Friday, April 17, 2015

Return to Appleton

All photos of 2015 Timber Rattlers Home Opener available on Flickr.

Let it be forever recorded here that on April 12th, 2015, I attended a Midwest League opener that was above 40 degrees, for the first and probably the last time.  Megan and I stopped in Appleton on the way back from an event in Eau Claire, and it was near 70ยบ at gametime.  We arrived about an hour prior to the 4:05 first pitch and the parking lot was already packed.  The combination of the gorgeous weather and a Jonathan Lucroy bobblehead giveaway created the perfect storm for a Timber Rattlers record opening day attendance of 5,954.

After a stop in the team store, we went in search of some eats.  Much like their parent Brewers, the T-Rats have been making efforts to improve the fan experience at their ballpark year after year, and concessions is a big part of this.  Even with the large renovation a couple of years ago, the food offerings remained the status quo, but this year features a wide variety of new options.  The T-Rats now offer full-helmet sized nachos, which Erik and I always used to joke about but it seems like a lot of teams are actually implementing now.  There is also now a cocktail bar up the 3rd base line featuring liquors from the nearby Green Bay Distillery, in souvenir cups like the Brewers do.  Last but not least, there is a new made-to-order grill stand in the left field corner, kind of like the setup in Cedar Rapids.  Here you can find a lot of specialty burgers and various other forms of meat on a bun.  Or in some cases, not even a bun - they serve a one-pound burger on two funnel cakes called the Great Mother Funnel.  It also has cheese and 8 SLICES OF BACON.  If you think that's ridiculous, they even had the audacity to put a piece of lettuce on this thing.  What value is that adding?  If I'm spending $20 on a burger that uses a fried dessert as a bun, I am not concerned with the health benefits of a leafy green.  Naturally, Megan and I destroyed this burger.  And if you looked at our plate afterwards, "destroyed" is a pretty accurate term.  The funnel cakes were way overcooked and crispy, so it was incredibly difficult to eat, and we left many rock-hard shards of cake on the plate.  In an era when ballparks are all trying to outdo each other with ridiculous foods, I definitely give points for the effort, but it wasn't worth more than the novelty of just saying you tried one.  I do concede that it was Opening Day, so I'm guessing the guy running the grill probably had no idea how to assemble this beast.  Hopefully by the summer they will have perfected the recipe.  Despite my thin patience, I try not to judge anything going on at a ballpark based on an Opening Day experience - it's an entire staff of new employees learning new procedures during the biggest crowd of the year.

Now that I've talked about a hamburger for a paragraph, I will get into the game.  We had 9th row seats behind homeplate to witness Brewers 2014 1st round pick Kodi Medeiros master the Peoria Chiefs lineup.  He tossed 6 hitless innings with 7 strikeouts and had about the nastiest slider I have ever seen at this level.  Nobody was coming within 6 inches of even making contact with it.  Unfortunately the bullpen went on to surrender 11 runs in the final two frames and the offense mustered only 1 run on 6 hits, so the brilliant pitching performance was practically forgotten before the game was over.  In addition to Medieros, Jake Gatewood and Monte Harrison are on the team, both also drafted high in last year's class.  The Brewers are pretty notorious for coddling their prospects, so it was nice to see these three already in A-ball less than a year after getting drafted.  That tells me the Brewers really see something in these kids and think they will respond well to being thrown into the fire.  Medieros and Harrison in particular have "stud" written all over them and I think will handle this level of competition just fine.  Given how terrible the Brewers are now, it is nice to be able to drive under 2 hours to see their future stars - until Doug Melvin trades them for a middle reliever.

Brewers 2-7 (4 v. Reds, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 5-4 (4 @ Brewers, 3 v. Cubs)
Twins 3-6 (3 @ Royals, 3 @ Mariners)

Erik -1 (+1 worked)

Peter - 4

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