Friday, April 9, 2010

Opening Week 2010

All photos of the Brewers' home opener and the Kernels' home opener available on Flickr.

After another long winter, the 2010 season is finally upon us, and I could not be more excited! Is it just me, or does Spring Training keep getting longer and longer? Maybe it was because I decided to renew my subscription after a 2-season hiatus, but listening to all of those Spring games on my computer got me more revved up for this season than ever. Or, maybe all of the Brewers offseason signings got me really excited for the season. Perhaps it was watching new time-lapse videos every week and reading articles about how fast the construction time was at Target Field and how the new Twins' home is supposed to be the new gem of the big league ballparks. It could be that my fantasy baseball team is loaded with Cy Young and MVP candidates that I'm so anxious for this season. But really, there's no one specific reason, other than I'm just ready for the warm weather to roll in and to watch ball. It's also great to be watching Baseball Tonight again and listening to all of the pundits make bold claims for what player is going to break out of the pack or what team will dominate. It's easy for me to write a blog post predicting that the Phillies are gonna win it all or that Brian Matusz and Jason Heyward are going to win Rookie of the Year, but what makes baseball's Opening Day so much more awesome than any other sport, is that there really is no way to predict this early who will be left standing after 162 games. You could make 10 predictions for the season right now knowing you'll probably get 9 wrong, but you just can't help but watch for 7 months how the story will unfold. For instance, if someone were to tell you that a new pitcher was going to skip the minor leagues entirely and start in the Majors this year, you would most certainly have guessed either Cuban star Aroldis Chapman or the Nationals' phenom pitcher Steven Strasburg. Low and behold, Mike Leake will become the first pitcher since Darren Dreifort in 1994 to forgo the minor leagues to be the 5th starter in the Cincinnati Reds' rotation. That's right, the Reds are sending Leake to the big leagues and Chapman to AAA. Unbelievable!

The Brewers opened their 2010 season at home this season, and for the 3rd consecutive year I had tickets to the game, along with my family. Erik and I had no offseason trips planned this year, so Opening Day at Miller Park was that much more special to me since it was the first time I'd set foot in a ballpark in over 6 months. There's the obvious thrill of skipping work to go to Opening Day, and the tradition and atmostphere of the first tailgate, but other than that I'm always anxious to get to my first Brewers game to see all of the upgrades to Miller Park. Even if nothing has changed, I still love to snap photos because after being away for the offseason, everything seems so new. Owner Mark Attanasio has been notorious for putting profit and revenue sharing money back into the ballpark, but this year there aren't many visible changes. As far as I could tell, there were a couple vendor additions (a burrito cart and a pasta stand) and a few new sponsors, but the biggest change was behind the scenes with clubhouse and video room upgrades. Supposedly on the slate for next year is a new $1 million HD scoreboard, because at 10 years old, Miller Park's is already out of date. It's not really a ballpark upgrade, but it is also worth noting that there is a "Countdown to 600 Saves" banner in left-center for Trevor Hoffman. He entered this season as the all-time saves leader with 591 and has already notched two more.

In front of the second largest crowd in Miller Park history, the Brewers dropped a heartbreaker to the Rockies, 5-3. Newly-signed ace Yovani Gallardo gave up 4 over 7 for the Brewers in a servicable outing, but the Crew could never really muster enough offense against fireballer Ubaldo Jimenez. Even when they had him on the ropes in the 6th, a fatigued Jimenez still got out of it with only one run allowed. The Brewers made a game of it with a Carlos Gomez homer in the 7th and a 9th inning rally against the Rockies' wild closer Franklin Morales, but it was too little too late. The Carloses were the stars of the day - Gomez and Gonzalez went 8-10 for their repsective teams with 4 runs. After losing the opener, the Brewers would go on to win games 2 and 3 and take the series against a team many have picked to win the NL West. I thought the Brewers played outstanding in all 3 games and I'm very confident that they will be fighting for the postseason in September. The most encouraging sign is the true team effort it took to win, particularly the bullpen hierarchy. Everybody single person on the 25-man roster except Gregg Zaun contributed, and with his .471 spring I'll let a couple poor games slide.

The Brewers' first off day of the season coinciding with Minor League Opening Day could not have worked out any better. However, the weather across the midwest on Thursday was a far cry from the 70s we had for Opening Day on Monday. Erik was supposed to attend the Timber Rattlers' home opener in Appleton, but it was snowed out! There was no snow in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, but it was still pretty darn cold. Despite the cold weather, I was hoping for a bigger crowd, but paid attendance was announced at only 1300-something. Everything's pretty much the same at Veterans Memorial Stadium this year, other than some new items in the team store. In mid-season last year, the Kernels added a concessions tent that grills specialty burgers and sausages, and that still looks to be the best food option there. There are also the same promotional nights, in which beer is on sale for 4 of the 7 nights of the week. And perhaps most importantly, Mr. Shucks is still his usual jovial self. As for the game, the outcome was fairly predictable for a low-level minor league game in April: 2-0, Cedar Rapids loses in 10 innings. I say "predictable" because many of these young A-ball kids are not used to playing in 30 and 40-degree temps. When you throw in the fact that for many of these kids, this was also their first professional baseball game, what you get are amped-up pitchers blowing hitters away and being kept warm by adrenaline, and hitters taking homerun cuts on every pitch so that they can get back in the dugout and put on a jacket. Maybe it's different in the SAL, I don't know, but all the April MWL games I've been to were far from barnburners. The guy who finally sent everybody home was DH Derek McCallum of the Snappers, who laced a 2-run bases-loaded single to right in the top of the 10th. Over half of the 60 outs in this game were made via the strikeout.

I was thrilled to get 19 innings under my belt this week and to finally ring in the start of the MLB and MiLB seasons. I'm looking forward to attending a handful of Kernels and Iowa Hawkeyes games before the Northwoods League starts in June, for which I purchased Waterloo Bucks season tickets at the whopping price of $104.

Brewers 2-1, -- (3 v. Cardinals, 3 @ Cubs)
Reds 1-2, -0.5 (3 v. Cubs, 4 @ Marlins)
Twins 3-1,
+1.0 (3 @ White Sox, 3 v. Red Sox)

Erik - 1
Peter - 2

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