Dispatches From Charm City, Baltimore, Maryland

img_20160917_093635It is somewhat ironic that I was off from work for several days this past week and never posted anything new to the blog. But let’s forget that and go into the Adventures in Charm City, a trip I took the Baltimore where I got in Saturday morning and flew out on Sunday night. Since there is no more minor league baseball, I have to go to a Major League game. And there are few better places than Oriole Park at Camden Yards, home of my favorite team the Baltimore Orioles. Two games against the last place Tampa Bay Rays, so what could be better?

Saturday Morning

Living in northern Massachusetts, I generally prefer to fly out of the airport in New Hampshire near Manchester. Parking is fairly cheap ($10/day compared to $17-20 in Boston) and you can actually walk to the terminal from the lot. It is one of those airports that Southwest pretty much owns, so the big destinations are Chicago and Baltimore.

Naturally they are repackaging the security entrance there so the line was much longer than usual for 5:45 AM on a Saturday in September. The tradition of me getting the extra crotch patdown continues, and I can’t figure out what the hell is going on. I love how the guy always has to give me the little speech about how he has to touch my nether regions. Thanks, dude.

Baltimore

While I am at the point in my life where I don’t mind paying for a cab from the airport, Baltimore’s airport has light rail that goes right from the airport to downtown. The trains are clean and it is very cheap at $1.70 but the catch is that it is on the edge of the airport so a lengthy walk is required. The ticket system is strange in that you don’t show a pass or anything; you buy one and keep it in case someone checks but no one ever has in my time riding.

Two years in a row my hotel room has been ready before 10 AM in Baltimore. (I went last September for games against the Royals) It’s nice to get my bearings before heading out, especially since I had no plans. Originally I was to play in a softball game at Solo Gibbs Park that was organized by the guys from Bird’s Eye View, an Orioles podcast but that was cancelled due to some bureaucratic snafuing from the city of Baltimore.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards Tour

With so much time to fill, I figured I would take the ballpark tour since I never had before and it would be a way to kill 2 hours with ease. It’s a pretty good value for $9. The tour starts with everyone introducing themselves and I was going last figuring I would win the imaginary “came from furthest away” trophy. My thunder was stolen when there were not only guys from Iowa, but a woman who had come from Korea to see Hyun Soo Kim play for the O’s. (Kim is one of the best hitters in Korean baseball over the last decade)

20160917_114941The tour is like any other tour, you can go on the field and in the dugout, and we also went up to the press box where I noticed the wifi password on the wall so I put it in my phone for later. Instead of a blow by blow, allow me to offer some critiques of the beautiful ballpark.

  • While there are no obstructed seats, the third base line has some pretty bad ones when you get close to the LF foul pole because they don’t angle back toward home plate. So you would be staring into the outfield if you don’t turn your head.
  • Where that would be a benefit is if they held other events at the stadium, since that type of seating is great for other spots. I got the sense from the tour guide that they are a bit too pious about it being a cathedral for baseball. That’s a shame, because the demand would be there for other events. It’s an absolute travesty that the 2015 Winter Classic was at Nationals Park instead of here. You could also have a soccer match or even a college football game. However, that  just isn’t in the cards. That’s what you get when a stadium is owned by government and not private interests; they will not maximize revenue from a business sense.
  • In the vein of maximizing revenue, I wonder why they haven’t set up a small section on the roof of the warehouse with seats. That would be a unique view.

In any city, I seek out the best place for burgers and beer. In Charm City, the best burger is at Abbey’s Burger Bistro which has a 2nd location in Fells Point I didn’t know about last year. Fells Point is better than the Inner Harbor for a place to go for good food because it’s more local places and not the giant tourist traps. Plus Little Italy is right next door.

This time at Abbey’s I had the Baltimore Burger, which has homemade crab dip, bacon and cheddar. I had a beer called Feed The Monkey from Jailbreak, which is a hefeweizen and followed with Realerevival Nanticoke Nectar IPA. Good stuff but I wanted a proper dessert so I tried the Thames Street Oyster House but there was no room at the bar. So there would be no repeat of my June oyster eating display from Toronto, when I ate….a very large number.

Instead it was onto Heavy Seas Alehouse where I made a cardinal mistake for a beer veteran, and it was not crossing to the wrong side of the street and passing the place before I got there. In general, I try to stay away from double IPAs. While I like hops in beer, they tend to just give me headaches and they knock my ass out. Plus, I was up before 4 AM to get ready for my flight so I was tired. At 9.5 ABV, Heavy Seas Double Cannon packs a punch but I still wouldn’t leave well enough alone once I found out they have an English-style pale ale called Powder Monkey. That’s a very underappreciated style and I am still upset about Great Divide Brewing of Denver changing their Denver Pale Ale from English-style to American-style. Now it’s just like a million other beers.

Saturday Night: Tampa Bay vs. Orioles

My beer mistake almost led to me missing the start of the game; Back at the hotel, I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until 6:30 PM. Luckily the Marriott is about 3 minutes from the ballpark so I even had time to shower to wake myself up.

20160917_220247Getting to the park just before the game didn’t leave much time for anything but Chesapeake Fries, which are waffle fries covered in a crab dip sauce. Not as good as one I had last year, but waffle fries are always good. It just feels like you get more.

With Chris Tillman pitching, I figured this would be an easy win for the Orioles but they rarely make it easy. Their offense is so one dimensional that they literally only scored runs one way in each game I saw. On this night it was the sacrifice fly, which is probably not the best method to maximize run output. Last year on the Saturday game against the Royals, Tillman pitched well until falling apart in the 6th. This time, Tillman pitched well until…..falling apart in the 6th.

I was sad to see Oliver Drake give up two (unearned) insurance runs since I really like him. Having proclaimed myself the Massachusetts Governor of Birdland (nickname for Orioles country), I want Drake to succeed since he is from Massachusetts. The Orioles fell 5-2, the first time they lost this season when I wore my talisman necklace. Previously, they were 13-0.

A quick commentary about people at baseball games: They tend to be okay. I got along with everyone I sat near in Toronto the last few years and that was as a visiting fan. But I swear to God, if I have to sit next to #GuyDudeBro again it will be too damn soon. To my right was a guy in Orioles stuff but he didn’t know who certain guys were. Turns out he was a Mets fan. But his buddy in the row behind, as I came to realize in the 6th inning, NEVER shut up the whole game. And it wasn’t even funny stuff, after a while he was just commenting on everyday things. If a Tampa player hit a routine fly ball, it would be “FUCK OFF!” And they hung in the whole game despite vowing to get drunk in Fells Point later. I made it a point not to go back to Fells Point that night.

I talk a lot to my friend Merrill at Bruins games, but the difference is that I say stuff that’s at least mildly humorous.

Postgame

I was very disappointed they didn’t play “Show Me Love” by Robyn after the loss because they did that last year and it lifted my spirits. By the way, it is amazing that in the 1990s there were two songs called “Show Me Love” by artists who went by a variation of “Robin” (Robyn and 1990’s song by Robin S.)

Bummed out but having napped, I was going to be up for a bit. I eschewed the hotel bar and the weird pizza place in the hotel that used to be a food truck and went to Alewife up Eutaw Street. I heard they had a good selection so I would give it a shot.

The food there was a bit pricey and I didn’t want to have a lot of food at 10:45 and figured I would have a beer or maybe two. Then I looked at the beer menu and immediately ascended up to Cloud Nine. I like a variety of different styles and they covered it all: Founders Breakfast Stout, Victory’s Octoberfest beer, Peak Organic Fresh Cut which is a nice hoppy pilsner from Portland, Maine, Boulevard Tank 7, and Allagash Confluence which is probably my favorite Belgian ale. I had all of those except for the Tank 7. Fresh Cut is a great beer and fits into that slot vacated by Sam Adams Noble Pils when that brewery decided to stop making that. The Breakfast Stout was an odd choice to close the night since that had the highest ABV. Get busy living or get busy dying. I wasn’t going to be staying up to read.

Plaques representing all 714 home runs
Plaques representing all 714 home runs

Sunday

As you can imagine, I did not get up at 8 AM to work out in the fitness center. But I did go to the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, which is near the hotel and ballpark. Ruth grew up in Baltimore and his father owned a tavern on the site of Camden Yards in what is now shallow centerfield. There are a lot of fun Babe Ruth trinkets such as the kimono he wore on a tour of Japan in 1934 and a bat he used early in his career. I was kind of tickled by how they were selling Melvin Mora bobbleheads for $9.99 in the small gift shop. Still about 5 available if you’re interested!

There are unsung heroes in this world who need recognition and one of them is the two people selling Gatorade outside the ballpark just when I needed it. Those electrolytes would fuel quite an eating display before and during Sunday’s game.

A sense of dread hung in the air as struggling Wade Miley would take the hill for the O’s. I was at Fenway Park for his start the previous Monday when it was 4-0 Red Sox before my friends even got to our seats. But lucky me saw the whole thing. On this day, I got a row 1 club seat on the third base side that was absurdly cheap (well under face value).

img_20160918_121919I like to walk the concourse if I go in that early, so I immediately went to Boog’s BBQ out in RF for a pork sandwich which might be the best food in MLB. My only complaint is that the fixins bar could use another thing, like jalapenos. Not satisfied, I huffed it up the ramp in RF because I wanted my soft shell crab sandwich as well. The woman at the next stand over wondered why I would take a picture of food and I explained that as a Massachusetts resident, they only let us have soft shell crab for like 2 weeks out of the year.

While it was only about 82 degrees with humidity around 55%, it felt much muggier than that. The fact I could have spent the entire time in the club level’s wonderful air conditioning eluded me and made me feel like an idiot for sweating like a hog on the 300 level.

So you mean I could just sit in AC and have a beer and watch TV, maybe even from a couch? No wonder why people love club seats. Flying Dog Brewery had their Dogtoberfest beer at their branded bar so I had that and wanting more Maryland beer I went to another bar and had a Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale which is partly brewed with Old Bay seasoning.

20160918_125638As the game started there were two great developments: MLB home run leader Mark Trumbo was back in the Baltimore lineup after missing a few games, and Wade Miley was pitching very well. Due to the odd seat I had, I could see why. Miley has the 3rd lowest ERA of any pitcher against the Rays. Because I was behind the cameraman on that perch (see picture above), I could see the TV broadcast with the graphics used. Because the Orioles hadn’t decided which way they would score their runs yet, Miley shut down the Rays even after slipping on a pitch early on and looking rather uncomfortable.

As the 5th inning began, Miley left the game during warmups. Knowing that a relief pitcher would have an unlimited warmup time, I went to beat the crowds for more food and drink despite the fact I could have had the waitress get it for me. I’m a man of the people, dammit! Two hot dogs and a souvenir soda would do just fine since the souvenir cup will be used for my iced coffee at home.

Of course I screwed up and didn’t get back in time for the first batter of the inning, who homered on the first pitch. Manny Machado bailed out the Orioles in the bottom of the 6th with a home run of his own to tie the game.

After John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” in the 7th inning stretch, the bottom of the inning drove me mad. J.J. Hardy singled and Pedro Alvarez walked, so the O’s had two runners on with nobody out. Neither guy is a very fast runner.

The Bottom of the 7th inning and a rant against bunting

Caleb Joseph, who has 0 RBI on the year, is at the plate and they have him bunt which drives me insane. This only increases their win probability in a tie game by 1% according to advanced stats. It gives away an out to the pitcher Danny Farquhar, who hadn’t retired anyone yet. There are numerous better hitters on the bench available to pinch hit because with the roster expansion, there are two backup catchers. Instead of risking a double play and going for the big inning, now there is runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out. Next hitter Adam Jones was 0 for 5 lifetime (with 2 HBP) against Farquhar as well, though it is admittedly a small sample size. He struck out on three pitches. Drew Stubbs would then hit for Hyun Soo Kim because Tampa brought in a lefty and proceeded to take six pitches and struck out on a 3-2 count. Thanks for nothing, guys.

Bottom line is: never bunt unless you only need a single run like in extra innings, or if the pitcher is at the plate.

Lucky for me that Mark Trumbo capped his return with a long home run in the 8th to make it 2-1. Zach Britton came on for his 45th save in 45 chances. Britton’s ERA since May 1 is 0.18, which is just freaking insane.

20160918_164925With time to kill until taking the light rail train back to the airport, I went back to Alewife since it was close. Because I am so delighted that small brewery Peak is in a bar in Charm City, I had another Fresh Cut. Then I knocked it over by accident and I replaced it with a Bell’s Best Brown. The bartender didn’t need to give me 50% off after spilling but he did so I made up for it in tips.

Back to the airport for my designated extra patdown that I always get. The TSA guy said I needed to have my pants higher, almost as if I was a 83 year old man at a BBQ. But you guys make me remove my friggin’ belt, so what do you want from me? I’m between sizes, dammit. I can’t help that I’m an odd number size! I tried eating enough to fill out and it didn’t seem to work.

The moral of this whole story is this: I’m a very peculiar person. I’ve lived in Massachusetts much of my life and am a huge Orioles fan. I’m willing to fly to these places by myself and go to ballgames and bars. I don’t really talk to anyone anymore; I used to when I would smoke but that’s a thing of the past.

All I can say is to just be you. In the immortal words of the Simpsons’ Brad Goodman: I do what I feel like.

I can be reached at Bruins309 on Twitter.

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