Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pohlman Field

All photos of Pohlman Field available on Flickr.

With the Brewers on the road (again), and becoming flabbergasted with ESPN for not having their usual Memorial Day MLB Tripleheader (or ANY ballgames on for that matter, not even softball), I had to find somewhere to watch ball on my day off yesterday. Luckily, the Beloit Snappers were home - the low-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins and a team I frequently visited when I lived in Madison two years ago. My parents and my friend Josh were all excited to take in some minor league matinee action.

Mondays at Pohlman Field are Dollar Beer Day and Must-Win Monday, so not only did I take down four Miller Lites for $4, but we all got a free seat to the next Wednesday home game since the Snappers lost in a barnburner, 12-8. Starter Brian Kirwan for the Snappers did not fair too well, giving up 7 runs over 4 innings while walking 3 and striking out none. Michael Moustakas and leadoff man Ortiz were the stars for the Burlington Bees, as Moustakas cranked a grand slam and Ortiz went 4-5 with a HR. The highlights for the Snappers unfortunately had nothing to do with their team - their third baseman Chris Cates is probably the shortest man I've ever seen on a field at 5'3", and one of their relievers Matt Williams is an Australian-born man with an awesome Super Mario moustache.

Pohlman Field is very simple - mostly bleachers, bulbed (broken) scoreboard, outfield wall laden with advertising - but it does have a lot of amenities and a great food selection. There are entertainment areas for the kids, two food & beer decks, an all-you-can-eat section, and at least a dozen kind of beers on tap, all reasonably priced. Dogs, sodas, and pizza went on a firesale at the end of the game to get rid of them and became even cheaper than they already were. The mascot (whom I always called "Snappy" and recently found out that was actually his name) was considerably less entertaining than I remembered, which was disappointing because of the "large" crowd he had to perform in front of - the average attendance of 200 was more than quadrupled due to the National holiday and the warm weather. He was only around for about two total innings and I did not once see the amazing "Snappy Shuffle" set to organ music. Overall though, it was a fun inexpensive day and I look forward to using my free tickets next week.

A few things to rant about at the Major League level this week. The Rays are still the best story in baseball, as they have the best record at 31-20. They have great young group of guys, a solid pitching staff, and outstanding coaching. The Brewers have been seemingly acquiring and/or calling up a player every other day, as Mark DiFelice, Zach Jackson, and Tim Dillard have all made their season debuts, Russell Branyan was called up in favor of Tony Gwynn Jr to platoon with Bill Hall at third base, and newly-acquired former Red Sox pitcher Julian Tavarez will be activated to the roster this afternoon, pending a physical. The offense has been starting to click since the last roadtrip began, and Yost is starting to make lineup moves and pitching moves regularly, in the hopes that we can remain around .500 before the trade deadline when Melvin will undoubtedly try to make a blockbuster deal for another staring pitcher to save our season and hopefully propel the Crew into the playoffs. June and July has a much more favorable home schedule for the Brewers, and David Riske and Eric Gagne return in the next week, so hopefully the team can continue to progress.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 2
views from park - 3 (nothing really to look at, it's Beloit)
view to field - 5 (close seats, but obstructed by nets)
surrounding area - 2 (residential)
food variety - 8
nachos - 5
beer - 10 (biggest minor league variety you'll find, and dirt cheap)
vendor price - 9
ticket price - 9 ($6 GA)
atmosphere - 4 (Snappers average attendance is in the low hundreds)
walk to park - 3
parking proximity - 10 (on adjacent street for free)
concourses - 4
team shop - 7 (large shirt & cap variety, but a small store)
best food - cheese curds
most unique stadium feature - two spacious Leinenkugel decks (one is actually a bar open year-round)
best jumbotron feature - scoreboard gone haywire due to lightning the night before (this was entertaining the entire game)
best between-inning feature - Hog Call competition, wiffle ball homerun derby with members of opposing team's dugout shagging fly balls
field dimensions - 325/380/325
starters - Matthew Mitchell (BUR) v. Brian Kirwan (BEL)
opponent - Burlington Bees
time of game - 2:51
attendance - 895
score - 12-8 L

Brewers 24-27, -6.0 (3 v. Braves, 3 v. Astros)
Reds 23-28, -7.0 (3 v. Pirates, 3 v. Braves)
Twins 25-25, -2.0 (3 @ Royals, 3 v. Yankees)

Erik - 7
Peter - 15

Monday, May 19, 2008

Interleague Play Begins

I have always been an advocate of Interleague Play and was excited for this weekend's first round of such games for the 2008 season. Of course the rivalry games are something for fans to look forward to every year - the Subway Series, the Freeway Series, the 'El' Series, the Battle of Ohio, the Battle of the Bay, etc. But the best series every year are the ones that don't happen more than once every 4 or 5 years - Brewers/Red Sox, Rays/Cardinals, Twins/Rockies - they give fans and players a chance to see new ballparks and unfamiliar teams up close. Interleague Play is more for the fans than anything and are a great way to promote baseball and to sell tickets to people who may not ordinarily attend a lot of ballgames. These series are also a challenge for the players, as they have to adjust to a different style of play and face pitchers/hitters they haven't seen in person. It also is a chance for "bragging rights" for either league, and so far this year the NL has come on strong, as opposed to their embarrassing showings in the All-Star Game/IL Play in the past decade. Even though the Brewers got swept this weekend by Boston to fall into last in the NL Central (and SERIOUS managerial and rotation issues have emerged from the start of the roadtrip), it was pretty awesome to watch them duke it out at historic Fenway Park, and I can't wait to catch the Twins and Blue Jays when they're in Milwaukee.

Brewers 20-24, -7.0 (3 @ Pirates, 4 @ Nationals)
Reds 21-23, -6.0 (3 @ Dodgers, 4 @ Padres)
Twins 21-22, -2.0 (4 v. Rangers, 3 @ Tigers)

Erik - 7
Peter - 14

Monday, May 12, 2008

Thoughts on the NL Central

In what was supposed to be a 2-horse race between the Cubs and Brewers in an all-around poor division, the NL Central is turning out to be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. This is certainly getting overshadowed by stories like the hot start of the D-Backs, who field the youngest nine in baseball and have 8-0 Brandon Webb, Florida's two teams leading their respective divisions with a combined $60 million payroll, and the Twins coming out of nowhere with a rotation featuring only one starter and one outfielder from their awesome 2006 team to blow past the White Sox and Indians (aside: There is no reason that Ron Gardenhire and Tony LaRussa should not win the Manager of the Year EVERY year). But back to the NL Central...who would have thought that the Cards would be in 1st place, the Brewers and Reds would be in 4th and 6th, and the Pirates would be near .500 after taking two from the Braves this past weekend? And the Astros have been on fire! There is no division in baseball where the game's parody is more present.

If the Cardinals can keep getting quality starts from their hodgepodge rotation of former relief pitchers, and if Albert Pujols continues his .500 OBP, they will continue to contend. And remember - they will only get better when Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, and Juan Encarnacion return, and when Jason Isringhausen irons himself out. The Cubs and Brewers are pretty much the same team on paper, so I imagine these two teams will also contend if the back ends of their bullpens don't wear out. Both teams have horrible leadoff men that somehow still score runs, both have stable bullpens, both are built for power all the way down the lineup, both teams have two solid starters, both play pretty excellent defense, and both have closer issues. The Brewers had a pretty rough week, getting swept in two consecutive series, but on the bright side they have been swinging the bats much better lately, and when you combine that with the fact that up to this point they have played (A) the most road games in the majors and (B) had the toughest schedule in the Majors, things can only get better. I'm a little surprised by the Astros - they usually don't choose to contend until around mid-August, so it's hard to gauge if their latest surge into 3rd place has been all momentum or a sign of the team's true potential. What is clear is that their major offseason acquisitions of Jose Valverde and Miguel Tejada were great front-office moves. The Reds are showing that the signing of a dominant closer doesn't help if he doesn't get the opportunity to close games. Their young pitchers have been unable to string together consecutive good starts all season, and the offense is greatly underachieving, surely due to the stress of knowing they have to put up 7-8 runs a game to have a chance to win. As for the Pirates, I told all my friends (who cared to listen) that they (and the Royals) would contend for their divisions in 2009, and the Pirates are certainly showing signs that they are going to prove me right. With a new GM in place and the retention of their "star" players, this team has shown flashes of brilliance, particularly in their dramatic series against the Braves this past weekend.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the division shakes out and how many teams are still in contention at the All-Star Break.

Note: Interleague Play starts this weekend!

Brewers 18-19, -4.0 (3 v. Dodgers, 3 @ Red Sox)
Reds 15-23, -7.5 (4 v. Marlins, 3 v. Indians)
Twins 19-17, +1.0 (3 v. Blue Jays, 3 @ Rockies)

Erik - 7
Peter - 12

Monday, May 5, 2008

Henry Aaron Field

All photos of Henry Aaron Field available on Flickr.

I found myself in a predicament this weekend - the Brewers, Snappers, and Timber Rattlers were all on the road! In my continuing effort to find at least one game a week to attend, I discovered that UW-Milwaukee was playing a doubleheader at Henry Aaron Field against Horizon League rival Valparaiso. Although I am normally not a huge fan of college baseball because of the metal bats, I decided that I was out of options and drove out to Lincoln Park on the far north end of Milwaukee, and let's face it I'll watch any game at any time.

This field was clearly just a slightly upgraded Milwaukee County Parks diamond. It had three sets of standalone rusty bleachers, ground-level as opposed to submerged dugouts, two portable toilets, no concessions, and a little treehouse-like shack where the announcer sat, played batter songs, and presumably kept score since there was no scoreboard (one is supposed to be erected for the 2009 season). If there was actually a gate I had to walk into to pay for a ticket I might have been upset that the first game was postponed from noon to 3pm, but since it was free, I left and came back. Much like last weekend in Appleton, it was a cold windy day and I struggled to sit through the first 7-inning game of the doubleheader before leaving. After a slow start it was a pretty good offensive showing for the Panthers. Shortstop Jesse Hart went yard twice to deep left field, as the team hit three total HRs in the win over the Crusaders. According to the group of Valpraiso families keeping score in front of me, it was a 9-5 win for UWM. The Valpo shortstop (don't remember his name - no scoreboard) had the defensive play of the game, as he caught a bad hop barehanded and tossed a strike to home plate to nail a guy trying to score. Overall it might be something I would enjoy going to if it was warmer - and Erik and a grill were present - but on this particular Saturday afternoon it was merely a way to notch another ballgame under my belt, and to finally see my undergraduate alma mater's team play a game.

Now onto my weekly Brewers rant. I'm trying not to get to worried since its only May, so all I'll say is that taking 2 of 3 from the Cubs doesn't really mean much if we're going to get swept by the Astros. The bats are looking a little better, and although we left the bases loaded about 4 times this weekend, our clutch hitting is looking a little better as well, particularly in the Chicago series. Mike Cameron has really ignited the offense, and pretty much every player is seeing the ball well, except maybe Hardy and Weeks - but Hardy has a sore shoulder and Weeks still walks a ton and scores a ridiculous amount of runs for a man with a .200 batting average. We're starting to crank out 4-6 runs a game, which we will need to do consistently now with the season-ending knee injury of Yovani Gallardo. Dave Bush has rejoined the club after one start for Nashville (6IP 1 ER), and it's looking more and more like the Jeff Weaver signing was a good pickup. Carlos and Manny really need to step it up in the rotation now - they both have a tendency to be fairly dominant the first couple times through the order and then become unglued in the 5th or 6th. We're definitely going to need more than 5 1/3 innings out of these guys from now on, particularly with the pen back down to a normal sized 7-member staff following the long-overdue demotion and possible release of Derrick Turnbow. Hopefully he'll accept his AAA assignment and sort stuff out, because we'll definitely need him for the playoff push in September.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 1 (clearly bar league softball is also played here)
views from park - 2 (Green Bay Ave, park)
view to field - 7 (really close, but chain link fence)
surrounding area - 3 (Lincoln Park, pool)
food variety - n/a
nachos - n/a
beer - n/a
vendor price - n/a
ticket price - 10 (there are no tickets)
atmosphere - 7 (Valparaiso relatives section was pretty loud)
walk to park - 2 (through park)
parking price/proximity - 9 (adjacent lot for free)
concourses - 1 (by concourse, do you mean "area behind bleachers?")
team shop - n/a

best food - n/a
most unique stadium feature - announcer shack; scoreboard coming next season!
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - watching the Valpo parents keep score

field dimensions - 315/400/315
opponent - Valparaiso Crusaders
time of game - 3:10
attendance - 40
score - 9-5 W

Brewers 16-15, -3.5 (3 @ Marlins, 4 v. Cardinals)
Reds 12-20, -8.0 (3 v. Cubs, 3 @ Mets)
Twins 16-14, +1.5 (3 @ White Sox, 3 v. Red Sox)

Erik - 7
Peter - 10