Thursday, May 18, 2017

Dubya Back to What He Does Best

There's definitely been a fair amount of George W. Bush nostalgia over these past 117 days or so, but by the looks of it, he doesn't plan on going back into politics anytime soon.  I can't say that I blame him; photobombing reporters is way better than having to talk to them.  Between taking in ballgames, blasting the Donald, and his illustrious painting career, I'd say he's pretty content with his retirement life.

Worth noting: Dubya gave up his stake in the Texas Rangers when he took office.

Brewers 23-18, +0.5 (3 @ Cubs, 2 v. Blue Jays, 4 v. Diamondbacks)
Reds 19-20, -3.0 (3 v. Rockies, 2 v. Indians, 2 @ Indians, 3 @ Phillies
Twins 19-16, +1.0 (3 v. Royals, 3 @ Orioles, 3 v. Rays

Erik - 4 (+6 worked)

Peter - 10

Monday, May 8, 2017

Eric Thames: God Arrives in Milwaukee

I'm not trying to be blasphemous.  To be clear, I don't worship Eric Thames, but a lot of people in Korea did.  He earned his deity status and non-secular nickname during a 3-year stretch for the NC Dinos that would be hard for me to even sustain in Super Nintendo.
  • 2014: .343/.422/.688, 37 HR, 121 RBI
  • 2015: .381/.497/.790, 47 HR, 140 RBI
  • 2016: .321/.427/.679, 40 HR, 120 RBI
That's a ridiculous 1.168 average OPS.  For frame of reference, the MLB league average is usually around .725-750 and .900 would be an all-star caliber player.  It was understandable when the Brewers signed Thames to a 3-year deal this offseason, that many experts assumed those numbers would not be sustainable in the major leagues, including the Brewers front office.  Partly because the KBO is considered about a AA-level talent, and partly because he wouldn't get to wear his gold-plated body armor anymore.  The team certainly took a big risk when they became the first franchise in MLB history to release a reigning homerun champion (Chris Carter) and put all of their faith in this relatively unproven product.  But I think the general thought was, even with half of the power production of Carter, that Thames would still be good for 20 HR or so with a better eye at the plate and an exponentially better glove in the field.  For the price they were paying him, it was worth it.

Needless to say, Eric's start to the season has been nothing short of miraculous and has blown skeptics away, and I think Eric himself would even admit he is surprised.  After a slow spring training spent figuring things out at this level again, Thames has hit to the tune of .324/.438/.731 with 12 HR and 22 RBI.  If you extrapolate that over the course of a season that's about a 1.170 OPS with 62 HR and 115 RBI, which is right on pace with his KBO numbers.  Thames was only 3 homers away from tying the record for most hit in the month of April.  Obviously, he is going to regress some - he did have a semi-human roadtrip recently with only one homerun.  But I think he has more than proven he can handle MLB pitching and has made David Stearns once again look like a wunderkind.  The Brewers may have found another diamond in the rough here, and it would sure be a relief to finally have a GM that has a knack for free agent signings.  After all, even with the rebuilds of the Astros, Cubs, and other teams, in the end it's the free agent signings that compliment the young core that put your team over the top.  It's up to the rest of the team to determine Thames' fate.  As of right now the team is generally overperforming their expectations, and if they keep that up, maybe Thames does not get traded for another crop of prospects.  Either way, it's a big win for the franchise and the fans.

Brewers 16-16, -1.5 (3 v. Red Sox, 3 v. Mets, 4 @ Padres)
Reds 17-14, +0.5 (2 v. Yankees, 4 @ Giants, 3 @ Cubs
Twins 15-14, -1.5 (3 @ White Sox, 3 @ Indians, 3 v. Rockies

Erik - 4 (+5 worked)

Peter - 9

Friday, April 28, 2017

Frame Park

All photos of Frame Park available on Flickr.

After working in Waukesha for over 3 years, I finally made it out to a Carroll University game this week.  Like many college baseball teams in the more temperate regions of the US, the home season is really only a month long due to weather, and in the case of smaller colleges like Carroll, many games are played at odd afternoon times.  So, making it out to the park has proved to be a challenge.  But I was there on Tuesday for a few innings during a beautifully mild April evening to watch the Pioneers lace up against the North Park Vikings out of Chicago.

The ballpark was about what I expected for a Division III school - namely, that it wasn't really a ballpark.  Much like the UW-Milwaukee Panthers, the Pioneers actually play in a city park with a community baseball field inside of it.  If you search "Frame Park" on Google Maps, Frame Park is actually the name of the park, and the field inside is just labeled as "Baseball Field."  I would say that it is only slightly above a high-school level field, at least the high school fields I played (sat in the dugout) at.  There are 3 sections of metal bleachers, no gates, concessions, or amenities of any kinds, a couple of chain link dugouts, and an outfield fence.  Being that it is an actual college and these games do matter to somebody, there is a PA announcer and a inning-tally style scoreboard, but other than that there are zero frills.  Were I not on a mission to tally as many ballparks visited as possible, objectively I probably wouldn't even classify this as a "ballpark."  But hey, watching a ballgame on a beautiful night is never in vain, no matter where.  Outside of the ballpark itself, Frame Park as a whole is very beautiful.  There are some formal gardens, an outdoor amphitheater, a place to rent boats, a public pool, and a scenic riverwalk that runs beyond the left field fence.

The riverwalk was getting bombarded with homeruns all night in the 19-13 slugfest.  A combination of a steady south wind blowing out, lackluster D-3 pitching, and just good ol' metal bats were a lethal combo that got the scoring going right out the gates with 3-run top of the 1st by the visiting Vikings.  As you can imagine with a score like that, every single starter had a hit for both teams, and every single Viking had at least 2 hits.  Diminutive leadoff hitter Jared Cantu went 4-5 for North Park and 5 players homered in the game.  There was also a Vikings player named Tyler Kopp who at the time I thought sounded like Ty Cobb, so I was disappointed just now to learn his actual name.  He had a day that his non-relative would be proud of though, coming up a double shy of the cycle.  Starter Andrew Stone for the Pioneers had a forgettable line that did not impress the lone scout in attendance: 11 ER on 13 hits and a walk in 2.2 IP.  The Carroll University website does not post ERAs, but I don't even want to do that math.  The score was 10-4 when he exited the game and it was extended to 19-4 by the 4th inning including 7-run outing by Cam Godinsky.  The Pioneers slowly chipped away at the lead but alas the deficit was too large, even for a bandbox field like Frame Park.

I didn't stay very long because it was brutal to watch and I was a little under the weather, but nonetheless outdoor baseball in April in Wisconsin is something I always try to take advantage of.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 1
views from park – 7 (Fox River)

view to field - 2
surrounding area – 6 (Frame Park)
food variety - n/a
nachos - n/a
beer - n/a

vendor price - n/a
ticket price - n/a
atmosphere - 2
walk to park – 5
parking price/proximity - 10
concourses - n/a
team shop - n/a

best food – n/a
most unique stadium feature – Fox Riverwalk beyond outfield fence
best jumbotron feature – n/a; only showed box score
best between-inning feature – hearing the cheers in the dugout

field dimensions – not listed - I would guess about 315/380
starters – Josh Ward (NPU) v. Andrew Stone (CU)
opponent – North Park Vikings
time of game – 3:00
attendance – 110 (surprisingly listed on team website and shockingly inaccurate)
score – 19-13 L

Brewers score that day – 9-1 W

Brewers 12-11 (3 v. Braves, 4 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Pirates)
Reds 10-12 (3 @ Cardinals, 4 v. Pirates, 3 v. Giants
Twins 10-11 (3 @ Royals, 3 v. Athletics, 3 v. Red Sox

Erik - 3 (+4 worked)

Peter - 7

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Return to Werner Park

All photos of Werner Park available on Flickr.

I went to one of the last Storm Chasers games of the season, and last week I attended the 2nd home game of the 2017 season.  As my monthly work trips to Omaha have passed the one-year mark and seem to be extending into perpetuity, I am going to grow more and more familiar with Werner Park.  It was a beautiful 70° April evening when I arrived at the ballpark just before first pitch.  This time around, I discovered a free parking lot just north of the stadium completely by accident.  I realized as I turned towards the stadium that I didn't have any cash on me, so I continued past the lot towards a subdivision not far away and thought I could find a spot on the street.  On my way I saw several people exploiting the same loophole and parking in an unpaved gravel lot just north of the main lot and followed them in.  I'm not sure if the team allows this or if this is on the up-and-up, but for anybody planning on attending a Storm Chasers game in the near future - don't pay for parking.  This incident restored my faith in my personal policy to never pay full price for anything you can get cheaper or free with a little effort.

I wasn't expecting much to have changed in the park in the span of about 8 months, and the park was about as I remembered.  As far as AAA parks go it is nothing spectacular, but given its rural setting and size, it is a more than comfortable place to watch a game.  I was still miffed at the lack of beer and food options especially given it is a pretty new ballpark.  Most of the stands typically only offer a couple of Busch products and it takes some hunting to find anything else.  However I was not about to complain on 25-cent hot dog night.  Despite eating dinner before my arrival, I felt obligated to scarf one down (to go along with an obscene $4 bottle of water - mostly because I did not want to charge only a Quarter to my debit card).  I sat on the 1st base side for this game and even despite the nice weather and being the first homestand of the year, the stadium was maybe 1/4th full if that.  The poor staff had to practically beg the crowd just to stand up for the 7th inning stretch.  What this park lacks in pizzazz and atmosphere it makes up for in just damn good baseball.  The Storm Chasers have been to the playoffs each of the last 4 years and won back-to-back championships in 2013-14, back when their parent Royals club was good.

Omaha won on this night 6-3 behind a solid starting performance by Eric Skoglund.  He pitched 5 shutout innings with 4 strikeouts and only 73 pitches.  Ryan O'Hearn was the offensive star of the day for the Chasers.  He went 2-4 with a booming homerun and a rope double, knocking in a run on each hit.  He looks poised to be the Royals first baseman of a future, were it not for a multiple gold-glover named Eric Hosmer blocking his path.  Former Royal Jorge Bonifacio mashed a homer as well.  O'Hearn and Bonifacio actually hit back-to-back jobs in the 2nd that caused the opposing pitcher to be tossed.  He plunked the next guy up right in the back and that was a quick end to his night.  Two former Red Sox top prospects and 2016 Brewers 3rd Base farmhands also got the start in this game.  Garin Cecchini has an unimpressive night for the Chasers, with only a meager infield hit to show for his effort.  He is only hitting .143 on the season and it's probably a good thing we cut him.  Conversely, Will Middlebrooks hit 3rd in the lineup for the visiting Express (Rangers) and went 3-4 with 2 doubles.  Perhaps we gave up too early on Middlebrooks but with The Mayor of Ding Dong City now locking down third for the Crew, we probably don't need either of these guys anymore.

I'm sure many more Storm Chasers will await me this summer and beyond, and I'm hoping I can make it back to the College World Series again this year as well.

park rankings and statistics
(see original post from 8/26/16):

starters – Allen Webster (RR) v. Eric Skoglund (OMA)
opponent – Round Rock Express
time of game – 2:57
attendance – 2347
score – 6-3 W

Brewers score that day – 2-0 W

Brewers 8-7 (4 v. Cardinals, 3 v. Reds)
Reds 9-5 (3 v. Cubs, 3 @ Brewers
Twins 7-7 (3 v. Tigers, 3 @ Rangers

Erik - 3 (+1 worked)

Peter - 4

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Concessions Overhaul at Miller Park

All photos of Brewers Opening Week 2017 @ Miller Park available on Flickr.

Another baseball season is upon us and another home opener at Miller Park has come and gone, making it 10 in a row for me this year!  No matter how long the offseason may seem, all it takes is to pull into that parking lot at 9 AM and see all those cars, and the doldrums of winter are all but forgotten.  This year was a manageable 50 degrees, but whatever the weather, the thousands of grills always seem to keep us just warm enough until that next drink.

We made sure to get inside a little earlier than usual this year so that we had time to explore all of the highly-anticipated new concessions.  It seems like the Brewers do something new inside the park just about every year, but this year the city and team were abuzz with the excitement of a nearly complete overhaul of the concessions and branding.  It was long overdue, and it was certainly a good move by the team to roll this out now while the team is admittedly not too good in an effort to draw fans.  The Brewers have certainly come a long way in terms of food quality the last few years, adding ballpark fare beyond the standard sausages and nachos (which are still very good).  But unlike a lot of parks, the way the stands were set up and branded was rather generic.  In the past, often times you had to get up real close to the menu to even see what they have, which is incredibly inconsistent from stand to stand.  This creates a bottleneck of patrons and a lot of confusion.  The new concessions fix this problem with giant, bold signage.  There are also a few bars nearer to home plate now that are 4-sided like you would see at a festival tent, rather than one-sided as a typical bar cart would be at a stadium.  This relieves a lot of congestion and creates another bold branding opportunity, not to mention a great place to meet.  In a ballpark that is largely devoid of public shared spaces and communal areas, these new "Zing Boom Tararrel" bars are crucial. 

It would have been easy to just slap up some signs and paint and call it a day, but the Brewers also revamped their entire food and drink menu as well.  The Klements and Miller Lite stands still rightfully have their place, but this year, AJ Bombers and Smoke Shack have been given much more prominence in the park, beyond just the corner outdoor stand they had the last few years.  There are several locations on all levels that serve the delicious burgers and BBQ.  Local favorite Zaffiro's Pizza and a gourmet Mac & Cheese stand are new players this year, as is a giant "Local Brews" stand on the loge level.  It's a beer bar that is latching onto the craft beer craze sweeping the league and the nation, offering over 20 kinds of local beers, many from the dozen or so breweries that have popped up in metro Milwaukee in the past couple of years.  Perhaps the most anticipated addition and another Wisconsin staple - Brandy Old Fashioneds are now served on tap.  It's something I guarantee you won't find at any other stadium in the country.  After the home opener, Megan and I just had to go to another game on Wednesday to fully experience as much of the new foods and drinks as possible.  I think I can now objectively say that Miller Park is in the top 5 for food & drink concessions in MLB now, and I think that even the 100,000 Cubs fans that were here over the weekend would agree with that.

As for the team, well I guess the nicest thing I can say is that they will be fun to watch.  These kids can absolutely rake, and we've got a couple of decent starters with nice depth in the minors, but beyond that, the bullpen and defense are going to be problems all year.  Almost every Brewer that has recorded a save in the last 2 years has been traded and we are left with another reclamation project in Neftali Feliz to close games now, with a hodgepodge of mid-tier prospects and veteran long relievers filling out the middle innings.  The new heart of our order will be the most exciting to watch this year in my opinion - Eric Thames and Travis Shaw.  Thames put up video-game numbers in the KBO, averaging .348 with 41 HR and 126 RBI per season over 3 years.  Shaw was the key piece of the Thornburg trade to Boston, and I really don't have to say much else other than his nickname is "Mayor of Ding Dong City."  They've both more than held their own so far in the first week.  It will also be interesting to see how Orlando Arcia plays over a full season.  I think a lot of people expected him to hit better than he did last year, but honestly with his defense, I'd take .250 out of him.  With Villar, Arcia, Broxton, and eventually Lewis Brinson up the middle, the Brewers have an exciting future ahead of them.

updated park rankings
(see also previous post from 4/2/14):

aesthetics - 8
views from park – 4

view to field - 4
surrounding area – 3
food variety - 9
nachos - 9
beer - improves to 9

vendor price - 7
ticket price - 10 (pretty hard not to find discounted/free tickets)
atmosphere - decreases to 8 (team is not good)
walk to park – 6
parking price/proximity - decreases to 4
concourses - increases to 8
team shop - 10

best food – AJ Bombers or Smoke Shack
most unique stadium feature – roof, Bernie's slide
best jumbotron feature – can you name more of something than a Brewer?
best between-inning feature – Klements Sausage Race

Brewers 2-5 (2 @ Blue Jays, 4 @ Reds, 3 @ Cubs)
Reds 5-2 (3 @ Pirates, 4 v. Brewers, 3 v. Orioles
Twins 5-1 (3
@ Tigers, 3 v. White Sox, 4 v. Indians)

Erik - 3 (+0 worked)

Peter - 3

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

US Bank Stadium

All photos of US Bank Stadium available on Flickr.

I'll just get this out of the way - no, this isn't a post about football.  But what were we doing at the Vikings new stadium in March?  Why, it's the new winter home of the U of M Golden Gophers!  Although I am not at an NFL fan by any stretch of the imagination, I was admittedly excited to see the new billion-dollar behemoth opened last year on the site of the old Metrodome.  I was even more excited that we didn't have to sit outside at Siebert Field in 20-degree weather.  Back in the day, the Gophers used to play a scattering of games in February and March in the Metrodome while waiting for their outdoor field to thaw.  Now that US Bank Stadium has been completed, the school once again has a temporary indoor home that gives them a huge recruiting advantage in the Big Ten.

We took the Green Line out to the stadium, and the first thing you see when you get off the train is a giant glass acute angled corner cantilevering out towards you, almost daring you to stare up at the sky and walk towards it.  The dozens of birds that smack into the glass on a weekly basis undoubtedly feel the same.  Contrasted with a crystal clear day and the black metal panel, the exterior is truly a spectacle and unlike any other stadium I have ever seen.  Once inside, the 30 stories of glass gives the inside an extremely airy feel and sense of urban context, despite being a 1.75-million square foot barn.  We didn't get to see that much of the interior because only a small portion is accessible for baseball games, but what I did see was quite impressive.  Everything is just so large from the trusses, to the jumbotrons, to the concourses, but all of the glass really makes a huge difference.  Being able to see the clouds above and the skyline in the distance made me feel like I was actually at an intimate baseball stadium.

However, since it is primarily used for football, naturally there are issues not unlike any other dual-purpose stadium.  The field is painted and cobbled and just generally looks like garbage.  Everything was a rush patchwork to get ready for an event that was clearly an afterthought for the football stadium.  Dugouts look like they were borrowed from a high school and the foul poles were noticeably askew.  There was not a spot of actual dirt anywhere, even on the pitching mounds.  The right field wall is also a 34-foot tall "baggie" reminiscent of the Metrodome where sections of seats were retracted back to make room for a decent size field.  I also have to say that the Gopher maroon and Viking purple are very painful to look at juxtaposed together all over the stadium.  The nice thing was that from where we sat along first base, we had a clear view out the tall curtainwall straight through to downtown.  Because it is a venue used only a few weekends a year for baseball, and because the design is so breathtaking, a lot of the shortcomings I expected and was willing to live with, as opposed to an everyday stadium like the Metrodome.  It was like the college kids were borrowing the keys to the adult's house, and they would try their best to put everything back the way it was when they're done.  You wouldn't want to live there but for what it was, it was a nice fantasy.

The game was a loss for the Gophers to the Missouri State Bears of the Missouri Valley Conference.  They would go onto lose Sunday as well to lose the series and drop to 9-7 on the year; not exactly a robust follow-up to their 2016 Big Ten Championship season.  Dylan Coleman hurled a masterful 7 innings for the Bears, striking out 7 with only 4 hits.  Unlike their former winter home affectionately known as the "Homerdome," the ball did not seem to carry very well here.  A lot of balls were crushed between the gaps and died before the warning track - and by warning track I mean a painted line on the turf.  The lone hit that was tagged was a homerun to left by Minnesota 3B Micah Coffey, and even that homerun was questionable as it did not appear to clear the wall, but the umpire was too lazy to run out for a better view.  Alex Jefferson had 2 hits and 3 runs including a HR for the visitors.

The main reason that I was in town was not just for the Gophers game, but so that Erik and I could plan and book our ball trip this year!  We are all set to be in Atlanta June 23-27 and could not be more pumped.  It'll be awesome to actually be watching ball on our 10th anniversary, and against the Crew no less.  The trip planning and the ballgame were both stark reminders that Opening Day is only 3 weeks away!  About a month ago we had a week of record highs in Milwaukee, and yesterday we got a foot of snow, so as always, it's anyone's guess as to what the weather will be that day.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 9
views from park – 8 (probably the best view you'll ever see from an enclosed stadium)

view to field - 4 (all seats on 2nd level)
surrounding area – 8 (downtown)
food variety - 1 (not much was open)
nachos - n/a
beer - 7 (for only having one beer stand, definitely not bad)

vendor price - 8
ticket price - 9 ($10 GA)
atmosphere - 3 (eerily quiet)
walk to park – 8
parking price/proximity - n/a (metro)
concourses - 9
team shop - n/a

best food – popcorn I guess?
most unique stadium feature – glass walls and roof
best jumbotron feature – n/a; only showed box score
best between-inning feature – Goldy Gopher steals children

field dimensions – 328/400/300
starters – Dylan Coleman (MOSt) v. Brett Schulze (MN)
opponent – Missouri State Bears
time of game – 2:45
attendance – 1271
score – 7-2 L

Brewers score that day – 5-3 W

Brewers are currently 10-8 in Cactus League play.

Erik - 2 (+0 worked)

Peter - 1

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

MLB Institutes New Batch of Rule Changes

Last week, a series of rule changes went into affect across the Major Leagues, effective immediately.  So immediate that anybody playing in a Wednesday spring training game had to play under a different set of rules than the day before.  These rules include but are not limited to the following:

  • Managers can now motion to the umpire to issue an intentional walk instead of the pitcher having to throw all 4 pitches.
  • Managers are required to decide within 30 seconds of a play whether or not to review it, and umpire reviews are now on a 2-minute time limit. 
  • Managers are also now allowed to challenge through the 7th inning, which is an additional inning than the former rule.
  • All markings used on the field used for defensive positioning are banned.  This is primarily in response to a lone incident last season in which the Dodgers used lasers to guide their fielders.
  • The "Carter Capps Rule" - a pitcher lifting his back foot during his delivery is now a balk or a ball, depending whether runners are on base or not.
  • "Hazing" has been severely limited - forcing players to dress as women or in any offensive costumes has been banned.
  • Base coach boxes will now be more strictly enforced.
Most of these rules make a lot of sense.  Everybody wants plays to be called accurately, but not at the expense of an extensive NFL-length replay delay, so the new replay rules are a good middle ground for that.  And while I will miss seeing Eddy Sedar hobbling two-thirds of the way to home plate to throw up the stop sign, it's probably best for his own health that he is confined to an area.  The rule that really irks me though is the intentional walk rule.  I'm all for improving inefficiencies in the game - a major criticism of the game for a long time as been the slow, deliberate pace, so I understand the spirit of the law.  But I would argue this rule affects gameplay itself, so I am opposed to it.  This would be like in basketball in that final minute of the game where you need to foul a guy to put him on the line, but instead of actually fouling the player, the coach just walks up to the referee and says "I would like to foul him."  It eliminates the potential for a steal, or a passed ball, or any sort of player error during that sequence to affect the game.  I can think of at least three times that Miguel Cabrera alone has gotten a hit off of an intentional walk pitch gone astray.  Most importantly, I think eliminating or changing a part of in-game strategy, however small it might be, is a slippery slope for the future.  Who knows what could be next after this?  They're already testing a rule in the minor leagues now in which a baserunner would be placed on 2nd base to start extra innings.  The game could look completely different in 10 years.

It's reasons like this that I have not been a huge fan of Rob Manfred thus far.  His biggest platform seems to be that he wants to speed up the game, but he also wants more offense, which is a complete oxymoron.  I want him to stop messing with the game and start focusing his efforts on more important issues like player safety and the Oakland/Tampa stadium situations.  Nobody is going to start watching baseball because it the games are 4 minutes shorter.  NFL games are nearly 4 hours long now, and the popularity of football is only going up.  People either love baseball or they don't and that's just the way it is.  What I worry about most is that Manfred will eventually bring the DH to the National League, and I will not go down without a fight on that one.  I've already written angry letters to my fair share of elected officials this year and I'm not afraid to add one more to the list.