Friday, December 12, 2008

Winter Meetings Wrapup

The annual Winter Meetings wrapped up in Las Vegas yesterday, signifying the unofficial start to the player shopping spree for the 2009 season. I haven't written in awhile, so I thought I would offer my opinion on some of the major deals in baseball and some pending ones (for what it's worth):

1. CC Sabathia, free agent - Yankees, 7 yr-$161 mil Obviously the best free agent available on the market this year. This big domino has fallen (I mean "big" in several ways) and now all other pitchers and high-price players should start falling into place. The deal makes sense for Sabathia, you can't blame him for taking the money, and he gets a 3-year opt-out; however, his hesitance in signing immediately puts him under the already bright media spotlight in New York. Brian Cashman and arguably the most overpriced superstar Yankee free agent of all-time, Reggie Jackson, flying out to CC's home in California sealed the deal. My gut tells me with the deal being out there for so long, that a combination of no California team offering him a contract, and probably some badgering from his wife, had more to do with his decision than the extra $20 million thrown on the table. I'm not sure how many Kevin Brown-Mike Hampton-Barry Zito type deals are going to have to occur before teams realize that signing a pitcher for over 4 years in guaranteed money is ridiculous.

2. Francisco Rodriguez, free agent - Mets, 3 yr-$37 mil
I believe the highest yearly salary ever paid for a reliever not named Mariano Rivera, but don't quote me on that. I've always had been really hesitant about K-Rod's potential. True, he is young, and fun to watch, but watching him throw just makes me cringe and grasp my elbow every time...I've never seen more torque in a delivery. I wouldn't be surprised, knowing the Mets' bullpen peril in the past, if he blows out his arm before the contract is over.

3. Kerry Wood, free agent - Indians, 2 yr; deal still pending a physical
I view Kerry Wood as a flash in the pan as a closer. I felt he was unreliable, yet good in short stints last season. The Indians are smart to offer him two years, I think he nearing the end of his rope.

4. Mike Hampton, free agent - Astros, 1 yr
I think Hampton will have a serviceable comeback season and could really help this rotation if he stays healthy, as he enjoyed the best years of his career in Houston a decade ago. The Astros usually make a run in the 2nd half of the season, so their standings at the break could determine his fate.

5. Javier Vazquez, trade - with Boone Logan to Braves for 6 prospects
The first big trade of the offseason. Vazquez eats innings and always keeps you in the game...but that was with the White Sox. I don't see the Braves' bats being able to rescue him as much as the South Side Bombers did.

6. Raul Ibanez, free agent - Phillies, 3 yr
The best outfielder nobody knows about - a combination of a horrible team in the Pacific time zone limited his national exposure. The Phillies feel he's a better option than Pat the Bat, and I agree.

7. JJ Putz, 3-team trade - to Mets, Aaron Heilman to Indians, Franklin Gutierrez to Mariners as part of 12-player deal
I don't understand this trade, was initiated by the Mets and I think they're giving up more in Heilman than they're gaining in Putz.

8. Junichi Tazawa - Red Sox, 3 yr-$3.4 mil
The first Japanese player to forgo the draft in his own country to join the MLB. He has average stuff by American standards, so paying a guy over $1 million a year to pitch in AAA definitely is a high risk move, but the Red Sox can afford it.

9. Ramon Hernandez, trade - to Reds for 2 prospects
The Reds have had 3 catchers on their roster the last couple seasons, but apparently they felt none of them, nor their upcoming prospect in AAA, were any good. And they gave up super-utility man Ryan Freel. Way to go, Reds.

10. Mike Cameron, trade - to Yankees for Melky Cabrera, deal still pending
Makes sense financially - Mike Cameron $10 million, Melky Cabrera made about $500K last season and will stand to rake in about a million in arbitration. Milwaukee feels Cabrera's youth and much-needed lefty bat will compensate for Cameron's outstanding defense. With CC, Sheets, and Cammy off the books, hopefully the Brewers can go after some good pitching, and if Melky doesn't work out, the Brewers have Lorenzo Cain and Tony Gwynn Jr waiting in the wings for 2010.

11. Jake Peavy to Cubs - deal is "dead"
Word on AM 670 the Score is that this deal is dead, after being all but certain 48 hours ago. Peavy is done being shopped until the trade deadline.

12. Mark Teixeira - Nationals offer 8 yr-$160 mil, Orioles offer 7 yr-$150 mil, Red Sox offer pending
This is an interesting case - Tex wants to play near home (Baltimore) and the O's and Nats have reciprocated. Only problem, is both teams are horrible. So knowing this, the Red Sox jump into the sweepstakes, but with Lowell and Youk, they really don't need him. Look for the Angels to make an offer now that CC and K-Rod are signed elsewhere.

13. AJ Burnett and Ben Sheets - Yankees offer 5 yr-$80 mil, 2 yr-$30 mil respectively
One would have to assume that one if not both of these pitchers will sign, and one would also have to assume that this would put the Yankees into the playoffs - I mean Big Ben as a #4, are you kidding me? However, I still sense a lot of broken hearts in the Bronx come October, despite the stellar rotation of Sabathia-Burnett-Sheets-Wang-Kennedy/Hughes/Joba; see 2008 Chicago Cubs and 1990s Atlanta Braves.

Other key free agents: Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer, Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Rafael Furcal, Ivan Rodriguez, Adam Dunn, Jason Giambi, Joe Crede, Ken Griffey Jr, John Smoltz
The Braves, Rangers, and Brewers are teams that are looking for the most with the most money to spend. Most of the California teams, and obviously the Yankees and Red Sox, look to be buyers this offseason as well and should mop up the remaining names on this list.

And a brief update - Erik and I purchased our seats for our first Tour 2009 stop, the 2nd annual Winter Classic! We will be sitting in the centerfield bleachers on a New Year's Day at Wrigley, bundled up with souvenir hoodies and scarves. The final step, as with all our trips, is trying to procure a floor to sleep on for the night, or possibly to coax some of our friends to come down on New Years Eve with us and split a swank hotel. With all of our baseball trips planned for '09, the Winter Classic has kind of taken a back seat, but now that it is so close, we are very excited for New Year's in Chicago. The ice rink layout has been laid out and "construction" has already begun - I will be interested to see how the players manuver from the cramped Wrigley locker rooms, through the tunnel, up the dugout steps, and onto the field, wearing skates. Good news - Erik will have a new license by then that will not contain the "Under 21 until _____" label on it, allowing us to purchase Old Style. Bad news - we will probably be too hungover to drink beer anyways...and the tickets we ordered on StubHub are print-at-home, what the hell?!? Our next post will be upon our return!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tour 2009

All photos of NLDS Game 3 available on Flickr.

November signals a time to reflect on the 2008 season. As the leaves and temperatures fall, awards are handed out, players file for free agency, and playoffs merchandise flies off the shelves at 25% off. The Brewers' first postseason in 26 years, the first of my lifetime, ended in a 3-1 defeat to the Phillies, even though I'm sure losing to the eventual World Series champion makes all Milwaukee fans sleep a little better at night. The Brewers have already named a new manager, Ken Macha, lost pitching coach Mike Maddux to the Rangers, picked up Mike Cameron's 2009 option, and extended a $100 million contract offer to legendary CC Sabathia. And that was only the first week of the offseason.

October 30th is the saddest day on the calender this year, as it marks the longest possible time until another professional ballgame. However, turning the calender even further ahead allows us to look forward to the exciting 2009 season. Erik and I have our Tour-Plus trips set for next year and cannot wait to hit the road, in proud defiance of the struggling economy. New Years Day is the 2nd annual Winter Classic, this year at Wrigley Field. This event has helped make hockey more popular in the US, and we look forward to attending this unique game at a classic stadium, not to mention spending New Years Eve in Chicago. Our first baseball trip of the 2009 season will be to the 2nd World Baseball Classic. It was between Pool B in Mexico City and Pool C in Toronto, but our love of Toronto and desire to jump in Lake Ontario eventually trumped the warm weather and bullfights of Mexico's capital (only Erik and I would voluntarily vacation in Canada in the dead of winter).

Our two regular season trips celebrate an end and two new beginnings. We plan on going to Minnesota to see a game in the final season of the Metrodome - even though the stadium will still be home to the Vikings, and the Twins may still play there in inclement weather, the Twins are getting a gorgeous new stadium in 2010. This trip will also include a couple of Northwoods league games, and when the NWL schedule comes out, we will nail down the weekend - hopefully sometime between late May and the middle of June. And last but not least, the Yankees and Mets are both getting new stadiums next year, and we definitely have to visit New York in their inaugural seasons. Both teams should have fresh new faces on their rosters and we greatly look forward to this trip. We plan on going for about a week hinged around 4th of July so that we can also attend the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island! More updates to comes as travel plans are set and tickets are purchased.
Erik - 25
Peter - 53

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Postseason Predictions

All photos of Brewers game #161 and Playoff Rally available on Flickr.

Here it is, about 90 minutes before first pitch of the Brewers' first postseason game in 26 years, and I still can't believe they made it. I'm still grinning ear to ear. It was gut-check time for the Crew in the final week, and they delivered with wins in 6 of their last 7 games to outlast the Mets, who collapsed down the stretch for the 2nd straight year at the hands of the Marlins, for the NL Wildcard spot. I had tickets for Friday's and Saturday's games and it was the most exciting weekend of baseball I've ever experienced in my life. This enjoyment was only increased by the fact that my brother and I were chose as the Midwest Airlines Seat Upgrade fans of the game (see photos). We got to hang out by the Brewers dugout in left center and had an amazing view of the action. I also attended the postseason rally held at the Summerfest grounds before the Brewers got on the plane to Philly, and among 14,000+ screaming fans, perhaps closer Salomon Torres said it best: "You've waited 26 years, and you can wait no more!" These boys played hard all year, and despite no critics giving them a chance, and a 10-16 September, they deserve to be in the playoffs. I can't wait to go and support my team (and buy even more crap in the team store) at Saturday's NLDS Game #3.

Late game heroics by Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and CC Sabathia carried the team into the playoffs, and they'll need that momentum to get past arguably the hottest team entering the playoffs, the Philadelphia Phillies. Here's a look at how I think the four LDS series will shake out:

Phillies v. Brewers (WC) - Philadelphia in 4
Now I'm a diehard Brewers fan, and I hope they can run off 11 wins and be World Series Champions, but speaking objectively, I don't see us taking care of business against their hot lineup. Unless CC can go Sunday on 2 days' rest, his Game 2 start will sadly be the Brewers' only victory. Gallardo will only be able to go about 80-90 pitches before tiring, and a clear-cut favorite still has not emerged for Game #3 - Suppan and Bush would get hammered by all Philly's lefties, and Parra has been awful since mid-August. The Brewers have dominated left-handed pitching all season, and if they can get to one of Philly's lefties early, both of whom are not pitching against CC, they might have a chance. Philadelphia is my favorite to win the NL pennant due to a powerful lineup and in my opinion the best bullpen of the 8 playoff teams.

Cubs v. Dodgers - Chicago in 4
The key to the Dodgers since the emergence of Manny Ramirez has been protecting him in the lineup. Lou Pinella is too smart to go after Manny that often, and LA hitters like Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Jeff Kent will really have to step up around him. Rafael Furcal is back now, and that combined with Zambrano's poor starts the last few weeks, should provide enough of a spark to keep this team from getting swept. The Cubs are just too dominant, too motivated, and have too good of a 8-9 inning combo to lose this series. However, there is always the 100-year goat...I'd like to be proven wrong on this series more than any.

Angels v. Red Sox (WC) - Los Angeles in 5
This series will go the full 5 simply because Boston is so dominant at home. The Red Sox have an 18-game winner going in Game #3 too, which is not a bad thing to have. Questions concerning Mike Lowell's health and David Ortiz's lack of power this season are enough for me to pick the Angels to win that 5th game. The Angels have had the most consistent 1-5 rotation in the majors, and have been my pick to win the World Series since Spring Training because of that. Somehow with the Angels' scrappy lineup and a subpar year from Guerrero, this team won 100 games, probably due to the stabilizing presence of manager Mike Scoscia, the 2nd best manager in the majors in my mind behind Ron Gardenhire.

Rays v. White Sox - Tampa Bay in 3
Chicago is severely overmatched in this series, and although this is probably true of most playoff teams, Tampa Bay dominates at home. Their starting pitching is shaky, and their offense relies on the home run to win - a deadly combo, especially against a "team of destiny" like the Rays. New name, new manager, new attitude - the Rays delivered against all odds this year to win the AL East and have been proving me wrong against tough teams all season. Every time I thought they would crack they didn't, and if Joe Maddon doesn't win manager of the year, then somebody got paid off. A rested rotation and a healthy Troy Percival, Carl Crawford, and Evan Longoria will help this team easily handle the White Sox.
World Series - Angels defeat Phillies

Brewers 90-72, -7.5 (Game 1 Wed, Game 2 Thu - PHI; Game 3 Sat Game 4 Sun - MIL)
Reds 74-88, -23.5
Twins 88-75, -1.0

Erik - 25
Peter - 52

Monday, September 22, 2008

Farewell Yankee Stadium

Yesterday, the final game ever at historic Yankee Stadium was played on the final Sunday Night Baseball telecast of the season. It was a little emotional even for me, so I can only imagine what it must have been like for a Yankee fan or player, or somebody at the stadium. I watched almost all 8 hours of the coverage, which consisted of a 2-hour special, Baseball Tonight live from the field, an hour-long pregame ceremony, the game itself, and the post-game celebration. The special highlighted many of the historic moments in the 85-year history of the stadium - Reggie's 3-homer World Series game, Don Larson's WS perfect game, Mickey's ball that nearly cleared the stadium, Lou Gehrig's farewell speech, the pine tar incident, the late 90s postseasons, and even the recent raw power display by Josh Hamilton at the Mid-summer classic. Many players were interviewed before during and after the game, the highlight of which was listening to Yogi and Whitey babble on for a couple innings about the old days. The pregame ceremony gathered together past & present players and their families at their positions, and it was awesome to see all the old players in the pinstripes. They may not be as sharp as they used to be, or as agile, but they're Yankee legends, and everyone was just honored to be in their presence - Willie Randolph even slid into second base. Appropriately, Babe Ruth's daughter & grandson threw out the first pitch.

Buck Showalter made the comment that as the stadium filled, it seemed to get quieter, almost as if people were going into a funeral to pay their final respects. It definitely had that feel at the game. After the last traditional "roll call" in the 1st inning, it just seemed eerily quiet, except for all the flash bulbs. For the last 3 outs, Jon Miller was silent as Mariano Rivera fittingly threw the final half-inning at Yankee Stadium, ending the game with a weak ground ball to first base. Most of the Yankee bench players got in for the final out, and Jose Molina will go down in history as the last man to homer at The Stadium. After the game, Derek Jeter gave an impromptu speech on the mound thanking the fans and the Yankees did a lap around the stadium, signed autographs, and stole dirt from the field.

I think Yogi Berra said it best: "I'm not going to miss this place, because it's inside of me, it's a part of me that I carry with me." Hopefully starting in 2009, there will be another 85+ years of tradition and memories that the players can carry with them from the new stadium. I feel honored and humbled that I got to watch a game at this cathedral twice, once in the final season. Farewell, Yankee Stadium.

Brewers 85-71, -1.5 wild card (3 v. Pirates, 3 v. Cubs)
Reds 72-83 (1 v. Marlins, 3 @ Astros, 3 @ Cardinals)
Twins 84-72, -2.5 division (3 v. White Sox, 3 v. Royals)

Erik - 25
Peter - 49

Monday, September 15, 2008

Playoff Hopes Dwindling for Brew Crew

At least last year when the Brewers fell apart, it was in August, so we had more time to accept that we weren't going to make the playoffs. This year, the Brewers are playing just about the worst baseball I've ever seen, and that's really saying something given all the sub-.500 teams we've had in the past two decades. After a dominant August, which included two sweeps of the Pirates in the final week and a near no-hitter by CC Sabathia on the final day, the Brewers have limped through September at a 3-11 mark and have lost their 5.5 game lead in the Wild Card. I really have nothing good to say, and there are no bright spots. The Brewers starters had an 0-3 record and an ERA over 10 over the 4-game sweep by the Phillies. The Crew is hitting .160 with RISP this month, the 3-4-5 hitters have driven in about 6 runs this month, and most of the bullpen is suspect. Carlos Villanueva, Jason Kendall, and CC are clearly the only guys who seem to even want to play any more.
Ryan Braun labeled the recent Phillies series as a "complete disaster" and said that the team "put itself in this position" and is even "struggling in batting practice." I admire Ryan for what he's done in the big leagues in such a short period of time, and for putting this team's burden on his shoulders, but he is clearly still hurt and anyone who watches the games can see this. His swing has an even larger uppercut now to compensate for his sore ribs and he's popping a lot of balls up that he would normally drive. He is going to be no help to us the rest of the season and Ned either needs to take him out of the lineup, or move him down in the order. Speaking of Ned, Yost remains frighteningly optimistic about the team turning it around. Like it's beyond optimism now, it's just blind stubbornness to refuse to change his approach at all to help remedy the situation. There's a difference between panic and concern that Yost doesn't seem to recognize. Like when a few guys struggle, you should be concerned; when the whole team struggles at the same time, you should panic. The rotation has been the most disappointing part to me. Our hitters have come into and gone out of slumps all year, as all hitters do, but our rotation was arguably the best in baseball up until this month and it has carried us all season only to fall short now. Suppan has not been his usualy September-self, and Manny Parra is clearly worn down, as he has already tossed nearly 30 innings more than he ever has in a season, at any level. Even CC and Sheets have not been too sharp. Now, it's true, this team is young, but we invested a lot of money in the offseason on veterans to keep this team afloat down the stretch. It's also true that most of the division leaders have been struggling a bit in September, but nothing to match the sheer collapse of the Brewers.
The fact remains that the Brewers are still tied for the Wild Card, and pretty much control their own destiny. Let's hope this team can right the ship over the remainder of the road trip so that they have something to play for on the final homestand and so they won't get booed, because apparently Corey Hart is a little sensitive.

Note: Carlos Zambrano tossed the first no-hitter in ML regular-season history at a neutral site at Miller Park on Sunday, and I will never be able to forgive myself for watching the Brewers lose again instead of going to the game.
And this just in: Ned Yost has been fired, who was nearing the end of his 6th season as the Brewers' manager. Dale Sveum has taken over as interim manager, and Yost's bench coach/drinking buddy Ted Simmons was demoted to "advisor." It's pretty clear that Melvin believes that it's still playoffs or bust this year; maybe he read my blog.

Brewers 83-67, -7.5 division, -- wild card (3 @ Cubs, 3 @ Reds)
Reds 68-81, -22.0 (3 v. Cardinals, 3 v. Brewers)
Twins 82-67, -1.5 (3 @ Indians, 4 @ Rays)

Erik - 25
Peter - 49

Monday, September 8, 2008

This Week in Baseball

A few happenings around baseball as we roll into September:
- A historic moment occurred on Wednesday, September 3rd, as instant replay was used for the first time at Tropicana Field. Alex Rodriguez hit a towering shot over the foul pole in the late innings of a game against the Rays. The 2:15 replay process confirmed that the ball did indeed fly over on the fair side of the pole, and A-Rod was allowed to touch 'em all after yet another meaningless solo homerun as a Yankee.

- September callups first saw action last week, and will continue to filter in as minor league seasons end. ESPN ran an interesting story last week about the top 10 propsects to look for making an impact in their brief time in the bigs this year; Mat Gamel of the Brewers tops off this list at #2 and had his first big-league hit on Sunday.

- Going hand-in-hand with callups, the MiLB playoffs started last week as well. Despite AA-Huntsville's torrid start, Milwaukee's only representation in the MiLB playoffs is in the South Atlantic League with their low-A affiliate, the West Virginia Power. After the season, the Brewers have expressed interest in moving this team back to Wisconsin, and Appleton seems like the likely candidate since the Beloit stadium is a dump and the Timber Rattlers' affliation contract with the Mariners is up at the end of the year.

- The Northwoods League and the Midwest League both announced some changes in the last couple weeks. The NWL will be getting a still-unnamed expansion franchise in Waukesha WI at Frame Park, hopefully for the 2009 season. In an effort to reduce travel costs, the Lake County Captains and the Columbus Catfish of the South Atlantic League will be shifting to the MWL in 2010. The Captains will remain in Eastlake OH, and the Catfish will be getting a new team name and moving to Bowling Green KY next year.

- Lastly, the Brewers announced the sale of their 3-millionth ticket, which is the first time this plateau has been reached in franchise history.

Brewers 82-61, -4.0 division, +4.0 wild card (3 v. Reds, 4 @ Phillies)
Reds 64-79, -22.0 (3 @ Brewers, 3 @ Diamondbacks)
Twins 78-65, -2.5 (3 v. Royals, 3 @ Orioles)

Erik - 25
Peter - 48

Friday, September 5, 2008

Hadlock Field

All photos from Portland are available of Flickr.

Last Friday brought me the opportunity to watch some more New England minor league ball. After clocking out for the day, I hit the road for the two hour drive to Portland, ME. New England is a popular tourist destination in the fall for big city residents looking to get out and see the leaves changing colors, and on my drive I could see why. The scenery is beautiful and even in late August there were quite a few trees that were already yellow, brown, and red.

I arrived in Portland shortly after the start of the game and parked in a nearby lot. The Portland Sea Dogs are the AA affiliate of the nearby Boston Red Sox and they do everything they can to play up this connection. The teams colors are the same, a switch from the early days of the Sea Dogs when they were are Marlins franchise and wore teal. The lettering and numbers on the jerseys are the same. In addition, at the team store, you can by t-shirt jerseys of many current Red Sox like Kevin Youkilus and Dustin Pedroia but instead of saying Red Sox on the front it says Sea Dogs. The Sea Dogs even have their own Green Monster, except they call it the Maine Monster. The one in Portland is five feet further away from the plate than the one at Fenway and is 80 feet shorter in lengther but is the same height and topped by the same Citgo sign and Coke bottles that sit on top of the wall in Boston.

The main structure of Hadlock Field features a concrete shell upon which aluminum bleachers have been place. This design makes the stadium very loud. For example, when an opposing hitter has two strikes on him, instead of doing the strike out clap, everyone stops their feet, building from a low rumble to a much louer one, distracting the batter. Also, in the middle of the 8th inning, the Sea Dogs play the ChaCha Slide over the PA system and everyone stomps on the bleachers in unison. Its quite the experience when you're in the mens room, barely able to hear the music, and all of a sudden the whole stadium erupts, BANG! BANG! In the outfield, near the foul pole, is a narrow section of steeply terraced boxes, toped by a giant LL Bean boot.

The game featured the lowly New Hampshire FisherCats, at the bottom of the Eastern League standings, and the Sea Dogs who were fighting for a playoff spot. Portland's starter Kris Johnson was looking pretty good for the first 4 innings but was surprisingly yanked with two outs in the 5th, having given up only two runs on five hits while also striking out 5. The FisherCats starter, Jo Matumoto did not fare as well. The Sea Dogs got on the board first with back to back doubles in the 2nd and DH Aaron Bates hit a three-run homer in the third to chase Matumoto. RF Jared Stanley also added a three-run shot in the fifth and the Sea Dogs bullpen shut down the FisherCats to earn the 9-2 victory.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 7
views from park - 4 (Portland municipal auditorium down the right field line, other than that cant see out)
view to field - 7
surrounding area - 6 (downtown Portland is quaint, but a little run down)
food variety - 6
nachos - n/a (i had to get a Sea Dogs helmet sundae)
beer - n/a
vendor price - 4 (pretty steep for a minor league park
ticket price - 6 ($7 GA)
atmosphere - 8 (Red Sox fans who cant make it down to Fenway)
walk to park - 5
parking price/proximity - 7 (surrounding streets for free if you get there early enough, otherwise $5 lots)
concourses - 5 (cant decide if i love the noise from stomping feet or hate it)
team shop - 9

most unique stadium feature - Maine Monster

starters - Jo Matumoto (NH) v. Kris Johnson (POR)
opponent - New Hampshire FisherCats
time of game - 3:12
attendance - 6923
score - 9-2 W
Brewers score that day - 3-1 W

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Instant Replay

All photos of Wrigley Field available on Flickr.

Pressured by general managers due to many controversial calls in the past few years, Major League Baseball became the final of the four major American sports to approve the use of instant replay in certain situations last Thursday. It will be used in a limited fashion, only for boundary calls to help determine whether a homerun was fair/foul, over the wall or not, or interfered with by a fan. As of today, it has not yet been used in a game, although there were a couple of close calls that certainly warranted its use; umpires are clearly apprehensive about being the first to use it.

I personally have mixed feelings on this issue. The baseball purist side of me is still angry that the American League uses the DH, and now this? What's next, plays at first? Or God forbid, balls and strikes? This will make a long game even longer and opens the doors to increasing replay usage in the future for other types of calls. I think a better solution would have been to station an extra 2 umpires in the outfield, like in the playoffs. The logical, progressive side of me is happy to see baseball finally "getting with the times." The important thing is to get the call right in all these new & complicated ballparks, no matter how long it takes, so long as it doesn't interfere with the umpire's normal job. If the umpire can't tell if it's a homerun or not, there's no sense in guessing just for the sake of having to make a call, and you might as well use the technology if it's there. I wouldn't mind seeing a "flag" system like in football, where each manager gets something like two challenges a game. There are just as many important plays that occur at first base, or trapped/caught balls in the outfield that have just as much bearing on a game as a homerun. As long as it's never used for balls and strikes, I'll be alright with instant replay.

Shifting gears, I got to go to Wrigley Field on Saturday to boo the Cubs. My brother hadn't been there since he was about 8, and his girlfriend had never been, so we all took the train down there for the day. The Cubs lost 5-2 to the Phillies, and our section was at least half Philadelphia fans, so wearing my Chase Utley jersey didn't result in me getting full cans of Old Style thrown at me, as originally feared. Ryan Howard hit a homerun, and Jayson Werth went 3-4 with 2 bombs to left. Brett Myers pitched outstanding in the win, and Theodore Roosevelt Lilly got the loss. It was an awesome day for baseball, it was on national television, and the train ride was really quick and cheap, so overall I was glad that we went.

Brewers 80-57, -4.5 (3 v. Mets, 4 v. Padres)
Reds 61-76, -23.5 (3 v. Pirates, 3 v. Cubs)
Twins 73-60, -- (3 @ Blue Jays, 3 v. Tigers)

Erik - 24
Peter - 46

Monday, August 25, 2008

Historic Holman Stadium

All photos of Historic Holman Stadium are available on Flickr.

As you may remember from my Toledo post, a month and a half ago I moved to New Hampshire. The area has a lot of minor league ball teams and I was hoping to attend a few games. Well, with just two weeks left in the minor league season I finally made it to one. The Nashua Pride are an independent team in the CanAm League. Last season Peter and I caught a CanAm League game in New Jersey and were not impressed. Fortunately, tonight's game was much crisper than the one we saw last summer, but it was still clear there was a reason these guys were playing independent league ball.

Some fun facts about the Pride and the CanAm Legue: Rich Garces, a former Red Sox reliever, has returned for his second season with the Pride. He is nicknamed El Guapo because of his weight and has his own bobble-belly doll. Also, former Tigers and Yankee slugger Cecil Fielder, estranged father of Brewers star Prince Field, is in his first season as manage of the Atlantic City Surf.

Also, tonight was cooler bag night. The giveaway was for the first 750 fans into Holman Stadium. Now, I know teams announce attendance based on how many tickets were sold, not how many people actually come to the game. But most times its still a realistic number. Tonight the Pride announced an attendance of over 1445, yet there were still two cases of cooler bags that the staff was trying to give away at the end of the night.

I got there quite early, hoping to take in a little late season bp, but was disappointed to discover that neither the Pride nor the Quebec Capitales were hitting this evening. So, I spent some time walking around the stadium, which took about 5 minutes, looking in the team store, and getting dinner. There was also a live two-man band entertaining the early arrivals down the right field line. Holman stadium is a newer stadium built in the retro style, all brick and painted steel. It is a very nice stadium for an independent league team. In the left field corner is an Applebee's aal-you-can-eat area, that sits just beyond a low brick wall. In center and right the wall jumps up significantly and is covered with advertisements. One unique feature of Holman Stadium is that there are two sets of retired numbers. Three numbers are embedded in the outfield wall, without names to go with them. Another 5 are displayed beneath the press box.

The game itself pitted the division leading team from Quebec and the Pride who have taken up residence near the bottom of the standings after winning the 2007 CanAm League title. My seat was four rows in front of the press box and i could clearly hear the Pride play-by-play man calling the entire game. Let me just say, he is no Bob Uecker, though he did use Uek's signature "Juuuuust a bit outside" line. The Pride jumped out to an early 2-0 in the bottom of the first on an RBI double by 3B Argenis Tevarez followed by a bit from 1B Brian Duplissie, but Quebec starter Karl Gelinas settled down and went 7 innings without surrendering another run.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 6
views from park - 7 (evergreen trees directly behind the outfield walls)
view to field - 7
surrounding area - 4 (Nashua is nicknamed Trashua by folks in NH)
food variety - 2 (nothing out of the ordinary, very limited selection)
nachos - 6 (good chips and the single serving cheese cup went a lot further than I thought)
beer - 6 (Bud and Heiniken on tap)
vendor price - 7
ticket price - 2 ($7 for independent ball, and no grass seating GA? Boo!)
atmosphere - 1 (Dead except for 1 Superfan)
walk to park - 5
parking proximity - 7 (adjacent lot for free but watch out your windows dont get hit by foul balls)
concourses - 5
team shop - 5 (limited selection but 40% off end of season clearance)

best food - nachos
most unique stadium feature - party deck that was clearly just a double-wide on stilts
best jumbotron feature - scoreboard says "Quit ya jibba-jabba during opposing team mound conference
best between-inning feature - Spike, one of two mascots helps to drag the field

starters - Karl Gelinas (QUE) v. Isaac Burkett (NAS)
opponent - Quebec Capitales
attendance - 1,445
score - 9-2 L
Brewers score that day - 10-4 W

Little League World Series

On Sunday, Waipi'o, HI defeated Matamoros, Mexico in the 2008 Little League World Series to win the state's 2nd LLWS in the past 4 years. I only got to watch a couple of games this year, but as always, it was great entertainment. It's really fun to watch kids just play for the love of the game, and I'm always amazed by 12 year old kids who can already throw an off-the-table curveball and a 72 MPH heater; I think my high in the pitch-speed game is somewhere in the low 50s. When you first start watching the games and you see the 60-foot bases, the 200-foot fence, and the metal bats, you naturally think that each game is going to be an 18-16 slugfest, but this is far from the truth. These kids represent the 16 best teams in the entire world, and all of them are a lot better at defense and pitching than I ever was, even in high school. And to think that the smallest percentage of these kids, maybe 1-2%, will ever even get drafted someday, tells you how hard these kids have worked and must continue to work to make it as a baseball star, and how hard it is to not get arm problems playing ball as much as these kids do, particularly the pitchers.

The Little League World Series has been held every August since 1947 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. It is currently held on two fields: Howard J. Lamade Stadium, which has hosted games since 1957, and Little League Volunteer Stadium, which was opened in 2001 to accomdate the expansion to 16 teams. Prior to 1959, the games were held at Original Little League. Each year, 8 teams from the International division (representing Canada, Mexico, Carribean, Latin America, Japan, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and Middle East-Africa) and 8 teams from the US (representing New England, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Great Lakes, Southeast, Southwest, Northwest, and West) compete in pool play. These 8 teams from each division are selected through a series of qualifying tournaments. Teams from 13 states and 7 countries have won the Little League World Series, and thousands of current and former major leaguers got their start here, at one of the only events in the world where children under 13 are at center stage. Erik and I have already tentatively decided on most of our Tour-Plus trips through 2015, but the LLWS will definitely be something that we attend someday, and we look forward to it - particularly the free admission, and tying one on in small-town Pennsylvania.

Also this weekend, I attended ballgame #44 of the year at Fox Cities Stadium. It was considerably warmer than the last time I was there in April, but the team had not gotten any better and lost 4-0. The Rattlers only managed 3 hits in the game and the post-game fireworks were weak, but I got to hang out with a couple of friends that live near Appleton and it was a beautiful Saturday for baseball. Lastly, on a bitter-sweet note, the United States won the bronze medal in what was the last time baseball is featured in the Olympic Games. The IOC will work on reinstating baseball for 2016.


Brewers 76-55, -4.5 (2 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Pirates)

Reds 57-74, -23.5 (3 @ Astros, 3 v. Giants)

Twins 74-56, -0.5 (3 @ Mariners, 4 @ Athletics)


Erik - 22

Peter - 44

Monday, August 18, 2008

Northwoods League Playoffs 2008

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

The Mallards fell one game short in their bid for the franchise's 2nd Northwoods League title on Sunday, as the Thunder Bay Border Cats defeated them in Game 3 of the series. A costly error by Madison's shortstop in the 8th was the deciding play. Thunder Bay's closer Jimmy Stanley struck out the final batter of the game to nail down Canada's second Northwoods League title - the Border Cats also defeated the Mallards for the title in 2005.

I attended Game #2 of the South Division playoffs against the Wisconsin Woodchucks (coached by Jim Gantner) at Warner Park on Wednesday, which the Mallards won handily 14-5 behind a strong pitching performance by Matt Jansen. The player(s) of the game was pretty much the entire Madison offense. The Malllards had 15 hits, and scored in every inning but the first and last, including a 6-run 6th. Madison's leadoff hitter had a 4-hit night, and Luke Stewart and Drew Martin each chipped in with towering home runs. My new favorite Mallard with one of the top 5 sweetest baseball names of all time, Joe Bonadonna, also had 2 hits and played 3 positions in the game - all 5'5" of him. The attendance was only about 2600, but it was one of the more entertaining games I've seen at the Duck Pond and I was glad I went for many reasons, not the least of which was a free souvenir pint glass upon entry.

With the 2008 NWL season in the books, Erik and I are already tentatively planning a Tour 2009 trip to Minnesota next year to watch a couple of Northwoods League games, and a couple Twins games in the last year of the Metrodome as well. I can't wait to watch more Northwoods League action next year!
Brewers 71-54, -5.5 (3 v. Astros, 3 v. Pirates)
Reds 55-70, -21.5 (3 @ Cubs, 3 @ Rockies)
Twins 70-53, -- (3 v. Athletics, 4 @ Angels)
Erik - 21
Peter - 41

Monday, August 11, 2008

Brewers Undefeated Since Dugout Altercation

Wisconsin sports fans had a pretty rough start to last week. First on Monday night, Prince Fielder and Manny Parra were involved in a shoving match in the dugout (well, Prince did all the shoving). And then on Wednesday night, everyone in Wisconsin died a little as the Brett Favre saga finally came to an end with his trade to the Jets for a conditional draft pick. How would the Brewers and Packers recover? The Packers' first pre-season game is this Monday, and the Brewers have responded by going undefeated (5-0) since the altercation.

Hopefully this isn't going to become an annual tradition for the Crew. It was last year at around this time that Johnny Estrada and manager Ned Yost exchanged words in the dugout following a tough loss, and the team was temporarily inspired by this passion, but then fell out of the race in September. I don't really see this altercation as anything nearly as significant as last year's. Last year, the Brewers started out hot and slowly fell down in the standings, whereas this year it's the reverse. Prince just seemed to be letting out some frustration, albeit in a poor way, following a sweep by the Cubs and a tough loss to the lowly Reds at the GAB, where the Brewers have historically played pretty well. Prince and Manny are friends, and Fielder is a large clubhouse presence (literally and figuratively), whereas Estrada was just a jerk and wasn't really friends with anyone, nor was he a person young guys looked up to. The one thing I didn't like about it was how Yost handled it. He refused to comment, saying it wasn't our business: "If the neighbors are fighting, it's pretty rude to go next door and ask what's happening." This is true Ned, but this altercation happened in clear view, in the dugout. If I see my neighbor beating his wife on the front porch, I'm sure as hell going to call the cops and/or ask questions. And to stick with the neighbors analogy, the fight clearly woke up bench coach Ted Simmons, and if the neighbors' raucous wakes me up, I'm sure as hell going to go next door and complain.

All in all, the Brewers have played pretty well since then and have hit amazingly with runners in scoring position with the exception of yesterday. Hopefully our favorable schedule the rest of the way through, the passion ignited by this dugout scrape, and the continued dominance of our starting rotation will propel the Brewers into the playoffs. Meanwhile on the other side of the coin, after losing 2 of 3 to the Crew and getting swept by the Nationals, the Reds are looking pretty horrible now, particularly since the Griffey trade, who was clearly the heart of their team. Volquez, Cueto, and Cordero have not looked sharp since the break, Homer still looks to be a "four-A" type player, and Harang has been off all year. Hopefully Dusty doesn't run the young starting rotation into the ground and they can contend next year.


Brewers 67-51, -4.0 (3 @ Padres, 3 @ Dodgers)

Reds 52-67, -19.5 (3 @ Pirates, 3 v. Cardinals)

Twins 65-52, -0.5 (3 v. Yankees, 3 v. Mariners)


Erik - 21

Peter - 40

Monday, August 4, 2008

Take Back Miller Park

All photos of the July 29th Brewers/Cubs game available on Flickr.

Well, let's start with the good news. The Brewers extended their record sellout streak at Miller Park to 11 and are in excellent shape to surpass 3,000,000 for total attendance on the year. The Brewers have won 11 of their last 13 road games, including a 7-0 roadtrip in San Francisco and St. Louis.

However, a 7-0 roadtrip that pulled the Crew into a tie for 1st in the division didn't do a whole lot of good when they followed it up with a pathetic 1-6 homestand against the Astros and Cubs. I kind of looked past the losing series against Houston, hoping that the team was just amped up and looking ahead to the Chicago series. After it was over, I wasn't sure who made a worse showing - the team, or the fans. I don't know if it's worse that the Brewers hit below .100 with runners in scoring position in the 4-game series, or that the crowd was at least 60% Cubs fans for the week. What started out promising - Sabathia and Sheets on the mound for the first two games, and the lightest Cubs showing at a Miller Park series in a long time - ended up being a disaster. Come Wednesday, with Parra and Bush on the mound against All-Star Ryan Dempster and newly acquired co-ace Rich Harden, our chances looked dismal of even pulling out one win. Seeing Prince hit 2 solo homeruns in already out-of-reach games and seeing a plethora of Brewers fans selling their seats for triple the face value to Cubs fans in the parking lot were the final straws for me.

I, nor anyone reading this blog, can't do much about how the Brewers perform. What we can do is make our presence felt in the stands. This is a plea for Milwaukee fans everywhere to fill the seats for the final home series of the year, September 26-28 against the Cubs, even if we are for some reason NOT in the race anymore at this point, which seems unlikely to me considering our easy August schedule and home-heavy September schedule. I'm sick and tired of being outcheered and outrepresented at home - this happens when the Twins and Cardinals are in town as well, to a lesser extent. The reason there are so many Cubs fans at Brewers home games is because Brewer fans stay home bitching and moaning about how many Cubs fans there are! Does that make ANY sense?!?!? We need to start being part of the solution people! The next time Chicago is in town, no more selling your seats on stubhub, no matter how much you get. No time to be a fairweather fan. Support the Crew, this year if any, because who knows what's happening with the team next year. This is our year to win it, and despite how well the Brewers have played on the road lately, we don't want Miller Park to be "Wrigley Field 2" the next time the Cubbies roll into town with their stupid "W" flags. We've made some progress this year, but we still need to get that stadium about 80% Brewers fans next time around.

And now, to also end on a good note - I got to partake in a pretty special day at the ballpark on Tuesday, as I was invited into the company suite and got to go on the field to watch batting practice before the game! Click on the link at the top of this post to see all the pictures of Lou Pinella's gut and Alfonso Soriano's ridiculously huge bat.

Brewers 62-50, -5.0 (3 @ Reds, 4 v. Nationals)
Reds 51-61, -16.0 (3 v. Brewers, 4 v. Astros)
Twins 62-49, +0.5 (3 @ Mariners, 3 @ Royals)

Erik - 21
Peter - 39

Monday, July 28, 2008

Trade Deadline Approaches

As the 2008 MLB trade deadline approaches July 31st, I thought I would shed some light on the major deals already done up to this point:
1. CC Sabathia in exchange for Matt LaPorta and 3 other prospects - Indians/Brewers
Even though I am biased, this deal is clearly the cream of the crop and should propel the Brewers into the Wild Card spot in the National League. It provides the Crew with one of the best 1-2-3 starter combinations in all of baseball in Sabathia, Sheets, and Parra.
2. Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin in exchange for Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, and 2 prospects - Athletics/Cubs
Harden is not as dominant as Sabathia and is injury prone, but the Cubs have this guy locked up for another 1-2 years, where as Sabathia is likely a rental. They also gave up far less talent than the Brewers (Gallagher is the best of this group) and got another reliever in exchange.
3. Joe Blanton in exchange for 3 prospects - Athletics/Phillies
Blanton, much like CC, is pitching much better than his record would suggest. Anything is better than Brett Myers. The Phillies and Mets should go down to the wire for the NL East banner with this trade.
4. Richie Sexson signs free agent deal with Yankees after being cut by Mariners
Big Sexy is only hitting .216 this year, has more holes in his swing than a piece of Swiss cheese, and is even worse with RISP, but he will undoubtedly be limited to a platoon with Giambi off the bench. He may shine in a limited role with a change of scenery, not to mention a contending team.
5. Ray Durham in exchange for 2 prospects - Giants/Brewers
This is a win-win for the Brewers - either Ray's mere presence motivates guys like Weeks and Hall to consistently play better, or Durham will get 2-3 starts a week and provide a much needed bat from the left side with a high OBP.
6. Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte in exchange for Ross Ohlendorf and 3 other prospects - Pirates/Yankees
I like this trade a lot. Nady was going nowhere in Pittsburgh, and Marte is a stud, and probably was the best lefty reliever available besides Brian Fuentes. If Hideki comes back healthy enough to play outfield again, the Yankees can turn around and swap Nady in the offseason or next year's trade deadline for 2 or 3 prospects to replace the ones they lost.
7. Casey Blake and cash in exchange for 2 prospects - Indians/Dodgers
These "player and cash" trades are always suspect to me. What exactly does "and cash" mean? Are the two GMs like, "Hey I like the trade on paper...pick up this lunch tab and you've got a deal?" Blake is an above-average player going to an average team in a below-average division, and should help the Dodgers move past the Diamondbacks, unless they make a deal of their own. This seems unlikely, since the D-Backs have a lot of their young guys locked up for a few years and are unwilling to deal them.
8. Jon Rauch in exchange for a prospect - Nationals/Diamondbacks
The D-Backs never really replaced their departed closer Jose Valverde, and Rauch should provide stability in the back end of their bullpen for the home stretch.
9. Randy Wolf in exchange for a prospect - Padres/Astros
Roy Oswalt is on the DL, the Padres have pretty much cashed in their season already, and there's not too many more arms out there. You gotta love the optimism of Houston to be buyers at the trade deadline, and to think that they'll make yet another 2nd-half push.
The five big names players still out there who have been mentioned in trade talks are Matt Holliday, Brian Fuentes, Mark Teixeira, George Sherrill and AJ Burnett. It seems unlikely to me that the Rockies would trade either, since everyone's a contender in the NL West. There aren't any contending teams looking for a 1st basemen except Arizona, and as I said, they probably won't deal a young player for him, and their farm system not developed enough to trade any prospects. Sherrill and Burnett are probably your best bets to get traded. As for the Manny trade talks, after watching Baseball Tonight yesterday, I don't really see this happening until the offseason. Look for Jarod Washburn to go to the Yankees in the upcoming days, and for all three teams in the AL West to have a firesale, since the closest team to the Angels is 10.5 games back.
Brewers 60-45, -1.0 (4 v. Cubs, 3 @ Braves)
Reds 50-56, -11.5 (3 @ Astros, 3 @ Nationals)
Twins 57-47, -2.5 (4 v. White Sox, 3 v. Indians)
Erik - 21
Peter - 37

Monday, July 21, 2008

Silver Cross Field

All photos of Joliet and Silver Cross Field available on Flickr.

I awoke refreshed and ready to start the day following a great night's sleep in my king-sized bed, in a room that actually had curtains, unlike my bedroom at my house. After being denied access to the pool post-checkout, I started the drive into the city to have lunch with my friend John from grad school, since I had no interest in arriving in Joliet 8 hours before gametime. John put Erik and I up on the first two nights of the tour in his apartment in Wrigleyville, and apparently 4 blocks was still too far away from the ballpark, as his new pad is even closer to Wrigley Field. We caught up over some beers and a couple delicious Aussie burgers at Harry Caray's. As jealous as he was of Erik and my adventure(s), I was a little envious myself that he is going to a Red Sox-Yankees game in New York for his bachelor party. As the rain started to fall, I headed southwest for Joliet, and arrived a little after 4 PM, where I found a parking spot right across the street from the ballpark.

On the way in, I'll admit that I had a pre-conceived picture in my head of what Joliet would look like, and was already thinking of anecdotes to write on the blog (no doubt another Cudahy comparison would have been involved). After all, Joliet is really only known for two things - a casino, and as the place where Jake Blues from the Blues Brothers spent some time in the slammer. I'll have to say though...I think "impressed" is too strong of a word, but it was better than I thought it would be. Somewhere in between a town and a city (a "tity"?), it kind of reminded me of Davenport, maybe Omaha. Streets everywhere were laden with banners that read "If its fun, it's in downtown Joliet," "Joliet Reads!" and "No Parking on Gameday." I did a fair amount of exploring, walking past some cool churches and the Route 66 team store (apparently the old 66 corridor runs through Joliet). Seeing most of downtown still only took about a half hour, so in true Houses Erik & Peter Built fashion, I stopped in a local bar to watch FOX Saturday baseball and throw back some Old Style until first pitch.

I arrived at the gate just before it opened at 6, picked up my $5 GA seat, and went inside. It was decent; I mean, after seeing as many ballparks as I have, I've come to realize that everything's been done before in some variation, and it takes a lot to impress me at this point. Combine the entry of John O' Donnell Stadium, in which you have to walk up steps to get onto the main concourse, the architecture of the Rockford Riverhawks' stadium, and the interior of Haymarket Park, and you get Silver Cross Field. Instead of being sponsored by a financial institution or communications company as most ballparks are, Silver Cross Field went the route of the local hospital, and the entire staff wears nurse scrubs to play along. The site is wedged between the METRA line to Chicago, a little league diamond, and an old warehouse, and amenities include "viewing alcoves" to the street and train tracks, a kids' zone, a group hot tub/picnic area in right, and a rooftop seating area in left where you can watch the game on top of a concession stand so you can feel like you're at Wrigley. Pretty standard concessions and team store, but they did have a nice spot called "Guinness Pub" that featured jumbo imported beers and a small seating area.

The Joliet Jackhammers play in the Northern League, a collection of six teams from disbanded and restructured independent leagues, with clubs that range from Winnipeg to the Chicago area. The Jackhammers are coached by former major leaguer Wally Backman, and his team his basically comprised of relatives of major leaguers, a whole bunch of guys he coached on the South Georgia Peanuts, and his sons. As far as independent leagues go, I think Erik and I can agree that in terms of talent and entertainment, the American Association and the Golden League are pretty outstanding, the Frontier League is average, and the CanAm League is horrible. I would give the Northern League maybe a 'B.' Some shotty defense, but respectable pitching, and there were probably more home runs in this game (6) than I've seen in all the other independent league games I've been to combined. Two of those homeruns were by Jay Ricci of Gary, who also hit a double off the wall and a long flyout to center, and the only reason I could think of for why he's not on a minor league team is maybe "Pedro Cerrano" issues. Gary also featured Mike Rohde on the roster, which was a treat for me as he was one of my favorite Madison Mallards and I saw him get inducted into the Mallards HOF last year. The Railcats defeated the Jackhammers, despite a solid pitching performance by Nick Sevier, who went 7 and struck out 7. The Railcats' lead was slim heading into the 8th, but Gary reliever Kasiko Misawa shut the door on the Hammers by striking out 4 in 1 2/3 to pick up the save (0.40 ERA on the season). The most interesting play of the game occurred in the 7th, when Joliet bunted into a double play and everyone on the field, including the umpires, thought that was the 3rd out. The next inning started, and after a couple pitches to the first batter, the umpires suddenly huddled up with the managers, declared that there were actually only two outs in the previous inning, and then the teams changed sides to record that final out, in which the Jackhammer batter ended up striking out on four pitches.

After the game was a fireworks display NOT cancelled due to lateness. It was short but decent. I checked my car for any foulball damage and then hit the road back to Milwaukee. It was a great weekend, and I wish I didn't have to work the next day so I could have caught a White Sox game on Sunday afternoon. And PS - the luck of the tour continues - storms predicted both days and both games were played!

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 8 (skyboxes were beautiful)
views from park - 3 (METRA)
view to field - 9
surrounding area - 6 (downtown is a couple blocks away)
food variety - 4
nachos - 9 (huge plate, chili & sour cream, good chips)
beer - 7 (bonus points for jumbo bottles)
vendor price - 8
ticket price - 8 ($5 GA)
atmosphere - 2 (pretty quiet for most of the game)
walk to park - 5
parking proximity - 10 (I was really early; across the street for free)
concourses - 7
team shop - 6

best food - nachos
most unique stadium feature - hot tub/picnic area
best jumbotron feature - Lou Pinella/Ozzie Guillen Chevy rap commercial
best between-inning feature - anything featuring Jammer the mascot (best during-game entertinament: Champ the Wonder Dog retrieves broken bats from field)

field dimensions - 327/400/330
starters - David Dickinson (GRY) v. Nick Sevier (JOL)
opponent - Gary Southshore Railcats
time of game - 3:08
attendance - 4,914
score - 6-5 L
Brewers score that day - 8-5 W
Brewers 55-43, -3.0 (4 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Astros)
Reds 48-52, -11.0 (3 v. Padres, 3 v. Rockies)
Twins 55-43, -0.5 (3 @ Yankees, 3 @ Indians)

Erik - 20
Peter - 36

Philip B. Elfstrom Stadium

All photos of Philip B. Elfstrom Stadium available on Flickr.

A few months ago, Erik and I found out that classic recipe Schlitz was being re-released in a few scattered liquor stores in Chicago. Without hesitation, we felt an impromptu trip centered around beer and ball was necessary, and we chose this weekend to go. But then June rolled around - Classic Schlitz went on sale in Milwaukee, and Erik decided to take a job in New Hampshire. Since I was already really amped up for this trip, I decided to proceed on with it solo, and this afternoon I arrived in suburban Chicago to watch the Kane County Cougars.

I left work around 2, and despite driving down state roads most of the way, I still managed to hit traffic and construction and arrived at my accommodations for the night – a St. Charles Days Inn – almost 3 hours later. I had a few minutes to settle in and take a few laps around the pool (which was much smaller than advertised, but still nice) before heading out to the ballpark.

The ballpark is a part of the Kane County Sports Complex in Geneva, which is about 4 miles from my hotel. Philip B. Elfstrom Stadium is home to the Kane County Cougars, an A-affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. The team was established in 1991 and was formerly the affiliate of the Marlins, and players such as Dontrelle Willis, AJ Burnett, Josh Beckett, and Josh Willingham were all Cougars. I’d been wanting to come to this park for a few years now – I had planned on going a couple of times when I lived in Madison, but weather and work prohibited this. When I finally arrived in the parking lot after going through a ridiculously long driving sequence, it looked like the state fair – rows and rows of cars parked on pervious pavers and grass. I was temporarily upset after dishing out $10 for an A-ball seat, but then once I got inside I realized where all the money went. This was easily one of the top 5 minor league ballparks I’ve ever been to. As with most A and AA ballfields, it’s more of a seating bowl and some out buildings, moreso than an actual structure, but since it’s built into the side of a hill and wedged between trees and homes in a park, it feels very intimate and enclosed (it reminded me of Dodger Stadium, on a much smaller scale). Ridiculously awesome beer and food variety, great views, exciting team, good promotional calendar, 3 team stores, great prices, and 3 huge picnic areas in the outfield. Even though the fireworks were cancelled because the game ran too late, I had a great time. Note to Kane County Cougars: if you get souvenir cups, helmet sundaes, and build some stuff around the park, I will rank you as my favorite minor league ballyard. This was the 6th Midwest League ballpark I've visited, and definitely the best thus far.

The game ran too late because there were 27 runs on 30+ hits, and at least a dozen walks/hit batsmen. I was expecting more of a pitchers duel between the A’s and Dodgers affiliate teams, since these organizations typically grow stud pitchers on trees and aren’t really known for powerful offenses. Obviously every pitcher sucked, and every hitter got like 3 hits, so nobody in the game really stood out too much to me. The Cougars got out to a 5-1 lead in the 45-minute first inning and pulled ahead to a 15-5 lead in the top of the 7th, but the Loons made a game of it in their half of the 7th with a pair of 2-run blasts. In the end, the Cougars won 17-10 at 10:20 pm, which was apparently 5 minutes too late to shoot off the postgame fireworks. A few things of note in the game that you don’t see everyday: (1) Both starting pitchers were out of the game by the 4th inning; (2) a batter for the Loons laced a broken-bat pop-up that landed softly behind the mound…which is already embarassing, and add to that that every infielder on the diamond went after it, allowing the hitter to end up with an infield double; (3) Jemile Weeks, recent 1st round draft pick of the Athletics and younger brother of Rickie Weeks, started at 2nd base for the Cougars. Add the bat waggle and about 30 pounds, and I would have sworn it was Rickie – hitting .140 in the leadoff hole, 1-4 with 2 Ks and 2 HBP, and a botched double play.

The rankings will show that my favorite between-innings feature was “Batboy leads YMCA,” but an honorable mention goes to the cats sitting in front of me. It was a girl with her dad, and along for the ride was her boyfriend, whom she was obviously introducing to Daddy for the first time. When that awkwardness wasn’t entertaining enough in itself, the father used to play minor league ball, and was sharing many stories and in-game strategy tips with this young chap, so hopefully for the girl that was a good sign that he approves of her choice in men. Tomorrow I’m heading into the city to have lunch with a few friends from grad school, and then it’s off to Joliet for game #2 of the trip.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 5 (park)
view to field - 10
surrounding area - 3 (park)
food variety - 9 (standard grill fair, but 4 separte grilles, two indoor and two outdoor)
nachos - 5 (I did not have any, but they looked pretty standard)
beer - 10 (excellent price and the best ballpark variety ive ever seen)
vendor price - 9
ticket price - 3 (even though it was worth every penny, still WAY too steep for minors)
atmosphere - 8 (one of the best A-ball crowds ive seen)
walk to park - 1 (huge parking lot)
parking proximity - 8 (free adjacent lot, but huge)
concourses - 8 (great views to field from concourse)
team shop - 9 (three small team stores)
best food - elephant ear
most unique stadium feature - three enormous decks in the outfield
best jumbotron feature - "Fish or No Fish" game
best between-inning feature - batboy leads YMCA

field dimensions - 335/400/335
starters - Given Kutz (GL) v. Jamie Richmond (KC)
opponent - Great Lakes Loons
time of game - 3:40
attendance - 6,705
score - 17-10 W

Brewers score that day - 9-1 W

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Home Run Derby Drinking Game

So I'm sitting here in my living room, flipping between the AAA All-Star Game and the replay of the Home Run Derby from Monday night, and of course enjoying a frosty beverage. And then, all of a sudden, somewhere around Josh Hamilton's 86th homerun and the 113th time Chris Berman said "back, back, back," I look at the bottle of High Life in my hand and have an epiphany - there totally needs to be a Home Run Derby drinking game! I raced to my laptop...and then forgot everything I was gonna write down, as it took forever for my dying laptop to boot up. Upset, I turned to the internet to jog my memory for this post, and soon found out that somebody had already come up for the idea of the Derby drinking game. And not only had the idea been taken, but there seems to be a modified set of rules for every year of the Derby. Without trying to reinvent the wheel, I use the pre-existing game as basis for my own, more generic and simplified version, since clearly even a sober person would not be able to keep up with all the rules of the current version of the game.

Maximum number of participants = 8. Each participant chooses who they think will win and puts $5 into the pool, with the winner taking all. Have plenty of beer on hand, and drink whenever:

1. Any player hits at least 3 homeruns in a row without recording an out
2. Chris Berman says "back, back, back"
3. A reference is made to the previous single-round record and/or Josh Hamilton
4. A player's child/children are shown
5. A player is shown holding a camcorder
6. A player is shown wearing his cap backwards
7. A player hits a homerun over 500 feet
8. A player hits a foul ball
9. A player's swing is shown in super-slow motion
10. The pitcher's face is shown
11. A fan in the crowd is shown holding a sign
12. A player wipes off with a towel
13. A clip from a previous Home Run Derby is shown
14. An aerial shot of the stadium is shown
15. A player is interviewed

I greatly look forward to playing this next year and taking the next morning off of work!

All-Star Week

All photos of Northwoods League All-Star Game available on Flickr.

Midsummer Classics dotted baseball schedules around the country this week, with of course the creme de la creme being the 79th MLB All-Star Game, played this year at Yankee Stadium for the 4th and final time, as the ballpark is being razed in favor of a $1 billion replica for the 2009 season. Monday Night I attended the Northwoods League All-Star Game with my parents in Madison. It was a showcase of some of the finest collegiate talent from around the nation competing in the national spotlight on ESPN-U. Following a special day on Sunday that featured a US Military All-Stars game and the NWL Home Run Derby (Mankato outfielder Michael Rockett took home the trophy with 10 HRs), the actual all-star game itself was sure to be a treat. It was the first all-star game at any level I'd ever attended and I was looking forward to it for many months, and it did not disappoint.

After purchasing some all-star game merchandise (see sweet logo above) and grabbing dinner, we went out to our seats to watch the teams warm up. The seats I purchased 2 months ago ended up being direcly behind a post (E-Mallards website for not specifying which seats were Obstructed View). Once we moved over, we observed a few interesting happenings that occurred even before the game started. First of all, there was one random other team's mascot in attendance - Slider of the Rochester Honkers. Why their mascot is not a goose and/or named Honky is beyond me, but that's another story. This tall lanky mascot would chest bump and basically just get really excited every time a Honkers player was introduced during the All-Star Lineups ceremony, and it provided a lot of entertainment to an otherwise long and mundane process. Secondly, the umpires were introduced - all 12 of them! Each set of 6 performed their duties for 4.5 innings a piece. I'm not sure if I was more surprised that the NWL actually had that many umpires, or that the ASG employed a "pinch umpire" system. Third, the singing of "O Canada," in honor of the Thunder Bay invitees, was probably the worst national anthem I've ever heard in person. He was horrendously off-key right out of the gate, he struggled to remember the words to the song, and at one point even took a long pause and started laughing before regaining his composure and stumbling to the finish. I tried to sing as loud as I could to help him out, but it was to no avail. This provides further fuel to Erik's theory that National Anthems should only be sung by children and barbershop quartets. Last but certainly not least, as is the tradition in Madison, Maynard Mallard the mascot brought in the game ball on a zipline and delivered it to the Mayor of Madison, who tossed a strike for the ceremonial first pitch.

The game itself dragged on quite long, as there was a lot of offense and a lot of pitching changes, but it was a great experience to be witnessing so much talent, most of which will probably be drafted in the next couple years. Every pitcher tossed between 2/3 and 1 inning, and every single player on both sides got into the game. The South All-Stars struck with 2 in the 1st, and the North countered with 3 in the 2nd. After that, it was all south as they motored on to an 8-4 victory, their first over the north in 3 years. It was hard to pick up and/or remember any one player since there were so many substitutions, but the two Madison starters, Matt Jansen and Rob Lyerly, looked like studs. Jansen started the game and struck out the side, and Lyerly was 2-2 with a walk and an RBI double. Josh Prince and the MVP of the game, Cory Vaughn, both also chimed in with 2 hits a piece for the South. After a long evening of watching pre-game fungoes, drinking cheap beer, and non-stop entertainment, we unfortunately had to leave after the 7th, due to a combination of my parents having to get up at 5 AM for work, and the out-of-nowhere arrival of a thick swarm of mosquitoes.

After arriving home that night, I could not have been more relieved that I had my folks tape the MLB derby, because boy did Josh Hamilton put on a show. I saw this kid come up with the Reds last year when I was in Cincinnati and he is going to be something special. In a constant effort to hit one out of the stadium, he put up 28 in the first round, but alas was too tired to sustain the momentum for three rounds, and ended up conceding to Justin Morneau for the crown. Come next year though, nobody is going to even remember that Morneau won, only J-Ham's remarkable performance. Milwaukee Brewer slugger Ryan Braun took third with 14 total homers.

The big day was Tuesday, the MLB All-Star Game. It was really special to watch, and I can only imagine what it must have been like to be there, to see the parade down 6th Avenue with all the all-stars past and present. And then to go to Yankee Stadium and see the largest assemblage of Hall of Famers and All-Stars on one field in the history of the game during the pre-game ceremony. And then to see Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson, Whitey Ford, and Goose Gossage throw out the first pitches, which were driven in by "The Boss" George Steinbrenner, who was clearly in tears on this remarkable evening. And then to watch the National League trying to win for the first time since 1996, only to be outlasted by the AL in 15 innings, and just under 5 hours. JD Drew may have won the MVP award, but the real MVP was the Mayor of New York and the Steinbrenner family for putting this together. It was only fitting on this special night that Commissioner Selig refused to concede the game in a tie as happened in 2002 - this game was going to go on forever if needed so as to make this All-Star Game a memorable one for ages and ages.

Tonight are most of the Minor League all-star games, and I will definitely be watching the AAA ASG on ESPN2. The 2nd half starts Thursday - let's go Crew!

NWL All-Star Game stats & lineups:

Michael Rockett CF, Mankato

erek McCallum 2B, St. Cloud
Carlos Ramirez C, Mankato

Eric Stephens DH, Rochester

Derek Wiley 1B, Thunder Bay

Devin Goodwin 3B, Rochester

Tony Balisteri SS, Rochester

Josh Upchurch RF, Alexandria

Chris House LF, Duluth

Brendan Lafferty P, Mankato

Ryan Goins SS, Waterloo

AJ Shindler 2B, Battle Creek

Cory Vaughn CF, La Crosse

Derek Melton 1B, La Crosse

Rob Lyerly RF, Madison

Joey Register DH, Waterloo

Jeff Cowan 3B, Wisconsin

Troy Frazier LF, Wisconsin

Rocky Gale C, Green Bay

Matt Jansen P, Madison

first half winners - Mankato (N), Madison (S)
MVP - Cory Vaughn

pitchers of record - Chris Sale (W), Alex Kalogrides (L)

time of game - 3:01

attendance - 5357

stadium - Warner Park, Madison WI


Brewers 52-43, -5.0 (3 @ Giants)

Reds 46-50, -12.5 (4 v. Mets)

Twins 53-42, -1.5 (3 v. Rangers)

Erik - 20

Peter - 34

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fifth-Third Field, Toledo, OH

All photos of Fifth-Third Field are available on Flickr.

One of the advantages to moving across the country every couple of months is the opportunities it provides for taking in ball games. I am now four days into a new job in New Hampshire and on the way out I got to make a stop in Toledo and check out the world famous Mud Hens. You may remember the Mud Hens as the team Cpl. Klinger was a fan of in M*A*S*H or the team that Lou Brown managed for thirty years, before getting his shot with the Indians, in Major League. I was pretty excited to get to the game and check out the ballpark but, unfortunately, a hangover from the Milwaukee beer party and construction in Illinois and Indiana prevented me from arriving until just about game time.

Let me tell you, I didnt miss that much in downtown Toledo. I pulled off the freeway and right into a parking lot. On the two block walk to the park i passed several boarded up buildings. The entire downtown was deserted. Toledo is the model for Pete's argument that ballparks don't spur economic development (Fifth-Third Field was built in 2002).

The park itself is pretty nice. As I was making my way across Indiana, I did some quick calculations in my head and realizing I wouldn't get to Toledo until game time called ahead and got a ticket. $11 put me in the third row just to the third base side of home plate, not to shabby. Fifth-Third field has a lower deck, an upper deck of club seats and suites around the infield. It also has a group section called The Roost that is in the right field corner and is hung off two existing brick buildings. The concourses are fairly narrow but it was easy to make my way through them between innings. In left and center field the is a concourse where fans can stand above the 12-15 foot high wall. In right field there are two tiers of picnic tables.

The game itself was quite a long affair. The visiting Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees teed off in the first inning sending eight men to the plate and pushing across three runs. The Mud Hens scratched one back in the bottom of the inning then took the lead with 3 in the 5th. The Yankees fought back to even the game in the sixth and both teams spent the rest of the game wasting opportunites. In all the Yankees left 9 men on base and the Mud Hens stranded 11. Most of these runners reached with less than two out and there were many times that each time had multiple men on base and a chance to take the lead but blew it. The offensive star for the Mud Hens was Timo Perez, going 2 for 5 with 2 runs scored. In the end Yankees SS, and former Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales homered off Francis Beltran in the top of the 12th and the Mud Hens could not draw even in their half of the inning. I did see something at this game that I had never seen before. In the bottom of the 7th with runners on first and second and one out the Mud Hens attempted a sacrifice bunt but Yankees reserve catcher Chris Stewart touched the bat on its way through the zone. The home plate umpire called catcher interference, loading the bases. Of course, the Mud Hens couldn't take advantage as the next batter grounded into an inning ending double-play.

The Mud Hens, and most minor league teams it seems, stretched the Fourth of July into a weekend long celebration and had post game fireworks. Two problems occured with these. First, Sundays are Kids-Run-the-Bases day ad the crowd had to wait for what seemed like all the youths in Toledo run around the bases. Note to promotions people nationwide: Fireworks come before Kids-Run-the-Bases. Secondly, the fireworks display Pete put on in the ally behind his house last Saturday was far superior to that of the Toledo Mud Hens.

So, now I'm in New Hampshire and there are several minor league teams within easy driving distance. Hopefully, I can find some time off and make it to a few games.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 6 (nice entrance but concourses are kind of dumpy)

views from park - 1

view to field - 8 (very close all the way around)

surrounding area - 1

food variety - 7 (pretty standard but there was one made-to-order grill)

nachos - 6 (points for effort with chilli-cheese nachos, but chips to sauce ratio far to great)

beer - 4 (only Bud/Bud Light, pretty expensive, but souvenir cups)

vendor price - 8 (other than beer, excellent)

ticket price - 9 (boo service charge for ordering over the phone)

atmosphere - 4 (not too much excitement for the Hens)

walk to park - 1

parking price/proximity - 7 (free street parking if you get there early enough, otherwise $5)
concourses - 5

team shop - 8 (lots of throwback Mud Hens gear but also half the store was dedicated to the Toledo Walleye, a minor-league hockey team that won't even begin play until the 2009-10 season)

best food - Muddy Dog - a chilli cheese dog
most unique stadium feature - The Roost party area
best jumbotron feature - Hot Dog race
best between-inning feature - one night only Rockin' Ray and Sky Dogs USA

field dimensions - 320/404/315
starters - Ross Ohlendorf (SWB) v. Yorman Bazardo (TOL)
opponent - Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees
time of game - 3:39
attendance - 9,515
score - 5-4 L
Brewers score that day - 11-6 W v. Pittsburgh