Friday, December 28, 2012

Tour 2013

46 days until pitchers and catchers report.  That day can't come soon enough.  In the meantime, here is what's on tap for us in 2013:

Our major trip that we are kicking around right now is centered around Kansas City.  We have once again attended all 30 parks, and there is really no team on the horizon that is getting a new park anytime soon, so Erik and I have interest and free reign now to revisit some parks and get more creative with our trips.  Kauffman Stadium underwent a huge renovation in 2008, and we've been itching to get out there and see the upgrades.  It would have been nice to go there last year when KC hosted the All-Star Game, but Marlins Park took precedent.  We really don't know much more at this point than we want to see a game at Kauffman.  As usual, a lot will just depend on Erik's ever-fluid job and time situation.  I'm hoping we can make a long weekend out of it and catch some minor league ball and visit the Negro Leagues Museum while we're down there.  And of course, lots of barbecue.

There are also a few smaller side trips we need to do.  Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton and Siebert Field at the University of Minnesota are both receiving extensive renovations slated to be ready for 2013, and Target Field is hosting the Big 10 Tournament this season, so those are all must-see.  We knocked out a big chunk of the Northwoods League tour last year, and Erik living in Minnesota again affords us the opportunity to get to places like Eau Claire, Alexandria, and St. Cloud that were previously out of reach.  I am also going to a wedding in Virginia in August that I am going to try to turn into a week long roadtrip and catch some ballgames on the way to and from.  So a lot of ideas for 2013 but nothing at all set in stone, which isn't really how I operate, but it is what it is.  The one thing I do know for certain is that the Brewers' home opener is on April 1st, and for the 6th year in a row I will be fortunate enough to attend.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the staff at The Houses That Erik & Peter Built!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ballpark Rankings Update

The first month of the offseason always leaves me in a reflective mood.  It's been 5 years since I last listed my favorite ballparks,  so I thought this blog was well overdue for a comprehensive review to date.  You can review my original post to see how things compare.  Since the 2007 tour, I have added 41 parks to my list for a grand total of 107, including all 5 new major league parks to stay current with the 30 teams.

MLB (subjective)

1.  PNC Park, Pittsburgh
I like PNC best for the outstanding view, 360º navigation, the surrounding area, great view to the field, great food, and the understated aesthetics.  The only real complaint anyone can ever have with this park is the attendance.

2.  Target Field, Minnesota
3.  SAFECO Field, Seattle
4.  Fenway Park, Boston
5.  Camden Yards, Baltimore
6.  Comerica Park, Detroit
7.  Citi Field, NY Mets
8.  AT&T Park, San Francisco
9.  Coors Field, Colorado
10. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati
11. Jacobs Field (Progressive Field), Cleveland
12. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
13. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City
14. Miller Park, Milwaukee
15. PETCO Park, San Diego
16. Nationals Park, Washington
17. Rogers Centre, Toronto
18. Minute Maid Park, Houston
19. Turner Field, Atlanta
20. Marlins Park, Miami
21. Yankee Stadium II, NY Yankees
22. Rangers Ballpark, Texas
23. Chase Field, Arizona
24. US Cellular Field, Chi White Sox
25. Wrigley Field, Chi Cubs
26. Dodger Stadium, LA Dodgers
27. Busch Stadium III, St Louis
28. Angel Stadium, LA Angels
29. Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay
30. McAfee Coliseum (O.Co Coliseum), Oakland

MLB (objective based on 1-10 ranking system in 14 categories)

1.  PNC Park [7.93]
2.  Progressive Field [7.64]
3.  Camden Yards [7.43]
4.  Target Field [7.36]
5.  Coors Field [7.14]
6.  Miller Park [7.00]
7.  Comerica Park [6.86]
8.  AT&T Park [6.86]
9.  Minute Maid Park [6.79]
10. SAFECO Field [6.71]
11. Fenway Park [6.71]
12. Citizens Bank Park [6.71]
13. Wrigley Field [6.64]
14. PETCO Park [6.57]
15. Nationals Park [6.36]
16. Turner Field [6.36]
17. Rangers Ballpark [6.36]
18. Busch Stadium III [6.36]
19. Angel Stadium [6.07]
20. Rogers Centre [6.00]
21. Citi Field [5.86]
22. Chase Field [5.86]
23. US Cellular Field [5.64]
24. Yankee Stadium II [5.57]
25. Great American Ballpark [5.29]
26. Kauffman Stadium [5.29]
27. Tropicana Field [5.21]
28. Marlins Park [4.71]
29. Dodger Stadium [4.57]
30. O.Co Coliseum [3.79]

Spring Training / GCL / AZL / AFL Top 5

1.  Camelback Ranch (Cactus)
2.  Salt River Fields at Talking Stick (Cactus)
3.  Tempe Diablo Stadium (Cactus)
4.  Goodyear Ballpark (Cactus)
5.  Maryvale Baseball Park (Cactus)

MiLB Top 10

1.  Parkview Field, Fort Wayne (low-A)
I like Parkview best for the amazing concessions and team store/branding, beautiful masonry work, its use as year-round facility, and its function as an urban development catalyst.  Miles ahead of #2 on the list, a must-see.

2.  Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville (AAA)
3.  Richmond County Bank Ballpark, Staten Island (SS-A)
4.  AutoZone Park, Memphis (AAA)
5.  Modern Woodmen Park, Quad Cities (low-A)
6.  Isotopes Park, Albuquerque (AAA)
7.  Fifth Third Field, Dayton (low-A)
8.  Philip B Elfstrom Stadium (Fifth Third Bank Ballpark), Kane County (low-A)
9.  Historic Grayson Stadium, Savannah (low-A)
10. Bricktown Ballpark, Oklahoma (AAA)

Independent / Amateur Top 5

1.  Haymarket Park, Lincoln (AA)
2.  Bosse Field, Evansville (Frontier)
3.  Silver Cross Field, Joliet (Northern/Frontier)
4.  Wildwood Baseball Park, Sheboygan (NE Wisconsin)
5.  The Corn Crib, Normal (Frontier)

NCAA / Summer Collegiate Top 5

1.  Warner Park, Madison (Northwoods)
This is my favorite ballpark to attend, on any level.  Best atmosphere in all of baseball.

2.  Witter Field, Wisconsin Rapids (Northwoods)
3.  Copeland Park, La Crosse (Northwoods)
4.  Wade Stadium, Duluth (Northwoods)
5.  Marge Schott Stadium, University of Cincinnati

Favorite Ballpark Cities

1.  Seattle, WA
2.  Memphis, TN
3.  Toronto, ON
4.  Boston, MA
5.  Savannah, GA
6.  San Diego, CA
7.  Duluth, MN
8.  Vancouver, BC
9.  Milwaukee, WI
10. Cincinnati, OH

**I will post Erik's list when available.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Playoff Field is set

You thought last year's drama on Game 162 was wild, how about this year?  Miguel Cabrera secured the first Triple Crown in 45 years with a .330/44/138 line, and in doing so also probably locked up the AL MVP, and the Athletics completed the sweep of the Rangers to move in to first place for the first time all season and clinch the NL West title.  Whoever bet on the Orioles, A's, and Nationals to all go to the playoffs this year, and for the Nats to end with the best record in baseball, is a millionaire right now.  All three are exciting teams to watch.  I have a soft spot in my heart for the Nats since I lived in DC for a period of time, and for several years I've thought the A's were just about to turn the corner, so it's good to see that their all-rookie rotation was able to hold it together.  And who doesn't love Buck Showalter?  I love the parody of baseball and how a healthy farm system and young pitching is just as powerful in this sport as money is.  I'm really excited to see the smaller market teams go as far as they can in the playoffs, and of course I will be rooting for the Reds to win the World Series.  Wow, I am going to be blowing a lot of money on playoff gear this year!  And as an aside, I just want to say that I am really proud of my Brewers for digging themselves off the scrap heap and getting back into the hunt.  They got to within 1 1/2 games of the Wild Card with 2 weeks left in the season and got me really excited for next season.

#4 Braves v. #5 Cardinals
#1 Nationals v. Wild Card winner
#2 Reds v. #3 Giants

#4 Rangers v. #5 Orioles
#1 Yankees v. Wild Card winner
#2 Athletics v. #3 Tigers

World Series prediction: Nationals defeat A's in 5

Preseason Predictions
#1 Reds
#2 Phillies
#3 Diamondbacks
#4 Brewers
#5 Nationals
Diamondbacks over Reds in NLCS

#1 Angels
#2 Rays
#3 Tigers
#4 Yankees
#5 Rangers
Rangers over Tigers in ALCS

Diamondbacks defeat Rangers in 7

Brewers 83-79, -14.0, 3rd in NL Central
Reds 97-65, +9.0, winner NL Central (NLDS v. Giants)
Twins 66-96, -22.0, last in AL Central

Erik - 33
Peter - 40

Monday, September 24, 2012

End-of-Season Grabbag

As is customary, here are a few miscellaneous stories I've been following that I wanted to get out there before the end of the season:

- There was an interesting and insightful story on (I know, I'm as shocked as you) about actual attendance versus paid attendance at a ballgame.  It talks about how teams will always announce the paid attendance but that doesn't necessarily mean that is how many people are in the stands.  This article was written particularly in response to the fact that the Red Sox supposedly have a consecutive sellouts streak remaining in tact, when in fact anybody who watches a game can easily tell the park has seats available.  Erik and I always have sort of a running joke, particularly when we go to Beloit Snappers games, of how we can physically count the number of fans in attendance but the number announced is always way more than that.  Things like donated tickets, standing room seats, suites, and even people who just buy season tickets but don't show up, all factor into actual attendance numbers.

- Speaking of the Snappers, in 2013 I will be watching them play not as an affiliate of the Minnesota Twins for the first time.  The Twins signed a new PDC with Cedar Rapids this past week, displacing the Angels who had previously resided there for nearly 20 years.  The Twins had had their A-ball affiliate in Beloit since the Brewers left in 2005.  There's been a lot of shuffling in the Midwest League this year as teams scramble to find a better fit for the future of their organization.  The Cardinals have returned to Peoria after an 8-year absence, and the Cubs made a sensical geographic move in putting their team in Kane County.  Burlington and Beloit are two of the worst attended ballparks in the minors, and Erik and I agree it will be a fight to the finish to see who's left standing in these two unfortunate situations.  With the case of Beloit in particular, I wouldn't be surprised if the next MLB parent to reside there will already have a plan in place to move the team or build a new park.

- Congratulations to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, who took home their first Midwest League title in franchise history!  I was proud to attend a victory in one of their first round playoff games a few weeks ago.  With this new hardware, a major stadium renovation next year, and an extended contract with the nearby Brewers, exciting times are in full swing in Appleton.

- In a long overdue ceremony, "Mr. Baseball" himself Bob Uecker received a bronzed 8' tall likeness of himself outside of Miller Park last month.  Despite all of the fame he has attained over the years in movies and television, Mr. Uecker has always stayed true to his roots in Milwaukee, and calling Brewer games on WTMJ radio has always been his first love.  Brewer fans recognize the struggles to keep prominent stars in town because of its market size, and in cases like Ueck, are always proud to honor its "homers."  I wish I could have seen the ceremony in its entirety, but with Bob Costas as MC and a speech by Uecker that went way past its alloted time, I can only imagine how hilarious it was.  I saw the statue at a game last week and it looks great next perched next to the other Milwaukee legends of Bud Selig, Robin Yount, and Hank Aaron.

Brewers 79-73, -12.5, -2.5 WC (3 @ Reds, 3 v. Astros, 3 v. Padres)
Reds 92-61, +10.0 clinched NL Central, (3 v. Brewers, 3 @ Pirates, 3 @ Cardinals)
Twins 64-89, -17.5 E (3 v. Yankees, 3 v. Tigers, 3 @ Blue Jays)

Erik - 31
Peter - 40

Monday, September 17, 2012

Brewers Making a Late-Season Push

Say what you want about the additional 2 wild cards, but nobody can deny that it certainly has created more excitement for the last month of the season. If it weren't for these additional playoff spots, the National League would have pretty much been locked up 6 weeks ago, and many fans would have switched to preseason football.  At the beginning of August, the Braves were coasting, the Pirates finally looked like they were going to get things together, and the Yankees had a 10 game lead in the division.  But now here we are, with 16 games left in the season, and all of sudden we have tight races in 4 of the 6 divisions, and in 3 of the 4 wild cards.  As of September 17th, 19 of the 30 teams still have a legitimate chance of making the playoffs, and this is exactly what Selig wanted when creating the additional wild cards - more parody, more playoff money, and more excitement down the stretch for more cities.

Leading the charge of the second-half surgers are the white-hot Milwaukee Brewers, who I believe have won something like 22 of their last 28 and are trying to give the Cardinals a taste of their own medicine pulling within 2.5 games of the 2nd wild card.  Everybody, myself included, counted the Brewers as dead after an embarassing sweep in Philadelphia in July and trading Zack Greinke shortly thereafter.  With a rotation that at one point featured four rookies, the Brewers have clawed and scratched their way out of a hole and proved doubters wrong.  The offense has been remarkable all year and has been the most exciting I have seen in a long time - they're smart hitters, they hit in the clutch, they hit for power, they run the bases aggressively, and they steal bases.  The Brewers lead the league in homeruns, extra base hits, slugging, and are 2nd in steals.  Starting pitching has also been pretty solid since May, and the defense should turn out at least one gold-glover in Aramis Ramirez.  Corey Hart, Martin Maldonado, Norichika Aoki, and Jean Segura all began the year either not starting at their current position or were in the minors, and have all stepped up to play great D as well.  And Ryan Braun has followed up his 2011 MVP campaign with another MVP-quality season, but that rests in the hands of the voters and the team's performance.  The Brewers always seem to put together a run in August and they've been very exciting to watch lately.  Anyone who has watched the Crew this year knows that the bullpen is probably the sole reason the Brewers are not leading the division right now.  They lead all of baseball in blown saves, so it is not surprising that the key to the resurgence has been the relative stability of the relief core.  If the bullpen can hold it together for another two weeks, the Brewers have a legitimate shot at this, because the three teams ahead of them - Dodgers, Cardinals, and Pirates - all look lifeless right now.  The upcoming 10-game roadtrip to Pittsburgh, Washington, and Cincinnati will be the ultimate test to determine if this team truly is good enough to make any noise in the playoffs.

Brewers 74-72, -13.5, -2.5 WC (3 @ Pirates, 4 @ Nationals)
Reds 88-59, +11.0 (3 @ Cubs, 3 v. Dodgers)
Twins 60-87, -20.0 E (3 @ Indians, 3 @ Tigers)

Erik - 31
Peter - 40

Monday, September 10, 2012

Midwest League Playoffs

All photos of MWL West Quarterfinals Game 3 available on Flickr.

I visited Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wisconsin for the first time since 2009 on Friday to take in some playoff ball.  Both Wisconsin teams - the Snappers and the Timber Rattlers - were in the Midwest League playoffs this year, so I knew there was a good chance I would get to go to some game this weekend.  I chose Appleton even though it was further way, because I wanted to see the Brewers' minor league affiliate.  Beloit has since been eliminated, and Wisconsin has advanced to the Midwest League Championship!

I was surprised to find that parking has been jacked up to $5 since I was last there, how ridiculous for A-ball!  What was also ridiculous was the small crowd for this 1st Round elimination game.  Yes, there was a substantial rain delay and it was kind of cold, but still.  I got a seat right in the front row along 3rd base and, aside from my row, it was not very crowded, even despite it being dollar beer & dog night.  Not much has changed at Fox Cities Stadium in the last 3 years.  I suppose it doesn't matter though, because the ballpark is slated to begin construction on a $6 million renovation starting the day after the playoffs end, to be ready for the start of the 2013 season.  So, I'm not going to bother updating the rankings of the ballpark until Erik and I make a return visit next year.  There were renderings of the renovation in the display case in the atrium, and it looks like there will be some nice additions.  Three things that this ballpark lacks - exterior aesthetics, a continuous concourse, and a suite level - will all be addressed with this renovation.  I am hoping that the team store remains in tact for the most part, because I was amazed by the selection of Appleton Foxes retro gear and I am totally wasting a bunch of money on that stuff if they still have it next year.  They just don't design ball team logos and fonts like they used to.

Rain delayed the game by about an hour, but it was well worth the wait.  The T-Rats tossed their 2nd consecutive CG shutout in the 3-0 victory over the Bees.  This win gave Wisconsin a 2-1 series victory over Burlington, and advanced them to the 2nd round against Clinton (whom they recently swept 2-0).  David Goforth was masterful, scattering only 4 hits over his complete game, and striking out 9.  For the most part it looked he was only throwing an average slider and about 93-mph heat, but something in his delivery must have been fooling Bees hitters.  Back-to-back solo jobs by Ben McMahon and Nick Ramirez in the 4th were all the T-Rats would need to secure victory, although they did add an unearned run in the 5th.  There was a really interesting moment in the 5th when DH Cameron Garfield was clearly hit by a pitch on the hand, but the umpires got together and determined it hit the bat.  After 10 minutes of arguing by the manager/3rd base coach, Garfield was not even able to finish the at-bat because he couldn't grip the bat.  So either the T-Rats staged an elaborate injury hoax, or the umps blew a call.  After that calmed down, not too much excitement til the end, when Goforth fanned 5 of the final 6 batters he faced en route to victory.  The team now awaits the winner of the Fort Wayne-Lake County eastern finals.  Go Timber Rattlers!

Brewers 69-71, -14.5, -6.0 WC (3 v. Braves, 3 v. Mets)
Reds 84-57, +8.5 (3 v. Pirates, 3 @ Marlins)
Twins 58-82, -17.5 (3 v. Royals, 3 v. White Sox)

Erik - 29
Peter - 39

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Rocket is Back!

This is sort of old news now, but I haven't had a chance to report on it yet.  Roger Clemens, who was recently acquitted of perjury in Federal court, has decided to make a comeback of sorts.  He threw 3 1/3 innings of scoreless ball for the Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League a couple weeks ago, and has signed on to take the mound again this Friday.  This league appears to run a few weeks later than most independent leagues so technically he could make a couple more starts for the Skeeters, but myself and many important people in baseball believe that this is the first step before eventually signing on with a big league team, perhaps even before the end of the season.  Having won 7 Cy Youngs, and arguably being one of the top 5 pitchers of all time, Clemens really has nothing left to prove on the baseball field.  So what is the motivation here?  He claims it is just for fun and because he was already keeping in shape anyways - despite whether or not you believe he took PEDs, he is renowned for his work ethic.  And speaking of PEDs, that is the added layer to all of this.  If he was truly doing this for fun, he wouldn't have rushed in to try to pitch this season.  His goal is to try to get back to the majors this season to delay his Hall of Fame eligibility by 5 years, plain and simple.  He saw that he could still throw 88 and that the Astros were so bad that they might sign on for this publicity stunt, so he's taking a chance and seeing what his 50-year old body can handle.  Nothing is set in stone and obviously Clemens is not going to tip his hand, but I would be very surprised if he does not suit up for Houston before the season is over.

My own personal view on this is, I don't blame him for trying.  He's always had a need to be liked, and I think it is important to him to try to restore his good name.  By appearing in a game this year for an MLB club, his original 2013 eligibility date for Cooperstown would be pushed back 5 years, and it would give writers and voters a longer period of time to either forget what has happened, or rethink his career.  I think that there are always going to be a core group of voters that will never ever vote for anybody even associated with PEDs, so I don't think it will do much.  But players like A-Rod, Jason Giambi, and Mark McGwire have already gone through this stunt trying to clear their names by coming clean, and I think that is Roger's best option here.  If he wants to keep pitching he needs to come clean and take that doubt out of everybody's mind, and allow voters to vote solely based on his merit as a ballplayer.  If he didn't do PEDs that's fine, but I find that hard to believe given his renaissance beyond the age of 35 with the Blue Jays, Astros, and Yankees.  Even if he juiced every day, I still love Clemens and think he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.  My view on it is that you have to assume 95% tried steroids at least once in the 1990s, so just like with any other era, you have to vote for the best players of that time, and you also need to take into account how good the players were at their peak.  For instance, Clemens had 3 Cy Youngs and Barry Bonds had 3 MVP awards before the age of 30, which is typically the age when ballplayers start to decline.  If you throw everything out past that, they both still had really good numbers, even before they remarkably continued to improve into "old age."  Yes, steroids is cheating I understand, but just like you can't hold it against certain pitchers who pitched in the dead ball era, or threw spitballs, or played when the mound was higher vs. today's pitchers, I don't think you can hold it against players who excelled during an era when everybody took steroids and felt like they had no choice but to take them if they wanted to compete.  PEDs can't make you throw a splitter on the black or square up a baseball, they only improve strength and longevity.  I hope that eventually voters will agree with me and that Roger Clemens gets into the Hall of Fame someday, even if it takes a scherade like he's doing now.

UPDATE: It was announced today (Wednesday) that Roger's oldest son, Koby, was granted his release by the Toronto Blue Jays organization and subsequently signed by the Sugar Land Skeeters.  He will be in uniform on Friday night to catch his dad's 2nd start for the Skeeters, for what I'm sure will be the first father/son battery in professional baseball history.

Brewers 65-69, -16.0, -7.5 WC (4 @ Marlins, 3 @ Cardinals)
Reds 82-54, +8.5 (3 v. Philles, 3 v. Astros)
Twins 55-80, -18.5 (3 @ White Sox, 4 v. Indians)

Erik - 29
Peter - 38

Monday, August 27, 2012

Midway Stadium

All photos of Minneapolis and Midway Stadium available on Flickr.

One thing I've learned in the past month is that if there's something in your life you're meant to do, ignoring that inclination is fooling nobody but yourself.  For Erik, I know one of those things has always been moving back to Minnesota.  I know that he loved it there and has really missed it since college.  This past weekend was finally the moment when he got to reunite with the Twin Cities, and I helped him move up there.  Erik and I have both lived as nomads since The Tour, but hopefully he can settle into a nice life there now, and I wish him the best of luck.

Now, when I say "I helped him move," really it was just dragging a mattress and a suitcase up the stairs.  Most of our time was filled with ballgames, and a healthy amount of beer.  A lot of the details of Friday night are blurry, but I do remember that it was the most fun I've had in a long time, and that we identified many key watering holes near his apartment that we will be frequenting upon my next visit.  Saturday was a more standard E & P day - Food Show eatery, brewery, ballpark.  After trying to recollect the evening, we eventually stumbled to Kramarczuk's, the Eastern European deli that provides the sausages for nearby Target Field, and has also gained national notoriety from its appearance on Diners Drive-Ins & Dives.  There is both a restaurant part and an actual delicatessen, and it was pretty spectacular.  A lot of the foods there I remember from my German and Polish heritage, just with different weird Croatian names.  We then made our way to Fulton Brewery, across the street from Target Field.  This is a local brewery that just opened this year; it was started by four guys who homebrewed in a garage and decided to take their passion to the next level.  I didn't really enjoy the beer fully because I was still in pain from the night before, but the space has a lot of potential.  At this point, we figured since we were gradually inching our way towards the ballpark anyways, we might as well take a lap.  We noticed a few new subtle additions around the exterior and then hit the team store.  You can't go to the ballpark in Minneapolis and not go to Hubert's, so we paid our respects there for a drink, and then headed east to Saint Paul.

Midway Stadium is one of a handful of ballparks that we attended in the dark "pre-blog" days, and this weekend was our first visit back together since 2006.  It was built in 1982 and apparently derives its name from being "midway" between the Minneapolis and St. Paul city centers.  I always thought it was because it is near the Midway of the Minnesota State Fair, but not according to Wikipedia.  The St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association are in their 20th season as a tenant of Midway Stadium.  It is not a stretch to say that the Saints pretty much put independent league baseball on the map, and helped create the template for the family-fun atmosphere of baseball as it is today.  This is due in large part to the famously wacky yet visionary ownership group of Bill Murray and Mike Veeck, son of Bill Veeck, who still own the team today and helped revive several dying independent leagues.  Another reason the atmosphere is crazy is to compensate for factors that would run just about any other team into the ground: awful stadium, crappy site, surprisingly higher prices, and a big league team with a beautiful ballpark 10 miles away.  The Saints have always been able to draw well because of their good humor and fun promotions, because certainly nobody is going out there to experience Midway Stadium.  It's cramped, it has poor circulation, and it is well beyond its functional life as a modern ballpark.  In fact, Veeck has proudly proclaimed that Midway is the "ugliest stadium in America" and they have promotions celebrating this fact.  A good example of St. Paul Saints humor is that the PA guy makes light of the fact that the stadium is inconveniently wedged 20 feet from an industrial rail line by yelling "Train!" as one passes by, which is often.  The St. Paul franchise truly is one of the innovators, and all the antics and promotions you've ever witnessed at a minor or independent league game are a dumbed-down version of the Saints. 

The Saints played a 4-game series with playoff implications against the Winnipeg Goldeyes, formerly of the now defunct Northern League, and Erik and I went to two of those four games.  Saturday night was a tribute to "20 Years of David Letterman" to coincide with the Saints' 20th season.  It was a matchup of staff aces, and unfortunately the Goldeyes' pitcher had the better night, nearly tossing a complete game.  Long-time Saint Ole Sheldon had a homerun for the hometeam and has developed a ridiculous Craig Counsell ca. 2007 batting stance since I Iast saw him play in 2010.  The most memorable part of the game was that Michael Coles of the Goldeyes got hit by pitches twice on the same hand and somehow stayed in the game.  Erik and I were both very surprised that there were not fireworks after the game, we've come to expect that now, but as I said before the Saints really go by the beat of their own drum.  Sunday's match was a hot one and we had to keep cool with several frosty Killebrews following our tailgate in the street.  Winnipeg won again to take a 2-1 lead in the series.  The starting pitchers were about average and there was a lot more offense in this game.  The Goldeyes hit a lot of high fly balls to the outfield, and two of them left the yard, including Barbaro Canizares' first of the year to dead-center.  The Saints staged another threat in the 9th as they did on Saturday night but fell 8-2.  Sunday's loss left the Saints 2 back of the Goldeyes for the wildcard spot as the season comes to an end on Labor Day.

Despite everything fans love about the unique atmosphere, in the end it's still about turning a profit, so the team is pushing to procure financing from the state to build a new ballpark in downtown St. Paul to make the team a little bit more viable.  So, to experience the real atmosphere of a Saints game, you might want to get out there in the next couple of years. Because, as we've seen with new parks like Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, it is often difficult to recreate the experience when moving into a new facility - although the Saints do definitely deserve an upgrade, and the schematic design looks amazing.  I look forward to dragging Erik out of the library during a potential return visit to see the new stadium.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 2
views from park - 4 (increases to 10 when fire dept test building is on fire)
view to field - 4 (lots of foul ground)
surrounding area - 2 (Minnesota State Fair)
food variety - 5
nachos - 3
beer - 5 ($5.50 for 16 oz, local brews, souvenir cup)
vendor price - 5
ticket price - 3 ($13 box seat)
atmosphere - 9
walk to park - 3 (lawn next to train yard)
parking price/proximity - 4 (adjacent lot $6, street is free)
concourses - 1
team shop - 6 (only a tent but cool stuff)

best food - steak sandwich
most unique stadium feature - trains rolling by during game
best jumbotron feature - PBR ad
best between-inning feature - "Karaoke with a real Japanese guy"

field dimensions - 320/400/320
starters - Andrew Walker (WPG) v. Robert Coe (STP); Chris Salamida v. Luke Anderson
opponent - Winnipeg Goldeyes
time of game - 2:50; 2:56
attendance - 6041; 5070
score - 5-2 L; 8-2 L
Brewers score that day - 4-0 L; 7-0 W

Brewers 59-67, -16.5 (4 @ Cubs, 3 v. Pirates)
Reds 77-52, +6.0 (3 @ Diamondbacks, 3 @ Astros)
Twins 52-75, -19.5 (4 v. Mariners, 3 @ Royals)

Erik - 28
Peter - 38

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Corn Crib

All photos of Normal and The Corn Crib available on Flickr.

The past couple of weeks have been pretty depressing for me.  My fiance Lauren and I broke up, and Erik has been on "vacation" in New Hampshire and North Carolina with his girlfriend Katie, so I've found myself alone watching a lot of Little League World Series quintuple-headers on ESPN.  Perhaps driving 3 hours into rural Illinois isn't the best way to curb loneliness, but I can always find solace in a trip to the ballpark.  My first option for how to fill my free Saturday was to attend Game 3 of the Northwoods League World Series in La Crosse, but unfortunately for me the Loggers swept the series on Friday night.  After weighing my options, Normal it was.

The ballpark in Normal is ironically anything but normal.  This 3rd-year stadium is octagonal-shaped in order to accommodate the soccer team of the local community college.  Other than maybe RFK in DC, it's the only other ballpark I've seen that is multi-purpose built primarily for baseball.  Although there is a ton of foul territory out of necessity, the seating bowl and layout of the concessions are most suited for watching a ballgame.  Another obvious quirk is the 100% synthetic turf playing surface.  Perhaps this was installed because of budgetary concerns, or perhaps because the stadium is used for several sports, but either way, it is weird.  This is now the 2nd all-turf stadium I've seen this year and I still need to get used to it.  At least at Kapco Park the pitcher's mounds were dirt, at The Corn Crib even those are turf.  I watched the last inning of the game by the bullpen and asked one of the CornBelter pitchers what he thought of the turf mounds, and he told me he preferred it to dirt because you don't have to worry about divots, which makes sense.  This is another one of those ballpark issues where I'm torn between my lives as a baseball fan and an architect.  As a fan, I find it atrocious that a team has to play on fake grass, even fake dirt.  But as an architect, I recognize what an incredible waste of water, money, materials, and labor it is to install and maintain an 3-acre field for one sport.  If you also take into account the cheap building materials and the wind farms in the area, I really applaud Normal for their innovative and sustainable design solution.

What further supports this sustainability concept is that there is corn planted outside the ballpark and over the right field wall instead of absent-minded landscaping (the only grass on the entire property are berms in the outfield).  The corn is not just there because there is an abundance of it in the area, or for aesthetic reasons; the team's main sponsor is the Illinois Corn Farmers Association.  Everything here - the name of the stadium, the team name, advertisements, the concession stand names, even the mascot - all works in congruence with the team's sponsorship very thoroughly.  There are even ethanol commercials on the jumbotron and corn facts on banners strewn around the ballpark.  In an obvious gesture, there are also several foods containing corn at The Corn Crib.  I had a corn dog and an ear of corn for dinner and both were among the best I've ever had.  The rest of the concessions were wide in variety but nothing really unique other than the corn.  My favorite part of the park were the little patio areas they had spread throughout the concourse.  These areas were probably just ways to use up dead space, but I thought they were well done and not tacky.  In particular, the beer tent above the 1st base seating seemed like a great social space.  Seeing as I was like the 9th person to enter the ballpark, I had plenty of time to investigate these areas.

Getting to the park so early also allowed me to obtain a seat in the first row behind homeplate.  At the time of first pitch, it was so quiet I could hear the radio announcer in the booth behind me calling the game, but eventually the stadium got to about 1/3 full and the din was replaced by zany between-innings entertainment.  If you are not a fan of goofy non-baseball related antics and rowdy mascots, then you will definitely not enjoy a CornBelters game.  This is sort of the norm at minor/indepedent league games now and I've grown accustomed to it, but even this was a little too much for me.  There were two mascots, Corny the Cornasaurus and Reggy the Purple Party Dude.  One of them was lazy and fat and mostly just got in people's way, and the other one talked in a Pee-Wee Herman-esque voice and was very obnoxious and did stupid things on the field.  When I wasn't distracted by the mascots, it was actually an outstanding game.  In true Frontier League fashion, it was a pitcher's duel most of the way.  The visiting Rockford starter gave up only 1 run over 8 innings.  The Normal starter Tyler Lavigne scattered 12 hits over 8 1/3 and left 11 runners stranded.  The CornBelters' manager was solely to blame for this loss.  After escaping jams for 8 straight innings, Lavigne was allowed to come back out for the 9th despite having well over 100 pitches.  He promptly gave up the lead, and the manager finally went to the pen for a sidewinding lefty.  He got his man out but then was for some reason left in the game to face a right-handed hitter, despite a righty being up in the pen, and allowed the go-ahead run to score.  The Riverhawks would go on to add 3 more in the top half of the frame, and closed out the 5-1 victory in the bottom half with the most underhanded submarine pitcher I've ever seen in my life.

Following the game, I got a pretty awesome photo through the corn in the outfield, and decided not to blow money on a motel and headed back to Madison.  With this trip, I've now driven the entire length of I-39 in the past month, from Wausau to Normal.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 2
view to field - 5 (seats far away)
surrounding area - 4 (Illinois State, Heartland CC)
food variety - 8 (lots of choices but nothing unique, bonus points for funnel cake)
nachos - 6
beer - 4 (only one stand with non-Bud products)
vendor price - 7
ticket price - 6 ($11 box seat)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 2
parking price/proximity - 7 (adjacent lot $2)
concourses - 7 (partially blocked view to field, but nice patio niches and active entry space)
team shop - 4

best food - anything containing corn
most unique stadium feature - 100% turf playing surface
best jumbotron feature - opposing batter songs correspond with their names
best between-inning feature - Reggy, the obnoxious auxiliary Saturday-only mascot

field dimensions - 328/400/328
starters - Ziggie VanderWall (RCK) v. Tyler Lavigne (NRM)
opponent - Rockford Riverhawks
time of game - 2:54
attendance - 2003
score - 5-1 L
Brewers score that day - 4-3 L

Brewers 54-66, -19.0 (3 v. Cubs, 3 @ Pirates)
Reds 74-48, +6.5 (4 @ Phillies, 3 v. Cardinals)
Twins 50-70, -15.0 (3 @ Athletics, 4 @ Rangers)

Erik - 25
Peter - 35

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Naming a Minor League Team

One of my favorite things about minor league baseball is participating in Name the Team/Mascot contests for a chance to score free tickets and notoriety. It is not uncommon for minor league teams change their name or logo/mascot when moving to a new ballpark, city, parent club, or league to symbolize new beginnings. Recently, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees announced just such a change for next year when they move into their newly renovated stadium. The team requested new name submissions that reflected the history of the area and represented the Scranton area well. These are the finalists: 

Black Diamond Bears
Trolley Frogs 

These choices left me feeling disappointed, and if I was a fan of this team I would be downright angry. I emailed the Marketing Director of the SWB Yankees to voice my displeasure and he basically responded with "thanks for your opinion, the support of the community has been great." I'd like to know who is supporting these choices, because they are terrible. I mean, what the hell is a Black Diamond Bear? Would anybody be proud to call themselves a Trolley Frog? It seems like the formula these days to name teams is to precede a type of animal with an adjective or some sort of noun reflective of the city. Iron Pigs. Silver Hawks. Sea Wolves. This method ranges from lazy to nonsensical. Hockey is even worse, because those teams just add "Ice" in front of something, like IceHogs. I don't know about you, but I don't view neither a wolf in the sea nor a pig on ice as striking fear into an opponent. Let's go through the rest of these choices. Blast - what is this, the WNBA? Team names should never be a present-tense verb, they should always be the plural form of a noun, no questions asked. No more Lake Elsinore Storm or Greenville Drive (the only exception is Swing of the Quad Cities, because that was pretty much the greatest minor league team and uniform combination of all time). Are Fireflies and Porcupines even associated with northeast Pennsylvania? I appreciate that these are unique, I mean there are only so many Dog or Cat or Bear teams you can have. But if you're going to name a team Porcupines or Flying Squirrels or Blue Wahoos, that name better ring true with every resident of that town as being very familiar. Nobody in Milwaukee questions why their team is the Brewers. That really leaves RailRiders as the most logical choice by deductive reasoning. I might still be apt to choose Porcupines just because I imagine the mascot being hilarious.

It's time for fans, and ultimately teams, to step up to the plate and start thinking of better names. Although it's not a minor league team, one of my favorites new names of the last few years has been the Chinooks of the Northwoods League. It's marketable, everybody understands it, it's unique, it has a sense of civic pride, and it lends itself to a fun mascot. RailRiders could be successful in the same ways, although there are several team names prefixed by "rail," so loss of creativity points there. From what I can gather, Scranton is known for coal mining, railroads, and papermaking. Miners. Engineers. Papermakers. It's not that hard. It doesn't need to be complicated with superfluous words like "Red Miners" or "Paper Bears." I just hope that in this case, the management will do what the Akron Aeros did last year and come to the conclusion that there is absolutely nothing wrong with their original name, in this case the Scranton Red Barons.

Brewers 52-62, -16.5 (3 @ Rockies, 4 v. Phillies)
Reds 69-46, +5.0 (3 v. Mets, 4 v. Cubs)
Twins 50-65, -12.5 (3 v. Tigers, 3 @ Mariners)

Erik - 24
Peter - 34

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

He Can Run, He Can Hit, and now He Can Drink

Happy 21st birthday to Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels.  Not too many players have made an impact on the game as quickly as Trout has before even being able to pull up a stool at the bar.  With the hype of Brett Lawrie last year following the Shaun Marcum trade and the metoric rise of Bryce Harper this year, Trout managed to fly under the radar amongst his young brethren when he was called up in April, particularly because the Angels were so terrible at the time.  But he has been a sparkplug and has led the Angels to the best record in baseball since early May.  That's right, I said "led"...a 20, now 21, year old kid is leading this team.  Not the $250-million man Albert Pujols, or the 15-1 Jared Weaver, but Mike Trout.  Even after spending the first month of the season in the minors, as of this post, Trout leads the AL handily in steals, runs, batting average, is 2nd in slugging, 3rd in on-base, and is playing a Gold-Glove caliber outfield.  He's all but a shoe-in for the Rookie of the Year and there needs to be serious consideration to him in the MVP conversation as well.  He is on pace to have the greatest rookie season of all time, not to mention one of the best seasons of all time, period.  With the way Trout has energized this team, especially taking the pressure off of Pujols, this kid really exemplifies the term "Most Valuable Player."

I had the fortune of seeing this kid play a few times in Cedar Rapids when I lived in Iowa, before the guys upstairs realized it was a waste of time to keep him in low-A any longer.  When watching such young kids you don't really notice great talent that often, but I definitely remember Trout standing out for the 2010 Kernels.  Trout hit over .400 in his time in CRapids, and him along with Alexi Amarista and Casey Haerther made for a fun team to watch that was worth the 45-minute drive.  Lawrie seems to have attitude problems, and I can already tell that Harper is going to need to shorten his swing to succeed in this league, but Trout continues to improve.  He's got a short, powerful stroke and he plays with a passion that is refreshing to see in today's game.  I'll be watching the Angels every chance I get this year, and I will be rooting for him to become only the 3rd player in Major League history to win the ROY and MVP in the same season.

Brewers 49-59, -16.5 (3 v. Reds, 3 @ Astros)
Reds 66-43, +3.5 (3 @ Brewers, 4 @ Cubs)
Twins 48-61, -12.5 (3 @ Indians, 3 v. Rays)

Erik - 23
Peter - 32

Monday, July 30, 2012

Northwoods League All-Star Festivities

All photos of NWL All-Star Game & Homerun Derby available on Flickr.

The Northwoods League All-Star Game was played at Warner Park this year, and I had tickets to the game as part of my 7-pack.  I was super excited to see this game, and particularly the homerun derby.  The Mallards also hosted the game at "The Duck Pond" in 2008, but I came in from Milwaukee for that game so I missed the derby.  This year, it took place immediately prior to the game, so I got to be a part of a homerun derby for the first time ever in person.  Erik and I got to the park at about 5:30 for a 6:00 start and immediately obtained the giveaway Pilot Maynard bobbleheads (in reference to the Dane County Airport sponsor) and a couple cold ones and found a spot on the lawn in left field.  Only the Mallards would give away a bobblehead at an all-star game, and it is definitely one of the top 5 favorites in my collection (it now proudly sits on my desk at work next to my Admirals Uecker doll).  I was surprised how few people were actually at the derby, but I suppose there were a lot of people still working or who might have not even known about the derby.  The berm area started to fill in as the contest went on, but we were still able to run around pretty easily and caught a total of 3 homerun balls.  I thought for sure with the short porches down the lines that the record of 33 bombs in Wisconsin Rapids would be shattered, but 24 was enough to win it for 1B Trevor Podratz of the Rochester Honkers. Tyler "T-Money" Marincov was the home team participant and unfortunately had the poorest showing of the 8 contestants with 2 in the first round.  I'm pretty certain that Warner Park is the only ballpark in the league with outfield seating, so I imagine this contest is pretty lame everywhere else, but Erik and I had a great time.

On to the game, the South Division All-Stars won a wild one, 4-3.  The North took a 2-1 lead on a throw from right field that had the runner nailed by 30 feet but the catcher dropped the ball.  The South regained the lead 3-2 in the 6th on back-to-back solo jacks, but the North responded right back to tie the game on a questionable call by the umpire.  The South appeared to get out of a bases-loaded jam with a 1-2-3 double play, but the home plate ump ruled that the catcher never had his foot on the base, so the tying run was allowed to score.  Later amidst the confusion, the other two runners for the North were wandering towards the dugout because they too assumed it was a double play, but the South 1B made a heads-up play and tagged one of the stray runners to complete the 3rd out and end the inning.  The following inning, Tyler Marincov made up for his poor HR Derby showing with the game-winning homer to left.  He was the only player to play the entire game, and was awarded the game MVP for his efforts.  As of last week, he was leading the league in BA and HR and top 3 in RBI, so he's put together a nice little season despite primarily hitting leadoff for the Mallards.  We had great seats right behind the visitors dugout and it was an awesome game to watch from up close.  To see all these kids who've probably never met talk shop and goof around with each other, it really reminds you that baseball is meant to be fun. 

My recommendation to the league for next year would be to bring in a ringer from Thunder Bay to sing "O Canada," because every game I have been in which the Border Cats were an opponent, the anthem has been horribly, horribly botched.  I think at least at the All-Star Game, you should show a little respect and not just have some hobo out there reading a notecard.  If all else fails, I'll volunteer myself, I have it on my iPod.

NWL All-Star Game rosters

first half winners - Mankato (N), La Crosse (S)
MVP - Tyler Marincov (MAD)

pitchers of record - Alex Tukey (W), Patrick Goelz (L)

attendance - 6073

stadium - Warner Park, Madison WI

Brewers 45-56, -16.0 (3 v. Astros, 3 @ Cardinals)
Reds 61-40, +3.0 (4 v. Padres, 3 v. Pirates)
Twins 43-58, -12.0 (3 v. White Sox, 4 @ Red Sox)

Erik - 22
Peter - 31

Monday, July 23, 2012

Athletic Park

All photos of Athletic Park and Stevens Point Brewery available on Flickr.

I never thought I'd be visiting central Wisconsin twice in one summer, but such is the life of a ballpark chaser.  Erik & I drove north to Wausau on Friday night to cross another Northwoods League ballpark off the list.  Athletic Park is another old WPA gem and has been one we've wanted to see for quite some time.  Erik is mostly free on weekends now and the Woodchucks were home every Friday in July, so it worked out great that we could find time for the 2 1/2 hour drive.  Wausau sits at the end of I-39 and is about a half-hour north of Wisconsin Rapids, and it is cities like these two that truly give the league its name "Northwoods."  The city is beautifully nestled at the base of the forested Rib Mountain in the Wisconsin River basin, and is familiar to people in my profession throughout the Midwest as the home of Wausau Supply, Wausau Windows, and Wausau Tile.  Our shadytown hotel of this trip had a good view to the mountain and woods all around.  We made really good time up to the 'Sau, so we had the opportunity to drop off our bags at our nicer-than-expected room.  I'm not sure how many more of these roadtrips Yeller has left in her, but miraculously after 150 miles on the road, she managed to restart and not overheat and we made it to the park about 10 minutes before first pitch.

Athletic Park truly has one of the more unique perimeters and settings you will ever see for a ballpark.  We parked on the street and approached the front gate from the west, and the entire block was lined with stone masonry walls with turrets.  It wasn't as imposing to the similar situation I experienced in Duluth because the walls here were only about 8 feet tall and you could see back of the bleachers hovering beyond them.  As we arrived at the front gate, we noticed that the ballpark was right smack in a residential neighborhood, and I envy those residents.  I don't know the history of whether the park or the houses came first, but it is very strange to go to a ballpark surrounded by single-family houses.  Wrigley Field is the only stadium I know of that comes close to the setting of Athletic Park.  In fact, to get a picture of the front gate in its entirety, I had to walk across the street and stand in front of a guy's yard.  The front gate was my favorite thing about the park. It just had that old-timey look of Bosse Field or Wade Stadium that was at a much more personal scale, back when you used to be able to see the team offices and press box above from the outside.  The front gate and the stone perimeter take you back in time to 1936 when the ballpark was built, during an age when quality masonry, smaller intimate scale, wood framing, and cramped concourses were the norm in ballpark construction.  Again, similarly to Bosse Field, you sort of enter into a "bunker" for lack of a better term and have to ascend onto the seating level.  Most of the concessions and bathrooms are crammed under the bleachers in a herky-jerky fashion, with only one stand built-in and the rest on carts.  The Woodchucks have also made the customary Northwoods League improvements to the ballpark, adding a tally scoreboard and party deck in left, and a huge beer tent in right with picnic seating.

Our seats were in the 2nd row right behind home plate, but we moved to the 1st base side because a railing was in our line of sight.  We sat entirely alone in this section for much of the game because the sun sets in left-center field at this stadium and was directly in our eyes - probably a good reason it does not host an affiliated team anymore, the last of which was the Wausau Timbers who moved out in 1990.  We were both confused why the games would start so early at 6:35 when the setting sun is such a problem, but thankfully it was not 100º like it has been for much of July.  Another deficiency of the ballpark is that it is very small, only about 315' down the lines and 360' to center.  This kept the extra-base hits to a minimum in this game as the Woodchucks squeaked by the Eau Claire Express 4-3 in 11 innings to maintain a 2-game lead in the division.  Eric Filia-Snyder had the game winning hit for the 'Chucks on a bases-loaded seeing-eye single and went 3-4 on the night with 2 RBI.  The starting pitcher for Wisconsin was mowin' em down with 6 strikeouts and only gave up 1 hit but for some reason he only went 4 innings.  The highlight of the game was something that Erik & I have not had a chance to do since the Tour - be a part of the on-field entertainment!  We were asked to participate in a game in which we competed against each other in an air-guitar contest after the 6th.  I rocked out pretty hard but it ended up being too close to call by the applause-o-meter and no winner was announced.  I walked away with grass-stained jeans as a reminder for my efforts (which I at first assumed was mustard) and it was cool to sit in the field-level umpire room for a few outs really close to the action before we went on the field.  Other than the size and orientation of the stadium and maybe some canopy repair, Athletic Park seems to be in pretty good shape and serves as yet another example of an old stadium that has outgrown its use as a competitive minor league field, but serves as a more than adequate home of a collegiate summer/amateur team.

After the game, we were treated to a dangerous fireworks display shot out of a pickup truck in center field and unfortunately had an uneventful night afterwards.  We were looking forward to hitting this brewpub after the game, but it was closed because the game ran about 4 hours long, so we just had a beer at a different bar that was also closing before turning in for the night.  The nightlife and apparent short window of bar time in Wausau was very disappointing.  Our night was redeemed the next day though when we stopped in Stevens Point on the way home to tour Point Brewery.  $3 here gets you an hour long tour with unlimited samples and a free can coozie, one of the better tours I've been on.  There was also a tent sale there that day, but we didn't find anything of interest so I just bought a 6-er in the team store and we got back to Madison around 3pm on Saturday.

That's probably it for the Northwoods League tour this summer.  I did 3 new ones this year and we both have 11 current and 12 overall NWL ballparks crossed off of 16.  Erik is moving back to Minnesota for grad school next month, so we should easily be able to hit Alexandria, St. Cloud, and Eau Claire in the next couple seasons.  That would leave the two geographic oddballs to round out the league, which are both over 4 hours to the nearest team in the circuit: Thunder Bay, Ontario and Battle Creek, Michigan.  Talks continue about expanding the league to 18 teams, and cities in play include Kalamazoo MI, Waukesha WI, Kenosha WI, and suburban Minneapolis.

UPDATE March 2013: Erik calculated Athletic Park to be his 100th ballpark attended!

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 8
views from park - 2
view to field - 3 (many obstructions)
surrounding area - 4 (residential)
food variety - 3
nachos - 9 (pulled pork & bbq sauce)
beer - 8 ($4.75 silos)
vendor price - 8
ticket price - 9 ($6 GA)
atmosphere - 6
walk to park - 6 (along stone walls, residential)
parking price/proximity - 6 (adjacent streets for free)
concourses - 2
team shop - 3 (several stands, no store)

best food - pulled pork nachos
most unique stadium feature - stone walls, main gate
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - us in the air-guitar contest

field dimensions - 316/360/317
starters - Kye Winter (EC) v. Austin Stadler (WIS)
opponent - Eau Claire Express
time of game - 3:58
attendance - 1566
score - 4-3 W
Brewers score that day - 3-1 L

Brewers 44-50, -10.5 (3 @ Phillies, 4 v. Nationals)
Reds 55-40, +0.5 (3 @ Astros, 3 @ Rockies)
Twins 40-55, -11.5 (3 @ White Sox, 3 v. Indians)

Erik - 18
Peter - 27

Monday, July 16, 2012

Ben Sheets Returns to the Mound

Former Brewer and 4-time All-Star Ben Sheets threw his first pitch in the major leagues in nearly 2 years on Sunday, tossing 6 innings of shutout ball in a win for the Atlanta Braves over the New York Mets.  Despite the long layoff, he was still touching 92 on his fastball.  He looked very much like the Sheets of old from the very first batter: working at a brisk pace and sporting the signature 3/4 length T, painting the corners, and snapping off 12-to-6 curveballs.  It seems that with the season-ending injury to Brandon Beachy and several underacheiving rookies on the staff, that Ben will be given every opportunity to help the Braves get back in the division race - at least until his arm falls off.

Sheets' road to recovery has been remarkable given a history of injuries that can be rivaled only by Mark Prior.  He has missed 2 of the last 3 complete seasons due to arm surgeries and has missed a significant amount of time almost every season since his debut in 2001.  When Sheets is healthy and on his game, he is a huge strikeout threat (he actually still holds several Brewer strikeout records), but a lifetime of injuries makes Ben the classic example of "what might have been."  Sheets never thought he would throw another pitch after his failed 2010 experiment in Oakland, but after a brief courtship and a couple starts in AA, he is in uniform for his childhood team, the Braves.  Despite all of his hardships, he is still only 33 years old.  I think I speak for all Brewer fans when I say that I hope Ben Sheets can manage to keep his arm together with pins and duct tape and go out on his own terms.  I saw Ben pitch at his best during his remarkable 2004 season, and I saw him give Brewer fans eight great seasons on some awful teams, during an era when nobody wanted to play in Milwaukee.  He helped the Brewers make it to the playoffs in 2008 for the first time in 26 years.  He is still one of the best and most memorable players I have ever seen don a Brewer uniform in my lifetime, and I hope he can show the fans of Atlanta something special for one more season.  I'll be rooting for him and I hope to see him pitch at Miller Park in September one more time.

Brewers 42-46, -8.0 (3 v. Cardinals, 3 @ Reds)
Reds 50-38, +1.0 (4 v. Diamondbacks, 3 v. Brewers)
Twins 36-52, -13.0 (4 v. Orioles, 3 @ Royals)

Erik - 16
Peter - 25

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Prince is King, Kemp Flops at Home Run Derby

Prince Fielder defeated Jose Bautista last night in the Home Run Derby at Kauffman Stadium by belting 12 homeruns in the final round, and 28 altogether.  Mark Trumbo also put on a power display, but Fielder by far hit the most impressive homeruns, sending several into the fountains in right-center at 450+ feet.  It was Fielder's 2nd Derby win in the last 4 years, as he also won in 2009 at Busch Stadium as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.  The National League really missed his bat in the lineup this year. 

For the past few years, home run derby participants have been selected by a captain in each league, and Matt Kemp's NL squad this year was pretty embarrassing.  A guy who hits at Coors Field, a guy having a great year but not known for his power, a 35-year old, and also Kemp himself was injured.  First of all, hey Matt Kemp, way to participate in the Home Run Derby before even doing a rehab assignment, no wonder you barely made it to the warning track.  Maybe you should, you know, heal your injury and put your own team (who is in a pennant race) first before messing around in an exhibition contest.  And secondly, way to not select the NL leader in homeruns and reigning MVP to be on your team.  "I didn't ask him because I heard he didn't want to participate"...that's baloney.  We all know you're still sore about losing the MVP award.  You might think you're better than Ryan Braun, but you're not.  It was only 2 years ago that you were hitting 7th in Joe Torre's lineup and everybody in LA thought you were an underacheiveing arrogant jerk, you're not fooling me with your 1 1/2 good seasons that - what a surprise - you started after you got your huge contract.  Braun is putting up MVP numbers again and you're on the DL, and you need to stop pouting about it.  Take a lesson from Braun and have a little class.  And hey, nice gold shoes and white blazer, way to dress like a guy who doesn't know what to do with his millions of dollars.  You can take another lesson from Braun and learn how a guy who makes far less than you dresses in style.

I also don't even understand why there are "captains" if there is no sort of contest pitting the NL versus the AL, and if they are never going to pick a hometown guy.  And there is also a spot on the all-star ballots to vote for Derby participants, do the captains just say screw you I'll pick who I want?  Why is that even on the ballot then?  The Derby is really fun to watch, but it is too long and there is too much politics in it.  It needs another facelift or it will go the way of the NBA Dunk Contest, and I would hate to see that happen.  Maybe they can follow in the footsteps of the Eastern League Home Run Derby and add targets and a party onto the field.

Brewers 40-45, -8.0, 4th in NL Central (3 v. Pirates)
Reds 47-38, -1.0, 2nd in NL Central (3 v. Cardinals)
Twins 36-49, -11.0, last in AL Central (3 v. Athletics)

Erik - 15
Peter - 24