Opening Day? Fail! Dinner at Waffle House? Win!

In my ongoing quest to take advantage of the free time I have due to being unemployed, I did something I’ve never done in my illustrious career as a baseball fan: I went to Yankees Opening Day on the road.

The good news is that I showed up. The bad news is that most of the Yankees didn’t.

Yankees and Orioles line up for Opening Day

Yankees and Orioles line up for Opening Day

The drive to Baltimore started in silence — one hour of silence, to be exact. It turns out that when I got the transmission fixed on my car, they obviously had to disconnect the battery. When the battery is disconnected, it activates an incredibly annoying security feature in my car stereo that requires inputting a five-digit code before it will work again. If three attempts are unsuccessful, the stereo locks up. My mechanic apparently tried three times, and the only way to unlock the stereo is to drive for one hour with the system on, so I had no tunes until I was nearly off the New Jersey Turnpike.

Lack of audio aside, I pretty much drove through car-wash-like sheets of rain for the entire trip, but on the bright side, there was very little traffic, as only a moron would drive from Hoboken to Baltimore for a baseball game in that kind of weather.

Weather.com was dead-on, though. It stopped raining literally seconds before I parked my car, and the precipitation held off, other than a half-hour shower right before game time, which delayed the start a bit.

My first stop was Pratt Street Ale House, an outstanding brewpub a couple of blocks from the ballpark. It used to be known as Wharf Rat. My visit there consisted of a pint of outstanding porter, a pint of decent stout, another pint of porter and some good-natured ribbing from Orioles fans, whom I affectionately refer to as Baltimorons.

Then I entered Oriole Park at Camden Yards and headed straight for Boog’s BBQ and the pit beef platter. I’m drooling just thinking about it.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Orioles fans are lucky. Camden Yards was built just before suites and luxury boxes became the top priority for a ballpark. As impressed as I was with the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, frankly, I’d take Camden Yards over either one of them. Of course, neither of the New York ballparks has something like the warehouse building to work with, and, as I mentioned in my blog about Citi Field, the Yankees were trying to keep attributes of both previous renditions of Yankee Stadium prominent. But Camden Yards set the standard for the wave of new ballparks, and it’s still a special place to catch a ballgame.

My seats were also in a great area that has no counterpart in either New York stadium. It’s called club seating, but it’s nothing like the various clubs and suites in Yankee Stadium or Citi Field. For $50, I sat in the first row down the right field line — very decent vantage point — and had access to a climate-controlled indoor concourse area with various restaurants, bars and its own bathrooms. I first sat there on a 102-degree Sunday a few years ago, so I welcomed the air-conditioning break. Of course, Baltimore is going to be cheaper than New York, but neither the Yankees nor the Mets offer anything resembling this value.

Anyway, everything was great until the game started. CC Sabathia had nothing and the Yankees’ bullpen had even less. In a mirror image of too many games last season, the Yankees stranded 10 base runners and wasted numerous opportunities. Final score: Orioles 10, Yankees 5.

Dinner, Waffle House-style!

I figured I’d break up the three-hour-plus drive home with a stop for dinner, likely at one of the fast-food restaurants in a rest stop on I-95. Then, a stroke of genius occurred: WAFFLE HOUSE!

I absolutely love Waffle House and would probably weigh more than a circus elephant if there were any locations in New Jersey. In fact, the woman behind the counter told me the company explored expanding into the Garden State but didn’t do it because the way they clean their dishes doesn’t conform to New Jersey’s regulations. This made me sort of nervous, but it’s been more than 24 hours and I haven’t dropped dead yet.

After a waffle the size of a small pizza, scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon and toast, I bid goodbye to Maryland and headed back home, defeated but full.

Mmmm … Waffle House!

Waffle House

Waffle House

Citi Field: What a weird ballpark (in a good way)

There cannot possibly be a more no-lose situation for a ballpark than replacing Shea Stadium. No matter what the new facility is like, it’s guaranteed to be an improvement. But Citi Field, the new home of the New York Mets, is a delightfully quirky ballpark, and I liked it a great deal.

Citi Field

Citi Field

Did I like it as much as the new Yankee Stadium? No, but I’m biased. Plus, the two ballparks were built with different missions. Yankee Stadium was built with the intention of keeping a lot of the features of the pre-1976 and post-1976 Yankee Stadium, while Citi Field was meant to be an entirely new concept. Citi Field definitely fulfilled that expectation.

I loved the fact that it’s not a uniform playing field. It’s definitely a pitcher-friendly ballpark, but the dimensions are all over the place. Right field is especially quirky, with an area called the Pepsi Porch that overhangs the playing field, similar to the upper deck in Tiger Stadium, and a right-field wall that juts out sharply then bends back in.

Citi Field

Citi Field

The bullpens were also quite unique: The visitors’ bullpen is behind the Mets’ bullpen, under the seats, so you can’t really see it. It took me a while to locate.

The seating areas have a lot of odd little nooks and crannies and small sections, with some seats that seem like fantastic places to watch a game and a few seats that are God-awful. There are also a great number of standing-room areas that provide great views of the field.

When I first entered the ballpark, the upper deck seemed excessively high and far away from the field, but our seats were in the seventh row of the upper deck, between home place and third base, and they were fine. The upper deck appears far worse than it actually is.

There’s an area behind the center-field scoreboard that features several food options, a beer stand with an unbelievable selection and activities for kids, such as a batting cage and a miniature Citi Field Wiffle Ball field. And the back of the center-field scoreboard has a video monitor, so you don’t miss any of the action.

Citi Field

Citi Field

There’s a similar area in the upper deck behind home plate, just for food and a gift shop, but there’s no video monitor. I have a feeling the Mets will add one eventually.

One thing that puzzled my friend and I: There are a ton of seats in fair territory in left field. They’re not necessarily bad seats, but they’re still in fair territory. In fact, due to a handful of club areas and suites, there really aren’t that many seats in the infield, which is strange for a new ballpark.

Citi Field will definitely be confusing the first few times around — for both fans and opposing players — but it’s a truly fun place to enjoy a baseball game.

Unemployment Nine: Taking advantage of my freedom

My frustrations with being unemployed have been pretty well chronicled by now. But with the approach of warm weather and baseball season, while my job hunt may still suck, things are taking a turn for the better in terms of fun activities to keep myself busy.

Riu Palace Las Americas, Cancun

Riu Palace Las Americas, Cancun

Naturally, I will stay vigilant on my search for a new job. And as much fun as the stuff I’m about to discuss will be, I’d rather be employed. But it’s time to start taking advantage of the kind of time off I likely won’t have again until after I retire.

Tomorrow, I will attend the St. Patrick’s Day Parade for the first time in years. Thanks to a good friend, I’ll be in one of the viewing stands, which I’ve never done.

Next Thursday, my girlfriend and I leave for a long weekend in Cancun, at the Riu Palace Las Americas. I can already taste the tropical drinks at poolside.

Then, after arriving back in the States, hopefully with a tan, it’s time for baseball.

First, the Yankees will hold a workout at the new Yankee Stadium, open to full-season-ticket holders, April 2. Why not? I might as well make my first trip to the new ballpark.

Yankee Stadium

Yankee Stadium

The following night, I have tickets for the Cubs-Yankees exhibition game.

Then, if I can get a cheap ticket, Saturday afternoon, April 4, I may try to go to the Red Sox-Mets exhibition game at the new ballpark in Queens, Citi Field. I really don’t care where I sit, so I’ll take any ticket. I just want to see another new stadium.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

The Yankees open the regular season Monday, April 6 in Baltimore, and I was able to get face-value tickets via Ticketmaster, so I’m going to a road Opening Day for the first time ever. The game time is perfect: 4:05 p.m., which means I can leave at a reasonable hour and give myself plenty of time to enjoy Inner Harbor food (crab cakes!) and microbrews (Wharf Rat Porter) before gametime, and still get home at a reasonable hour.

Opening Day at the new Yankee Stadium is Thursday, April 16, and the Yankees and Indians also have a day game scheduled the following day.

Barring lightning striking during this dull job search, I hope to attend all of those. I’d never be able to do all of this stuff if I were employed.

So I guess there is some good to being out of work, after all. But in a perfect world, I’d start a new job Monday, April 20.