25 June 2006

Trip Log, Day 2; St. Louis (continued)

Note: This is one of a series. You can find the complete series index here.

We decided to grab a late afternoon meal (only in Florida would a meal this time of day be considered dinner) before heading out to the ballpark to limit the intake of lips and snouts. Our first choice was Connelly's Goody Goody Diner, but they were closed by the time we arrived. Before we spent our entire time trying to figure out what would be the best substitute, we quickly decided on using some serious "foodie nose" to get the job done. Sometimes, you just have a feel -- with no guide book or anything.

Located right in front of the Bel-Nor City Hall, we found The Breakaway Cafe (8418 Natural Bridge Road). Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of this place, but you can trust me, the food was tasty. Breakaway Cafe serves a number of pasta dishes and other varieties of comfort food. This was my first experience trying toasted ravioli, and they did not disappoint. I don't know how much better they could have been at the more well-known Italian institutions on "The Hill," but these served this novice pretty well -- a crusty exterior, and a well-seasoned filling, all dipped in homemade marinara. Appetizers were generally under $6 and entrees could be had in the neighborhood of $10.

For us, one of the most important reasons for choosing The Breakaway Cafe was the proximity to the MetroLink station at University of Missouri-St. Louis. Taking the MetroLink downtown the ballpark was very inexpensive ($1.75/each way), but very crowded. I have taken the subway to Shea and the El to Wrigley, so I know crowds, but this was pretty crowded (the reverse trip was even worse!).

We arrived early at Busch. There were three of us, and we only had two tickets. Needing one, we set out around the stadium trying to find a scalper with singles. Funniest thing, though -- there were hardly any scalpers. I knew that the games were sold out -- St. Louis fans are rabid for baseball, and they finally have a new stadium to enjoy. Still, the freakin' Rockies were in town, not the Cubs. As we dragged past the box office, I stopped to see if they still had an standing room tickets -- they told us THOSE were sold out, too! The clerk told me that they did have some single tickets, but that was all. Single tickets? Why, we NEED a single ticket...what have you got? $34 later, I was on my way into the stadium.

There are a couple of quirky things about this ballpark. For one thing, there doesn't seem to be much of a "front." Supposedly, this is the front of stadium, with the statue of Stan Musial moved, by crane, over from the old ballpark. People have a convenient place to "meet at Stan," but it surely appears that one of the corners would have made a better front of the stadium. The area is still under a lot of reconstruction, so maybe as time passes, and more peripheral businesses develop, it will become more evident that this is, in fact, the front.

In the past, I have had decent $34 seats, and I had some really bad $34 seats (Dodger Stadium comes to mind). These were not good $34 seats. They were located in the outfield, in the second deck, all the way in fair territory in left field. They called it Big Mac Land, named after the juiced (errr...allegedly juiced) slugger, and sponsored by the place that serves crappy hamburgers. My understanding is that if someone hits a home run up there, everyone in those seats gets a crappy hamburger named after said juiced slugger. My guess is that second prize is TWO hamburgers named after said juiced slugger, but that may just be the cynic in me. These seats were a kind of limited view seat -- nothing too pretty for that kind of money. I didn't even take a picture from my seats...they were THAT bad.

My buddies 2/$11 deal ended up netting them standing room access. Anyone with any kind of sports acumen knows, though, so long as the ushers are not overly vigilant, after a few innings, you can scout out where there are available seats, and plant yourself until someone asks you to move. By the fourth inning, we were sitting in seats about 12 rows up off the field right behind the visitor's dugout. My opinion of the stadium changed immediately with the better seats. The key to this place is definitely the view -- and these seats had THE view. The photo is the standard panoramic behind home plate shot, but you can see what we saw -- beyond the left field fence, is a great view of downtown St. Louis. The Arch is visible from almost every seat in the stadium -- a big plus, because the Arch gives you a unique view from almost every different angle.

Overall, though, I didn't find the major's newest stadium all that remarkable. There are a ton of ads EVERYWHERE. Seating sections, as mentioned above, are sponsored, as are the scoreboard, outfield walls, and just about any place else they could plaster a placard. I know that all stadiums have advertising, but some have more obnoxious advertising than others - and this stuff is pretty obnoxious. One of my favorite things about the "old" Busch stadium was the unique way the retired jersey numbers were memorialized. Here, they are just plastered on the outfield wall....boring. I may want to revisit this park in a few years, but for now, this place would probably end up somewhere in the middle of the pack, in terms of favorite stadiums. One serious plus for the stadium is the enthusiasm of the St. Louis fans. They did have this in the old ballpark, too, though...so, it only goes so far. There is a nice Cardinals history done on the outside promenade in brick. If so many of the Cardinals highlights hadn't come against the Mets, I might have enjoyed that a little more.

Cards won big...and we can check this new stadium off the list! Day 2 complete.

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