Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Border Battle at Miller Park

All photos of the Border Battle available on Flickr.

On Friday, Erik, myself, and my family attended the first of a hopefully annual event.  The Border Battle was a Midwest League game between the Brewers' new low-A affiliate, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, and the dreaded Cubs' affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs.  Miller Park is starting to gain the reputation of being a courteous neutral site that will host any game when the Brewers are on the road - it has even hosted a PBA event.  In the last 2 years alone, Miller Park has hosted an entire Indians' series that was snowed out, and a hurricane-refugee game between the Astros and Cubs that produced the first no-hitter ever pitched at a neutral site.  Friday's game was the third minor league game played at the park; there were two Snappers-Rattlers games played here when the Snappers were the Brewers affiliate (1982-2004) and the Rattlers belonged to the Mariners.  This was Erik and my second Rattlers game of the season, and we are very excited to be seeing Brewers prospects so close to home.

We of course tailgated this event and were pleasantly surprised with the excitement surrounding the game.  After a few beers and brats, we headed to our 19th row seats right behind home plate, about the farthest away I'd ever care to be at a minor league game, but still some of the best Miller Park seats I've ever had.  The entire event was $10 GA and most of the lower bowl was full.  The game itself was very entertaining, and with guys on the jumbotron born in the 1990s, you'd expect an interesting game.  Unlike the game we saw on opening night, this one had much more hitting.  The T-Rats beat the Chiefs 5-3 in an evening that saw 21 total hits, three mascot cornhole contests, two mascot races, and more fans that a Marlins' weekend series.  The 1-3 hitters of Dykstra, John Delaney, and Lawrie combined to go 8-14, and Brock Kjeldgaard had the final blow for the Rattlers with a 3-run homer in the 5th.  What looked to be a great pitching matchup on paper was not, as the starters 4 and 5 innings, respectively.  There was also another "former Mallard sighting" on this night, as Tony Campana hit leadoff for the Chiefs, who also played CF at UC when I went there.

No trips planned this week, but first 2009 bobblehead on Sunday!

park & game stats:
best jumbotron feature - "two-fisted slopper" video
best between-inning feature - Most Seats in the House contest
starters - Aaron Shafer (PEO) v. Wily Peralta (WIS)
opponent - Peoria Chiefs v. Wisconsin Timber Rattlers
time of game - 2:54
attendance - 17880
score - 5-3 WIS
Brewers score that day - 5-2 W

Brewers 9-10, -4.5 (3 v. Pirates, 4 v. Diamondbacks)
Reds 10-9, -3.5 (3 v. Astros, 3 @ Pirates)
Twins 9-11, -2.5 (3 v. Rays, 3 v. Royals)

Erik - 9  (+ 1 worked)
Peter - 12

Monday, April 20, 2009

New York Stadium Debuts

The building boom in Major League Baseball continued last week as both New York teams had their home openers on national television.  These were the 11th & 12th stadiums to open this decade, and when all is said and done, 23 of the current 30 teams will have debuted a stadium under Commissoner Bud Selig's tenure, with Royals, Angels, and Dodgers' stadiums all also undergoing 9-figure renovations.  A lot of people may not like the commissioner for things like the steroids debachle, but mark my words that history will look back on him as the greatest commissioner of all time.  He has created the current playoff format, fostered in instant replay, invested in marketing the game globally, and the league's expansion and building boom since he took office in 1992 have single-handedly saved baseball, not to mention a lot of neglected urban areas.

But, I digress.  The Mets' $800-million Citi Field debuted first on Monday, and in true Mets fashion, the first official hit in the new ballpark was a homerun by the Padres' leadoff man on the third pitch of the game, in what would amount to a win for the Padres.  The facades evoke memories of old Ebbets Field, and features a grand entry called the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.  From what I could tell from the broadcasts and photos, it looks to have a ton of foul ground in the infield and some strange angles and cantilevered areas, so I'm curious to see how the views will be.  I've also been reading some articles about how the visiting clubhouse is terrible and the visiting bullpens cannot see the game.  Hopefully for that price tag, all this stuff isn't as bad as it seems.  The outfield also features a huge jumbotron in centerfield, and a slightly smaller one in right-center.  It has high walls and long gaps and seems to be playing as a pitchers ballpark, at least early on, which might reduce homerun totals from their 3-6 hitters, but makes sense in the long run in terms of drawing free-agent pitching talent.

The new $1.5-billion Yankee Stadium debuted Thursday afternoon, in the only way the Yankees know how - with dozens of Yankee legends in attendance for a pre-game ceremony.  All the pressure, coupled the season-opening 10-day roadtrip, spelled disaster for the Yankees, as they ended up losing 10-2 to Cleveland.  Manager Joe Girardi put the inauspicious opening in perspective:  "It's not how you want to start a new stadium, but one game is not going to make the history of this Yankee Stadium."  Yeah, try convincing the New York media of that.  The new ballpark itself looks spectacular.  Early on, I was convinced it would be really kitschy since it is a near replica of the pre-1976 old Yankee Stadium, except for the dimensions, but that doesn't really concern me anymore.  The Yankees have paid a lot of attention to detail in the stadium - every detail except one.  Yankee Stadium is playing the exact opposite of Citi Field - it is playing like "Coors Field East," as Buster Olney of ESPN stated.  There is said to be a "wind tunnel" that carries balls out to right field.  The new park has already yielded 25 homeruns in its first five games (including 2 exhibition games) and a 22-run outburst on Saturday from the lowly Indians.  Watch out Yankee fans, this might mean a new 3-yr $40 mil contract for .240 career hitter Nick Swisher.  Needless to say, our experiences at these two ballparks will vary greatly, and I can't wait to see them this summer, and to finally get to see Monument Park!

Brewers 4-8, -3.5 (3 @ Phillies, 3 @ Astros)
Reds 6-5, -1.0 (3 @ Cubs, 3 v. Braves)
Twins 7-7, -1.0 (2 @ Red Sox, 3 @ Indians)

Erik - 7  (+ 1 worked)
Peter - 9

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Opening Week 2009

All photos of Timber Rattlers home opener and Brewers home opener available on Flickr.

One of the things I love most about baseball is that it's always constant.  Poor economy, national tragedy, bad weather...you know there's always going to be another game the next day.  There's always tomorrow in baseball no matter how bad you lose or win, and it's about riding the wave and playing through streaks, moreso than the high or low of one game.  Because of this, at the end of the season, as a fan you can walk away knowing that statistics can be very misleading, and at any given point during the season every player on a team contributes something.  It's these intangibles and things that don't make the stat sheet that make baseball our greatest game.  Opening Day day is about new beginnings and overcoming adversity, and it is still the day that myself and Erik, and much of America, look forward to the most all year.

A quick update on Erik and myself: After being laid off in February, I am still searching for full-time employment, but my yearly goal of 50 ballgames remains in tact.  Erik has taken a job at a Five Guys here in town and is also working some weeknight games in the suites for the Brewers.  I look forward to being in the same city as Erik for an entire season.

The season had a long spring training and began a little bit late this year due to the World Baseball Classic.  Probably more than any other sport, baseball's preseason is no barometer at all for how the season will turn out.  Managers are trying to get a look at dozens of young players, figuring out lineups, and getting guys in shape more than anything.  So it's no surprise that rolling out of the gate that there were a few surprises, some welcome and some appalling.  It started Opening Night when Derek Lowe tossed 8 shutout innings for the Braves against the defending-champion Phillies in Philadelphia.  CC Sabathia got rocked in his first start en route to the Yankees losing their opening series to the Orioles, and Chien-Ming Wang's ERA through two starts is near 30.00, and of all players utility player Nick Swisher currently leads the Yankees both in homeruns and in ERA (he pitched an inning in a rout last night) - not any of the members of the $441 million offseason trio.  2008's 101-game loser Seattle leads the West, and the Pirates and Royals are both 4-3, prompting some reporters to jump on the bandwagon and make bold postseason predictions.  A very slim contingent picked the Rays to finish in front of the Yankees AND Red Sox this year, and an even smaller contingent probably picked that to be the case while they were in 3rd, behind the Orioles and Blue Jays - which is exactly how the AL East looks right now.  Manny Ramirez's home opener in LA was overshadowed by new free agent Orlando Hudson's cycle, the first Dodger to hit for the cycle in almost 40 years.  The Brewers' pitching staff has whimpered out of the gate, leading the league in both walks (35) and hit batsmen (7) through the first seven games, although as anticipated, the entire lineup is raking right now - except the one guy you expect to, Ryan Braun.  That's baseball folks - ups and downs, and trying to explain the unexplainable.  You just never know what you'll see at the ballpark on any given day.

Erik and I of course could not wait to actually attend a ballgame during Opening Week, and did so on Thursday as the Timber Rattlers opened their schedule against the Quad Cities River Bandits in Appleton, this year as a new member of the Brewers' farm system.  The Rattlers won 2-1 on Bernie & Fang Bobblehead Night.  T-Rats pitching looked excellent, as Cody Scarpetta struck out 8 batters over 4 innings, and the team as a whole getting 14 of its 27 outs via the K.  The two Brewers in the lineup we knew, Cutter Dykstra and Brett Lawrie, were lackluster, combining to go 1-8 out of the 1 & 3-holes - although, Cutter's at-bat song was "Cuts Like a Knife" by Bryan Adams, so that made up for his performance a little.  The cool weather was well worth the drive for Opening Night.  You know it's gonna be a busy season when we've already attended 7 ballgames before the Brewers' home opener.

The Brewers' home opener was ballgame #8 for me - Erik was not feeling too crisp from a little Hooters food poisoning and could not attend.  It was even colder today than up in Appleton, and it took us 90 minutes to drive the 3 blocks into the stadium, but we persevered for some tailgating before the 3:05 first pitch.  Another potential deterrent for our Opening Day festivities was that it was Good Friday, but Mom's crab dip and taco salad and Dad's mostly-fish frozen patties on the grill both came through in the clutch.  Walking into Miller Park for the first game after the first tailgate is always a great feeling.  This year, owner Mark Attanasio put a lot of the money from the Brewers' 2008 record attendance season back into the ballpark, creating a new Harley Davidson area, redoing the team store, and a few other small changes.  The Brewers also added 1981 and 2008 playoff banners to go along with their 1982 pennant.  The game itself was a gut-wrenching 4-3 victory for the Brewers.  We missed opening introductions and the National Anthem because the paper said the game was moved to a 3:25 start, but besides that disappointment it was an entertaining game, especially since we were playing the Cubs and it was actually mostly Brewers fans.  Free agent Braden Looper got the ball for the Crew and was serviceable, scattering 5 hits and 4 walks over 5, but only surrendering one run on a homerun by Milton Bradley.  The Brewers were down 3-2 in the 9th and won dramatically on an RBI double by Rickie Weeks, who later scored on an infield hit by Ryan Braun.  Rich Harden was dominant for the Cubs, striking out 10 over 6, giving up 2 runs (1 earned).  Enjoy it now while he's still healthy, Chicago.

Here's to another playoff run for the Brewers this season, let's go Crew!

Brewers 2-5, -3.5 (3 v. Reds, 3 @ Mets)
Reds 3-3, -2.0 (3 @ Brewers, 4 @ Astros)
Twins 3-5, -1.5 (4 v. Blue Jays, 3 v. Angels)

Erik - 7*
Peter - 8
*will keep separate "games worked" and "games attended" totals