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 fa├žade 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