Twins Baseball Game: Saying Goodbye to the Metrodome

Saying Goodbye to the Metrodome
Saying Goodbye to the Metrodome

I attend 1 to 3 baseball games every season. Maybe it’s because I always say if the twins go to round 2 of the playoffs or make the world series…(hmm that hasn’t happened recently) or maybe it’s the overpriced beer (now that’s a legitimate reason for not attending many games). The games that I do attend I usually end up people watching to see what other crazies are at the stadium. So when a few friends from Iowa called me up at the last minute and said they had tickets to the Twins / Red Sox game, I was excited to get my first and maybe only twins baseball game in for this year. Additionally, it is the last season of the metrodome so I thought it’d be a great opportunity to snap some photos as well.

We arrived at the stadium about 20 minutes before the game started. What I didn’t remember was that it was Hormel “dollar dog” night and that getting to our seats might be a pain. If I had remembered this small detail, I would have walked outside the stadium to the gates nearest our seats, instead we walked in Gate H and slowly moved towards our seats along the first base line. Fighting through the people waiting in line for the dollar dogs took almost 15 minutes. Now judging from these lines, someone might have thought…”Wow the ball park is full tonite!”…However, once I got to my seat, I began to snap a few photos and observed the many empty seats.

This to me indicates either the horrible inefficiency of the stadium concession stands or poor stadium design in moving large numbers of people. Go and ahead and see below for yourself the large number of seats that are unoccupied…

View of the Stadium from the first base side
View of the Stadium from the first base side

Besides watching the game and getting photos of some of the more well known players like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, David Ortiz, and Jason Vartiek, I started looking around the stadium and noticed the signs like the “Count down to outdoor baseball” or “Count down to real grass stains”…I’ve included a few of those sign photos in the post. I thought they were interesting and gave the fans something to look forward and things to think about when the new outdoor ball park is opened next year!

The number of home games left this season
The number of home games left this season
A reference to fact there's no retractable roof at the new stadium...April and September/October baseball could get mightly cold!
A reference to fact there's no retractable roof at the new stadium...April and September/October baseball could get mightly cold!
More of the countdown signs
More of the countdown signs

Seeing these signs had me thinking. First, they did decrease the countdown number from 53 to 52 somewhere in the 6th or 7th inning. I actually wanted to get a picture of the sign changing and somehow missed the number decreasing. Second, I can’t believe they had already played 28 home games. The baseball season is long, but it seems to be going by quickly.

The next sign of “Countdown to CH-CH-CH-CHHHHH” had me thinking….”Which idiot vetoed the retractable roof?!?!” Apparently the retractable roof would have added a couple of hundred million dollars to the cost of the new stadium and the reliability of retractable roofs are suspect. To those people, I say it should have been added. After living in Minnesota for the past 4.5 years, I know for a fact it doesn’t start warming up until at least the first week in May. The question that remains to be answered is “Will Minnesotans go to the ballpark in the cold weather?”. My guess is that if its playoff baseball (think October), the stadium will be packed and of course this coming April it will be packed because people want to see the new park, but what about in future April months after the park is opened? I guess it will depend on how good the team is perceived to be.

The next countdown signs are for grass stains, starry nights, and skyline sunsets. Its hard to believe that they played baseball on astro turf for so long. There have reports that playing on the astro turf is harder on players’ bodies. Plus really, it isn’t a baseball game without the potential to get the uniform dirty. The starry nights and skyline sunsets…this is talking about the location of the new stadium in downtown Minneapolis. I think this will be great to see and experience once the weather is warm during the summer months of baseball. I think people will appreciate this because they’ve had nothing to see other than the ceiling of the Metrodome since the twins have been playing baseball.

While I was taking in the signs around the stadium, I was also observing the people seated around me. I was surprised at the amount of red sox fans at the game. It was funny though, the people to my immediate right were die hard twins fans and I could tell based on how they were “cheering” against the red sox. Then there were the people seated in front of me. They seemed like they didn’t even want to be at the game. I guess if you don’t want to be there, why are you showing up? People like that confuse me.

In the end, the twins won 4-2. I got to watch a few well known players hit and play baseball and experience a game in the last season of the Metrodome. The Metrodome doesn’t have quite the history that was associated with old Yankees stadium (which I attended a game there last year), but it is still nice to say that I saw a game in the last season of indoor baseball. I am looking forward to trying out the new stadium and seeing how outdoor baseball works in the state of Minnesota. You can follow the progress of the new stadium and find out more information here.

Restaurant Review – Ike’s in downtown Minneapolis

On Wednesday evening, I met up with some friends who were coming from out of town to see the Twins / Red Sox game. One of my friends really likes burgers. Originally, we weren’t going to attend the game and I was going to take my friends to Town Talk for their burgers and fries. At the last minute, we decided to go to the game which altered my plans for Town Talk…instead we went to Ike’s as it is relatively close to the stadium. When I worked in downtown Minneapolis, I would go to Ike’s for lunch. I had not tried Ike’s during dinner, but since we needed something close, I thought Ike’s would be a good choice plus I like the shakes there!

Location: Ike’s is located in downtown Minneapolis at 50 South 6th street. It is only one block from the Nicollet Mall Light Rail station…a big win in my opinion especially when we purchased these 4 hour light rail passes.

Pre-Restaurant Experience: The combined factors of not eaten at Ike’s during dinner, previous experience during the lunch hour rush, and it being a game night, I decided it would be best to call the restaurant to gauge how busy it would be around 5:30PM. I didn’t really think they would take reservations (because they don’t for lunch), but to my surprise they take dinner reservations! I made mine for 5:30PM. I drove over to my friend’s hotel and we caught the light rail at the Mall of America. The only problem was that we were going to be arriving at the restaurant about 20 minutes later than my reservation…(oops!).

In Restaurant Experience, Arriving: We arrived at Ike’s about 20 minutes later than my 5:30PM reservation. The restaurant was fairly busy in the bar area and in their tables and booths. I thought for sure they would have canceled my reservation and opened my table up, but sure enough we were seated right away! I certainly appreciate a restaurant that keeps reservations even when the patron is late to arrive.

In Restaurant Experience, Ordering: As I said earlier, we arrived at the restaurant about 20 minutes later than I expected. The game was starting at 7:10PM. This left us very little time to actually eat and somewhat enjoy our meal. I made it clear to our server that we were in a hurry to make the Twins game. Our server was understanding and efficient and immediately offered for us to order drinks. Because I had been to Ike’s before, I immediately recommended one of their shakes to my friends. We ordered two shakes for our table. As we were waiting for the shakes to come to the table, I made a few recommendations namely the Ike’s burger. When the server returned with our shakes we were ready to order. One of the nice things that the server did was because my friends were splitting a shake (the shakes are enormous and my friends are married), the server split the shake equally into two glasses. This is a nice touch and paying attention to the little details. The server took our table’s order – 1 Ike’s burger, 1 – Turkey burger (my order), and 1 – small appetizer .

Our order:

Ike's Burger
Ike's Burger
My meal - Turkey burger with mashed potatoes and cranberries
My meal - Turkey burger with mashed potatoes and cranberries

Our order came relatively quickly, although it felt like a long time probably because we were in a hurry. In fact, I was in such a hurry to order, that I didn’t realize the turkey burger did not come with cheese! So I was quite surprised when it came out to me with no cheese. I inquired with the server and asked if they could throw cheese on it. This was not a problem and 30 seconds later I had a turkey burger with cheese!

I admit the only reasons I ordered the turkey burger were:
1. I was not in the mood for beef and
2. I wanted the mashed potatoes.

The turkey burger was good. I won’t say it is the best turkey burger in the city, but Ike’s didn’t burn it or over cook it. The mashed potatoes were also very good. They definitely didn’t taste like instant ones that you find at other places and even had potatoes peelings mixed in the gravy. I also appreciate the fact that Ike’s gives you a generous portion of whatever side you order with your main meal.

My friend who is picky about his hamburgers seemed to like his burger. I heard no negative comments from him on it. If he didn’t like it, he would have let me know for sure.

Because we were in hurry, we asked for the bill as the main meal came out. Our server had no problems ringing it up right away and letting me pay for the meal. In total for 2 shakes, 2 burgers, and 1 appetizer, it was about $50.00. Not bad for a quick dinner downtime. When the server returned with the bill, she bought these out with it:

Ike's Cookies
Ike's Cookies

This is probably my favorite part of the Ike’s experience is the after meal cookies. Most of the time, you are so full from the shakes and burgers that you don’t have room to order from their dessert menu, but you always have room for a small chocolate chip cookie! As always, the cookies hit the spot, even if I was in a hurry and had to enjoy it on the way back to the baseball stadium.

Verdict: I had been to Ike’s for lunch and enjoyed it each time I was there. This was my first experience with dinner at Ike’s and I was not disappointed. Our server was fast, efficient, flexible, and worked within our table’s schedule. The food was good and nothing negative happened that would impact customer experience. I have no problems recommending Ike’s for lunch or dinner if I were near the restaurant. (Note: There is an Ike’s at the MSP airport which is also very good) I noticed Ike’s serves brunch and would be interested in trying them out for brunch in the near future.

Betting against the American economy (My bet against the Dow)

Throughout the months of March and April, as the markets were moving up and down, Steve, my roommate, and I exchanged 125-150 emails on the subject of the market. Some of the time I would email an article that I knew Steve would disagree with, just to get a discussion going. Much of the time, I was pointing out that the markets were still too high and how more bad news was forthcoming. I complained as the markets moved positively on bad news such as increasing unemployment or companies not losing as much money as predicted. He complained the markets pulled back from earlier gains on things like housing news and the analysis of bank quarterly earnings. Eventually, this led to the following email exchange:

my roommate:“will the DOW hit 9000 this year? ill bet you $20 bucks”

me:“Just because it hits 9000 doesn’t mean it will stay at 9000. I’d be dumb to take this bet because all you have to do is hit 9000. it could go down the next day, but you could still claim victory.”

my roommate:“ok whats your bet then”

me:“My bet is that DOW will unable to sustain 9000 for an entire month during 2009. 20$.”

my roommate:“deal. dow stays above 9k for a month

remember that you are betting against the biggest badest economy in the world: the american economy. while capitalism and all these ‘stupid banks’ show how capitalism goes astray – it also adapts quickly – there is a monetary incentive to do so.”

me:“and you’re betting that the illusions created in this current market will hold up.”

As of today, the market stands at about 8360. The market has swung up as high as around 8500 recently, but nowhere near 9000. Now I realize 2009 isn’t over yet and that it is too early to claim victory, but, I don’t see the Dow making 9000 this year. I think there is going to be more bad debt writes off by the banks and more prime borrowers having problems due to job loss and declining home values. The banks in their quarterly earnings reports were increasing their provisions for bad debt. So even the banks are expecting more bad news. From time to time I will update the status of this bet.

Feel free to leave your comments or predictions for the Dow / markets in 2009.

Biking in Des Moines, Iowa and Minneapolis,MN over Memorial Day

Biking in Des Moines

I have a goal of biking 1200-1500 miles this summer. Over the long holiday weekend, I was able to add 50 more miles to my total.

Biking in Des Moines

Although I knew I would be busy being in a friend’s wedding in Iowa, I decided to pack the 7.5fx with me to do some biking. I managed to ride about 30 miles while attending all the wedding activities. My main route took me from the west side of Urbandale to just past Gray’s Lake. I was able to see the baseball stadium and state capitol building before I decided I should turn around.

View of Downtown Des Moines
View of Downtown Des Moines
Downtown Des Moines - Baseball Stadium and Capitol Building
Downtown Des Moines - Baseball Stadium and Capitol Building

Biking in Minneapolis

I returned to Minneapolis on Sunday and took things easy Sunday night. On Monday, I ran 3 miles and went for a bike ride. For the route, I decided to ride around Lake Harriet, Calhoun, Isles, and Nokomis. In all it was about 22 miles. I was able to get some good views of downtown and enjoyed doing some plane spotting by Nokomis.

View of Downtown Minneapolis
View of Downtown Minneapolis
Plane spotting by Lake Nokomis
Plane spotting by Lake Nokomis
Plane getting ready to land seen from Lake Nokomis
Plane getting ready to land seen from Lake Nokomis

China Trip Update – my visa is here!

I have my Passport back.
I have my Passport back.

About two weeks ago, I sent my passport to Washington DC to obtain a Chinese visa. On Thursday, I was excited to receive my passport back with a brand new Chinese visa! I quickly flipped to the visa pages in my passport to check out what a Chinese visa looks like….

Chinese Visa
Chinese Visa

Since I’ve received my visa, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to spend some time talking about why China is my next destination.

Ever since I started traveling to different countries, I have always wanted to visit China. I think it has something to do with seeing things that are hundreds and thousands of years old mixed in with modern buildings and high tech things like high speed rail or the world’s largest man made dam. Last year when China hosted the Olympics and seeing the amazing structures and shows put on by Chinese, I knew I had to go to China to see and experience the sites, sounds, and culture of the Chinese. At the end of August, I will be in China for two weeks.

As I started to research what things I wanted to do in China, I realized that two weeks was not nearly enough time to see a country as large as China. Part of the decision of where to go and what to see was easy. I am flying in and out of Shanghai so it made a lot sense to spend some time in the city. I also definitely wanted to see the Great Wall of China so that made a trip to Beijing the next part of my trip. Finally, after seeing the images of the Terra Cotta Warriors during the Olympics, I had an interest in checking that out. This led me to add the city of Xi’an to my itinerary.

So far my itinerary looks something like this:

Shanghai – 6 days
Xi’an – 2 days
Beijing – 6 days

I am still researching everything there is to do in Beijing and Shanghai. I know there is the Forbidden City and Summer Palace in Beijing. I am still reading up on Shanghai and am not as familiar with the things to see and do there. I do have a couple guide books that I am going to use to give me an idea of what there is to do. I won’t necessarily do all the suggestions and will maintain flexibility to do other things once I am on ground in China.

The things I am most looking forward to are (in no particular order)

1. Train Travel in China
2. Getting to try different foods
3. Practicing my Mandarin Chinese!
4. Experiencing the friendly Chinese culture
5. Standing on the Great Wall of China
6. Seeing the Terra Cotta Army
7. Taking lots of photos

If you’ve been to Beijing, Shanghai, or Xi’an and have a suggestion, please feel free to leave a comment. I will provide a couple more updates before I leave in August.

Upgrading my Trek 7.5 FX…

My new bike shoes
My new bike shoes

After two weeks of owning my beloved 7.5 fx, I decided to upgrade a few of the components. As you can see from the photos this included the pedals and adding handle bar extenders. I also added a saddle pack which could hold a spare inner tube and some gloves which will keep my hands warm on those cooler days. Included in the pedal upgrade was also obtaining a pair of biking shoes that clip into the pedals. I don’t have the specific links but upgrading the pedals to a clip in design will improve efficiency by 20-25%.

Pedal Upgrade
Pedal Upgrade

I took the bike out for a quick 17 mile spin to test out my upgrades. I admit it took a little bit to get used to clipping in and out of the pedals. I am still getting used to clipping in quickly. Also, during one of my stops, I somewhat forgot I was clipped in and just about fell over in the bike. I was lucky in that as I was falling over I was able to somehow clip out and catch myself. I guess this will just take some practice.

I am hoping with the exception of one or two additional pieces of bike clothing that I am done upgrading for awhile. I think I’ve gotten the upgrades that make the most sense for right now. I do plan on upgrading the bike computer I have at the end of the summer. I’m not decided on specifics regarding that upgrade, but am leaning towards something with GPS.

I am going to set my distance goal to ride 1500 miles by the end of September. So far I have done about 200 miles. It’d be great if I hit 2000 miles but I think 1500 is a good goal to shoot for right now. If you are you have route suggestions or just want to sound off about your bike, feel free to leave a comment. I am still enjoying my trek 7.5 fx.

Bike with handle bar upgrade
Bike with handle bar upgrade

Why I use the Starwoods Amex and Schwab Visa Cards as my primary credits cards

SPG Amexschwab visa

I have been asked the question many times, “What is the best card to use?”. Every time this question is asked of me by one of my friends I end up giving the standard answer…”It depends.” This usually leads to a longer discussion about goals and what they want out of their rewards. In my post regarding developing a rewards strategy, I tried to lay out the steps a person should consider when choosing their credit card(s). Tonite, I want to share with you what cards I use and more importantly WHY I use them.

Goals and Old Strategy…
Before I talk about the specific cards in my wallet, I think its important to understand my goals. My goal for my credit card rewards is to get a round the world airline award ticket in business class. This is a very specific goal that points me in the direction of cards that offer programs that turn points into air miles in a variety of frequent flyer programs. This is also helped me develop a specific strategy of targeting airline, hotel, and American Express point programs. Originally, I wanted to earn as many frequent flyer miles as possible. This meant that I would fly the same airline, sign up for the credit cards with bonus miles, and earn American Express and hotel points as a secondary strategy as a way of getting more air miles. The problem was that I focused on a specific airline instead of focusing on a program that was flexible and gave me options in choosing the best airline miles. It was only after I realized that the airline programs were being devalued that I knew I would have to change things up. What I wish I would have realized was the flexibility of the SPG starpoint.

What I carry currently and how it helps me….
In my wallet, I carry two credit cards that I consider to be among the best for maximizing my rewards – the Starwoods Preferred Guest (SPG) American Express Card and the Schwab Invest First Visa Card .

The SPG amex card allows you to earn 1 point per dollar spent. There is a 10,000 point sign up bonus. You can redeem SPG points for gift cards, buy flights with points, hotel stays, or you can transfer points to miles in most major (over 30) frequent flyer programs. It is these last two things that I listed that I want to discuss further. If you’re interested redeeming for a hotel room, you can do a straight award starting at 3,000 points depending on the category hotel you choose. A much better option is to look at the cash and points redemption option. At certain Starwood properties, you can get a room for a small amount of points and a reasonable price. I’ve seen awards start at $60 a night plus a couple thousand points. Looking at the big picture, this let’s your points go further and doesn’t cost you much especially when you are talking about burning 50 – 60 thousand points at a category 4,5, or 6 hotel for a few nights or paying $60-100 a night plus 3,000 points. The cash and points deal is really good. Another fringe benefit is redeeming is if you redeem for 4 nights, you can get the 5th night free. If you wanted to use this card just for hotel points, it would be a great card to use, but I want to point you in the direction of transferring points to airline miles.

With Starwoods, if you transfer 20,000 points to participating airline programs , SPG will add another 5,000 bonus miles to the transaction. This effectively turns the SPG Amex card into a 1.25 point per dollar card if you redeem in 20,000 point increments. Some will argue that cash back cards are better. I would argue that the value of travel points is when you start talking about redeeming for premium class seats on airlines. I highly recommend that you don’t use miles or points to redeem for domestic coach seats unless you urgently need seats and can’t afford to buy the tickets.

An Example Calculation
Business Class seat on NWA/DL to Taipei, Taiwan – $7167.02
Dollars to spend using average cash back rate of 2% to purchase this ticket – $358,351
Air miles required to get a saver class award ticket – 120,000 for a round trip
Starpoints required to redeem for NWA seat – 100,000
Cost for obtaining those 100,000 SPG points – A maxmium of $100,000
Return on 100,000 starpoints for a $7,167.02 premium seat – over 7%

The above example is a worst case scenario. If you have status you are earning points are a far greater rate through bonuses when you stay with at SPG hotels. Your return % could be much greater than 7%!

One other way to quickly obtain points is to purchase them. . I usually don’t recommend this, but this will help me leap frog towards my goal quicker. I can get 20,700 points for $700 or I can run $20,000 through on the Amex card and get 20,000 points. (20,000 is the max points that may be purchased in a year) It might take awhile to run 20k in expenses and it would depend on your immediate need for points. The US Mint Strategy I talked about earlier will help you quickly run expenses through.

Pitfalls of this card….
There are some pitfalls that I have chosen to live with regarding the SPG card. First, it is an American Express. AMEX is not as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard. Second, through credit card transactions only, I get 1 point per dollar. Other cards give certain bonuses for gas and grocery purchases whereas the SPG is a straight 1 point per dollar.

How I mitigated the pitfalls
Since I realize AMEX isn’t accepted everywhere and because I have Schwab Checking, Brokerage, and Savings accounts. I decided to get the Schwab Invest First Visa card. This is a straight 2% cash back credited to the brokerage account every month. Now one of the cool things about this card is that there is no foreign transaction fees charged. So when you go overseas, you’re not stuck paying the ridiculous fee for using a credit card.

In my next credit cards post, I will talk about my secondary strategy to complement my reward programs earnings.