Monday, October 5, 2015

Postseason 2015


All photos of the Brewers final game of 2015 available on Flickr. 

Another disappointing Brewers season has come and gone, and it's time once again to start watching competitive baseball.  The Brewers have been so bad since so early in the season that I've had little appetite to watch any games on television this year, so I'm excited for everything to get rolling.  As with most years, there are several surprises and feel good stories.  The Toronto Blue Jays have now passed the "longest postseason drought" torch to the Seattle Mariners by pulling away from the Yankees to win the AL East for the first time since 1993.  Almost everybody in the industry still thought the Astros were still deep in the midst of a rebuild, but surprisingly held on to win the 2nd wild card spot in the AL.  They led the West for much of the season and have a really strong rotation that can take them far in the playoffs if some of their power hitters can get hot.  The Mets won the NL East this year, and what baseball fan outside of the Bronx doesn't want to see the a team widely considered a laughing stock of the league do well?  I mean come on, how can you not root for Big Fat Bartolo Colon and Captain America?  The Texas Rangers seemed to be selling rather than buying at the deadline but somehow managed to overtake the Astros late in the season to win the AL West.  Just about everything that needed to fall into place did for them - Prince Fielder had a monster comeback year, Josh Hamilton has played like the player he used to be, Yovani Gallardo emerged as a staff ace, Adrian Beltre was the hottest player in the league the last 6 weeks of the season, and some key young players really stepped up their game.  Lastly, the Cubs made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and will travel to Pittsburgh for the NL Wild Card, who is hosting the game for the 3rd consecutive season.  Even with the emergence of a much douch-y-er St. Louis Cardinals in recent years as my most hated team, I still hate the Cubs, but even I have to admit that they are a very fun team to watch, and it will be hard not to cheer for Joe Maddon.

I once again foolishly picked the Nationals to win the World Series, and this year they made me look even more foolish by not only not making the playoffs, but playing so poor down the stretch that their manager has already been fired.  I might have to let my mind take over my heart next year when making my picks.

PLAYOFFS START 10/6/15
NL Wild Card - #4 Pirates v. #5 Cubs
NLDS - #1 Cardinals v. WC winner
#2 Dodgers v. #3 Mets

AL Wild Card - #4 Yankees v. #5 Astros
ALDS - #1 Royals v. WC winner
#2 Blue Jays v. #3 Rangers

World Series Prediction: Blue Jays defeat Cubs in 6
Rooting for: Blue Jays v. Mets

Preseason Predictions
#1 Nationals
#2 Cardinals
#3 Dodgers
#4 Marlins
#5 Padres
Nats defeat Cards in NLCS

#1 Blue Jays
#2 Tigers
#3 Angels
#4 Royals
#5 Athletics
Royals defeat Tigers in ALCS

World Series - Nats defeat Royals in 5

FINAL STANDINGS 2015:
Brewers 68-94 , -32.0, 4th NL Central
Reds 64-98, -36.0, last NL Central

Twins 83-79, -12.0, 2nd AL Central


FINAL 2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 17 (+26 worked)

Peter - 42

Monday, September 28, 2015

End-of-Season Grabbag


Just some miscellaneous notes and tidbits as we wind down the 2015 season:

- I saw an interesting story in USA Today during the summer about this new "axe-handled bat" that is slowly becoming the new vogue in Major League Baseball.  The article mostly focused on how Dustin Pedroia has been some combination of hurt and/or God awful the last two years, and he owes his reemergence in 2015 due in large part to this new bat.  It is designed with ergonomics in mind to help hitters increase swing efficiency and bat speed, and at least partially eliminates the troublesome knob of a traditional bat that causes discomfort and a lot of hamate bone injuries.  This story went largely unreported in the media, but to me it is significant because of how slow MLB has been historically to adopt any change at even this small of a scale.  It's another small initiative that is slowly but surely being rolled out to increase player safety.  It may take years if not decades to see increased netting in foul territory, or the goofy padded caps to protect pitchers, but in a game largely based on "feel" or "instinct" this new bat could soon become the norm.

- Congratulations to the Biloxi Shuckers, who lost in Game 5 of the Southern League Championship Series to the Chattanooga Lookouts.  Much has been reported about their new stadium issues an overwhelming majority of the season on the road, and for them to even sniff the playoffs let alone come one game shy of winning the title is pretty remarkable.  It really speaks to the level of the coaching staff down there and just how good this next crop of talent is coming up for the Brewers.  A good portion of these players were also on the 2012 championship roster at the low-A level in Appleton and have been playing together the last 3+ years.  Some of those 2012 players have already been on the major league roster for awhile, such as David Goforth and Jason Rogers, and a bunch of them got called up in the last week to get a little taste of the big leagues as a reward for their great season.  The Brewers have had nearly a dozen players make their big league debuts this year, and whichever players don't make the roster next year will certainly be making  a run at the AAA title in Colorado Springs.

- Congratulations to the Toronto Blue Jays for ending the longest playoff drought in baseball (22 years) by clinching a spot this past weekend.  With their high-powered offense they are an easy team to root for, but moreso I am just hoping that Erik and I are celebrating a championship with the team in Montreal in April!

My picks for postseason awards:
AL Cy Young - Dallas Kuechel
NL CY - Zack Greinke
AL Rookie of the Year - Carlos Correa
NL ROY - Kris Bryant
AL MVP - Josh Donaldson
NL MVP - Bryce Harper
AL Manager of the Year - Paul Molitor
NL MOY - Joe Maddon

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 09.28:
Brewers 66-90 , -32.0, eliminated (3 @ Padres, 3 v. Cubs)
Reds 63-92, -34.5, eliminated (1 @ Nationals, 3 v. Cubs, 3 @ Pirates)

Twins 80-75, -11.0, -1.5 WC (4 @ Indians, 3 v. Royals)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 16 (+25 worked)

Peter - 41

Monday, September 21, 2015

Brewers Hire Guy Younger than Me as New GM


The Brewers were officially mathematically eliminated from playoff contention last week, but continue to make headlines off the field.  The big story to come out late last night was that the team had finally found a new general manager: David Stearns, who is currently the assistant GM of the Houston Astros.  I should specify that this was the big Brewers story last night, as it has largely been overlooked in the local media thus far thanks to the Packers' handling of the Sea Pigeons.  At age 30, Stearns becomes the youngest active GM in all of baseball - and judging by the few photos I've seen of him, he is probably going to be the richest guy in town who still gets carded at bars.  He's even younger than arguably the team's most recognizable star, Ryan Braun.  In a week where the team narrowly escaped a winless homestand and saw two players sent to the hospital, it was a welcome bit of good news.

Given his age and relative obscurity in the game so far, there isn't much more that I can add to the story that what is already out there.  He's a 2007 Harvard graduate that follows the mold of the many younger, analytical-driven front office folk that the game has seen in the last decade.  He has seen time with the Mets and Indians organization, the Arizona Fall League, and even the MLB front office before holding his most recent position with the Astros the past 3 years.  It's no coincidence that the Astros have experienced an organizational rebirth during his tenure there.  From what I can tell he is very smart, a good leader, and seems to have a lot of experience on the scouting side of the game.  I'm very excited to see what this guy brings to the table, and I am glad the Brewers went with a younger "sabermetric" GM to lead the Brewers through their rebuild and into competitive baseball again, hopefully now sooner rather than later.  You can say what you want about owner Mark Attanasio, but one thing he is first and foremost is a savvy businessman.  I have no doubt in my mind that this GM search was exhaustive and that he hand-picked that absolute best possible candidate to right the ship in Milwaukee.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 09.21:
Brewers 63-86 , -30.0, eliminated (3 @ Cubs, 4 @ Cardinals)
Reds 63-85, -29.5, eliminated (3 @ Cardinals, 4 v. Mets)

Twins 73-73, -11.0, -2.5 WC (3 v. Indians, 3 @ Tigers)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 16 (+23 worked)

Peter - 41

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Baseball Returns to Montreal for 3rd Straight Season


(photo courtesy of Ballparks.com)

It was announced last week that the Blue Jays will be playing another exhibition series at Olympic Stadium in Montreal to start the 2016 season.  It is the 3rd straight year the Jays will be concluding their Spring Training schedule in Quebec, and this time their opponent will be the Boston Red Sox on April 1st & 2nd.  There was some speculation, due to the overwhelming popularity and sold out crowds in 2014-15, that this would be moved to a regular season series in 2016.  Even as an exhibition series, these are far from meaningless games for a city that has experienced a groundswell movement to bring a team back permanently.  Any opportunity to showcase baseball on an international stage is good for Montreal's prospects.

I've written several articles on this blog about how I think Montreal deserves another chance at an MLB team, and with each passing year that becomes more inevitable.  But I write today because there's a good chance I'll finally get to go there!  Erik and I are both getting married in the spring (not to each other), so we've naturally been kicking around different ideas for a bachelor ball trip.  But when this was announced it immediately moved up to the #1 option.  With my wedding being on April 16th and thus pretty early in the season, the timing could not be more perfect.  I'm trying not to get too far ahead of myself, but the thought of visiting French Canada and Le Stade Olympique has us both very excited; it is an area and a stadium I have long had on my bucket list.  Erik and I both have a inexplicable fascination and admiration of Canada - we even made up our own song about Canada on the Tour that is a parody of "Kokomo" by the Beach Boys - but wherever we decide to go, it will be our first ball trip just the two of us in nearly 4 years, and it will be a blast.

UPDATE: Tickets purchased!!!  Can't wait!

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 09.13:
Brewers 62-80 , -26.0, -20.5 WC (3 v. Cardinals, 3 v. Reds)
Reds 60-81, -27.5, eliminated (3 @ Giants, 3 @ Brewers)

Twins 73-68, -11.0, -1.0 WC (3 v. Tigers, 4 v. Angels)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 16 (+21 worked)

Peter - 40

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Return to Dodger Stadium


All photos of Dana Point and Dodger Stadium available on Flickr.

Megan and I were in the greater Los Angeles area for a wedding this past weekend, and of course we found time to fit a game in.  Come on, did you think I was going to fly all the way across the country in the middle of summer and not watch ball?  Even though I have been to LA before, I didn't fully understand until this weekend just how spread out the city is.  When we were on the Tour I just attributed the long drive times to the LA traffic, but on top of that, from one end of the metro area to the other is over 100 miles.  That pretty much ruled out any California League game this weekend, since we were in Laguna Beach, which is almost as close to San Diego as it is to downtown LA.  After seeing that the Angels weren't home, we decided on a Dodger game, which was relatively close to where my friend Stu lives in Pasadena.  He and his wife Silvia were down for the wedding as well and we coerced them into going along and driving us up to the park, with a quick stop for some more beach time in neighboring Dana Point on the way.  Thankfully the game was moved to a Sunday night game, which afforded us some relief from the heat, and allowed us to make it up there on time.  When I say "on time" I mean before the 3rd inning when regular Dodger fans show up.  Thanks to their lax efforts even for a nationally televised game, we were still there early enough to obtain the sweet Beats-ripoff headphones giveaway.

We entered the park from the outfield, which was a completely difference experience compared to the last time I visited.  Dodger Stadium is unique in that it is set into a hill, with the outfield entrance being the lowest point of the site, and the area behind homeplate being the highest point, about at the height of the upper deck.  This means that when Erik and I were there on the Tour and entered from the top of the hill, the façade was very short and unimpressive as a result of the drastic grade change.  At Dodger Stadium, the grand entry is at the bottom or "back" of the park, down closer to field level, because there is the height to make a more significant gesture.  It was a much nicer view entering at the top of the park and looking out into the ravine, but here at the bottom I really felt like I was entering a stadium and not an office building.  Walking in from the back also allowed me to circumnavigate the stadium for the first time.  At this ballpark, just like at US Cellular Field or Marlins Park, you are only allowed on the level in which you have a ticket.  The people in the nicer seats can walk up to where the peasants are sitting, but not vice versa.  So on the Tour, being that we scraped by on the cheapest seats at every park, we only got to experience the upper deck.  Now that I have a real job, I could afford the luxury of the main level and got to see the main concourse for the first time.  "Luxury" in this case means $15 cans of Modelo and more than one concession stand.  If you can't pick up the sarcasm, there was nothing too exciting on the main level.  I can't say I expected much, as the stadium is over 50 years old.  It's pretty cramped width-wise and height-wise just as at the old Yankee Stadium, and a lot of the vendors and team shops are set up in carts in the aisleway or have been tacked on, which lessens the width even more.  However, unlike at old Yankee Stadium, you can see the field from most places on the concourse, and I've got to believe this was one of the first stadiums to do that.  I also liked the narrow seating sections that make it so you don't have to to jump over 14 people to go to the bathroom, and I've always liked the expansive "open suites" down by the field.  There have clearly been a lot of nip-and-tuck fixes to the stadium to make it feel more modern, but some things just can't be fixed, such as the shady and tight stairwells tucked in back corners to get to the upper levels.  It took awhile for us to find a stair up to the loge level, but we eventually made it to our seats, with Dodger Dogs and giant cold beers in hand.

I was initially pretty grumpy when we got to our seats - it was hot and the sun was shining directly on us, my friend Stu just spent $60 on a round of piss beer, and we missed what would be the only runs of the game (a 2-run shot by ROY candidate Kris Bryant).  Even as the crowd settled in and Dodgers kept putting up zeroes, I didn't really fathom that anything special was going on.  It wasn't until about the 7th inning when I realized hey, this Cubs pitcher is dominating.  By the 8th inning I was glued to my seat even though my beer was empty and I had to pee.  The crowd - what was left of the crowd after most Dodgers fans left - was on its feet in the 9th to watch the Cubs' Jake Arrieta strike out the side to finish the game.  I couldn't even believe it - I had just seen my first live no-hitter!!!  It was a complete out-of-body experience.  I couldn't even process at the time what had just happened as I walked out of the stadium.  But looking back now at the relative rarity of this feat, I feel very fortunate that I was there to witness it, even though it meant rooting for the Cubs for a few innings.  I still grin ear to ear as I think of it even now as I type this.  So many close calls in my life, and 40+ ballgames a year, and I was finally able to see a no-hitter.  The four of us left the stadium in amazement at what we just saw, and glad we had chosen to take this little excursion after John's wedding.  As a side note, my buddy Stu (who knows practically nothing about baseball) has only been to 2 ballgames this year - this game, and the Cole Hamels no-hitter in Chicago.  I hate him.

Just like all the stadiums I have revisited since the Tour, my opinion of Dodger Stadium has improved, if for no other reason than I got to see more of it.  It's still not one of my top parks or even middle of the pack, but now I at least feel like I've experienced the real and complete Dodger Stadium.  Much like Wrigley Field, no matter how rundown or outdated it might be, there is something to be said for just being in the crowd at a timeless ballpark.  Sharing the evening with good friends witnessing a historic event is something that I will never forget.

park rankings and statistics
(see also original post from 8/14/07): 

aesthetics - 4
views from park – 9
view to field - 7
surrounding area – 3
food variety - 4   
nachos - 5
beer - decreases to 2 ($14.50 for 24 oz can of beer!)

vendor price - 3
ticket price - decreases to 5 ($50 loge level)
atmosphere - increases to 7 (Dodger fans still suck, but it was a no-hitter!)
walk to park – increases to 3 (much nicer from back of stadium)
parking price/proximity - 1 (expensive)
concourses - 4
team shop - decreases to 7 (team stores on main level not impressive)


best food – Dodger Dog
most unique stadium feature – stadium set into hill
best jumbotron feature – incredibly difficult crazy cap shuffle
best between-inning feature – fan vs. Clayton Kershaw naming as many holidays as possible in 15 seconds

field dimensions – 330/395/330
starters – Jake Arrieta (CHC) v. Alex Wood (LAD)
opponent – Chicago Cubs
time of game – 2:42
attendance – 46679
score – 2-0 L (Arrieta no-hitter)

Brewers score that day – 4-1 W


STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 09.03:
Brewers 58-75, -28.0, -17.5 WC (3 @ Reds, 3 @ Marlins, 4 @ Pirates)
Reds 55-77, -30.5, -20.0 WC (3 v. Brewers, 3 v. Pirates, 4 v. Cardinals)

Twins 69-64, -12.5, -1.5 WC (3 @ Astros, 3 @ Royals, 3 @ White Sox)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 16 (+21 worked)

Peter - 40

Monday, August 24, 2015

Doug Melvin to Transition out of Brewers GM Role


(image courtesy of JSOnline.com)

It was announced a couple of weeks ago that Doug "The Stache" Melvin, the Brewers general manager of over 12 years, was relieved of his duties effective when a suitable replacement is found, and will be transitioning to an "advisory role."  This may sound like a polite way of saying he was fired, but on the contrary it was a mutual decision being talked about with the ownership for quite some time.  It was pretty clear with the signing of Craig Counsell as manager in May that the writing was on the wall for Melvin, who was in the last year of his contract.  Since that hiring, the Brewers have sold off a lot of their veteran players, and now with Melvin stepping down, an complete multi-year rebuild has been all but cemented, whether owner Mark Attanasio wants to admit that or not.  I would expect that nearly every other job in the front office will be vulnerable when the season ends, and I would not be surprised if DM's Canadian cohort Gord Ash - the assistant GM - is canned as well (who by the way is somehow older than Doug Melvin). 

It's a pretty popular line of thinking with the casual Milwaukee Brewer fan to blame Melvin for every single bad trade or signing, but it is easy to overlook all of the good he has done for the franchise as well.  The CC Sabathia trade in July 2008 and the Zack Greinke trade in December 2010 by themselves should be enough reasons for every single fan to personally write Doug a letter to thank him.  Without those trades we don't make the postseason either year, and the Brewers would certainly not be drawing 2.5 million fans in a year they are probably going to lose 95 games.  Yes, Mark Attanasio and the crop of young players that came up in the 2000s deserve a lot of credit as well, but Melvin was the guy pulling all of the strings.  Melvin also orchestrated the trades that brought Carlos Lee, Richie Sexson, Lyle Overbay, Carlos Gomez, Shaun Marcum, and Francisco Rodriguez here.  He understood our market and was not afraid to spend money and sacrifice future prospects to win at all costs, and when it comes down to it, that is what every fan wants at heart.  Ten years ago Milwaukee was never even close to any free agent's radar, and now it is honestly surprising if an offseason goes by in which we don't sign a big name.  Not to be forgotten, and certainly the most impressive thing to me, was Melvin's ability to find pitchers off the scrap heap - sometimes literally bagging groceries - who would go on to productive seasons.  One of the things that Doug said that has always stuck with me the most was that just about any professional pitcher can save 25 games, but it is the next 10-15 saves that make a closer cost big money.  Doug had a knack for finding guys for just the right window of time, and then knowing exactly when they were used up to release them, and it's because of that strategy that I have never believed in giving closers hefty contracts.  Solomon Torres, Derrick Turnbow, John Axford, Jim Henderson, Trevor Hoffman - the list could go on forever.  Bottomline is the 'Stache brought winning baseball back to Milwaukee, and he will certainly be missed.

Doug Melvin did not make his decisions alone, however, and was often aided by one of the best scouting departments in the league, which brings me to my final point - who will replace Doug?  A lot of signs point to Brewers Scouting Director Ray Montgomery as a likely candidate.  He is young and already well respected in the league, and the Brewers are known to like to promote from within.  Whoever it is, I think the team is likely to go the route of a young sabermetric-type guy as so many teams are moving towards these days.  It's kind of like global warming - at a certain point sabermetrics has shifted from theory to fact, and it makes a team seem dumb and stubborn not to be on board with it.  I still think Craig Counsell would be well-suited for the job and is in my opinion still a candidate despite his 3-year contract as manager and a vote of confidence from Mark Attanasio, but there are certainly plenty of exciting assistant GMs in the game now that would also be worthy candidates.

To say the 2015 has been rough would be an understatement, but as I've been saying, all of the moves this year have been necessary and have me very excited for this team's future.  I can't wait to see the changes in store for the offseason and am already eagerly awaiting the release of the 2016 schedule.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.24:
Brewers 53-72, -26.0, -19.5 WC (2 @ Indians, 3 v. Reds, 3 v. Pirates)
Reds 51-71, -26.5, -20.0 WC (1 v. Tigers, 3 v. Dodgers, 3 @ Brewers, 3 @ Cubs)

Twins 63-61, -12.5, -1.5 WC (3 @ Rays, 3 v. Astros, 3 v. White Sox)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 16 (+17 worked)

Peter - 39

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Mallards Fall Short, Kingfish Win Northwoods League Title


All photos from Madison v. Green Bay NWL Wild Card Game available on Flickr.

Another year, another home team championship for me!  Congratulations to the Kenosha Kingfish for winning it all last week Thursday, defeating the St. Cloud Rox to win the NWL Summer Collegiate World Series 2 games to 0.  The Kingfish have continued a nice little streak I have going - the last 3 champions of the Northwoods League have all been teams I owned a ticket package for.  The Mallards won their 2nd league title in 2013 when I was living in Madison, the Lakeshore Chinooks won last year, and this year the Kingfish in only their 2nd season of existence.  As he was all season, Eric Filia was one of the key members who led the team to the promised land.  He finished the year 5th in the league in batting at .340, to go along with 48 runs and 55 RBI primarily hitting out of the 3-spot in the order.  For a 72-game schedule and probably his first time ever using a wood bat, that's pretty damn spectacular.

Megan and I thoroughly enjoyed our 7 treks down to K-hole and getting to know the city a little bit better, and I'm sure we will be renewing again in the future, but we chose to attend a Mallards playoff game in lieu of the Kingfish this past Monday.  We've been a fan of the Mallards longer than any other team, so no matter where we end up they will always be our "Northwoods League home team."  We for sure had to get out there at least once this season and this was our last opportunity to do so.  I have grown accustomed and come to expect something new at Warner Park every time I go, and this year was no different.  One of the last open picnic areas was closed off in left field with brick and elevated onto a platform for better viewing, and the second and most obvious addition to the Duck Pond was the double-decker pizza bus.  It's pretty much just that - you walk into the "ground floor" of the bus to order pie that is cooked right in the bus, and you can eat it on the "top floor."  This is a mobile bus that has been going around to the different parks owned by Big Top Baseball.  We didn't get to go inside, but since the Kingfish are also a part of Big Top, we will have to make a point of it next year.  Yet another example of how this ownership group is constantly trying to innovate and improve the fan experience.

It didn't quite feel like a Mallards game on this night as the stadium was probably only a quarter full, a far departure from the team that has been obliterating summer collegiate attendance records for the past decade.  Madison won 3-2 to advance to the South Division finals, and would lose to the eventual champion Kingfish the following night.  The Mallards got a stellar pitching performance from Andrew Beckwith, who gave up only 1 unearned run in 6 1/3 quick and efficient innings.  A leadoff homerun in the 1st by Anthony Gonsolin would be all the support he would need, but they tacked on 2 more in the 4th just for good measure.  The Bullfrogs made a game of it with a run in the 8th to cut the deficit to 1, but North Carolina junior A.J. Bogucki took the ball for the final 2 2/3 innings and shut the door.  Bogucki has been a proficient starter all year for the Mallards, but Donnie Scott was pulling out all the stops and wanted his best guy out there to finish the game, which was I'm sure what the league was hoping for with the new single-game elimination divisional format.

Another Northwoods League season is in the books, which means pretty soon I'll be replacing the window fan in our bedroom with plastic wrap to keep the cold out.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.18:
Brewers 51-69, -26.0, -18.0 WC (3 v. Marlins, 3 @ Nationals)
Reds 51-65, -24.0, -16.0 WC (2 v. Royals, 4 v. Diamondbacks)

Twins 59-59, -12.5, -2.5 WC (3 @ Yankees, 4 @ Orioles)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 16 (+17 worked)

Peter - 38

Monday, August 10, 2015

MLB Expansion?


In his first year in office, Commissioner Rob Manfred has already caused quite a stir with proposed and implemented changes to baseball.  Perhaps the most obvious for anyone who has been to a game this year are the "pace of play" initiatives - the between innings pitch speed clock and batters being required to keep one foot in the batters box at all times to name a couple.  These tweaks have shaved an average of 8 minutes off of games this year in a rather non-invasive way.  There have been talks of reducing the schedule back to 154 games, various discussions of how to inject more offense into the game, rebuilding relations with Cuba, even recently Manfred being open to moving back the trade deadline due to larger number of teams vying for playoff spots now.  The most intriguing to me is something that has not even been on baseball's radar for 20 years: expansion.

When you hear the word "expansion" as a ballpark enthusiast, first you immediately get excited about a future ball trip.  It's at least two more cities and ballparks I get to go to!  And adding a team in baseball means not only just that one major league team, but also at least 5 other minor league affiliates.  So expanding MLB to 32 means at least 12 more teams in reality.  After that, you start speculating where those teams could be, no matter how infeasible.  Yes, Erik and I would love to go watch a series in Havana, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.  Charlotte has been in talks for many years as the next viable market, but they just spent a lot of money on a new AAA stadium.  Portland also has been a city mentioned in the same breath as expansion, due in large part to its proximity to Seattle and having almost no market competition.  But it was only a few years ago that the Beavers left town, and I find it hard to believe if a city can't even support (and finance a new stadium for) AAA baseball, that a major league team would be likely. The most exciting and probable in my mind is baseball returning to Montreal.  Montreal is the largest remaining North American market without a pro ball team at any level, and it is a very wealthy city that is relatively close to other large east coast markets, not to mention natural competition with Toronto.  The obvious hurdle in Montreal is the stadium issue.  One of many, many reasons the Expos moved was because of the albatross known as Olympic Stadium, and its repair and funding bills that have moved well into 10 figures.  The stadium was never proper for baseball and only got worse as the years went on, but on the heels of a couple of very successful Blue Jays exhibition series the last couple of years, and possibly even a regular season series in 2016, it is clear the people of French Canada are very excited for the return of baseball, and more importantly that it is a more stable financial situation than it was 10 years ago, which is what MLB really cares about.  Granted, it is a large assumption that Montreal would build another stadium, but I see that as the only thing stopping the city from getting another team, whether that be by expansion or the Rays or Athletics moving (who knows what the future holds for those teams).  Build it, and they will come.

Other cities I think are very good candidates for expansion are San Antonio, Mexico City, Oklahoma City, or if the stadium situation was right, Las Vegas.  Vegas would almost assuredly have to be away from downtown and a covered stadium for it to work, and it is always a gamble (pun intended) to put any sort of sports team in a city where tourism is the major industry.  MLB would love to grab a city outside of the US to expand is reach, and Mexico City is the most likely non-Canadian candidate for that.  San Antonio is one of the top 10 largest cities in the country and could definitely support a team, and they also have the Alamodome to serve as a decent temporary structure until a suitable facility is built.  Much like Le Stade Olympique, the Alamodome has hosted some preseason exhibition series and has drawn very well despite its shortcomings as a baseball venue.  The geographical locations of OKC and San Antonio give them both a huge advantage in this game.  Having a bunch of teams close enough to be rivals but not so close as to infringe on territorial rights is definitely something MLB wants, particularly in a baseball hotbed like Texas.  As with any city, it is going to come down to market size, stadium, and most importantly money/wealthy ownership group.  There are not a lot of cities that have that combination, so it will be interesting to see how this shakes out.  I will say with relative certainty though that I expect MLB to be expanded to 32 teams within 15 years, and I would be very surprised if both the Rays and the A's stay in their respective cities.  Major League Baseball will most certainly capitalize on its popularity and financial prowess sooner rather than later, before the NFL completely swallows the entire world.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.10:
Brewers 48-65, -24.0, -15.5 WC (3 @ Cubs, 3 v. Phillies)
Reds 49-60, -21.0, -12.5 WC (3 @ Padres, 4 @ Dodgers)

Twins 55-56, -11.5, -4.5 WC (3 v. Rangers, 3 v. Indians)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 16 (+15 worked)

Peter - 34

Monday, August 3, 2015

Brewers Officially in Rebuild Mode


(photo courtesy of CBSsports.com)

You have to give credit to the Milwaukee Brewers front office - they rode the wave as long as they could.  After sucking for most of the 90s and into the and early 2000s, the Crew put together a pretty impressive stretch of 10 years or so when they ranged from competitive to downright fantastic.  They went "all-in" and mortgaged their entire farm system - not once, but twice - leading to their first postseason appearance in 26 years in 2008, and coming within 2 wins of the World Series in 2011.  All of the team's on-field terribleness and off-field advanced scouting for many years allowed the front office to have to tools to go out and get star-caliber players, and have a legitimate pre-season chance at the playoffs nearly every year since 2005.  We're talking about impact players that would otherwise have no interest in coming to Milwaukee, players that before Attanasio we could not even sniff an attempt at affording, and throwing boatloads of money into not only large contracts, but millions in stadium upgrades.  The Brewers went from just something to watch in the summer to pass the time between Packers seasons, to drawing 3,000,000 fans a year in the smallest market in baseball, and in general creating a buzz and pride around town that had not been seen since the year I was born.  The Brewers literally did everything they could to squeeze every last drop out of every dollar they spent, but sooner or later, the bough had to break.  This occurred this past week, when the team traded 20% of their active roster, and pretty much waved the white flag that they were entering what would likely be a multi-year rebuilding period.

The first domino to fall was Aramis Ramirez, who was traded to the Pirates for pitcher Yhonathan (yes that is the correct spelling) Barrios.  This trade was about dumping salary and clearing a roster spot more than anything; the player we got in return was secondary.  I see that Ramirez has already been benched after 7 games with his new team, and he is 37 years old and retiring at the end of the season, so the trade was a no-brainer.  I hope he can make one last playoff run with the team he started with so long ago, and I will always remember him not only for all the years he killed us with the Cubs, but as the best player I've ever seen at charging the slow roller on the infield.  The next trade was the big one - Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers to Houston for 4 of the Astros' top 20 prospects.  We got a 5-tool stud outfield stud in Brett Phillips, who was hitting .320 with 16 homers between A/AA at the time of the deal.  He already slots in as our #2 prospect in the system behind the rapidly rising Orlando Arcia, and will almost certainly be the biggest impact player of the deal.  Every single Astros blog you read about the trade says something to the affect of "I like this trade, but losing Phillips is going to hurt."  The Brewers haven't acquired or drafted a prospect that impactful probably since Ryan Braun, so fans have every reason to be excited.  Rounding out the pack are Domingo Santana, Josh Hader, and Adrian Houser, all with skill sets above many of those in our system, but with a ways to go in their development.  Santana is an outfielder described as a "Nelson Cruz type" to quote Doug Melvin.  Cruz was a guy who developed late in his career with a lot of raw power, and Santana looks to be following that same trajectory.  Both Hader and Houser have some plus pitches, but project to solid back-of-rotation starters or setup guys moreso than an "ace."  However, as uneasy as it makes me feel to write this, the Brewers now seem to have a surplus of young arms coming up and might not need an ace yet if Nelson and Peralta continue to develop, and we can hit on at least one of our first-round pitchers of the last 3 years in Devin Williams, Kodi Medeiros, and Nate Kirby, all of whom are in the top 10 of the system.

It was hard to believe following the Gomez deal and all the drama that went along with it, that the Brewers were going to do any more, but they did.  Hours before the deadline on Friday, our best hitter in Gerardo Parra was unloaded to the Orioles for pitcher Zach Davies, and bullpen goat Jonathan Broxton was traded to the Cardinals for a bag of balls.  Ok, so we actually got an A-level prospect for Broxton, but I am willing to bet somebody in the scouting department just was throwing at a dartboard for that one.  Like the Aramis trade, this deal was about dumping salary and clearing a roster spot, although at least for Aramis we got somebody with potential, unlike Malik Collymore from the Cards who I doubt will even be playing in a couple years (the nice thing about recording my thoughts on a blog is I can go back and look at this if he becomes a star and see what an idiot I was).  Parra, on the other hand, was somebody we actually turned a profit on.  We traded a AA-bat for him in Mitch Haniger last year, a promising player but probably still blocked at the major league level for several years (incidentally he was demoted to A-ball this year in the D-backs organization), and we then flipped him a year later during the best season of his career for the O's #3 prospect and a guy who is near major league ready.  The organization feels he is probably going to slide right in and compete for Mike Fiers' spot next spring, and still has his full 6 years of control, both of which are what was attractive about him.

Overall I am very excited for the deals the team made and very excited for the future of this team, something I didn't think I would be saying at all this year.  I really didn't believe that the ownership had the stomach for a rebuild, especially considering the uncertainty of the GM position moving forward, but I am glad they did.  Next year is going to be another brutal year most likely, but looking ahead to 2017 the Brewers look like they have a chance to start another window of success like they did 10 years ago.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 08.03:
Brewers 44-62, -23.5, -14.0 WC (4 v. Padres, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 47-56, -19.0, -9.5 WC (3 v. Cardinals, 3 @ Diamondbacks)

Twins 54-50, -8.0, +1.0 WC (4 @ Blue Jays, 3 @ Indians)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 16 (+15 worked)

Peter - 31

 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Biloxi Shuckers Begin Season on 55-Game Roadtrip


This is kind of an old story at this point, but for those who do not know, the minor-league Biloxi Shuckers recently completed a 55-game roadtrip to start their season this year.  A very long story short: the team had moved this year from Hunstville, Alabama to Biloxi and was promised a new stadium by the city in time for the 2015 season, but a variety of delays due to budget and contractor issues pushed the opening back to June 6th.  In any other situation involving a new ballpark and a delay, this wouldn't be a big deal, but since the team was moving and its lease was up in Huntsville, it forced the Shuckers to essentially live as hobos for 2 months, driving around to different cities in the Southern League while living out of hotels and suitcases.  There is a lot of finger pointing and liquidated damages that go along with this - as would be the case in any construction project that did not meet a deadline - but the fact that it is a ballpark and a primarily publicly-financed ballpark at that, this has been much more prominent in industry circles.  What makes it an even better story is that through all of the adversity, the team still somehow managed to win the first half title, despite not having any fans to celebrate that achievement with.  ESPN actually did a nice piece on their tribulations, which was really when this story started picking up national media attention. 

I've been following this for quite some time before that, not only because I am a ballpark enthusiast, but because Biloxi is the Double-A affiliate of the Brewers.  Much like my trip to Nashville this year, I have been waiting for the team to get out of their s***hole stadium before I visited.  MGM Park is still far from being complete; they barely squeaked by with a temporary occupancy permit and continue to finish things while the team is away.  But with this saga nearly behind the team and the city, I look forward to a future visit.  The new Braves stadium is less than two years away, and Biloxi might very well get rolled into an Erik + Peter 10-year anniversary "Dirty South" Tour.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 07.27:
Brewers 43-56, -20.5, -11.5 WC (3 @ Giants, 4 v. Cubs)
Reds 43-53, -19.0, -10.0 WC (3 @ Cardinals, 4 v. Pirates
)
Twins 52-46, -7.5, +3.0 WC (2 v. Pirates, 4 v. Mariners)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 13 (+14 worked)

Peter - 30

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Hardball Passport


In the early days of Facebook, there used to be an attached app called "Stadium Tour."  On it you could log not only every baseball stadium you've been to, but every arena, every stadium for any sport you can think of, at all levels, including ones that were no longer in use.  It was the most comprehensive stadium tally I've ever seen and one that Erik and I used quite frequently to wage war against each other.  Well, that app went the way of the dodo quite some time ago, and since then much to my shock and dismay, I have not found anything even close to it.  With all of the people that tour stadiums particularly ballparks I could not believe not even one person had thought to develop an app beyond just the 30 MLB teams.  I've been tracking all of my ballparks on a Word document like some sort of caveman. 

I finally discovered something pretty comprehensive called Hardball Passport.  It plays off of the popular MLB passport books that came out a while ago that you can get physically stamped at a ballpark.  This particular website goes even further and offers a database of games that goes back 40 years in which you can track game results, stats, and every park that has been open since then.  It has all current MLB and MiLB parks on it, as well as many defunct ones.  By "checking in" to certain ballparks and in certain quantities, you can unlock many badges or stamps, say for instance visiting every park in California, or all 30 MLB teams.  You can set up challenges to keep yourself on task for ballparks to visit - in my case, I have 4 parks left of 16 in the Midwest League.  You can plan roadtrips on it because all of the team schedules are at your fingertips; it certainly would have been nice to have this for our 2007 tour.  The coolest part and the advantage of having this online rather than paper form is the database available to you at all times.  I know what the Brewers record was in all games I have attended, what the best hitters were of all my visits, and I can see how many times I have been to each park all at the click of a mouse.

No college, summer collegiate, or spring training parks yet, so I still need my Word document, but it is still a cool website for anybody who is a ballpark chaser like myself.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 07.16:
Brewers 38-52, -18.5 (3 v. Pirates, 2 v. Indians, 4 @ Diamondbacks)
Reds 39-47, -15.5 (3 v. Indians, 4 v. Cubs, 3 @ Rockies
)
Twins 49-40, -4.5 (3 @ Athletics, 3 @ Angels, 3 v. Yankees)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 13 (+14 worked)

Peter - 28

Monday, July 6, 2015

Tour 2015: First Tennessee Park


All photos of Nashville, Lynchburg, Jack Daniel's Distillery, and First Tennessee Park available on Flickr.

My big vacation of the year took me to the mid-South, centered around the new Nashville Sounds ballpark.  The origins of this trip go back many years, during the decade when Nashville hosted the Brewers' top affiliate.  Really all I was waiting for was the team to move out of Greer Stadium, which was widely considered the worst ballpark in the Pacific Coast League.  An announcement of a new stadium and a rave review of the city by my brother all but sealed the deal to start planning this last year.  However, with a new park and a great city comes some clout in the affiliate shuffle game, and unfortunately the Sounds booted the Brewers as their parent club in September, but that did not deter me.  It just so happened that the Brewers new AAA club in Colorado Springs was playing in Nashville over the holiday weekend, so the timing couldn't have been better.  I brought my fiancée and parents along for a nice family roadtrip.  I don't think I've been in a car with anybody that for that long since the Tour, but after 9+ hours of driving we made it to our destination in one piece a little after 4pm on Wednesday. 

We rented a charming mini-Victorian home in East Nashville near the Five Points neighborhood and couldn't have asked for a better setup.  We were surrounded by a nice bar and restaurant area where the locals go, but yet we were also only a couple miles from the downtown.  It was the best of both worlds and the first night we explored the more intimate neighborhood side of the city, which included the best meal of the trip at a place called The Local Taco.  Thursday was the day we went to the Sounds game.  We started the day off by hitting just about every establishment on Broadway downtown.  Broadway is kind of like Beale Street in Memphis - it's a dense street full of tourist bars and shops, and every one of them has live music all day every day in which the artists work for free just for the exposure (and tips of course).  Except in Nashville, it is obviously country music instead of blues.  The street is bookended by the Cumberland River to the east, and the Predators NHL arena to the west, and we spent a good 6 hours there.  The walk to the park was an additional mile just north of the state capitol.  Had we not gotten in line super early for the star-spangled sunglasses giveaway, we would have gotten absolutely soaked to the bone by rain.  There were scattered pop-up showers most of the week we were there (and most of the summer in the south from what I gather), and a large cell passed through just before gametime, delaying the start by a half-hour.  Fortunately it was also Thirsty Thursday, so this just gave us extra time to enjoy $2 beers under the protection of the concourse.

First Tennessee Park sits on arguably one of the most historic sites in all of baseball, Sulphur Dell.  It was the site of the original Nashville ballpark built in 1870 that stood for nearly a century, and even before that was home to amateur baseball played by early settlers and traders.  After 37 seasons at Herschel Greer Stadium, baseball finally returned to the site this year.  It can be reasonably estimated that baseball in some form has been played in Nashville for over 160 years, and First Tennessee Park is continuing that lineage.  Unfortunately, I did not notice that much at the ballpark in the way of celebrating and depicting this history.  There are a few references to Sulphur Dell on some signs and concessions stands, but other than that I didn't notice any sort of plaque or timeline.  Unless I just didn't notice it, this seems like a missed opportunity by the team for something truly unique in a stadium that already isn't very memorable - more on that to follow.

Because of where the stadium is situated in town and the direction it faces, most people as of right now are approaching the park from the outfield or 1st base side of the stadium, even though the main gate is behind homeplate.  This seems like a nuance that will be fixed once the area around the stadium gets built up a little bit more - as with a lot of new parks these days, a "ballpark village" of sorts seems to be in construction on adjacent blocks.  But as for now, it just meant extra walking.  You can't fault the park for being oriented a certain way because the field is required to face east, but First Tennessee Park at least seems to recognize this deficiency and puts its two really interesting elements - the bar/game area and the guitar-shaped scoreboard - in the right field corner to pique your interest right off the bat.  The scoreboard was a vestige from old Greer Stadium (albeit a newer model) and is definitely what the Sounds are famous for.  Aside from that, the park did not really have anything memorable, inside or out.  The front entry is nice, but the façade is so long it seems like more of an arena than a ballpark.  The interior was pretty bland and unassuming, and as I mentioned before, not a lot of history talking about Sulphur Dell other than a sign in left field proclaiming it to be "baseball's most historic park."  There is a fine line from a ballpark being too distracting and too unoriginal, and First Tennessee Park decided to flirt with the more conservative side of that line.  I will say that the really nice part of the park that I mentioned - the bar in right field called "The Band Box" - is almost cool enough by itself to be an identity for the ballpark.  It's so much of a node that draws people in that you almost don't need that much else in the park - so large in fact that it carves into the field substantially, making it only 310' down the line.  There is a lawn area with bags and ping pong set up, a nice couch area with TVs, a gigantic bar, picnic benches, a standing rail along the fence with a view of the field, and some tiered outfield seating.  It feels like a tavern establishment outside of the stadium that just happens to have a nice view of the field, and it is one of the best public bar areas I have experienced.  When I go to games with my family, we have been known to throw back quite a few and spend a lot of time schmoozing the bartenders, so this was an ideal spot for the Nagels.  Megan made friends quickly with a number of employees, including the head bartender who introduced us to one of the most delicious beverages I have ever had at a ballpark - a whiskey & coke slushie.  They were so good that we immediately began plotting how we would make them for a future Brewers tailgate.  Outside of the bar area, there was a fairly diverse concessions variety, but very expensive - the regular price of beer was even more expensive here than Miller Park.  And only one hot chicken stand in Nashville would be like having only one cheesesteak stand in Philadelphia.

The game pitted the Brewers' former AAA affiliate against its current one, and the visiting Sky Sox lineup was full of former Brewer players. Three hitters and three pitchers in the game - Logan Schafer, Elian Herrera, Matt Clark, Hiram Burgos, Rob Wooten, and David Goforth - had all seen time with the Crew in the last year and a half.  Also in the lineup were journeyman Pete Orr, recently promoted infield prospect Yadiel Rivera, and Matt Dominguez, who was a former Astros top prospect picked up off of waivers a few weeks ago.  Perhaps the most intriguing face I saw on the team was Jim Henderson.  He saved 28 games for the Brewers in 2013, but since then has been battling shoulder issues and is still attempting a comeback in the minor leagues after being outrighted off of the roster earlier this year.  He did not see any action in the game but that did not stop me from sneaking some closeup photos of his beard in the dugout from our 4th row seat.  The Sky Sox ended up hanging on for a 4-3 victory.  Burgos was adequate, giving up 3 runs over 4 innings, but just as with the big league squad this year, the bullpen bailed him out to allow the offense back in the game.  David Goforth looked particularly impressive, striking out the side in the 7th.  The only two guys I had not heard of on the team - Nevin Ashley and Robinzon Diaz - each had 3 hits for Colorado Springs.  Joey Wendle was the player of the game for the Sounds, going 2-5 with a homerun.  It was weird to root against the Sounds, but still an enjoyable game.

We spent an additional two days in Nashville after Thursday night's game.  On Friday we made the 70-mile drive south to Adult Disney World, aka Jack Daniel's Distillery.  This was clearly the best part of the trip for my mom, and I also enjoyed it immensely.  I'm more of a beer drinker and am used to brewery tours, so it was interesting to take my first distillery tour and see how whiskey was made.  It was also very neat that it was broken up into many old buildings in a secluded wooded campus.  Ironically, the most famous brand of whiskey in the world is made in Moore County, which has been dry since 1909.  Through some sort of loophole, we were still able to partake in some samples, and it made the day worth it.  On Saturday we had grand aspirations to get a good seat for the downtown fireworks, which are supposed to be largest display in the country (although Madison also claims this title).  However, much like the rest of the week, it rained most of the day and we called it an early night after drinking in a smaller area of downtown called Printers Alley, a little north of Broadway.  We did get to go on an old-time steamboat in the afternoon up and down the Cumberland which was very cool - particularly because they had a bar with souvenir cups - but the river was about 10 feet higher than normal so we did not get to go all the way downtown.

I know I can speak for Megan and my folks when I say we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the Music City.  I definitely would recommend to any potential visitors to stay, or at least spend a day in East Nashville like we did.  Not to say things like the Grand Ol' Opry are bad, but exploring the neighborhoods gives a perspective on the city as a whole.  And if you visit in the summer, do not trust the weather app on your phone and just carry an umbrella with you at all times.  This trip may be it for Tour 2015.  I am saving some vacation days to go to the Arizona Fall League with Erik, but he is going to be looking for the first full-time permanent adult job of his life this month, and he needs to get this right.

park rankings and statistics: 
aesthetics - 5
views from park – 3
view to field - 9
surrounding area – 3 (downtown 1mi south)
food variety - 7
nachos - 9
beer - 9 (would be much lower if not $2 beer night - beer very pricy!) 

vendor price - 5
ticket price - 3 (inner bowl is expensive but GA only $7)
atmosphere - 8 (right field bar is awesome)
walk to park – 6
parking price/proximity - n/a (we walked)
concourses - 6 (bland, but wide with drink rails all the way around)
team shop - 6 (no inaugural season baseballs or Sounds guitar picks!)


best food – pulled pork nachos (did not try hot chicken but that is a Nashville specialty)
most unique stadium feature – guitar-shaped scoreboard
best jumbotron feature – Coke race
best between-inning feature – Zaxby's Chicken Dance

field dimensions – 330/403/310
starters – Hiram Burgos (CS) v. Parker Frazier (NAS)
opponent – Colorado Springs Sky Sox
time of game – 2:59 (:33 delay)
attendance – 7377
score – 4-3 L

Brewers score that day – 8-7 W


STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 07.06:
Brewers 36-48, -18.5 (3 v. Braves, 4 @ Dodgers)
Reds 36-44, -16.5 (3 @ Nationals, 4 @ Marlins
)
Twins 43-39, -4.5 (3 v. Orioles, 4 v. Tigers)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 13 (+15 worked)

Peter - 26

Monday, June 29, 2015

Joe Faber Field


All photos of Joe Faber Field available on Flickr.

Megan and I went to visit her family in central Minnesota this past weekend, and we took in a St. Cloud Rox game with the clan while we were up there.  I learned a couple of interesting hometown area baseball tidbits during our trip.  #1 - the Rox started playing in a new ballpark 8 years ago and I had no idea.  All this time I had been looking forward to writing the name "Dick Putz Field" as many times as possible the day we finally made it to this park, and here I come to find out they play in a newer stadium right next door.  From the looks of it though, it was a good thing.  #2 - apparently her small town of Cold Spring has a 90+ year history of town ball and is equipped with a legit ballpark that hosts 3 amateur teams.  Three teams!  Milwaukee is 150X its size and doesn't even have three teams.  We drove by it on Saturday night and it looked super fun; I'm pumped to go to a game there next summer.

But let's rein it in here and get back to St. Cloud.  Joe Faber Field was constructed in 1998 and has been host to the Rox since 2007 following a renovation.  Together with their former home Dick Putz Field a mere 200 feet away, an ice arena, and a golf course, these facilities comprise the Municipal Athletic Complex, which is on the west side of town.  Faber and Putz also combine to host the St. Cloud State University ball team as well as a lot of regional high school tournaments.  Although not glamorous by any means, Joe Faber looks to be a vast improvement over their old home, and in retrospect I am glad I got to see a game in the newer park as opposed to when Erik visited Dick Putz Field about 10 years ago, back when the Rox were called the River Bats.  St. Cloud changed their team name to the Rox in 2012 to pay homage to the former Rox minor league club that ceased operation in 1971.  St. Cloud has a long history of minor league baseball, like most teams in the Northwoods League do - many of which I'm learning were affiliates of the nearby Twins.

We met all of my soon-to-be in-laws at the park around 5:45 for a 6:05 game.  Normally I like to get to a park I am visiting the first time as close to gates open as possible, but as I could tell when I got inside, I wouldn't really need that much time to walk around.  You emerge through the main gate into a large low-ceiling volume that houses the main concession stand and some souvenir racks, and that's really all there is to the park aside from the grandstand.  This is something you commonly see at an older park like a Wade Stadium or a Carson Park, and when a ballpark has age this can be charming.  But for a park that isn't even 20 years old it seemed very odd and cheap, and makes it feel much more outdated than it already is.  The first thing you see when you walk into a stadium shouldn't be basically a giant white waiting room with acoustical tile ceiling.  To either side of this "room" are tunnels that ramp up and emerge into the grandstand.  Once you are at your seat surveying the field, it looks and feels a lot like old Midway Stadium in St. Paul, and the between-innings entertainment was nearly as zany to match.  The major difference would be that instead of train tracks and industrial wasteland, you have a pretty view of trees and a golf course.  Joe Faber Field also has a fairly elaborate party deck along the 3rd base line.  Most parks in the Northwoods League have an all-you-can-eat section, but it is usually is just a glob of picnic tables.  Here it is a tiered system that allows good views to the field and also extends over the visitors dugout.  Aside from the party deck, I was definitely keenly aware here just how many aspects of the ballpark I had seen copied from others of a similar size and age.  Maybe this was a conscious strategy by the designer or maybe it was just lazy, or maybe being an architect who's visited over 120 stadiums is finally making me crazy.

The matchup pitted the Rox against the Blue Anchors, who have improved considerably since we saw them about this time last year in Alexandria with only 5 wins.  Andrew Clemen was mowing 'em down for the home team, striking out 7 in 6.1 innings.  It was easy to see that he had good stuff and was fooling a lot of hitters, but his stressful arm motion was even more noticeable to me.  It's little things like that that keep kids in this league from getting drafted.  Clemen's counterpart Sean Terres nearly matched him, striking out 7 in 6 innings but with 3 walks.  In the 8th inning with the game knotted at 1-1, Luke Petterson led off the top half of the inning with a single, advanced on a sac bunt, and scored on a throwing error by the shortstop.  We left after the 3rd out because of a threat of rain, but that proved to be the winning run as Alex held on for the 2-1 victory.

If we were talking about a minor league park, this would have been near the bottom of my list.  But for the Northwoods League, Joe Faber Field more than adequately serves its tenants and its community despite its shortcomings.  It is affordable and quality family entertainment in a neighborhood setting, and at its core there is not much more you need at a baseball game.

park rankings and statistics: 
aesthetics - 3
views from park – 6
view to field - 5 (fence not net)
surrounding area – 3
food variety - 2
nachos - 2
beer - 4 (low variety, $5.75 for craft beer here is absurd) 

vendor price - 10
ticket price - 5 (again, $10 not bad but for this park it is absurd)
atmosphere - 6
walk to park – 5 (golf course)
parking price/proximity - 8 (free lot, but shared within complex so it is crowded)
concourses - 1
team shop - 5 (nice stuff but not an actual shop)


best food – kosher hot dog
most unique stadium feature – "Terrace" party deck
best jumbotron feature – n/a
best between-inning feature – kids giant undies race

field dimensions – 315/401/325
starters – Sean Terres (ALX) v. Andrew Clemen (STC)
opponent – Alexandria Blue Anchors
time of game – 2:31
attendance – 1781
score – 2-1 L

Brewers score that day – 5-2 L


STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 06.29:
Brewers 29-48, -23.0 (4 @ Phillies, 3 @ Reds)
Reds 34-40, -16.5 (3 v. Twins, 3 v. Brewers
)
Twins 40-35, -5.5 (3 @ Reds, 4 @ Royals)


2015 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 13 (+15 worked)

Peter - 25

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Return to Davenport


All photos of Modern Woodmen Park available on Flickr.

My final game of the weekend brought me back to a familiar place - Modern Woodmen Park in Davenport, Iowa.  I awoke to strong thunderstorms passing through the area, but by the time I got on the road it had cleared up.  I resisted every temptation to dominate the Waffle House next to my hotel (given what I ate last night) and hit the road around 8AM for the 4-hour drive.  It was a nice drive up Highway 67 through winding fields and towns with names like Industry and Preemption, culminating with my first time crossing the famed Centennial Bridge into Iowa.

There are many things I love about this park and many reasons I keep coming back.  I love the charm of the arched brick exterior and the way you ascend into the park as you would in many parks its age.  The view to the Mississippi River and aforementioned Centennial Bridge directly on the other side of the right field wall is unparalleled and one of the best views in all of baseball.  There are more concessions options than you can imagine, and they are all concentrated into one of the smaller more intimate concourses you'll find.  At most ballparks I am just looking for the first tasty food that catches my eye, but here at Mo Wood it literally took me three passes to even narrow it down to a stand.  Because of the park's low capacity (just over 4,000), noise and crowding are never an issue.  There are a lot of things for kids to do but the areas are well separated from the rest of the stadium.  Lastly, as an affiliate of the Twins, Cardinals, and Astros over the last 15 years, Quad Cities can always be expected to field a competitive team, including 2 league titles during that span.

My motivations for coming back to Davenport this particular time, much like my trip to Sauget, were primarily for reasons other than baseball.  Last year, the ownership group made a bold move by installing a one-of-a-kind attraction that cannot be found at any other ballpark in the world, at least that I know of - a Ferris wheel in left field.  At 110' feet tall, it's tall enough that you get great views of the city and the river, but not so tall that smaller children would be scared to ride (although, being my first time on a Ferris wheel, I will admit I was a little tense at first).  This ride is clearly meant for families and couples, but I paid my $5 and went anyways.  It was so cool and it gives you a very interesting perspective on the stadium you wouldn't be able to get otherwise unless you had a drone.  I got as many pictures as I could, but the wheel moved a lot faster than I expected, and I was paranoid about dropping my camera over the side.  I went before the game started and the line moved pretty fast, but I could see even well into the later innings the line to get on was packed.  This Ferris wheel, along with the tiki bar installed in right field a few years ago, gives Modern Woodmen Park something that a lot of ballparks strive for these days - use outside of a baseball game.  It also makes the view from the grandstand even more breathtaking, something I didn't think was possible.  If there is one stadium in America that is worthy of me trying to figure out the panorama feature on my iPhone camera, it would be this one.

Sunday's game was the last game of the first half before the All-Star Game in Peoria on Tuesday.  I did not stay the entire game, because it was really hot and I was exhausted and it was Father's Day, but it was a pitchers duel for the portion I did see.  Akeem Bostick's pitching line does not jump out at you - 5IP, 1ER, 3Ks - but he did it on only 59 pitches and did a good job of missing the barrel of the hitters' bats.  Jeremy Rhoades, on the other hand, labored for the visiting Bees, needing 51 pitches to get through 2 innings before being removed.  The first run of the game was a run-scoring GIDP in the top of the 5th, and Jason Martin returned the favor in the bottom half with a homerun.  It was 2-1 when I left in the 7th and looks like I did not miss much as the final was 3-1.  One interesting game note: Wayne Gretzky's son Trevor played left field for Burlington and had 2 of the team's 4 hits on the day.  He was drafted in 2011 by the Cubs, and Mike Scioscia traded his own son away for him last year.

This was my 5th overall visit to Mo Wood, formerly John O'Donnell Stadium, and I always look forward to coming back here.  It's probably the park I've visited the most excluding home cities and it remains one of my favorite stadiums, as well as consistently one of the top voted parks in the minor leagues.

park rankings and statistics
(see also previous posts from 8/28/07 and 5/20/09): 

aesthetics - 7
views from park – 10
view to field - 9
surrounding area – 5
food variety - improves to 10
nachos - 6
beer - improves to 8 (very affordable, souvenir cups, craft beer stand)

vendor price - 7
ticket price - improves to 8 ($6 GA)
atmosphere - improves to 7 (Ferris wheel is a big draw)
walk to park – 7
parking price/proximity - 10
concourses - 7
team shop - improves to 6 (new bobblehead museum inside)


best food – Bandit dog
most unique stadium feature – Ferris wheel
best jumbotron feature – commercials
best between-inning feature – kids are bungeed together and try to throw balls in buckets

field dimensions – 343/400/318
starters – Jeremy Rhoades (BUR) v. Akeem Bostick (QC)
opponent – Burlington Bees
time of game – 2:22
attendance – 4135
score – 3-1 W

Brewers score that day – 10-3 L