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The Great Baseball Stadium Tour, Part I


unnamed121Editor’s note: Paul Muth is an Army vet who tends to talk a lot, so when his friends tell him to stop, he either writes or talks to a microphone and calls it a podcast. He writes better with a beard and looks better with a beer. Or something like that. 
Follow him on twitter at @abumnamedpaul 

 

By Paul Muth

September, 2016.

At some point during the end of the Astros’ 2016 baseball season, myself and my buddy Erik sat in a poorly lit bar, post game. I had wrapped up a season where I had managed to make it to 29 home games. Erik had accompanied me to around 20, much to the chagrin of his gracious wife. We began talking about how cool it would be to start doing a baseball stadium tour. However, at the time it was really just two drunk guys having a “wouldn’t it be cool?” moment.

December, 2016.

“We’re going to do it. Let’s do it. Let’s pick some dates and knock it out,” Erik declared as the Texans rolled over the Raiders to begin the NFL playoffs.

“Yea, you got it man. We’re totally doing that,” I responded dismissively. I figured I’d throw it on the pile of all the other grand schemes people have suggested we do but never follow through.

February, 2017.

Erik kept at it, continuously bringing it up. So I began designing an itinerary centered around seeing at least one away Astros game, hitting the east coast, and hopefully seeing Fenway and Yankee Stadium. Lo and behold, one such week satisfied all the requirements. The week of May 8th would have the Red Sox at home that weekend, and the Astros would coincidentally be playing the damn Yankees in New York. Find at least two more games to watch, and we’ve got ourselves a decent looking trip. I forwarded my idea over to Erik.

  • Pre trip: Houston, Astros vs Braves, night game
  • Day 1: Philadelphia, Phillies vs Mariners, day game
  • Day 2: Washington D.C., Nationals vs Orioles, night game
  • Day 3: New York, Yankees vs Astros, night game
  • Day 4: Boston, Red Sox vs Rays, night game
  • Day 5: Fly what’s left of us back to Houston

“Hey, I just bought your plane ticket,” Erik exclaimed over his microphone while playing some video game online.

Shit. I guess we’re doing this.

May 9th, 2017.

Erik and another Paul arrived at my house to drop off their bags. Other Paul had been hand selected as our 3rd traveller. Our requirements were strict:

  1. You had to be okay with, or like going to baseball games.
  2. You had to be able to afford it.
  3. You had to be okay with the breakneck pace of the trip and total lack of typical vacation amenities. We’re staying in hostels, not hotels. And you get one bag.

Stipulations one and three knocked a lot of people out of the running. Other Paul was somewhat interested, but when he learned we were visiting Washington D.C. as part of our trip, he was in. The irony, however, of a Canadian coming on a baseball trip mainly to dive into American nostalgia is not lost on me.

Screenshot_20170509-200414

Focus on the game, bruh.

We dropped the bags off at my place and headed to the ballpark to watch the Astros kick off a two game homestand against Atlanta before heading out on the road. I laughed when I saw 43 year-old Bartolo Colon take the mound for the Braves. We put 5 on the board before the old man recorded his first out.

Good start to the trip, I’d say.

May 10th, 2017

We woke up at 6am–surprisingly not hungover–ready to catch our morning flight to Philadelphia. Our captains were oddly talkative, each one providing us a 10 minute “how stuff works” spiel regarding our vessel upon both takeoff and descent.

Don’t care guys, just fly the damn plane.

We landed in Philly around 10 in the morning and headed straight to the rental car location. Our National shuttle blew past us so we hitched a ride with a Hertz, or something. Despite my best efforts to convince Erik and Other Paul, I was outvoted on grabbing a kickass minivan. We hopped in a Ford Escape and headed downtown.

We dropped the car off downtown at a parking garage and loaded our pockets with as many pocket shots of bourbon as we could smuggle in without arousing suspicion. A pocket shot, to the uninformed, is essentially a 50ml Capri Sun pouch full of booze. A true marvel of modern innovation.

Other Paul hailed our Uber to the ballpark.

“We’re looking for Vicky in a brown SUV.”

Vicky pulled up moments later. I opened the front passenger door to get in but the seat was already occupied by a purse and some other crap. Vicky tells me to just sit in the backseat.

Now here’s the thing about Vicky: Vicky was a 6’4” cross-dressing dude, who wasn’t even attempting a feminine accent. When Vicky told me I wasn’t sitting up front…I just wasn’t sitting up front.

Vicky was the shit, and–more importantly–his nail game was unrivaled to us mortals.

He dropped us off at Citizens Bank Park, just in time for the Phillies/Mariners game. We were all just excited to get our first game under our belts so we hit autopilot and did what came natural at baseball games:

Immediately find beer.

We grabbed our obligatory Yuenglings, appropriated some unused field level seats on the third base line, and kicked our feet up for some daytime baseball. While it was an absolutely beautiful day for baseball, it turned out it was kids day or something at the ballpark. I realized that day that there is no discernible difference between excited child shrieks and mortal danger child shrieks. On several occasions I would jerk to locate the source of what I assumed was a group of children in distress, only to find a section of euphoric 8 year olds being paid a visit by the Phillies’  immortal mascot, the Philly Fanatic.

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The only photo on record of Erik (right) smiling.

It was close for a good third of the game, until the Phillies’ bullpen collapsed. The Mariners pounced and ultimately crushed the Phillies with an 11-6 win. Other Paul fell asleep in the stands.

So, with the game concluded, it was time to blitz tour the city. Our hostel was situated in the middle of downtown, so we were able to walk everywhere once we had returned from the stadium.  On the way back, we went ahead and checked one of only two boxes I had on my Philly “must see/do” list: grab a cheesesteak from Geno’s.

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Worth it.

The Uber driver on the return trip was about our age so we picked his brain on where to go drinking later that evening. He gave us a few suggestions on where to go, and also solidified every Philly sports stereotype I had arrived to the city with.

“When I was kid, we weren’t allowed to go to Eagles games. They were too rowdy,” he exclaimed. “They actually had a jail and a judge in the old stadium to handle everything. Now, me and my boys just go to fight.”

We made it back to the car, grabbed our stuff and checked into the hostel. Here’s the thing: hostels are all run by hippies, operated by hippies, and used by either hippies, or people from other countries. So when three Texans roll in with baseball gear on head to toe, there’s a bit of a disconnect. We were assigned bunks in a bay that slept 14. Our posh accommodations included one towel, a set of sheets, and a receipt with our name on it that we were told to tape to the bed we wanted. The young lady at the counter finished checking us in and invited us to their pasta night later in the evening. Pass. We already knew where we were going.

Mac’s Tavern was our destination to kick off the evening, but we figured we’d check off the other half of my Philly “Must see/do” list: See the Liberty Bell.

20170510_203919.jpg

Look. A bell.

Spoiler alert: It’s a bell. That’s about it.

So for the uneducated, Mac’s Tavern is owned by one of the cast members of the TV show, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Upon arrival, we realized that Mac’s Tavern is, in fact, the exact opposite of Paddy’s Pub, the bar that the characters work at in the show. Paddy’s Pub is portrayed as an absolute dive bar on the verge of being condemned. Mac’s Tavern was almost more of a restaurant than a bar and the food was borderline cuisine. Great spot, but not the vibe we were looking for. We knocked a round back and grabbed our tab.

The next few hours were spent searching for a bar with any signs of life on a Wednesday night. Most of our Uber driver’s suggestions ended up being duds, but yea. It was Wednesday. The only suggestion we hadn’t checked out was a place called McGillin’s Old Ale House, but that was because it was pretty far away and we all agreed that it seemed like a tourist trap.

Then it hit me. We’ve got to find a bar that’s doing karaoke. Bars get busy on karaoke nights. Time to google “best karaoke bars, wednesday, Philly.”

The top result? McGillin’s Old Ale House. Because of course.

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McGillin’s Throws it down on Wednesdays.

McGillin’s was packed on both floors and the atmosphere was like a Saturday night. That’s where we would end up closing out the night. From that point on my memory became progressively more and more hazy. I remember paying a bum 5 dollars to sing for me, I remember being told “Houston sucks, but you’re a good singer,” I remember raiding a hole in the wall pizza parlor and somehow ending up behind the counter taking a picture with the owner, and I remember being woken up by one of the 11 other bunkmates in my hostel in the middle of the night for drunk snoring too loud.

 

20170511_013300

I don’t remember taking this.

All in all, Philly was a resounding success.

The TL;DR Philly Wrap up:

Ballpark:

Beautiful park, great view of downtown. Noticeable lack of production value at the game. At one point they just played the radio broadcast over the PA. Seventh inning stretch was underwhelming. They sold these cups of seasoned fries called “crab fries” that it seemed like everyone had to have. We took the bait and got some, but they were garbage. Don’t waste your time. They’re definitely onto something though with ball girls on the foul lines instead of creepy looking dudes in their 30s like the Astros have.

Where to go:

Geno’s Steaks, McGillin’s Old Ale House, North Bowl ($2 beers, $2 games of bowling after 10), Independence Beer Garden, and PETE’S PIZZA. Pete is old school cool and he’ll fix your late night pizza cravings.

For more, check out Part II here.

 

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  1. The Great Baseball Stadium Tour, Part II – Houston Sports & Stuff

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