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.

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)

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

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)

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

Brewers 45-43, -2.5 (4 @ Reds)
Reds 42-45, -5.0 (4 v. Brewers)
Twins 45-44, -4.0 (3 @ Rangers)

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

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tour 2009: New Yankee Stadium

All photos of Yankee Stadium available on Flickr.

Sunday and Monday were spent baking under the sun at two matinee contests between the Blue Jays and Yankees at their new stadium. We left the hostel around 10 AM on Sunday after a somewhat restful evening. Our room is much less crowded and rowdy than the hostels we stayed in Toronto and San Francisco, but we still have the token snorers that keep Erik and I awake periodically. Overall, the place seems to have a lot going on and we look forward to meeting some foreigners and taking advantage of hostel tours like we have in the past.

It was a much shorter ride to the Bronx than to Brooklyn, only about 6 stops on the D-train, and we rose from the 161st St stop and were engulfed with fans, even at three hours before first pitch. The park is not very ornate or complicated, and is a very basic design meant to mimic the original pre-1970s renovation Yankee Stadium - except the $1.5 billion version of it. As one might expect for that much money, no stone is left unturned, yet at the same time nothing is overdone or tacky at all. The outside is all limestone, and "Yankee Stadium" is spelled in gold leaf. The Great Hall behind home plate is done beautifully, with tall banners of Yankees past and present, and is flanked by the main suites area, a Hard Rock Cafe, and the team store. Erik and I immediately headed for Monument Park after our arrival, since in 2007 and '08 we missed it at the old stadium. It is beyond the centerfield wall in the new stadium, and is much more spacious. All of the Yankees' retired numbers are featured with player plaques meandering around a flower garden, and Erik and I took many pictures here. From a design standpoint, my only complaint about this entire ballpark is that the tunnels behind Monument Park and on the 2nd deck are simply painted concrete block - it seems to me that for $1.5 billion that a little drywall might have gone a long way.

From Monument Park, we did a couple laps around the stadium, and took in some rare Sunday BP from the left field bleachers. We came close to catching a couple A-Rod bombs, and we watched AJ Burnett yuck it up with Doc Halladay and some of his other former Blue Jay teammates during Toronto BP. Afterwards, we ate at the food court for lunch. I had a pastrami sandwich from the deli, and Erik had a meatball parm sandwich from an Italian place. There is an insane amount of food selection at the park, probably my favorite part. You can get everything from simple garlic fries and nachos, to sushi, and steak sandwiches prepared by a butcher that day right at the park. Prices also seem to have come down a little from the old park, although it is still expensive compared to most parks. The cheapest price that came in handy on these two hot days were large souvenir sodas for only $6.

Many photos later, we walked up to the upper deck to our seats in the 2nd row of the upper deck, near the left field foul pole. The upper deck reminds me a lot of Great American Ballpark - very wide concourses with access to a slightly higher 400 level via individual staircases. From up there, you can really notice the Yankees' efforts to make the ballpark look like the old one. The dimensions are the same, the overall bowl design is the same, even the same W.B Mason and Nathan's signs were brought over from the old park. The main difference of course is the ridiculous jumbotron in centerfield, flanked by two smaller jumbotrons to either side that are pretty damn big themselves. From our seats we had a good view to the jumbotron (you could probably see it from Queens), as well as the championship banners in right, and the retired numbers in left. The game was a 4-hour marathon that the Yankees came back to win 10-8. It took over 2 hours to complete the first 4 innings, mainly because Joba Chamberlain struggled with his command and gave up 8 runs (3 earned). The Yankees came roaring back with homers by Matsui and Jeter in the 4th and 5th. All the right-field wind-tunnel stories you hear are true - the ball really does carry. Matsui's ball was hit a mile in the air, and Jeter's was an opposite field line drive that found the first row of seats. Jeter's homerun put the Yankees ahead for good, as the bullpen tossed 5 1/3 scoreless and got Alfredo Aceves his first big-league save. After the game, we walked around the team store and scouted some of the outside vendors in preparations for our purchases on Monday, and we ended our Sunday as we usually do, with dinner and a few beers at a local tap for some Sunday Night ball. Tonight's bar was the Pour House, near Columbia, and had a great beer selection.

Monday's game was also a day game in which the Yankees tried to go for the 4-game sweep. It pitted Andy Pettitte against Jays rookie Ricky Romero. We again got to the ballpark very early, but the teams did not take BP today, so we spent most of our time watching Roy Halladay trying to learn a screwball in the bullpen, and raiding the team store. Erik got an inaugural season t-shirt, patch, and bobblehead, and I got a shirt, ball, and some gifts for my mom and Lauren. Today's meal was outstanding - Erik got a steak sandwich, and I got a pulled pork sandwich, and both were decadent. After eating, we tried to get into the Yankees museum, but the line was too long, so we just waited for gametime. Romero gave up 3 over 6.1, and Pettitte gave up 5 over 6+, and Toronto won 7-6. Andy did not pitch all that poorly, but was just left in a couple hitters too long. The Yankees were down 7-1 in the 7th and came back on two 2-run hits by Matsui and Swisher, but it was not enough. Overall, I'd say we both like the park a lot, but the mystique of the old Yankee Stadium is definitely gone. I commend the designers - it's not at all kitschy like I thought it would be, but those goosebumps you get walking from the dark concourse onto the bright green field will just never be recreated. The Yankees do deserve this new park with all its modern amenities, and I think it was a noble effort on no easy task.

Tonight, Erik and I are taking it easy and probably will end up finding another watering hole to watch Monday Night ball at, and tomorrow we're off to Citi Field!

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 7
views from park - 2
view to field - 7 (obstructions in upper deck)
surrounding area - 4 (some bars, very lively on gameday, but the Bronx is pretty unsafe)
food variety - 9
nachos - 5 (more cheese and bigger chips needed, and there are only a couple stands)
beer - 6 (expensive, but bonus points for souvenir cups, decent variety)
vendor price - 3
ticket price - 4 (tickets easier to get than at old park)
atmosphere - 8
walk to park - 4
parking proximity - n/a (subway $2.25)
concourses - 9 (wide)
team shop - 10

best food - steak sandwich
most unique stadium feature - Monument Park
best jumbotron feature - Hideki Matsui homerun animation "Gone-zilla!"
best between-inning feature - B-D-4 subway race

field dimensions - 318/408/314
starters - Brett Cecil (TOR) v. Joba Chamberlain (NYY); Ricky Romero v. Andy Pettitte
opponent - Toronto Blue Jays
time of game - 3:44; 3;27
attendance - 46320; 46450
score - 10-8 W; 7-6 L
Brewers score that day - 8-2 L; off

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tour 2009: Nathan's Famous 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest

All photos of Coney Island, hot dog eating contest, and 4th of July fireworks available on Flickr.

After a rough two weeks at my new job, I flew to New York Friday night to meet Erik for our final 2009 trip, the highlights of which are the new Yankee & Mets' ballparks. We are spending a week in New York and we've both been looking forward to this trip since last year. If you would have told me last year at this time that Erik would be working at a fast food restaurant, and I would be living in Iowa, I would have thought you were crazy. But such was the case as I drove to the Mason City airport Friday afternoon, about an hour north of Waterloo. The airport building was no more larger than my parents' backyard, and is mostly meant for private flights, but does operate a commuter propeller jet to and from Minneapolis thrice a day. I boarded the Wahoo Express at about 4:30, and after a layover in Minnesota, another 2 hours of flying, and a 90 minute subway ride to our hostel in uptown Manhattan, I was beat. I met Erik (who had arrived in New York about 10 hours before me and was pretty hammered) at a bar near the hostel for an inaugural drink, and then it was off to bed.

We woke up bright and early on Saturday morning - not for a ballgame, but so that we could beat the crowd to Coney Island for the 94th annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest! This is the Super Bowl of competitive eating, and takes place in Brooklyn every July 4th. Erik and I had first seen this event on television at a bar in Rochester when we were there on the main tour and instantly fell in love with Major League Eating. We were hoping that when the schedules came out in March, that the Yankees and Mets would be home around the 4th so that we could attend the hot dog contest, and it just so happens they were. It was about an hour ride to Coney Island, and we got there around 10:30, two hours before first dog. The energy was electric in the beginning, but by around noon the crowd started to get restless as the MC George Shea struggled to fill time with jugglers, rappers, and the Nathan's mascots. Shortly after 12:30, about 40,000 strong began to cheer as the eaters were introduced. There were about 20 participants that made it through qualifiers all over America to be there, but everyone's eyes were on Joey Chestnut, the 2-time defending champion with an iron stomach, and Takeru Kobayashi, a scrawny Asian kid with crazy hair that had won the event six years prior before Chestnut burst on the scene. These two have been shattering records throughout MLE, particularly in this event, and although ESPN talked up a few other gurgitaters as having an outside chance, everyone in the crowd knew it would be one of these two fine specimens.

And, they're off! The rules are simple: eat as many hot dogs and buns as you can in 10 minutes, dunking in water is allowed, and automatic disqualification for a "reversal of fortune." Chestnut, a notoriously fast starter, shot out of the gates and shook down 23 dogs in the first two minutes. Kobayashi caught up and briefly took the lead about halfway through, but Chestnut was steady for the entire 10 minutes and eventually won with a new 10-minute world record of 68 hot dogs. Takeru took 2nd with 64, and Patrick Bertolotti took 3rd. Overall, the pregame was pretty boring, but I was glad we got there early, because from the looks of the crowd, most couldn't see as well as we could. We were so glad to be a part of hot dog eating history, that we attempted to eat as many as we could after the contest. Erik had two and some fries, and I had three, and we were both stuffed. That just goes to show how remarkable these guys are - I could maybe have forced down two more, and maybe do a dozen with some training, but 68? Ingesting 20,000 calories in one sitting is just something you have to be born to do.

After lunch, we walked around Coney Island for a bit. We got a preview of the Cyclones' park before we go there on Thursday, walked around the boardwalk and the beach, and rode the infamous rickety Cyclone rollercoaster. We headed back and napped for a good two hours before concluding our long day by purchasing some PBR tallboys and watching Independence Day fireworks on the Hudson. There were six barges out on the river, from 59th St down at least 30 blocks, shooting off six identical fireworks shows in unison, and it was amazing. This was my 5th city in the last 5 years that I've celebrated the 4th of July, and they seem to just keep getting better. Tomorrow and Monday we are watching some day games at the new Yankee Stadium!

Brewers 43-39, -1.0 (3 v. Cardinals, 3 @ Dodgers)
Reds 40-40, -3.0 (4 @ Phillies, 3 @ Mets)
Twins 43-40, -2.0 (3 v. Yankees, 3 v. White Sox)

Erik - 26 (+13 worked)
Peter - 34