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On the Road with Eli(zondo) and Adric: First-game certificates

Or “Ranking the stuff you get for a first game at various ballparks.”

Mail from the Reds, Cubs, and Braves.
Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA
Who doesn’t like getting mail from the Dodgers? (No, you don’t get to know where I live.)
Who doesn’t like getting mail from the Dodgers? (No, you don’t get to know where I live.)
Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

First-game certificates — the tangible proof you were actually at a ballpark...apart from photographs...souvenirs...foul balls...home run balls...autographs...memories, etc.

Who does not like to receive something commemorating your first visit to a given ballpark?

Those that said no need to learn to read the room when I am asking a rhetorical question. However, not all certificates are created equally. Does this list serve any purpose? Not really. But the following exercise serves as a mental break from the heavier topics that I usually write about.

The following is a tier list of the various ballparks I have been to and what is done to commemorate my first visit.

  • God Tier: the stadium generates the certificate for you on professional quality paper, generally includes a photograph of the stadium from the press box
  • Excellent Tier: the stadium generates a certificate for you that you may or may not have to fill in on professional quality paper, which may or may not have artwork of the stadium
  • Great Tier: the stadium generates a certificate for you that you may or may not have to fill in on professional quality paper, it looks like a certificate rather than something you can show off and frame
  • Good Tier: the stadium provides a link for a certificate that you have to fill in yourself but provides some other memento to commemorate your visit, usually a button or provides you a copy of the certificate in better than regular paper and they fill it out for you with your information
  • Okay Tier: the stadium provides a link for a certificate that you have to fill in yourself
  • Meh Tier: the stadium does not provide a link for a certificate that you have to fill in yourself but does provide a memento to commemorate your visit, usually a button
  • Mockable Tier: the stadium does nothing — thankfully, no stadiums are in this tier...yet.

As of this essay, I have been to fifteen ballparks while writing for the site. I have also been to three other ballparks that I need to revisit because I have only gone as a fan years ago, so my information is stale: Oakland, New York (NL), and Washington. The first place where it occurred to me to ask for a first-game certificate was in Pittsburgh because Kevin, the best usher in MLB, told me not to leave the park without one.

Kevin and me. PNC Park. June 8, 2021.
Kevin and me. PNC Park. June 8, 2021.
Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

As a result, for some of these ballparks, it did not occur to me to get a first-game certificate the day of the first game I was there, so I had to reach out to customer support at various ballparks to ask for a replacement (or in some cases, a duplicate original) first-game certificate.

I thought I would reach out and see if I could get a couple of missing certificates...and then this idea took on a life of its own. I was just floored by courtesy of the following customer service departments: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Chicago (NL), Minnesota, New York (NL), and Oakland. I want to give special notice to the customer service department of Citi Field.

I have leaned into embracing the mockability of the Mets (LOLMets is as constant as the northern star, it is forever). That said, even I make mistakes. My first game at Citi Field was the Zack Lee game in 2015. That game was the day I learned that one can indeed be trapped at the ballpark in a 15-2 loss that was not even that competitive.

I got the date wrong, but the Mets would not have known that when I provided the information. Upon receiving the certificate I cringed for being a moron and sheepishly asked for a replacement for my replacement because I was off by a day. The Mets happily obliged, spending five additional dollars in postage plus whatever it costs to generate the certificate.

On that note, just about every team I talked to was just amused and quite helpful when I explained my situation. I did omit the fact that I am a writer for this site or that I was writing an essay, but I doubt they would have treated me any differently had I disclosed that fact. The Nationals might have gotten back to me a bit faster but they did eventually call me back — on the same day that the Angels called me for an entirely unrelated reason.

Most customer service representatives seemed genuinely amused by my request and promptly sent over certificates for the franchises that do that sort of thing. Oddly enough, I had the least interaction with the Dodgers as I emailed the request, got no reply, forgot about the said request, and then ten days later — bam, mail from the Dodgers.

And without further ado...

God Tier

Wrigley Field

Courtesy of the Chicago Cubs / Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Target Field

Courtesy of the Minnesota Twins / Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Oakland Coliseum

Courtesy of the Oakland Athletics / Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Excellent Tier

PNC Park

Courtesy of the Pittsburgh Pirates / Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Truist Park

Courtesy of the Atlanta Braves / Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Citi Field

Courtesy of the New York Mets / Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Great Tier

Great American Ballpark

Courtesy of the Cincinnati Reds / Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

American Family Field

Courtesy of the Milwaukee Brewers / Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Chase Field

Courtesy of the Arizona Diamondbacks / Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Good Tier

Dodger Stadium

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Dodgers / Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Nationals Park

Courtesy of the Washington Nationals / Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Okay Tier

Petco Park

Michael Elizondo / TrueBlueLA

Kauffman Stadium

Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Coors Field

Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Busch Stadium 3.0

Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Angel Stadium

Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Oracle Park

Michael Elizondo/TrueBlueLA

Meh Tier

loanDepot Park (all I got was a lousy button for dodging a tropical storm)

Personally, I think teams in the Okay Tier and lower need to get with the program. Fans do not need or necessarily want a huge deal for this sort of souvenir, However, teams reek of being cheap and lame when you send your fans off with a link and delegate the task of making a souvenir. Really — I have to use my own printer, go out and buy special paper (because it is my memento — I want it to last), and blast through my own ink because you, the billion-dollar entity, could not be bothered?

It is for the same reason that I refuse to use self-checkout at the supermarket; I am not the store’s employee! As such, why are these teams delegating their art department work to me? I will not contribute to phasing out human labor to save billionaires a few cents on the page because they could not be bothered to have their art department generate something that could be mass-produced at Kinko’s.

All that said, if you happen to visit any stadium on the Good Tier or higher, you will end up with a keepsake that I would recommend that you frame because you never know when you will look back and feel the warmth of nostalgia for a time you ventured forth into the great unknown. Plus, admittedly, it is a bit of a flex to have ironclad proof you have been to some random stadium that you made the effort to go to.

Moreover, the teams that actually do right by their fans in this regard do something that is often overlooked: build fan loyalty. By being decent, they engender reciprocal good feelings. Often, the smallest gestures make an oversized impact that we remember and love about this game. This list will be kept around and updated accordingly.