Sunday, July 27, 2014

Northwoods League All-Star Game

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

On Tuesday night, I attended my 2nd all-star game in two weeks, this one of the Northwoods League in Mequon, Wisconsin.  In its 3rd season of operation, Kapco Park was selected to host this year's event.  I actually had to call in sick that day, but the nice part about that was I was able to make it in time for the pre-game homerun challenge.  When you're an adult, the "if you're too sick to work you're too sick to play" rule does not apply.  Looked like not a lot of people had that same luxury of having the day off; I got to the park around 5pm and the crowd was still pretty sparse.

Kapco Park has a little bit of berm space in the outfield corners that I never see anybody using, but it came in handy for the homerun challenge.  I grabbed a spot in right field about halfway through the competition.  This year's contest was a challenge moreso than a derby.  Each division was represented by 5 hitters who all hit twice in an inning-style format, so there were 10 innings with 5 outs per half inning.  At the end, both a division and an individual winner were crowned.  Levi Scott for the North and home team participant Brett Siddall were the two studs of the competition.  Scott led the North to victory, but Siddall took home the individual crown in a swing-off with Scott, finishing with a total of 7.  Siddall also hit some of the longest homeruns of the challenge.  He is a lefty and launched a few completely over my head and out of the stadium.  Pete Alonso of the Mallards was also impressive and would later go on to have the winning homerun in the All-Star Game.

The game featured 25-man rosters for both divisions and the league was well represented across the board.  Even the last place Blue Anchors had two players on the team, including the diminutive outfielder I saw hit two bombs in Alexandria last month.  The Mallards and Chinooks seemed to have the most representatives, not surprisingly since they are near the top of the standings.  A cool part of the game was that Brewer legends Robin Yount and Jim Gantner threw out the first pitch and were honorary managers of the South and North respectively.  Yount even got out there and coached a little 3rd base, but he seemed to be more interested in yucking it up with the fans than actually working.  Luckily for the South there were no baserunners in the inning, because I doubt he knew any of the signs.  I pushed through illness and 90ยบ heat and made it as long as I could, which was about the 7th inning, but I didn't miss much as the 3-0 score held for a South Division victory.  I can't find a box score online anywhere, but as I mentioned, Pete Alonso had the big hit in the game for the South and was rewarded with the MVP for his efforts.  His homerun in the 4th would account for all of the scoring in the game and prove to be all the South needed to win.  Tyler Sullivan, the leadoff hitter for the North, was the other notable star for the game.  He had 3 hits including an amazing drag bunt infield hit, and played some stellar defense as well.  As in any typical all-star game, most pitchers went an inning or less, and most position players got 2-3 ABs each.  I was actually sitting next to who I eventually deduced to be Alonso's family from Florida.  I would clap as he came to the plate and heard the people next to me clap too, so at first I thought they were also Mallards fans or maybe his host family, but then when the woman got about 80 calls and texts following Pete's homerun, I figured out that must be his mom.  It must have been such a great moment for the family to see their son perform so well on such a big stage.

I will be back at Kapco Park in mid-August to see the first-half champion Chinooks battle in the playoffs for the 2nd straight season.  I can't believe there are only 3 weeks left in the Northwoods League season already!  Both the best part and the worst part of this league is that it is so compact.  It makes for a lot of excitement and nice weather, but it's always over before you know it. 

pitchers of record – Roberto Baroniel, Green Bay (W); Tim Black, Madison (S)
Star of Stars - Pete Alonso, Madison
attendance – 2106
score – 3-0 South

Brewers score that day – 4-3 W

Brewers 59-47, +2.0, (3 @ Rays, 3 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Giants)
Reds 52-52, -6.0 (3 v. Diamondbacks, 4 @ Marlins, 2 @ Indians, 2 v. Indians)
Twins 47-57, -11.0 (3 @ Royals, 3 @ White Sox, 2 v. Padres)

Erik - 6 (+21 worked)

Peter - 29

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tour 2014: MLB Homerun Derby & All-Star Workout Day

All photos of ASG Block Party, All-Star Workout Day, Homerun Derby, and new Saints Ballpark construction available on Flickr.

Megan and I got a good night's sleep and took our time getting out of Erik and Katie's apartment on Monday.  They both already had a half day's work in before Megan and I began our stroll back towards the ballpark.  We had some time to kill before gates opened, so we went to check out the All-Star Block Party across the street.  I was really impressed in general with the Twin Cities rolling out the red carpet for the event and providing lots of entertainment outside the ballpark for fans, but the block party was pretty lame.  There was only a few food trucks and a team store, and a tent with the Budweiser Clydesdales.  It wasn't hard for the local news station to pick out the two most photogenic people of the 30 that were there and interview us.  Our interview aired as part of a piece about how the All-Star festivities were expected to bring in hundreds of thousands of visitors and inject $75 million into the local economy (you can watch the story here).  I guess with numbers like that, it makes sense to cram as many opportunities for tourists to spend money in the 5-day period, so I would not be surprised if the block party became an annual All-Star tradition.

We anticipated spending a few hours at the block party but after about a half-hour we had seen everything, so we hit a couple bars and got in line at the stadium around 3:15 for a 4:00 opening.  We wanted to be sure to get there super early, because we had standing-room tickets for the Derby.  Target Field has several phenomenal bar areas open to the public and I had my eye at the one by the left field pole on the 2nd level as our destination.  We entered at the gate closest to this area and hustled up the escalator to get a great spot right along the front rail.  With an unblocked view in front of us and a full-service bar right behind us, we really couldn't have asked for a better spot.  I thought I would care that we would have to basically stay in one spot for 7 hours while standing, but I think we were so into the event that we didn't even notice - and let's be honest, the beer helped.  We had some kids who played for the Rochester Honkers of the Northwoods League next to us that I talked to, and Megan of course made friends with the bartender, so it was a very enjoyable evening.  I love standing room areas for the social aspect you just don't experience sitting in a regular seat.  If you talk about a homerun drinking game in a seat, a person sitting right in front of you in a row of seats might feel like he would be eavesdropping to say anything.  Make the same comment in a standing room area and you get a group of people joining in in no time.

Preceding the Homerun derby was the workout day for all of the All-Stars.  The AL took the field first for BP, followed by the NL.  Sporadic showers forced the teams on and off the field a few times, but another perk of our standing room spot is we were completely under cover the whole time.  The Workout Day was probably the first glaring realization that I need to invest in an actual camera rather than just my iPhone.  There were 70 of the greatest players in the league right in front of me, including Derek Jeter taking his last round of all-star batting practice, and I just wasn't able to get many good pictures.  Of over 2 hours of batting practice, the person that really stood out was Josh Donaldson of the Athletics.  He was consistently crushing the ball and I immediately looked to him as my sleeper pick for the upcoming Derby.  An odd thing I noticed was that all the players still bunt the first few pitches just out of habit.  Yeah, because Jose Bautista is going to bunt...and in an All-Star Game no less.  Another odd thing was that Jeff Samardzija was warming up with the NL and wearing an NL jersey despite being traded to the A's a couple weeks ago, although he did have just a generic "yay all-star game" cap on.  A cool thing about the day before the All-Star game is this is when you typically see all the players' kids out there with their dads.  K-Rod's young son was having an absolute blast trying to hit balls with his wiffle bat.  Batting practice wrapped up around 6:45 for both teams, and then there was about an hour rain delay before the Homerun Derby started.

Personally, the Homerun Derby has always been my favorite part of All-Star Week.  I started getting into baseball on the fanatic level I am now in the late 90s when you routinely saw 50, 60, even 70 homerun seasons and every year there was a threat a record would be broken, so perhaps the derby just makes me nostalgic for those days.  I know that there are a lot of diehard baseball fans who like to shun the Homerun Derby, but let me tell you that until you've seen it in person, it is not fair to judge the event solely based on 3 hours of Chris Berman.  It was an amazing experience to see 400' blasts coming towards us in the outfield, and to hear that loud crack of the bat on almost every pitch.  This was also the first time I've seen prolific power hitters such as Yoenis Cespedes and Giancarlo Stanton hit homeruns in person, so that was probably the best part for me.  Watching Stanton hit a homerun completely out of Marlins Park on Baseball Tonight and seeing it live are two different things.  Even though a lot of people had sat through 6+ hours of cold and rain, the stadium was electric the entire night and roaring for every homerun.  This year featured a new format that more closely resembled pool play in soccer - 10 participants were weeded into the top 6, and then those 6 faced off in a bracket-style tournament to the end.  The addition of 2 hitters and one round was kind of dangerous since Megan and I were of course playing a Homerun Derby Drinking Game, but we powered through.  My predictions were spot on - Stanton would hit the longest bomb, but one of the Oakland players would win it.  "La Potencia" Cespedes defended his 2013 title by defeating "The Toddfather" Frazier 9-1 in the final round, and Stanton hit one to the 2nd deck in centerfield on a line.  And if you've ever been to Target Field, you know that's quite a poke.  Joey Bats had the biggest round with 10 in the 1st, and former Twin Justin Morneau got a huge standing ovation but only hit 2.  I was happy to see Yasiel Puig put up a big fat goose egg.

Erik had to work the derby and did not get to watch too much with us, so the 3 of us went out for a couple postgame brews at Hubert's and said our goodbyes.  On our way out of town on Tuesday, Meggs and I stopped by the construction site of the new St. Paul Saints ballpark slated to open in 2015.  I wasn't expecting it to be much more than a hole in the ground at this point but they were pretty far along with the concrete framework.  The site does not have very easy access other than by light rail, so I will be interested to see how that all works out when I see a game there next year.  It then took us about 20 minutes of driving through downtown St. Paul to find anything resembling a decent lunch place, and afterwards it was back to Wisconsin.  Tour 2014 continues in only a few weeks with a visit to Wrigley for its 100th Anniversary season!

National League
Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado (captain)
Justin Morneau, Colorado
Todd Frazier, Cincinnati
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
Yasiel Puig, LA Dodgers

American League
Jose Bautista, Toronto (captain)
Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland
Josh Donaldson, Oakland
Brian Dozier, Minnesota
Adam Jones, Baltimore  

winner - Yoenis Cespedes
score – 9-1 final round, 30 total

stadium - Target Field

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tour 2014: MLB All-Star Weekend

All photos of FanFest, ASG Color Run, Futures Game, and Celebrity Softball Game available on Flickr.

Erik and I crossed a major item off of our ball tour bucket list this week - the All-Star Game!  To be more precise, we did not go to the actual All-Star Game per se, but we attended just about every other part of the festivities, including FanFest, All-Star Sunday, and the Homerun Derby.  This year's game was held in Minneapolis, so with Erik living there and only being a half-day's drive from Milwaukee, and in one of my favorite stadiums to boot, it really could not have worked out any better.  My girlfriend Megan was in tow on this trip as well, as she is a diehard Twins fan.  Our trip began on Saturday and we arrived at our hotel in St. Paul around 2:30, following a stop at the local Sports Authority to pick up our Color Run race packets - more on that later.  The Twin Cities Metro recently completed its green line light rail connecting downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis just in time for this event, so we were able to pick up the train a block from the hotel and ride it all the way down University to Nicollet Mall where we met Erik.  It was so incredibly efficient and easy and it really made me wish that Milwaukee would get light rail at some point in my life.  The steady rain that had been falling all day turned to a torrential downpour just as we got off the train, but thankfully Minneapolis has another ingenious means of transportation - the skyway system - and we were able to make it to the convention center mostly under cover.

The Minneapolis Convention Center was host of the 5-day All-Star Fanfest, our first event of the jam-packed weekend.  At its core, it had a lot of the same things you find at other conventions - exhibit booths, guest speakers, interactive displays, shops, etc.  But obviously, FanFest was a lot more enjoyable than the American Institute of Architects Convention I went to a couple weeks ago.  Right inside the front door of the is the "world's largest baseball."  Given the penchant Erik and I have for seeing world's largest/tallest things on our trips, it was a good sign that this was the first thing we saw.  To the left of that was one of the biggest team stores I've ever seen, and here I purchased my usual souvenir ball, as well a Brewers all-star cap.  They actually iron the all-star patches right on the cap for you, it was pretty cool.  Many times during the weekend did I see the little Peanuts All-Star figurines that are this year's theme (like the Statues of Liberty when the game was in New York), and I was extremely proud of myself for not giving into temptation and wasting $30 on a Snoopy doll.  Next to the team store were a few baseball card and collectibles displays, and it was in this area we found the guy who created the Ballpark Passport.  It's a cool concept, you get this book that you can have stamped at each park you visit, but it doesn't do me much good now when I've already seen like 120 stadiums - I wish they had it 7 years ago.  From there, we hit some of the fun stuff - batting cages, and an area where you can race a video of a major leaguer and slide into 2nd base.  I was quite rusty in the cage and running the bases; it's been awhile since I've been in a softball league.  Erik and I both chose to race Bryce Harper.  Did we beat him?  That's a clown question, bro.  I rolled off of 2nd base trying not to draw attention to my pants nearly falling off, and we hit the other half of the FanFest, which was a lot of displays and memorabilia.  The coolest part, besides stealing 2nd, was the room that showcased all of the major baseball award trophies - the MVP award, the Gold Glove, the Jackie Robinson award, even the World Series trophy.  We also got to meet an artist that Erik and I really like who does minimalist prints of all the stadiums.  We both have some of his work framed at our apartments and convinced him that he needed to do a print of County Stadium in the near future.  In total we got through the entire fest in about 3 hours, and probably half of that time was spent waiting in lines and inhaling chili cheese fries.

After the fest, we hitched a shuttle ride up to Erik and Katie's apartment near the ballpark and had burgers & brats on the grill.  We got back to the hotel around 9 and finally checked in, and let's just say it definitely fell into the E + P "shadytown" category of hotels.  The cable and internet were not working, and while there was a hotel bar, it was closed.  It was like I was back in 1997.  It was probably for the best, because we got to bed early for a long day on Sunday.

Our Sunday began with the All-Star 5K at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds.  There must have been at least 20,000 people there, it was insane!  But also impressive in that it was pretty organized, far more organized than the 5K my friend Kristen and I put together with 50 participants.  The past few years there has been a 5K as part of the MLB All-Star Festivities, but to my knowledge this was the first one of the Color Run variety.  What happens is that at several points along the route, volunteers pelt and douse you with colored powder that is supposed to easily wash off, but 3 days later my shoulders and chest are still blue.  It was cool to be part of such a large and fun event, and to run such a casual race in which people seemed to care more about getting dirty than actually running.  Afterwards we hosed down for a bit at Erik's house and watched the World Cup final at nearby Fulton Brewery before heading to the ballpark for All-Star Sunday.

The first game at Target Field was probably the event E and I were looking forward to most of the weekend - the Futures Game.  It's the most honest and inclusive representation of talent among all the athletes showcased during All-Star Week, and an exciting glimpse into the future of baseball.  Most of these players end up in the major leagues within a couple of years, and many have a near immediate impact for their teams.  For example, Mike Trout played in the Futures Game in 2010, and this year not only has he already earned his 3rd All-Star selection, but he is still younger than a third of the players in this year's Futures Game.  Players from all levels of the minor leagues are selected primarily by scouts and sportswriters and divided into USA and World teams, based not just on their season's statistics as a typical all-star game would be, but also by their projections as prospects.  So you are truly seeing the best and brightest stars of the future generation of this game, hence the name.  Some of the more well-known prospects in this year's game included 3B Kris Bryant and SS Javier Baez of the Cubs organization, P Noah Syndergaard of the Mets, and hometown propsect Alex Meyer of the Twins.  Joey Gallo out of the Rangers organization was the MVP of the exhibition contest with the game-winning 2-run homer for the US squad.  The aforementioned Baez also went yard in the game - wow, with him Bryant, Soler, and now Addison Russell, the Cubs are going to be stacked in a couple years.  The lone Brewers representative in the game was Brevard County pitcher Jorge Lopez, who recorded the 1st out of the 8th for the World team.

After the conclusion of the Futures Game, we had pretty much our only opportunity to walk around the stadium for the weekend.  We walked through the team store for a bit and marveled at all of the awesome All-Star gear on display and got a quick bite for dinner.  I had been reading in the weeks leading up to the break about the 50+ new food items being rolled out for All-Star Week, but I honestly didn't notice anything special or exciting.  The calzone I had on Sunday and the foot-long dog I had on Monday were both average at best.  The much-heralded self-serve beer machine was also a joke - and yes, I mean machine, singular.  You still have to buy your pre-paid card for it at the concessions stand, then wait in a ridiculous line to tap your beer.  I'm guessing when people start doing the math and realizing the price-per-ounce is the same throughout the park, the novelty will wear off.  I thought the Twins could have done much more for All-Star Week in terms of concessions, but with staples like Kramarczuk's Sausage, Killebrew Root Beer, and the Tony O Cuban sammich remaining, it would be hard for me to think any lesser of Target Field.

The final event of our long All-Star Sunday was the Legends & Celebrities Softball Game.  Had this not been included with the price of admission into the Futures Game, honestly I don't think we would have went.  It would have been like paying to see a bar league softball game, except with attractive and wealthy players.  But there were definitely enjoyable moments.  Jim Thome, who played a couple seasons with the Twins, was on hand and got some of the loudest cheers, but he didn't do very well.  I think him and Rickey Henderson were honestly there playing for a contract - Rickey, per the usual in this event, led off and went deep.  John Smoltz, Ozzie Smith, Freddy Lynn, Mike Piazza, Dwight Gooden, and should-be-Hall-of-Famer and former Twin Jack Morris were among the former major leaguers to suit up in the game, and Nelly, Minnesota natives Andrew Zimmern and Larry Fitzgerald, and Minnesota Wild star Zach Parise were among the celebrities.  A really cool part was there were a couple of amputee Iraq War veterans in the game, and they actually did pretty well.  One of the guys only had one arm and made some sensational Jim Abbott-like plays in the outfield.  Some guy I never heard of, David Nail, and Nelly won co-MVP honors, each hitting two homeruns in the game.  Looks like Nelly has a nice career lined up for him if that follow-up to Country Grammar never pans out.  It is usually a fun event to watch on TV, but this game was not very suitable for how high up we were sitting without the aid of the on-field cameras.  Megan and Katie seemed to enjoy fantasizing about James Denton taking his shirt off during the game, so I was happy that they were happy.  

They had to drag the game on with an extra inning and a "homerun derby" that was very much just made up on the spot until it got dark enough for postgame fireworks, after which we all went home very exhausted from our long day.  In my heart, I really wanted to stay out and tie one on afterwards, but apparently I am getting too old to wake up early to run and then drink for 12 hours. 

Dalton Pompey, CF, Toronto (A+)

Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland (AA)
Jose Peraza, 2B, Atlanta (AA)
Kennys Vargas, 1B, Minnesota (AA)
Steven Moya, LF, Detroit (AA)
Dariel Alvarez, RF, Baltimore (AA)
Gabriel Guerrero, DH, Seattle (A+)
Renato Nunez, 3B, Oakland (A+)
Jorge Alfaro, C, Texas (A+)
J.O. Berrios, P, Minnesota (A+)

Michael Taylor, CF, Washington (AA)
Sean Coyle, 2B, Boston (AA)
Corey Seager, SS, LA Dodgers (A+)
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chi Cubs (AAA)
Joey Gallo, DH, Texas (AA)
D.J. Peterson, 1B, Seattle (AA)
Jesse Winker, LF, Cincinnati (AA)
Hunter Renfroe, RF, San Diego (AA)
Kevin Plawecki, C, NY Mets (AA)
Henry Owens, P, Boston (AA) 

pitchers of record – Jake Thompson (W), Michael Feliz (L), Noah Syndergaard (S)
time of game – 2:33
attendance – 39553
score – 3-2 USA

Brewers score that day – 11-2 W

Brewers 53-43, +1.0, (3 @ Nationals, 3 v. Reds, 4 v. Mets)
Reds 51-44, -1.5 (3 @ Yankees, 3 @ Brewers, 3 v. Nationals)
Twins 44-50, -10.5 (3 v. Rays, 3 v. Indians, 4 v. White Sox)

Erik - 4 (+19 worked)

Peter - 27 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Simmons Field

All photos of Simmons Field available on Flickr.

The Northwoods League has more teams, more games, and more fans than any other summer collegiate league, and has shown no signs of slowing down - in fact, it is still growing.  This summer, the Northwoods League introduced its 17th and 18th teams to the circuit - the Kalamazoo Growlers and the Kenosha Kingfish.  I made the trip down for the Kingfish inaugural season at historic Simmons Field this past week.  It seemed like it would be a quick and easy jaunt down to the 'Nosh from Milwaukee, but the city is more than 7 miles off of the freeway to the east.  The ballpark is oddly situated on a commercial strip south of downtown on Highway 32, and would be easy to drive right by and not notice on a non-game day.  But when I saw the staff members dressed like Elvis directing traffic, I knew I was at the right place.

The Kingfish play at Simmons Field, which opened in 1920 as the home of the Simmons Bedding Company's baseball team, a company which had its roots in Kenosha in 1870.  Since then, the park has seen a variety of tenants from amateur teams, women's professional baseball, the 2-time champion Kenosha Twins in the 80s and 90s, and even a previous failed Northwoods League team, the Kroakers.  Even though Kenosha has a population of nearly 100,000 with close proximity to Milwaukee and Chicago, they have not had a baseball team other than a local club team in over a decade.  These are exactly the types of challenges that the Northwoods League thrives on and love to take head on.  The same ownership group that has championed successful efforts in Madison and Wisconsin Rapids has taken on the Kenosha venture, and from my observations already look to have scored a big hit with the Kingfish and Simmons Field.  It began with a $1+ million renovation during the offseason, with pretty much only the 84-year old grandstand remaining in tact.  The renovation follows that same formula that has worked so well in Mad City and Rapids - bold branding, reuse and reclaim whatever you can in a unique way, an active concourse, and a slew of group areas and seating options.  This ownership group clearly knows what it's doing and knows what works in this league, and have since even expanded their operation to purchasing the rights to the team in Green Bay.  If Big Top Baseball wants to go ahead and own all of the South Division, I would be perfectly fine with that.

As I've implied, the Kingfish follow the basic template of the Mallards.  For anybody that has been to a Mallards game, or a Rafters game for that matter, a Kingfish game will look and feel very familiar.  There is a similar storyboard banner wrapping around the concourse that educates patrons about the history of baseball in Kenosha.  There are the same types of wacky concessions items and ridiculous variety of beer also found at both Warner Park and Witter Field.  All three parks are big on reclaiming and reusing old materials, including the 2,000+ seats salvaged from Camden Yards now found at Simmons.  Hell, the Kingfish even stole the Mallards' old PA guy, Aaron Sims.  But perhaps the most noticeable similarity is the amount of attention paid to marketing and branding, to the brink of oversaturation.  This includes a fun double entendre of the name "Kingfish," in which the mascot is a fish dressed like Elvis Presley and named King Elvis I - who also arrives to the ballpark via zipline as Maynard G. Mallard does, by the way.  Everything in the park is fishing or Elvis themed and the logo, name, and team colors are seen everywhere.  There is an all-you-can-eat-and-drink area in left field aptly named "The Fish Bowl" (a la Duck Blind in Madison), a portion of which is an actual restored boat called "The Bambino" that is also a part of the outfield wall.  My point is not to make it sound like the Kingfish is just a carbon copy of the Mallards, but rather an extraordinary example of how the ownership has applied a variation of their product that has already proven to be a success.  My experience at Simmons Field was very fun and comfortable because I was familiar with the style of entertainment, but at the same time the ballpark itself made it a unique experience.  The asset that Simmons Field has that Warner Park could never replicate is the atmosphere of a nearly century-old ballpark.

I arrived at the ballpark plenty early to be sure I received my King Elvis mascot bobblehead and to partake in pregame 2-for-1 happy hour.  I took my two Lakefront beers and my footlong fried fish hoagie to a high counter at the top of the seating section along the 1st base line.  This was a very subtle thing, but probably one of my favorite parts of the park.  I think every ballpark, particularly of this size, should have a social area like this where you can enjoy a meal and talk to friends while still being able to watch the game.  From there I moved to a seat in the 1st row by the home bullpen and proceeded to watch the Kingfish destroy the St. Cloud Rox, 14-3.  Rico Garcia was phenomenal for Kenosha, allowing only 1 hit over 6 innings, but obviously in a 14-run output, the stars of the night are going to be the hitters.  7 of the 9 players in the starting lineup had a hit, including a 4-hit performance by Alex Dunlap out of Stanford.  Pat Porter launched a 2-run bomb into the Bambino in the 3rd.  I was hoping to see somebody hit a ball off the wall of the boat to see how it played in the corner, but that did not occur.  

I made it until the 8th inning, but an unseasonably brisk July evening forced me to my car a bit early.  It was only about a 50-minute drive back to my apartment with minimal traffic, so I am going to have to strongly consider a Kingfish 7-pack over the convenience of a Chinooks 6-pack next season when Megan is here.  With the Kingfish, I have one of the few things I miss about Madison within a decent distance of me - really fun summer collegiate baseball.

Coming up this week for Erik and I is our big trip of 2014 - the All-Star Break in Minneapolis!

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 5
views from park – 1
view to field - 7
surrounding area – 2 (primarily residential - downtown is a couple miles north)
food variety - 9
nachos - 4 (basic)
beer - 9 (large variety)

vendor price - 7 (lots of specialty items which are pricy)
ticket price - 6 ($10 box, GA is only a small lawn section)
atmosphere - 9
walk to park – 1
parking price/proximity - 7 (free adjacent but not clearly marked)
concourses - 4
team shop - 9

best food – I did not have it, but the Foot-long King Dog featuring peanut butter, honey, and bananas
most unique stadium feature – private deck on a boat in the outfield (the Bambino)
best jumbotron feature – n/a
best between-inning feature – the Flying Elvi

field dimensions – 314/410/330
starters – Tim Faix (STC) v. Rico Garcia (KEN)
opponent – St. Cloud Rox
time of game – 3:13
attendance – 1577
score – 14-3 W

Brewers score that day – 4-1 L

Brewers 52-40, +2.0, (3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 49-42, -2.5 (3 v. Pirates)
Twins 40-49, -11.0 (3 @ Rockies)

Erik - 3 (+18 worked)

Peter - 25 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Jose Canseco Homerun Bus Tour

Jose Canseco may be approaching 50 years old and cast as a pariah throughout baseball, but there are two things he can still do very well: self-promote and hit bombs.  In the same week that Erik and I celebrate the 7th anniversary of our 10-week cross-country ball tour, Canseco is embarking on one of his own in a 40-foot custom RV with his 4 dogs and 3 turtles to keep him company (which probably smells only marginally worse than Erik's shoes did).  His management company is billing this as an attempt to break the longest officially recorded softball and baseball homerun records, currently standing at 510' and 570' respectively - the latter by none other than Babe Ruth.  But I've seen enough of Pete Rose's antics the last 20 years to know when somebody is just trying to latch on to that remaining scrap of fame to make a few bucks.  Whatever his reasons, there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to witness history when this spectacle rolled through Madison on Saturday.

Following a lackluster 3-1 Mallards loss to the Chinooks, Jose took on two Mallards players in a post-game homerun derby.  He certainly looked the part, donning his old 2000 Yankees jersey and gray baseball pants, both stretched taut over his still bulky, juiced frame.  However, a couple of practice swings in, and I could already tell that I would not be seeing anything close to his launching of an unofficial 572' homerun three years ago, which has since gone viral.  A consistant 15-20 mph wind blowing in from left-center certainly didn't help him either.  He put up a pretty good fight, making it to the final round and losing 10-8 to Joe...well, who really cares who won.  I have to say I was pretty disappointed in the performance, but I was still glad I went.  He still managed to hit one over the scoreboard and 8 homeruns for a 49-year old who just got in on a bus from Canada is still pretty damn good.

I absolutely love that Canseco is still living the credo he outlined in his famed book "Juiced" nearly 10 years ago - that baseball is more about entertainment than sport, and that once a player understands that, it's easier to come to terms with what he has done.  And by that, I of course mean take lots of drugs and hit the ball really, really far.  Since reading his book, I've had the stance that as long as you are honest about what you've done, it doesn't bother me that you took any steroids, because I still think the greatest players of any generation will rise above all others regardless of cheating, and it's safe to assume most players have cheated in one form or another.  That's precisely why I and so many still love Jose Canseco and flock to a small stadium in Madison, Wisconsin to watch him hit homeruns against amateurs.  If you would like to see if the CansecoMobile is making a stop at a city near you, click here for the schedule. 

Brewers 51-34, +6.0, (3 @ Reds, 4 v. Phillies)
Reds 43-39, -6.5 (3 v. Brewers, 5 v. Cubs)
Twins 38-44, -9.0 (4 v. Yankees, 4 @ Mariners)

Erik - 3 (+14 worked)

Peter - 23