Monday, April 16, 2018

Creighton Baseball at TD Ameritrade Park

All photos of Creighton Blue Jays game available on Flickr.

I made my 15th(!) work trip to Omaha a couple of weeks ago and decided to return to TD Ameritrade Park to watch a Creighton baseball game instead of the Storm Chasers.  The Blue Jays use the park as their home field in an effort to justify building a brand new ballpark for basically one event, and judging by their record the last couple of years it is clearly a fantastic recruiting tool.  I was curious to see what the atmosphere would be like for a regular season collegiate game as opposed to the packed house of the College World Series.  The answer is that it could not have been more of a night and day difference.  The box score may tell you that the attendance was 1186, but I believe I counted only 150 fans at one point.  Either there were a ton of people staying warm in the suites, or a lot of season ticket holders did not want to brave the 40° temperature.  Regardless, it worked out well for me as I got a walkup seat for $10 only a few rows back from home plate.  I was also not too far from the Creighton dugout, from which their encouraging cheers were emanating so audibly that I almost felt like I was part of the team.
Given the cold weather (although given what we are getting hit with now it seemed almost tropical in hindsight), I took a lap around the stadium to stay warm.  I did not really notice anything different from my last visit in 2016, and it would have been easy to notice any changes given the emptiness of the park.  Literally only two concession stands were open and all that they had was your standard ballpark fare - dogs, popcorn, etc.  The one I went to was probably the lady's first ever customer and I had to coach her on tapping a beer.  I'm not saying I was expecting anything more; in fact this was exactly what I was expecting.  I just always find humor in going to games where the players and coaches outnumber the fans.  I stood in the bathroom with my Coors Light for awhile to stay warm and headed to my seat.
Creighton jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first three innings against Kansas State, and it made me feel better about only making it 6 innings before I tapped out.  K-State starter Jarod Marolf got the loss in only 2 innings of work, but it was his successor on the mound Andrew Stratman who had the poorest showing.  He lasted only 2/3rds of an innings, giving up 5 unearned runs on only 1 hit and 3 walks.  That one hit was a bases-loaded double by leadoff man Clark Brinkman.  It's always hard to focus on game action when it's cold and you're unfamiliar with the players, but the hitter who most stood out to me was Creighton's cleanup hitter, Will Robertson.  He went 2-4 with a 2-run triple and absolutely smoked the ball all 3 plate appearances I saw him.  I actually stayed an inning longer than I wanted to just so I could watch him hit a third time.  On the pitching side, the Creighton starter was quite impressive.  Preston Church got the win by pitching into the 6th, and was only pulled because of a strict pitch count.  He gave up no runs on 2 hits striking out 3.  He had an average fastball but decent breaking stuff located well that kept the Wildcat hitters off balance all night.

I left in the 7th and it looks like the Blue Jays hung on for the 8-3 win.  As of right now my last scheduled visit to Omaha for awhile will be in June, which I'm hoping lines up perfectly with yet another return trip to the College World Series.

starters - Jared Marolf (KSU) v. Preston Church (CRE)
opponent - Kansas State Wildcats
time of game - 3:14
attendance - 1180
score - 8-3 W
Brewers score that day - 6-0 L

Brewers 8-8 (3 v. Reds, 4 v. Marlins, 2 @ Royals)
Reds 2-13 (3 @ Brewers, 3 @ Cards, 4 v. Braves)
Twins 7-4 (2 v. Indians [San Juan], 3 @ Rays, 4 @ Yankees)

Erik - 2 (+4 worked)
Peter - 2

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Another Cold Brewers Home Opener

All photos of 2018 Brewers Home Opener available on Flickr.

The Brewers started on the road for the first time since 2012 and opened the season about as hot as you can, sweeping a 3-game series from the Padres.  They won a pitchers duel in extra innings on Thursday and two comeback wins Friday and Saturday, and all three were quite impressive.  Chase Anderson and Brent Suter looked great, the bullpen looked phenomenal, and new acquisitions Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich gave Brewer Nation a glimpse of things to come, both hitting over .500 on the series.

As hot as they were over the weekend, they came back down to earth a little bit yesterday losing 8-4 to the rival Cardinals.  It sure seems like the Brewers lose every year on Opening Day at this point - in fact I checked, and they are now 4-7 on the home openers I have been to including losing the last 4.  If you take out the 6th inning, they actually didn't play that bad.  The defense and offense looked stellar once again and Eric Thames even decided to contribute today with a homerun and a double.  Maybe he will have another magical April like he did last year?  Things were going pretty smoothly for starter Zach Davies until he gave up a homerun to mustachioed journeyman pitcher Miles Mikolas, which was also his first major league hit at age 29.  Manny Pina and Lo Cain also homered for the Brewers in the loss.

For the 3rd or 4th year in row, it was just as cold outside as the team was inside.  In fact we didn't even tailgate this year, but part of that was because we had our daughter Molly there at her first Brewers game!  Unfortunately she could not bring home the win, but she did great - other than managing to poop through 4 layers of clothing, but we don't need to relive that here on the internet.  The Brewers (as I'm sure every team does) gave us a certificate for her first game and it was certainly a day and a game I'll never forget. 

Besides our daughter and families being in attendance, I was also looking forward to seeing the supposed club level renovations this year.  They were actually not as extensive as I would have hoped, as the meat and bones of the level remained unchanged.  The renovations were mostly limited to finishes and cosmetic things.  For instance, there used to be aerial photos of all the parks the Brewers have played hung on the walls outside the suites; those were replaced with a nice end-grain wood wall and some accent paint.  There was also a nacho bar and an auxiliary seating area added down the 1st base side of the level.  But the main area where we spend half our time - the team store and bar - were totally unchanged.  There is plenty of opportunity to at least double the size of that bar, and it was disappointing to see it exactly the same.  This area gets so crowded when the weather is too cold, too hot, or if the Brewers are losing by a lot, which let's be honest adds up to like 3/4ths of the season.  And the one finish I was hoping to see them replace was the awful carpeting, and as far as I could tell it was the same.  The changes made were nice but did not go far enough.  I will say that I appreciate the Brewers putting most of their money into the parts of the park accessible to everybody.  It's hard to complain too much about expensive private areas not being nicer.  One welcome addition on the main level was the mother's nursing suite.  The Brewers are now only the 2nd MLB team to have such an area and I am sure Megan will be checking out later this season.

Another exciting season is finally upon us - PLAY BALL!

Brewers 3-1 (4 v. Cubs, 3 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Mets)
Reds 1-3 (4 @ Pirates, 3 @ Phillies, 4 v. Cardinals)
Twins 2-2 (3 v. Mariners, 3 v. Astros, 3 @ White Sox)

Erik - 2
Peter - 1

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Brewers Roster Taking Shape

If you ask most experts and even fans, the Brewers greatly exceeded expectations in the 2017 season, finishing 10 games over .500 and in the playoff hunt until the final weekend, despite having the lowest payroll in baseball.  With the team awakening from the doldrums of a rebuild ahead of schedule, coupled with owner Mark Attanasio's itch to spend money, many including myself expected the Brewers to be active in the free agent and trade market this year.  The Pirates seem to be entering a rebuild, the Cardinals are weaker (at least on paper - let's face it they're still the Cardinals), and the Reds are still aimlessly terrible, so the division seems ripe for the taking.  The Brewers did not disappoint as they traded for OF Christian Yelich and signed FA CF Lorenzo Cain on the same day - January 25th.  Yelich is only 26 and already a 4-time all-star, and most importantly has 5 years of control left under a very team-friendly deal.  He's easily one of the top 10 most underrated players in the game.  Cain is older at 31 (turns 32 in April) but still moves like a gazelle in the outfield, and the front office seems to believe that because of not getting started in baseball until high school that his body has a lot of life left in it.  At this point I'm inclined to trust David Stearns if he chose to sign Cain out of all the free agents available in an off-season in which the free agent market was way down and may have changed forever (that's a completely separate topic for another day).  Even if the Brewers only get him for a couple of peak seasons out of the 4-year deal, it seems worth it for what they paid - and bringing back a former Brewer can only help the box office.  Not to be overlooked, the Brewers also shored up their pitching staff with some minor but important signings.  Boone Logan, JJ Hoover, Jhoulys Chacin, Yovani Gallardo, Matt Albers, and Wade Miley among others all joined the staff in either a major or minor league capacity.

However exciting the new players might be, it does create concerns about how this team is going to cut down to the 25-man roster on Opening Day.  One thing we know is that Stearns and Craig Counsell value versatility above just about everything, so it wasn't long after the Yelich and Cain deals were announced that Ryan Braun stated publicly that he was willing to try first base.  Braun didn't need to be a math whiz to realize that getting 500+ at bats for 6 legitimate starters in a 3-man outfield would be nearly impossible.  It's not unreasonable to argue that the Brewers have the best major league outfield depth - their 3 projected backups are easily better than at least half of the league's starting 3.  I didn't really take Braun's 1st base experiment too seriously at first as I assumed it was all but certain that Domingo Santana would be traded, and also at this point in his career you can assume Braun will only be healthy for 120 games at the most.  But here it is March 22nd and Santana is still a Brewer, and Braun has played a good chunk of his spring games at 1st.  I give the front office a lot of credit for looking at the roster depth as a positive and letting it play out.  Eric Thames has looked mediocre at best this spring (although he did last year too and had one of the best Aprils in Brewer history), and Brett Phillips has pretty much played himself off the Opening Day roster with a sub-.100 Cactus League average.  That being said, all signs are pointing to a starting outfield of Yelich, Cain, and Santana, with Braun splitting time as a 4th outfielder and backup first baseman, and Broxton possibly staying on primarily as a defensive replacement for Santana and Braun late in games.  This means that Jesus Aguilar is the odd man out and will likely be traded or released in the next week.  Again, versatility - him and the catchers are the only players on the team that can play only one position. 

Going around the infield, Shaw, Arcia, Sogard, and Thames are locks.  Pekrez is the team's best pinch hitter and plays 6 positions (7 if you count the inning he pitched last year), so he has to make this team.  Pina and Bandy catching until Vogt comes back from his injury.  With Wade Miley going down with a groin injury in yesterday's start, that narrows the decision for the final spot in the rotation - either Suter or Woodruff behind Anderson, Davies, Chacin, and Guerra.  Counsell has stated that he wants to keep 8 in the pen, which I am guessing will be Knebel, Barnes, Jeffress, Hoover, Hader, Albers, Drake, and whoever loses the 5th starter battle is your long man.  I don't see Yovani Gallardo making this team despite how awesome a story that would be.  That leaves the 25th and final roster spot to either Jonathan Villar or Keon Broxton.  It's a tough call.  Keeping Villar would mean the Brewers basically have 3 players in an identical role - splitting time primarily at 2nd base with occasional starts at SS.  That seems kind of pointless to me.  On the other hand, Broxton is not likely to see many at-bats either and he does have a minor league option, so I would lean towards him not making the team for now.  The Brewers will have a short leash with both Villar this year and won't hesitate to cut the cord and call Broxton or Phillips or whoever back up, especially considering the impressive insurance policy the Brewers have waiting in the wings with their top organizational prospect Keston Hiura.  He's done nothing but rake since being drafted in the first round of 2017 and I don't think it's unreasonable to say that he can be the team's starting 2nd baseman by Summer 2019, which definitely makes Villar (and Sogard) expendable.

Just the fact that I've spent hours writing this post on a cold day in March tells you how excited I am to watch the Brewers in 2018.  It will be a fun season and one thing is for certain - this team's depth will be its strength.

Brewers - 3 @ Padres, 3 v. Cardinals
Reds - 3 v. Nationals, 2 v. Cubs
Twins - 3 @ Orioles, 2 @ Pirates

Erik - 2
Peter - 0

Monday, January 15, 2018

Tour 2018

Hello to the HEAPB Nation and welcome to another long, cold, and dreary offseason.  We have been keeping busy this winter with our expanding families.  Erik and his wife adopted a pooch Millie, and my wife and I welcomed our daughter Molly to the world on December 30th.  Becoming first-time parents has certainly made the offseason fly by, and I was stunned to look at the calendar this morning and see that pitchers & catchers report in less than month.  Despite our busy and ever-changing lives, we are excited for another season of Brewers and Twins baseball, and most importantly, to announce our annual ball trip to Ohio and Pennsylvania!

With no new major league ballparks on the horizon for a few years, our main stop of the trip will take us to Cleveland to check out the multi-year renovation at Progressive Field. In the 2014-2016 offseasons, the Indians put in over $25 million of work to modernize their stadium, which will be entering its 25th season in 2018 and is already considered "old" by comparison to the rest of the league.  The renovations sacrificed a larger seating capacity that the team already struggles to fill in order to provide the social spaces and technology that today's ballpark goer has come to expect.  PNC Park is very close to Cleveland and still our favorite park after all these years, so we are heading to Pittsburgh for a game as well.  We actually just bought tickets for a Brewers-Pirates matchup in mid-July so it will be fun to see our home team on one of our trips once again.  There are a ton of minor league teams in the eastern Ohio / western Pennsylvania area so a few other games will surely be on the docket as well.  I will likely be driving out there, so I can't wait for another road trip with Erik and to see where the wind takes us.

Come visit our blog again in 73 days (if not sooner) to read all about Opening Day 2018!

Monday, October 2, 2017

2017 MLB Playoffs

All photos of Brewers Final Homestand available on Flickr.

I'm still reeling from the Brewers coming up 1 game short of a potential playoff run.  If you would have told me at the beginning of the year we'd be finish at 86-76 I would take that any day of the week and be damn proud of it for the team with the lowest payroll in baseball.  But after going through a good chunk of the season leading or 2nd place in the division race I reluctantly started to get my hopes up.  Losing a 6-run lead on Saturday for the first time all season was the only thing standing between the Brewers and a Game 163 with the Rockies today.  Looking back on the season I think we can all say that the Brewers overachieved being this soon into a rebuild process, but it still hurts.  The good news is that there are not very many guaranteed contracts for next year and a lot of young players still under control for cheap, so this could lead to a big spending spree and an even better year in 2018.

If you weren't a Brewers or Cubs fan, the other division races were probably a little anticlimactic for you.  5 of the 6 teams that won their division last year won again this year, and 3 of the races have been pretty much decided two months ago.  No team other than the Twins was really a shocker.  The more exciting races this year are for the individual awards.  There are a legit 5 or 6 candidates for the MVP in each league for a change.  We saw a 60-homerun season from Giancarlo Stanton, the first 200-20-30 season in the history of baseball, from Jose Altuve, and a guy who has the potential to be only the 4th MVP-ROY in the same season of all time in Aaron Judge.  The era of the pitcher definitely took a backseat this year, even despite Chris Sale's ridiculous season.  On a personal level I made it to 36 ballgames this year in 13 different ballparks, 7 of which were new to my list.  Seeing as how I bought a house and knocked up my wife during this season, I'd say that's still pretty good.  I can't wait to take my daughter to her first ballgame next summer.

I managed to successfully predict 7 of the 10 playoff teams this year.  My outliers this year were the Marlins and the perennially disappointing Mariners.

NL Wild Card - #4 Diamondbacks v. #5 Rockies
NLDS - #1 Dodgers v. WC winner
#2 Nationals v. #3 Cubs

AL Wild Card - #4 Yankees v. #5 Twins
ALDS - #1 Indians v. WC winner
#2 Astros v. #3 Red Sox

World Series Prediction: Nationals defeat Indians in 7
Rooting for: Nationals v. Twins

Preseason Predictions
#1 Nationals
#2 Cubs
#3 Dodgers
#4 Mets
#5 Marlins

#1 Red Sox
#2 Indians
#3 Mariners
#4 Yankees
#5 Astros

World Series - Nationals defeat Indians in 7

Brewers 86-76, -6.0, 2nd NL Central, -1.0 WC
Reds 68-94, -24.0, last NL Central
Twins 85-77, -17.0, 2nd NL Central, #2 Wild Card

Erik - 14 (+33 worked)
Peter - 36

Monday, September 25, 2017

Beloit Discussing New Ballpark...Again

No matter who you ask in baseball circles, I think most would agree that Pohlman Field in Beloit, Wisconsin is one of the worst if not the worst ballpark in all of the minor leagues.  It hasn't had any major upgrades outside of standard maintenance in over 20 years and it is well below current MiLB standards.  The city, the team, and the Midwest League have not minced words about this deficiency and it is no secret that a new or significantly renovated park is absolutely critical for the long-term viability of the franchise in the area.  However, with upwards of 20% unemployment at times of a population just over 30,000, understandably funding a baseball team has not exactly been a priority for the stateline area.  With the downtown experiencing somewhat of a revitalization in the start-up community and MiLB threatening to sunset all grandfathered amendments to ballpark standards by the year 2020, the time is seemingly now or never for this community and this team.  Despite all of the false starts, the 2017-18 offseason could prove to be the most important in franchise history and might finally gain some traction in the talks of a new facility.
Recently, the Snappers released a video using Dow Diamond and the Great Lakes Loons of Midland, Michigan as a model for potential renaissance in the area.  The power of a ballpark - particularly in this small of a community - to jump-start an entire economy is debatable at best, but the video is still worth a watch for anybody with a vested interest in Snappers baseball (and if you're still reading this I'm guessing you do).  The goal is obviously to drum up support for the board and the city by citing past success in a similar city as an example.  I feel torn as I usually do on new ballpark issues.  On one hand a project of this magnitude has the potential to really promote Beloit tourism and lifestyle, and I obviously don't want the team to leave, but on the other hand it also has the chance to completely devastate and bankrupt the area if not implemented correctly.  There have been talks in recent years about the team perhaps being more viable in nearby Janesville, a city with twice as many people and home to a state college (two if you count UW-Whitewater 30 miles away).  It's unclear what region the Snappers are looking to build in as it is still the preliminary stages.
Regardless, after years of ignoring half-assed attempts to build a quality ballpark in Beloit, this may finally be the time not to laugh it off.  I've been going to Snappers games for over 10 years so I am definitely eager to see how this plays out.  Hopefully, no matter what happens, Dollar Beer Night will remain.
Brewers 82-74, -5.5, -2.0 WC (3 v. Reds, 3 @ Cardinals)
Reds 66-90, -21.5, eliminated (3 @ Brewers, 3 @ Cubs)
Twins 82-74, -16.0, +4.5 WC (3 @ Indians, 3 v. Tigers)

Erik - 13 (+33 worked)
Peter - 35

Monday, September 18, 2017

Brewers Make Marlins Feel at Home in Milwaukee

Following the devastation of Hurricane Irma across most of Florida, the Marlins made the late decision last week that Marlins Park would be unable to host the Brewers in Miami.  Although Marlins Park itself was well prepared for the storm (large sections of the roof were actually tied down) and did not suffer significant damage, the team made the wise decision to not overly tax the city's resources just to play some baseball games that would more than likely be even worse attended than usual.  It's not uncommon for teams to move a series because of inclement weather or natural disaster - in fact, Hurricane Harvey relocated the Astros to Tampa just a couple weeks prior.  What was unusual about this circumstance is that the road team stadium was chosen as host instead of a neutral site.  No doubt in large part due to (A) short notice and (B) having a retractable roof, Miller Park and the city of Milwaukee opened its arms to the homeless Marlins for the weekend.

I wasn't able to attend any of the games this past weekend, but from what I read, the Brewers went all out.  They dressed up the park with palm trees, played walk-up songs for the Marlins players, and even batted first and played as the "away" team despite being in their own park.  They also donated a significant portion of the proceeds from the weekend to the Hurricane Irma disaster relief efforts.  The Brewers were under no obligation to do any of this and it got a lot of great press for the city and the organization, and helped save face from teams like the Cubs, Cardinals, and Rockies who were understandably upset about the Brewers essentially getting 3 extra home games on their schedule during a critical point in the season.

This isn't the first time the Brewers have done something like this either.  They hosted an Indians series in April 2007 that was snowed out, and a rather famous Astros-Cubs game moved due to Hurricane Ike in which Carlos Zambrano threw a no-hitter.  I don't have many regrets in my life, but not going to that game is still one of them.  Because of the stadium roof, this certainly won't be the last time the Brewers do something like this either.  It's one of the few perks of being a baseball fan in Wisconsin - guaranteed 81 home games and maybe even some bonus baseball, whether or not they go to the playoffs.

Brewers 79-70, -4.0, -2.5 WC (3 @ Pirates, 4 v. Cubs)
Reds 66-84, -17.5, eliminated (3 v. Cardinals, 3 v. Red Sox)
Twins 78-71, -14.5, +2.0 WC (3 @ Yankees, 4 @ Tigers)

Erik - 13 (+33 worked)
Peter - 34