Monday, March 9, 2009

Tour 2009: World Baseball Classic, Pool C

All photos of days 1 & 2 in Toronto available on Flickr.

Despite the struggling economy and us both being unemployed, Tour 2009 rolled on on Saturday as we arrived in Canada around 11 AM. Having watched the inaugural 2006 World Baseball Classic on television, we were both very excited to be a part of this world event - our first international Tour Plus trip! Our day on Saturday started with a 5 o'clock wake-up call and a drive down to O'Hare Airport in the Chicago area (thanks for the ride Dad). It became immediately apparent that it wasn't worth it to drive all the way down to O'Hare, and in the future I think I'll take the extra hour sleep and coherently functioning airport over the $100 savings. Erik and I had to book separate flights, since he had to wait to see where in the country he'd be, and we both ended up having to switch terminals. But, after showing my passport to about 37 people and getting cramped on our tin-can sized aircraft, we arrived safely in Toronto. The one part of the flight I expected to be a hassle - the customs agent - was not bad at all, just a lot of routine questions (good thing I left all of my vegetables and alcohol at home).

What we remember the most about our brief 2007 stay in Toronto was that it was very expensive, and that there were cranes everywhere, and we were reminded of these two things right away. It seemed like there was construction EVERYWHERE on the $49 CAD cab ride to our hostel. And not road construction, buildings. And condominiums too, all aesthetically similar, all glass and very tall. Apparently Canada (minus Saskatchewan) is in a recession as well, but it sure didn't feel that way. We had little time to dilly-dally upon checking in, and immediately left for the ballpark for 2 PM first pitch. One good thing as far as cost goes is that the ballpark was a lot closer than we thought it was, only about a 20 minute walk, so that will save us a lot of money on trolly fare this coming week. Walking to the ballpark also allowed us to locate all the bars and restaurants we had to hit at some point, not the least of which is the best and cheapest meal in the city - the $2.50 all-beef street-vendor hot dog carts.

We arrived at Rogers Centre around 12:30 and got to catch a little Team Canada BP from our awesome seats. We have 2nd row outfield seats, right above the home team bullpen, so there will be a lot of potential for catching home runs this week. The stadium was electric, and it was a full house for the first game of Pool C play - USA v. Canada. Not suprisingly, the Canucks outnumbered us by at least 4:1 if not more, and there was a sea of red and maple leafs in the concourses at all times. We checked one of the places we had to eat - Pizza Pizza - off the list right away and grabbed some Canadian beer, and headed back to our seats for the national anthems, and to listen to all of Ontario boo all the American Yankees and Red Sox players during player introductions. Ryan Braun got the start in left for the United States, and we were very excited to see him play right in front of us, despite all of the customary home-team heckling. The United States beat Canada 6-5 in what turned out to be a very rousing and gut-wrenching game. A playoff atmosphere in March, what more can a baseball fan ask for? Brian McCann had 3 RBI, and Adam Dunn and Kevin Youkilis also homered for the US in the victory, and Joey Votto went 4-5 and Russell Jean Martin homered in the loss for Canada. It was a very well played game all around and it made me worry how we would fare against Venezuela, assuming they'd beat Italy - but more on that later.

After the game, we tried to check another place off the list - Wayne Gretzky's restaurant on 99 Blue Jays Way - but it was packed, so we found a little dive bar around the corner, Gabbys, and sat down for a drink before the Italy v. Venezuela game at 8 PM. It is an awesome bar and Erik and I fully intend on trying to become regulars here in a 6-day span. However, there seem about a hundred bars just in the loop between our hostel and the ballpark, more bars than I've even seen in Milwaukee's downtown, so we definitely have some exploring to do. But I digress; at Gabbys we met some interesting people who also were at the game. It seems that whenever Erik and I travel anywhere that we run into strangers who are open to conversation, and since we like to keep to ourselves generally, it is a very welcoming feeling. We met some really cool cats the last time we were here, and we the people at the bar were very talkative with us foreigners. There were the 19-year old kids from Syracuse next to us (drinking age is 19 in Ontario), a bunch of people from Buffalo behind us, and some people from Detroit to our right. The 19-year old kids got pretty hammered in the 90 minutes we were there and it was very entertaining watching them trying to pawn their Italy/Venezuela tickets off to anybody and everybody for $1. A couple of Molsons later and it was already time for Game 2.

We hit the team store right away when we got to Game 2, as we figured the crowd would be smaller at that game. I bought a ball, program, Team Canada cap, and an old school Blue Jays jersey, and a gift for my brother, and Erik got a ball and a patch. Later during Team Italy BP, Erik and I definitely started to feel the effects of waking up at 5 and drinking all day, and we struggled to stay focused on Venezuela's rout of Italy. We rooted hard for Team Italy - Brewer minor leaguers Mark DiFelice and Vinny Rottino were the starting battery - and they actually hung in there until about the 5th, but then Italy's bullpen took over and Venezuela eventually broke through and won the game 7-0. We still had a great time, and even managed to learn the Italian national anthem. The crowd was sparse and diverse for this game - lots of residual Canadians and Americans from Game 1, the lower bowl dominated by Venezuelan fans and flags, and a lot of Tigers fans as the entire Detroit team seemed to be playing for somebody in Pool C. Also, there were a few Italian league players that impressed us that we think should be signed, particularly the right fielder Chiarini who had a booming double and an absolute cannon for an arm.

We were pretty beat and fell asleep fairly quickly when we got back home, aside from some roommate commotion late in the night. We were in a 10-person dorm and we have two particular roommates who snore and one who uses a mining-helmet type light that he wears on his head that is very obnoxious. We finally left the hostel around 1 PM on Sunday and just walked around after grabbing food at an awesome diner we passed the day before, Shopsys. Not a lot was open on a Sunday, so we mostly just walked along the lake, and explored an area called the Harbourfront Centre. It reminded me of Millenium Park in Chicago, only smaller. There was an ice rink there, a theatre, an outdoor amphitheatre a kids play area, a marina, and some stores and bars. It was a typical Erik & Pete day - wake up late, walk around for awhile, see some sites, and then hit the bar by 330. We were the first customers of the day at a marina bar called Wallymagoo's and finally got to try Steam Whistle, a local favorite (it was ok). Soon enough, it was game time again.

Today's game featured the two winners, USA and Venezuela, and first pitch was again at 8 PM. The winner was assured of going on to the second round, so it was a big game. This time the US was the visiting team, so we got to watch some American BP. Ryan Braun and Chris Ianetta in particular were hitting some absolute bombs on every swing, and had I had a mitt I might have caught a couple. The lineup was a little different today - Jimmy Rollins, Curtis Granderson, Mark DeRosa, and Chris Ianetta all got the start. All four contributed in the 15-6 spanking of team Venezuela. It was a bad omen when J-Roll got picked off second in the first inning, but the United States were out in full force all day and got 16 hits off Venezuelan pitching. Starter Armando Gallarraga was ok, but the bullpen was pretty horrible. Venezuela has 4 good starters, but most of their relievers are from the Mexican Leagues, and a guy with a 6+ ERA against major leaguers is going to be a lopsided matchup every time. Braun, Dunn, and Youk homered for America, and Chris Ianetta had a bases-clearing triple in the US 8-run 6th. Carlos Guillen homered, and Bobby Abreu and Gregor Blanco got on base three times each for Venezuela.

After the game, we stopped back at Gabbys for pint and met another group of travelers from Chicago who said they'd stop by our seats at today's game. We also seem to be sitting with the same group of people for every game, so that's very cool. There are a bunch of hilarious Tigers fans behind us, some Yankee and Brewer fans a section over, and some friendly Canadians on our left. Today I'm still waiting for Erik to wake up, and we're going to try and find a brewery that is offering tours before Game 4 at 6:30.

rankings - see 2007 Rogers Centre post
park & game stats:
best food - hot beef sandwich
most unique stadium feature - flags of countries on upper deck
best jumbotron feature - show your team spirit, giveaway trip to Cuba
best between-inning feature - fastest grounds crew in baseball, red/blue/green ball race around the world
field dimensions - 328/400/328
starters - (1) Jake Peavy (USA) v. Johnson (CAN), (2) Carlos Silva (VEN) v. Mark DiFelice (ITA), (3) Armando Galarraga (VEN) v. Roy Oswalt (USA)
opponent - (1) USA v. Canada, (2) Venezuela v. Italy, (3) Venezuela v. USA
time of game - 2:55, 3:00, 3:39
attendance - 42314, 13272, 13094
score - 6-5 USA, 7-0 VEN, 15-6 USA
Brewers score that day - 2-0 W, 7-1 L

Game 4: 3/9 @ 630, Canada v. Italy
Game 5: 3/10 @ 5, Venezuela v. winner of Game 4
Game 6: 3/11 @ 730, USA v. winner of Game 5
Erik - 3
Peter - 3

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