Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Griffey Jr, Piazza Enshrined in Hall

This past Sunday, the 2016 Hall of Fame Class was inducted in Cooperstown.  Two big names made up the list this year - Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza.  One could argue that both were the best at their position over a 10 year period in the 90s and early 00s.  Griffey was one of only 3 players to hit 500 HRs and earn 10 gold gloves and had seven(!) seasons of 40 homeruns, including 5 consecutive in his heyday from 1996-2000.  He was also the first to go into the Hall donning a Mariners cap, although in my opinion if Greg Maddux was allowed to have the cap on his plaque be sans-team, Griffey should have been allowed to go in with his signature backwards cap.  Piazza was a 10-time Silver Slugger Award winner who hit 427 homeruns, including the most ever as a catcher.  He was also the highest round draft pick to ever go into the Hall - so high in fact that his record will never be broken, because the 62nd round doesn't even exist anymore.

The last few induction classes, including this one, have really started to stand out to me because they are mostly filled with players I grew up watching.  Sure, I wanted to see Jack Morris get into the Hall as much as the next guy, but the players I remember seeing at County Stadium, Miller Park, and The GAB as an adolescent have a special place in my heart because I associate them with the time in my life when I really grew to love the game.  The 2016 class in particular holds personal meaning to me because Griffey and Piazza were two of the most popular players of their generation by far, and helped baseball grow in popularity once again.  Every kid in the 1990s had a #24 Griffey Mariners jersey and wore their hat backwards on the ball field to emulate Griffey.  He even stayed incredibly popular when he was traded to Cincinnati and was largely a shadow of his former self.  This is the time period, while attending college at UC, when I got to watch Griffey the most.  A 2005 Reds Griffey bobblehead was even the first of what is now an extensive collection I own.  Even as an aging star who saw the field less and less between injuries, that sweet swing and childlike enthusiasm remained and kept fans coming back to watch a perennially awful Reds team.  And speaking of sweet swings, that powerful stroke from Mike Piazza is what I will always remember about him the most.  I can still vividly picture that upright stance, those wide shoulders, that mustachey growl, batting with his Dodgers catching helmet turned forward instead of the standard ear-flap helmet, and most of all, the 2000 Subway Series vs the Yankees.

There's no doubt that these were two of my favorite players in high school and college, and as the years pass it is going to be harder for me to pass on the opportunity to attend one.  I can't even imagine how insane the crowd will be when Derek Jeter goes in on the first ballot in 2020.

Brewers 42-55, -16.5, -10.0 WC (3 v. Pirates, 3 @ Padres, 3 @ Diamondbacks)
Reds 39-60, -20.5, -14.0 WC (3 @ Padres, 3 v. Cardinals, 3 @ Pirates
Twins 37-61, -19.5, -18.0 WC (3 v. White Sox, 4 @ Indians, 3 @ Rays)

Erik - 11 (+17 worked)

Peter - 23

Friday, July 22, 2016

Homerun Derby at Kenosha Harbor

All photos of 2016 Northwoods League HR Derby available on Flickr.

I went to one of the more unique baseball events I've ever been to earlier this week - the Northwoods League Homerun Derby.  That in and of itself may not sound too crazy, but when you add the fact that the derby was not in a stadium but rather at the Kenosha Harbor, well that's pretty crazy.  The Kingfish are following a recent trend, or perhaps a shift, in baseball minor and independent leagues to add a more unique twist to their all-star festivities.  The Camden Riversharks and Lake Elsinore Storm have both hosted homerun derbies that took place on a USS battleship, and a few years ago the Eastern League had a "hitting challenge" in lieu of the traditional homerun derby.  The KBO even held a "bunt derby" on the same night.  The Big Top Baseball-owned Kingfish were certainly a worthy contender to carry the torch of wacky all-star events and put on an excellent show on Monday night.  The event was so well promoted that it actually ended up in many national sports publications and came in at #8 on Sportscenter's Top 10 the next morning.

The format of the event, which seems to change every year now, was set up as a regular 9-inning game, with one player from each division batting per half inning with 6 "outs" each.  At the end of the 9 innings, both a division and an individual player were crowned.  This format did two things - it gave a lot of players a chance to participate, but it also kept the event moving, as there were no lights at the harbor like you would have at a stadium and the derby had to be wrapped up before sundown.  The South Division rose again and beat the North rather handily, and hometown slugger Marty Bechina took home the individual title with 6 taters.

The logistics of this derby were actually very well executed given the zaniness of it.  Pitchers stood at the far end of a pier closest to the water, and the hitters stood 60'-6" closer to shore, with a catcher and screen behind him.  It was hard to tell what the width of the pier was from where we were standing, but I can assure you that had Carlos Gomez been participating, he surely would have swung out of his shoes and fallen right into Lake Michigan.  Batted balls that jettisoned towards the harbor then had to cross a line of floating yellow buoys to count as a homerun.  I presume that the homerun line was set up to match the dimensions of Simmons Field because it looked like a pretty short porch.  Staff members in kayaks patrolled the "infield" to retrieve balls, and there were many boats in the "outfield" that chose to forgo the $10 admission price and watch the derby for free.  Anybody staying at the Best Western next door would have gotten a free show as well, so I'll have to remember both of those as options if this event ever returns.  There was also a giant schooner that sailed back and forth keeping score, and also had fans aboard who purchased special VIP tickets.  Other than the winning slugger Bechina, there really wasn't another hitter that ever got on a roll, so the event did grow a little stale after awhile.  But it was still so cool to watch balls kerplunking into the water and people in boats scurrying after the ball like you would see in San Francisco.  Everybody longs to see a "splash hit" when watching a Giants game, and tonight every single ball hit was a splash hit.  The biggest splash of all came not from a participant, but from a young Kingfish staff member.  He bet some of the players earlier in the day that he could hit a homerun on his first swing, and he did!  The bet was that if he didn't hit a homerun, he had to jump in the lake, but on a night where the temperature approached 90ยบ, he gladly jumped in anyways.

With over 3,000 people in attendance for 2 hours of derby, live music, and fireworks, the event was an overwhelming success.  The best part about it is you can be all but guaranteed that the Northwoods League will make it a goal to make next year's homerun derby even more insane.  Perhaps the new Rockford team will get the game next year and try to hit balls onto I-90.

Brewers 40-52, -16.0, -10.0 WC (3 v. Cubs, 4 v. Diamondbacks)
Reds 36-59, -21.5, -15.5 WC (3 v. Diamondbacks, 3 @ Giants
Twins 35-59, -21.0, -18.0 WC (4 @ Red Sox, 2 v. Braves, 1 v. Orioles)

Erik - 11 (+17 worked)

Peter - 22

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Brewers Likely to Active Sellers Again at Trade Deadline

With the All-Star Break upon us and the Brewers already 14 1/2 games out of 1st place, Slingin' David Stearns has been fielding phone calls left and right about any and all players in what should be another active trade deadline for him.  When I was away on my honeymoon, the Crew flipped Aaron Hill for two prospects to Boston, which was probably the most expected move of any they could have made.  Hill came along in the package we got in the Segura-Wagner trade to Arizona, and I thought at the time how brilliant it was to get another trade chip in that deal.  It was a very Billy Beane-esque move.  There is no space on a rebuilding roster for a 34-year old with an expiring contract.

There have also been a lot of rumors floating around about where Jonathan Lucroy is heading.  The Rangers, Astros, and Red Sox are all in need of an upgrade at catcher and have all been linked to the all-star, among others.  A common thread with all of the teams interest is the bevy of blue-chip prospects they have in their farm system and/or Major League roster right now.  I would think that Lucroy will demand no less than 3 major-league caliber high-ceiling type prospects, not just guys who can fill a roster.  I personally don't see him getting traded until the offseason unless some team suffers a catastrophic injury at catcher in the next 2 weeks, but because he is arguably the Brewers best player and has a very team-friendly contract, he will continue to garner the most attention.  More likely than Lucroy, I expect to see some of our bullpen pieces get traded.  Jeremy Jeffress has been extremely serviceable as the closer in a year where he was not even expected to be in the role.  He has an ERA a shade above 2.00, a great groundball rate, and only 1 blown save.  Will Smith has also been one of the most reliable lefty late-inning relievers in all of baseball the last 2+ seasons, with mid-90s heat and a diving slider.  They are both also under team control for at least 3 more seasons, making them very attractive to any suitor.  Blaine Boyer is pitching decently and is a veteran on a one-year deal.  I expect one or all of them to be dealt soon, and really any reliever we have right now has to be considered fair game.  Chris Carter, Junior Guerra, and some of our bench outfielders might get some interest as well.  In fact I would say pretty much anybody except Jimmy Nelson and Zach Davies is tradeable at this point on the major league roster. 

It should be an interesting couple of weeks to say the least.  Come August 1st, we could have a completely different roster.

Brewers 38-49, -14.5, -8.5 WC (3 @ Reds, 3 @ Pirates)
Reds 32-57, -21.5, -15.5 WC (3 v. Brewers, 3 v. Braves
Twins 32-56, -20.0, -17.5 WC (3 v. Indians, 3 @ Tigers)

Erik - 11 (+15 worked)

Peter - 21