Tuesday, February 4, 2014
The Super Bowl has come and gone, which means baseball is right around the corner! Erik and I have a couple exciting trips planned for Year 7 A.T. (After Tour).
Assuming we can get tickets without me emptying my savings account, 2014 should be the year that we finally get to the All-Star festivities together, which are being held at Target Field this season. This will actually be my 2nd time attending All-Star week - when the All-Star Game was awarded to my hometown of Milwaukee, I attended the Futures Game, but that was 12 years ago and I sat in an obstructed view section, so I don't really remember any of it. Erik and I have little interest in the game itself and hope to at least attend the Futures Game and FanFest, and if we can afford it, the Home Run Derby. Tickets for last year's derby were running upwards of $400, but that was in New York, so I'm hoping it will be more reasonable this year. Since it is so close in proximity to me this year at one of our favorite ballparks, and with Erik living in Minneapolis and working for the Twins, it kind of fell together that this was the year we should go. It will undoubtedly be an awesome time and I can already hear the crack of the bat from a Yoenis Cespedes moonshot. Ideally this trip would be paired with a game in the final season of the infamous Midway Stadium.
The other trip we are obligated to take this year is a game at Wrigley Field for its 100th Anniversary season. As vocal as I am about Wrigley being a huge overrated dump, the fact remains that it is still a historic field and a living part of baseball history, and it would be ridiculous and stubborn to not make a trip there this year. Dump or no dump, any building lasting 100 years is an accomplishment. We will be going with friends and seeing the Brewers play to make it more palatable, which according to the schedule will probably put this trip in September. The way I see it, in 5 years, the Cubs will probably be pretty good, and Wrigley will look completely different from the proposed renovations, so this season might be my last chance to enjoy a good beatdown and a urinal trough. What Brewer fan would want to pass up that opportunity? Regardless, I do not plan to return to Chicago until the stadium is fixed or the Cubs get Old Style back, whichever comes first.
There are also a lot of exciting renovations and new stadiums opening this year that I plan on visiting, most notably Charlotte and Kenosha. 55 days 'til Opening Day!
Monday, January 20, 2014
It's been a pretty exciting offseason thus far. The winter started off with a bang when Robinson Cano surprised many by signing a 10-year deal with the Seattle Mariners, and then perhaps even more surprising, the Mariners continued to spend. The Braves announced they were replacing their stadium that is not even 20 years old with a new, $1+ billion ballpark community in suburban Cobb County. A year-long suspension was finally handed down to A-Rod. Recognizing that this will effectively end the productive portion of his career, he has chosen to sue anybody and everybody involved to get the most money possible out of this. And recently, MLB took a bold leap into 1998 by expanding instant replay.
But in my opinion, the most notable baseball news of the past 3 months has been the Chicago Cubs introducing their first mascot in the team's modern history - Clark the Cub. I should qualify this by saying, first "official" mascot, because I'm sure everybody who has been to Wrigley has seen guys walking around near Clark & Addison in a bear suit they found on clearance at a Halloween store. Now, I am very pro-mascot, so I am not all up in arms about the Cubs defying tradition as so many people seem to be. Let's face it, baseball is an entertainment business and can be a boring game to sit through, and mascots are just one things teams do to make the game exciting for everybody. No other sport has more prevalent mascots than baseball, and it is for that reason I think the Cubs could have done a little better. I mean, come on, look at this picture! Seriously, what unpaid intern designed this, are there not many great graphic design studios in Chicago? Somebody is going to have to explain to me someday why cartoon animals always wear shirts but no pants. This wreaks of Poochie from the Simpsons, and we all know how poorly that ended for Homer. The Cubs are a storied franchise with a long history, and thus could have gone much simpler, a la the "homemade mascots" that Cubs fans sport outside the park. It just needs to be a nondescript bear suit with a Cubs hat, that's it. I think the ad execs spent a little too much time on the bear's attitude, to the point where it comes off as contrived and scary. Maybe I am just upset because after 100 years, they went from nothing to this, or maybe I just like finding more ways to hate the Cubs. But I think it's also just another sign of how the Cubs organization is in the midst of an era of change, whether people like it or not. Many fans and Chicagoans in general are leery of all these big changes happening, not the least of which are the big Wrigley Field renovations slated to be happening in the coming years. For too long the Cubs have been naïve to think that they can keep selling the same product and the same rundown stadium and people will continue to come in droves, and Clark the Cub represents the adaptation the ownership and the organization has finally accepted needs to happen to remain viable for another century. Even though the mascot looks like something from a 1990s Disney cartoon, at least the effort is there.
Speaking of big changes at Wrigley, I am looking forward to my first visit to the park in 5 years to celebrate the stadium's 100th anniversary. Look for an itinerary of this and our other Tour 2014 trips in the coming weeks. 26 days 'til pitchers & catchers report!!!
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
I have made it over 6 years before using this blog as a forum for shameless plugs and self-promoting, which let's be honest, is much longer than I thought it would take. But I feel that this cause is worthy enough to delve into a topic of my life outside the realm of baseball. Worthy enough that I'm writing a non-baseball post the day before an elimination game of the World Series without mentioning how much I hate the Cardinals or how stupid the Red Sox look with those beards. Wait, oops...
Anyways, I'll cut to the chase. My friend Kristen and I are organizing an event to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition in my current city of residence - Madison, Wisconsin. This event is in conjunction with the local VFW Post in Madison, and all proceeds will go to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and its associated charities. The VFW's mission is to provide much needed services, meals, and support to our nation's veterans. This is a 2-part event - a 5K run in the morning, and a 1930s-themed party in the evening. See information below and register today!
REPEAL DAY MADISON
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2013
VFW POST 1318
133 E LAKESIDE ST
Every registration counts and any opportunity I have to get the word out at low cost, I am all for it. For any regular visitors to this blog, thank you for sparing me this indulgence, and I promise this is one of the rare times I use this blog for my own personal gain. I hope it will not affect your readership and that you will continue to follow this blog during the 2014 baseball season and beyond.
Monday, September 30, 2013
(image courtesy of Fox Sports Detroit)
As temperatures slowly start to cool and leaves begin to fall, the most exciting month of the baseball calendar is upon us once again. The 2013 postseason is set to begin tomorrow and is yet another example of the great parity of this game - so much parity, in fact, that we need a Game #163 between the Rays and Rangers tonight. Only 3 of the top 10 payrolls have made the playoffs this season, and the team with the 3rd lowest payroll has defied all odds to win their division for a 2nd straight season - the Oakland Athletics. Billy Beane continues to show that even when the entire league knows the cards he's playing following the release of Moneyball that he is still ahead of the curve and arguably the best GM in the baseball. The A's have won the most games in the big leagues over the past two seasons and are one of several feel-good stories of this postseason. The other big story definitely has to be the Pittsburgh Pirates, who are enjoying not only their first playoff birth in 21 years, but their first winning season in that same time frame.
PLAYOFFS START 10/1/13
NL Wild Card - #4 Pirates v. #5 Reds
NLDS - #1 Cardinals v. WC winner
#2 Braves v. #3 Dodgers
AL Wild Card - #4 Indians v. #5 Rays
ALDS - #1 Red Sox v. WC winner
#2 Athletics v. #3 Tigers
Most improved team: Red Sox +28
World Series Prediction: Tigers defeat Cards in 7
Rooting for: Reds v. A's
Nats defeat Giants in NLCS
#1 Blue Jays
Rays defeat Tigers in ALCS
Most improved team: Indians +17
Nationals defeat Rays in 6
FINAL STANDINGS 2013:
Brewers 74-88, -23.0, 4th in NL Central
Reds 90-72, -7.0, NL Wild Card #2 (v. Pirates)
Twins 66-96, -27.0, 4th in AL Central
FINAL GAMES ATTENDED 2013:
Erik - 11 (+41 worked)
Peter - 45
Monday, September 23, 2013
There's been a lot of debate recently about whether or not it is fair for a team to be able to call up every member of its 40-man roster in September, as is the current system. No other professional sport allows you to affect your roster so greatly at the time of year when it matters the most. I agree that the system should be a little more balanced from team to team and not unlimited, but I personally like the concept of the September call-ups, and wouldn't want it to go away entirely. It gives managers a few extra players to mix and match in the late innings, and an opportunity to give guys a rest during the grind of a long season before the playoffs. It is also an exciting time of year for fans to see hot young prospects getting their first taste of the Major Leagues and perhaps a brief tryout for the club next year.
The Rays have quite an intriguing crop of callups this year. First and foremost is shortstop and former top prospect Tim Beckham. Beckham was the last of a slew of high draft picks the Rays had before they got good, drafted #1 overall in 2008 out of high school. This guy has a sort of Josh Hamilton-Evan Gattis type story where he had to overcome some personal problems off the field. He has only posted average numbers so far throughout the minors and has generally underachieved, but is still only 23 and has plenty of time to showcase the raw talent the Rays saw in him. The Rays also called up Enny Romero from AAA to start this week, all because Romero tweeted that he would be "ready to pitch" if the Rays needed him. Joe Maddon or somebody with the Rays tweeted him back taking him up on his offer. I don't know anything about Romero, but it's a pretty cool story. Lastly, the Rays picked up Delmon Young off the scrap heap and he's DH-ing for them now. Just the type of player a team like the Rays would take a flyer on and have contribute, like Yunel Escobar or James Loney this year, or pretty much anybody they've had in the bullpen the last 5 years.
Another really exciting callup this year is Billy Hamilton. He is the heir apparent in centerfield for the Reds and his blazing speed and base-stealing prowess are already somewhat of a legend. He broke Vince Coleman's 30-year old steals record with 155 for AA-Pensacola last year and has 10 stolen bases already in only 9 games played with the Reds this year. The really intriguing thing about the Hamilton call-up is that it occurred slightly before September 1st, so the Reds will have the option to put him on their playoff roster. In his first 10 times reaching base, he had 9 steals and 6 runs, and became the first player since 1920 to steal four bases in his first major league start. If this guy can post a .300+ OBP, he is going to be a dynamic force for the Reds for many years. It's not very often that base-stealing is touted as a major skill for prospects, which makes Hamilton a very unique and exciting player. Cincinnati is still going to be Votto's town though, because Billy is a pretty ugly dude, and chicks dig the long ball.
Other call-ups of note to watch:
- Yordano Ventura, Kansas City. This guy averages 99-100 MPH - as a starter - and he dominated in his ML debut. His problem right now is that he dangerously flies open on his delivery. If he doesn't hurt himself, he's going to be a #2 starter on that team very quickly.
- Taijuan Walker, Seattle. I think he just came up for a couple of starts and is being shut down. But, much like Yordano Ventura, he throws gas and will position himself as the #2 in the rotation probably middle of next year. Big time prospect not only for the Mariners but in all of MLB.
- Xander Bogaerts, Boston. Called up in mid-August, but I'll include him in this list. Turned a lot of heads in the 2012 Futures game, #8 on list of top 100 prospects. Will Middlebrooks and Bogaerts are going to be a really solid left side of the infield for the Red Sox the next 6-8 years.
- Nick Castellanos, Detroit. Another guy that really grabbed a lot of attention at the '12 Futures Game in KC. Tigers have always considered him untouchable in trade negotiations, but he needs to find a position if he wants to play full-time next year.
- Jimmy Nelson, Milwaukee. Had to throw a homer in there. After hitting on a number of picks in the 2000s, Nelson is one of the few lower-round draft picks since Ryan Braun that looks like he could make an impact. He'll be fighting it out with Tyler Thornburg and Johnny Hellweg for the #5 spot next spring and has done very well in the bullpen in his first taste of the big leagues, as he has not yet allowed a run. He was the Brewers' lone representative in the Futures Game this year.
Brewers 70-86, -21.0, eliminated (3 @ Braves, 4 @ Mets)
Reds 89-67, -2.0, -- WC (3 v. Mets, 3 v. Pirates)
Twins 65-90, -25.5, eliminated (3 v. Tigers, 4 v. Indians)
2013 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 11 (+37 worked)
Peter - 45
Sunday, September 15, 2013
All photos of the Snappers' 2013 playoff run available on Flickr.
The Snappers got off to a hot start this year and carried it into a first half championship, earning them a spot in the postseason regardless of their second half performance. A lot of teams will let off the gas a little bit with a postseason spot locked up so early, but the Snappers had themselves a fine first full season as an Athletics affiliate. I headed down to Beloit for a couple of games to cheer them on during their playoff run. I'm not going to lie - a big part of the reason I made the drive down there twice was to partake in the ridiculous end-of-the-season concessions firesale that is standard fare in Beloit. Given that Pohlman Field is perennially one of the lowest attended stadiums in all of the minor leagues and that the Snappers were really only guaranteed one home playoff game, most years the team just refuses to restock the concessions during the final homestand so as to avoid throwing away unsold food. This means that every year the Snappers make the playoffs, they more or less give food away while supplies last. Both games I went to were Dollar Beer & Soda and half-price food and I spent less than $30 in total.
The Snappers drew the Clinton LumberKings in the first round and completed the 2-0 sweep in the game I attended. The story of the day was Dylan Covey. He is the pitcher the Brewers drafted in the first round in 2010, but ended up not signing when they found out he had diabetes during his team physical. Covey went on to attend college and the A's drafted him three years later, and he spent most of this year in Beloit. He got the start tonight in Game 2 and went six strong innings, giving up 2 runs on 3 hits. He's not a big power arm with a lot of strikeouts, but he induced a ton of ground balls, which is the prototypical pitcher the A's like to draft. Guys who throw 95 and strike out 10 command big contracts and are more likely to get hurt, but Covey could be on the fast track to the big leagues if he keeps it up. John Wooten was the offensive star for the Snappers, as his 2-run double down the left field line in the 5th pretty much put the game out of reach for the LumberKings.
I also went to Game 2 of the Western Division Finals against the Quad Cities River Bandits last Sunday. The Snappers also won this game, 4-3, to even the series 1-1. The man of the match in this one was 2B Chris Bostick. He launched a homerun in the 1st inning as part of a 3-run inning, and the Snappers never looked back. He also contributed two more hits and another RBI later in the evening. It's hard to keep track of players on the Snappers since they do not have very up-to-date programs nor a scoreboard with any player information whatsoever, but he ended up having a pretty fine season. The top prospect at this level for the Snappers is Matt Olson, and he went 0-4 and was hitless for the playoffs as of this game. The player I was most excited to see in this game was for the other team though - SS Carlos Correa, the #1 overall draft pick last year for the Astros. He went 1-2 with 3 walks, and it's pretty clear he has quickly gained a reputation around the league, given how they were already pitching him like Babe Ruth. Looking at his stats now and seeing he hit .320 with 86 RBI primarily out of the 3-hole, I'd say that's warranted. He reminds me a lot of Manny Machado - stellar defense, hits a lot of doubles right now with not a lot of power, but with his frame and skill, he's going to fill out and be a 25-homerun guy in the big leagues. Unfortunately I did not get to see Mark Appel, the Astros' #1 overall pick from this year, as he reached an innings limit and was shut down a few weeks ago. Earlier this season, the River Bandits became the first minor league team in baseball history to have consecutive #1 overall draft picks playing for the same team in the same game.
The Bandits would go on to win on Monday (clearly because I was not there) and eventually defeat South Bend to win their 2nd Midwest League Championship in the last 3 years, which is impressive considering they changed their parent affiliation in that span.
STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 09.15:
Brewers 65-83, -21.5, eliminated (4 v. Cubs, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 84-66, -3.5, -- WC (3 @ Astros, 3 @ Pirates)
Twins 64-84, -21.5, eliminated (3 @ White Sox, 4 @ Athletics)
2013 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 11 (+37 worked)
Peter - 44
Sunday, September 8, 2013
I've undoubtedly been very fortunate to have attended a game in so many ballparks, but up to this point I have two stadiums I majorly regret not going to: Tiger Stadium in Detroit, and Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Yes, there are a countless number of former parks it would have been nice to have seen if I were older, but these are the two that were still being used during my lifetime that I had ample opportunity to see. In the case of Tiger Stadium, it has long since been demolished, but Le Stade Olympique retains a shred of hope at hosting baseball once again. Since the Expos left to become the Nationals in 2005, the Blue Jays have been in sporadic negotiations to bring preseason exhibition games to Montreal, and those talks have ramped up again for the 2014 season. There are many hurdles to this, as the stadium is far from being up to MLB standards from hosting a game, and in fact was a pretty terrible facility even when the Expos were there - one of many reasons the team left. But, the stadium still hosts events and soccer matches, so it's not outside of the realm of possibility that baseball could be played there once again, albeit temporarily. I'm a very calculated person, but if there is one thing I would drop everything to do, it would be to go see a baseball game at Olympic Stadium. I've just always wanted to go to Montreal and have been fascinated with all things Canadian and I think it would be an amazing experience. Plus, the stadium boasts the world's tallest inclined tower as part of the structure - very much a part of mine and Erik's M.O., as if we needed more incentive to watch international ball.
Beyond the exhibition games, there has also been an underground movement to bring baseball back to French Canada in the form of the Montreal Baseball Project. This organization is led by Warren Cromartie, a former popular Expos player who patrolled the outfield at Le Stade along with Andre Dawson in the 70s and 80s. This non-profit organization's purpose is mainly informational and to get the city excited about baseball once again, but they also are conducting a feasibility study to see if professional baseball would work in Montreal. MBP also has a website with a team store that I'm unsuccessfully trying to convince myself I don't need a t-shirt from. Cromartie wrote an interesting piece on the website that talks about how towards the end of the Expos reign, the city really did nothing to save the team, but this time around, the opposite is true - a reincarnation of the Expos could save a city that is mired in corruption and lacks civic pride. I know that there were a lot of bridges burned when Omar Minaya & Company were run out of town, and a new or renovated stadium would pretty much be a necessity to bring a team back, and these are certainly major obstacles. But I personally feel that Montreal deserves another chance, and that fans would be passionate about the opportunity. I will go out on a limb and say that Montreal (along with San Antonio and Las Vegas) will see a new major league franchise at some point in my lifetime, and Erik and I will certainly have a duty to get there as soon as possible. Hopefully, at least twice - once to see Olympic Stadium, and once more to see its inevitable replacement.
UPDATE: Seriously, not even 24 hours after posting this story, it was announced that baseball will indeed be returning to the Big O next season for some Jays exhibition games! I guess I have to put my money where my mouth is and start planning a trip now.
STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 09.08:
Brewers 61-80, -20.5, E# 1 (3 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Reds)
Reds 81-62, -1.5, -- WC (3 v. Cubs, 3 @ Brewers)
Twins 61-79, -20.0, E# 2 (1 v. Angels, 3 v. Athletics, 3 v. Rays)
2013 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 11 (+33 worked)
Peter - 42