Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mets-Marlins in Puerto Rico

As I write this, Chris Volstad is throwing the first pitch of game 3 of the series in San Juan, Puerto Rico between the Mets and the Marlins. It is the first time a regular season game has been played outside of the United States or Canada since 2004, when the Montreal Expos played 22 "home games" as part of their schedule, due to poor attendance at Olympic Stadium and as part of Puerto Rico's bid have the team move there. Crowds have been well over capacity for this series at historic Hiram Bithorn Stadium, which opened for business in 1962. This series is part of an ongoing effort by MLB to expand baseball's world impact and to play to the increasing international popularity of the sport. Every major league team now has scouting camps, winter leagues, and training facilities in some Latino/Carribbean nation, and it is only a matter of time before MLB is playing in a 3rd country on a more permanent basis. Just watching even one inning of this Marlins-Mets series, one can see how enthusiastic and devoted some foreign countries are to the game, and are not just having our American sport crammed down their throat like the NFL or NBA. Continuing to develop international talent and spread baseball acadamies across the globe is the next big step in MLB's life cycle (now that the Steroid Era is more or less over) and events like this series in Puerto Rico, Japanese barnstorming tours in Spring Training, and the World Baseball Classic are all big steps in the right direction. Erik and I are eager to someday visit an international league and to witness the passion and excitement firsthand.

Brewers 35-43, -8.5 (4 @ Cardinals, 4 v. Giants, 3 v. Pirates)
Reds 44-35, +0.5 (4 @ Cubs, 3 @ Mets, 4 @ Phillies)
Twins 43-35,
+1.5 (4 v. Rays, 3 @ Blue Jays, 3 @ Tigers)

Erik - 14
Peter - 27

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lewis & Clark Park

All photos of Lewis & Clark Park available on Flickr.

After a long day of college baseball at The Blatt, I decided to spend a few hours seeing the rest of Omaha, rather than get to Sioux City any earlier than I had to. Omaha is actually a pretty nice city, once you get past the ungodly summer heat, which I have coined as "Oma-hot." I took streets to downtown from my hotel instead of I-80, and I drove past the University of Nebraska-Omaha campus and the Gene Leahy Mall. It is not uncommon for a metropolitan area to have a scenic riverwalk, a tree-lined historic district with cobbled streets, or an urban commuter rail system, but it is pretty rare to have all three as Omaha does. I walked part of the Papillion Creek riverwalk and into the historic part of downtown, where my walking tour of Omaha abruptly ended when I located the Upstream Brewing Company and stopped in for some beer and grub in refuge of the Oma-hot. After sampling a few housemade brews and some tasty mac & cheese, my stay in Omaha concluded with a drive through northern downtown (NoDo) to see the new TD Ameritrade Park, slated to open in 2011 as the new home of the College World Series. It looks nice and NoDo seems like a cool area, but I will still miss Rosenblatt and was glad I got to go to a couple games in its final season.

From there, it was on to I-29 for the 90-minute drive north to Sioux City, coming in as Iowa's 4th largest city with a population of over 80,000. All I really got to see in Sioux City was the Motel 6, a dinky airport, a bunch of big-box and fast food stores, and the ballpark. The downtown may very well be amazing - the park is south of the city center - but obviously I was not at all impressed with my time there. On top of my lack of enthusiasm towards the town, I had to pay $2 to park and $10 general admission for an independent league park in the middle of nowhere. Factored in with the ridiculous prices and being so far from civilization, there was a threat of storms in the area, all of which contributed to a low attendance on what turned out to be a good home team performance on a comfortable night for baseball.

Lewis & Clark Park and the Explorers are both named for Merriweather Lewis and William Clark, who helped settle the area and whose famous expedition claimed its only life, Sgt. Charles Floyd, in what is today Sioux City. Lewis & Clark Park opened for business in 1993 and has hosted the Explorers every season since. It's a ballpark in that crossroads between new and old, in a situation where it is certainly not showing any signs of aging, but yet is not going to have the customary amenities and luxuries afforded by parks of the 21st century. For now, this 3600-seat stadium serves the fans and the team adequately enough. Not much is happening as you enter the park, with the lone concession stand directly in front of you, and a small team store just off to the side. The walk down both lines is very disconcerting, as the grandstand towers overhead and the patron is presented with just a tall blank wall with only a couple doors for staff and team access, making one feel as if they're trespassing when in certain areas of the stadium. Looking out from the grandstand, you can see US-20 beyond left field and acres of rolling hills and empty land past right field. The outfield wall stands alone with only the scoreboard behind it, and a grass buffer to the freeway and outlying bosque of trees, no seating or equipment whatsoever. The entire park just feels very isolated, as if baseball just "appeared" at this site - kind of like the Field of Dreams, but not in a good way. Also, prices did not get much better once I got inside; the most reasonable deal of any food worth getting was a Grande Nacho at $6.

All of my previous American Association experiences involved the Saints, and the Saints were again the opponent this night in a 10-0 defeat to the X's. Sioux City played very well in all facets of the game, and St. Paul just looked god awful. They played some of the worst infield defense I've ever seen, most notably the first baseman Ole Sheldon who could barely bend or move in any direction. Leading the league in homeruns won't get you on a minor league roster if you miss four plays a game on defense. The guy I was hoping to see at first base for the Saints was veteran Major Leaguer Kevin Millar, who started his pro career with the Saints and signed a contract with them in the offseason after getting cut by the Cubs. Unfortunately, he is on the DL, so Erik and I will have to hope he's ok by July when we head up there. Anyways, the X's all but put the game away in the 8-run 4th, during which they sent 12 men to the plate. Catcher Ray Serrano went 2-2 in that inning and 4-5 on the night with a HR, 2 RBI, and 3 runs scored. He also made a couple nice plays at the plate and called a really nice game for Jae Jung, who hurled 7 scoreless. There is probably not a big market for 29-year old overweight catchers, but he's now hitting nearly .400 on the season and just made it look way too easy at the plate all night. He was recently playing AAA ball for the Braves, so let's see if Serrano can't fight his way back to affliated ball. Another player of note who was recently cut by a pro team was DH Chris Errecart. I had never heard of him, but apparently he played for the Helena Brewers last year, and he went 3-5 with a 2-run HR in his first game of the season for the X's.

My brief trip concluded with a rough 8 AM wakeup call followed by a 3 1/2 hour drive, all so I could make the 1:05 first pitch at Riverfront Stadium in Waterloo. Hey, nobody said the life of a season ticket holder was easy! The next new ballpark(s) I'll be attending is with Erik on our July trip to Minnesota.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 2
views from park - 6 (set in hillside, US-20 and fields)
view to field - 8
surrounding area - 2 (Walmart, fast food, empty lots, etc)
food variety - 3
nachos - 8 (large portion, full array of taco toppings)
beer - 3 (low variety, $6 for large)
vendor price - 3
ticket price - 1 ($10 GA in independent league is ridiculous)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 2
parking proximity - 4 (adjacent lot, but parking should have been free)
concourses - 1
team shop - 4 (small but good variety, pts deducted for being a booth and not walk-in shop)

best food - Grande Nachos
most unique stadium feature - unobstructed view to US-20 not more than 30ft from OF wall
best jumbotron feature - "Ring 'em Up" strikeout animation
best between-inning feature - all kids cha-cha on field with mascot Slider for a Pepsi

field dimensions - 330/400/330
starters - Todd Mathison (StP) v. Jae Jung (SC)
opponent - St. Paul Saints
time of game - 2:08
attendance - 788
score - 10-0 W
Brewers score that day - 7-5 W

Brewers 30-40, -9.0 (3 v. Mariners, 3 v. Astros)
Reds 40-33, -0.5 (3 v. Indians, 3 v. Phillies)
Twins 40-30,
+1.5 (3 @ Mets, 3 v. Tigers)

Erik - 14
Peter - 23

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

College World Series: Final Season of Rosenblatt Stadium

All photos of Omaha and Rosenblatt Stadium available on Flickr.

The College World Series has been at the heart of Omaha summers since 1950, and all 61 fields of 8 have played at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium. In 2009, the city and the NCAA renewed its CWS lease through 2035, but with the caveat that Omaha build a new downtown stadium by 2011. The series, with attendance increasing above capacity almost every season since 1991, was outgrowing the stadium and the players, and a larger ballpark with modern amenities would be needed to generate more revenue for Omaha and the NCAA. On the other side of the coin, Rosenblatt's other tenant, the AAA Omaha Royals, were obviously struggling to fill this 23000+ seat ballpark on a regular basis - the O-Royals typically draw at less than 1/4 capacity. The plan for next season is for the O-Royals and the CWS to have separate stadiums that fit each of their needs, one downtown and one outside of the city. With that being said, I just had to go see a game during the final College World Series ever played at Rosenblatt Stadium. Erik and I had planned a week-long trip to Omaha, but his job prevented him from going. So, I condensed the same trip into a couple of days and journeyed on solo. Normally I would not cross things off of "the list" without Erik, but I feel that seeing Rosenblatt in its last season was warranted.

Erik and I both passed by Rosenblatt on the way from Lincoln to Des Moines on the tour, and even though we did not go inside, it has stood out in my mind these past 3 years among the many mindless minor and independent league structures we visited. Rosenblatt Stadium may not look flashy on the surface, but is very unique in a couple of ways. First, several additions have made this ballpark into the largest minor league park in the country. This gives it a much different look and feel than most of the more intimate ballparks in the minors, particularly at a CWS game. Secondly, the ballpark was opened for the 1948 season. Much like Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City (ironically the O-Royals' parent club), the era in which it was built gives it a motif unmatched anywhere else. It postdates all of the wood frame ballparks erected earlier in the century, and predates the smaller, amenity-filled parks we see today in the minors that all have the same basic layout. The blue steel webframe structure and original "Rosenblatt" signage are both instantly recognizable. With the Royals moving to a 7,500 seat ballpark in outlying Papillion, and the College World Series moving to the 30,000 seat TD Ameritrade Park downtown, efforts have been ongoing to save the historic ballpark. The nearby Doorly Zoo will take ownership of the land starting in 2011 and intend on using the land for parking. The latest proposal I have seen presents a compromise of repurposing over total demolition, with the front entry gate and diamond remaining as a park, and the outfield behind being converted to parking stalls. Much of Rosenblatt's charm will be lost to generations forever, but this compromise or something like it would allow Omaha to keep a small piece of history alive. Rosenblatt Stadium is definitely a hidden gem that many people do not know about because they may not be college baseball fans, but make no mistake - it has the same character and memories as the Fenway Parks of the world and will definitely be missed.

I arrived in Omaha at about 1:00 on Monday, about a 4 hour drive from Waterloo. After checking in at the Super 8 - hiked up to $80/night for the CWS, and every room was full - I figured I had a little bit of time to kill before heading to the park. Big mistake. Wasting a half-hour watching the World Cup in my room almost prevented me from gaining access to the 3:30 game. It took me about a half-hour to get from the off-ramp to the the lawn I parked on 5 blocks away for $30. The neighborhood and the atmosphere was unbelievable. Never in all my visits to Lambeau field or Yankee Stadium, or all of my college football experiences, have I seen the crowds and activity like I did there. Like Lambeau Field, parking at the field is insufficient and nearby residents charge a ridiculous fee for them to park on your lawn. I read a lot of articles about how neighbors are glad to see the CWS leave Rosenblatt, but for making $100-200 a day in parking fees for two weeks, I'd put up with the madness. Like Yankee Stadium, there are merchandise tents, stores, and bars lined all up and down Bert Murphy Drive and 12th Streets, interspersed between and in front of houses. And like a college football Saturday at Ohio State, Notre Dame, Iowa, or any other big university, the crowd is electric. People tailgate and drink on their porches from first pitch to the last out. Thousands of students wander the streets supporting their schools with the little clothing they have on. Lines form around the stadium and onto the street.

The College World Series experience combines the most insane atmospheres of the NFL, MLB, and college football all in one, packed into 10 days. On top of that, throw in that people converge from all over the country to see this event, and you have a scene that will likely never be fully recreated after this year. A downtown ballpark may provide much deserved revenue and development opportunities, but will never recreate the neighborhood feel and chaos that is present every June at the Blatt, and that to me is a big loss. Having now attended the CWS at Rosenblatt, I will (as a lifelong Cubs hater) finally reverse my stance on tearing down Wrigley Field. Yes, the stadium will crumble and require significant structural renovations, but who cares? It's all about the fans and the neighborhood. Having that gameday aura in Chicago, or Omaha, or anywhere else, is something very special. The Yankees had the opportunity to rebuild their new stadium across the street, but the Cubs and CWS unfortunately do not have that luxury.

After finding my way through the crowd and the muck from the overnight rain, I finally arrived on the hallowed Rosenblatt grounds. The College World Series and the NCAA host a FanFest outside the ballpark every year, which was kind of like the scene outside the Winter Classic at Wrigley. There were tents selling food and merchandise, some bands playing, fan activities, and just a general gathering spot before and after the games. The festival led me to the front gate, and I tried as best I could to get some unobstructed photos of the "Road to Omaha" statue and the front gate signage, but the crowd was very thick. Flags of the 8 schools flanked both sides of the statue - TCU, Oklahoma, Florida, Florida State, UCLA, South Carolina, Clemson, and #1 ranked Arizona State. By this time it was an hour to first pitch, and I thought I had time to circumnavigate the park quick. I made my way through the makeshift "ESPN Camp" past left field, and discovered two things: (1) you can't circumnavigate a park perched on a hill, and (2) I'd better get in line right now! They had set up a line with ropes and posts, not unlike waiting in line at a roller coaster park, and I snaked my way through it as fast as I could and got into the park at about 3:00. At the CWS, general admission ticket holders like myself are not guaranteed entry - only about 5800 per game - so getting into the stadium was an accomplishment in itself. OK, I found parking, and I got in - now to find a seat. Being there alone, I was able to wedge in at the top row of the lower section in left field to take in an elimination game between Florida and Florida State.

Just as with being outside the park, inside was no different - no glitz and glamour, but still distinctly original, and the fans totally made the experience. Rosenblatt appears much more massive than the web frame and metal bleachers seen from the outside would indicate. It's a very tall one-deck park, with seats surrounding all sides, and a small standing area beyond the batters eye. All of the concessions were under the bleachers offering a limited palette, but most importantly lots of water, soda, and frozen treats on this hot day. The only bad part of my day was that the GA sections and the reserved seating areas were separated, so I was not able to see the entire park. The afternoon game was just under capacity, probably because of the 90+ degree heat and the threat of rain. Eventually the skies turned partly cloudy and the rain held up, so it turned out to be a relaxing game, despite its nearly 4-hour length. Amidst the constant confiscation of beach balls and taunting of the right field fans - "Right Field Sucks! Right Field Sucks!" - I was able to witness Florida State edge out Florida 8-5, thus making the Gators the first team eliminated from the CWS. Brian Busch overcame a shaky start for the Seminoles, giving up a tape measure shot to the first batter of the game, but ended up going 5.1 innings for the victory. Florida made it interesting in the 9th with a 3-spot, but Mike McGee came in from left field for the 'Noles to pick up his 13th save of the season. The star of the game was undoubtedly McGee. He not only hit the tie-breaking 3-run homerun in the 3rd, but as I said also picked up the save. McGee is not surprisingly a finalist for the John Olerud award, given each year to NCAA baseball's top two-way player. Austin Maddox was the big-name player I recognized in the game, and he went 2-5 with an RBI as the Gators' DH.

For the last game, I had to exit the park and re-enter for an 8:00 first pitch. Since the afternoon game did not end until 7:15, lines were already very long to get into the TCU-UCLA nightcap. At first glance at the gathered crowd, I thought that there was zero chance I'd get back in. But with nothing better to do on a Monday night in Omaha and with ticket already in hand, I gave it a shot, and was literally in the last 20 or so people to gain entry. I walked down the concourse to get a burger, and when I walked back past the gate, the people behind me in line had not yet left. Security was actually letting in handfuls of people at a time as people exited throughout the game. I tried to sit in right for this game so that I could see the jumbotron, and to see if right field did in fact suck. I searched for about two innings all across the outfield for a seat and finally decided to just stand in the aisle illegally in right-center with about 2,000 screaming TCU fans. This game was much more rowdy than the first, and it seemed to be mostly TCU fans aside from a section behind the UCLA dugout. There were a lot of shirtless guys walking around with Bruins caps on, but being from LA they probably weren't at the park to watch the game anyways and were no doubt leaving early. Again surrounded by a sea of beach balls, bleacher bums trying to start waves and chants, and security removing people left and right, I was able to see an amazing game. Gerrit Cole completely dominated the Horned Frogs for 8 innings in a gutsy performance. Aside from the 7th in which he loaded the bases and gave up a bases-clearing triple to Taylor Featherston, he had TCU hitters looking foolish all night. The best half-inning of the entire day was when Cole, a first-round draft pick this year of the Yankees, remarkably came back out for the 8th after looking to be tapped out in the rocky 7th. He proceeded to strikeout the side on mid-90s fastballs, making it a total of 13 for the night on 122 pitches. After heading for the dugout with a fist-pump following the 3rd out, a barrage of beach balls and inflatable animals engulfed the entire outfield in one final act of defiance towards the beleaguered security crew. Players including Cole himself came out to the outfield to help restore order, and after a strategic playing of "Sweet Caroline" by PA guy, the crowd was distracted enough to let the final inning play out and UCLA to prevail 6-3. The Bruins' leadoff hitter Beau Amaral was the offensive star of the game, going 3-3 with 2 runs scored and an RBI.

I would conclude this long post with a list of tips for anyone visiting the CWS, but I doubt any of the same problems will exist at the downtown ballpark next year. All I can say is to get there plenty early if you hold a GA ticket and hang on for a wild ride! I had an absolute blast and cannot wait to visit TD Ameritrade Field with Erik in the near future. My brief roadtrip will conclude today with finding a good brewpub to watch the World Cup this afternoon, and a 90-minute drive to Sioux City to watch the Explorers.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 2 (some views of the zoo through the back fence)
view to field - 6 (obstructions in the gaps, behind the plate, and from massive crowds)
surrounding area - 4 (zoo, residential - bump it up to a 9 for CWS FanFest)
food variety - 2
nachos - 4 (standard)
beer - not sold at NCAA event
vendor price - 5 ($4 for water)
ticket price - 9 ($10 GA is pretty good for a championship event)
atmosphere - 10
walk to park - 9
parking proximity - 3 (relatively close, but $15-20 per game on surrounding lawns)
concourses - 3
team shop - 7 (pts deducted for almost everything in & out of park sold out by end of gm 2)

best food - Omaha Steak burger
most unique stadium feature - "Road to Omaha" statue
best jumbotron feature - Rosenblatt CWS memories
best between-inning feature - beach balls in bleachers

field dimensions - 335/408/335
starters - Hudson Randall (FLA) v. Brian Busch (FSU); Kyle Winkler (TCU) v. Gerrit Cole (UCLA)
opponent - Florida Gators v. Florida State Seminoles; Texas Christian Horned Frogs v. UC-Los Angeles Bruins
time of game - 3:33; 3:18
attendance - 19500+; 23100+
score - 8-5 FSU, 6-3 UCLA
Brewers score that day - off

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Witter Field

All photos of Witter Field available on Flickr.

Over the off-season the Northwoods League announced it would be adding two new teams for this season. There had been a lot of speculation that one would be located in Waukesha, but the location of the proposed ballpark was too controversial for the city to move forward with construction and greener pastures were sought. When one of the expansion teams found a home in Wisconsin Rapids, Pete and I were very excited to make the trip up I-39 to watch some more home-state ball. The team is owned, in part, by the owner of the Madison Mallards, and run by the former assistant GM of the Mallards, so we knew they would put on a good show. In February the team announced a "Name the Team" contest. After a little research, I submitted the names Rafter, Rivermen, and Boggers. Fans voting eventually determined the team would be known as the Rafters and I won a free 9-pack for my efforts.

On Sunday, June 6, my girlfriend Katie and I made the 2 hour drive from
Madison to Wisconsin Rapids to take in the Rafters inaugural home opener. Pete had been in attendance at the first ever Rafters game earlier that week in Waterloo. We arrived a half hour before the game was scheduled to start and I was immediately impressed. Wisconsin Rapids had been home to a Midwest League affiliate of the Twins for many years, but the team moved away in 1983 and this was professional baseball's return to the Rapids. Witter Field is located in a small park which serves as the practice fields for the high school located across the street. While the ballpark dates to 1953, it felt almost brand new. The grandstand bleachers all had a fresh coat of paint and were sparkling for opening day. There is a new team store, built to resemble a log cabin, and concession stand located down the left line and a children's play are in right field. The team store is small and was quite crowded before first pitch. The fans were very excited about the return of baseball to the Rapids and were snapping up team gear very quickly. The menu at the concession stand was adequate but not spectacular. Lines were long as the staff was still learning how to operated their equipment, but that problem should be solved as the season wears on.

The Rafters have struggled in their first campaign. On the night we were there, starting pitcher Matt Baudino gave the Rafter 4 solid innings, aided RF Cody Koback's throwing out Eau Claire's Steve McGuiggan trying to score to end the third, before loading the bases and leaving with one out in the 5th. The Rafters bullpen could not hold the Express, allowing four runs in the 5th and 2 more in the 6th to put the game away. The Rafters also struggled at the plate, scraping together only 5 hits and striking out 8 times.

Like a Mallards game, the was more entertainment than just the ballgame. In-game events included the dizzy bat race and Roscoe P. Rafter, the team mascot pulling children around the diamond on a tractor. After the game, the human cannonball soared over the infield and there were fireworks beyond the outfield fence. In all, it was an excellent opener for the Rafters and I look forward to my next visit to the Rapids.

park stats and rankings:
aesthetics - 6
views from park - 4 (residential neighborhood)
view to field - 8 (room supports obstruct some views)
surrounding area - 5
food variety - 5
nachos - not available!
beer - 8 (wide variety, $3 for 16 oz)
vendor price - 9 (9-pack includes all you can eat dogs, brats, burgers, chicken, and soda)
ticket price - 8 ($6 for bleachers)
atmosphere - 10
walk to park - 6
parking proximity - 10 (lots available also plenty of parking on neighborhood streets)
concourses - 7
team shop - 7

best food - pulled pork philly
most unique stadium feature - fully covered grandstand
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - dizzy bat race

field dimensions - 320/375/320
starters - Matthew McDaniel (EC) v. Matt Baudino (WR)
opponent - Eau Claire Express
time of game - 2:51
attendance - 2,065
score - 7-0 L
Brewers score that day - 4-3 W

Brewers 27-37, -9.0 (3 @ Rockies, 3 v. Twins)
Reds 36-28, +0.5 (3 @ Mariners, 3 @ Athletics)
Twins 37-27,
+2.5 (3 @ Phillies, 3 @ Brewers)

Erik - 13
Peter - 19

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Northwoods League Opening Week 2010

All photos of Waterloo Bucks home opener available on Flickr.

June signals the end of the NCAA season and the beginning of collegiate summer leagues across the nation. Our favorite baseball league, the Northwoods League, began its 17th season on Wednesday in seven cities across the Midwest. This year the league expands to 16 teams, with expansion franchises starting up in Wisconsin Rapids and Willmar, Minnesota. Like most teams in the NWL, these cities may be new to the league but are not without their local baseball history. Wisconsin Rapids was a long-time affiliate of the Twins and amateur baseball before the Rafters came to town, and the Stingers are now the 6th permanent tenant of Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar, along with several VFW and Legion ball teams also playing there each summer. We are excited and lucky enough to get to see both of these new teams this season - Erik won a 9-pack of Rafters tickets for winning a "Name the Team" contest, and we plan on tacking a Stingers game onto our Target Field trip next month. I was also fortunate to be in attendance at the first two game in Wisconsin Rapids Rafters history on Wednesday and Thursday at the Waterloo Riverfront Stadium.

I always look forward to Opening Day, but this particular Opening Day was special to me because it would be my first as a season ticket holder! Being a resident of Waterloo for almost a year now, I know just about every place that one can score a free Bucks ticket in this city (which is almost everywhere), but I decided that I could afford to support the team for the modest price of $105 for a 35-game home schedule. Even if I miss one-third of the games, I am still coming out ahead on this deal! It sure looks like the team can use my monetary support this year, because there were absolutely zero fan improvements to the ballpark in the offseason. After the 2008 floods, new batting cages and clubhouses were installed for the players, and a new entry/ticket booth, but much of the seating bowl remains in bad shape and the concessions are still a joke. For my first meal of the season, I was denied two items that are still on the menu but they have never actually had, and ended up settling for a cheeseburger that was made up of a microwaved hamburger patty with ice-cold shredded taco cheese on top. Another lack of improvement in the park was the turf - it still has an inauspicious upward slope at the warning track, which when combined with the field's poor drainage means that any heavy storm the day of a game pretty much means a postponement.

Most importantly, however, the product on the field does seem to have significantly improved over the Bucks' last-place performance of the 2009 season. Aside from a few defensive miscues in Thursday's game, the Bucks played solidly and were in control in both wins. In both games, the starters went at least 6 and the bullpen was excellent - which is more than the Brewers can say about their staff. Both games were low scoring and fast, which was a result of pitching efficiency and good infield defense. The Bucks also took advantage of whatever the defense gave them, including most of their RISP opportunities. Early on, the team does not seem to have a lot of power, so smart baserunning and on-base percentage are going to be keys for this team to contend in the South Division this year.

Brewers 22-32, -9.0 (3 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Cubs, 3 v. Rangers, 3 @ Angels)
Reds 31-23, -- (3 @ Nationals, 4 v. Giants, 3 v. Royals, 3 v. Dodgers)
Twins 31-22,
+3.0 (3 @ Athletics, 3 v. Royals, 3 v. Braves, 3 v. Rockies)

Erik - 12
Peter - 11