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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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)

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

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)

Erik - 36 (+18 worked)
Peter - 47