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