1. That I wasn't Albert Breer. Don't misunderstand -- I have great admiration for the dogged reporting of the NFL Network's Breer, who emerged as the biggest media star of the lockout by staking out every exhausting session of the players and owners and their attorneys, many of those stakeouts on 96-degree days in Manhattan. I'm just glad it was him and not me spending day after day covering angst. Oh, to be young and unattached and have the drive of Pete Rose.
2. Driving through parts of Europe. My wife and I drove a six-speed VW Passat 800 miles in Austria, Slovenia and Italy, and what a pleasure it was. Zero potholes. Very little traffic on the main thoroughfares. Felt like I was on test tracks. How fun it is to drive 90 mph and, because of the smooth roads and open spaces, feel like it's America in the 60s, with not so much company out there on the gleaming new highways. Weird highlight: Driving through Ljubljana, Slovenia, and "Suspicious Minds'' by Elvis comes on the radio.
3. Vienna. So many parks, so little time. Parks and beer. That is one underrated city. Our last night there, we went to see an orchestra dressed in period costume and playing Mozart's greatest hits. Amazing how many of those pieces are recognizable.
Weird Mozart fact: He lived to be 35 (only!) and never lived longer than two-and-a-half years at any address. Weird Austria fact: Adolf Hitler was born there. Never knew that.
4. Bicycling through Chicago. Rented a bike in downtown Chicago on a hot and sunny morning eight days ago, rode past the joggers and in-line skaters and walkers and the sun-worshipers on the city beach 5.2 miles up Lakeshore Drive, hard by Lake Michigan. Took a left on Addison and there I was -- at Wrigley Field, two hours before Cubs-Marlins. Rode around the stadium, saw the Goose Island Pub, locked the bike, and sat out on the patio for a noontime Wrigleyville White, with a lemon. Magnificent. Got back on the bike. Rode back. I doubt I had two better hours on the entire vacation.
5. Experiencing Target Field. Saw Royals-Twins 10 nights ago thanks to Paul Allen of KFAN, who donated his great seats, which were five rows from the field. I liked it far more than I thought I would, in part because of what might be the best food of any ballpark. Had walleye on a stick. That's a white fish, for those of you scoring at home. Tasty, flaky, fresh. On the way out, I ran into Sid Hartman The Statue. That's right. One of the all-time media icons is bronzed outside the right-field stands. Sid, we hardly knew ye.
6. And the best meal of a vacation that took us to Trieste, Vienna, New York, Chicago and Minneapolis came in ... Montclair, N.J. I've blown smoke at Osteria Giotto on Midland Avenue in Montclair a few times, like the time I took Brandon Jacobs of the Giants there two nights before the Giants and Pack played in the NFC Championship Game -- and Jacobs loved the lasagna so much he had to get two pieces to go for a late-night snack. It was great to see old friends and to have my annual piece of said lasagna (it's perfect -- not overwhelmingly heavy, but with some different spices, like nutmeg) and the mista salad.
7. Drinking Peroni at an outdoor café on the city square of Trieste, on two very hot afternoons. All I can say about that is I am a lucky man.
8. Reading. Got the ESPN book read. (Sheesh. The anger against SI from Steve Bornstein. Relax. The world's big enough for all of us, Steve.) Lots of knowledge in the book, but I can't help but think some of the real cornerstone players who've been there for the last two decades or so -- Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio -- really got short-shrifted in the story of why ESPN has become so omnipresent. It's guys like Mort who made ESPN appointment television for people who love sports and need the knowledge.
9. Having fun with both daughters on their turf. Mary Beth in Seattle (a little before the formal vacation) and Laura in San Francisco. Happy to report they're both doing well and contributing to the nation's work force with zeal. Good to see they both have nice ballparks and environs.
10. Watching Casablanca. And a whole lot of other junk that had nothing to do with football.
I tweeted my ranking of the ballparks last week, now that I've been in every one except the Rogers Centre (nee SkyDome). And, lockout be damned, my feed got overwhelmed with people telling me -- surprise! -- I had no idea what I was talking about. Folks, it's just personal preference. Here goes again, with a quick comment on each:
1. Fenway Park (Red Sox) -- Too cramped, but it's my ballpark-away-from-home.
2. Wrigley Field (Cubs) -- Can't beat a bleacher seat with an Old Style.
3. PNC Park (Pirates) -- Best setting and views ever for a baseball stadium.
4. (tie) Target Field (Twins) -- What views. What food. Try the Veggie Kabob.
4. (tie) AT&T Park (Giants) -- I won't forget the smell of reefer at World Series Game 2.
6. Safeco Field (Mariners) -- Walk to the park on a June night. Heaven. Best beer in MLB.
7. Busch Stadium (Cardinals) -- Love a cheap scorecard and Bud jingle on the organ.
8. Dodger Stadium (Dodgers) -- Park's fine. Feel of a Perry Mason episode. Real L.A.
9. PETCO Park (Padres) -- Completes pedestrian heaven in downtown San Diego.
10. Citizens Bank Park (Phillies) -- Great spots everywhere to lean on rail, watch game.
11. Coors Field (Rockies) -- Sit upstairs. See the sun set over the Rockies.
12. Camden Yards (Orioles) -- Still love it, just not as much as I love some of the new ones.
13. Ballpark in Arlington (Rangers) -- A bit of a barn, but great sightlines. Love the RF seats.
14. Chase Field (Diamondbacks) -- Downtown stadium with mist gadgets to cool you. Cool.
15. Progressive Field (Indians) -- Same explanation as Camden.
16. Comerica Park (Tigers) -- Love watching from a standing perch in the outfield.
17. Great American Ball Park (Reds) -- Twelve-minute walk from Kentucky hotel to Ohio seats.
18. Kauffman Stadium (Royals) -- Haven't been since it was refurbished. Great, I hear.
19. Minute Maid Park (Astros) -- As Cosmo Kramer once said: "Like a sauna in here.''
20. Miller Park (Brewers) -- Probably too low. A little musty with closed roof.
21. Nationals Park (Nationals) -- A little cold, but a good effort. Gotta win a little.
22. Angels Stadium (Angels) -- Feels like a park in the middle of a parking lot. It is.
23. Citi Field (Mets) -- Weird place. Home of the Dodgers or the Mets?
24. Turner Field (Braves) -- Even on hot nights, feels a little cold to me.
25. U.S. Cellular Field (White Sox) -- Fortress-like. Cold, like its name.
26. Yankee Stadium (Yankees) -- Feels like a mall to me. I miss the old place.
27. Oakland Coliseum (A's) -- Well, at least they have nice sweatshirts.
28. Tropicana Field (Rays) If I could put it 31st, I would. Dark, hopeless.
29. Sun Life Stadium (Marlins) -- If I could put it 32nd, I would. Depressing place.
Again, I didn't rate Rogers Centre because I haven't been. No particular reason; just never went out of my way to get there.
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