Friday, August 13, 2010

Minnesota-Toronto Trip Report

Last week, my dad and I took a baseball-centered trip to Toronto and Minneapolis. This was my first time out of the country, and my first to Minnesota. I hadn’t been to either the Blue Jays or the Twins ballpark, and with the Twins new ballpark, it was a perfect time to go. This trip got me up to having been to 25 current major league stadiums, and 31 major league stadiums in all. Following is the report on our trip.

Thursday, July 29th:

On Thursday, my dad and I flew to Toronto on my first international flight. It was a pretty long flight, but I passed it by mainly by watching Major League 2 with my dad. We spent the night at a Hampton Inn right by the airport. It was very convenient.

That night we went to the Hockey Hall of Fame. It is located in a mall and is fairly small, but it’s a neat place. One of the coolest things that they had in the Hall was a room in the very center dedicated to all the hockey legends. Some of the players that get inducted get inducted as Legends, and get their own little display case in this room. The only Star there was Brett Hull. They also have the Stanley Cup in one of the rooms, and I really liked how it had the names of all of the players from each Stanley Cup Champion on it. It was fun to look at the Stars roster from 1999. One thing that I found strange, though, is how the players that get inducted aren’t associated with a team. It was also somewhat frustrating how few Stars things they had. It seemed as if the Stars had about the least amount of representation in the place, although I’m sure the Coyotes and Thrashers had less. I also have to point out that I beat my dad 2-1 in triple overtime on one of those hockey tables that is kind of like foosball.

After we finished up at the Hall of Fame, we walked over to eat at Wayne Gretzky’s (no, this is not a hockey trip, it’s a baseball one). It was a very long walk, despite the fact that an employee told us it was walking distance. As an appetizer, we got poutine, which is french fries with cheese and gravy, and it was good, but somewhat disappointing since it sounded so amazing, and ended up only being good. We then split a pizza, and it was a very good pizza. We got pepperoni, bacon, and sausage, and I would get it again if we ever go back. The restaurant had a lot of Wayne Gretzky memorabilia, and I’m glad we ate there, even though the prices were ridiculous.

We drove back to the hotel when we were done eating, and after getting over my shock of them not having ESPN (which I still find crazy, ESPN should at least stretch to Canada), I watched the Yankees and Indians game. The Indians had to make a quick turn-around because they were the team that was playing the Blue Jays in the game we saw on Friday. But the TV situation turned out to be okay, despite the fact that there wasn’t any ESPN.

Friday, July 30th:

Early Friday morning, after eating the free Hampton breakfast (apparently Canadians eat baked beans for breakfast), my dad and I drove to St. Marys to see the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. St. Marys is a small little town, and is a pretty long drive from Toronto (about 2 hours). The Hall of Fame is in a small house in the middle of a neighborhood, but although the space is small, the place is crammed with info. The setting of it was very neat, and it had a cool feeling to it. The place was very interesting, and there’s a lot of Blue Jays and Expos stuff. The inductees have plaques in the hallway, and the most notable ones were Fergie Jenkins, Joe Carter, Gary Carter, and Roberto Alomar. To be inducted, you have to make a contribution to Canadian baseball, and the inductees are normally players who are either Canadian-born or played for the Blue Jays or Expos. On the field behind the house, they have three little league fields, two of them with seats from the old Exhibition Stadium (Blue Jays former ballpark). The displays were very updated; in one room they had Jason Bay gear from a game earlier this year. The employee there was very friendly, and I enjoyed talking with him.

On our way to our new hotel in Toronto, we stopped at the site of Exhibition Stadium, the old Blue Jays ballpark, and that was fun, because they had home plate and each of the three bases marked with plaques set in the ground. They were located in the parking lot of the Toronto FC soccer stadium.

We went and checked in to our new hotel, the Renaissance, which is connected to the Blue Jays ballpark. It was neat to be able to walk into our hotel and look out over the field. Our room was facing the opposite way, but there was a restaurant off of the hotel lobby that overlooked the field.

We just hung out in our ESPN-less hotel room for about half an hour before heading to the game. The stadium has no character, and there is nothing that really makes it special, but it’s a good place to watch a baseball game. The problem with it is that there is nothing else but the field, basically. We ate some ridiculously over priced chicken tenders with some tasteless fries, and my dad got an $8.00 Coke (yes, 8 dollars, he didn’t see the price). The roof was open, and the temperature was in the 60s (I miss that weather). Our seats were very good, because we had a great view of the CN Tower, and it has a cool light show at night, so it kept changing colors all over the place. I really enjoyed the game.

The Blue Jays won the game 8-1, with a combination of their amazing power and a good pitching performance by Shaun Marcum. The first Jays home run of the night was Fred Lewis’ 7th in the third inning, to put the Blue Jays up 1-0. But then in the 4th inning, the Indians pitcher Justin Masterson just flat out lost it. The Blue Jays scored 6 runs in the inning, capitalized by a Jose Bautista grand slam, his 31st home run of the year (wow, who would’ve thought?). The Jays scored another run in the sixth off of Masterson to make his line 5.1 innings and 8 earned runs. Shaun Marcum took a no-hitter into the fifth, when Austin Kearns, in his last game as an Indian, broke it up. Marcum allowed just one run in 7 innings, and struck out 10 Indians, before giving way to Casey Janssen and Shawn Camp, who both threw scoreless innings.

Saturday, July 31st:

We woke up very early Saturday morning to head to the airport. We were flying from Toronto to Chicago to Minneapolis. Our flight took off on time from Toronto, and landed on time, also. When we landed in Chicago, we were supposed to have a 3-hour layover, but we got lucky, and there was a flight to Minneapolis that had been delayed by 15 minutes, and that allowed us to get on that flight via stand-by, so we had about a half-an-hour layover. We arrived in Minneapolis early in the afternoon.

Once we landed, we went straight to the Mall of America (which is the biggest mall you’ll ever see), and played Moose Mountain mini-golf. It was an 18-hole course on the third floor, and is really, really neat. I beat my dad, and had a lot of fun, even though the people in front of us were the slowest putt-putters ever. The little girl would get a 10, and then re-do some putts, even though we were waiting right behind them. After I destroyed my dad at putt-putt, we went into the amusement park in the middle of the mall, formerly called Camp Snoopy, but then bought by Nickelodeon, and now called Nickelodeon Universe (I would’ve liked Camp Snoopy more). You pay per ride there, and we only did one ride, called GhostBlaster, which was fun. It was kind of like the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney World, but not quite as good, since it’s not Disney quality. Once again, I just completely obliterated my dad, so that made me 3-0 for the trip. Also, in the middle of the amusement park, they have a marker showing the location of home plate from Metropolitan Stadium, which is the Twins old ballpark, and against the wall they have the seat still hanging from where Harmon Killebrew hit a 520-foot home run, the longest in Twins history.

3:00 pm was check-in time, so we went over to our third hotel in three nights, a Doubletree within walking distance of Target Field. I always like staying at Doubletrees because they give you free cookies when you check in.

When the gates opened, we walked over to Target Field, which was extremely nice. The stadium was one of the best I’ve ever seen. The attention to detail there was amazing; it seemed like everything there had some different historical meaning. Outside the right field gate is Target Plaza, which is awesome. It has the complete rosters of every Twins team and every member of the Twins Hall of Fame on a fence. It has statues of Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, and Kirby Puckett, which were neat. One of my favorite parts of the plaza was the Gold Glove they had out there. They had a Gold Glove statue, with a plaque beside it that has every Gold Glove winner in Twins history, and it is 520 feet from home plate, the same distance as the longest home run in Twins history. They also have nine huge bat-shaped flowerpots, and one lights up for every inning, so if you’re driving by and 5 bats are lit up, you know that it’s the fifth inning. They had a lot of history, and I like that. The Rangers really don’t have any history at all outside their ballpark. Another great aspect of the ballpark is the big Minnie & Paul sign that they have out in center field that sparkles after a strike-out, and has them shake hands after a home run (unfortunately, we didn’t see any homers).

In the game, the Twins played very well. The pitching match-up was Felix Hernandez vs. Kevin Slowey, and Hernandez actually did not get the best of that match-up. Slowey was dealing, throwing 8 shut-out innings, and allowing only three hits all day. Hernandez threw six shut-out innings in innings 2-7, but that was after a 3-run first inning for the Twins. Delmon Young drove in two runs with a triple, and then the very next batter, Jim Thome, drove him home with an RBI double. The Twins scored a fourth run in the 8th on a Joe Mauer RBI double off of former Ranger Jamey Wright. The Twins beat the Mariners 4-0.

But we left the Twins game after the 5th inning to go see a St. Paul Saints game. The Saints are an independent league team. They play at Midway Stadium, which is very small and old, and doesn’t have enough parking, but they make it a fun place to watch a game, with very different entertainment. We got there in the top of the 4th inning, and left after 8. The fans there are very into the game and excited about it, despite the fact that there is a major league team 15 minutes away. The Saints won the game 5-2 over the Sioux Falls Fighting Pheasants.

Sunday, August 1st:

In the morning, my dad and I walked to the nearest tram station to go to the Metrodome, and on the way we saw a lot of the Joe Mauer statues they have around town. Each statue represents a different year in Twins history, and they are all in the shape of Joe Mauer made out of clippings and pictures and other things. It’s part of the celebration of the Twins’ 50th season.

When we got off the tram, we went around the Metrodome (now called Mall of America Field, which I think is too long of a name), and went to Dome Souvenirs, across the street from the Metrodome. Inside, they have a small, free museum, which is basically the owner’s collection of souvenirs. The owner used to the equipment manager for the Twins. It was a bit random, but still very cool, and I’m glad I went.

The Twins had a day game that day, and so we hopped back on the tram and went straight to Target Field, since there is a stop about 20 feet away from the ballpark. Once again, the Twins beat the Mariners 4-0, but this time it was Francisco Liriano that was dealing. He allowed only four base-runners, no runs, and struck out 11 in just 7 innings. Luke French of the Mariners started off the game great, with 5 shut-out innings, but then allowed 4 runs in the 6th inning, on a 3-run Jason Kubel double, and a Danny Valencia RBI double. Jon Rauch and Matt Guerrier both struck out two in their innings of work, so the Mariners struck out 15 times in all.

After the game, we headed back over to the Mall of America to do MagiQuest and more rides. MagiQuest is an interactive game that is very fun. The rides we did were a roller coaster that went all around the park, and that was fun, because it didn’t have any big drops or anything like that (I don’t like big roller coasters), and we did a log ride that looked like it had been unchanged by Nickelodeon, and I think that was the best ride there. You went around in a log, and it had a whole lot of robotic figures that moved and talked, or did something like that. I wonder how cool the place would have been before Nickelodeon changed everything, and made the whole look of it change from cool outdoorsy to colorful blankness. After we did those three things, we went back to the hotel, where I caught up on my ESPN-watching.

Monday, August 2nd:

On Monday, we had a flight out in the afternoon, but in the morning we did a tour of Target Field, which was very good.

We started out in Target Plaza, and then went in to the ballpark. It’s a small place, with just about 40,000 seats, with a very cool look to it. And we learned about yet another cool historical attention to detail when the tour guide told us that the flag pole was the same one that was used at the Twins old field, Metropolitan Stadium. It surprised me that it has no kids zone like most teams do, but I was also jealous of their jumbo-tron. It was very large and clear, like most teams have, but not the Rangers. The tour took us into the Town Ball Tavern, a restaurant inside the ballpark, in which we had eaten the day before (pretty good burgers, and different but good tasting chips. As Chris Bosh would say, “It’s different, I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just different.”). Then they took us into the Legends Club (the club level), and I really enjoyed that, because there were a lot of different display cases in there about the Twins with their numbers retired. Kirby Puckett’s cases were awesome, because they had his whole collection, Gold Gloves and everything, since his family donated it to them after he passed away. They also took us into the Metropolitan Club, which is a restaurant for season ticket holders and honors the Metropolitan Stadium era. They took us to the suite level, which had an area honoring the Twins’ history from when they were the Washington Senators. One of the last things they took us to was the Roof Deck, a seating area way up in left field, and that had some pictures and stats about the Twins players with retired numbers. The very last part of the tour was when we went into the visitor’s clubhouse (surprisingly smaller than those that I have seen), and into the dugout, which did not have big enough seats. The tour was a very thorough one and took almost two hours, and we got to spend a lot of time walking the tiny concourses that are always congested, and reminded me of the Rangers’ right field concourse.

That was the end of our trip, and I really enjoyed it. The flight home went very smoothly, just like the whole trip.

I would like to thank my dad for taking me on this trip every year, and taking me to do so many things. He is awesome.

Come back next week for my July-August Awards.

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