels, and you clearly have a normal sized car. Maybe only people who have ever done a stadium tour would appreciate knowing how you managed this, but if you could comment on it that would be great.

    Enjoy the rest of the summer. We are leaving today for a vacation where we will have limited internet access, and one of the things I will miss most is following your blog. In fact, I should be packing now, instead of writing this...

  3. Duff- The conversations have been one of the best parts for us as well. Glad you can appreciate that. And thank you so much for reading. Hope you have enjoyed so far.

    Anonymous- Response coming soon re: hotels (from our hotels expert, Owen)

    -the crew

  4. Just catching up on you guys' adventure after a couple of days offline--and wow, that jump from Texas up to Canada sounds truly wild. What an amazing trip...I can't believe you guys are already in the homestretch! And I'm bummed I couldn't join you for a game in Houston or Dallas. ALL your blog entries have been fabulous, BTW.

  5. Hey guys, I know this is really late, but I did the same trip on my own last season. We were actually at two of the same games: The Cubs home game and the Pirates home game. I started my trip on June 23rd, and ended it on September 3rd (I also visited landmarks, wanted to enjoy each city a little bit, etc.). Wish we could have met up, the trip was amazing. I blogged quite a bit at the beginning of my trip, but due to only myself driving, it became somewhat of a chore. Anyway, if you guys are ever bored, you could recap my trip at I had a great time and it looks like you guys did as well.