Sunday, February 8, 2015

Tour 2015

It was an exciting moment when the Brewers announced their longtime AAA affiliate, the Nashville Sounds, were finally replacing the dated Greer Stadium.  The Brewers stuck with the Sounds much longer than they probably should have because of promises of a new facility.  First Tennessee Park broke ground in January 2014 and all but cemented a trip for us to be there for the inaugural season.  Unfortunately, the Sounds did not reciprocate that same loyalty and dumped the Brewers for the Athletics in September.  A shiny new facility in a great city brought a lot of suitors calling and left the Brewers on the short end of the stick, undoubtedly due to having one of the worst ranked farm systems in the league the last few years.  This has not deterred us from a visit and I still look forward to spending some time in the Music City this summer.  So far this is slated for a 4th of July weekend trip with Megan and my family, and I'm giddy to cross this city off my US travel bucket list.

Another big trip that is looking less likely but is still on the radar is an Arizona Fall League trip.  This has been in my long term plans pretty much since I went to spring training in 2011, but other monetary and life obligations might postpone this trip.  Novembers are usually so depressing after the season ends and it sure would be great if we could make this happen.  If it doesn't, Erik and I for sure will find some trip to go on.  He is taking his bar exams in July, so we have about a one-month window to squeeze something in.  Thunder Bay/Duluth, Quad Cities renovation, Wausau renovation, and southwest Michigan have all been discussed.  I will also for sure get to the new St. Paul Saints park this year.  I've been in Minnesota a lot for work in the last few months and every time I drive by it on I-94, I get more and more excited.  I'm really curious to see what a ballpark design by a non-ballpark architect is going to look like and I expect no less from the Saints to think outside of the box.

Stay tuned!  Pitchers and catchers report in only 10 days!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Postseason 2014

The postseason could not get here soon enough for me this year.  While I am disappointed the Brewers have failed to make the playoffs for the 3rd consecutive season, with the way they have been playing the last month I am more than ready to start watching some exciting competitive baseball.  Every year there is seemingly at least one team that people may not have expected to win, or was maybe a dark horse pick by some experts/myself, and this year that team is the Kansas City Royals.  They ended MLB's longest active postseason drought at 29 years with an 89-win season and a wild card birth.  I'm glad they at least get to play that one game at home in front of the KC fans, even though statistically they are a much better team on the road.  And it's certainly really great to see Ned Yost finally make it to the postseason after getting canned towards the end of the '08 Brewers run.  The A's managed to avoid an epic Brewers-style collapse to play KC in the Wild Card matchup, and they would definitely be a team to watch with their stacked rotation and the fact that they won't have to play the nemesis Tigers in the first 2 rounds.  The torch for longest playoff drought will now pass to the Toronto Blue Jays, who have not made the playoffs since they went all the way in 1993.  Another team I would put in the "surprise" category is the Angels, who led all of baseball with 98 wins.  Despite an aging middle of the lineup and rotation, an RBI title from Mike Trout and a nice bounce-back year from Albert Pujols, along with a strong bullpen, led this team to the postseason for the first time in 5 years. 

I picked the Dodgers to win the World Series this year, and I'm sticking to that, although I will be rooting for a Nats-Royals series.  Even though I only lived in DC for about 7 months, the Nationals will always have a spot in my heart since I was there for their inaugural season.

NL Wild Card - #4 Pirates v. #5 Giants
NLDS - #1 Nationals v. WC winner
#2 Dodgers v. #3 Cardinals

AL Wild Card - #4 Royals v. #5 Athletics
ALDS - #1 Angels v. WC winner
#2 Orioles v. #3 Tigers

World Series Prediction: Dodgers defeat O's in 6
Rooting for: Nationals v. Royals

Preseason Predictions
#1 Dodgers
#2 Nationals
#3 Cardinals
#4 Brewers
#5 Braves
Dodgers defeat Nationals in NLCS

#1 Athletics
#2 Tigers
#3 Orioles
#4 Yankees
#5 Royals
Orioles defeat Athletics in ALCS

World Series - Dodgers defeat O's in 6

Brewers 82-80, -8.0, 3rd NL Central
Reds 76-86, -14.0, 4th NL Central
Twins 70-92, -20.0, last AL Central

Erik - 7 (+26 worked)

Peter - 40

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Derek Jeter Farewell Tour Nearing the End

It's looking like the Yankees will miss the playoffs this year, which means that there are only 5 more precious games after tonight in which fans will have a chance to see Derek Jeter play.  He is a future Hall-of-Famer, leads the Yankees in just about every statistical hitting category including games played, is the all-time MLB leader in hits by a shortstop, and is 6th all time in hits as of tonight with 3,462.  He is without question one of the best players I have grown up watching and I'm really glad I got to see him play 3 games in Milwaukee this past May.  Despite all of that, or perhaps because of it, I am more than ready for this Derek Jeter Lovefest to be over.  Don't get me wrong, I love all of of the tribute commercials as much as the next man, but tonight was the last straw when I turned on ESPN and saw the Yankees were wearing a #2 emblem on their hats and sleeves.  It's so ridiculous and self-serving that it is hard to even write.  He's not dead, he's still playing!  It's probably the most Yankee thing the Yankees have ever done - this is over the top even for them.  It is so misguided to be honoring a player on a daily basis who is not at all helping his team win, and for a team that is not even that good I might add.  It gets to the point where Joe Girardi has been stuck balancing Farewell Tour Manager with Field Manager, and often times forcing himself to write down Jeter's name in his familiar #2 spot in the lineup just so that fans can see him play.  

What disturbs me the most about it is that any other 40-year old in the league would be coming off the bench, and any other .250 hitter with no power would be hitting 7th in the lineup, but because he is Derek Jeter he gets special treatment.  Case in point, another player on their own team - Ichiro Suzuki.  Ichiro is the same age as Jeter yet still playing at a high level, and he gets lost in the shuffle as the 4th outfielder.  I can't help but think how many games it has cost the Yankees because Jeter is in the lineup everyday.  But what is Girardi to do, not play him?  He would probably get lynched by the New York crowd.  I do understand that at the moment the Yankees have no better option at SS, but they are in fact the Yankees - they could pick up whoever they want.  

Jeter's situation is a much more difficult situation than farewell tours of years' past, in particular the last two years with Mariano Rivera and Chipper Jones.  Unlike Jeter, Rivera and Jones were still contributing to their teams in their final seasons and didn't put the managers in much of a bind, other than dealing with Chipper's ailing knees.  One could even argue that Mariano had one of his best seasons ever as his swan song.  Honoring a player retiring at the end of the season for the entire year is seemingly becoming the trend, but it's cases like Jeter's that really make you realize how self-centered and money-driven these things really are, both for the player and for the baseball in general.  If the Yankees really were serious about winning the pennant this year instead of pandering to Jeter's ego, they would have made a move for a shortstop in the offseason instead of signing Stephen Drew off the couch in July.  I expect as much from an organization steeped in tradition like the Yankees, but seeing this spectacle unfold this year has really changed my opinion of Derek Jeter.  Before this year, I would have thought if and when he retired that he would be the last guy to want all the pomp and circumstance of a Farewell Tour.  Now it seems to me that there is no star athlete out there that doesn't crave attention.  

Although, I didn't see Paul Konerko and Jason Giambi getting any canoes this year.

Brewers 80-77, -8.0, eliminated (3 @ Reds, 3 v. Cubs)
Reds 73-84, -15.0, eliminated (3 v. Brewers, 3 v. Pirates)
Twins 66-90, -20.0, eliminated (3 v. Diamondbacks, 4 @ Tigers)

Erik - 7 (+26 worked)

Peter - 38

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Brewers in the Midst of Epic Collapse

Three weeks ago, the Brewers were a game and a half up in the NL Central and about to close out their 5th straight month in first place.  Since then, they are 4-13 including an embarrassing 9 game losing streak.  The dreaded St. Louis Cardinals of all teams have grabbed a 5 game lead in the division and the Brewers are on the outside looking in just for a Wild Card spot at this point.  While early in the season they seemed to be catching all the breaks, these days they are finding every which way to lose a game.  Ryan Braun's nagging thumb injury seems to finally be catching up with him, as he has hit .220 since the All-Star Break.  Jonathan Lucroy, once an MVP frontrunner, has also seen his batting average drop almost 40 points since the break.  Carlos Gomez, Matt Garza, and Aramis Ramirez have all missed a substantial amount of time on the DL.  The defense has at times looked like a little league team.  The starting rotation that was once among league leaders and an anchor of the team has cooled considerably, particularly Wily Peralta, who looked like he was all but a lock to be a 20-game winner a month ago, and Yovani Gallardo, who for some reason is still referred to as the Brewers' "ace."  Will Smith and Zach Duke spent much of the year with ERAs under 1.00 and now are both just awful.  Just as I write this now Smith gave up a 2-run homer.  Really, newly acquired Jonathan Broxton and Francisco Rodriguez are the only reliable arms that manager Ron Roenicke has to rely on in the bullpen, and even Rodriguez blew a pretty important game on Tuesday.  

The thing is, every game is now important, which is what makes every loss that much more crushing.  Every team goes through bad slides like this - the Crew had one leading into the break as well, and the A's are going through the same thing we are - but now is the worst possible time because tensions are high and so much is at stake.  Losing streaks in May are easy to come back from, but losing streaks in September cause people to lose their jobs.  That's what I'm mostly concerned about.  I would hate for an ill-timed losing streak to cause Roenicke his job.  The players seem to respond to him very well and I love his aggressive style, it fits really well with the personnel.  That being said, a 7-game swing in the standings cannot be ignored, and since you can't cut realistically 25 players I'm sure a few coaches will be at risk.  There are still 16 games left, all against divisional opponents, so there is still hope, and I honestly believe this team has what it takes to get back into the race and go far in the playoffs.  All Brewer fans have seen how well this team plays when everything is clicking.  But it has to be now, or I fear this team will be majorly reconstructed in the offseason.

On the bright side, Miller Park now has self-serve beer machines.

Brewers 76-71, -4.0, -1.5 WC(3 v. Reds, 3 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Pirates)
Reds 70-77, -10.0, -7.5 WC (3 @ Brewers, 3 @ Cubs, 3 @ Cardinals)
Twins 62-84, -19.0, eliminated (3 @ White Sox, 3 v. Tigers, 3 v. Indians)

Erik - 7 (+26 worked)

Peter - 38

Monday, September 1, 2014

For the Cubs, the Future is Now

If I was a Cubs fan, I would be pretty excited about the future of their team.  Now, I know that has been said just about every year for the last 100, but I think next year the Cubs actually have a legitimate chance of contending for the division for the first time in nearly a decade.  As a fan of a team in the same division, I can't help but notice their dramatic improvement this season, and I am already not looking forward to playing them 19+ times next year.  Since the beginning of August, the Cubs have called up 3 of their top 10 prospects in Arismendy Alcantra, Javier Baez, and most recently Jorge Soler, all of whom have made a huge impact.  Baez hit 3 homeruns in his first two professional games and although he has a vicious swing should be a great middle-of-the-order hitter after some coaching next spring.  Soler earned a callup by hitting over .600 in his brief stint in AAA and has continued that trend into the big leagues.  Rookie Kyle Hendricks has made a splash in the rotation with an ERA under 2.00 in his rookie season.  Jake Arrieta looks to finally be realizing the potential the Orioles were counting on for many years, and has become the Cubs' defacto ace since the Jeff Samardzija trade.  Anthony Rizzo is emerging as one of the game's elite first basemen and is among the league leaders in homeruns, as well as a first-time all-star this season.  It feels like Starlin Castro has been on the team forever but is still only 24 and has provided longterm stability at the shortstop position.  

All of these players may not have translated to much in the standings, but anybody who watches this team on a regular basis can tell they are much improved and the future is bright.  And this doesn't even include September callups.  I would expect Cubs super-prospect Kris Bryant and recent acquisition in the Samardzija-Hammel deal, Addison Russell, to both be up for a cup of coffee this week.  Both of these players are not just top Cubs prospects, but also #3 and #4 in all of baseball, respectively.  Addison may need a little more seasoning, but Bryant has hit well over .300 and 40 homeruns each of his last two minor league seasons and has nothing left to prove.  The hardest part for the organization will honestly be where to fit all of these players, as Castro, Russell, Baez, and Soler are all natural shortstops.  Baez has been playing mostly 2B and Soler in the outfield since their callups.  If the Cubs can somehow dump the Edwin Jackson contract and pick up a couple of arms next year, this team is going to be stacked and dangerous, and definitely a team you do not want to face this year if you are in a pennant race like the Brewers are.

Some if not most of this success can be attributed to bringing in wunderkind Theo Epstein as president and his former partner with the Red Sox, Jed Hoyer, as GM.  After signing in the 2011-12 offseason to 5-year contracts, myself and many experts expected that the Cubs would be relevant and legitimate World Series contenders by the end of that term, and it looks like those predictions are right on track.  The window of time in which the Brewers have to beat down the Cubs is growing shorter by the day.  When all is said and done, Epstein will have completely overhauled two historic franchises and renovated two crumbling stadiums, and will have all but cemented his place in Cooperstown, all before the age of 40.  As much as it pains me to say, a World Series title is becoming more of a goal than a faint hope in Chicago.

Brewers 73-63, --, -- WC(3 @ Cubs, 4 v. Cardinals, 4 v. Marlins)
Reds 66-71, -7.5, -7.5 WC (3 @ Orioles, 3 v. Mets, 4 v. Cardinals)
Twins 59-77, -15.5, -15.0 WC (2 v. White Sox, 4 v. Angels, 3 @ Indians)

Erik - 7 (+24 worked)

Peter - 36 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Chinooks Capture Best Record, First Northwoods League Title

All photos of NWL South Division Playoffs Game 2 available on Flickr.

Congratulations to the Lakeshore Chinooks in winning the Northwoods League Summer Collegiate World Series!  The Chinooks had just about as easy a path to a title as possible, dominating the league with a ridiculous winning percentage of over .700.  They finished the regular season with the best record in the league at 50-21, won both halves of the South Division, and swept the playoffs with a perfect 4-0 record.  I was in attendance at Game 2 of the South Division finals in Mequon, in which the Chinooks advanced to the NWL Championship with a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Wisconsin Woodchucks in 10 innings.  The starter for the Chinooks, Shaun Anderson, threw just about the best pitching performance I've seen in the Northwoods League, or in any game for that matter.  He gave up only 1 run with 6 strikeouts and nearly went the distance, getting removed from the game after 26 outs.  Zack Bowers had a big series for Lakeshore, notching the game-winning hit in both games of the sweep.  The Chinooks would then go on to defeat the Mankato Moondogs for their first title in only the 3rd year of the franchise.  I've now been fortunate enough to witness championship campaigns in both of what I consider my "home" ballparks, Madison and Mequon, in consecutive years.  The end of the Northwoods League season is always one of the first signs that summer is almost over, and I am already looking forward to next season.

Brewers 71-56, +1.5, (3 v. Pirates, 3 @ Padres, 3 @ Giants)
Reds 61-67, -10.5, -7.0 WC (4 v. Braves, 3 v. Cubs, 3 @ Pirates)
Twins 56-70, -14.0, -12.5 WC (4 v. Tigers, 3 @ Royals, 4 @ Orioles)

Erik - 6 (+24 worked)

Peter - 35

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tour 2014: 100 Years at Wrigley Field

All photos of Chicago and Wrigley Field available on Flickr.

2014 marks the 100th anniversary season of Wrigley Field.  Being the baseball junkies that we are, Erik and I felt obligated to attend a game to celebrate this impressive milestone, which we did this past Saturday.  I have taken a pretty hard line in the past on how I think Wrigley is an overrated dump, but it would be stubborn of me to not recognize the historical significance of this anniversary.  Wrigley Field is the 2nd oldest continuously used stadium in the United States - not just in baseball, but in any sport.  Despite what I think of the stadium, it is still amazing for any building to last that long, let alone an outdoor facility exposed to 100 Chicago winters.  As both a baseball fan and as an architect, I was humbled to pay my respects to this palace of our national pastime.

Megan was in tow with me on this trip and we had a long day planned before we got to the ballpark.  We took the Hiawatha Amtrak down from Milwaukee at 8 AM, and already were spotting several visiting Rays fans (who the Cubs were playing that day) at the Intermodal Station.  As we got off at Chicago's Union Station and progressively got closer to the ballpark on the red line, we saw more and more Rays fans at each stop.  It was a sign of a good day to come.  An all but certain path to a good day in Chicago is a stop at Lou Malnati's.  I've probably been to Chicago close to a dozen times in my adult life, and I don't think I've been there one time where I didn't either go to a ballpark or eat deep dish pizza, if not both.  In my mind, there's really no other reason to go there.  We met our good friend Katie at the Lincoln Park location for lunch.  The pie was a lot less dense and thick than I remember, but still delicious.

From there, we took the L another two stops to Addison Street. We went to meet Erik and his girlfriend Katie at the Cubby Bear for a pre-game drink, a must do for any Cubs game.  On the way, I took note of a few changes since my last visit to Wrigley for the Winter Classic five years ago (besides it being 50 degrees warmer).  There is a "new" Captain Morgan Club on Addison where the Harry Caray statue used to be.  Not sure where the statue was moved to or how new the club actually is, but an addition of a bar from which the Cubs can actually make money makes sense given what little space they have to grow.  Moving towards the main gate, it was hard to miss the giant anniversary banners dressing up the front facade.  I couldn't even fit them all in one camera frame from across the street.  The banners served a nice dual effect of being visually stunning, and also covering up having to look at the actual stadium.  On the northwest corner of Clark & Addison, the Cubs have built a new team store called the C-Store.  As with the Captain Morgan Club, it's a nice way for the team to actually make money on merchandise instead of competing with businesses on the street, much like at old Yankee Stadium.  The Cubs have had well-documented troubles getting renovations approved, so they seem to have taken the approach of adding around the stadium as a temporary measure.  This provisional nature is made pretty obvious by the team store being constructed of shipping containers and a tent.  How the city has allowed them to build that pile of junk but not add a couple signs and some team offices is beyond me.

The inside of the ballpark has had some piecemeal sprucing up like the exterior, but nothing too wild.  There was a noticeable increase in the amount of beer and concession offerings.  As with most parks these days, fans are demanding a wide variety of craft beers, but Erik and I were more than content to settle for some refreshing Old Styles after getting shafted at the Cubby Bear.  I had heard that Old Style was getting phased out of the Wrigley due to a new contract with Budweiser, but the petition to bring it back must have worked, because I am happy to report that many stands still sell it under the guise of a "craft beer."  With frosty brews in hand, we made our way to our seats, which were immediately inside the main gate behind home plate.  We had the top row of the lower level, which blocked our view of pretty much everything hit above the outfield wall, but it also kept us in the shade with a nice breeze on this hot afternoon.  The time we did spend in the sun was on a rooftop deck on the upper level above the marquee.  I'm not sure when this was put in, but it's new to me, and I thought it was great.  The couple innings we spent up there was the best part of the day.  It's a really unique setup right above a busy street corner, filled with bars and tables, and featuring nice views of the Chicago skyline.  My only complaint would be that you couldn't see the field from up there, but we didn't miss much as the Cubs ended up losing, 4-0.  The Cubs are loaded with young hitting talent and are on the cusp of being competitive, but for now I will enjoy watching them get beat up for as long as I can.  The game pitted one of the worst pitchers in the league, Edwin Jackson, against former Brewers top prospect Jake Odorizzi, who made his way over to the Rays via the Royals following the Zack Greinke deal.  Odorizzi was dominant and made me wish the Brewers still had him, as he struck out 9 in 6 shutout innings.  Yunel Escobar had 3 RBI in the win, and the Rays' stud closer Jake McGee shut the door by striking out the side in the 9th.  A highlight on the Cubs side was we got to see one of their top prospects, Javier Baez, play in his 5th career game.  He had a typical Baez day, crushing a double sandwiched in between 3 strikeouts.  This kid has a huge swing with a lot of movement, almost like Gary Sheffield plus Carlos Gomez.  It will be interesting to see how it translates to this level and if he needs to make any adjustments.

As I eluded to a few times, I am one of those in the minority who thinks Wrigley Field is a dump.  Yes, I admit a large part of that has to do with being a Brewers fan, and I also understand that it has not been easy for the Cubs to get any sort of significant improvements approved by the Landmarks and Neighborhood commissions.  But I am distinguishing improvements from just standard upkeep.  I'm more just disappointed it has been allowed to get this bad than flat-out disliking the stadium.  I certainly don't know all the facts, but from my perspective it seems like the team has taken the naive approach of "oh, Wrigley will just be here forever, we don't need to maintain it."  There are basic things like paint, updating plumbing, repairing concrete, handicap accessibility, and building clubhouses bigger than my apartment than can probably be addressed outside of the major renovations that are sorely needed.  Urinal troughs and nets to catch falling concrete should not have to exist for a team with as much money as the Cubs.  I think part of the delay of the renovations has not just been the city and the rooftop owners, but also the sensitivity to maintaining the historic feel of the ballpark, which I respect but at the same time it is the 21st century.  The Cubs need look no further than Fenway Park for a perfect example of how to incorporate the new revenue-generating amenities with the old stadium and still having it feel like an old stadium.  The renovation plan being presented to the city looks encouraging and I hope it moves forward, because as much as I enjoyed my time there on Saturday, I do not want to go back until those are complete.  I hate the Cubs and Chicago, and I complain about Wrigley a lot, but it truly is a treasure and it would be a shame if it were allowed to continue to crumble.  As other stadiums will continue to come and go, I hope that Wrigley Field is around another 100 years for my children and grandchildren to enjoy.

park rankings and statistics
(see also original post from 6/26/07): 

aesthetics - 3
views from park – 7
view to field - decreases to 4 (not sure why I ever had it that high - lots of obstructed view)
surrounding area – 10
food variety - increases to 5
nachos - 8
beer - 8

vendor price - decreases to 7
ticket price - 2
atmosphere - 9
walk to park – 9
parking price/proximity - decreases to 2 (residential)
concourses - 3
team shop -10 (still primarily outside stadium, new C-Store across the street)

best food – Chicago style dog
most unique stadium feature – hand-operated scoreboard, ivy on outfield wall
best jumbotron feature – the fact that they have one now...sort of
best between-inning feature – celebrity leads crowd in "Take me out to the Ballgame"

field dimensions – 355/400/353
starters – Jake Odorizzi (TB) v. Edwin Jackson (CHC)
opponent – Tampa Bay Rays
time of game – 3:06
attendance – 36739
score – 4-0 L

Brewers score that day – 4-1 W

Brewers 67-55, +2.0, (3 @ Dodgers, 2 v. Blue Jays)
Reds 60-61, -6.5 (4 @ Rockies, 3 @ Cardinals)
Twins 54-65, -11.5 (4 v. Royals, 3 v. Indians)

Erik - 6 (+22 worked)

Peter - 34