Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stampfl Field

All photos of Stampfl Field available on Flickr.

After the excitement of Opening Day comes and goes, the rest of April is typically a rough month on the ball-watching front because of all the bad weather.  There have already been a historically high number of rainouts (and snow-outs) at all levels, and temperatures throughout the country have struggled to creep up to average levels.  This includes the Edgewood College Eagles, who have had a substantial number of home games postponed due to wet field conditions.  I took advantage of the first nice Saturday of the year to take in an afternoon doubleheader.

Edgewood College is located on Lake Wingra in Madison, but many of their athletic facilities are off campus.  The baseball team plays at a field inside Hometown USA Park in Verona, a suburb southwest of town.  I approached the park from Hwy-151 and was excited to see a large number of cars in the parking lot, but I soon realized that I had mistakenly turned into the little league complex.  Next door at Stampfl Field, the attendance was considerably less but still pretty decent for D3 baseball.  As one would expect, the crowd was comprised mostly of family members, but just before the start of game 1, a group of about 15 female Edgewood College students sat down in my section.  So, I had that going for me, which is nice.  I was very much expecting the ballpark to be like Henry Aaron Field, the home field of my alma mater UW-Milwaukee - that is to say, not really a ballpark, but rather some rickety bleachers and a chain link fence inside a city park.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find an actual grandstand with canopy, nice new dugouts, an inning-tally scoreboard, press box, AND even a concession stand/team store!  It was nice enough that you felt like you were at a "real" ballpark, but since it was still part of a community park, you were able to bring your own food and chairs, so it was like the best of both worlds.  I moved from the grandstand to a standalone bleacher section in left for game two so I could sit in the sun, but I still did not feel that far from the action.  From my seat here, I could see players take swings in the cage, warm up in the pen, and walk freely amongst the crowd to talk to parents and use the facilities.  I could never have made it through a UW-Milwaukee doubleheader solo, but at Stampfl Field, even the minimal amount of fan accommodations made my day at the ballpark comfortable.

The Eagles dropped both games of the doubleheader to the Cougars of Concordia University-Chicago, and with the losses saw their hopes of making the Northern Athletics Conference Tournament dwindle.  Game 1 was never really in reach.  Edgewood College starter Brad Clark was roughed up for 7 runs in 4 2/3.  Only 4 of the runs were earned due to some shotty defense, which was another contributing factor in the loss.  In particular, the Eagles' third baseman is pretty awful and was charged with 2 errors, and every ball hit at him was an adventure.  The Eagles made a game of it in when the Cougars let their guard down and decided to bring in Danny "The Sweet" La Dolce from right field to pitch the 8th.  He promptly walked the first two batters, got a long fly ball out, and gave up a booming double and 2-run homer before exiting for a real pitcher who threw something other than gas.  Shawn Miller was the standout for Concordia, going 3-5 with a HR and 3 RBI.  Game 2 was much more of a pitchers' dual.  Edgewood College starter Taylor Hillmann carried a shutout into the late innings, while his counterpart Dan Kluss escaped major damage while battling control issues.  This time, the 8th was the inning of undoing instead of fortune as the Cougars plated 3 to take the lead.  Thankfully, Hillmann was removed after 7 1/3 so he was not charged with the loss.  He was superb, covering both sides of the plate well and scattering 7 hits with no walks.  Jake Zadra finished up a nice day with 2 hits in the loss, and a total of 3 hits in the twinbill with a couple RBI.  Sidewinder Dan Hoppel (seen in photo) also had a nice day; he pitched in relief in both games for a total of 2 1/3 scoreless.  Concordia ran their record up to 25-5 with the sweep and in doing so is sure to improve on their #19 ranking, but perhaps even more disappointing, Freshman Edgewood College catcher Pete Hefty did not make an appearance in either game.

Admittedly, Midwestern D3 ball is the bottom of the barrel for collegiate talent, but it was a nice day and I spent a total of $2.50 for about 6 hours of entertainment, plus I got a foul ball, so it wasn't all bad.  I will be sure to keep an eye out for some of the Edgewood College players on the Mallards roster this summer.  Or, more likely, the Sheboygan A's.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 2
views from park - 2
view to field - 3 (obstructed in most places)
surrounding area - 3 (Verona, Hometown USA Park)
food variety - 1
nachos - 2
beer - n/a

vendor price - 9
ticket price - 10 (free)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 2
parking price/proximity - 9 (free adjacent lot but no signage)
concourses - 2
team shop - 6 (honestly, they get bonus points just for selling anything)

best food - giant hot dog
most unique stadium feature - dugouts
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - me talking to players in line for the single bathroom

field dimensions - 325/375/310
starters - Bobby Beelen (CUC) v. Brad Clark (EC); Dan Kluss v. Taylor Hillmann
opponent - Concordia University-Chicago Cougars
time of game - 2:12; 2:21
attendance - 261
score - 11-5 L; 3-2 L
Brewers score that day - 6-4 W

Brewers 12-10 (3 v. Pirates, 4 v. Cardinals)
Reds 13-12 (3 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Cubs)
Twins 10-10 (3 @ Tigers, 3 @ Indians)

Erik - 3
Peter - 7

Monday, April 22, 2013

Snappers Start New Chapter as A's Affiliate

All photos of Snappers Home Opener available on Flickr.

Following last season, there was a mass reshuffling of minor league affiliations, on all levels.  Typically an affiliate contract will run for 2 or 4 years, and a lot of them coincidentally happened to be expiring in the same offseason.  Teams will change affiliates for a number of reasons: proximity to major league club, quality of facilities, and opportunities for club ownership, to name a few.  All three of these were certainly the case when the Brewers decided to get out of West Virginia a few years ago and move two hours away from Milwaukee into a newly renovated ballpark in Appleton (see previous post).  The Twins made it known early in 2012 that they were interested in leaving Beloit and were one of the first teams to announce a move, signing a deal with Cedar Rapids and thus setting the Low-A affiliate dance in motion.  The Twins had spent 8 years in Beloit, and supplanted the Angels in Cedar Rapids who had been there for 20 seasons.  Beloit has one of the smallest markets and most sub-standard ballparks in the minors, and the worst unemployment rate in the state, so as you would expect there seems to be talk every year about building a new facility or relocating the team.  Until that happens, the Snappers were basically just left to the last parent club left standing.  That unfortunate honor went to the Oakland Athletics.

In Milwaukee and Madison, fans have come to expect and become spoiled by annual ballpark improvements, but Beloit makes a name for itself with never-wavering consistency.  As sure as the sun rises in the east, you can expect an April ballgame in Beloit to be under 40º, have the worst PA guy in baseball history, Snappy D. Turtle to be entertaining the dozens in attendance, and perhaps most notably, absolutely nothing noticeably new at the ballpark.  The city did put a little bit of money into re-sodding the field and fixing the scoreboard this year, which have been the only improvements I remember at the ballpark since they added seatbacks to the benches behind home plate - which are now falling off, by the way.  The city just seems content with things as they are until there is pressure from outside sources to move the team, which makes sense given Beloit's economy, but is unfortunate for baseball fans and for the area.  Ballpark and demographic issues aside, I'm always eager to check out the young talent for the Snappers, and that along with the dirt cheap prices is what keeps me coming back despite all my complaining.  I was already very fortunate to see Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano play for Snappy in their last year with the Twins.  Sano in particular is a highly touted prospect who led the Midwest League in homers and RBI and looks like he's going to be a stud.  The A's are another organization, like the Twins, that are generally regarded as having a perenially loaded farm system and I'm very excited to get to a few more games down there this season (assuming spring eventually arrives in Wisconsin).  Two of the A's top 10 prospects according to Baseball America (1B Matt Olson and 2B Chris Bostick) are on the Snappers roster this year, and a couple other players I saw at the home opener looked pretty good - P Michael Ynoa and 1B John Wooten. Olson I believe DH'd the game I went to and looks to need a lot of work on the mental side of the game but definitely has the skills to make it.  I sincerely hope that a new affliation with the A's sparks the attendance figures a little bit and gets people excited about baseball in Beloit, even though Oakland is a lot further away than Minnesota.

Brewers 9-8 (3 @ Padres, 3 @ Dodgers)
Reds 11-8 (3 v. Cubs, 4 @ Nationals)
Twins 8-7 (2 v. Marlins, 4 v. Rangers)

Erik - 3
Peter - 5

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Fox Cities Stadium Renovation

 All photos of Timber Rattlers 2013 home opener available on Flickr.

It really takes a true baseball fan to brave Midwest League games in April.  Despite the weather, I made the drive up to Appleton to attend the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers' home opener.  Beyond just the excitement of Opening Day, it was also the game where the defending Midwest League Champions received their rings; and, as has been customary the last few seasons, Opening Day was also an all-fan bobblehead giveaway.  This year's doll features manager Matt Erickson holding the MWL Championship Trophy, and I must say, it's pretty quality.  Erickson has returned this season to lead his almost entirely new roster towards a repeat performance of last season.  Unlike at the major league level, high turnover in the low minor leagues is actually a good sign.  Most of this year's team is comprised of the Brewers' 2012 draft picks, including top picks Clint Coulter and Mitch Haniger, and I am excited to see them develop this season.

Another major reason I was eager to get up to Appleton this year was to see the fruits of the extensive offseason stadium renovation.  The ownership and city have invested a large amount of money into the ballpark to provide more revenue-generating suites, a better fan experience, and higher quality facilities for the players - much to the delight of the parent club Brewers, who don't really enjoy those luxuries at any other level in their system.  Aside from the addition of suites to a 2nd level and the aforementioned improved player facilities, the most notable change is a much-needed facelift to the exterior.  The lackluster concrete block walls have been dressed up with lighting and fresh paint, and there is now a grand entry canopy behind homeplate, not unlike what I saw at the Corn Crib in Normal last year.  Unfortunately, the exterior improvements are overshadowed by the fact that sidewalks have yet to be poured, as the contractor was clearly not counting on is still being this cold and snowy in April (welcome to Wisconsin).  The team store has doubled in size, but much to my disappointment, the quality of the gear has gone down.  Retro Appleton Foxes apparel is a much more limited selection, and the MWL Champions t-shirts are nothing to write home about.  There is now also a wood plank walkway in the outfield that goes past a couple of children's play areas, a picnic area, and terminates in centerfield, where the bullpens have been moved beyond the wall.  So basically, aside from a small portion missing from left field, the stadium now has about a 90% circumnavigable concourse.  Honestly, I'm unsure if the walkway existed before or was part of the renovation, but I certainly never remember walking to centerfield to watch pitchers warm up, and I know for a fact the walkway was not there in 2007 on the Tour.  Regardless, moving the bullpens out from foul territory and adding fan access to the outfield are always good moves.  The only other new thing I noticed at the park was that the Leinie's Lounge is no longer a private area, but rather an enclosed bar that all fans can go to escape inclement weather.  I like that it is now accessible to the general public, but they could have spiffed it up a little more.  It has a really low drop-tile ceiling and cheap lunchroom furniture, and feels more like a rec room than part of the stadium.  The main concourse remains generally unchanged, and the concessions offerings are about the same and still high in price compared to most other parks in the circuit.

As for the game itself, it was hard to sit through, both because of the cold temperatures and the performance.  The Timber Rattlers lost to the Cedar Rapids Kernels (now affiliated with the Twins) by 8 runs before a crowd of just over 3,000.  Rattlers starter Preston Gainey was atrocious, surrendering 6 runs, 4 walks, a wild pitch, and a balk.  His control was poor but at least seemed to have good zip on his fastball.  Unfortunately I was not in my seat during the lone offensive highlight for the T-Rats, when Clint Coulter went yard in the 4th.  The Brewers' other top draft pick, Mitch Haniger, went 2-4 with a double and looked good in right field, so that is encouraging for the team and the Brewers.  Coulter does not look very good behind the plate though, he's slow on the throws to second and had two passed balls.  If he continues to hit decent as he progresses through the minors, I wouldn't be surprised if the organization switched him to a corner infield spot.  The other player who looked solid was Orlando Arcia.  He's an 18-year old shortstop who played in the Brewers' Dominican academy last year; he has terrific skills on defense, and also chipped in a hit on this night.  Also of note: Byron Buxton, the #2 overall draft pick from a year ago, led off and played center for the Kernels.  He crushed a 3-run homer in the 2nd and is now hitting over .500 on the young season.

One thing that the $6+ million renovation could not buy was a roof.  The home opener I attended was actually the only game they have managed to get in on the homestand thus far.  Four consecutive games have been cancelled due to snow and/or freezing temperatures, and the T-Rats have not played since Monday.  Hopefully the weather can heat up soon, along with the team.

park rankings and statistics
(see also original 9/4/07 post):

aesthetics - improves to 6
views from park - 2
view to field - 5
surrounding area - improves to 3 (signs of life exiting off US-41)
food variety - decreases to 6
nachos - 4
beer - decreases to 9 (price increase but Leinie's Lodge now public)
vendor price - decreases to 7 (price increase)
ticket price - decreases to 8 ($9 box seat)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park - 1
parking price/proximity - decreases to 1 ($5 for A-ball is absurd)
concourses - improves to 6
team shop - 8 (size up, quality down)

best food - helmet cheese fries
most unique stadium feature - entry canopy, walkway behind bullpens in CF
best jumbotron feature - upgraded but no notable features
best between-inning feature - giant Operation game, addition of unspectacular 2nd mascot "Whiffer"

field dimensions - 325/405/325
starters - David Hurlbut (CR) v. Preston Gainey (WIS)
opponent - Cedar Rapids Kernels
time of game - 2:40
attendance - 3,036
score - 10-2 L
Brewers score that day - 7-4 W

Brewers 2-7 (3 v. Giants, 3 v. Cubs)
Reds 5-5 (3 v. Phillies, 4 v. Marlins)
Twins 4-6 (3 v. Angels, 3 @ White Sox)

Erik - 3
Peter - 4

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Brewers Opening Week 2013

All photos of Brewers Home Opener available on Flickr.

My favorite day of the year has once again come and gone - OPENING DAY!  For the 6th consecutive year, I was fortunate to be present at the Brewers' home opener at Miller Park, and I attended two games in the opening homestand.  No matter how the Brewers are projected to do, I always anxiously await the day and lose sleep the night before, just like waiting for Christmas when I was a kid.  I wish it was a national holiday like Christmas, but until Congress makes that happen I will have to settle for taking a vacation day.  Even if I wasn't going to the game, there's no way I would be productive that day at work.  I still vividly remember an Opening Day in grad school in which I snuck out after a pin-up to watch the game up in studio, which the professor did not look to kindly on.

There are a few new areas at Miller Park this year, which I talk about in my previous post, but other than that it was business as usual.  The parking lots were packed 3 hours before first pitch, and tufts of grill smoke could be seen far and wide in the cold air.  We've been fortunate the last three years with pretty reasonable temperatures on Opening Day, but hey it's Wisconsin, it wasn't going to last forever.  Whether it's 30º or 80º, the tailgate doesn't stop.  Inside the park, the bunting was hung, the energy was palpable, and the smell of fresh Klement's sausage wafted throughout the concourses.  Brewers' owner Mark Attanasio's father Joe took the mike for another wonderful rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, preceded by the customary script of his acting accomplishments read verbatum each year.  Yovani Gallardo took the ball for his 4th consecutive Opening Day start.

The Brewers came back to win 5-4 in the 10th on a walk-off sac fly by Jonathan Lucroy, but after Opening Day dropped five straight to finish their opening homestand a disappointing 1-5.  Untimely injuries have been the theme thus far, and the team does not look very good.  The Brewers had their 3-4-5 hitters out for the entire Diamondbacks series, which on top of their terrible pitching, would pretty much relegate any team to the Cubs' level of talent.  I went to the game today, which despite the loss was an encouraging performance for the offense.  They managed to pound out 7 runs on 16 hits and made three separate comebacks, all with half of their everyday lineup out of the game.  The bright spots so far are that Rickie Weeks and Jean Segura are killing the ball, and free-agent Kyle Lohse's debut on Friday was a gritty 6-inning gem.  If Roenicke gets some sense and takes Axford out of the closer role for awhile, and the team can stumble to a 9 or 10 win month until everybody is healthy, I think they should be ok.  The lineup that led the NL in runs, steals, and homeruns is in tact on the roster, and the pitching at least on paper is better, so one can deduce that the Brewers should at least remain competitive this year.

Minor League home openers in Appleton and Beloit this week!  Also of note: Erik will be employed by the Twins this year for the first time since he last lived in Minneapolis in 2007, so maybe this means he will actually have a chance of beating me in 2013 Games Attended.

Brewers 1-5 (3 @ Cubs, 3 @ Cardinals)
Reds 4-2 (3 @ Cardinals, 3 @ Pirates)
Twins 4-2 (3 @ Royals, 3 v. Mets)

Erik - 3
Peter - 2