A recap of my trip - UPDATED with pics

As you may remember from earlier in the season, I planned a cross-country journey to see as much baseball as I could possibly fit into a 17-day Pirates-centric itinerary.  Well, my days of roaming the Northeastern quadrant of the USA has come and (sadly) gone, but I have plenty of memories and reasonably-concise stories to share.  Some of you expressed an interest in hearing about my time on the road, so I'm here to provide a somewhat overdue summary.  Since I only had my phone with me, it became a bit of a chore to write up recaps during the trip, so I had to wait until after it was over.  I tried to incorporate as many of your regional recommendations as I could within the confines of my schedule, including my attempts to quaff a local ale in each city - for the most part, I was successful at that.  Beware: this WILL be lengthy, so grab a cup, a bottle or a flask of whatever you choose, sit back and relax...

I took a red-eye from Sacramento to Baltimore on Wed, June 15 and landed about noon that day.  An old college friend and I hit a microbrewery near BWI called DuClaw and I had a local beer they called Mayhem.  Compared to others I had on the trip, it wasn't great... just average.  After lunch, I drove to DC where I was lucky to crash at another old college friend's place for that night and for the final two nights of the trip... avoiding three nights of DC hotel costs is a big WIN.  I parked my rental, took the Metro to Nationals Park and enjoyed the home team's 10-0 throttling of our division rival Cardinals.  Pujols looked like a mess at 3B.  The park looked nice from my vantage point, but I never ventured far away from the bleachers since I was with a couple friends that I hadn't seen in years.  I returned to DC  a couple weeks later and looked around in more detail then. To be continued...

The next morning, I departed for Charleston, WV so I could watch the Power and the infamous Toast Man.  Colton Cain pitched that night and was very effective.  I had hoped to see Jameson Taillon, but the schedule wasn't in my favor.  Based on some intel from some of the WV locals that post here, I didn't expect to see any local beers at the stadium, so I settled on a Yuengling.  I knew that it was big in Pittsburgh, so I figured I'd give it a shot.  As it turns out, I thought it was actually pretty good, especially for a $2 tall can at the park (as opposed to the $8 glass I had a pretentious DC hotel bar later in the trip).  The game in Charleston was called after seven innings due to rain, but I got to see several acts of toast-slinging through the first few frames.  I also liked that the PA announcer/DJ/whatever seems to have the authority to play anything he wants for walk-up music.  Most of the opposition was taunted by the pop tunes of Britney, Christina, n'Sync, etc. as they approached the plate...

Friday's travels took me to Cincinnati for a visit to Great American Ballpark.  I've heard good things about the place and most of what I'd heard was true.  I stayed across the river in Kentucky and took a $1 shuttle to G.A.B. - you can't beat that price.  I took a lap around the park (and tried a local brew called Moerlein, a pale ale that I enjoyed) before the first pitch and it really appears to be a quality venue.  However, in my eyes (and I would assume the eyes of virtually everyone else here), it falls short of being in the same league as PNC Park mainly because there really isn't anything to look at across the river.  The stadium opens up in the outfield similarly to PNC, but all there is on the other side are Kentucky's hills.  It's nice, but that's all it is...

On Saturday, I drove up to Cleveland for a game against the Pirates.  I got to the Cleveland area early enough that I decided to take in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame before the game.  I'm glad I saw it and I'm sure that a true music lover would be in awe of all the memorabilia contained within, but I was able to breeze through in about 2 1/2 hours.  I like music, but the history doesn't really appeal to me.  Anyway, I took off from there around 5:00 and made the mile-or-so walk to Progressive Field (which I mistakenly thought was still known as Jacobs Field - damn corporations!)  Before entering the park, I stopped at a place called City Tap and got a beer called Great Lakes Eliot Ness - I liked that one a lot.  As you may recall, we got swept in the series and the Saturday game had almost nothing to ROOT for on our side, so it was largely a pretty demoralizing experience.  I liked Progressive, especially considering that it was one of the first of the new wave of stadiums before quirky, eye-catching landmarks became all the rage - I just wasn't in a very good mood that night considering the outcome and I didn't appreciate all the pro-Cleveland sentiment that surrounded me...

It didn't occur to me until that night that my schedule had so far taken me to all of the AFC North cities (Baltimore, Cincy, Cleveland) EXCEPT Pittsburgh.  Luckily, Sunday morning had me on my way to Pennsylvania for a game in Altoona.  I didn't expect it, but I really liked Altoona.  From what I saw, there wasn't a whole lot more than the main street leading from my hotel to the ballpark, but it seems to have just about all the major brand name stores and restaurants that anyone would want.  For a small town, I was fairly impressed.  I went to see the Curve that night and was blown away that there was a roller coaster just beyond the right field fence.  Our pitching was pretty dominant that day, as Irwin only allowed 2 hits through 6 innings with 0 ER and Morris came on for a 3 inning save. None of the offense did much to speak of...

The next day, I slept in and drove up to State College that afternoon to look at Penn State's campus and see the Spikes in one of their first home games of the year.  Thanks to some recommendations from assorted posters here, I went to Otto's for a tasty Mt. Nittany Pale Ale and looked around for "The Creamery" on campus.  I finally found it and enjoyed some locally-created ice cream before taking in the Spikes' game just across the street from Penn State's football stadium.  As luck would have it, Stetson Allie was making his professional debut that night.  (I snapped a picture of his official first-ever professional pitch.)  He did well through the first two innings, even striking out the first batter on just three pitches, but he maxed out at 94 MPH and got into trouble in the third, walking three batters before being taken out.  I'm glad to have seen him early in his career and I hope to see him again in meaningful situations in 3-5 years...

On Tuesday, I made a short drive into Pittsburgh for the first of two games against the Orioles.  I had a chance to see two games at PNC two years ago, so the stadium wasn't new to me, but this place blows me away every... single... time.  Again, I was lucky with my timing because the Tuesday game was the 40th-anniversary celebration of the 1971 World Series champions.  Everyone got a commemmorative stein and there was a pre-game ceremony honoring all of our Pirates from that season.  There must have been some dust, pollen, etc. in the air because my eyes got pretty moist when they introduced Roberto Clemente's family members.  I'm privileged to have been there on this day.

As we all know, our Pirates are competitive this year and they don't seem to be regressing as they hit the All-Star break only 1 game out of first place (nojinx nojinx nojinx).  It's fun to watch all the games at home on my cable system, but I very rarely get the opportunity to ROOT for my team with like-minded fans when the games actually matter.  This season has been a treat and I'm ecstatic that I got to watch important games (as they all are these days) at PNC.  To take the cake, we won both the Tuesday and Wednesday games that I attended.  So suck it, O's fans who insist on yelling "O!" during the national anthem for misguided self-serving reasons...  Show some damn respect!

Thursday, 6/23 was my first day to not see a baseball game on my trip.  Instead, I scheduled a day to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH.  I'll refrain from blathering on about football on this baseball blog, but I'm very glad to have seen this HOF as well.  It didn't blow me away, but it held my attention for 5-6 hours...  Also, during my time in Pittsburgh and Canton, I tried two East End brewery concoctions - Big Hop and Fat Gary (both very good) - and another Great Lakes creation (Dortmunder - also good).

On Friday, I drove up to Buffalo, NY.  This began the part of my trip where I was essentially killing time as I waited for a few of the Eastern seaboard teams to return home.  I knew that I wanted to hit Cooperstown and there weren't any other major league teams in the area, so I decided to go to a AAA game in Buffalo and follow it up with a AAA game in Syracuse on Saturday.  Both of their parks were nice, but nothing special... although I'll give the slight edge to Buffalo's park.  In Buffalo, I tried a Flying Bison Rusty Chain beer - overall, it was very ordinary, but I think I might have just been tiring of attempting to try new ales everywhere I went.  Also, before taking off for Syracuse, I took a 30-minute side trip from Buffalo up to Niagara Falls - it's an impressive sight and I'm glad I took the time to see it.  I had originally intended to drive to nearby Auburn, NY on Sunday to see a single-A game there, but I quickly realized that I didn't really care about seeing another super-tiny stadium sporting a game between two teams I didn't care about, so I chose to go to a Syracuse sports bar instead to watch the final Red Sox-Pirates game of that series.  I tried a local beer there, but I didn't write down what it was, so let's just say it was OK and move on...

Next on the schedule was my new favorite city in the world... Cooperstown, NY.  If you love baseball and you haven't been there, go.  Just go.  I was a little surprised when I first drove to the museum that there wasn't a parking lot in the immediate area.  It really is just a small town that happens to contain the greatest sports museum in the world.  I parked about a half mile away and enjoyed the walk down its main street (though I don't recall if it actually is Main Street).  The entire community is completely immersed in baseball.  I absolutely loved it.  I spent 8 1/2 hours at the Hall of Fame and, though I had seen everything there was to see, I didn't want to leave.  I stayed in the entrance/exit area for about 15 minutes before I left because I didn't want to regret leaving too early.  Again, if you haven't been to Cooperstown before, make sure you visit sometime in your life.  It's well worth it...

I drove that evening to an area that I thought was pretty close to NYC, but in actuality was about an hour away.  I knew that I would have to take a train into the city, but on Tuesday morning, my stomach was giving me some issues, so I decided not to go into Manhattan as I planned.  By the afternoon, I was feeling better and I took the train to the Bronx for a game between the Yankees (ugh) and the Brewers (double ugh).  I can't believe that I actually ROOTed for the Yanks to win a game - I truly wanted to punch myself in the face.  The exterior and the interior of Yankee Stadium is certainly impressive.  It feels as though the architects wanted a cathedral and I think they reached their goal.  However, as a decidedly non-Yankees fan, it wasn't that big of a deal for me to be there.  I couldn't look anywhere without being barraged with "27 championships!" banners.  Seriously, dial it down a notch, guys.  We know you're good.  Shut up already...  Putting me deeper into a foul mood (after paying $60 for my 2nd-level seat that was even with the right field foul pole) was the fact that I wanted to check out Monument Park and, despite getting to the back of the line 90 minutes before game time, I was told that the line was closed.  Really?  That's how you treat paying customers?  Thanks, but never again.  I've seen Yankee Stadium, and I don't need to see it again.  At least the Brewers lost (and it wasn't close)...

On Wednesday, I drove down to Philadelphia for what I had already known would be a tricky night.  The Red Sox were in town to play the Phillies and the game had been sold out for weeks.  I didn't secure a ticket ahead of time for any of the games on my trip, so I knew that it would be a difficult acquisition.  By this time, I was beginning to burn out on baseball a little bit (sacrilegious, I know) and I realized that the benefit of being able to see Citizens Bank Park was going to be outrageously offset by the public transportation to the stadium and likely paying an insane amount to see two teams that I really didn't care about either way.  For the second time in four days, I decided to skip a game and go to a sports bar instead (hoping that I could check out PIT @ TOR also).  Now, I do regret not going to the stadium, but I just wasn't into it that night - it was getting towards the end of a long trip and I can only defend myself by saying that it was the way I felt at the time.  Anyway, I had a nice dinner and tried a Philadelphia Pale Ale (pretty terrible) and a Sam Adams seasonal variety (so I could pretend that I went to Boston, too).  The next day, I drove into Philly and had an authentic cheese steak at Jim's Steaks and then drove near the stadium so I could at least get a couple pics from the outside...

Thursday's travels took me to Baltimore for a game between the O's and Cardinals.  Sadly, the Cards took this one, but I really liked Camden Yards.  It just feels like a baseball stadium...  Before the game, I took a lap around the exterior and found some BBQ vendors and a little bar selling something local that I heard referred to as "Natty Bo" (I believe it was Natural Bohemian - it was fairly awful, but it was cold and wet).  Either way, it's hard to beat two dogs and a beer for $5.  I think that Camden was my 2nd favorite stadium of the entire trip (after PNC, of course).  The "O!" during the national anthem remained startling and self-serving, however...

That night, I drove back to my friend's condo in DC and slept in the next morning before going to the Nationals game against the Pirates on Friday evening.  Before the game, I took the Metro to downtown DC to look around Capitol Mall for a little while.  I had been to DC in the past, so I didn't feel the need to sightsee all day, but it was nice to see a couple of the notable landmarks.  I couldn't find either of the breweries that had been recommended to me in DC, so I settled for an overpriced Yuengling at a hotel bar before taking the Metro to the stadium.  I saw a large number of Pirates fans at the game, but alas, we couldn't make the difference as 68-year-old Matt Stairs hit a walkoff single to win it.  Nationals Park looks nice overall, but there isn't really a distinguishing feature about it.  It's fine, but not much more...  During batting practice, I managed to snag a baseball in the left-field stands after it bounced a couple rows in front of me.  It doesn't really count because it was batting practice, but still... I got a ball!  About damn time, too... :-)

On Saturday, I drove back to Baltimore to turn in my rental and fly back home to reality.  In the end, I accumulated 2,594 driving miles through 9 states and 1 District, watching 13 games (8 major, 5 minor) in 11 different parks and also visiting 3 Halls of Fame.  Looking back, 17 days may have been an attempt to bite off more than I can chew, but I came away unscathed and my love of baseball remains intact.  I saw the Pirates twice on the road (0-2) and twice at home (2-0) and I saw their Charleston, Altoona and State College affiliates as well.

I've wanted to do something like this for a few years now and I'm glad that I finally made it happen.  Thanks to everyone for suggesting all of the various local breweries, eateries, etc. that helped round out the trip.  I know that this turned into a mega-post with an out of control word count, but if you made it this far, thanks very much for reading.  I appreciate the insight and knowledge that you all provide to me about baseball and, more specifically, Pirates baseball every day, so hopefully I'm returning some small percentage of value to you through this post. 

And who knows?  Maybe I'll see you at a game someday...  :-)


UPDATE:  I've made some of my pics available on Flickr and I've tried to include an active link here, but I can't seem to make it work.  Cocktailsfor2 saved me and created the link (look for "awesome pix" - he's too kind...) in one of his comments down below - you can use that or cut-and-paste the following address to get to the pics.  Thanks!

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the managing editor (Charlie) or SB Nation. FanPosts are written by Bucs Dugout readers.

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