Less Me, More We

Over the past several years, I gradually became a more selfish person.

It didn’t happen on purpose, and it doesn’t align with who I am or want to be. But more than one of the people who know me best said they noticed it, and it didn’t take a whole lot of self-examination to realize they were right. Over the same time period, I also began self-imploding. On this I needed no outside warning — I knew it myself. I began drinking too much, even at work. I spent money on frivolous shit, despite money management being one of the few things I’ve naturally been good at my whole life. I quit taking my job as seriously as I should have, working fewer hours as well as allowing my performance to slip below my standard. I disengaged physically and emotionally from my family, seeking escape from a reality that 99% of the world would trade for theirs in a heartbeat.

I had to fight the urge to punch myself in the face. I didn’t want to kill myself because I knew the pain it caused me when my dad did it, but I was actively rooting for something bad to happen to me.

I found the recipe for the cocktail of my own destruction — one part dumbass, one part asshole.

I’ve been open about my struggles with depression, and while that still carries a social stigma, it’s easier than owning up to things I’m personally responsible for fucking up.

If you put cow manure in a microwave, you shouldn’t expect to see (or smell) a filet mignon when you open the door. Yeah, I have anxiety and depression — occasionally malfunctioning brain chemicals and all that — but there were a lot of things within my control that needed to be changed.

Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those “views from the other side of the mountain” posts. I don’t pretend to have everything — or even anything — figured out. I’m not trying to give advice. I still have lots of work to do, and there are things I need to make right. There’s also the possibility that things could go backwards from here.

But I have made progress to be proud of, and for that I have lots of people to thank. Some I’ve known almost my whole life, others I’ve just met as I’ve gotten involved in new groups and activities.

So thank you, in no particular order, to

  • Chad — You had to listen to hours of my bullshit, starting way before anyone outside my family knew there was anything wrong. You put up with me for a weekend baseball trip that was dampened by my disposition. Thanks for being everything one could look for in a best friend.
  • The guests, employees and fellow volunteers at City Care — It’s been such a blessing to meet so many amazing people there. I look forward to every Wednesday night. I’m receiving much more than I’m giving there.
  • Mike — I haven’t even seen you since you moved roughly 1 million miles away but you helped talk me through one of the lowest nights of my life. Love you man.
  • Brian, Grady and the rest of the Southside Warriors — I always used to make fun of men’s groups that meet at some ungodly hour before the sun comes up. But now that I’m in one I am learning firsthand the value of iron sharpening iron and implementing tools that make all of us better men.
  • Scooter, Byron, Jamesy, Rychy (can’t put his nickname on here) and the rest of my true poker and ex-poker friends (too many to name them all) — Thanks for being less gossip-y than others in the community and looking out for my best interests. Thanks for understanding when I couldn’t come to the last get-together, and didn’t drink at the one before that.
  • Summer — EMDR therapy has been a huge game-changer for me in dealing with stuff about my dad as well as how to move forward through the mess I’ve made. I’m glad I found you.
  • Clay, UNChurch, and my homies at Omerta — My relationship with Christianity and the church is complicated right now, so it’s been a blessing that God put it on Clay’s heart to start UNChurch (we meet at the Stag Lounge every other Saturday). The idea is to cut out the theological and political bullshit that clouds the message and example of Jesus. Cigars might give me cancer but they’ve also introduced me to a lot of amazing people. Calvin…I will be better than you at chess someday.
  • Keith, Josh, Ryan, Gibby, Zach and other friends that have known me since I was a virgin — The definition of a loyal friend is one who is there for you in different decades and on different continents.
  • Dave, Daniel and my Sunday night crew — It turns out I’m not the only person in the world going through some of this stuff. Thanks for the friendship, accountability, encouragement and strength you give me.
  • Will and Francine — Francine, thanks for consistently checking on me, sending me things and battling the robots on BBO with me. Your loyalty is priceless. Will, so much of this came from advice you gave me. Your honesty keeps me in check. As far as bridge…eventually I might be okay at it.
  • Mom, Allison and Andrew — I know I’ve pulled back from you over the last few months. Know that I love you all and value your support and prayers.
  • Addie, Myra, Maddux and Hawk — If you happen to stumble upon this when you’re old enough to remember what was going on, know that I needed every single one of those drawings, hugs, kisses and games. I love you more than you’ll ever know.

Trust me, I didn’t forget about Missy. The internet isn’t big enough to hold everything I need to say to her, and I don’t want to give her a half-assed paragraph. I know I’ve revealed a lot of personal shit here and in other posts, but it’s not my place to tell her business. She is an amazing woman. I’ll let everything else be between the two of us.

In general, I’ve taken more than I’ve given over the last few years. I also realize that I used the word “I” about 175 times in a blog about being less selfish.

Today, it’s about making the next right decision. It’s about having pure intentions and grace for myself and others when the execution doesn’t match the idea. I want to be there for you in the same way so many others have been there for me. Let’s build each other up.

Matt and Chad’s definitive ranking of MLB parks we have seen

Basketball courts and football fields are all essentially the same, but baseball parks are unique. That uniqueness affects both the game on the field and the fan experience. A lazy fly ball to left is a routine out at most ballparks, but can easily clear the Green Monster for a home run at Fenway Park. Taking in a game at PNC Park is a fully immersive Pittsburgh experience, as the stadium’s designers did a wonderful job melding the Allegheny River, the downtown skyline and the Roberto Clemente bridge with the city’s classic yellow and black colors.

Chad and I have been on two extended baseball road trips (Kevin joined us for the first one in 2002). Since our second tour in 2015, we’ve tried to make an annual weekend out of hitting one baseball outpost and seeing what the city has to offer. This year, that’s not going to happen (“yer a bum, COVID-19!”), so we decided to take an inventory of all the stadiums we have visited and rank them.

We’re including stadiums that have since been retired or demolished, as well as stadiums where we only went for a tour or where our game was rained out. I’ve visited 20 stadiums in my life; Chad is at 24. We’ve both been to most of the stadiums on this list since we’ve attended many of these games together, but Chad had a few extra picks at the end since his list is a bit longer. I commandeered the first pick because I would have murdered him if he tried to take Wrigley Field away from me.

This blog is appearing identically on both our blogs and ironically on his. Luckylifestories.com (mine) is an apt title for a guy who gets to travel around the country to watch baseball and drink beer, while stayathomechad.com is writing about times when Chad did not stay at home.

1. Wrigley Field, Chicago (Matt)

Kevin, Matt, and Chad stand outside Murphy’s Bleachers before staking out a spot in Wrigley’s bleachers, 2002.
Andre Dawson jersey
Paying homage to the “Hawk” with a jersey purchase, 2015.

My high school graduation present was my first trip to Wrigley. We sat in the bleachers and I was scolded by security for leaning over the wall and snatching a piece of ivy. My college graduation present (to myself) was a baseball road trip with Chad and Kevin. I felt like crap the entire time which I later found out was due to having mono. Still, I managed to snag two batting practice home runs on the same day at Wrigley.

I once sat through two separate 3-hour rain delays and saw every pitch of a 14-inning game that started at 2 p.m. and ended at 1 a.m. There were so few people left in the stadium by the end of it that mom and I were able to sit on the third row behind the Cubs dugout.

I’ve been back twice since the giant video boards were added, and they don’t take away from the experience at all. You still have the neighborhood feel, the local bars, the old scoreboard, the ivy and the view of Lake Michigan.

I named my oldest kid after the street Wrigley is located on. Need I say more?

2. Camden Yards, Baltimore (Chad)

Chad’s first visit to Baltimore in 2000. Boog’s Bar-B-Q ranks among the best MLB stadium food.

Baltimore receives credit for sparking the ballpark building craze in the early 90s, with ample nods to history and vintage design. The brick B&O Warehouse in right field defines the park’s stunning aesthetics. The Orioles seem to have a supportive fan base, in good times and bad, with Cal Ripken Jr. serving as its god among men. A big plus is the Inner Harbor area. It is a picturesque setting just steps from the ball yard with colorful buildings, sailboats, and an abundance of top-notch seafood. Also in the neighborhood is Babe Ruth’s childhood home, with a decent little museum dedicated to the Bambino.

I’ve been to Camden Yards three times. The most memorable came in 2001 when I was a U.S. Senate intern. This was before the Washington Nationals existed, and I wanted to catch a ballgame while I was in the Beltway for the summer. So I rented a minivan and crammed in all of my office’s interns (definitely more people than a minivan should hold) for the 45-minute trip to Baltimore. I was 22 at the time, and probably shouldn’t have been able to rent a vehicle, but flashing a Senate badge goes a long way in D.C., or at least it did then.

To be honest, it’s probably a crime that we ranked this above Fenway, but we did this blog draft style and I wasn’t invited on Matt’s Boston trip (cough cough), so what can you do?

3. Fenway Park, Boston (Matt)

Much like Wrigley, Fenway sits smack in the middle of a neighborhood. There will never be parks like those anymore, and those two are so unique and cool that they really should be separated from every other park on this list.

In college, two of my journalism friends got summer internships at The Boston Globe, so I saved up a little money and flew up for a weekend. We got to the park early, walked around the neighborhood and all around the stadium before settling into our crappy seats in dead center field about 520 feet away from home plate. We took pictures standing next to the left field foul pole right next to the green monster (this was before there was seating atop the monster). It was a fun day, and I’d love to go back.

4. PNC Park, Pittsburgh (Chad)

If stadiums can no longer go into neighborhoods, the next best thing is downtown. I love a good urban view, and no one has come close to doing it as well as Pittsburgh. The Roberto Clemente Bridge is such a cool backdrop. Really, the whole city is cool. All of the major sports teams have the same colors, and it seems like the whole city is adorned in yellow and black. We spent a lot of time walking the Allegheny River between the ballpark and Rivers Casino. Between the two is Heinz Field, home of the Steelers. The fan base is second to none. I feel sorry for them because the Pirates have had bad luck in wild-card games and they missed their small window for a championship. But I’d go back to Pittsburgh in a heartbeat no matter how good or bad the Pirates were.

My only complaint was that the ballpark feels like it was built on a lot that was too small. The sacrifice came in the concourses, where it was wall-to-wall humanity the entire game. Expect to miss a full inning in order to tinkle or buy a Primanti Brothers sandwich.

5. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City (Matt)

In 2002, Kauffman served as the launching pad for an epic baseball road trip.

Many would say I’ve ranked this too high, but there’s a simplistic beauty to this stadium that I really enjoy. The fountains are a nice touch, and they’ve added a craft beer section with great stuff from Boulevard.

The first time I visited was on that college graduation road trip with Kevin and Chad. I remember “tailgating” with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the parking lot because we were too poor to afford anything better.

Chad’s bachelor party included a game at Kauffman, and that was a lot of fun too. With Chad living pretty close to Kansas City now, he gets to go to a fair number of Royals games. I stole this stadium in the draft but I’ll let him pick out a picture to go with it.

6. Coors Field, Denver (Chad)

Best seat in the house, 2018.

It took me multiple visits to find the best seat at Coors Field, but I finally settled on it a couple of years ago. It is the front row of the upper deck on the first base side. From there, you can see a wide panoramic view of the game as well as the majestic Rocky Mountain peaks just beyond the right field scoreboard. Oh, and lest I forget the sky. Most nights it fills up with a spectacular orange and purple splay at sunset.

The revitalized downtown neighborhood is fun, particularly if you are a craft beer fan. We have spent time before and after games at Wynkoop, Breckenridge, and Prost, among others.

In many ways, the structure itself is similar to its mid-90s contemporaries. It’s a very nice, clean ballparks with vintage vibes and great sight lines all around. But simply being in Colorado is enough to fill me with joy, so for the game day experience and natural views, Colorado has those rivals beat by a mile (high).

7. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati (Matt)

There are two reasons this one is so high up on my list. First is the Reds Hall of Fame. Chad and I spent a good hour or so in there before the game started, and I just love the history. A lot of Johnny Bench stuff, which we have to love as native Oklahomans.

I also liked how wide the concourses were. It bugs me when I want to get a beer or take a leak between innings only to get jammed up in a sea of people on the concourse. Great American is the first class section of ballpark concourses. There were also lots of good food and drink options, and a view of downtown Cincy similar to what you get at PNC in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is just a little prettier to look at in my opinion.

8. (Old) Yankee Stadium, New York (Chad)

The ecstasy of a pre-game stroll through Monument Park.

Let me preface by saying I have had the worst luck with baseball in The Bronx. When I went to the old stadium in 2000, we sat and watched rain fall for several hours until the game against the Red Sox was postponed. Strike one. In October 2011, I went to New York for business and I bought a ticket for the Yankees’ second-round playoff series in their new stadium. However, the Yankees lost to the Tigers in the first round, rendering my ticket useless. Strike two. The next time I went to NYC in 2016, the Yanks were out of town. Strike three.

But I saw enough of the the House that Ruth Built during that rainout in 2000 to declare its majesty. Walking through Monument Park was especially satisfying. The enormity of the stadium, and I assume its successor, is stunning. Hopefully I’ll get to see the new one on my next visit to the Big Apple.

The fan base is simply nuts. A beer vendor appeared out of nowhere and shouted “WHOOOOO’S DRINKING HERE?” and a fan responded “WE’RE ALLLLLLL DRINKING HERE!” and the rest of the section cheered – and drank – as the rain fell. That’s about the nicest story I can recount about Yankee fans. They are bold and brash and obnoxious, home or away (“27 RIIIIIIINGS!!!!!”). I used to be one of them, but at some point I couldn’t even tolerate myself anymore.

The agony of a multi-hour rain delay. (I don’t know what’s going on with my mouth in this pic. In the film camera days, there were no re-shoots.)

9. Target Field, Minneapolis (Matt)

I loved Minneapolis as a whole. Reminds me a lot of Oklahoma City. I was really surprised by the craft beer scene there, surpassed only by San Diego among cities I’ve been to. We got lucky on the weather when we were there too.

The stadium itself is modern and cool, in the mold of Pittsburgh/Cincinnati/St. Louis where you get a good feel and view of the whole downtown area.

Of the two games we attended there, my main memory has nothing to do with baseball. The guy sitting directly in front of us proposed to his girlfriend on the jumbotron, and she said yes. So Chad and I were on the video getting excited for this newly engaged couple. And we had already had a couple beers so we were maybe even a little more excited than we should have been.

10. Progressive Field, Cleveland (Chad)

We were happy members of #TRIBETOWN for one wild Friday night.

I think I am safe in speaking for Matt when I say Progressive Field was the best surprise of our 2015 tour. Before we went, I knew the Indians had seen a lot of success in the mid-90s and had an impressive streak of selling out the stadium. But that was a while ago. I hadn’t heard much about the Indians and their fans since. But when we visited, the stadium was packed and we had a blast.

Pre-game, Matt played poker downtown, and I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Eventually we met up and had a couple beers at the Clevelander Bar. From there we hit the stadium. It struck me as a very vertical stadium, which may not make a ton of sense, but it felt like the decks were stacked directly on top of each other. Despite sitting in the outfield, I felt like we were on top of the action. The fans around us, rooting for both the Indians and the Twins, were a lot of fun. Not annoying at all, but providing great conversation and fun teasing. It didn’t hurt that the game was an action-packed affair that ended in a 10-9 Twins victory. After the game, the Indians put on the most intense fireworks show I’ve ever seen. Not the biggest or brightest, but definitely the loudest. Overall, we came away with a positive impression of a vibrant downtown and an excellent stadium.

11. Chase Field, Phoenix (Matt)

The season was still a week away, but the Chase Field pool appeared to be in mid-season form.

Last year, Chad and I went to Phoenix for a few days of spring training, which was a fun wrinkle. We took a stadium tour of the Diamondbacks home, something I’d never done before.

It was cool to see the inside of the stadium, such as the clubhouse and the dugout. In the entryway to the home dugout was a metal horizontal bar bolted to the ceiling. Our tour guide informed us that this was installed when Randy Johnson was pitching for the team, and he would hang from it to stretch his back between innings. I had always thought stadium tours were just a weak money grab, but tidbits like that changed my mind.

The poker players of Phoenix took some of my money on that trip, so maybe one of these days I’ll exact my revenge during a baseball season and actually watch a game at Chase Field.

12. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles (Chad)

This one is hard for me to rank, because I went there when I was only 6, and my memories are definitely colored by 35 years of watching games on television. To put that in perspective, I went there three years BEFORE Kurt Gibson’s miraculous walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series. But still, it holds good memories for me, as I watched the Dodgers square off against the Cincinnati Reds team that featured Pete Rose as a player-manager. Plus I really like the vibrant colors of the southern California yard, the hills and palm trees in the distance, and the cool 60s angles on the signs and overhangs in the outfield.

(Quick aside from Matt: My first MLB game was at Dodger Stadium, and it was during that 1988 season. Fernando Valenzuela got shelled. We sat on the very top row. I don’t remember much else about it).

13. Comerica Park, Detroit (Matt)

Will the statue of racist prick Ty Cobb remain at Comerica Park?

I’ve only spent one day in Detroit in my whole life. We drove across to Canada during the day before a 7 p.m. Tigers/Red Sox game, spent 20 minutes there and then got detained at the border trying to cross back into the United States. That was a bit unsettling, but after a couple of hours at the border patrol we got out in time for the game.

The seats we actually purchased were the worst ones I’ve ever sat in. They were temporary bleachers tucked under the actual bleachers beyond the left field wall. We decided to forego those and just roam around the stadium the entire game.

Like Kauffman and its Boulevard section, Comerica has a great craft beer bar from Founders. Chad and I drank a lot of beer on that 2015 road trip but the best was the Red Rye IPA we got at that bar. I also remember spending an inning or two talking to and older local man who told us stories about the old Tiger Stadium. Having conversations with strangers who also love baseball is one of the best things about going to a ballgame.

14. Petco Park, San Diego (Chad)

Everything about San Diego is bright and beautiful, including your blog author.

This is another park that I have visited, but unfortunately I have not seen a game there. Our family was in San Diego a few years ago smack dab between the World Baseball Classic and MLB’s Opening Day. We didn’t a chance for any games, but we took a tour of Petco anyway. Like Camden Yards, this one features an historic building facade (Western Metal Supply Co.) as part of the stadium. We went in that building and it has a pretty sweet bar and some swanky pool tables, as well as the Padres’ store.

When we came outside, the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs were practicing for Opening Day, and it felt like they were falling right over our heads and landing on the field. I’d still prefer a baseball game, but that was a cool consolation prize and great memory. San Diego is a beautiful place and its ballpark fits right in.

15. Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago (Matt)

The stadium itself is absolutely nothing special at all.

Having said that, it was the only stadium on our 2015 tour that let us sit wherever we wanted. So we bought crappy seats and never even bothered to check them out. We sat in the lower section and watched Chris Sale pitch to Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and the Angels.

We also found out that GRF has some of the best ballpark food in the country, but unfortuntely we didn’t find this out until after our visit there. We ate at a sports bar across the street before the game and weren’t hungry once we got inside, but the smells were amazing. Won’t make the same mistake again if I ever go back.

16. The Ballpark in Arlington (Chad)

Matt and I went to Arlington for Opening Day in 2009. President Bush, less than three months after leaving the White House, threw out the first pitch.

I’ve seen quite a few games in Arlington, since most of my life I lived only 3 1/2 hours away in Oklahoma City. The park that opened in 1994 is truly beautiful, and for most of my life I would have ranked it in the top 10, but now it is retired and will probably continue to slide down the list into history.

The main reason for this stadium’s early demise is the brutal Texas summer heat. I can attest, it is miserable. I have lost many pounds sweating at Rangers games, even into the night. One year I took my parents to an opening weekend game, hoping that early April would be mild enough for us to enjoy a day game. It wasn’t. I’m looking forward to seeing the new roofed stadium, although I predict it may suffer some of the same problems of Minute Maid in Houston (see below).

One good memory is when Matt and I both took our families to a Cubs-Rangers game in 2007 and witnessed Sammy Sosa becoming the 5th player to hit 600 home runs. I still think it’s crazy he hit that milestone AGAINST the Cubs.

17. Marlins Park, Miami (Matt)

Sure, it’s wonky, and I was there when they still had the goofy home run art piece in center. But it did offer a wide concourse with solid beer options, interesting dimensions and a bobblehead museum that I spent at least an inning and a half at.

Overall, I’d say this stadium gets a bit of an unfair bad wrap. But maybe that’s what it deserves for charging the citizens of Miami a buttload of tax dollars to build it and then putting a Triple-A caliber team on the field.

18. (Current) Busch Stadium, St. Louis (Chad)

Sweating my face off in 2006.

The first time I went to Busch III during its inaugural season of 2006, it was over 100 degrees for a day game. Baptism by fire, I suppose. The downtown views of the Gateway Arch are solid. The stadium itself, I found a little generic and underwhelming. The food selection was also not great (Carls Jr burgers? Get out of here!)

We waited many years for the Ballpark Village next door, but again, I was a disappointed. While I’ve certainly had fun with friends there, the entire thing is apparently owned and/or operated by Anheuser-Busch, which means the beer sucks and the food is mediocre. The atmosphere seems so sterile and manufactured, rather than feeling gritty and natural (like Wrigleyville).

Cardinals fans are passionate, there’s no doubt, but their park is middle-of-the-pack at best.

19. Minute Maid Park, Houston (Matt)

Chad attended Opening Day in Houston in 2012.

I found this one to be highly disappointing. The coolest thing about it was the flag pole on a hill that was in play in centerfield, but they got rid of that for safety reasons.

The left field fence is way too close, yielding cheap homers. Texas beers generally suck and the team cheats. Yes, we’re to that point on the list.

(If Matt can do an aside, so can Chad: Here’s the deal about Minute Maid. If the weather is decent and the roof is open, it is a top-10 baseball cathedral. The train is especially cool. But if the roof is closed, and it almost always is, the stadium has all the ambiance of a 1990s shopping mall on a Tuesday morning.)

20. Citi Field, New York (Chad)

When I sent this fiery sunset pic to Matt, he responded, “This is why baseball is the best sport.”

Luckily my New York curse did not extend to Queens. We took in a ballgame in ’16 while we were in New York for Aften’s medical conference. The tennis U.S. Open was also going on, and I wish I could have gone to that, too. We entered Citi Field through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. You have to get past the fact that Jackie played for the Dodgers and not the Mets, and he played in Brooklyn and not Queens, but it’s still a neat tribute. The exterior facade of the park is also apparently a nod to Ebbets Field and the Home Run Apple from Shea Stadium is there for cool photo ops. The inside of the park is nice enough, although I didn’t get to explore much because I was wrangling a 7-month old. The biggest memory is a beautiful baseball sky sunset that was almost as good as Colorado.

Pro tips for visiting Citi Field: 1) If you are going to a night game in rush hour, take the express train and not the local that makes every stop in Queens like we stupidly did. 2) If you like real-deal Chinese food, go one subway stop further to Chinatown in Flushing for your pre-game eats. There is a hidden underground food court that has amazing dumplings and a ton of other good food. Then take the subway back one stop for the game. 3) Buy your return subway ticket BEFORE the game or make sure you have an all-day ticket. You do not want to be stuck in the line (there are literally only two machines for 40K fans) buying tickets after the game, or even in the 6th inning because you brought a baby and you have to get back to Manhattan so this kid can get some sleep already! (I never ever ever leave a game early, but there are some fights a man just cannot win.)

21. Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta (Matt)

I was incredibly lucky on the two games I attended here. The first, when the Braves were terrible, was a game in which Dale Murphy homered twice in the same inning, one of which was a grand slam.

The second involved a fire in one of the suites before the game started, leading to a long delay. This was 1993, and the Braves had just traded for star first baseman Fred McGriff. In his first game with the team, after waiting out the fire delay, McGriff hit a grand slam that sent the stadium into a frenzy. The Braves went on to run down the Giants by one game in one of the most epic divisional title races ever. But let’s be honest, the stadium itself sucked.

22. Angels Stadium, Anaheim (Chad)

My parents took my sister and me to Angels Stadium on July 4, 1989. I was 10. It was a vacation that was filled with a lot of sickness, as my family members passed around a stomach bug. By the time the game rolled around, I was feeling fine, but I can’t say the same for my parents. Big credit to them for sticking it out because the payoff was truly epic. Tony Armas Sr. hit a 3-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th with two outs to beat the Rangers, 5-2. That led to by far the best fireworks display I had ever seen at that point in my life. I remember getting a little teary at the patriotic music. Big feelings for a 10-year-old.

I admit I don’t really remember much about the stadium. One detail I recall is that we were sitting down the left field line, and it felt like our seats were facing directly at the left fielder, making it uncomfortable to turn our heads to watch 98 percent of the action taking place on the infield. Angels Stadium has been renovated a few times since 1989, so hopefully they corrected that issue. Still, my overall impression of this stadium is that it is serviceable but not necessarily special, kind of like the Angels themselves outside of the GOAT Mike Trout.

23. Miller Park, Milwaukee (Matt)

We got Wood! And unfortunately, also mono.

I could be biased here, because the Brewers are division rivals with the Cubs and also because my only visit came on that 2002 trip when I had mono, but I was completely underwhelmed. The stadium had a fake-looking rusty-steel exterior, and that damn Bernie Brewer slide is annoying. The hot dog race is kind of cool, though.

24. (Old) Busch Stadium, St. Louis (Chad)

I went to a number of games at Busch II during my childhood. The time that comes to mind first was during a 1988 vacation that we made down the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Memphis.

In a game against the Giants, future Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Smith hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 7th to tie the game and the place came unglued. Ozzie only hit 28 dingers in 2,573 career games, so there was about a 1 percent chance that it would happen in any given game.

The little arches that encircled the top of the stadium were cool. But the shape of the stadium, plus artificial turf, plus Midwest humidity, made the place the worlds largest air fryer. I also remember being supremely annoyed when I was a child at the number of beer vendors that Busch II had in the stands. Like, way way too many beer vendors. It was distracting. I certainly didn’t shed any tears when St. Louis broke ground on a replacement in the aughts.

25. Arlington Stadium, Arlington (Matt)

My dad took me to one or two games there when I was little. I don’t remember much about it, except it reminds me of both the old All-Sports Stadium in Oklahoma City and the old Milwaukee park in which they filmed “Major League” (Yes, even though it was the Cleveland Indians they filmed the games in Milwaukee). There’s a reason those stadiums no longer stand.

26-29. The rest of my list (Chad)

A Father’s Day walk-off for Ryan Zimmerman, 2006. Note the soccer players at the top of the upper deck.

If you’ve made it this far, I applaud your resiliency and I’ll make quick work of the rest of my list, mostly because they either are retired or I don’t remember much about them.

  • Candlestick Park, San Francisco. Swirling, cold wind in the middle of summer, and Barry Bonds went 0/4 (cue Nelson from the Simpsons saying “haha!”) in a day game in 1993.
  • Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego. Mom got an up-close look at one of her favorite players, Ron Darling, during his incredibly short Expos stint (“he’s so darling!”).
  • Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Washington, D.C. I went to a three-game Yankees-Nats series on Father’s Day weekend in 2006. On Sunday, Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off home run with his dad in the stands, which was awesome. The stadium was adorned with images of DC United soccer players, which was definitely not awesome.
  • Oakland Coliseum, Oakland. I can’t believe baseball is still being played in this sewage-spewing dump. The best memory I have from that 1993 trip is that a man hopped the centerfield wall wearing only a jersey, and ran and slid into second base before being arrested. “That’s gonna leave a mark!”

What’s next (Chad)

This year will be the first since 1995 that I will not attend a Major League Baseball game. Who knows what 2021 will hold for pandemics and sports. But eventually, we will get back to attending live games, and we certainly have a few stadiums on our wish list.

The first glaring omission on our list is that Oracle Park in San Francisco is not in our top-5, because unfortunately we have not been there yet. I have long wanted to go for multiple games, and spend at least one day in the bay with a kayak, radio, and a fishing net to catch home runs. It will be interesting to see how this much-heralded park could shake up our list.

In fact, it’s a dream of mine to do an entire West Coast run, because Matt and I both need to actually see a game at Petco, we need an adult re-do in LA, and Matt’s brother Andrew just moved to Seattle, which also has a nice modern yard.

As far as the rest of the country goes, of course we could always use a few days to visit both stadiums in NYC. I need my shot at Fenway. And we both need to see the Phillies’ and Nationals’ relatively new digs. Two other stops that we will likely make soon are the new parks in Atlanta and Texas. In fact, we were making plans to visit Texas before COVID-19 changed everything. Tampa and Toronto have never been big draws for us, but I would visit them if it meant clearing my list. If the pandemic goes on long enough, I may have enough credit card miles racked up to put on a mask and go everywhere in North America.

Hit us up in the comments to let us know your favorite MLB stadiums, your thoughts on our list, and where we should go next.

Zero plays, One Penalty

The group of guys I play basketball with are all around my age. Today, however, I got stuck trying to guard a homeschooled high school kid who was quite a bit quicker than I was. He was also in better shape, which he exploited by running me all over the court. At the end, while I was huffing and puffing, I told him, “Don’t turn 40, kid.” He said, “I got 24 years before that happens!”

If you’re reading this, Enrique, you’re a punk. (Just kidding). Enrique said he went to Westmoore earlier this year before he switched to home schooling. That got me thinking about what I was doing when I was his age, being a smart aleck like Enrique while attending WHS.

I was a pretty quiet kid at Westmoore. Tried not to be noticed. Mainly just hung out in the newspaper room or with Kevin and Chad. But this one particular incident put me in the spotlight for 15 minutes. I wrote about it on my old blog a few years back but figured it was worth a re-run.

I’ve pretty much been doing journalism my whole life. My first job, when I was 16, was doing sports stories for the oldĀ Moore AmericanĀ newspaper. It was a free weekly paper that was choc full of errors and probably not worth lining your bird cage with, but they paid me $10/hour and it was a pretty good experience for an aspiring sportswriter.
When I was 17, based on my clear mastery of the English language and complete grasp of the Westmoore High School sports universe, I got hired to do public address announcing for junior high and junior varsity football games in Moore.
It was a fun job, and I was basically just flying by the seat of my pants. It’s not like they gave me any training or instruction whatsoever. They just handed me a mic and told me to announce the down, distance, and whatever happened on the previous play.
Sometimes my friend Kevin would go to the games with me and help me spot who made the tackle and what yard-line the ball was on, etc. The first few weeks I tried to be professional and whatnot, but a junior high game we did one night changed everything.
As always, we went down on the field before the game to get the rosters for both teams. Well, this night, one coach said, “I didn’t bring one. Just make up the names. I don’t care.”
Of course, Kev and I went to town. We made up names for everyone on the team and used them over the PA throughout the game. We used a wide array of names, from celebrities (this was the 1990s, so I think Vanilla Ice was playing QB), to NFL players (Barry Sanders at RB), to the classic adolescent laugh-getters (starting at receiver, Ceymour Butts).
Nobody complained, and it was a heckuva a lot more fun than doing the job right.
My favorite games to work were the Westmoore JV games, because I was a junior at Westmoore and the team consisted of all my friends. Also, we had a really good JV football team which I think went undefeated.
One night, I was doing a JV game and we were beating the tar out of another hapless foe. I started taking a few liberties with the mic.

“That’s yet another touchdown for the mighty Jaguars.”

“Matt Fallwell slices through the defense like they’re not even there.”

“Incomplete pass for Del City. What a shame.” And so forth.

Late in the game, we scored to make it 49-0. This touchdown was punctuated by another obnoxious call from the PA announcer. On the ensuing kickoff, Del City returned it for a touchdown but there was a penalty which negated the score. This was the call from the booth.
“Ohhhhh! The 15 Del City fans still in attendance are in a state of shock as their only chance to score has been wiped out by an illegal block in the back.”
Then the ref threw another flag. I said, “It looks like there’s another penalty on the play,” and the ref starts pointing up at the press box, right at me actually. He signaled unsportsmanlike conduct on us and marked off 15 yards. I got a penalty from the press box!
On cue, one of our principals stormed into the booth and literally ripped the microphone plug from the wall, leaving me holding the useless stub. I was a little relieved to see our coaches in the next booth cracking up.
Fortunately, all my friends on the football team thought it was hilarious too. I was worried they might not be too pleased that a guy who never played a down of football in his life cost them 15 yards, but I guess the 49-0 score mitigated that.
To this day, I like to think that I’m the only person who’s ever gotten a penalty from the press box in a sport I never played.
Somehow, my shenanigans didn’t even end up costing me my job. I got lectured in the principal’s office at school the next day and forced to sit in the booth at a varsity game so I could learn from the old fart who did the PA at those. (Bo-ring!) I cleaned up my act after that, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun.

Liar’s Poker

This week’s blog is just going to be a quick rant about a topic 98% of you won’t know or care about. For you, here’s a cute cat gif.

In poker, when someone bets and everyone folds, the hand is over. The person with the winning hand does not need to show their cards. Generally, it is not in their best interest to do so, as it would give opponents information about how they played the hand.

Of course, if they want to show their hand, they can. If someone makes an extremely rare hand like a straight flush or four of a kind, they will usually show it. It’s not like opponents can really glean anything from a hand that comes up that infrequently anyway, and it’s just fun to see such a good hand.

So here’s what’s been bugging me. For some reason it’s been happening a lot in the games I’ve been in, and I feel that as a true patriot and gentleman I need to do my tiny bit to help stop it.

Someone will win a hand with a bet, decide not to show their cards, and then spend the next 10 minutes trying to convince the guy who folded that he bluffed.

One reason this has become more and more of a problem is that it seems to work. Dipshits will just take this information at face value and waste everyone’s time discussing their thought process and how “I thought it might have been a bluff” and “I really couldn’t call” and “I didn’t have anything either” and “but yeah it makes sense” and “good bet” and “man, I almost called you” and “nice play”.

I’d rather swallow your tobacco juice than listen to this crap.

Last week a guy won a pot and said, “that river was the only card I could win with.” The guy who lost didn’t respond. First guy said, “I mean, I didn’t have anything. That was just the only card where I could get away with the bluff.” Second guy still didn’t say anything. First guy said, “It had to put the four-card straight out there, or else I wouldn’t have even tried to bluff it.” Second guy still didn’t say anything and is now my favorite poker player even though I don’t know him because he made the first guy look like a complete douchenozzle.

Just take the pot and shut up.

The other day, I played a pot where a guy check-raised all in. I had a queen high flush. I thought he had a better flush, so I folded. If I had thought he didn’t have a better flush I would have called, because that’s how the game of poker works.

So he mucks his cards face down and then looks at me and says, “I didn’t have a flush.” He proceeded to tell me which cards he claimed to have and start in on this dime-store novel of a BS story I didn’t want to hear. So I cut him off and said, “I don’t believe you. It literally would have taken you one second to turn your cards over and prove that you bluffed me. Now you’ve spent a minute trying to convince me. I’m always just going to assume I made the right decision unless someone actually shows me otherwise.”

Kind of felt like Braveheart when he did his speech thingy.

Funny thing is, the guy said, “Hmmm…that makes sense. Probably a good policy.”

Why do people go out of their way to try to convince people they were bluffing? Obviously, it’s because they actually weren’t bluffing and they are disappointed that they didn’t get paid off on their last bet. Also, they hope they will get called the next time, when they also won’t be bluffing.

If I win a pot and the guy who lost wants to complain about it for 10 minutes or tell me how lucky I got or how poorly I played it, I can put up with that all day. It means I won. Plus, I understand that it’s frustrating to lose. So if you want to vent at me for a minute I won’t complain.

I’ve been bluffed thousands of times before and I’ll be bluffed thousands of times in the future. It’s part of the game. When someone shows me a bluff, I will think back to the hand and see if there’s anything I can glean from it, any way I could make the right decision the next time. But I’m not going to waste my time taking someone’s word for something when it can be so easily proven.

And neither should you. Stand up to the douchenozzles.

Poker Stories (Vol. 1)

It’s June, which means Vegas is being overrun by douchey poker players and the World Series of Poker.

There is one big positive and one big negative about being in Vegas for the WSOP. The positive is that you can find a poker game any hour of the day, any day of the week.

The negative is everything else. Vegas sucks because it costs $15 for a smoothie, the traffic is terrible and its 110 degrees. Poker tournaments suck because the skill factor illogically decreases as the monetary stakes become higher. Poker players suck because they’re all douche-robots who take 20 minutes to fold, never talk and look like this guy.

This was the first image that came up when I Googled “poker douche.” No idea who this guy is.

Over the past 10 years I’ve tried just about everything when it comes to Vegas and the WSOP. Three times I’ve loaded up the whole family, rented a house for the month and made an extended vacation out of it. Some years (like last year) I didn’t bother going at all. Other years I do what I’m doing this year, flying out for just a few days.

Seems like a good time to tell a few of my favorite Vegas poker stories, as well as the reason I quit playing hold em tournaments pretty much immediately after actually doing good in a hold em tournament.

The first time Missy and I ever went to Vegas, when I still worked at the paper and before we had any kids, we stayed at the Mirage. My “Welcome to Vegas” moment happened on about our second night there, when I couldn’t sleep and went downstairs around midnight to play poker. I played until 3 a.m. and then as I was heading back to the room I was stopped by two ladies of the evening who asked if I would like them to “tuck me into bed” (That’s exactly what they said lol). I told them my wife was already in the bed and she probably would not appreciate the disruption. They said “we can be really quiet,” so I said, “Um, I guess you don’t understand, I’m just saying no.”

There was a time many years ago when the Mirage had the premier poker room in Vegas. But that was when limit poker was king, so by the time I arrived the Mirage was somewhat fading into obscurity as a poker room. That means there weren’t very many poker games there, but the ones they had were pretty good.

One summer when I brought the whole family out, Eric Wolf stayed with us and we played quite a bit at the Mirage. One night we were playing and a middle aged guy sat down on my right and started bragging about how good he was and how he had mastered the game by recently attending a World Poker Tour boot camp. Back in those days a good way to make money off of me was to get on my nerves, because I would go out of my way to try to beat players like that.

So this guy was being annoying and also seemed to be playing too cautiously. On one hand he made a raise and I figured I’d just take his money real quick so I re-raised. I don’t even remember what I had but it wasn’t very good. But he didn’t fold like I expected him to and I could tell he actually had a good hand. The flop came KQ4. No flush draw or anything. I didn’t have anything at all. This guy tenses up and thinks for a long time and then checks. I thought he probably had a hand like AK and wasn’t going to fold so I didn’t want to blow any more money on this hand so I checked. The turn was a 7 or something like it, a completely inconsequential card. This guy pauses for awhile and then checks again. Back in those days a good way to make money off of me was to check it to me twice. I couldn’t help myself, I’d take a stab at the pot. So I made a normal-sized bet. This guy thinks for a minute and then starts his speech.

He says, “I used to go broke on hands like this all the time. But not anymore. Not after the WPT boot camp. But I don’t know if I can fold this hand.” I thought he might have AQ or a pair of jacks or something. He stopped to think for a long time.

Then he turns up his hand. He has pocket queens — a set of queens! — the second-best possible hand at that moment. This guy didn’t even have that much money left, there’s no way he should ever even consider folding that hand. I was getting annoyed again. First at him for wasting so much time when he was clearly going to go all in. Then at myself for betting after already deciding I wasn’t going to bluff on the flop. I was basically just lighting money on fire. I figured since he had already shown me and the whole table his hand, he might just call instead of going all in. I decided I was going to just muck my hand as soon as he called so I wouldn’t be tempted to bluff again on the river. I was drawing completely dead, there was no card I could win with.

Then he says, “Nope, I’m not giving you my money. I know you have the set of kings. You wouldn’t have bet if you didn’t have it. I’m the only one in here who’s good enough to fold this hand.” And then he folded. I glanced over at Eric, who was incredibly and understandably annoyed that I had gotten away with this terrible play. I couldn’t look at him without bursting out laughing. That was probably seven years ago and Eric is still mad about it.

Another time we were playing at the Mirage when a typical douchey frat boy sat down at our table. He

Southwest Airlines

I’m not one to brag on myself too much. I’m humbled to say I’m the greatest husband, father, poker player, amateur basketball player and human in the world. But those are just simple facts. #blessed

If there’s one area of my greatness that often gets overlooked, it’s my ability to pick the optimal seat on a Southwest Airlines flight at any time, under any conditions. Today I’m here to rectify that omission and give credit where credit is due. To myself.

A few weeks back I flew Southwest to Arizona for my Spring Training trip. I was appalled by the terrible decisions being made all around me. It was like a 2005 game of Texas hold em! (If you don’t play poker, trust me, I nailed that joke.)

Because I’m also the world’s greatest humanitarian and philanthropist, I’m going to share my Southwest secrets here. I know that some day, I’ll be boarding a Southwest flight, about to crawl into the most optimal seat on the planet, when out of nowhere a young buck will sneak in and beat me to the spot. As I look on with both shock and horror, he’ll wink at me and whisper, “I read your blog.” I’ll have no choice but to chuckle, tip my cap and move on to the seat right behind him, where he will be kicked in the back for the next two-and-a-half hours.

The best player in baseball, Mike Trout, robbed a home run in front of a Southwest Airlines ad. Only vaguely relevant to this blog but it was a cool play.

Let’s start with this: the Southwest game is rigged. If you fly regularly or pay for an upgrade or are a privileged white male, you’ll be in the A group. If this applies to you, I would like to give you a polite golf clap followed by a middle finger. You won’t need to read the rest of this story because you can pick any dadgum seat on the entire plane.

This blog is for the other 99%. Those of us who are either too poor to too cheap to spend our hard-earned money on 5% less waiting time in line. Those of us who play for the love of the game, the challenge of getting just as good a spot as the jerk who could be flying first class on another airline but wants to force us into being the slice of pepperoni in between an 800-lb marshmallow sandwich near the restroom instead. Those of us who set an alarm for exactly 24 hours before our flight and immediately check in, only to wind up at the end of the B group while Southwest executives howl in laughter and fist-bump each other in between lap dances.

Step one to optimal seat procurement is to do a little basic math in your head while you’re in line. After all, unless you’re a Fortune 500 CEO, you’ll be waiting in line with a scowl while the A group boards. Might as well make the most of your wait. Like someone famous said, “If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.”

If you are B44 (like I was), there will only be 20 or 30 people boarding after you. Look around the gate — if there are 20 or 30 people behind you in line or waiting at the counter for standby seats, it’s going to be a full flight. If nobody is behind you, you might have a chance at the holy grail — an empty seat next to you. So adjust your expectations accordingly.

The most common mistake by far comes when first walking aboard the plane. Your eyes naturally take you to the back of the plane, where there are often open seats. It’s easy to assume you’ll find an open spot back there and mentally relax like Hillary did in 2016 (too soon?). Stay on your A game. Your eyes aren’t factoring in the people who are ahead of you in the plane line but aren’t in their seats yet. The worst outcome possible is to walk all the way to the back of the plane, find no window or aisle seats available and have to squeeze in to a middle seat in the back.

This is where your pre-boarding math will come in handy. If you know roughly how many people are behind you in line, you’ll know what your chances are of getting the kind of seat you want.

Now it comes down to priorities. If you have a quick connecting flight, you’ll want to be up front. If you are super tired, you’ll want a window seat. If you just ate two Cinnabons, you’ll want to be near the bathroom. If you want to meet your soulmate, you’ll want to walk into the bathroom, look in the mirror and re-examine your life.

If you’re like me, you generally don’t care about any of those things. All you want is space. My legs don’t fit naturally into the space allotted and it’s dynamite when I can steal a little bit of someone else’s space.

If the math doesn’t look good for an empty seat next to me (and that is becoming more and more rare these days), the next thing I want is a window seat. But when you’re in the back of the B group that is also a highly unlikely proposition. Then we look for aisle seats. These are more available than the window seats, and what I’m looking for is couples. If two romantically involved people are flying together, they are going to be cuddling with each other and giving the stranger next to them on the aisle a little extra room.

This was the situation I capitalized on when I flew to Phoenix. The moron in front of me missed out on this amazing opportunity. He took an aisle seat with an empty middle seat next to it. I could have taken one a few rows behind that. But they had announced a full flight already, so there was no chance of striking gold with an empty seat. Like someone famous said, “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.” I knew this would be a good spot for me, while homeboy in front of me ended up with a lady who set up an entire home entertainment system in the middle seat next to him. Poor chap.

If you’re among the last people to board, you know you won’t be getting a window or an aisle seat. What you’re looking for in that spot are women with a book or small screen in front of them, and you want them on both sides of you. They’re going to be scrunched up, locked in to their thing and giving you a little extra room.

When it comes to men, you don’t want the business type. They have a 32-inch laptop and posterboard-size New York Times out and they’ll be taking a leak at the least convenient moment possible because they’ve had three cups of coffee already. You want the jock type like David Puddy from Seinfeld who will just stare straight ahead the whole flight.

When it comes to women, you want to avoid the ones who somehow have five bags with them. And the ones who look like they are hoping to meet their soulmate. They’ll be staring at you with puppy eyes behind five layers of makeup. Avoid at all cost.

When it comes to the elderly, you’re probably fine next to an old lady. She might even offer you a Werther’s Original. You want to avoid the men, because — and I love that this is LITERALLY true — they do not give a flying F. They will spread their legs as far as they please and possibly even cross one leg over the other while they do their crossword puzzle. When they go to the bathroom, they will pretend your legs do not exist and will tear your knee ligaments to shreds.

When it comes to children…I mean come on, not even you are that stupid.

So now that you’re in the perfect seat, sit back and enjoy your flight. Be sure to take note of the people who boarded right ahead of you and soak in the glory of your superior selection. That’s what life is all about.

Oh, and one more thing. When you’re walking past those first few rows, make sure there are no disabled people up there and then crop dust the hell out of the rest of those A-group bastards.