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 100ยบ 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

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tour 2012: Marlins Park

All photos of Miami and Marlins Park available on Flickr.

Reaching our final destination of Miami on Friday was bittersweet.  We were one step closer to seeing Marlins Park, but on the other hand, the dream was over: we had to return the rental car.  In our haste to find transportation to our hotel, I accidentally left the Chinooks blanket I obtained a couple weeks ago in the backseat.  I know what you're thinking - why the heck do you need a blanket in Miami anyways?  Well, shortly after reserving what we thought was a steal of a deal right downtown 3 months ago, I soon began to uncover poor review after poor review of the hotel.  I'm not just talking like "oh it's a little outdated" or "the staff is rude."  I'm talking about wet sheets, stained carpet, bed bugs, and theft.  The hotel was so cheap that we really had no choice but to take our chances with it, so I remembered to bring a blanket in case the beds were less than sanitary.  In lieu of a shuttle, a bus, and 2 trains, we took a $30 taxi ride directly to the hotel from the Miami airport.  We got out and made note of the missing letters from the "River Park Suites" sign and the lion statues keeping watch outside the front door.  We walked through the tacky polished brass trim doors and hoped for the best.

They actually had a record of our reservation and the staff was helpful, so it was a good start.  Honestly, had we just walked in there with no prior knowledge of the hotel, I would have thought it was pretty bad; the place clearly has not been redecorated, updated, or fixed in probably its entire lifespan.  But our room was a huge suite on the 12th floor and it was mostly clean, plus the hotel had a pool, so it was good enough for us.  I was relieved to head for the park on Friday afternoon knowing we had comfy, clean beds to return home to.

Our hotel was about 2 miles from the park so we decided to hoof it, and on the entire round trip to and from the game we saw maybe three people on the street, and two of those were hobos.  It was amazing to me how deserted and vacant the downtown was, and the state of the neighborhood immediately surrounding the stadium.  Marlins Park is in an area known as Little Havana, and although I didn't feel unsafe it was certainly a depressed area.  It's very weird to approach the park through Little Havana and see this "spaceship" looking building plopped down on the horizon.  Most of the newer parks are either built in the middle of nowhere or in an urban area, but Marlins Park is a different dynamic.  It is built on the former site of the old Orange Bowl stadium, where there is already an existing residential neighborhood built up around it.  Whereas the Orange Bowl was a city landmark that responded to the style and energy of the neighborhood and was mostly used for football, Marlins Park is obviously a baseball stadium used 81+ times a year and its exterior does not at all relate to its surroundings.  I am a big believer in buildings relating to their site and culture, whether literally or figuratively, and nothing about Marlins Park exterior screams "Miami" to me.  The one faint reference to the area are letters spelling MIAMI ORANGE BOWL strewn about the periphery of the stadium, arranged in such a way as if the stadium "landed" on the site and displaced the letters in an explosive fashion.  The letters stick out of the ground at different angles and depths and I thought it was a clever way for the Marlins to make light of the situation; although, if you didn't know what the letters meant before you got to the park, you would probably never guess what it spelled.  It just put me in a sort of reflective mood before I got into the park, how sometimes cities and teams are willing to stop at nothing to build a new stadium.  It's sad that a city icon, not to mention dozens of homes, had to be razed just to make room for an imposing ballpark and some stark parking garages.  I worry that the city will threaten the character of Little Havana and displace thousands of residents through gentrification, and that would be a shame.  For now at least, residents here seem to be embracing the team, as they encourage passersby to park on their lawns for a modest fee.  Only time will tell, but I sincerely hope that moving forward, the ballpark can organically serve as a gathering space and haven for the neighborhood, instead of a place where people drive in from the suburbs for a ballgame and leave immediately after, as it is currently being used.  Perhaps more than any other ballpark, Marlins Park has a social responsibility to co-exist with its surroundings and not to simply impose its will just to make money.

Let me just get off of my soapbox here and get into describing the park.  As I eluded to, architecturally this park really would look just the same on Mars as it does in Miami.  Its large glass walls, white concrete and metal, and stained glass windows may relate a little bit to downtown Miami, but not at all to Little Havana, and I think that more attention could have been paid to this.  However, I do appreciate that the Marlins tried something different, and I recognize the challenge they had of building on this particular site in such a short window of time.  They could have either tried to replicate the art-deco aesthetic of the Orange Bowl (as when the Yankees basically copied their old park), or could have taken the easy way out and cranked out another masonry retro-style park, neither of which I think would have been appropriate solutions.  The exterior skin wraps the building with a round horizontal emphasis and it is very nondescript.  It is hard to know where you are in relation to homeplate or anything else around the stadium and no one particular side is different than the other.  The only glimpse to the inside is an open wall behind the Clevelander, a bar in left field with scantilly-clad waitresses and a hot tub.  The main gathering place of the park is on the west side, where there is a plaza in between two giant towers that hold the open retractable roof.  The roof of Marlins Park opens similarly to SAFECO Field, in that it slides open one way and hangs over the side.  Whereas in Seattle the roof just rolls over some train tracks, Miami makes good use of the roof as it shades an outdoor plaza.  The Marlins hold post-game concerts and events in this plaza and it is also where the main entry and the team store are.  After the long walk to the park, we escaped into the air conditioning of the team store and I bought my typical souvenir ball, as well as a Marlins cap.  At about 5pm, we went to get in line at the main gate to enter the stadium, assuming it was like most parks that open gates 2 hours prior to first pitch, but at Marlins Park it is 1:30, so we had to sweat it out for awhile.  Once we finally got in, we were handed free programs and had to ascend ramps to the main concourse.  The giant posts that support the roof also double as structures that house these entry ramps.  I didn't like that there were no escalators going up to the main level and I thought it was very weird that the outside was so plain with no hierarchy.  Had this park not had the plaza outside, I really would not have known where the main entry was.

Once you get inside, it's easy to understand why the outside is monotone.  The concourses and outfield walls are full of vibrant colors and this is the first real taste you get of Miami flare.  The outfield walls are lime green and are very noticeable from everywhere in the park.  The concourses are also colorful, but not in a random way - the stadium has 4 or 5 different sections of color-coding, and this helps greatly with the wayfinding issue on the outside.  I thought it was a very creative idea to know where you are in the park instead of having to look for stadium section numbers.  We had great seats in the 9th row behind the 1st base dugout on Friday night, and we dropped off our stuff here and walked down to the front to watch the visiting Phillies take BP.  After shouting some encouraging words to Chase Utley in his return from the DL and attempting to get a good picture of the fish tank behind home plate, we returned to our seats to find my souvenir bag stolen.  I'll give the Marlins team staff the benefit of the doubt and assume it was a jackhole Phillies fan, but at the time I was understandably upset, so I needed some food and a beer to calm down.  All of the good food and beer is tucked in the left field area.  Back here, there is a large bar and a large standing-room section with a great view behind you to the city through the glass sliding panels, and the "Taste of Miami" stands are all hidden back here with the local ethnic specialty foods.  We did a couple laps around the park and were surprised to find that the rest of the park has mostly standard foods and mostly Coors Light and Corona.  We were also surprised that the only references to Marlins history in the entire stadium were some World Series photos above a hot dog stand and the "Bermuda Triangle" 430-foot corner in left-center, an ode to Dolphin Stadium.  The Bobblehead Museum we had heard so much about is on the concourse behind home plate.  It's this large oval glass case that is constantly shaking gently so that the bobbleheads are always bobbling, something I aspire to build for my collection one day.  There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the bobbles they have in the case or why this is even at the ballpark, but that seems to be the theme of this place.  I was happy to locate about 20 bobbleheads that I personally own in the case, including many Brewers ones.  After a few pictures, I filed a meaningless complaint with Guest Services about my stolen bag, and we headed down to our seats for the game.

Tonight's match pitted staff aces Josh Johnson and Cliff Lee against each other.  We didn't get to see the crazy automated statue go off for a Marlins homerun, but it did go off after the Marlins won 6-2.  Cliff Lee didn't make it out of the 5th inning and remarkably remains winless now through the first 3 months of the season.  Justin Ruggiano was the star for the home team, going 3-4 with a 2-run double and playing a great centerfield.  Hunter Pence went yard for the Phillies in the loss.  After the game, we got to see the roof open up, close-up views of the fish tanks behind home plate, and the homerun statue in action.  It's actually a lot less corny than it is in pictures - marlins made of wood light up while swirling around and creating splashes, it was actually pretty cool.  After the roof was fully open and all of the cool air had exited the stadium, we started the long, desolate walk home.  Now having walked through nearly 5 miles of the city and seeing nothing of interest, we finally had to ask the concierge at the hotel for a decent place to have a drink.  He directed us south over the river to a nighttime hotspot.  It wasn't really our bag, but it was nice to finally find someplace open with people.

On Saturday, we checked out of the hotel around 11:30 and tried to find a cool burger joint to have lunch at.  All of the DDD and hamburger places I could find were too far away, so we ended up relaxing at this riverside Irish bar and watched the boats go by for a couple hours while enjoying some ice cold El Presidente.  We got back to the park at about 2:30 for a 4:10 first pitch.  I re-visited the team store and made sure to keep my souvenir close at hand for the entire day this time.  Erik also bought an official patch and ball.  Our seats for this game were in right field, but we decided to explore the upper deck before we sat down, after being thrwarted by one particular usher that was animate we needed an upper deck ticket to access the level.  We got some good views of all the dead grass from up here but all in all the upper level was unspectacular.  We descended back to the main level and invaded the Taste of Miami food stands for lunch.  I had the snapper sandwich with onions and Erik went with the cuban sandwich.  Both were delicious, although I thought the cuban sandwich at Target Field was much better.  The Taste of Miami stands also feature other Miami delicacies including conch fritters, yellow rice & beans, and fresh oysters.  After finishing my sandwich, I got refill #2 on my large soda on this scorching hot day, and we settled in for another good ballgame.  Game 2 featured another good pitching matchup, Mark Buehrle versus Cole Hamels.  Buerhle pitched a tough 7 innings and racked up 7 strikeouts in the 3-2 win.  The Marlins would go on to win again on Sunday to sweep the series.  In Saturday's game, Giancarlo Stanton went yard, so we finally got to see the statue go off during the game.  As in Friday's game, Hunter Pence went yard for the Phillies and Justin Ruggiano had another good day at the plate for the Fish.  We spent the final 3 innings of the game watching from the left-field standing room section by the bar and had to deal with an obnoxious Phillies fan who basically thought every player on both teams was terrible.  I made the mistake of telling him that Jim Thome had been traded during the game and had to talk to him for awhile.  Unfortunately, Thome didn't have an at-bat in either game, and it was the 2nd game this week that Erik and I attended during which a player was traded.

The roof opened again after the game and we had another long walk back to the hotel.  We had probably walked about 10 miles total so far on this trip, but we had one more long walk for the evening, as we finally found a decent area of town - Bayside.  It's kind of like the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and it somewhat salvaged my opinion of Miami after two boring and hot visits to the city.  We did a little barhopping here and ended the night by polishing off a 5-for-$25 bucket of Coors Light at Hooters.  It was an adventure the next morning as we nearly missed our flight because we didn't know that the train to the Fort Lauderdale Airport only runs every 2 hours on Sundays.  We got to the airport just as our plane was boarding and somehow made it back to Madison in time to catch the 5:05 Mallards game to cap off another great trip.  Overall, besides all the walking around in the oppressive heat, we had a lot of fun.  Marlins Park definitely had some missed opportunities on both the interior and the exterior, but just about anything would be an improvement over playing in a football stadium.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 6
views from park - 7 (Miami skyline through left field windows)
view to field - 6 (most seats in outfield/upper deck are slightly obstructed)
surrounding area - 2 (Little Havana)
food variety - 5
nachos - 6 (hearty chips with queso)
beer - 3 ($8 for 16 oz, mainly 4 kinds of beer)
vendor price - 2
ticket price - 6
atmosphere - 5
walk to park - 1 (long, deserted)
parking price/proximity - 4 (adjacent, lots of traffic getting out, we walked)
concourses - 7
team shop - 6

best food - Taste of Miami stands
most unique stadium feature - automated homerun statue, fish tanks behind home plate
best jumbotron feature - fan locates Billy Marlin with video camera
best between-inning feature - The Great Sea Race

field dimensions - 344/418/335
starters - Cliff Lee (PHI) v. Josh Johnson (MIA); Cole Hamels v. Mark Buehrle
opponent - Philadelphia Phillies
time of game - 2:50; 2:20
attendance - 28246; 31311
score - 6-2 W; 3-2 W
Brewers score that day - 9-3 L; 10-2 W

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tour 2012: Roger Dean Stadium

All photos of the Jupiter Hammerheads and GCL Cardinals games available on Flickr.

Erik and I spent 3 days in hot and sweaty South Florida, and we can once again count ourselves among those devoted baseball fans who have been to all 30 current MLB stadiums!  Not before we squeezed in some minor league ball, however.  Our trip began on Thursday with an early flight from Milwaukee to Fort Lauderdale.  The plan for the first day was to rent a car and drive up the A1A (Beachfront Avenue!) to Jupiter to catch a game at Roger Dean Stadium.  When looking for cars to rent, I snatched up the opportunity to drive a convertible for quite possibly the first and only time in my life.  It was one of the cheaper rental options for some reason and we got a black Chrysler 200.  I don't know anything about cars but I thought it was pretty sweet ride, although it was no Yeller.  It took us awhile to figure out how to put the top down but by about 4pm, we were off.  The A1A ended up being a very slow ride up the Atlantic coast and we did not have the luxury of time on our side as we did on the Tour to cruise down the PCH, so we unfortunately had to switch over to the interstate.  We checked into our hotel a few miles from the park and got to the gates at what we thought would be just in time, but it turned out the game was at 6:30 and not 7, so we were a little late.  Arriving late proved to have some benefits though.  We didn't feel rushed to get inside and got to see most of the exterior, and Erik was able to find a foul ball outside since the game had already started.  The guy in the ticket booth for some reason generously gave us the child/student rate and we finally walked into the park in the bottom of the 2nd.

I was shocked right away with how many people were in the concourse.  Knowing that Florida State League games are frequently roasting hot and/or rained out, we were expecting a very small crowd on a weeknight.  In our only other FSL experience in Dunedin, it was so empty and quiet we could hear people coughing on the other side of the stadium.  It turned out the Hammerheads drew a great crowd of well over 1,000 for Dollar Dog Beer & Soda night.  We went to our seats for a few innings before getting food in hopes the lines would die down, but such was not the case.  Between arriving to the park late and waiting in the concession line, I probably missed a third of the game.  The fact that the Hammerheads only had 3 small carts open for $1 dogs led me to believe that the large crowd was in fact an anomaly, because clearly they were not prepared for this many people.  The concessions and the concourse were a joke.  The lines were terrible for everything and there were food carts instead of proper stands, so the food lines cramped into the aisle way, and it should have went much faster since everybody was just getting hot dogs and beer.  There was also only one spot in the right field corner that had handicap access up to the seating bowl and only one set of bathrooms that I found.  The one nice part of the concourse was there was a pretty good team store that had plenty of gear from both of the FSL tenants, as well as their parent clubs who use "The Dean" in the Grapefruit League (Marlins and Cardinals).

The outside of the park certainly had a Florida-esque flare with its use of colors, archways, stucco, and many palm trees for shade.  But the inside was not unlike any other minor league park of its size.  FSL parks are sort of unique because as I mentioned, they often double as Spring Training sites.  At Roger Dean Stadium, you will find a nice jumbotron, nice clubhouses, back practice fields, prominent team offices, and a larger seating capacity than you might see in any other A-ball league, and I'm sure several other FSL parks are the same in this regard.  I was kind of surprised that there were not more fan amenties since it does also get used for Spring Training.  It certainly was not a bad experience but the most memorable part of the night for me was the game itself, not a fancy stadium.  I guess many baseball purists would argue that this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Erik and I have been to so many ballgames now, that they all kind of blend together for me after awhile.  Erik tends to be much more attentive to the actual games than I am, whereas I care more about the architecture and experience of the ballpark.  There are those games once in awhile though that I can't help but remember, and Thursday night's game was one of them, despite only seeing 6 innings of it.  Christian Yelich and Jacob Realmuto both went deep twice and combined to knock in 10 of the team's 11 runs in the win over the St. Lucie Mets.  It was definitely the most homeruns I've ever seen in a minor league game, and probably also the most hard-hit balls I've seen.  Lots of balls to deep center and line drives in the gap.  Between college summer ball and the Brewers I haven't exactly been seeing a lot of high-talent ball lately and it was very refreshing to be there for this hitting display.  Yelich also chipped in 2 singles on the day to finish 4-5 and Erik has informed me that he is playing in the Futures Game next week during the All-Star Break.  Marcell Ozuna, the league-leader in homeruns, did not run into one tonight but did have a hit.  The future looks bright for the Marlins if these kids can keep it up and they don't get traded.  Both starters only went 5 innings but the Hammerheads starter got the win due to the fortune of this good hitting.

After the game, we hit up this quaint avenue behind the ballpark for a few drinks.  We spent most of our night at this place I read about called JJ Muggs, and it was pretty outstanding.  We didn't stay out too long because we had a long day ahead of us for Day 2.  Up until about two weeks ago, our plan for Friday was to drive down to hang out in Miami Beach before the Marlins game, but instead we decided to cross off our swimming tradition at a local beach in Jupiter.  This allowed us to enjoy a less crowded beach, and more importantly, gave us the opportunity to take in some Gulf Coast League action back at The Dean.  The GCL is a rookie league for recent draft picks and is different from most other minor leagues in that its primarily purpose is for instruction of young players, not to cater to fans.  These kids all play on the back fields of the FSL/Grapefruit League complexes in the blazing sun every afternoon in front of nobody other than teammates, scouts, and maybe a sparse gathering of family members.  And on this afternoon, two random rabid baseball fans.  We had to ask around to find where the teams were even playing because it is not marked anywhere nor is it on any website.  The staff lady we found even tried directing us to the main stadium, but we had to inform her we were not there for the Hammerheads matinee.  After we explained to her what the hell the Gulf Coast League was we were eventually pointed in the right direction.  We only had time to watch about 3 innings but it was very entertaining as we could hear all the chatter and yelling on the field and in the dugouts.  At one point, from 30 feet away we very distinctly heard the umpire say to the GCL Marlins coach "that's enough George" after complaining incessantly about bad calls.  To which he replied "Enough of what?"  It was pretty hilarious and a running joke for us the rest of the trip.  As I said, they play on back fields, so at the time we had no idea what the stats were or the score, but sometimes it's just nice to watch a ballgame without the frills.  In what I determined was about the bottom of the 4th, we got back in the Chrysler, flipped the top down, and jetted down to Miami for the 2nd leg of the trip.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 3
view to field - 9
surrounding area - 5 (short street with bars)
food variety - 2 (primarily dogs and pizza)
nachos - n/a
beer - 8 ($1 but only Bud)
vendor price - 10 (dollar night)
ticket price - 9 ($6.50 box seat)
atmosphere - 6 (surprisingly large crowd)
walk to park - 4
parking price/proximity - 7 (free lawn across the street but hard to access)
concourses - 2
team shop - 7

complex - 3 (fields are spread out)

best food - $1 dog
most unique stadium feature - exterior materials/colors
best jumbotron feature - homerun animation
best between-inning feature - kids smash waterballoons with bats

field dimensions - 330/400/325
starters - Chase Huchingson (StL) v. Jose Fernandez (JUP); Miguel Del Pozo (Marlins) v. Ramon Ulacio (Cardinals)
opponent - St. Lucie Mets v. Jupiter Hammerheads; GCL Marlins v. GCL Cardinals
time of game - 2:27; 2:46
attendance - 1989; n/a
score - 11-4 W; 10-1 L
Brewers score that day - off

Brewers 37-42, -7.0 (4 v. Marlins, 3 @ Astros)
Reds 44-35, +1.0 (3 @ Dodgers, 4 @ Padres)
Twins 34-45, -8.0 (4 @ Tigers, 3 @ Rangers)

Erik - 14
Peter - 23