19 January 2006

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Bear with me. A friend asked me for some information on our baseball trip last year, which included Phoenix and southern California. Even though baseball season seems a little far off, I found out today that I have two tickets to the World Baseball Classic games being played in Orlando. Our pool includes the teams from Italy, Australia, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic.

Since I am a little psyched about baseball season coming, and posting pictures here is just as easy as creating one of those Yahoo photo albums, I figure I would just do this. Indulge someone one post pretty much just for one person. I won't bore the rest of you, and will place the bulk of this post under the fold.

Our trip was Orlando to Phoenix for an overnight and then from Phoenix to Los Angeles. Complicating matters was the fact that we flew on American Airlines on miles. I am pretty sure when Aadvantage members die, they have to connect through DFW to get to hell -- wait, DFW IS hell. So, our flight was actually MCO-DFW-PHX//PHX-DFW-LAX. Fortunately, I kicked in the extra miles, so we flew first class.

We stayed at the Spring Hill Suites Phoenix Downtown (under $60/night for a weekend rate out of season, with full Marriott Rewards points and privileges). The hotel offered a shuttle from the airport, and was within walking distance to the ballpark. It was August, so when I inquired about the walking to the game, the lady at the front desk made a point to remind me of the Arizona heat. When I told her that I lived in central Florida -- where days of 90 degree heat with 90% humidity were commonplace, she told me that we would be OK. She said that she gets concerned when people come from more temperate climates and expect to walk around in 115 degree heat.

This was the view as we approached the stadium:

The "classic" stadium view:

We had pretty good seats -- actually, we got the tickets from the hotel for half face value. I would have never paid $60 for these seats, as there surely seemed to be plenty of cheapies around, but we got such a good deal on the hotel (no car, free HSIA, free breakfast), it seemed like a good splurge:

There weren't too many cool things about this stadium, and (except for rare exception) I am no fan of stadium food. I didn't eat any of this, but I thought it was a great concept for a menu -- regional specialities defined by the teams:

The next morning meant another flight. Unfortunately, we weren't even in Phoenix long enough for a foodie stop this time around. I don't know that I would consciously make the decision to eat airline food over ANYTHING out of town, but sometimes, convenience takes over. So, a breakfast at the hotel followed by PHX-DFW-LAX, and food served on plastic trays would suffice for now.

We arrived in LA around 4 pm and spent the next two hours waiting in line at the rental counter for the car. This has to be the poorest run Thrifty I have ever seen. If it were me, I would do without them in your travel plans. I would have given my right leg to have used Hertz and my #1 Club Gold.

We finally got the rental car, a Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible, and were on our way. For all this Thrifty was awful, I will say that they did come through on the car. If you are going to do LA, it should probably be in a convertible. Off to the hotel for a brief check-in and then to dinner with our chef friend. This hotel was on points, but seems to be available on Priceline periodically.

Our dinner was at one of those places in LA, where it is more about the flash and being "seen" than anything about food. It took way too long for the food to arrive at the table, and I was underwhelmed. But, supposedly, they have filmed some scenes for HBO's "Entourage" there:

Stick to Killer Shrimp for a good meal! I wish I had gotten some good pictures there, but I didn't. The other place that I couldn't think of the other night when we chatted -- the Armenian chicken place, is called Zankou. Despite the strong recommendation from the Sterns, I would skip Cassell's Hamburgers. I thought the place was weak - they killed the burger by draining all the juice out of it with the spatula.

On our first full day in Los Angeles, we drove out to Anaheim for a day game at Angel Stadium. Let me say this about that -- get tickets in advance. I hardly ever do -- I am a big fan of getting tickets at the stadium and am rarely disappointed. You have the option of hitting the scalpers (usually good on rainy days or if a crappy visiting team is in town) or heading down to the box office, as games are rarely sellouts (Wrigley, Fenway, the Yankees as a road team, or a regional rivalry are notable exceptions). Well, we showed up for a game against the visiting Tampa Bay Devil Rays to find that Anaheim was in the midst of a 10-game home sellout streak. We lucked into a pair of decent tickets at/near face value, but if this is your only chance to get the ballpark, and you don't want to be shut out, I would try to snag these tickets in advance.

This is one of those stadiums just off the interstate. Here is the walk-up view:

The classic view:

The stadium and grounds are beautifully landscaped:

Unllike a lot of the newer ballparks that have an outer concourse that you can walk around and see the whole park without missing the game, Angel Stadium has a path that cuts around behind the outfield wall. It has a very fan-friendly family section back there, as well as some activities along the way. This is a shot of a wall mural featuring modern-day pics of current players with a copy of a baseball card from their youth. It also includes personal information that would appeal to families (favorite foods and such):

One just for artistic sake:

Los Angeles is not a great walking city, but there is a pretty good walking tour in the AAA Guide Book. I am used to the concrete jungle that is New York as my point of reference for what a big city should be. But, LA is different. It is green and lush. There are some roof-top parks scattered throughout the city that are really cool. They seem like an especially good place to grab a bite to eat and camp out and eat and people watch for a little while:

We also discovered the Grand Central Market on the walking tour:

Try...oh, try to make it to Phillippe the Original:

I was really looking forward to Dodger Stadium, and it was a little bit of a letdown. It IS a classic ballpark. All the things that I don't like about the cookie-cutter new ballparks are not there at Dodgertown. But, it is a late arriving crowd, that is not all that into watching the game. Also, we got seats (not at all cheap ones) that were out in the outfield in a not-so fan friendly section of the park. It is not very easy to move around the stadium -- especially one level to the next. Once you are on your ticketed level, you are pretty much destined to remain there. Again, you might choose to get better seats, in advance. The classic shot:

You would expect something like the "Hollywood" sign, wouldn't you. If you want a view of this, get seats more towards the home plate area:

I told you about the LA Coroner's Office gift shop, "Skeletons in the Closet":

Nothing says "tacky" like LA -- and nothing says tacky in LA like the La Brea Tar Pits (make sure you rrrrrroll your rrrrrr's when you say that, too!):

OK...almost nothing:

My favorite park during the whole trip was the last one, PETCO. We were seeing the Padres play my beloved Mets on my birthday -- so, I kind of figured this would be a highlight. The Mets won 9-0 (Kris Benson pitched a gem) the night before Carlos Beltran and Mike Cameron plowed into each other, ending Cameron's season. This was another sold out game, and tickets were tough to come by outside the stadium. We luckily ran across a guy attending the game with his family who just happened to have two extra tickets. We ended up with field box seats for about $20/each -- not bad at all.

We stayed next door at the San Diego Gaslamp Marriott. We knew someone who worked there, so we got a very favorable Friends and Family rate of around $60. Parking was a hammer, but if we had stayed somewhere else and drove to the game, we would have spent almost that much to park anyway.

The hotel has a rooftop bar that overlooks the stadium. The drinks are way overpriced, but it is a great view. I didn't get a picture, but the view on the other side of the stadium is the water. Who would want to look at scenery when there is a ballpark? I would never know:

There are some very cool things at this park -- like the "Park at the Park":

The stadium is built into the wall of an old warehouse. I think that is where they house their luxury boxes:

Without paying any admission fee, you can spread out a blanket and watch the game on a giant television right outside the stadium:

And, of course, the classic view from PETCO:

Those were about all the worthy pictures. The only notable eating that we did in San Diego was Hob Nob Hill, as reviewed by the Sterns. We ate their once for dinner and stopped by on our way out of town for some breakfast pastries. Not quite walking distance to the Gaslamp Quarter, but close.

All in all, not a bad week in SoCal. It was about all I could handle. The last night there, I got my requisite In-N-Out fix, and I was good to go home! A double-double and more fries than I could eat. I passed on the shake, but I wanted one. Either way, it was better than what we had coming on the flight home -- first class just ain't what it used to be.

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