Monday, June 20, 2016

Return of Big Time Timmy Jim

Tim Lincecum finished the long road to recovery from hip surgery this past weekend in the Bay Area, but not in his familiar orange and black Giants uniform as we have all been accustomed to seeing.  Rather, he was pitching in Angel Red against the A's in Oakland.  The Angels signed him to an incentive-laden minor league deal a few weeks ago, and after a few starts with mixed results in AAA Salt Lake to build up arm strength, LA called up the former star to a rotation in desperate need of help.  CJ Wilson is now 35 and has been on the DL all year with a shoulder injury (which means his career is probably over), Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney are both getting stem cell injections to try to avoid elbow surgery, and Jered Weaver's fastball is now being clocked with a sundial.  "The Freak" showed up in a big way on Saturday, giving up only 1 run in 6 innings and striking out 2.

The Angels record aside, he really could not be walking into a better situation.  It's a team with no better options that is struggling for an identity, and even though they are close in age, Jered Weaver has reinvented himself in the last few years as a soft-throwing finesse pitcher and is somebody that Timmy can really lean on to learn a lot from.  Here's hoping that this is the beginning of a new chapter for Lincecum, who is still exciting to watch and easy to root for, not to mention still extremely marketable.

Brewers 31-39, -17.5 (2 @ Athletics, 3 v. Nationals)
Reds 27-43, -21.5 (2 @ Rangers, 4 v. Padres
Twins 21-48, -17.5 (3 v. Phillies, 3 @ Yankees)

Erik - 11 (+10 worked)

Peter - 17

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Opening Week in Kenosha 2016

All photos of 2016 Kingfish opening week available on Flickr.

My wife Megan and I did not renew our Kenosha ticket package this year because of all of our summer commitments this year, but we did still manage to make it down for the 2nd game of the season this past Wednesday.  Skies were threatening throughout the day, but it managed to clear up just before first pitch and the weather was beautiful throughout the game.  We even got there early enough that we were able to procure a Championship Elvis bobblehead, which was the main reason we went to Game 2 instead of the home opener.

I was hoping that along with this Championship bobblehead that the Kingfish would be raising their championship banner from last season, but alas it was just a normal night at the ballpark.  The Kingfish actually seemed to have trouble raising much of anything, as Elvis was unable to be hoisted onto his perch to zipline down with the game ball.  There was actually nothing new at the ballpark that Megan and I noticed, not even a new food, which is certainly atypical of a Big Top Baseball-operated facility.  I went with the Spicy Bacon Philly and Megan had the Cranberry Walnut Chicken Salad sandwich, both of which were delicious.  Most people would probably never notice or care about this, but I've always liked that this park sells aluminum pints of Coors Banquet.  In this age of craft beer connoisseurs and large beer sponsorships, I like to enjoy a cold shitty beer at the park once in a while.  I have to say that I was disappointed with the team store's lack of All-Star Game and Championship apparel.  There was one t-shirt of each from what I saw and neither were anything spectacular.  Hopefully by next month when K-Hole hosts the All-star game they will have stepped up their game a little bit.  The logo features the Simmons Field grandstand as a backdrop and will look pretty sweet on hats and shirts.

We sat in the 1st row, one section down from where our 7-pack seats were last year.  The first thing we noticed after we sat down was that one of the guys in the all-you-can-eat pen in front of us had the nerve to bring his laptop to the game.  Smart phones is one thing, but how out of touch with your surroundings do you have to be to physically bring a computer to a ballgame?  However, after I noticed he was using his laptop to check Northwoods League scores and cycle through various NWL live game feeds, and that the others with him were doing the same on their phones, I did some investigative Googling and figured out they were the president and co-founders of the league!  I didn't get a chance to talk to them but many other people stopped down to pester them.  Dick Radatz Jr. in particular seemed very excited about the updated website and where the league was heading.  I was hoping to eavesdrop on some conversations about league expansion, but we were pretty close to the field so I had to pay attention to every pitch, lest I get clocked in the face by a foul ball.  The fact that these guys were in Kenosha instead of the new Rockford franchise for opening week really speaks volumes to what they must think of the viability of that franchise (and Illinois in general).

The Kingfish ended up winning 7-6 in 10 innings.  We stayed through the 9th inning and saw Kenosha blow leads of 3-0 and 6-2 to force extra racks.  Kenosha built their leads largely in part to the 5 errors committed by Lacrosse.  Two of the Kingfish runs scored on passed balls and two were on errors and only two of their seven runs were charged as earned.  The player I was most impressed with was 1B Gunnar McNeil.  With a name like Gunnar you expect a beefcake of a man, and he was - he actually looked kind of like the mean Mets slugger from Rookie of the Year.  He only went 1-5 on the day but every ball he put in play was absolutely crushed, even the foul balls.  His one hit was a laser double out to the opposite alley.  Derek Heffel tossed the final out of the game and picked up a win for his effort.

Megan and I will be returning to Kenosha next month for the Home Run Derby, and I cannot wait.  The team got permission from the league and the city to put this event at the harbor, so contestants will be launching balls out onto the water from shore!  There has been a trend in the minor leagues in recent years to use non-ballpark site and non-traditional formats for these types of events and this will certainly be a one-of-a-kind experience.

Brewers 26-31, -14.5 (4 v. Mets, 3 @ Giants, 4 @ Dodgers)
Reds 21-36, -19.5 (3 v. Athletics, 4 @ Braves, 3 @ Astros
Twins 16-40, -16.0 (3 v. Red Sox, 3 @ Angels, 4 v. Yankees)

Erik - 10 (+8 worked)

Peter - 15

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Ichiro Nearing 3,000 MLB Hits and All-Time Hits Record

As of this post, Ichiro Suzuki needs only 40 hits for 3,000 in MLB, and even more impressive, only 18 hits to break Pete Rose's record of 4,256 (if you include the 1,278 accumulated in Japan prior to moving to the US in 2001).  I think everybody knows at least on a cursory level how good a hitter Ichiro is, but he may very well be putting together the quietest Hall of Fame resume of any player in modern history.  During his prime he played in relative obscurity in the Pacific Northwest on mostly awful Mariners teams.  During the tail end of the "streroid era" where 50+ homerun seasons were still rather common, 200 hits and 30 steals a season just did not get the same fanfare.  He was then traded to the Yankees and saw his stats start to diminish as part of an aging outfield.  He now plays primarily off the bench for the Marlins.  Talk about obscurity - I doubt many people even knew that he was still playing.  Last year in about 400 ABs he posted the lowest batting average of his career of .229, but even at age 41, few expected him to retire given how close he was to etching his name in the history books.  He signed a 1-year deal to remain in Miami and is experiencing somewhat of a career renaissance this year, despite (or perhaps because of) seeing fewer and fewer at bats to the young and talented outfield of Ozuna, Yelich, and Stanton.  Up until he hit a 1-24 skid recently, he was hitting well over .400 primarily in pinch hitting opportunities.  At his current pace he should get to 3,000 hits by the end of the season, and to 4,256 around the All-Star Break.  Although, he has recently come out and said he intends on playing to age 50, so what's the rush?

With the Brewers being in the National League and Ichiro playing in the AL for most of his career, I have not gotten to see him play as much as I would have liked.  But I did see him in his prime on the Tour in Seattle and his 3-hit game there is still one of my lasting memories 9 years later.  I also saw all 3 games when the Marlins were in town recently.  Ichiro is without a doubt the greatest player I have watched for an entire career, and along with maybe Griffey and Vlad Guerrero, one of the greatest hitters I have ever seen in person, period.  He was gifted in all facets of the game during an era that did not care about speed or defense, and before sabermetrics introduced the world to OBP and BABIP.  I will be watching closely for him to reach this milestone and hope to make the trip back to Cooperstown for his induction someday.

Brewers 23-29, -13.0 (4 @ Phillies, 2 v. Athletics)
Reds 17-35, -19.0 (3 v. Nationals, 3 v. Cardinals
Twins 15-36, -14.0 (4 v. Rays, 3 v. Marlins)

Erik - 10 (+5 worked)

Peter - 14

Friday, May 20, 2016

Report: Rangers Latest Team to Con Their Way to New Stadium

The buzz around the interwebs the last couple of days is that the City of Arlington is expected to announce their plans to help finance a new retractable-roof stadium for the Texas Rangers.  The Rangers currently play at Globe Life Park, which is barely 20 years old and cost about $190 million in 1994.  Their proposed new facility would cost nearly 5 times that amount and is speculated to open before their current lease is up following the 2023 season.  Arlington's share of the cost would come via dedicated sales tax, which would be on top of the one that already exists for JerryWorld across the street.  Taxpayers largely footed the bill for the current facility as well.

Am I excited that there will be another new park that I get to go see?  Of course I am.  I'm sure Erik and I will be there in its opening season like we always are.  But I think that any remotely intelligent person also understands how terrible of a deal it is when municipalities subsidize sports venues.  The thought of not having a major league team is so ghastly that cities and their citizens, almost without fail, are willing to just throw bags of money at teams lest they threaten to leave.  The Rangers are not the first team to use this tactic and certainly won't be the last.  The Braves successfully did the same thing a few years ago, and there was a story at the beginning of the year about how the D-backs already want out of Chase Field.  And I honestly can't say that I blame any of these teams - I mean, baseball is a business after all, and who wouldn't want for a free stadium if they knew they could get one?  The issue is much deeper than that and speaks to the whole concept that sports teams somehow provide financial benefit and social enrichment to a city, so much so that if one were to leave, it would be devastating.  The Supersonics left Seattle about 10 years ago and the city did not crumble to the ground or experience a mass exodus of people.  Having a sports team, while awesome, is largely a perceived value that does not organically spur economic development, unless that too is subsidized as in the case of many ballpark villages around the country.  Milwaukee went through this with the Miller Park 20 years ago (which we are still paying for), and they are going through it again now with the NBA Bucks.  The Brewers promised that the area surrounding the stadium would boom, and pretty much all we have to show for it is more parking lots and a new Target.  The Bucks have the whole state convinced that their new arena will create thousands of jobs and create a whole new entertainment district, and a state budget that was already in the red bonded the project with little opposition.

It may seem like that I am opposed to teams building new stadiums, but I am not.  If the Rangers honestly believe their current ballpark is already outdated after 22 years, then they have every right to do what is best for their business.  And however intangible, there is definitely something about having a major league sports team that puts a city on a different level.  But it is one thing to finance a project yourself like a normal developer or business would, and another thing to put it on somebody else's tab.  The practice of blackmailing municipalities for new ballparks is a dangerous trend that is only getting worse.  Many of these stadiums are putting cities into holes of debt that they can't climb out of.  Stadiums are getting more expensive and becoming obsolete at a faster pace than ever before, and until there is a fundamental shift in the way we think of the value of a sports franchise, the only losers will be taxpayers like you and me.  Rangers fans owe the team absolutely nothing, and the Rangers will do just fine financially if they play at Globe Life Park for the rest of its useful life.

UPDATE: Shortly after this post more specifics were announced.  Expected to top $1 billion with a 50/50 city-team split and anticipated opening by the 2021 season.  Would be located just to the south of the existing park in the same complex.  The new lease would run through January 1st, 2054.

Brewers 18-23, -11.0 (3 @ Mets, 3 @ Braves, 3 v. Reds, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 15-26, -14.0 (3 v. Mariners, 3 @ Dodgers, 3 @ Brewers, 4 @ Rockies
Twins 10-30, -14.5 (4 v. Blue Jays, 3 v. Royals, 3 @ Mariners, 3 @ Athletics)

Erik - 8 (+2 worked)

Peter - 14

Friday, May 13, 2016

The MLB Expansion Saga Continues

Last year, I wrote a largely speculative article about the future of the game and the possibility of expansion.  This past week, Commissioner Rob Manfred finally let slip a few of his thoughts on the baseball landscape and all but announced that MLB expansion was an inevitable reality.  During a stop in Chicago, he shared with the White Sox broadcasters in the booth his upcoming plans.  His comments gave credibility to what I and many others have thought since he took office: that the market for baseball is growing, and that MLB wants to start expanding their product beyond just the United States. 

Manfred confirmed that, following the next CBA, he would like to start looking into adding another two teams to bring the total up to 32.  This number makes much more sense with divisional alignment and there are certain many North American cities that can support an MLB team.  Manfred cited Montreal and Mexico City has his personal favorites.  Montreal has long been the "prodigal son" that people have talked about getting another crack at baseball, but Mexico City was mildly surprising.  It does make sense that the commissioner would want to expand into Mexico and Latin America, but Mexico City certainly has some crime and financial issues that would need to be put to rest before it became any more than talk, and Mexico is far more of a soccer country than some of the Caribbean countries.  There was an exhibition series between the Padres and Astros played at their main ballfield - Estadio Fray Nano, pictured above - this past March, similar to what Montreal did, so that is certainly a step in the right direction.  Some of the Latin American countries that have the biggest history and passion for baseball are not in great financial and political shape at the moment, so there would certainly have to be a stable ownership group and strong national support behind any team starting up there. 

MLB expansion is still just the tip of the iceberg in my opinion.  I still think there is a fair chance that either the A's or the Rays, if not both, move from their current cities, and Montreal and Mexico City could play a role in that.  There is also the issue of one MLB team equals at least another 5 minor league affiliates per team.  Would Manfred push for those to be internationally based as well?  There are certainly many serviceable Mexican and Canadian League stadiums to use on a temporary basis, as well as many older parks on the eastern seaboard that are lying dormant.  As a ballpark chaser, this is the most exciting prospect to me - getting to see potentially 12 more stadiums, and not just 2.  "Put it on the list," as Erik and I like to say.

Brewers 14-21, -12.0 (4 v. Padres, 3 v. Cubs)
Reds 14-20, -11.5 (3 @ Phillies, 2 @ Indians, 2 v. Indians
Twins 8-25, -14.0 (3 @ Indians, 3 @ Tigers)

Erik - 7 (+2 worked)

Peter - 13

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What MLB Team Should You Root For?

Somewhere in the depths of my Etsy searches for wedding ideas over the past year I came across this flowchart.  I don't know if I just subconsciously meandered into baseball stuff or if my computer just knows my search history all too well.  This may not be a new meme, I'm not sure when this originally came out, but I only found out what a meme was like last year so give me a break.  Is it intended to be a joke?  Yes, but I've followed every path on this chart and it's also amazingly accurate.  For instance, tailgating factors in the determination of about a third of the teams, which is an all-too crucial criterion.

The very first team on the flow chart is the best - do you have a soul?  If the answer is no, you are a Yankees fan.  Enjoy finding out which team you really should be rooting for.

Brewers 11-15, -8.5 (4 @ Reds, 3 @ Marlins)
Reds 10-17, -10.0 (4 v. Brewers, 3 v. Pirates
Twins 8-19, -11.0 (3 @ White Sox, 3 v. Orioles)

Erik - 7 (+2 worked)

Peter - 12

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Return to US Cellular Field

All photos of US Cellular Field available on Flickr.

Only a week after the wedding, and my wife and I were already on out of town for a weekend roadtrip - Megan at a bachelorette party, and I of course at a ballgame.  Having no interest in tagging along with a bunch of girls wearing glowing penis necklaces, Megan dropped my friend (the groom) Bryan and I off on the south side of Chicago to catch a matinee White Sox game en route to her party in SW Michigan.  It was my first trip to US Cellular Field since 2012, when Erik and I celebrated the 5th anniversary of The Tour at the place it all started.

It was a bright and sunny day just as it was four years ago, but this time it was about 30 degrees cooler and I did not burn my forearms to a deep shade of redBryan and I had tickets in the right field bleachers, only a few rows above the visitors' bullpen.  We got to watch starter Colby Lewis warm up for a few minutes and tried unsuccessfully to lobby the bullpen coach for a baseball.  The older I get without having a child, the creepier it gets to ask for a baseball, and proposing a trade for a giveaway Jose Abreu plush doll did not make it any less creepy.  We spent about the first 6 innings at these seats, primarily heckling Rangers RF Nomar Mazara and trying not to get beer spilled on us by the drunk kids in our row.  After the 6th, the shadows had lurched into our area and we moved to left field - the temperature difference from shadow to sun was incredible.  It was pretty funny from our new vantage point to see all of the fans migrating with the sun as it moved, kind of like a dog does by a porch door.  The game went extra innings and by the end, there were maybe a few hundred people left on the entire right half of the stadium, and everyone else had either left or squeezed into the outfieldThe White Sox won in the 11th on a bases loaded single by Jose Abreu through a 5-man infield, and would eventually go on to sweep the series on Sunday.  The Sox are actually playing surprisingly good ball so far this year, but the AL Central is one of those divisions where realistically every team, after the Royals, has a shot of placing anywhere from 2nd to last.  They got a stellar pitching performance from Carlos Rodon and the Melk Man had a 3-hit afternoon including a homerun.

As far as the stadium goes, not a lot has changed since the last time I was there, other than a few additional retired numbers.  My last two visits were both in the bleachers, and this is definitely the way to go at this park.  The outfield has a lovely concourse that is a little wider than typical, with a lot of concession areas and a bar.  This concourse has a vibe sort of like Ashburn Alley in Philly or Eutaw Street in Baltimore, where it sort of feels like you're walking on a pedestrian street.  One of my bigger complaints with this park is still a relative lack of concession and beer options as compared to most MLB parks today.  The Cell has not seemed to fully embrace the craft beer craze that the rest of the country has and we were only able to find one stand on the lower level that sold anything other than Miller LiteWe did find a great little Cuban sammich cart, but you are primarily going to find the three Chicago staples of dogs, pizza, and Italian beef here (although, one could argue that an $8 Old Style tallboy and a Chicago Dog are really all one would ever want or need at a Chicago baseball game, and that wouldn't be an incorrect statement).  This park also still has the ridiculous rule of only being able to access the level on which you have a ticket.  With so many of the "new age" ballparks being so great and close to one another in terms of amenities, it only takes a couple of poor things like this to keep US Cellular towards the bottom of my list.  Objectively speaking, and team aside, it is as good a ballpark as any to take in a ballgame.  I have still only been to US Cellular for day games and that is a conscious decision - the South Side is terrifying, and I do not want to see what some of these White Sox fans look like at night when they've had an entire day of drinking under their lapped-over belts.

Brewers 8-12, -7.0 (3 v. Marlins, 3 v. Angels)
Reds 9-12, -6.5 (3 @ Pirates, 3 v. Giants
Twins 7-14, -8.0 (3 v. Tigers, 3 @ Astros)

Erik - 6 (+0 worked)

Peter - 7