Wednesday, November 25, 2009

2010 Free Agents

Is it Opening Day yet? The last MLB award was handed out yesterday, with Albert Pujols winning his 3rd MVP unanimously. Mostly because I'm already excited about the upcoming season, here is my list of the top free agents this offseason and where I think they will go.

1. John Lackey, LAA - to Tigers
Lackey is, surprisingly, the best starting pitcher on the market this winter, and therefore is the hardest to predict where he'll go. Any team with any sort of payroll flexibility, even mid-market teams that are starving for pitching like the Brewers and Nationals, are going to throw their hats in the ring on this one. If I didn't think that Boston was going to go after Halladay and several other free agents, I would say he'd be a sure bet to land there. For now, I'll say the Tigers - they don't have a lot of payroll coming off the books this year, but they're probably losing Washburn and Edwin Jackson and will need a starter. They have a great manager and a good team, but there's always that X-factor with Detroit though - who would want to live there?

2. Matt Holliday, StL - to Red Sox
This is the reason I think that Lackey will land in Detroit - because Boston will spend all of its money on Holliday. St. Louis simply doesn't have the payroll to resign DeRosa, which they desperately need to, and Pineiro or another starter. If they don't end up getting Holliday, I'm sure they get Jermaine Dye or Hank Blalock.

3. Rich Harden, ChC - resigns with Cubs
Harden seems to be getting overlooked by a lot of analysts for some reason, possibly because everyone including myself thinks he will resign. The Cubs have the money to resign Harden, and there's not a lot else out there on the market, so I think they'll offer him somewhere in the 4yr/$50-60 mil range, some time after Lackey gets signed.

4. Mark DeRosa, StL - resigns with Cardinals
Mark is that player that every manager wants on their roster. Smart, tough guy who can hit anywhere in the lineup and play several positions well. The Cardinals have shown no interest in bringing Glaus back, so I think he'll be back with the Red Birds next year.

5. Jason Bay, BOS - to Blue Jays
Bay rejected an initial $60 million contract offer from the Red Sox this past week, and I even doubt that he's worth that much. I think that he's a slightly above average hitter and fielder that flourished at Fenway Park. He will command a lower salary than Matt Holliday and will generate a lot of interest as a cheaper left field option. The Blue Jays dumped Alex Rios' entire absurd contract onto the White Sox last year on waivers and will probably trade Halladay at mid-season, and Jason is from Canada. This seems like a good fit to me. I think the Mariners and Mets are going to be big players for him, too.

6. Miguel Tejada, HOU - to Reds
I don't necessarily think that Tejada is one of the top 10 free agents out there, but I list him because he's the best viable shortstop option on the market. A lot of teams are looking for a shortstop, most notably Cincinnati and Boston. I don't think he'll get a big offer from Houston because of their already powerful and old lineup. I'm gonna go on a limb and say he signs with the Reds. They have a lot of young position players and he could bring it all together.

7. Mike Cameron, MIL - to Yankees
This is the pick I feel the most confident with. He was almost traded to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera last year, and the Yankees will be losing between one and four outfielders this offseason. Cammy also fits the mold of all the "great clubhouse guys" the Yanks signed last year. Seems like a no-brainer.
8. Jermaine Dye, ChW - to Braves
Another great free agent outfielder this year. If any of my picks of Holliday to Boston, Bay to Toronto, or Cameron to New York fall through, Dye would go to one of those clubs, and will probably get offers from all three. I'm going to go ahead and assume that I'm right, and that leaves Atlanta, San Francisco, Colorado, and the Mets all possibly needing outfield help as well, and I will choose the Braves as the team that comes out on top. There have been a number of reports about Atlanta trying to trade Derek Lowe for an outfielder, and I think this would be a better route for them to go.

9. Randy Wolf, LAD - to Brewers
The Brewers are going to go hard after almost every single pitcher on the market this year, and this is the guy I think that they will sign, along with Mark Mulder. Brad Penny and Pedro Martinez are too much of injury risks with them already signing Mulder, and Ben Sheets doesn't seem to be interested in a return to Milwaukee. That leaves Brett Myers, Jarrod Washburn, and Wolf, and the latter seems more feasible to me. I think Myers is only useful as a bullpen pitcher, and Washburn will sign with the hometown Twins.

T-10. Vladimir Guerrero and Hideki Matsui, LAA/NYY - Angels/Mariners
I put these two tied for last because they're similar players - both once great hitters that are now on the decline, and may not physically be able to play the outfield anymore. This pretty much limits potential teams to the 14 in the AL. You might see these two go down to the wire like Bobby Abreu did last year. I think that the Angels will make every effort to resign Vlad and Chone Figgins. The Yankees will probably resign Damon and let Godzilla go. If Hideki proves he can still play the field, he signs with the Mariners, otherwise he will probably retire.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Another Season in the Books


All photos of Brewers final home game and Ducktoberfest available on Flickr.

I can't believe the regular season is over already! Definitely a lot of ups and downs for our teams this year. The Brewers finished the year very strong - split with the world-champ Phigtin Phils in the final homestand, played the red-hot Rockies very well, swept the 1st-place Cards on the road - but still finished at 80-82, 10 games below last season's playoff year. A pretty good season all things considered though. It just goes to show you how much every inning, every pitch, every hitter means. 10 wins is like 1.5 extra wins a month, and that gets the Crew into the playoffs. One less one blown save, one more quality start, a couple more hits here and there. If Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan don't get injured, there's 7-8 wins right there. It also goes to show you that the two key factors for any team making the post season is a solid rotation with a legitimate ace, and being relatively injury-free, neither of which the Brewers had this year. On a high note, the middle of the lineup enjoyed a breakout season. Ryan Braun became the first Brewer to lead the league in hits (203) in 18 years, and became the 4th fastest player to 100 homers. Prince Fielder set club records in walks and RBI, became the first Brewer to lead the league in RBI (141) since Cecil Cooper, and became the youngest player ever to have two 45+ homerun seasons. Casey McGehee finished the year at .301 and in the top 3 in almost every rookie offensive category, all while riding the pine well into May.

The Reds improved by 4 games over their 2008 campaign, and a lot of questions will loom in the offseason. Who will play the outfield? Dusty Baker seems to favor guys like Wladamier Balentien, Wily Taveras, and Chris Dickerson, even though Drew Stubbs, Johnny Gomes, and Jay Bruce all made significant contributions at a young age. Can Joey Votto and Scott Rolen remain healthy? Bronson Arroyo led the team in wins, but is it worth it to keep him for this high salary? The Reds might want to think of dumping him and Harang on a pitching-hungry team (like the Brewers) and rebuilding for a couple years. Both Arroyo and Harang had a lot of bad starts to go with their good ones. Can Cueto and Bailey continue to progress, or will Dusty run them into the ground like he did Volquez, who had Tommy John surgery a couple months ago? Who will catch for the Reds? A bright spot for the Reds this year, besides Votto and Rolen, was the bullpen, and look for this to be a strength going into next year, due in large part to Dusty's general disregard for pitch counts.

Minnesota is still in it, and are playing in a Game 163 elimination game for the 2nd consecutive year. I don't know how they did it down 7 games in September without no Justin Morneau, and with that rotation, but they did. I've said it before - Ron Gardenhire should win the Manager of the Year every year in the AL. The Twins always field a competitive team no matter who they lose to free agency/trades or what the attendance is, with a lot of credit going to the front office for drafting and retaining young, cheap pitching.

The Twins may be hanging on for another day, but the Mallards have been hanging onto the '09 season for dear life after finishing 38-29. Since the last day of the season in mid-August, Warner Park has hosted two alumni baseball events, roller derby, and this past weekend was the 1st annual Ducktoberfest. As I noted in a previous post, the Mallards finished with the #1 overall attendance in all of college summer league ball, and decided to reward their awesome fans with a little party at The Duck Pond on Saturday. Ducktoberfest is Wisconsin's and the Mallard's version of Oktoberfest, and in general just another excuse to visit the ballpark. It was decent for the first go-round but needs to be better organized. It wasn't nearly as good as Milwaukee's Germanfest, but it never really claimed to be - clearly with all the free tickets and prizes, this 6-hour event was just a way to get people to spend money on beer, and to give away trailers' worth of 2009 merchandise in the process. The best part of the day was drinking a cup of hot spiced apple cider while watching the Stoddard's Brat Eating Contest. I've included pictures at the Flickr link up at the top.

Back to the major leagues, here's my take on the '09 playoff matchups and how I think things will shake out:

Colorado (WC) v. Philadehlphia - Phillies in 5
Key Storyline: Phillies closer issues. Brad Lidge's inability to save games this year makes the series go the full five, but they'll squeak by with their power and strong rotation. The Rockies have been riding the Momentum Train since early June, which makes this my hardest pick of the four series.

St. Louis v. Los Angeles (NL) - Cardinals in 5
Key Storyline: Battle of managers. This series will be a long game of chess between Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa, both with decades of playoff experience. Torre once had the deepest rotation in baseball, but is now struggling to find a reliable 3 guys for the 1st round. The Cards wimpered into the playoffs, but matching up against Carpenter, Wainwright, and Piniero still won't be easy. I think that the Pujols-Holliday combo will be a wash with Ramirez-Ethier and it will come down to late-game hitting with RISP.

Boston (WC) v. Los Angeles (AL) - Angels in 5
Key Storyline: Can Angels win at Fenway? These two teams have matched up the last two seasons, with the Angels clearly being the better team each time and losing to Boston because of their inability to play well at Fenway. I want to give the nod to Boston because of the history, but again, I think Anaheim is the more complete team, and will go with the "they're due" hunch.

Detroit/Minnesota v. New York (AL) - Yankees in 4/3
Key Storyline: A-Rod & Joba. I think that the Yankees can get out of the 1st round even if A-Rod hits poorly and if Joba doesn't pitch, because this year the Yankees have lineup and bullpen protection. However, these two will definitely have to assert their roles and step up in Round 2 if the Yankees expect to win another pennant. I think the Tigers would win either Verlander's or Jackson's start, and the Twins - who are 3-23 against the Yanks under Gardenhire and 0-7 this season - would get swept.

World Series - Cardinals over Angels in 6
I originally picked the Phillies and Athletics to go to the World Series in April. The Phillies could very much still repeat if they can get Lidge straight, but having seen a lot of Cards games this year, I see them as the team of the 8 with the fewest holes, if any. In defense of my A's pick - they were much improved this year, have a great young starting staff all under 25, and were one of the best teams in the AL after the break. I also called the Rangers being good this year with the addition of Mike Maddux and Elvis Andrus, FYI. If Hamilton isn't injured all year they win the West.

Early 2010 Predictions:
Every year there is a "feel good story" that celebrates the parody of baseball - the '03 Marlins, the '06 Tigers, the '07 Rockies, and the '08 Rays just to name a few. Next year, look for the AL West to be an exciting race for once. Inevitably by September or earlier, one team always ends up running away with the division, and for most of this decade that team has been the Angels. Look for all four teams to play down to the wire next year. I love Kenny Williams, but I think that the Rios-Peavy signings will bust and the White Sox will continue having medicore seasons until Ozzie is replaced, he's just not lighting the fire anymore. In the NL I think the Nationals will not contend but will be much improved. They have great nucleus of young players that can really hit the ball, and they have two stud pitchers from the 2009 draft that will pitch in September. Don't forget about the Mets either, they will rebound in a big way next season. I want to say every year that the Royals and Pirates will run off 90 wins and make the playoffs, but unfortunately I still think they're a few years out from that because of upper (mis)management. The Brewers, Marlins, Giants, and Rays are all one big move away from contending next year, and I think if the Cubs can get Mark DeRosa back that they will contend again as well.

FINAL STANDINGS & UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 10.05:
Brewers 80-82, -11.0
Reds 78-84, -13.0
Twins 86-76, -- (one-game playoff v. Tigers - Tue.)


FINAL 2009 GAMES ATTENDED TALLY:
Erik - 41 (+21 worked)
Peter - 61

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bobby V is Back


In a story released by ESPN, it was announced that Bobby Valentine will be returning to America after six productive seasons as the manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan. He will appear as an analyst during the LCS and the World Series, and will be a regular on Baseball Tonight starting next season. It's a shame that the Marines could not afford to pay Bobby's salary - despite over 100,000 fans signing a petition to try to convince the Marines to let him stay - because they are losing a great manager that really knows how to win ballgames. Bobby Valentine is one of the managers I remember the most from my adolescent years, due in large part to his popularity with his players and fans, and his famed "Groucho Marx incident" after being ejected from a Mets game (pictured above). It's a shame to me that someone with his knowledge and zest for the game has been kept out of American baseball for so long. He is still the last Mets manager to lead the team to consecutive postseason berths, in 1999-2000.

Here's to hoping this new TV gig gets Bobby V some much deserved exposure and lands him another coaching job in the bigs. Not to throw any names out there, but this is the guy I wished the Brewers landed last year instead of Macha.

STANDINGS & UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 09.29:
Brewers 77-79 (3 @ Rockies, 3 @ Cardinals)
Reds 74-82 (3 v. Cardinals, 3 v. Pirates)
Twins 81-74, -2.0 (4 @ Tigers, 3 v. Royals)


RACE FOR 2009 "MOST GAMES ATTENDED" TITLE:
Erik - 41 (+21 worked)
Peter - 61

Monday, September 21, 2009

Odds and Ends

As the 2009 season draws to a close (14 days remaining), here are just some factoids and tidbits I've been compiling over the year that didn't really warrant an entire post.

- In July, the Wall Street Journal released a "Cooperstown Code" that I think is worth a look for any avid baseball fan. It's a computer-generated formula that calculates a player's probability, based on statistics and any outside factors such as drug use, of whether or not he will make the Hall of Fame. It seems to be pretty accurate and ingenious. For example, a shoe-in guy like Trevor Hoffman was calculated at 86% probability, whereas maybe a guy that might get in on his 10th ballot like Mike Mussina was calcuated at 47.8% probability.

- A couple weeks ago, Erik emailed me an article entitled "Can a Ballclub's Record Justify its Beer Prices?" This article points out that, as you may expect beer price to be affected by the quality of the stadium and the team as ticket prices are, it is not always the case. The Phillies were noted to have the best beer value in the majors, based on them being the best team charging the least per ounce (31 cents, or $6.75 for 21-oz beer). The cheapest beer overall is in Pittsburgh, as you'll only pay $4.75 for 21-oz beverage. Fenway Park, Nationals Park, and Citi Field top the list as the most expensive beer. In Boston, you'll spend an attrocious $7.25 for only 12 ounces. One flaw I found in the system was the souvenir cup factor - I am willing to pay the second highest price in the majors at Nats Park because they offer three varieties of souvenir cups - at least they did when we were there in 2008.

- Keeping an eye on the Northwoods League as I always do, the league announced a yet-unnamed expansion franchise in Willmar, Minnesota will begin in 2010. To make an even number of teams, probably one of the league-owned teams (Brainerd, Battle Creek) will cease operations, or Waukesha, Wisconsin's Frame Park proposal will go through and get built for a new team, or some combination of these. The Green Bay Bullfrogs are also fielding proposals for much-needed new stadium. The Madison Mallards achieved the highest attendance of any college summer league team in America by quite a substantial margin, for the 3rd year in a row.

- In other ballpark news, Marlins Park looks to be a go as ground was broken in July, and there are some pretty cool renderings out - finally a park that seems to deviate from the beloved brick retro style! Erik and I look forward to visiting the park on the site of the old Orange Bowl in 2012. Meanwhile, the Athletics and Rays parks look to be going nowhere. The Rays had planned on building on the site of their spring training home, Al Lang Field, and the A's are now fielding proposals for a joint MLS-San Jose Earthquakes/Oakland Athletics stadium. Wisconsin's two minor league teams, the Timber Rattlers and Snappers, are also both exploring options for new stadiums. As regular readers may know, I think that Pohlman Field is a disgrace, so Beloit's proposal talks are coming not a moment too soon.

- A sad day for baseball fans and preservationists everywhere, as the final remaining pieces of Tiger Stadium were demolished yesterday. Like Detroit has anything else going on right now that they needed that land ASAP? What, a big Ford expansion?

- For anyone who has not picked up "The Yankee Years" yet, it is a great read and I highly recommend it. It's over 400 pages but reads very easy - I read it in about 5 days. I'm also looking forward to picking up a copy of "The Machine" (about the Big Red Machine, obviously), which came out this week.

- Ever notice that injuries are getting weirder and weirder every year? Oblique strains, post-concussion syndrome, tired arm, anal fissures, and who could forget this year's blessure du jour, anxiety disorder! This year, the Mariners' Adrian Beltre took the cake, after recently coming back from a 30-day stint on the DL with a bleeding testicle. Maybe he'll think about wearing a cup next time.



- Last but certainly not least, Major League 4 is becoming a reality - the writers and directors from the original, as well as Bob Uecker, are already signed on.

STANDINGS & UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 09.21:
Brewers 74-75, -10.5 wc (3 v. Cubs, 4 v. Phillies)
Reds 69-81, -16.0 wc (3 @ Pirates, 3 @ Astros)
Twins 76-73, -3.0 (3 @ White Sox, 3 @ Royals)


RACE FOR 2009 "MOST GAMES ATTENDED" TITLE:
Erik - 41 (+21 worked)
Peter - 59

Thursday, September 10, 2009

MiLB Playoffs & September Call-ups


Labor Day signifies the unofficial end of summer in many ways, the most disheartening of which of me is the end of the minor league season. Almost every MiLB league began their playoff schedules early this week, and here's a look at some of the matchups.

International League, AAA:
Gwinnett Braves v. Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees
Durham Bulls v. Louisville Bats


The Braves had a fine first season in suburban Atlanta after the move from Richmond for the 2009 season, and they take on Scranton, who will look to defend their 2008 IL title. The player to watch in this series is Gwinnett outfielder Jason Heyward, who is ranked as the MLB's #3 prospect and has done well at three levels in the Braves' system this year, including 4-11 with 2 RBI since a recent promotion to AAA. The Bats have had a lot of their breakout players called up by a depleted Reds team before and after the September 1st roster expansions, including IL All-Star starter Justin Lehr and top prospect Drew Stubbs. They will struggle to piece together a solid rotation in this series against the hard-hitting Bulls.

Pacific Coast League, AAA:
Albuquerque Isotopes v. Memphis Redbirds
Tacoma Rainiers v. Sacramento River Cats


Every offense at all levels of Cardinals' baseball has done well this season, and four players on the Redbirds' everyday roster finished the season over .300. The Dodgers have had a lot of the same players at AAA the entire seasons because of the high volume of major league acquisitions over the past year, so they definitely have that familiarity going for them. The players to watch in the other series are the River Cats' two slugging 1st basemen, Tommy Everidge and Chris Carter. Everidge finished the season at .368, and Carter has 14 RBI in 13 games since being promoted from AA-Midland. The Athletics perennially have one of the best minor league systems and will be tough to beat.

Southern League, AA:
Birmingham Barons v. Jacksonville Suns
Huntsville Stars v. Tennessee Smokies


The Barons had the best season in their franchise's history, and were highlighted for most of the year by several propects that have since seen action with the White Sox, including Gordon Beckam and Tyler Flowers. The Suns seemed to be the hottest ticket in town this year, amidst rumors of the entire NFL Jaguars' home schedule being blacked out for the '09 season. Huntsville is going to be the lone representative for the Brewers in the playoffs at any level this season, and Tennessee is affiliated with the Cubs. The Brew Crew promoted 2008 first-round draft pick Brett Lawrie to AA a couple months ago as a DH to prepare him for international play, and he has flourished. The Stars' roster also features most of the Brewers' top organizational prospects, including 3B Taylor Green, C Jonathan Lucroy, and CF Lorenzo Cain.

Midwest League, low-A:
South Bend Silver Hawks v. Fort Wayne TinCaps
Great Lakes Loons v. West Michigan Whitecaps
Burlington Bees v. Kane County Cougars
Peoria Chiefs v. Cedar Rapids Kernels


The Midwest League Playoffs feature 8 of the 14 teams in the league playing three rounds. Fort Wayne will definitely be the team to beat. They enjoyed a 94-46 record at their new ballpark, including a 16-4 mark against their first-round matchup South Bend, and they had the best season of all minor league teams this year. The 2008 MWL champion Burlington Bees went a measely 64-79 this season, and are certainly enjoying the fruits of the large NBA-style playoff schedule as they look to defend their title. The players to watch in this postseason are batting champion Alexi Amarista of the Kernels, and league co-MVP Kyle Russell of the Loons, who led the MWL in homeruns and runs batted in.


Minor League playoffs are fun because they feature so many of MLB's rising stars, and are so hard to predict because of September call-ups. Players that remain on minor league posteason rosters are then often rewarded with a later call-up. Many of these players will just be bats off the bench or spot-relievers, but there are a few every year that make an immediate impact for contending teams, or fight for consideration for next year's roster on the teams that are out of the race. Some players, including ones I've listed, get called up even earlier out of necessity due to underperformance at the big-league level, or trades opening a roster spot. Tampa Bay's David Price last year, and then-Angel Francisco Rodriguez in 2002 immediately come to mind. Here's my potential 2009 class:

1. Alcides Escobar, SS, Milwaukee
2. Drew Stubbs, OF, Cincinnati
3. Matt LaPorta, OF, Cleveland
4. Cameron Maybin, OF, Florida
5. Kila Ka'aihue, 1B, Kansas City
6. Josh Thole, C, New York Mets
7. Garrett Jones, 1B, Pittsburgh
8. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco
9. Carlos Carrasco, P, Cleveland
10. Wade Davis, P, Tampa Bay


STANDINGS & UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 09.10:
Brewers 66-73, -17.0, -13.5 wild card (3 @ Diamondbacks, 4 @ Cubs, 3 v. Astros)
Reds 63-76, -18.5, -16.5 wild card (3 @ Cubs, 3 v. Astros, 4 v. Marlins)
Twins 70-69, -5.5 (3 v. Athletics, 3 v. Indians, 3 v. Tigers)


RACE FOR 2009 "MOST GAMES ATTENDED" TITLE:
Erik - 41 (+21 worked)
Peter - 58

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New batting helmets

A few days ago, it was announced by Major League Baseball that Rawlings' S100 batting helmet, which has already been used in little leagues across the country, will now be required in the minor leagues starting next season. Six helmets have also been sent to each major league team to try out for the rest of this season. The helmet is designed to better protect players from head injuries caused by beanings and foul balls. In response to all of the star players - including Scott Rolen, David Wright, and Edgar Gonzalez - that have gone on the DL this season after being hit in the head, Major League Baseball felt like it needed to remedy the problem as soon as possible. The S100s are heavier and use an extra-thick layer of polypropylene foam on the inside to help withstand direct impact of fastballs up to 100 mph.

This story came to my attention when I was watching the FOX Saturday game and saw Ryan Dempster wearing a huge helmet that made him look even goofier than usual. He said that it made him feel like "a Smurf" and that it was "my own bobblehead day." Dempster, along with several columnists and players, feel that these helmets will not be received well because they are much heavier. A ballplayer spends his entire playing career perfecting his swing based on repetition of motion and constant factors, e.g. balance, hand position, weight - any disruption of this will take some getting used to. Football and hockey players probably felt that today's required padding was bulky and inconvenient at the time, but in hindsight it has probably saved hundreds of careers, if not lives.

The unfortunate part of the story is that as of right now, there doesn't seem to be anything being investigated for pitcher protections. Hitters at least have a helmet and are in a position to react. There have been many pitchers that have had their careers cut short after getting hit with a line drive, and Joe Martinez is lucky to still have his life after what happened to him on April 9th. It's also clear that catchers and umpires could use a new case study in their current padding. There are the sudden-impact cases like Mike Matheny's of 2006, but there are also many unofficial reports floating around about cases involving retired catchers and umpires that suffer head trauma from years of repeated glancing blows and foul tips, much like a boxer. The bottom line is that baseball will always be a very fast and dangerous game, and injuries will still occur, but for every Tony Conigliaro or Mike Coolbaugh case that can be prevented, these new helmets and any future equipment improvements will be worth it.

STANDINGS & UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 09.01:
Brewers 64-66, -12.0, -7.5 wild card (3 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Giants, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 58-73, -18.5, -14.0 wild card (4 v. Pirates, 3 @ Braves, 4 @ Rockies)
Twins 62-63, -3.5 (3 v. White Sox, 3 @ Indians, 4 @ Blue Jays)


RACE FOR 2009 "MOST GAMES ATTENDED" TITLE:
Erik - 41 (+21 worked)
Peter - 56

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Principal Park


All photos of Des Moines and Principal Park available on Flickr.

Following our amazing day at the Bob Feller Museum and the Fair, Erik and I spent our Sunday taking in a doubleheader in Des Moines, which was already my 4th and Erik's 3rd double-dip of the season. The Iowa Cubs are obviously the AAA-affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, and have existed since 1969 when the Oakland Oaks moved to Iowa. The I-Cubs, as they are often referred to, play at Principal Park in downtown Des Moines, formerly Sec Taylor Stadium. It was designed by ballpark powerhouse HOK Sport (now Populous) and opened for business in 1992.

We got to the park around 12:30 for a 1:05 first pitch. The ballpark is situated near a great little neighborhood called the Court District, which we explored after the game. It reminded me of a smaller version of LoDo in Denver - near downtown, lots of brick buildings renovated into brewpubs, shops, and restaurants, old warehouses converted into apartments, and the city's courthouse on one end of the avenue. The ballpark is right on the river too, just as Coors Field is. Another similarity to Denver is the gold-domed capitol building that you can see beyond centerfield when inside the ballpark. The view to it currently is obstructed by a bridge being constructed over the Des Moines River, but it is still a nice view, and one of the better ballpark neighborhoods you'll find.

We got our typical GA seats for $7 and walked around the concourses until gametime snapping photos. The concourses and seating are nothing special, but there are a few interesting features in the outfield. There is a hand-operated scoreboard in right that reads "Out-of-Towners" v. "Local Boys." We ended up sitting next to the scoreboard guy in an awesome secluded row of seats in right-center below the jumbotron. There is also a kids' fountain area in the right field corner that Erik and I were tempted to jump in on this hot day. Beyond the left field wall, there is a block of suites with a few rows of private seats in front of them that I thought was a great use of space. Strapped to the top of these suites are a couple of "Hit It Here" elements found in many minor league parks, except these would maybe only be hit by Albert Pujols. The walls are also very tall, ranging from 15'-25' in height. Typically I like to be able to see the jumbotron, but the view from our outfield seats for both games was amazing due to the high walls, and well worth the small sunburn I got on the left side of my neck. We had an ongoing conversation with perennial top Marlins' prospect Cameron Maybin in center, and we only had to fight with each other to grab a free t-shirt launched our way between innings. Regarding concessions, the food and beer were fairly priced with a good variety, and I had one of the best BBQ beef sandwiches I've ever had. As always, bonus points for helmet sundaes and souvenir cups.

The first game featured former Notre Dame TE and Cub big-leaguer Jeff Samardzija on the mound. I thought at first that there just wasn't any room for him currently in Chicago's bullpen. After watching him give up six runs (4 ER) in 4 innings and throwing 90% 4-seam fastballs, I realized that he still has quite a bit of work to do. Gookie "The Gook" Dawkins went 3-3 with a 2-run jack, and Hayden Penn tossed a 7-inning complete game for the visiting Zephyrs in their 6-0 victory. Familiar faces So Taguchi, Micah Hoffpauir, Nate Spears, and Luis Rivas all got starts for the I-Cubs. Veteran junk-baller Casey Fossum toed the rubber for the home team in game two and collected his 5th win of the season, giving up only one hit and striking out 8. He baffled all the young Zephyr hitters with his blazing 79-mph fasball and ridiculous 55-mph curveball, but for some reason was pulled after 5 innings and only 69 pitches. On the other side, the visitors finally dipped into their bullpen after 12 innings. Our favorite player Gookie had another hit for New Orleans, and LF John-Ford Griffin had both RBI for Iowa.

Sadly, the minor league season is ending in a couple weeks, and Principal Park will be the final new ballpark I visit in 2009. As for Erik, stay tuned for his travels to a new job in Virginia Beach.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 7 (Iowa Capitol, downtown)
view to field - 9
surrounding area - 8 (Court District)
food variety - 8
nachos - 4 (come in bag with cheese cup)
beer - 8 (microbrew stand, bonus points for Mug Club and souvenir cups)
vendor price - 7
ticket price - 7 ($7 GA)
atmosphere - 7
walk to park - 6
parking proximity - 2 ($6 is ridiculous for minors)
concourses - 3 (some areas are dark and underutilized, no view to field)
team shop - 5 (lots of non I-Cubs stuff)

best food - BBQ beef/pork sandwich with Cookies' BBQ sauce
most unique stadium feature - suites in left field
best jumbotron feature - "crazy cap shuffle" game played with cell phones
best between-inning feature - throw ball through tires, win a prize

field dimensions - 335/400/335
starters - Hayden Penn (NO) v. Jeff Samardzija (IOW); Matt DeSalvo v. Casey Fossum
opponent - New Orleans Zephyrs
time of game - 1:48; 1:41
attendance - 6051
score - 6-0 L; 2-1 W
Brewers score that day - 8-3 L

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bob Feller Museum


All photos of Bob Feller Museum and Iowa State Fair available on Flickr.

With Lauren out of town and nothing to do, I decided to drive down to visit my buddy Karl and see what Des Moines has to offer. Upon hearing this, Erik sniffed an opportunity. What was originally to be an afternoon excursion quickly turned into a 4-day Iowa barnstorming tour, and with Erik leaving for Virginia to work on another campaign this week, the timing could not have been better. I met Erik at 4:30 on Friday in Quasqueton, about a half-hour east of Waterloo, for the last tour of the day at Cedar Rock, one of two Frank Lloyd Wright residences open for touring in Iowa. Afterwards, we grabbed some dinner and drinks back in Cedar Falls and got to bed early for our long Saturday.

We left for the Des Moines area around 9:30, and made a stop in Van Meter on the way to Karl's house. Van Meter is the birthplace of Indians Hall-of-Famer Bob Feller and is home to the Bob Feller Museum. It is a small charming building that resembles an old one-room schoolhouse and features a Bob Feller relief on one wall, and a giant baseball on the front lawn with a replica signature of Feller's. Van Meter is your quintessential rural Iowa town - a few gas stations and Victorian farmhouses (including the house across from the museum that was probably there when Feller was growing up), railroad tracks cutting across the center of town, and corn as far as the eye can see. After a few exterior photos, we gave our $5 admission to the lady at the front desk, whom I later found out taught kindergarden in Van Meter for over 30 years. The museum would have been disappointing for a big-city museum, but for a small town like Van Meter, it was just right. It was very quaint and featured mostly photos and framed letters from Feller's playing days, as well as a few game-worn uniforms and artifacts. There were autographed baseballs and photos on display from every major leaguer that stopped by the museum and a little piece of tin in the shape of a baseball for each of his 266 wins scattered throughout the building. The coolest part by far was the last bat ever held by Babe Ruth. Everybody knows that famous picture of a very ill Ruth leaning on a bat in his familiar #3 Yankees uniform on the day it was retired in 1948. What many people don't know is the Yankees were playing the Indians that day, and as the Babe emerged onto the field, he grabbed a bat at random from the Indians' batboy, and it just so happened to be Bob Feller's. That bat was later autographed by Ruth, and he died two months later. After falling into the hands of several owners, it eventually found its way back to Bob Feller and his museum to the tune of $96,000. You can still faintly make out Ruth's distinctive signature on the barrel, as well as Feller's autograph. The museum only takes about 20 minutes to go through, even at Erik's slow museum pace. It is well worth the time and admission price for any baseball fans driving through central Iowa.

After the museum, we finished the drive to suburban Des Moines. We spent the day with my friend Karl and his family at the Iowa State Fair, featuring most notably giant buckets of cookies, a 3500-lb bull, and a full-scale cow made out of butter. It was the 3rd State Fair Erik and I have been too, and it's interesting to note the pros and cons of each. We had a great day being unhealthy and taking in a huge slice of Americana.

STANDINGS & UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.25:
Brewers 61-63, -10.0 (3 v. Reds, 3 v. Pirates)
Reds 52-71, -18.5 (3 @ Brewers, 3 v. Dodgers)
Twins 62-63, -4.5 (3 v. Orioles, 3 v. Rangers)


RACE FOR 2009 "MOST GAMES ATTENDED" TITLE:
Erik - 40 (+21 worked)
Peter - 52

Monday, August 17, 2009

Arroyo: Yeah I take unapproved supplements, what of it?


In a shocking story that was released last week, Bronson Arroyo talked candidly with the media about his continuing supplement use, including his use of androstenedione for six seasons, a substance that was banned by Major League Baseball in 2004. Even more shocking than the story itself is the low amount of press it is getting - comparitively, the Youkilis-Porcello incident got three days on ESPN to Arroyo's one. It's understandable that the media wants to start filtering out these supplement-use stories from the news, because people will just continue making their own judgments anyways, but Arroyo's case is much different than Ortiz or Ramirez's, to use recent examples. Unlike the 100-some names on this supposed "list" from 2003, Bronson is and has been flaunting his use of various drugs, many of which have not been approved by Major League Baseball. He keeps his Halloween-like assortment of pills, powders, and liquids in plain sight in his locker, and he's proud of it.

In a story covered by USA Today, Arroyo admits to using "10-12 different things a day, and on the days I pitch, there's four more things." Among these things are a caffeine drink, Korean ginseng, various muscle enhancers like Creatine and TriFlex, various proteins, and vitamins. Many of these things seem harmless, but many have not been approved yet by Major League Baseball, and Arroyo says that he will continue taking them until either the MLB bans them, or until he fails a drug test. It's not uncommon for over-the-counter supplements to be laced with some sort of steroid, and a failed drug test seems to be a very real possibility. But Bronson, cool and brutally honest as always, isn't letting it bother him: "I haven't failed any tests, so I figure I'm good...I'm not going to stop now...People can think what they want of me, I don't give a f---."

I searched far and wide for any follow-up responses to this, or any sort of news coverage outside of Cincinnati media markets, and I could not come up with anything other than a short AP release stating that Bronson has not yet been contacted by Major League Baseball, insofar that he knows. There are a few lesser-known online sources talking about this, but nothing from MLB.com or ESPN, and the commissioner's offices seems content on letting this slide. Kevin Youkilis gets a five-game suspension for charging the mound, but a guy that says he's been taking supplements since he was five and that KFC is more dangerous than steroids, and who would probably test positive for several different things, gets no discipline? It just goes to show you that people really don't care what happens off the field as long as their team wins, and Bronson agrees. The shock value of the steroid era is gone. "It might be dangerous," Arroyo says, "but so is drinking and driving. And how many of us do it at least once a year? Pretty much everybody...I don't regret a thing. Neither should anyone else." I don't advocate Arroyo's drug use, but he doesn't seem to either - he clearly wants to be punished. He is admittedly a product of that era and indirectly seems to be challenging baseball to release that supposed "list." However sick of it the public may be, baseball needs more honest, opinionated players like Arroyo to get us past all of this for once and for all. Now please don't write a book about it, then say you regret releasing the information and go bankrupt like Jose Canseco.

STANDINGS & UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.17:
Brewers 58-59, -8.0 (3 @ Pirates, 4 @ Nationals)
Reds 50-67, -16.0 (3 v. Giants, 3 @ Pirates)
Twins 56-61, -6.0 (4 @ Rangers, 3 @ Royals)


RACE FOR 2009 "MOST GAMES ATTENDED" TITLE:
Erik - 37 (+21 worked)
Peter - 49

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reds quietly having a pretty terrible season


It was not too long ago that the Reds were threatening in the NL Central, but since the All-Star Break, they are 6-17 and are only above the perennial cellar-dwelling Pirates in the division. I know Cincinnati to be one of the biggest baseball towns in America, but these days, the only thing bringing fans to the ballpark is the fact that looking ahead to the Bengals season is even more depressing. I've been following the Reds a lot more since I've moved to Iowa, and watching them embarrass themselves on a nightly basis makes me feel much better about the Brewers' frustrating second half. Some of it is bad luck, but Dusty Baker and the front office have turned what little talent this team had into a huge mess. The final straw for me was the baffling Encarnacion-for-Rolen trade the Reds pulled off. Smaller market teams have to dump payroll during the season if they're not doing so hot -or even if they are doing decently, see Pirates - that's just part of baseball, and I understand that. So with that mentality, I immediately thought when the Reds started backsliding that Harang, Arroyo, and/or Cordero were all going to get traded by the deadline. Instead, they mortage their future by trading their young third baseman for a slightly better hitting but much older and injury-prone one in Scott Rolen. J.P. Riccardi was laughing all the way to the bank when he pulled off that deal, because now he gets to keep Halladay next year with all the money he saved getting rid of Rolen. Way to go, Reds.

So then you start to think, maybe the Reds think they can contend, wow they were actually buyers at the deadline. But no, shortly after that Corey Patterson gets released, and probably their best setup man, David Weathers, got traded to the Brewers. And then Jay Bruce goes to the DL, so comes the deal to bring it all together - the Wladamir Balentien trade. What? Who is this fuckin guy? Really, no other outfield options out there to fill that void? I seem to recall the Red Sox and Rays each having a large surplus of outfielders, all of which are of the popular mediocre-talent, past-their-prime if they ever had one, high-price variety that the Reds like. There's seriously nobody you liked on the Pirates? I'm sure they'd have thrown in a couple pitchers and a bag of bats in the trade too. Speaking of the Pirates, the only remaining member of the 2004 Reds (the first year I lived in Cincinnati) is Aaron Harang, and he leads the league in losses with 13.

Don't worry, it's not just Walt Jocketty that is terrible, you're in this too Dusty. Do you want to maybe stop running pitchers out there in the 7th and 8th with well over 100 pitches? I watched the game the other night when Justin Lehr, who is no longer a promising young prospect but is enjoying a fantastic year at AAA, was trotted out to complete a game in which the Reds were up by 4 and Lehr was at 103 pitches in his 2nd start with the team, and all the while $44 million closer Francisco Cordero was available on the bench, who was clearly fresh from his lack of save opportunities. Dusty Baker has always been known as a guy that ignores pitch counts, and his hiring coinciding with the promotions of Homer Bailey, Edinson Volquez, and Johnny Cueto in 2008 was a BAD omen. Since Lehr's complete game, Eddy Volquez had Tommy John surgery, and former project Mark Prior was cut by the Padres. See also Kerry Wood and Shawn Estes. Part of the problem is that Baker has been blessed with an awesome starting staff everywhere he's managed, thus inclining him to leave his pitchers out their longer, and helping to blind the public to what a horrible manager, both of the game and of pitchers specifically, Dusty really is.

As with the case of the Brewers, despite press ridicule of the manager, there's still no clear-cut solution. In the end, a healthy 25 guys that all contribute throughout the course of the season is what makes the difference, and the Reds have just been very poor in both the categories of staying healthy and performing this year. I mean, Scott Rolen took a pitch in the head in his first game as a Red, and their best hitter Joey Votto was on the DL for a month with sadness - there's not much you can do about that. Willy Taveras has not been getting on base, and when he does, he's too hurt to steal, and guys aren't driving him in except for Votto. Even former #1 prospect Jay Bruce's average dipped to about .240 before he went on the DL. It will be interesting to see just how well the Reds ride out the storm and how many moves are made in the offseason, because the Reds will eventually need about 40% of their payroll to lock up Votto and Bruce.

STANDINGS & UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.10
Brewers 55-56, -6.0 (3 v. Padres, 3 v. Astros)
Reds 48-62, -12.5 (3 @ Cardinals, 4 v. Nationals)
Twins 54-57, -5.5 (3 v. Royals, 3 v. Indians)


RACE FOR 2009 "MOST GAMES ATTENDED" TITLE:
Erik - 36 (+18 worked)
Peter - 48

Monday, August 3, 2009

Alexian Field


All photos of Alexian Field available on Flickr.

"Click here to win free Schaumburg Flyers tickets." Sometimes, that's all it takes to get Erik and I to go to a ballgame. Any long-time followers of this blog know the extent of which we plan baseball trips, but in the case of Friday's excursion, a baseball trip found us. Little beknownst to Erik that a mindless cursor click on a Facebook ad would result in two free tickets arriving at his doorstep, and a brief but fun roadtrip to Schaumburg, Illinois to close out July.

My office's half-day Fridays allowed me to meet Erik in Schaumburg an hour prior to the 6:45 game. Schaumburg is on the outskirts of the Chicago suburban area to the northwest, and has about 75,000 residents. As usual, driving through Illinois was horrible, as I had to contend with a half-dozen spots along US-20 where a two-lane road was reduced to one by flaggers, and almost an hour of congestion at I-39. Despite the ordeal, I managed to arrive about 20 minutes before Erik, and I passed the time by reading a souvenir program on a bench. Even before going inside, I knew this would be a great night - live band playing on the concourse, scantilly-clad dance team passing out flyers, and parking plus a program (which for some reason is NOT called "The Schaumburg Flyer") for a total of $1.

The front of the stadium is very tall with a nice shady courtyard. When Erik arrived, we tried getting in on the ground floor, but we ended up having to ascend a staircase and enter on the concourse level, since the main entry was actually on field-level. The ground level doors lead only to the clubhouses and team store, and makes the facade extremely massive in order to accomodate this entry. This means that what appears to be the main entry is mostly unused, and you have to descend a back fire stair to get to the store from the concourse, both obvious design flaws. The rest of the park was a familiar single-deck setup featuring a large suite & pressbox area above the concourse. Erik and I were both very impressed with the multiple sizes of souvenir cups and the Flyers logo being displayed on everything throughout the park, from napkins to bathroom doors. There was also a good, cheap beer selection that we both approved of, and the new party suite along 1st on the upper level looked amazing. After walking around for a few minutes and taking some pictures, we got some beers and food and took our complimentary seats on the lawn by the left field foul pole.

The game itself was all offense, as Winnipeg pounded the Flyers 12-4. After the 5-run first, the game moved along very quickly despite the 21 combined hits. Both starters faired decently for an independent league game, each giving up 4 over 6; but, when Schaumburg went to the 'pen in the 7th, Winnipeg showed why they had the best record in the league. Josh Giles gave up 6 earned runs over 1.2 for the Flyers, including homeruns by each of the top 3 hitters in the lineup. We were concerned at first if the guy operating the manual scoreboard was going to be able to accomodate a 10-spot in the 8th for the Goldeyes, but thankfully for him they only plated 8 that inning. The very unsafe postgame festivities included a weak fireworks display in the woods behind the centerfield wall, and an event dubbed the "World's Largest Dizzy Bat Race." We then made a quick visit down the fire stair to the team store and parted ways for home.

One more stadium crossed off the list, and I have now seen 2/3 of the 6-team Northern League. Hopefully we can make it back to Kansas City someday to catch a KC T-Bones/Fargo game so I can complete the league tour.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 4
views from park - 3 (woods)
view to field - 4 (lawn section was steeply pitched, made it hard to turn and view game)
surrounding area - 4
food variety - 6
nachos - 5 (standard)
beer - 7 (decent selection and price, bonus points for Leines Lodge and Labatts)
vendor price - 7
ticket price - 10 (sat by kids area)
atmosphere - 5
walk to park - 3
parking proximity - 9 (across the street for free)
concourses - 2 (convoluted vertical circulation & entry)
team shop - 6 (bonus points for sweet new logo)

best food - "moist" italian beef sandwich
most unique stadium feature - fire stair to team store
best jumbotron feature - US & Canadian flags for anthems
best between-inning feature - world's largest dizzy bat race

field dimensions - 355/400/353
starters - Mark Michael (WPG) v. Edwin Almonte (SCH)
opponent - Winnipeg Goldeyes
time of game - 2:47
attendance - 5992
score - 12-4 L
Brewers score that day - 11-7 L


STANDINGS & UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.03
Brewers 52-53, -4.5 (3 @ Dodgers, 3 @ Astros)
Reds 45-59, -11.0 (3 v. Cubs, 3 @ Giants)
Twins 52-53, -3.0 (3 @ Indians, 3 @ Tigers)


RACE FOR 2009 "MOST GAMES ATTENDED" TITLE:
Erik - 36 (+18 worked)
Peter - 47

Monday, July 27, 2009

Brewers Backsliding


This is now my 6th week in Iowa, and it pains me to see how poorly the Brewers are doing, even from a distance. Since taking 2 out of 3 from the Mets in late June, the Brewers have not won a series and have not won consecutive games. They are 4-6 since the All-Star break, and an abyssmal ten games under .500 since May 17th, the day it was announced that Rickie Weeks would be out for the season. They have an NL-worst 11 total wins and .224 batting average during day games and have not won a matinee since May 31st. After leading the majors in quality starts through May, the Crew now seems lucky to get 5 innings out of a starter. Dave Bush is still on the DL, as is his replacement Seth McClung, and Manny Parra spent most of June in the minor leagues. They have the 3rd worst pinch-hitter average in the NL. The Brewers are simply reeling in all facets of the game right now, and it is not pretty to watch.

The only reason the Brewers are still in the race right now is because the Cardinals and Cubs are allowing us to be. But, with the resurgence of the Astros, and the Cardinals' trade for Matt Holliday, things will not be easy down the stretch. If the Brewers have any chance to get back in this thing, it needs to be now - they have the easiest NL August schedule in which they play only one team with an above-.500 record (Dodgers), including 8 games against the 30-win Nationals. I think our troubles started with Weeks' injury and have just continued to spiral. His loss at the top of the lineup sent the batting order into disarray, which caused slumps to players like Hart, Cameron, and Hardy. Our slugging percentage became the only thing keeping us in games, because with Weeks out Macha refused to put runners in motion. This curtailed into Braun's power numbers diminishing, since he felt the burden to drive in runs himself with nobody in front of him getting on. Macha then responded by playing 38-year old Craig Counsell nearly every day, which reduced the playing time for our bench. All of this combined into a lot of pressure on the pitching staff to continue to overachieve, which it could not, thus in the end resulting in a wearing-out of our bullpen.

Today, the team finds itself tired, without any answers, and few options. Where does the team go from here? I'm not so sure one trade will do it this time. Last year, they just needed that one piece to bring things all together, and they got it in CC. The recent Felipe Lopez trade was a good start, he should solidify the top of the order. At the minimum, the Brewers need another lefty reliever, a 7th-inning guy, and at least one starter, and one more outfield bat would be nice. Bush is out until mid-August, and Manny Parra returned to his usual self on Friday after a couple of good outings, which leaves us with Braden Looper leading the team in innings, a #3 starter we paid #1 starter money to, and a 23-year old ace with about 30 career starts under his belt. The Brewers may have enough positional prospects to trade for pitching, but I just don't know if it will be enough. If the Brewers make any trades, it should be to release dead weight or to clear room for next year's roster, such as a Hardy/Escobar or Gamel/McGehee/Hall trade, or even a Mike Cameron trade. What I would most like to see happen is a Hardy trade for Jarrod Washburn plus a reliever. Jack Zduriencik knows our farm system well after working with the Brewers so long and any trade with Seattle would get us the most value. What I don't want to see happen is draining our farm system for a front-line pitcher that we lose in a year that probably won't stay with the team or help us get to the playoffs.

Hopefully, the Brewers can start restocking the farm system with pitchers in future drafts so that we aren't in this predicament again for awhile, although nobody could have predicted what was to happen with Jeffress and Rogers. It's disappointing to see the Brewers playing so badly, but at the same time, with the Brewers going into the season with Jeff Suppan as your #2 starter, under a new manager and pitching coach, I think that the Brewers are doing the best they can do. I mean, where would they be without Looper and Hoffman right now? They've single-handedly accounted for at least 20 of our wins, and it's these diamond-in-the-rough deals that Melvin pulls off that make me believe that maybe, just maybe, we could have a shot to win the Central this season. This next week is the most important week of the season - if they can swing a deal and sweep the Nationals, they're right back in it.

STANDINGS & UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 07.27:
Brewers 49-49, -3.0 (4 v. Nationals, 3 @ Padres)
Reds 44-53, -7.5 (4 v. Padres, 3 v. Rockies)
Twins 49
-50, -4.0 (3 v. White Sox, 3 v. Angels)

RACE FOR 2009 "MOST GAMES ATTENDED" TITLE:
Erik - 35 (+14 worked)
Peter - 44

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mayo Field


All photos of Mayo Field available on Flickr.

Last week, I found myself in a predicament that usually rolls around about once a season: everybody is on a long road trip! There was no way that I was going to go two whole weeks between games, particularly since I don't get Brewers telecasts in Waterloo, so I began scouring various leagues, looking for a team within two hours of me that I could make it to if I left work right at 5. I finally coersed myself into taking Yeller up to Rochester, MN (which was surprisingly only two hours away) to see the Honkers of the Northwoods League, muttering "I'm insane" and changing out of my work clothes during the entire drive up US-63.

I arrived at the ballpark about ten minutes late, and the Honkers were just coming up to bat in the 1st when I walked in. The parking situation there is very unique and confusing - your options, both for $2, are to park 20 feet from the 1st base foul line, or on the other side of the river and walk to the stadium via meandering cycle path. And also, there is no attendant, just one of those "honor system" things where you put your money in a numbered slot. I decided to choose the lot over the river since Yeller has enough dents in it already, and in the end it paid off as many cars were hit with balls during the game. The stadium itself is one of the worst I've been to in my entire life; it makes Pohlman Field look like Yankee Stadium. Erik was there a few years ago when he was working in Minnesota and warned me that it was a dump, and I guess I should have listened to him. It's kind of like Bosse Field in Evansville, without the charm and history. All of the vendors (actually, "vendor" singular) and the bathrooms are behind home plate under the grandstand, and seating is only available from 1st the 3rd base, with a fairly large party deck in left field. The stadium has clearly not undergone any significant renovations or additions since it opened, with the possible exception of the dugouts, and all of the seats are very close together, both horizontally and row-width. The aforementioned dugouts are above-ground like a little league would have, are too small to fit the entire team, and contain no protective fencing. The park's sorry excuse for suites are two wood-framed, vinyl-siding press boxes that were converted. There is not even really a main entry, you just sort of enter through a gate in the back. And on top of all that, that night was a tie for the record low temperature for that day in Rochester's recorded history. If I had not driven two hours to get there, I may very well have turned around and went to the bar when I got to the ticket window and saw that they were charging $6 for these shenanigans.

But, "any game anywhere anytime" are the words Erik and I live by, and apparently so also do Honkers fans. Somehow, Rochester has stayed competitive enough and have maintained a good enough attendance to be the longest tenure team in the Northwoods League at 16 seasons. The Honkers exemplify the formula for a successful minor/semi-pro ball team: good marketing and promotional calendar, cheap beer, entertaining mascot, and a sweet logo. It was packed on this night for Clapper Night against the St. Cloud River Bats, including the way-over-occupancy party deck. It was the fourth or fifth consecutive pitchers' duel I've seen, and the Honkers hung on for the 2-1 victory. There were three times as many strikeouts to hits in the game (17:6), and the 2-run first by the home team proved to be enough. Brian Flynn tossed 7 strong for the Honkers to earn the win, and Arik Sikula shut the door in the 9th for the save.

After the quick game, I drove back home to Waterloo, satisfied that I crossed another ballpark off the list that I never, ever have to go back to.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 1
views from park - 2 (houses)
view to field - 4 (close, but posts and dugouts in way, depending where you sit)
surrounding area - 5 (downtown is few blocks away, but I can't speak to its quality)
food variety - 3
nachos - 3 (come in bag with cup of cheese)
beer - 8 (only four kinds, but very cheap)
vendor price - 9
ticket price - 8 (all but first two rows are $6 GA)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 4
parking proximity - 7 (points deducted for foul-ball danger)
concourses - 2
team shop - 4 (team souvenir stand)

best food - mini-donuts
most unique stadium feature - hit sign in outfield, fan wins $10,000
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - child races dogs to home plate

field dimensions - 310/390/310
starters - Kevin Johnson (STC) v. Brian Flynn (ROC)
opponent - St. Cloud River Bats
time of game - 2:16
attendance - 1255
score - 2-1 W
Brewers score that day - 9-6 W

STANDINGS & UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 07.20:
Brewers 47-45, -3.0 (3 @ Pirates, 3 v. Braves)
Reds 44-47, -5.5 (3 @ Dodgers, 3 @ Cubs)
Twins 47-45, -2.0 (3 @ Athletics, 4 @ Angels)

RACE FOR 2009 "MOST GAMES ATTENDED" TITLE:
Erik - 34 (+13 worked)
Peter - 42

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tour 2009: Richmond County Bank Ballpark


All photos of Guggenheim Museum, Staten Island ferry, and Richmond County Bank Ballpark available on Flickr.

Our productive trip to New York finally came to a close today. It was yet another gorgeous morning as we walked through Central Park to the Guggenheim, our pre-ball activity for the day. The museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and there is a Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit there that we wanted to see. It not only commemorates the Guggenheim itself (Wright's last fully realized work) but a lot of his work, both built and unbuilt, from his early ready-made home days all the way up through his death. It was a great showcase of some of his original graphite sketches, accompanied by some models of Wright's work built by a local Brooklyn firm. A couple hours and a few illegal photographs later, we headed for the #5 train towards the Staten Island ferry.

The passenger ferry runs from Battery Park every half-hour, and is the most convenient way to get to Staten Island, since there are no roads that run there directly from Manhattan. The ride was about 90% tourists just along for the ride, and it seems from eavesdropping on a local that few people take the ferry for much else during the day. After the ride, tourists will just get off and get back in line to head back to Manhattan, never setting foot on Staten Island, and it's a pretty saavy loophole to get to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island for free. Erik and I came ashore about 4:30, and shuffled past the out-of-towners with a handful of people towards the ballpark. The park is right on the harbor and is only a few minutes' walk from the ferry, and we spent about 20 minutes checking out the exterior and a nearby September 11th memorial. Gates opened at 5, but we decided that we needed to go to the bar one more time before the trip was over, so we stopped at a local tap for a few and talked ball with some of the locals.

We got inside the park and were immediately awestruck by the view. On a clear day like today, you can see the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty, and it is incredible. The stadium here was even closer to the ocean than Brooklyn's, and that is reflected in the stadium's sailboat motif at all the entries. Beyond the view though, there really isn't much else that needs to be done architecturally to make it a great park, and the design certainly takes a backseat here to the panorama across the harbor. Of all of the parks we went to this week, this was the oldest at 10 years, but it still seems brand new and is kept up very nice. There isn't a lot in the way of vending options, and I think that there should be some sort of picnic deck in right field to take advantage of the view, but overall I was very surprised and impressed by Richmond County Bank Ballpark. Erik and I both agree that of the four parks we went to this week, that Staten Island Yankees season tickets would be the way to go.

The game tonight was actually a single-gate doubleheader versus the Cyclones, with the first game being a makeup from an Opening Day rainout. They play two 7-inning games for doubleheaders in the minors, so it actually went by pretty fast. It also went by fast because as was the case the night before in Brooklyn, there was not a lot of offense. The Cyclones and Yankees split the doubleheader, with Brooklyn winning the first game 4-0 and losing the second game 3-2. The first game was a messy game by Staten Island in which two of the runs they gave up were unearned, and on only 3 hits. Nick Santomauro and Luis Rivera had RBI for the 'Clones, and Brandon Moore tossed a CG, 8-K shutout, lowering his ERA to 0.62 in the process. The second game was a comeback win for the Yanks. After mustering almost no offense in the first 12 innings of the night, Jimmy Paredes hit a solo homerun in the 6th to pull Staten Island within one, and capped off the victory with a walk-off bases-loaded single by DeAngelo Mack. Our trip literally ended with a bang as post-game fireworks ensued shortly after the game, and we had an excellent view from our seats four rows up from first base. My last official photos taken on the entire trip were the Yankees' three cow mascots watching the fireworks from behind homeplate, and a gorgeous night shot of lower Manhattan on the ferry ride home.

What a blast we had! This trip definitely changed my view of New York quite a bit. It's still a little bit too hectic and expensive for my taste, but I enjoyed myself much more than the other times I've been there. Uptown Manhattan was a great place to stay for a week and I look forward to hopefully making it back this way someday. Seven days, seven games, five boroughs, 66 innings, 68 dogs!

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 4
views from park - 10 (Manhattan/Statue of Liberty)
view to field - 9 (sun directly in face for first few innings)
surrounding area - 3 (ocean nearby, but nothing going on in Staten island)
food variety - 3
nachos - 2 (decent, but more of a taco salad than 'chos)
beer - 8 (great price and size, moderate variety)
vendor price - 7
ticket price - 5 ($12 is steep for short-season A ball)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 10 (Staten Island ferry)
parking proximity - n/a (free ferry)
concourses - 8 (wide, great view)
team shop - 6

best food - italian ice
most unique stadium feature - the view
best jumbotron feature - Scooter, Red, and Huck the Cow mascot introductions
best between-inning feature - Huck the Magician defies gravity

field dimensions - 322/390/318
starters - Brandon Moore (BRK) v. Arodys Vizcaino (SI); James Fuller v. Michael Solbach
opponent - Brooklyn Cyclones
time of game - 1:45; 1:50
attendance - 7171 (total)
score - 4-0 L, 3-2 W
Brewers score that day - 12-8 L


FIRST HALF STANDINGS & UPCOMING SERIES:
Brewers 45-43, -2.5 (4 @ Reds)
Reds 42-45, -5.0 (4 v. Brewers)
Twins 45-44, -4.0 (3 @ Rangers)

RACE FOR 2009 "MOST GAMES ATTENDED" TITLE:
Erik - 34 (+13 worked)
Peter - 41

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tour 2009: KeySpan Park


All photos of Brooklyn Bridge, Coney Island day 2, and Keyspan Park available on Flickr.

Thursday brought Erik and I into the minor league leg of our trip, as we will be taking in a couple of New York-Penn League games before we head home. The big, fancy new ballparks were great, but Erik and I jumped at the opportunity to see the Cyclones and the Staten Island Yankees while we were out here, because nothing beats minor league baseball.

Before the game, we did some sightseeing around Brooklyn. We decided to ride the #2 express train to City Hall around noon and walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn across the Brooklyn Bridge. It's certainly not the biggest, or longest, or first suspension bridge ever built, which doesn't really fit with our M.O., but it's definitely the most beautiful in my mind. Walking the mile to Brooklyn, we had a great view of the financial district in lower Manhattan, the Manhattan Bridge, Governor's Island, and the Statue of Liberty. Arriving on the Brooklyn side, we walked past the Watchtower building, which is the Jehovas' Witness publication headquarters, and Walt Whitman Park before stopping to eat at a local diner. After lunch, we then took a couple more trains back to Coney Island to cross another tour staple off the list - swim in nearby river/lake/ocean. In this case, it was the Atlantic ocean, off the southern tip of Brooklyn, and naturally we picked the coldest and cloudiest day so far of the trip to go swimming. We waded around chest-deep for about ten minutes before succombing to the cold water and putting warm clothes back on. After "swimming," we concluded our pre-ball activities with another stop at Nathan's for a dog and some 42-oz souvenir brews. It was the first chance we've really had to just to sit for a couple hours and relax on the trip, and it was great.

After working up a good buzz, we walked the couple blocks down the boardwalk to KeySpan Park, the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, the short-season A affiliate of the Mets since 2001. From the outside it looked to be nothing special apart from a couple plaques and statues, but the inside provided one of the better ballpark views we've seen. The ballpark is a stone's throw from the beach we were at earlier, and you can see the Atlantic unobstructed from the concourse, as well as the Cyclone coaster and the rest of Coney Island. The decor around the park is meant to play off the Coney Island motif, with overhangs mimicing the style and color of the boardwalk's, carnival-style multi-colored flourescent lighting above the concourse and on the light towers, and a cardboard construction of a rollercoaster attached to the scoreboard to add some unique flare. The seating setup there is your standard minor-league design, with a seating bowl, a small section of outfield bleachers, and some suites and press boxes in a 2nd deck behind home plate.

The bad part about being so close to the ocean was that there was a cold, howling wind blowing in all night, which was part of the reason the game ended in a 1-0, 16-inning loss for the Cyclones. It was a pitcher's duel in every sense of the word, as very few balls were hit out of the infield, and only about a half-dozen combined runners advanced into scoring position. Before Mike Lynn lost the game in the 16th on a basehit to right-center by Arthur Bonevacia, a total of 8 pitchers from both teams combined for 24 strikeouts over 15 1/2 scoreless innings. We continuously moved around to keep warm and try to maximize our opportunities for catching foul balls. After our 4th marathon game in 5 days, we had another dog at Nathan's next door since the concession stands all closed in the 9th, and we took another long subway ride home for the night. Tomorrow we our spending our last full day in New York in its fifth and final borough, Staten Island.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 6 (pretty nice on the inside)
views from park - 8 (Atlantic Ocean, Coney Island)
view to field - 10
surrounding area - 7 (beach, Coney Island)
food variety - 3 (mostly dogs)
nachos - 4 (standard)
beer - 4 (pretty pricy for A-ball, only 3 kinds)
vendor price - 5
ticket price - 4 ($12 for seats half-way up 3B line)
atmosphere - 3 (scoreless tie through 15 doesn't help this category)
walk to park - 9
parking proximity - n/a (subway $2.25)
concourses - 6 (good view out)
team shop - 9 (two stories)

best food - corn dog
most unique stadium feature - scoreboard
best jumbotron feature - Tom Hanks/League of their Own, Leslie Nielsen/Naked Gun strikeout videos
best between-inning feature - Nathan's hot dog race

field dimensions - 315/412/325
starters - Kenny Moreland (ABD) v. Darin Gorski (BRK)
opponent - Aberdeen Ironbirds
time of game - 3:58
attendance - 5041
score - 1-0 L
Brewers score that day - 5-1 L

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tour 2009: Citi Field


Photos of Manhattan, Corona Park, and Citi Field available on Flickr.

Tuesday morning came early after spending the previous evening watching nearly every televised baseball game at a local bar. By the time Pete and I rolled out of the hostel, it was time for lunch so we headed to the Shake Shack, the best burger joint in Manhattan. It was not too far from our hostel to the Shack, so we decided to walk it. After making quick work of a couple burgers, fries, and beverages, we decided to cross another tour must-do thing off the list, going up in the tallest building we could. I thought that the Empire State Building was located some where in the 40's streets, a walk of another 20 blocks or so. Turns out, its actually between 33rd and 34th, a considerably farther distance to walk. As we made our way down the isle of Manhattan a brief rainshower force us inside for some souvenir shopping near Times Square. Upon our arrival at the Empire State Building, the line was massive and the price very steep, so we did what we usually do in those situations, we went to the bar. There is a nice little brew pub located in the basement of the Empire State Building. We made friends with the bartender and one of the regulars and tried a sampler set of their beers. After quenching our thirst, it was time to head to Queens, our 4th borough of the trip, and the Mets new ballpark, Citi Field.

We walked the short distance to Times Square to catch the 7 train to Queens. As we pulled into the Mets-Willetts Point station, we were immediately impressed with Citi Field. Gone are the massive blue walls, with 1980s style neon baseball players displayed across them. Shea Stadium has been replaced by a gorgeous brick and steel ballpark. Upon exiting the station, you see the exterior of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, with its arched openings soaring high above the entrance gates. Adjacent to Citi Field is the parking lot where Shea once stood. The location of the pitchers mound, home plate, and the three bases are all marked by bronze plaques and we had a lot of fun posing with each of these. When the gates opened we headed into the park, hoping to take in some batting practice, but as I mentioned, it had rained briefly earlier in the day and the field was still covered. We took this opportunity to walk all over the park, take tons of photos, look in at every team store, and have an early dinner. One thing that is very noticably different about Citi Field from Shea, is the advertising. It is everywhere you look in the new park: on the outfield wall, surrounding the two video boards, on the on deck circles, even on the back of the scoreboard. The team stores are also divided by brand: Nike has a store, Majestic has a store, there is a separate store for baseball cards, and Alyssa Milano's clothing line even has its own store. As you circumnavigate the park, there are also many features that establish Citi Field as unique: the entries from all sides are below grade and require you to ascend to the first deck, there are two large food courts behind the scoreboard and in the upper deck behind home plate, there is a pedestrian bridge connecting center to right field, and there is a market in the right field corner where you can buy snacks and small souvenirs. All of these things put together make the ballpark very user-friendly, with many nooks for people to gather, and it has that closed-in community feel of Camden Yards, despite Citi Field being so far from everything.

The game itself was quite interesting. It feature the return of Manny Ramierez, a New York City native, who was playing his 4th game after sitting out 50 for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Knowing New Yorkers general unhappy moods and having been warned all day by ESPN to expect the worst, we did. The reaction though was mixed. There were a lot of Dodger fans in attendance and Manny was greeted by about an equal mix of cheers and boos. His night was marked not only by this mixed reaction but by an ejection as well. After taking a ball that was clearly outside for a called third strike Manny flung his bat and helmet towards the Dodger dugout and began walking out towards left field. Along the way he removed his arm guard in disdain and flung it into the air. When it landed near home plate, the umpire ejected Manny who simply turned and left the field. The Dodgers did not need his bat though, thumping the Mets 8-0 and running the Mets scoreless inning streak to 22. With Manny out the Mets surffering through another bad loss, many of the fans decided to beat the traffic and the ride back to Manhattan was thankfully not crowded at all.

We started off Wednesday by taking a boat tour around lower Manhattan. Our tour guide was excellent. As we were sitting in the dock, waiting for everyone to board the ship, he offered his ideas for where people could spend the rest of their day after getting off the boat. Once we got underway, he was very informative, pointing out the sites and differnet neighborhoods as we sailed down the Hudson River. Among the interesting facts we learned were that Bob Hope immigrated through Ellis Island from England, and that the Mets are terrible this year. The boat reached the tip of Manhattan and headed out into New York Harbor to pass by the Statue of Liberty and head north on the East River. We passed under the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridge before turning around to head south again. Our tour guides final message before turning around? "In front of us is the Bronx...don't go there."

After arriving back at the dock, and once again walking to the subway, we headed for Katz's Deli. Here I enjoyed a delicious salami and mustard sandwhich on rye bread, while Pete tackled a Reuben. We both enjoyed a cool glass of beer with our meal and chatted with the owner, who was making his way from table to table, for a bit. When we finished, it was time to head back to Queens. This time, when we got off the subway, we turned away from the ballpark adn spent a little time walking around Corona Park, the home of the 1964 World's Fair. The first sight we took in was the Unisphere. This is a large globe that was built and donated by US Steel for the Fair. The surrounding pool hadn't been filled yet, so I climed up onto the globe and took some pictures. Next, we headed over towards the observation towers. These are run down and have clearly been left to fall apart on their own, with no upkeep being performed by the city. It's a shame because I bet there is a pretty nice view of the park, and especially of Citi Field from the top of theses towers. Our final stop in Corona Park was the National Tennis Stadium. Then we headed to the ballpark. Today there was batting practice and Pete and I camped out in the left field seats hoping to snag a home run. Unfortunately, the wind was knocking everything down and we came up empty. When batting practice ended, we grabbed some food from the centerfield food court and headed for our seats in the upper deck.

This game was a lot more competitive than the first. The Mets finally snapped their scoreless innings streak in the 2nd and Oliver Perez marked his return to the rotation by giving up only 2 runs over 5 rough innings of work. The Mets took a 5-3 lead into the 9th inning and had Fransisco Rodriguez coming in. But, they are the Mets so things were about to get interesting. Manny Ramirez led off the inning with a home run to right. K-Rod then walked Casey Blake on 4 straight pitches. Mark Loretta recorded the first out of the inning by fanning on a change up. Russel Martin then stroked a single up the middle to put the tying run on second with only one out. Fortunately for the Mets and their fans, Andre Either sent a bouncer to SS Alex Cora that the Mets turned for a 6-4-3 double play to end the game.

Citi Field is now in Pete's top 5 ballparks, and I also really enjoyed it. Tomorrow it's back to Coney Island for some short-season A-ball!

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 9
views from park - 4 (good view from concourse to East River and Manhattan, but not from seats)
view to field - 8
surrounding area - 3 (park is nice but right now there is nothing happening around Citi)
food variety - 10
nachos - 8 (homemade chips, lots of toppings including steak, pico de gallo, beans, and cheese)
beer - 3 (Mets beer sales = go to store, buy six pack, charge $7 per bottle)
vendor price - 5 (specialty items were very reasonable, ballpark staples were steep)
ticket price - 2 (way more expensive than Shea and much harder to get)
atmosphere - 6
walk to park - 8
parking proximity - n/a (subway $2.25)
concourses - 7 (Field Level concourse is nice but crowded, upper levels leave something to be desired)
team shop - 9 (bonus points for having multiple large shops, but points deducted for not all stores having same items in stock)

best food - Corn-on-the-cob covered in mayo, cheese and cayan pepper
most unique stadium feature - Jackie Robinson Rotunda
best jumbotron feature - Mr. Met leads 7th inning stretch
best between-inning feature - Citi Field organist plays today's pop hits

field dimensions - 335/408/330
starters - Clayton Kershaw (LAD) v. Mike Pelfrey (NYM), Hiroki Kuroda v. Oliver Perez
opponent - Los Angeles Dodgers
time of game - 3:13, 3:30
attendance - 39636, 40027
score - 8-0 L, 5-4 W
Brewers score that day - 5-0 L, 5-4 W