Monday, April 30, 2012

Bryce Harper makes MLB Debut

This past weekend, baseball's "chosen one" Bryce Harper made his much-anticipated major league debut in LA against the Dodgers.  The Nationals got swept out of town and the 19-year old phenom went 2-6 with a double, 2 walks, an RBI, and a fantastic catch in center field (which is not his natural position, by the way).  Aside from his stupid faux-hawk and excessive amount of eye-black, this kid just looks like he belongs, and whether or not he remains on the team the entire year, he should be a fixture in the Nats lineup for at least 6 years.  Here's an idea of his talent: he was booed in his first professional at-bat, usually an honor bestowed upon future hall-of-fame veterans.  It was never a matter of "if" with Harper, but "when," and there has been much debate as to when he should be called up - later in the season to keep him under team control for a 7th season, or early in the year to sell tickets and help what was already a good ballclub.  He wasn't exactly tearing it up at Syracuse at the time of his callup, but with Ryan Zimmerman going on the DL and Mark DeRosa not performing, the Nats were looking for a spark in their lineup, and they thought Harper could help sooner rather than later. 

Washington has been a trendy preseason pick to win a playoff spot.  As of Monday, they lead the NL in ERA and are tied for the division lead with the Braves.  Aside from maybe the Royals, this team I feel has the largest upside in terms of a core of young talent, but something that the Nationals have that KC will never have is money.  They have the wealthiest owner in baseball and have the power to lock up guys like Jordan Zimmermann, Steven Strasburg, Danny Espinosa, Michael Morse, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman, Drew Storen, and Harper to long term deals, - and some they already have - but at the same time, they also have the resources to spend a lot of money on free agents like Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche.  Look for this team to be major players at the deadline this year a la Pittsburgh last year to add some veteran pieces to the puzzle for a playoff push.

I wrote a post two years ago entitled "Nationals on the verge of Greatness," and then last year about how the Nats were over .500 all the way into July.  I liked the Nats in 2010, in 2011, and I still like them as a playoff contender for 2012 and beyond.  The potential has been building a little slower than I have thought, and was certainly delayed by Strasburg's Tommy John surgery, but this is the season the Nationals put it all together and win a playoff spot.  In the last three years, this team has witnessed the debuts of arguably the most heralded pitcher and position players in baseball since Dice-K and Ken Griffey Jr, and they have another stud pitcher that is on few people's radar in Jordan Zimmermann that has Cy Young potential.  I think the callup of Bryce Harper signifies much more than the start of a career; it signals that this organization believes that this is the year, and it represents the beginning of a great era of baseball in DC.

Brewers 10-12, -4.0 (3 @ Padres, 3 @ Giants)
Reds 11-11, -3.0 (3 v. Cubs, 3 @ Pirates)
Twins 6-15, -5.5 (3 @ Angels, 3 @ Mariners)

Erik - 2
Peter - 6

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ballpark Chasers

I've been a part of this group on Facebook called "Ballpark Chasers" for some time now, and it's been a great resource for me.  I've found out a lot about various ballparks I didn't know, and it is really great to share stories and ideas with people who share the same passion as me of trying to see a ballgame in as many stadiums as possible.  I recently also came across this article on ESPN that chronicles a few extreme ballpark enthusiasts.  I doubt that I will ever be in the same class as any of these people, but it's something to aspire to.  Not mentioned in the article is this guy Chuck Booth, who blogs on and holds the world record for fastest to see a ballgame in all 30 stadiums.  He did it in 24 days in 2009 and this year is doing the same trip x6 laps.  Another similar story came out in Milwaukee this past weekend about a 25-year old Brewer fan who has battled leukemia and a brain stem transplant, and the team is sending him to all 162 Brewer games this season, home and away. 

On the surface I might be jealous of all of these people who seemingly get to live the dream without monetary or time restriction, but deep down I am just proud that I can call myself a part of this special fraternity.  As of June 29th of this year in Miami, I can once again say that I belong to that elite group of fans who have attended a ballgame in all 30 MLB stadiums.  Some people might say that ballpark chasers are just wasting time and money, or that they don't have a life.  But who are we to judge what people do in their free time, as long as it's legal?  Erik and I have created so many great ballpark memories over the years, and for me it doesn't get much better than sharing a baseball game with friends.  We can only hope to continue visiting ballparks as our ballpark brethren, and I continue to feel grateful and lucky that I get to live such a dream with each passing year.

Speaking of which, these articles recently made Erik and I aware that neither of us had any idea how many ballparks we've actually been to.  We tallied our results from memory and E came up with 91 parks, and myself 99, including 77 together.  I'm so excited that my next ballpark will be my 100th!  I have several ideas of which park will put me at the century mark, but it will most certainly be in June sometime before we visit Marlins Park.

Brewers 7-9 (3 v. Astros, 3 @ Cardinals)
Reds 7-9 (3 v. Giants, 3 v. Astros)
Twins 5-11 (3 v. Red Sox, 3 v. Royals)

Erik - 2
Peter - 5

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Name the Lakeshore Chinooks Mascot

(Photo courtesy of Chinooks website, taken at team's launch party)

One of my submissions - Sammy Sturgeon - was selected as a finalist for the new Lakeshore Chinooks' mascot!  So everybody please go to and cast your vote for "Sammy" on the homepage!  Contest ends in May.  Hopefully I will win some free seats!

For those who don't know, the Chinooks are the latest team to join the 16-team Northwoods League of the summer collegiate circuit, and are based out of Mequon, Wisconsin, about 15 miles north of Milwaukee.  The team's majority owner is Jim Kacmarcik, the president of Kapco Metal Stamping, hence the new stadium's name of Kapco Park on the Concordia University campus.  The team is also co-owned by Brewers legend and Kapco spokesman Robin Yount, Brewers hall-of-fame announcer Bob Uecker, and Milwaukee Bucks GM John Hammond.  With this combination of local ownership and a brand new ballpark right on Lake Michigan not more than a half-hour from downtown Milwaukee, this team should most certainly draw near the top of the league's attendance for years to come.

Even though I live in Madison now, I'm very excited to get out and see the new park, and for the Milwaukee metro area to finally have the opportunity to experience collegiate summer baseball.  I think this new team is coming in at a great time, now being able to piggyback the success the Brewers have had at the gates in recent years, not to mention a probable partnership between the two teams.

Brewers 4-6 (3 v. Dodgers, 3 v. Rockies)
Reds 4-6 (3 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Cubs)
Twins 3-7 (4 @ Yankees, 3 @ Rays)

Erik - 2
Peter - 2

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Opening Weekend 2012

All photos of Snappers Home Opener and Brewers Home Opener available on Flickr.

The best day of the year has once again come and gone - Opening Day! The Minor League and Major League seasons kicked off in the US on Thursday, and Erik and I took in home openers for both. The 2012 season has some added excitement this year, as the Brewers look to defend their 2011 NL Central title while coming off of their best regular season in franchise history, winning 96 games and advancing to the NLCS for the first time in 29 years. This season is also exciting on the Tour front, as we celebrate our 5th Anniversary season.

An update on this year's trip to South Florida: tickets are purchased and flights are booked! We are flying into Fort Lauderdale on June 28th and leaving on July 1st, taking in a couple games in Miami's Little Havana and one at Roger Dean Stadium, home of the Jupiter Hammerheads. We also still plan on taking in a 5th Anniversary ballgame at The Cell, but are waiting for ticket prices to come down when the White Sox start backsliding, which should be soon.

This year I attended my 5th consecutive Miller Park home opener, and my 4th consecutive minor league opener. This year's Midwest League venue was the "lovely" Pohlman Field of Beloit. I was all set to hit up another Kernels opener and obtain the Mike Trout bobblehead giveaway (don't worry - I still got it on eBay), but my prayers were finally answered and I got a job back in Wisconsin! So the Snappers and Mallards are once again my homebase Midwest League and Northwoods League teams. An April game in Beloit was exactly how I remembered it - cold, empty, and a loss. I think most of my disdain for Beloit comes from the fact that it's always 38ยบ and a Snappers loss whenever I go. That's not to say that Pohlman Field isn't still a dump, because it is. Rumors are yet again afloat about a new downtown Beloit or Janesville park for the team. Nothing at the current stadium has changed, aside from the Leinie's Lodge now being sponsored by Suds O'Hanahan, whatever that is. Same food, similar promotions, even the same 1995 mascot costume for Snappy. I often complain about this park, but there's also a part of me that finds something about it endearing. I always enjoy coming back because of the very simple laid back experience, the affordability, and the good product the Twins organization always puts out on the field. It's just baseball and cheap concessions, and the Snappers don't try to fluff it up and pretend they're something they're not. I also told a local news station as much, as Erik and I were interviewed upon entering the park and obtaining our complimentary magnet schedules. The Snappers lost 5-2 on this day, mostly behind a 4-spot put up by the visiting Peoria Chiefs in the 3rd. Both teams tagged a lot of balls, but they died in the crisp cold wind. The Twins' top prospect Miguel Sano made his A-ball debut at 3B, after hitting .292 with 20 HRs in rookie ball last year. He took the collar, striking out twice. The Snappers made a game of it in the 9th, but there was no way we were going to stay for extra racks in the frigid weather anyways.

The following day brought the Brewers' season debut at Miller Park on Friday, which meant another Lenten tailgate crafted by the Nagel Family, featuring spicy shrimp and cheese pizza. Thankfully, Catholics don't seem to have a big hang-up about drinking on Good Friday. I'm anxious to see all of the changes at Miller Park this year, but from now where we were sitting in the 2nd deck I didn't notice much except for the new 2011 NL Central Champions banner. Aside from quadrupling the team's payroll in 8 years, owner Mark Attanasio has also put money into making Miller Park a more enjoyable fan experience. One of my biggest complaints about Miller Park over the years - the food variety - has been addressed by adding over 30 new foods and several new vendors over the past two seasons, including many Food Network entrees and adult helmet-sized nachos. For any new or veteran visitors to Miller Park, the outdoor patio food stand on the ground level, 1st base side, is absolutely incredible food. One thing I didn't get to see yet was the new team store which is supposed to resemble Bernie Brewer's chalet from old County Stadium, but I'm sure I will be hitting it up eventually to find me a $3 Casey McGehee t-shirt in the sale bin. 

My family, Lauren, and I had our usual 10-pack seats about midway up on the Loge Level, 3rd base side, and witnessed the Brewers Opening Day pregame rituals of player introductions, the Racing Sausages' First Brat Relay, and the National Anthem performed by the owner's dad. Yovani Gallardo took the ball for his 3rd consecutive Opening Day start, and also lost his 3rd consecutive in a decisive fashion, as he gave up 4 homeruns in only 3 2/3 innings. The Cardinals certainly seem like their offense will be able to sustain the loss of Albert Pujols, if their veterans can stay healthy and David "The Big Chill" Freese can keep up his torrid pace. The Brewers have also certainly held their own offensively without the departed Prince Fielder, scoring 21 runs in 4 games on the young season, including 3 homeruns by Corey Hart who played a grand total of 3 major league Spring games.  Despite the 11-5 beating, this would prove to be one of the more memorable Opening Days because of what transpired after the game.  On our way out to the parking lot for the customary post-game re-tailgate, fans were confronted with billowing black smoke from the north.  At first glance I thought nothing of it and assumed it was just a cloud of grill smoke, but after I got a good whiff I noticed it was burning plastic.  Apparently, the recycling center for the nearby Miller Brewing plant caught fire and ironically engulfed the area in noxious smoke.  Only a few minutes went by before it became hard to breathe, and we unfortunately had to cut the day short.  However, it would take a lot more than a home team loss and a burning building to put a damper on Opening Day for me.

Brewers 2-2 (4 @ Cubs, 3 @ Braves)
Reds 2-2 (3 v. Cardinals, 4 @ Nationals)
Twins 0-4 (3 v. Angels, 3 v. Rangers)

Erik - 1
Peter - 2