Thursday, April 24, 2014

Michael Pineda Ejected for Using Pine Tar

(image courtesy of ESPN)

Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda channeled his inner Eddie Harris last night, as he was tossed the game in the 3rd inning for using what was officially described as an "illegal substance."  This comes after a start a couple weeks ago where pretty much everybody knew he had some pine tar on his wrist, although after the game he claimed it was "dirt."  Pineda was subsequently suspended 10 games by the league - which in real terms comes down to a 2-game suspension since he is a starting pitcher, and might not have even affected the Yanks rotation at all had Ivan Nova not been diagnosed with a torn elbow ligament same day.

This story is getting a lot of coverage for a number of reasons.  First of all, it doesn't help that Pineda pitches in the league's largest television market.  Had this happened 3 years ago when he was with Seattle a lot of people wouldn't even know about this, but the New York media is going to run with this for days.  Secondly, it was the way he was caught that was so remarkable.  He was brash enough to just lather up his neck with pine tar.  During a nationally televised game.  Versus the Red Sox.  Also, this happened two weeks after he was suspected of doing the same thing.  That's not even ballsy, that's just stupid.  

There are a lot of unwritten rules in baseball.  You don't bunt to break up a no-hitter, if your star player is hit by a pitch you hit them back, and almost every player does or has cheated in some form or another - particularly pitchers.  Much like the Ryan Braun situation, I don't care that he cheated.  I only care that he lied about it the first time, and that he did it so blatantly.  Every pitcher doctors the ball in some way and it's naive to think otherwise.  Players throughout the history of the game have tried different things to gain an edge on their opponent, and that will never change.  In fact, there are several pitchers in the Hall of Fame who were widely known for throwing illegal pitches or using illegal equipment.  It is what it is.  But if you're going to be that obvious about it, then you give the other team no choice but to say something.  John Farrell clearly didn't want to go talk to the umpire, because he knows it's hypocritical and it's part of the game, but he had to because Pineda's tacky neck was just rubbing it in the other team's face.  This might sound weird, but there's a right way and a wrong way to cheat in baseball.  In Pineda's case, all he needed to do was walk to the Boston clubhouse after the game for advice.

Brewers 16-6 (3 v. Cubs, 3 @ Cardinals)
Reds 11-11 (3 @ Braves, 3 v. Cubs)
Twins 11-10 (3 v. Tigers, 3 v. Dodgers)

Erik - 2 (+2 worked)

Peter - 4

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jackie Robinson Day in Milwaukee

All photos of Jackie Robinson Day at Miller Park available on Flickr.

It seems hard to believe that in the 8th season of the blog, yesterday was finally my first major league game attended on Jackie Robinson Day - I saw the Cardinals defeat the Brewers 6-1 at Miller Park.  This is a day celebrated annually by Major League Baseball commemorating the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier.  To mark this historic event, all players on every team wear Robinson's #42, which was retired unilaterally across MLB in 1997.  

While I felt honored to be a part of this day in history, it didn't really have the same excitement and sanctity in person as it does watching on television.  That's not to say I would prefer to watch baseball on TV than in person, don't be ridiculous.  But all the times I've watched Jackie Robinson Day in the past are full of great facts about the man and stories of the struggle of African-American players.  That's the part I love about days like this, or the Civil Rights Game, or Milwaukee Negro Leagues Day - learning about the history of the game.  I was at the game an hour before first pitch, and the Brewers did not have any sort of ceremony, presentation, or even a brief mention by the PA guy of Jackie.  I at least expected some sort of video pertaining to one of the greatest black athletes of all time, not to mention a Milwaukee legend - Hank Aaron.  If they didn't show the JR Day logo on the scoreboard between innings I might not have even known the day was anything different.  I hope that this is not indicative throughout the league, because I was pretty underwhelmed.  Even a team you would expect to have a pretty cool ceremony - the Dodgers - was not granted a home game on that day in the infinite wisdom of MLB scheduling.  Instead, a Florida State League exhibition game was played at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, home of the Dodgers Spring Training complex for 60 years, beginning in Robinson's 2nd season with the club.  Between two non-Dodger affiliates, I might add.

I applaud MLB's celebration of this day, but I wish in execution, individual teams would make more of an effort to honor their great African-American players.  I guess I can't speak for every team, but I was disappointed with the Brewers for glazing over the significance of this day in baseball history.

Brewers 11-4 (4 @ Pirates, 3 v. Padres)
Reds 6-9 (3 @ Cubs, 4 @ Pirates)
Twins 6-7 (3 @ Royals, 3 @ Rays)

Erik - 2 (+2 worked)

Peter - 3

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Minor League Opening Week

All photos of Snappers Home Opener available on Flickr.

As is tradition, the minor leagues opened up play last week on the Thursday after the major league opener.  We were in an odd numbered year and PDCs are generally signed biennially, so no affiliate changes to report this offseason, but the much anticipated Charlotte and El Paso ballparks are opening this year.  I just purchased tickets to the new Knights park and I'm really excited to see it next month.  Until then, I am restricted to the Midwest League footprint and spending another frigid home opener in bustling Beloit, Wisconsin.

I nearly fainted when I walked through the gate and noticed there were substantial and visible improvements to the stadium for a 2nd year in a row.  All of the concrete in the concourse behind the grandstand was replaced, and a bioswale was added in a dead corner by the team offices (see photo above).  Alright, so it's nothing exciting like new seats or a video board, but this is Beloit - baby steps.  Personally, I'm looking forward to the massive savings the team rakes in from switching Dollar Beer Night from 12 oz cups to 8 oz.  For a jam-packed opening crowd of 150 thirsty people, hey that like $15 right there.  They're well on their way to a new grandstand!  All joking aside, I do try not to take for granted the fact that I can watch cheap affiliated ball of a good Athletics farm system that is still only an hour away from my new digs in Mil-town.

Opening Night is always cold here, but this felt like one of the colder ones I've ever been to.  It got down into the 30s with a stiff wind after the sun set and I splurged an extra 50¢ on cups of coffee instead of beer.  During the team introductions, I was very excited to see former Mallard Tyler Marincov was playing professional ball for the Snappers now, and also concerned that former Brewers unsigned draft pick Dylan Covey was a holdover from the 2013 team.  Neither of them played in their 5-1 loss to Burlington.  Generally early spring games are dominated by pitching due to the cold weather, but the Bees hit a lot of long drives into the gaps, including 2 doubles by DH Mike Fish as part of a 3-hit night.  Bobby Wahl struggled as the starter for Team Snappy, not making it out of the 4th with 3 ER and a couple walks.  I don't remember a lot of the detail I normally would because I had to keep walking around to keep my feet from freezing.  Every year I wonder why I'm so crazy to sit outside for 3 hours in the cold April weather, but in a masochistic way, I enjoy it.  There's nothing quite like the feeling a baseball fan has on Opening Day - it's almost comparable to Christmas when I was a kid.  I'm hoping to make it to many more Brewer games this year than Snappers games since I live in Milwaukee now, but Midwest League Opening Day is something I try not to miss.

Brewers 5-2 (3 v. Pirates, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 2-6 (3 v. Rays, 3 v. Pirates)
Twins 3-4 (3 v. Royals, 3 v. Blue Jays)

Erik - 2

Peter - 2

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Brewers Opening Week 2014

All photos of Brewers Home Opener available on Flickr.

Baseball is back!  And after the winter we just went through, not a moment too soon.  I'm not normally one who complains about winter, but after a month of below zero temps, I don't think I've ever looked forward to a season more than this one.  There are other reasons this particular Opening Day is exciting to me.  First and foremost, I got a job near Milwaukee a few months ago, so this weekend I am finally moving back home!  While I will miss the Mallards, I am super excited to be able to "call in sick" and go to a Brewer game whenever I want, particularly because of the team they are fielding this year. 

Which brings me to my next point - the Brewers broke the bank once again this year and should at the very least be competitive.  Their big move of the offseason was signing one of the top free agent pitchers available, Matt Garza.  The Crew has historically had bad luck with free agent pitchers during the Doug Melvin era - Jeff Suppan, Randy Wolf, and Braden Looper just to name a lackluster few - so it's taken me awhile to warm up to the deal.  But the fact that we were able to get a power pitcher in his prime (unlike our previous signings) for only $52 million given what pitchers are going for these days is a steal.  Even though I would love to see our young guys get a chance, you can never have enough starting pitching depth, and I think he will be a great leader and will help the staff immensely.  I'm also very excited about the signings of Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds to platoon at first base.  Overbay is still a fan favorite in Milwaukee from his stellar 2004-05 seasons with the Brewers, and I was one of 46,000 who welcomed him back with his old "OOOOOOOO" chant when his name was introduced in the starting lineup on Monday.  I think he proved last year that he still has something left in the tank and can still play great defense, something the Brewers have been lacking at that position since Prince Fielder left.  Mark Reynolds was the guy I was hoping for from the beginning of the offseason to sign.  I like that he is a power bat off the bench and I like that he plays both corner infield spots, because Aramis Ramirez is 35 now.  For the RBI potential you can get for a guy you only have to pay $1 million I think it's a no brainer.  While neither guy would be attractive for a full season, in the aggregate between these two guys, I think you're looking at a .250-25-80 first baseman, which I will gladly take.  I'm really glad they did this instead of trading for a first baseman, because hopefully next year Hunter Morris or Mitch Haniger will be ready to assume the role permanently, or otherwise the Brewers will have at least $50 million coming off the books to sign a free agent.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself - let's play this season first.  Monday was surprisingly warm day for the home opener vs the Braves (it seems like the Brewers play the Braves or the Rockies on Opening Day every year for some reason).  Following the usual Opening Day tailgate of sausage and bloody marys, I did a lap around the stadium with my girlfriend Megan to check out all that is new and exciting at Miller Park this year.  I've mentioned many times on this blog how the Brewers more than any other major league team reinvest revenues into their stadium, and you can always count on something new at the ballpark.  This year the big investment in my mind was finally bringing back a standing room section in right-center field, something I've been clamoring about for years.  Miller Park has little to no standing room in the stadium, so this was a step in the right direction.  This is where I used to stand with Erik all the time, and where I stood with Megan during the majority of Monday's game - getting on the jumbotron twice in the process thanks to my killer dance moves.  The addition of an AJ Bombers stand - a local burger joint - was another huge improvement.  I did not actually see it in person, but I love Bombers and I love that the Brewers continue to add more food options, so I can't see how it wouldn't be great.  Speaking of food, TGIFriday's in left field finally got a facelift this year as well.  Later this year, Bob Uecker will also be getting another statue at the park, this time way in the top row of the section appropriately named the "Uecker Seats."  The statue and his $1 ticket section are both in reference to his old Miller Lite ads where he would be sitting in the worst part of the stadium.  So that is a definite photo-op that needs to happen.  The last thing I noticed was that the team store was once again expanded.  All of these things really enhanced the stadium this year, particularly the standing room section, whereas in some years the addition of more seats was just kind of unnecessary.  A request I would have for an easy thing to fix in the coming years would be rebranding all of the signage, I think it is very outdated.  Other than that, I'm not sure what else could be altered that wouldn't involve changing the footprint of the field.

The Brewers completed their brief opening homestand this afternoon by losing 2 out of 3 to last year's NL East Champion Braves.  It was a good series in the sense that the starting pitching was phenomenal, but bad in the sense that the bats never really got going and very easily could have won 2 if not all 3 games.  It would have been nice to sweep Atlanta early in the season before they get healthy and realize that BJ Upton should no longer be in the major leagues.  I'm no scout, but that guy seriously has the worst swing I've seen since my JV high school team.  A few things of note to watch for the Brewers this season.  1) Can Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura build on their all-star seasons of 2013?  2) How will the 2nd base platoon shake out?  3) Will Gomez be a sustainable leadoff hitter?  4) Was last season a fluke or is Yovani Gallardo in decline?  And lastly, 5) the Brewers finally seem to have some depth in the high minor leagues.  Will guys like Nelson and Hellweg and Morris do well when they are inevitably called upon this season?  Others might question whether or not Ryan Braun will bounce back to his old self, but that is honestly the one area on this team I am not at all concerned with.  I am predicting 88-90 wins and a Wild Card birth this season.

I don't think I've updated the Miller Park stadium rankings since the Tour, so here's that.  Still a middle-of-the-pack park for me objectively speaking, but much improved since 2007.

park stats and rankings
(see also original post from 9/4/07):
aesthetics - 8
views from park - 4

view to field - 4
surrounding area - improves to 3 (Menomonee Valley area has improved a little)
food variety - improves to 9 (new stuff added almost every year now)
nachos - 9
beer - 8 (price and variety both have gone up a lot)
vendor price - decreases to 7 (hot dogs are $4.75 now)
ticket price - 10 (bottom 3rd of league)
atmosphere - 9

walk to park - 6
parking price/proximity - decreases to 5 (general parking is $10 now)
concourses - 7
team shop - increases to 10 (much expanded, t-shirt of every player)

best food - anything from pavilion in right field
most unique stadium feature - the retractable roof, Bernie's slide
best jumbotron feature - Topps memory game
best between-inning feature - Klements Sausage Race

field dimensions - 344/400/344
starters - Julio Teheran (ATL) v. Yovani Gallardo (MIL)
opponent - Atlanta Braves

time of game - 2:45
attendance - 45691
score - 2-0 W
Brewers score that day - 2-0 W  

Brewers 1-2 (3 @ Red Sox, 3 @ Phillies)
Reds 0-1 (3 @ Mets, 3 @ Cardinals)
Twins 0-2 (3 @ Indians, 3 v. Athletics)

Erik - 2

Peter - 1