Monday, August 29, 2011

Brewers Going Beast Mode

In case any baseball fan has been living under a rock for the past month, the Brewers have managed to explode from the pack and take a commanding 10 1/2 game lead in the NL Central. They've been the best team in the majors by far since July 26th, and they've done it with starting pitching, a strong back end of the bullpen, timely hitting, improved defense, a little luck, and a lot of swagger. The Crew has won a ridiculous 27 out of their last 32 games, which includes 5 consecutive weekend sweeps and a 21-4 mark against their division during that span. The Brewers are on pace for the best August in team history, and one of the top ten of all time, at 21-5 currently with 2 games remaining in the month. Overall, they are a ridiculous 50-16 at home. Ryan Braun leads the league in runs and is 2nd in hitting, Prince Fielder leads the league in RBI and is tied for 3rd in homeruns, John Axford is 2nd in the majors in saves, and 4 of the team's 5 starters are in double-digit wins with an ERA under 4.00. And in the center of it all, Nyjer "Tony Plush" Morgan has been the team's major catalyst and resident goofball.

I could go on and on. The point is, no matter how you slice it, the Brewers are just flat out playing good baseball, and it shouldn't be forgotten that this team did all of this winning with the best 2nd baseman in the NL - Rickie Weeks - on the DL. Their magic number is currently at 18 and hopefully they can ride out this wave a little bit longer, at least until they play the Cardinals and Phillies next week. It's pretty unlikely that they will keep up this torrid pace for the last month of the season, but even with a .500 month and splitting the remaining 6 with the Cards, they should be able to clinch their first division title in almost 30 years. Getting the September call-ups, Weeks, and Carlos Gomez on the roster will only strengthen the Crew for the October push. Perhaps most importantly, I feel that this team can go much further than the '08 playoff bunch because they have so much more confidence and chemistry. This is most outwardly visible in the loose fashion in which they play, i.e. the "Beast Mode" celebration they do that is reminiscent of the "claw" and "antlers" that the Rangers did last season. You can just tell how much fun they're having on the field, and that makes them really fun to watch. A great attitude coupled with a lot of talent is proving to be a deadly combination.

I've got my playoff tickets ready, keep it up Brew Crew!

Brewers 81-54, +10.5 (3 v. Cardinals, 3 @ Astros, 3 @ Cardinals, 4 v. Phillies)
Reds 67-66, -13.0 (4 v. Phillies, 3 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Cubs, 3 @ Rockies)
Twins 56-77, -17.0 (3 @ White Sox, 3 @ Angels, 4 v. White Sox, 3 @ Tigers)

Erik - 13
Peter - 36

Monday, August 15, 2011

Copeland Park

All photos of La Crosse and Copeland Park available on Flickr.

This past weekend, I had to drive home to Milwaukee to pick up Lauren at the airport on Saturday. Given that my office has half-days on Fridays and I had nothing to do in the evening, this was all the perfect recipe to find a new ballpark to go to. My first inclination was to visit Peoria, the only Midwest League ballpark in the Western Division I haven't seen yet, but alas they were on the road. After running through a few other options, I finally settled on Copeland Park in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Erik had visited the stadium about 5 years prior and highly recommended it, and it only added about 2 hours to my total drive to Milwaukee. It was well worth the extra driving before I even got to the ballpark. The highways through northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota, particularly Allamakee County, were absolutely beautiful. Who knew that Iowa had hills and forests? I always thought that was a myth.

I rolled into town about 4:30 and checked into a hotel just north of the ballpark. My room had a nice view of the Mississippi River and I killed some time watching the Little League World Series regionals before heading out at 6. Copeland Park is also right on the river. And I mean literally on the river- many foul balls hit to the left side landed in the water. Since it is so close to the river, parking is kind of a squeeze. Your options are either a small gravel lot across the street, or to park on the street between the park and the river and risk your car almost certainly getting hit with a foul ball. I felt Yeller already had enough dents and the lot was half-empty when I arrived, so I parked there. After purchasing my standard GA seat and collecting my giveaway can coozie, I quickly found out that the stadium had been open since 5:30 for the final Fish Fry Friday of the season. The crowd was already electric as I waited in the huge line to indulge in this Wisconsin tradition, and for $6.50 it was a pretty outstanding meal. As a matter a fact, it was a pretty outstanding evening - for $15.50, I got a ticket, a program, the fish fry, and a large souvenir soda, not to mention the free parking. I came to La Crosse with only $22 in my pocket and I left with change, even after going to the bar after the game. After finishing my dinner, I walked around a bit and got a feel for the stadium. I enjoyed all of the subtle references to the team name "Loggers," such as all the trees that remained on site rather than being torn down. The one thing I didn't like about the park was that beer was unnecessarily difficult to find and the prices were not posted at either stand.

As I made my way to my seat in left field, I began to notice that there were many similarities between Copeland Park and pre-renovation Warner Park. The setup is much different as you enter, but the ballpark has standalone bleachers in left just like the old Duck Pond, and has an all-you-can-eat pavilion that looks just like the Duck Blind. There are also some suites in right field which are comparable to the left field party deck in Madison, aside from the log cabin motif. Once the game was underway, the similarities between the two parks went even further. A lot of the between-innings games were exactly the same - mascot races a child, dizzy bat race, child hits ball off a tee and runs for a homerun, and so on. The PA guy even sounds just like Aaron Sims. Most of all, this was the only Northwoods League park I've been to that is even remotely close to rivaling the energy and atmosphere of Warner Park. The Loggers would draw a sellout crowd of nearly 4000 on this night and welcomed their 100,000th fan of the season to "The Lumber Yard," and once again finished 2nd to only Madison in collegiate summer league attendance. It was also the final home game of the season, and this only added to the excitement.

The Loggers did not disappoint in front of the large home crowd, as they slipped past the Bucks 3-2 in 10 innings to temporarily keep their playoff hopes alive (they have since been eliminated). Starting pitcher Brando Tessar gave a gutsy performance, scattering 9 hits and 2 walks over 8 innings. The Bucks has several threats, including loading the bases with 1 out in the 2nd, but did not break through until a clutch RBI double down the right field line by Jordan Adams in the 8th, who was in turn knocked in by Sean Borman shortly thereafter to take the 2-1 lead. La Crosse tied it right back up in the 8th on a sac fly by Tyler Smith, and then won it in extra racks on another Smith sac fly. Louie Lechich was the spark plug for the Loggers all night, going 3-4 with a run and a steal, and a few nice defensive plays in center field as well.

After the game, I headed downtown for a couple pints at this place called Bodega Brewpub before turning in for the night. It was advertised as a brewpub online, but it really didn't brew any of its own beer. It did have over 400 beers on the menu though, so it was awesome. La Crosse is a beautiful city with a fun ballpark, but for heaven's sake stay away from the La Crosse Lager, it tastes like bleach.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 4
views from park - 6 (nice view behind the stadium)
view to field - 5 (my seat was kind of far away)
surrounding area - 4 (downtown a couple miles away)
food variety - 7
nachos - 2 (of the "bag o' chips/cup o' cheese" variety)
beer - 5 (Leinie's, Pabst, Miller)
vendor price - 9
ticket price - 8 ($5 GA)
atmosphere - 8
walk to park - 6 (short but nice)
parking proximity - 10 (adjacent lot/street for free)
concourses - 3
team shop - 4 (inside covered dining area)

best food - fish fry
most unique stadium feature - log cabin suites in right
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - Arcade Pumping toilet seat toss

field dimensions - 325/365/315
starters - Scott Benson (WAT) v. Brando Tessar (LAX)
opponent - Waterloo Bucks
time of game - 2:50
attendance - 3896
score - 3-2 W
Brewers score that day - 7-2 W

Brewers 71-51, +6.0 (4 v. Dodgers, 3 @ Mets, 4 @ Pirates, 3 v. Cubs)
Reds 59-62, -11.5 (3 @ Nationals, 3 @ Pirates, 3 @ Marlins, 3 v. Nationals)
Twins 53-67, -10.5 (3 @ Tigers, 4 v. Yankees, 4 v. Orioles, 3 v. Tigers)

Erik - 12
Peter - 35

Monday, August 8, 2011

Prince George's Stadium

All photos of Prince George's Stadium available on Flickr.

It's pretty much impossible for me to go on a summer vacation and not somehow fit a ballgame into it. I was in the DC area this past weekend with my fiance Lauren visiting friends and attending a wedding, and of course I immediately checked the local ball schedules after we booked our flights. The closest game I could attend in a stadium I hadn't yet been to was in Bowie, Maryland. Lauren stayed behind playing with her friend Claire and her baby, while Phil and I drove about a half-hour from Silver Spring southeast to Prince George's Stadium, where we met up with my friend Emilie from grad school for a little Sunday Night minor league ball.

Bowie is about 20 miles east of downtown DC, just beyond the Beltway and the end of the orange line, and is host to the Baysox, the AA-affiliate of the Orioles. As we read in the gameday program, all of the Orioles' affiliates are within about 4 hours of Baltimore, with only AAA-Norfolk actually playing outside of Maryland. It must be nice to be able to cut down on the moving and traveling if you're an O's prospect; however, Bowie seems to be just a huge suburb and nothing to write home about. The stadium is located off of a major highway and shares a parking lot with a restaurant and a Home Depot, which is a large indicator of just how rapidly the city has grown. For once, this was actually a stadium I was glad was not in an urban setting, because ballparks in outlying areas are generally cheaper, safer, and easier to get to. It was far enough outside of the Beltway that we didn't have to contend with the frustrating DC traffic, the free parking lot was a welcomed rarity in the metro area, and Prince George County does not exactly have a stellar reputation, so the lot also made me feel safe walking back to our car at night.

While most suburban ballparks boast ample parking and accessibility, they generally lack in aesthetics and context. Approaching the monumental front gate from the lot, I remarked to Phil how it actually reminded me of another O's affiliate park we'd been to in Aberdeen. I'm not sure if that's a coincidence or not. The inside was in a lot better shape than I thought it would be and gave the illusion of being "nestled" into a site because of the many trees beyond the outfield wall. It had the press box on concourse level behind homeplate like in Appleton, but unlike in Appleton there are actually suites, which look almost like motel rooms since they for some reason had curtains. The seating bowl is very tall and separated into an upper and lower section with an intermediate walkway halfway down. There is a a huge wall a few feet beyond the outfield wall laden with advertising that had to be at least 25 feet tall, which further contributed to that "nestled" feeling. There were only about two main concession stands, both of which featured the same items, but the food and beer they did have was very original and it was very hard to find even just your standard hot dog and light beer. The most unique part of the park was a children's carousel and an orange-and-white-striped, mini-golf-sized lighthouse in the right field corner. We got seats in the 2nd row right behind the 3rd base dugout and got to watch the carousel spin the whole game. Overall the setup was fairly memorable for a ballpark of that size.

Another unique thing about the ballpark is that it is pretty close to Fort Meade, so a bunch of guys from the military were there to present the colors and sing the National Anthem, which was pretty cool. It was also supposed to be "Happy Un-Birthday Night" at the ballpark but I never heard anything mentioned over the PA system about it, so that was kind of disappointing, but overall it was still a nice night for a ballgame after the rain subsided. The Baysox moved within a half game of first place in the Western Division with a win over the Fisher Cats, 5-3. I spent a fair amount of the game chatting with Phil and Emilie, whom I haven't seen in 4 years - much to the dismay of the sweaty old guy sitting in front of me that kept giving me the stink eye - so there were a few subtle aspects to the game that I missed. For instance, I see from the box score now that 2B Greg Miclat had 4 steals for the home team, giving him 46 on the season and putting him only a few away from breaking the all-time team record. Also, I knew that the starting pitcher Mike Ballard had a great game but had no idea that he racked up 10 strikeouts, en route to his 7th win of the season. Most of the offense came from 1B Joe Mahoney, who had a 2-run double in the 5th and also a sac fly. Steven Lerud also rang one off the right-field foul pole in the 6th for his 5th dinger of the year. One thing that didn't go unnoticed by me personally was the quality of the men in blue; it was such a relief to see good umpiring after what I've been subjected to in the Northwoods League for the past 2 months. The best part of the game was that former Phillie backstop Sal Fasano is the manager of the Fisher Cats and was also coaching 3rd right in front of us. His mustache is as glorious as ever, but he is not nearly as agile as he was in his playing days.

It was about an hour drive to Claire's house in Fairfax after the game, and what a wonderful way to cap off my vacation weekend back in my former city of residence. Random August stadium trip #2 is this coming Friday in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 6 (outside blah, inside not bad)
views from park - 4 (trees)
view to field - 10 (not much protective netting)
surrounding area - 2 (DC about 20 miles away)
food variety - 7 (bonus points for unique items)
nachos - 4
beer - 5 (about 10-12 kinds but expensive)
vendor price - 5
ticket price - 4 ($14 behind dugout)
atmosphere - 3
walk to park - 2
parking proximity - 10 (adjacent lot for free)
concourses - 4
team shop - 5

best food - giant hot dog w/ sauce + grilled onions
most unique stadium feature - carousel
best jumbotron feature - turtle shell shuffle
best between-inning feature - tee-ball homerun derby

field dimensions - 309/405/309
starters - Deck McGuire (NH) v. Mike Ballard (BOW)
opponent - New Hampshire Fisher Cats
time of game - 2:40 (0:29 delay)
attendance - 2156
score - 5-3 W
Brewers score that day - 7-3 W

Brewers 65-50, +3.0 (3 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Pirates)
Reds 55-59, -9.5 (4 v. Rockies, 3 v. Padres)
Twins 51-65, -10.5 (3 v. Red Sox, 3 @ Indians)

Erik - 11
Peter - 33

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

New Marlins Park 75% Complete

The Marlins have officially released a construction camera of their new ballpark through their website. Along with that, I also found a photo gallery of construction ranging from November 2010 through late July of this year, courtesy of Fox Sports Florida (see above). This yet-unnamed, 37000-seat ballpark is slated to open on the site of the former Orange Bowl in Little Havana for Opening Day 2012, and features a SAFECO Field-style retractable roof which acts as a canopy resting on two large piers off the back of the stadium when open.

Whereas in Seattle the roof covers a train shed when open, in Miami there is a plaza below. Other than this plaza, nothing about this park seems particularly impressive to me. I definitely appreciate the design straying from the retro style, as well as the small capacity, but from what I've seen so far from photos and renderings this ballpark is going to be pretty awful. It's hard to get a grasp on how a stadium will "feel" from aerial photos, particularly a domed stadium, but all that white metal aesthetic makes the stadium look monotonous, almost like a UFO. On the inside, the outfield configuration seems very arbitrarily angular, including a jumbotron that is for some reason rhombus-shaped. There is also a weird unidentifiable concrete oval in left-center field that Erik and I are hoping will be a marlin tank. I'll be keeping an eye on the construction over the remaining 8 months, but so far it looks atrocious and I am very disappointed.

That's not to say that we're not going to the inaugural season next year, because you know we are! Can't wait to take the bus from downtown into the hood to go to a ballgame here; I am most interested to see how the neighborhood around the ballpark takes shape in the coming years. We're hopefully going in April or May to beat hurricane season, but we have to be flexible since I'm now also planning a wedding.

Brewers 61-49, +3.5 (3 v. Cardinals, 3 @ Astros)
Reds 53-56, -7.5 (3 @ Astros, 3 @ Cubs)
Twins 50-58, -7.0 (3 @ Angels, 3 v. White Sox)

Erik - 11
Peter - 32