Monday, June 30, 2008

Rhythm & Booms Weekend in Madison

All photos of Warner Park available on Flickr.

After a rough 3-day work week following our trip to Washington, I took off from work a tad early on Friday to pick up Erik, and we made our way west to Madison for our first Mallards game of the season. It was also the annual Rhythm & Booms Festival at Warner Park - and corresponding pre-fireworks party at our friend Shane's house - so Erik and I were in for a long weekend of ball, flipcup, and watching shit get blown up.

Ever since I became aware of the awesomeness that is the Northwoods League in 2006 when I lived in Madison, it has been Erik and my favorite baseball league. It is a college summer wooden bat league for players that have not yet signed a professional contract and still have at least one year yet of college eligibility. This league and others like it are intended to be a way for kids to get exposure to wood bats, and basically just an excuse for them to play ball all summer to further sharpen their skills. I know I've already said how much I love the Mallards on this blog, but I will go ahead and put money on the table right now - anyone who attends a Madison Mallards game, I guarantee you it will be the most fun you ever have at a baseball game. Not just in terms of game action, but atmosphere, food, prices, between-inning entertainment, the hilarious PA guy, and of course the game and inning-by-inning promotions, all rolled together make this my favorite place to watch a ballgame in the whole world. And it will only get better when Warner Park gets renovated in 2010.

Erik and I arrived at the park around 5:30, and some broad near the gate promptly offered up Duck Blind seats for 2/3 face value, and we jumped at the opportunity. Many parks have all you can eat areas these days, but few include all-you-can-drink as the Mallards do. So Erik and I both got a ticket and as much beer and fried Wisconsin food as we could handle for $20 a piece. We also both got our picture with a mascot - Erik with Millie, and me with Quenchy the Quench Gum mascot, a sponsor of the Mallards. Additionally, we both acquired C.J. Thieleke pint glasses for Pint Glass Night, bought really sweet jerseys for $45 each, and both got autographs from Potsie of the show "Happy Days," as it was Happy Days Night at the ballpark, which also included a Fonzie "aaaaaayyy" contest. The amount of fun and alcohol we had for that price should not have been legal, particularly for how close we sat. We watched members of the opposing Brainerd Blue Thunder warm up, play pepper, and run sprints for about an hour before the game, and we were so close we could here everything the players were saying. The game ended up being a victory for the Mallards, but part of what makes a Mallards game so special is that the end result is secondary. I can't wait to go back in a couple weeks for the Northwoods League All-Star Game, which is held in Madison this year.

The next day was Rhythm & Booms, and for anyone who hasn't seen this in person, you must. It always is preceded by a twilight-start Mallards game, but Erik and I were too wrecked from Shane's party to attend that game. We instead stumbled the three blocks to Warner Park from the party and got a good spot on the lawn for the best fireworks show I've ever seen - we were so close, and they shot off so many fireworks, that pieces of shell were falling on us towards the end, which Erik and I both of course kept as souvenirs from the outstanding weekend. This weekend is definitely going on Erik and my calendar every year we're able, and a special thanks to Shane and Miranda for letting us stay at their house and play Wii all weekend.

Brewers 44-37, -4.5 (4 @ Diamondbacks, 3 v. Pirates)
Reds 38-45, -11.5 (3 v. Pirates, 4 v. Nationals)
Twins 45-37, -1.5 (3 v. Tigers, 3 v. Indians)

Erik - 18
Peter - 27

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tour 2008: Ripken Stadium

Photos of Washington Day 3 and Ripken Stadium available on Flickr.

After arriving late last night, we got a bit of much needed rest this morning then headed in to downtown DC. We met up with my friend Kelly and had lunch while I tried to decide what to do with the next four months of my life, since watching ball all summer isn't going to cut it this year. After lunch we walked down the mall towards the Washington Monument. We passed by the Newseum where outside they had displayed newspaper front pages from several different countries and all 50 states. Intrigued, we wanted to look around inside for a bit. We thought the Newseum would be free like most of the other museums in DC but when we found out it cost $20 to get in, we promptly left. We finished our walk down the mall but when we arrived at the monument we found that it was sold out for the day.

We got back on the metro and headed back to Alexandria. After transfer subway lines three times we arrived at the end of the yellow line and hopped on the bus that took us from the apartment to the metro in the morning. Unfortunately for us, the bus we take runs on a loop. Now, there are both clockwise and counterclockwise loops. So, our ride back to the apartment could have been 20 minutes. But, we got on the wrong loop and took a drive through scenic northern Virginia and past Mt. Vernon before arriving at the apartment an hour and 10 minutes after we left the metro station. If you're scoring at home, that's an E-Us.

Then we jumped in the car and headed towards Aberdeen. We hit a few traffic jams along the way but nothing too major and we made it to the game about a half hour before the game started. The Aberdeen Ironbirds are the short season A ball affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles and the team is owned by Cal Ripken Jr. Ripken Stadium is beautiful and is also used as the home of the Cal Ripken League World Series. The Ironbirds have sold out every game in their history and there is now a waiting list for season tickets. We were pretty excited for tonight's game because we had All-You-Can-Eat seats right behind home plate. And they did not disappoint.

We took our seats and immediately headed to the buffet line. It was a nice little spread featuring beef fajitas and quesadillas. The only draw back was that it cost extra if you wanted a beer. The game began and the starting pitcher for the Ironbirds was very Rick Vaughn-esque. In two innings of work he struck out six batters and walked three while giving up a run on a single and an error. At the end of two, with the score tied one-one, the rain hit. Once again, we were just barely under the overhang of the roof and we were able to stick it out for a little while. Then the wind shifted and the rain started blowing right in our faces, so we took shelter with a few beers on the main concourse. The rain lasted for about a half hour and then the grounds crew took another half hour to get the field ready for play again. Once the game got underway, both bullpens took over and put up zeros until the bottom of the 7th. The Ironbirds put together a three-run rally and went on to win the game 4-1.

We got back in the car and hit the road for DC, singing along with the Beach Boys all the way home. Tomorrow, sadly, it's back home to Milwaukee. A special and heartfelt thanks for Phil and Frank for letting us stay at their apartments, and particularly to Phil for driving us around Sunday and Monday.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 7 (just about the best youll find for a short-season A stadium)

views from park - 3

view to field - 10 (all-you-can-eat seats are right behind home plate)

surrounding area - 2 (players' Courtyard Marriott in parking lot)

food variety - n/a (didnt really investigate this, we had the buffet)

nachos - n/a (see previous answer)

beer - 7 (low variety, mostly Bud products, but good price)

vendor price - n/a

ticket price - 10 (buffet + excellent seat for $31)

atmosphere - 5 (good for A-ball, but it cleared out after the rain delay)

walk to park - 2

parking price/proximity - 10 (adjacent lot for free)
concourses - 5

team shop - 10 (excellent variety and prices)

best food - buffet
most unique stadium feature - LCF dimension displayed in Ripken family number (3-7-8)
best jumbotron feature - Chick-fil-A cow cheerleaders
best between-inning feature - kids wear oversized wind breakers and catch baseballs in them

field dimensions - 330/404/330
starters - Luke Greinke (SI) v. Chris Salberg (ABD)
opponent - Staten Island Yankees
time of game - 2:25 (1:11 delay)
attendance - 6,470
score - 4-1 W
Brewers score that day - 4-1 W

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Tour 2008: Final Season of Yankee Stadium

Photos of New York and Yankee Stadium available on Flickr.

Today Erik and I attended the 43rd-to-last regular season game in the 85-year history of Yankee Stadium - but first, let's get you up to speed on our Saturday adventures.

After blogging, Erik Phil and I finally left Alexandria mid-afternoon and headed for downtown Washington. Phil had done a little research before our arrival and discovered that there was an annual DC BBQ Contest & Festival occurring near Federal Triangle, so we met up with Frank there to find out what that was all about. All in all, I'd say we were all fairly disappointed. I mean, it is pretty big (streets are blocked off), but about half of the festival is for competition entries only, and those entering food in the BBQ cookoff are not allowed to hand out samples. When we did finally find stands that sold BBQ, it was nothing in particular to write home about. There was also a ridiculous beverage system that involved standing in one line for beverage tickets, and then going in an adjacent line - in the same tent, mind you - to actually receive the drink. And on top of everything, there was for some reason an entry fee. So...if any of you are in Washington and have a chance to go to the BBQ Festival...don't. After a waste of $10 and an hour, we headed for the nearby ESPNZone to finally meet up with Lauren (who was not feeling too crisp from the night before and didn't meet us out until 5:30) and throw back a few before heading to the ballpark.

Saturday's seats were again excellent - 2nd deck, 2nd row, under the scoreboard in right field. We were all up in Elijah Dukes' business and had a great view to the game - and not to mention a pretty outstanding little bar right at the top of our section. When purchasing these tickets a couple months ago I figured this would be a great vantage point from which to check out the cherry blossom trees proposed for the left field concourse, which are synonymous with DC, but sadly those must have gotten V-E'd out. We also finally (A) met Lauren's boyfriend who came much-hyped because we were told he could get us free Five Guys at the ballpark (the Washington equivalent to In 'n' Out Burger), and (B) had time to visit the team store today. Both were awesome - the Five Guys was delicious, and the team store, even though it could have had more variety, had lots of cool stuff. Erik bought a Lastings Milledge t-shirt jersey, and I bought a plush Thomas Jefferson Racing President doll (see photos) and a Nationals Park inaugural season baseball. The game did not end up being as good as the food and team store, as they lost in a rout, 13-3. Josh Hamilton finally got his first hits of the series for the Rangers, and Texas pretty much put the game out of reach with a 7-run 7th, highlighted by David Murphy's bases-loaded double. Teddy Roosevelt again had the lead in the Presidents' race, but was distracted by an inflatable kangaroo around the final turn and lost to Honest Abe, thus extending his career winless streak.

Moving on to Sunday, we ended up post-gaming at a much-anticipated pirate-themed bar in Silver Spring, and then after closing the joint down took the Metro all the way from Maryland, through the entire length of the District, over to Virginia. What that meant was that Erik and I got about an hour of sleep before having to wake up at 6 to catch a 7:30 bus to Manhattan. It was a rough beginning to the day, but after sleeping the entire 4-hour drive to New York, we were refreshed and ready to watch ball in the historic final year of Yankee Stadium. The bus dropped us off near Madison Square Garden and we took the D Train to the Bronx for the game. We had the luck of the tour on our side once again - 40% chance of thunderstorms predicted, and even though there was a pretty fierce hour-rain delay, the game was played in its entirety. Luckily, we had seats that were just under the roof canopy on the top deck. It was nice to not have to work on a Sunday to be able to watch a little afternoon ballgame at this historic field. Our view was again pretty excellent - almost at the top, but right behind home plate with a pretty good view of the game. The Yankees ended up defeating the Reds 4-1 to avoid the sweep (of course the one game I go to, my Reds lost). Andy Pettitte went 6 strong innings, and Johnny Cueto for the Reds probably could have bested his 5 had the game not contained the rain delay, as he had only given up one run and struck out 8. The newly-moustached Jason Giambi was the star of the game, going 3-3 with 2 RBI, and the lone run for the Reds came on Ken Griffey Jr's 601st career jack, on a 102-mph fastball from Kyle Farnsworth that just cleared the right field wall. It was well worth the lack of sleep and 8+ total hours on a bus to get to see a game at Yankee Stadium one last time. After the game, we of course raided the team store for "Last Year" merchandise, and we had a quick drink at Mickey Mantle's at Columbus Circle before heading back to Washington for the night. Tomorrow it's a little bit more sightseeing and our final game of the trip, a minor league game in Aberdeen MD.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Tour 2008: Nationals Park

Photos of Nationals Park and days 1 & 2 in Washington available on Flickr.

The "Tour-plus" continued yesterday when Erik and I visited brand-new Nationals Park, coincidentally on the 1-year anniversary of the main tour last year (June 20, 2007 in Madison). Despite booking our flights about 6 weeks apart, it worked out that we were booked on the same incoming and outgoing flights, and arrived at Reagan National Airport at around 10:30 pm Thursday evening. It was a really luxurious flight on Midwest Airlines, and featured fresh-baked cookies, picking out our Christmas presents in the SkyMall catalog, and a few rousing games of Go Fish. I for one was really tired and hungry after working the whole day at the firm and missing lunch, but when my friend Phil picked us up, we were promptly informed that he had left the bar to come get us and that we were going right back (he may have still had his tab open). So we drove to Alexandria, a Virginia suburb of Washington where Phil lives, and proceded to tie one on at a 7-day-a-week karaoke bar in Old Town called the Rock-It Grill, and then subsequently dominate some Triple w/ Cheese sammiches at a late-night Wendys - a great start to the trip.

Friday we had no specific plans and were in no rush to roll out of bed, and we finally arrived in the DC area around 1:30 to start our day. I'm a huge fan of the Metro rail system in the area and is one of the things I miss about living in DC, but being so far out of the city in Alexandria, it took over an hour to get into the city, as we had to catch a connector bus to the rail station first. We started the day with lunch at one of my favorite brewpubs, Capitol City Brewery, near Union Station. We then met up with Phil after his rough 3-hour workday and walked around the mall, snapped some awesome photos, and then went to some sort of rugby/soccer bar downtown to kill time before the game and meet up with my friend Lauren. The new stadium is located in SW, and for those familiar with the DC area, you know theres historically not a lot going on in this area of the city. So when we arose out of the subway tunnel at the Navy Yard stop, I was refreshed to see the street lined with proposed and upcoming developments posters. I still don't know if baseball stadiums necessarily make the best development catalysts, but thats another story. For now, we met our friend Frank at the gate and the group was now complete.

Nationals Park, much like the Reds' park or Turner Field, is very elegant in its simplicity. Its construction story is also an interesting one, as the team had far less time than the typical 32 months required to build a ballpark, and had the architects on site during the construction process, designing one wedge of the park as the wedge next to them was being built. This is evident when you go inside the park with some of the end sections that only contain one seat in the front row. The stadium is also the first LEED-accredited, or "green," ballpark in North America, and also has the largest LED jumbotron in the world. The stadium features all its seats very close to the field, very wide concourses with a decent food and beer variety, and about a 38000 capacity if I had to estimate. We had seats in the 300 level on the first base side , and with the Capitol and new development in the background, had one of the best views in the stadium for one of the worst teams.

The 14-inning affair against the Rangers ended so late that the post-game fireworks show was cancelled, but at least the Nationals pulled it out. Elijah Dukes went 5-6 in the game and hit the game-winning RBI, and starter Tim Redding went a strong 6 innings. Triple Crown candidate Josh Hamilton for the Rangers went 0-6 with 2 Ks, and staff ace Kevin Millwood gave up 3 runs over 8. Manager Manny Acta and the Nationals have clearly cashed it in for the year with Nick Johnson, Ryan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero, and Austin Kearns all on the DL. We capped the night off with a few drinks in Adams Morgan, an area near where I used to live, and tomorrow its BBQ Festival, more ball, and the Pirate Bar.
park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 7
views from park - 6 (would be nice if you could see Capitol, but blocked by high rises)
view to field - 10
surrounding area - 3 (for now...lots of development coming)
food variety - 10 (they have brisket!)
nachos - 5 (really good chips, poor chip-to-cheese ratio)
beer - 6 (variety, souvenir cups, all beer the same price, but expensive)
vendor price - 5
ticket price - 5 (pretty steep for such a horrible team)
atmosphere - 4 (low attendance for the Nats, cancelled fireworks)
walk to park - 6 (development renderings, Exxon-Mobil protest bear)
parking proximity - 7 (across the street but expensive, most people take the metro)
concourses - 9 (wide lanes!)
team shop - 6

best food - hot dog
most unique stadium feature - massive scoreboard, press box on roof
best jumbotron feature - Teddy Roosevelt training for Presidents Race
best between-inning feature - Presidents Race

field dimensions - 336/402/330
starters - Kevin Millwood (TEX) v. Tim Redding (WAS)
opponent - Texas Rangers
time of game - 4:10
attendance - 30,359
score - 4-3 W
Brewers score that day - 8-5 L

Monday, June 16, 2008

The End of a Tradition

[Erik and I at Doubleday Field last July on the ball tour]

Today marks the 69th and final Hall of Fame Game, played annually at historic Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, NY since 1940, the year after the Hall of Fame opened. Major League Baseball has been slowly removing all of its exhibition games (one of the few blunders by Bud Selig) from the schedule since 2002, and this is the last remaining in-season exhibition played in the Majors, which this year is between the Cubs and Padres. There are still currently pre-season exhibition games played overseas and in Memphis, and even the Civil Rights Game is probably going to end up becoming a regular season game soon, just as part of the Japan series was this year. With today's marketing/revenue demands, distance between teams, and taxing schedules, there is just no time for a small little exhibition game like the Hall of Fame Game, now matter how important it is to a small city like Cooperstown.

This game was originally held on Induction Day until the late 70s and on the day afer Induction Day up until 2002, when it was moved to mid-June. The game has sold out all of its 9500+ seats since its first move in 1978 and has been a great annual tradition in this one-stoplight town. Everyone puts on their biggest smiles and favorite team's jersey to meet all the players at the annual parade down Main Street before the game. Schools in the area even save their last snow day so that all students can have off to attend the day's festivities (why children are even in school in mid-June is beyond me). I'm sure today's big contract players are relieved to not have to play this game anymore, and perhaps it's not worth saving just for the sake of the residents of Cooperstown, but since its inception this game/festivities has been a large funding source for the nearby Hall of Fame, and many veterans/HOF members are left to wonder what will now fill the void of this former revenue source. The Hall of Fame runs mostly on private donations, and hopefully it will continue to sustain itself and constantly improve, along with the game, for years to come. Having been to Cooperstown myself during another big baseball event, the All-Star Game, I know firsthand what baseball and the history of the game means to this town, and I'm sure today will be bittersweet for many folks. This will also sadly be one less baseball event for Erik and I to attend - Hall of Fame Game, you will be missed.
UPDATE: The game was cancelled! After the parade and the ceremonial first pitches it started to pour. What a lackluster end to this great tradition.
Brewers 36-33, -8.5 (3 v. Blue Jays, 3 v. Orioles)
Reds 33-38, -12.5 (3 v. Dodgers, 3 @ Yankees)
Twins 34-36, -4.5 (3 v. Nationals, 3 v. Diamondbacks)
Erik - 12
Peter - 21

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Dominant Homestand

The Brewers finished the most recent homestand 8-1 to improve to 4 games over .500, and after winning only one against the Rockies in Denver are now at 33-30, which is sadly only good for 3rd in the division since the Cubs are also red-hot right now. I'll let Erik chime in on his views on the Rockies series since he was there. With a huge series against the 4th place Astros looming, the biggest story as of late has been the third base platoon and subsequent trade demands of Billy Hall. He was no doubt going to earn himself a trade next year with a decent season because of the impending promotions of Mat Gamel, Matt LaPorta, and possibly even Tony Gwynn Jr. Now with his .225 batting average and whining about playing time, his stock has lowered significantly and I don't see him being shipped anytime soon, although a Greg Maddux-Bill Hall trade is becoming more and more appealing.

The other big stories are our all-of-a-sudden dominant pitching (with a couple exceptions) in the last 3+ weeks, and the re-emergence of Gabe Kapler, who is out to prove that his hot April hitting was not a fluke. Gabe has a legitimate chance to at the very least earn a platoon with Mike Cameron, if not the starting job. He has raised his average about 40 points in the past two weeks and has made many spectacular plays in the outfield, and "the Hebrew Hammer" is slowly emerging as the new fan "cult favorite," following in the footsteps of such recent players as Brooks Kieschnick, Jeff Bennett, Derrick Turnbow, and Jeff Cirillo in his latest stint with the team.

Lastly, news on the injury front. Neither Eric Gagne nor David Riske are close to returning to action, even though both are throwing off of flat ground at about 80% and their 15 days both expired a while ago. Rickie Weeks tweaked his knee covering the bag on a hard slide in Friday night's game and was replaced by Joe Dillon in the lineup for Saturday and Sunday's games. Weeks is flying back to Milwaukee this morning to have his knee scoped and hopefully he'll be alright in a few days.

- There were two notable brawls last week, both involving the Rays. One occurred when newly-emerging douchebag Coco Crisp of the Red Sox charged the mound after being hit with a pitch as retaliation for his dangerous slide the night before. Lucky for Shields (and for Crisp), he didn't land his attempted roundhouse punch with his pitching hand. The other "brawl" happened yesterday when Rays C Dioner Navarro had a few words with Matt Garza after he gave up a an RBI single in the 4th inning and the two proceeded to get into a shoving match in the dugout. Many suspensions handed out from the brawl with the BoSox; no word if Joe Madden has suspended any of his own players for the latter incident.

- The Los Angeles Angels have been awarded the 2010 All-Star Game for some reason, when newer ballparks Great American Ballpark, PETCO Park, and Chase Field have not yet hosted one, and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City has NEVER had one.


Brewers 33-30, -6.5 (3 @ Astros, 3 v. Twins)
Reds 30-34, -10.0 (3 v. Cardinals, 3 v. Red Sox)
Twins 31-32, -5.5 (3 @ Indians, 3 @ Brewers)

Erik - 10
Peter - 19

Monday, June 2, 2008

A May to Remember

One-third of the 2008 season has now passed, and as of June 1st...

- The Rays are in first place in the AL East at the latest point in the season in franchise history, and the Cubs have the best record in baseball at the latest point in the season since 1908, the last year they won the World Series. (On a side note, I'm pretty sure the Rays are going to be on national television for the first time EVER on Wednesday against the Red Sox).

- There are several legitimate Triple Crown threats, including Chipper Jones (leads league in average), Lance Berkman (leads league in RBI), and Chase Utley (leads league in HR) in the National League, and Josh Hamilton (leads league in all three categories) in the American League. From this list, Jones and Berkman (as of Friday were hitting .421 and .385 respectively) are also making a run at being the first player(s) to hit .400 since Ted Williams did it over 60 years ago.

- The National League Central has 4 teams over .500 this late in the season for the first time in five years, and this is the first time the Yankees or Red Sox have NOT lead the AL East at this point since the early '90s.

- The Diamondbacks have two legitiamate Cy Young candidates in the same rotation in Brandon Webb and Danny Haren. Other contendors at this point would probably be Adam Wainwright, Daisuke Matsusaka, Edinson Volquez, Tim Lincecum, Ervin Santana, and James Shields, none of which have won the award yet.

- In the past week, Manny Ramirez has hit his 500th homerun, Ken Griffey Jr his 599th, Johan Santana picked up his 100th win, and Randy Johnson tied Roger Clemens for 2nd on the all-time strikeout list with 4,672. I really feel sorry for the guy who's going to have to carve all of Manny's hair out of bronze on his Hall of Fame plaque.

- Baseball Prospectus' "Nation's Top Prospect" Jay Bruce has had a debut week for the ages. He is 13-22, including 2 HR and a 4-hit game, and the Reds are 5-1 since his recall from AAA-Louisville.

- Franklin Gutierrez turned the 13th unassisted triple-play in Major League history; the Giants also turned a 5-4-3 triple play last week.

- Lastly, in late May it was the latest in the baseball season that the Red Wings, Pistons, and Tigers all played a home game on the same day.

And let's go Crew!!! 5-1 so far on the current homestand with a 3-game set against the back end of the D-Backs rotation yet to come. For the past two weeks the Brewers have been pitching AND hitting AND defending superbly, and with Riske/Gagne coming back from the DL soon, it looks like we could really turn the corner here before the All-Star Break. And speaking of "gaining ground before the Break," look for Erik to put a dent in my substantial "most games attended" lead, as he will be unemployed as of Friday.

Brewers 29-28, -7.0 (3 v. Diamondbacks, 3 @ Rockies)
Reds 28-29, -8.0 (4 @ Phillies, 4 @ Marlins)
Twins 29-27, -1.0 (3 v. Orioles, 4 @ White Sox)

Erik - 7
Peter - 17