Friday, July 14, 2017

Juiced Balls Could be Cause of Homerun Spike


As of the All-Star break, the MLB is on pace to hit over 6,100 homeruns, which would shatter the previous record of 5,693 set in the year 2000.  That is significant for a couple of reasons.  First, 2000 was right in the middle of the so-called "steroid era" of baseball.  Barry Bonds was a year away from breaking the season homerun mark only 2 years earlier, and 4 years away from a season in which he slugged over .800.  The fact that an entire league that is presumably being drug tested more than ever before can still hit that many homeruns would leave one to believe there are other factors at play.  Secondly and perhaps most telling, MLB has been on a sharp upward trend in homeruns since around this time 3 years ago.  Since a lot of teams restock their balls at the break, there is speculation that there was something tweaked in the game ball around that time.

This certainly isn't the first time this has happened in baseball and it certainly isn't a secret either.  There was the famed "dead-ball era" up until the 1920s that was so dramatically different that statistics are often referenced in terms of during or after this time period.  College baseball has changed both their balls and their bats over the past decade.  The change to a metal composite "wood performing bat" reduced homerun totals by so much that it was compensated with a flatter seam ball.  My opinion is that MLB is more ignorant of the situation than trying to hide anything, so more than likely there are several factors at play.  Exit velocity is stat-du-jour these days and they are ever-increasing.  Batters are getting stronger and pitchers are throwing harder every year and that obviously leads to further hit balls - I mean, that's just science.  But if the data of the last 3 years has shown us anything it's that we are perhaps in another golden age of the homerun not seen in 20 years.  There have only been two 50 homerun seasons in the last 10 years and I personally am not opposed to seeing more of them.  It certainly helps the Brewers, who almost always seem to be in the top 5 in longballs.

Read this article on The Ringer for more of the data on the topic.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 07.14:
Brewers 50-41, +5.5 (3 v. Phillies, 4 @ Pirates, 3 @ Phillies)
Reds 39-49, -9.5, -11.5 WC (4 v. Nationals, 3 v. Diamondbacks, 3 v. Marlins)

Twins 45-43, -2.5, -1.0 WC (3 @ Astros, 3 v. Yankees, 3 v. Tigers)


2017 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 10 (+19 worked)

Peter - 25

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Tour 2017: MGM Park

  
All photos of Biloxi and MGM Park available on Flickr.

Immediately following the last pitch in Montgomery, we got back in the car and made the 3-hour drive down I-65 to Biloxi, which was considerably nicer than the drive through eastern Alabama.  Once we switched over to I-10 West we drove through some beautiful marshland and river basins right and this was around the time Erik awoke from his 2nd nap of the day.  I-110 took us the few miles south to the coast, and an off-ramp that is now completely within the Gulf of Mexico thanks to sea level rise took us right to our hotel.

If you moved Wisconsin Dells to the coast, and splashed in a little bit of New Orleans and Miami, you'd get Biloxi.  Sort of a "redneck riviera" to put it lightly, but actually quite charming.  Even after being decimated by Hurricane Katrina, it is still a popular vacation destination with a 12-mile long beach, casinos, lots of seafood and oyster restaurants, and take-out daiquiri shops.  The corner our hotel was on had the gleaming Beau Rivage across the street, Biloxi Beach kitty-corner, and the ballpark across the other street, so we had a perfect location right near downtown Biloxi.

We arrived around a half-hour before first pitch and walked over after checking in.  The ballpark is situated kind of like the Fort Wayne and Nashville parks where most of the pedestrian traffic is coming from the back of the stadium, but the main entrance is at home plate.  So there was a smaller gate in the outfield with the famous MGM lion statue, and the grander main entrance was up from a monumental stair towards home plate.  The ticketing was weird because it was just set up in a tent at the bottom of the stair, and this might be a byproduct of the stadium being shoehorned into the site.  The footprint is extremely constrained by a freeway, parking garage, and a street on 3 of the 4 sides, and this required some creative netting to prevent balls from smashing cars - even though there were some fouls that well cleared the 1st base net and probably startled some motorists at the least.  The constraints of the site also kind of limit how much of the outside you can see, so after getting our tickets from will call we ascended the steps into the park.

The first thing that hits you when you walk in is the Beau Rivage glistening across the street.  It's not an award-worthy building by any stretch, but it is a stunning backdrop watching the golden accents change with the setting sun.  The other really noticeable thing in the park is the extremely wide concourse.  It's much wider than a typical minor league concourse, I would say at least 40' wide.  Maybe this is just an optical illusion since the concessions/suites building is set back from the grandstand but nonetheless it was a nice feature and provided lots of mingling space and areas for drink/food carts.  Other than the view and the concourse, nothing really jumps out at you.  It doesn't have any really unique design features like Montgomery had with the train station.  It's primarily a stucco finish painted a coastal cream color like you would see in Miami or any other seaside city.  The lackluster architecture aside, it's the location and being a Brewers affiliate are definitely is what makes it memorable for me.  It was cool to see prospects such as Jacob Nottingham, Clint Coulter, and Luis Ortiz playing in the game.  It was only a couple of years ago that some of our top propsects like Orlando Arcia, Michael Reed, Josh Hader, Brandon Woodruff, and Brett Phillips donned the Shuckers uniform, so in just 3 years of existence the residents of Biloxi have seen some really good ball.  I love minor league baseball but it's always more fun watching a game you are more invested in, so Erik and I were both excited to root for the Brewers again on our trip.

We picked up one of the best meals we've had on this trip before heading to our amazing seats right behind home plate.  Erik had a muffaletta sammich and I had a shrimp po' boy.  Both were delicious but I'd be lying if I said I was not extremely disappointed and confused why a team with an oyster logo did not serve oysters.  That'd be like the Biscuits not serving biscuits!  Erik also added another souvenir ice cream helmet to his collection and I brought home a souvenir margarita glass, both of which I'm sure our wives were just thrilled about.  The Shuckers lost in extra racks 4-3 to the Mississippi Braves.  Luis Ortiz got the start for Biloxi, who was acquired in the Jonathan Lucroy trade last year.  He pitched okay, giving up 2 runs on 6 hits in 3.2 innings, but the relievers behind him were phenomenal.  Jon Perrin, UW-Milwaukee alumnus Josh Uhen, and Nick Ramirez combined for only 1 earned run in over 7 innings of work.  Ramirez is an interesting case as he was actually drafted as a first baseman by the Brewers in 2011.  After stalling at the AA-level for the last 3 years he decided that maybe his bat was not going to get him as the major leagues and switched to pitching.  In his 3rd season in Biloxi he is finally enjoying some success with a 1.47 ERA as of this game, and he even still rakes from time to time with 2 homeruns on the year.  He's no Brooks Kieschnick but still pretty damn impressive.  The offense for the Shuckers primarily came in the form of a Nottingham 2-run bomb in the bottom of the 1st.  He was the key piece in the Khris Davis trade and is undoubtedly our catcher of the future if he can get the defensive aspect of his game figured out.  Kade Scivicque hit the game-winning homerun for the M-Braves in the top of the 11th, who by the way very much just stole the old Milwaukee Braves logo for their caps.

With the 11 innings tonight, that put our total at 20 for the day and 47 in 4 days.  We capped off our night with a few drinks at the Hard Rock Casino and a to-go daiquiri at the New Orleans-style shop next to our hotel.  Tuesday morning we had a little bit of time to kill before our flights, so we did some swimming/wading/bathing in the Gulf and the hotel pool.  Well, I should say that I had a little time to kill - Erik ended up spending nearly 7 hours at the Gulfport airport bar, which had a pretty solid gate-to-bar ratio of 7:2.  We had an outstanding time as always and are already kicking around ideas for 2018!

park rankings and statistics: 
aesthetics - 3
views from park – 7

view to field - 5 (lots of foul territory)

surrounding area – 8 (beach, casinos, downtown)
food variety - 5 (points deducted for no oysters!)
nachos - 5
beer - 8 (good price, surprising amount of local brews)

vendor price - 8
ticket price - 7 ($13 box seats)
atmosphere - 4
walk to park – 8
parking price/proximity - 2 (sketchy parking lot with lady holding $10 sign)

concourses - 6 (wide)
team shop - 8


best food – shrimp po' boy
most unique stadium feature – view/area
best jumbotron feature – Krispy Kreme K counter
best between-inning feature – crawfish boil race


field dimensions – 325/400/325
starters – Kolby Allard (MS) v. Luis Ortiz (BLX)

opponent – Mississippi Braves
time of game – 2:52
attendance – 2210
score – 4-3 L

Brewers score that day – off

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Tour 2017: Montgomery Riverwalk Stadium

  
All photos of Montgomery and Riverwalk Stadium available on Flickr. 

Following our relatively relaxing weekend in Atlanta, we got into the crazy part of our trip on Monday - 2 ballgames, 1 day, 2 states.  This was a throwback to the old Tour days but not something we have done to this degree in a long time, so I was curious how the mid-30s versions of ourselves would hold up.  After picking up probably the worst car I have ever driven at the Atlanta rental car terminal (an Audi A4), we headed southwest to our first stop - a noon start in Montgomery, Alabama.  It was a 2-hour uneventful drive.  One thing that hasn't changed in the decade since our roadtripping days began is that Erik slept about 90% of the drive.  We grabbed a pint at a brewery/BBQ place across the street before the game but otherwise didn't see much of Montgomery.  It was surprisingly quiet and run down for such a historic downtown in a city of over 200,000 people. 

The ballpark was completed in 2004 and has exclusively hosted the Biscuits since they moved from Orlando that same year.  It is called "Riverwalk Stadium," but had it not been called that I never would have noticed there was a river behind the stadium.  I assumed with a name like that it would have been more integrated into the water, or at least have a view to it, so that was pretty disappointing.  What it lacked in natural scenery it made up for in history.  The entire eastern edge of the park along the 1st base line is a repurposed century-old train terminal.  A freight line actually still operates and passes beyond the outfield wall.  As I mentioned in the last paragraph, Montgomery is made up of a ton of old historic buildings, so this adaptive reuse project helped the ballpark really blend in with the area without having to build a kitschy brick wall in a style that would be obviously fake.  The park doesn't even really look like a ballpark from that side, as much of the train terminal's original character is well maintained.  Inside the terminal is the main gate with a bar on one end and restrooms on the other.  The 2nd floor of the terminal was converted into private suites.  Given the long form of the building it kind of reminded me of the B&O Warehouse in Baltimore on a lesser scale.  It really helped give the ballpark that "enclosed feel" like Camden Yards and helped defines the street at a pedestrian level. 

The other 3 sides of the stadium are not unlike any other ballpark of this size.  There is an expansive area behind homeplate with a team store, customer service desk, and some concessions.  Moving down the 3rd base line are more concessions on a wide concourse, with the main feature of course being a biscuit stand.  Erik got the pimento cheese biscuits and I got chicken biscuits and both were outstanding.  Counting the McDonalds one I had for breakfast and the free one I caught during the game it was a 4-biscuit day for this guy.  Beyond the left field foul pole is a gazebo-type area and a wraparound concourse back to the other side.  The outfield concourse goes behind the batters eye and well beyond the outfield wall in right so it kind of defeats the purpose of having an outfield concourse.  The only real place to watch the game from the outfield is in right field by an odd wall that bumps out.  One of the ushers told us the reason for the anomaly is that there is an old cistern buried there and it would have cost more to move it than to build the entire stadium.  As a result the wall was simply built around it and creates a memorable asymmetrical outfield feature.  After our lap around the ballpark we made our way to our 9th row seats behind the 3rd base dugout for first pitch.

It was Kids Day and Businessman Special Day at the ballpark - two standards at any weekday matinee ballgame.  A little twist on this particular game was it was also Splash Day, so there was a guy who basically just hosed down the crowd between every half-inning.  For the most part the kids enjoyed it and I even made my way over there a few times to catch some relief from the high sky and hot sun.  The Biscuits won 2-1 behind a strong AA debut from Rays prospect Genesis Cabrera.  He tossed 7 innings striking out 8, and gave up just one unearned run on a dropped popup in the 4th.  The Biscuits were able to regrab the lead in the 7th on a fielders choice to secure him the victory.  Cabrera's counterpart for the Barons was nearly as strong, also giving up just one run in 5.1 innings.

Overall I was not surprised with how quick and low scoring the game was in the afternoon heat.  Erik and I were happy to get out of there fast and escape into the confines of our air conditioned car in route to stop #2 of the day - Biloxi, Mississippi.

park rankings and statistics: 
aesthetics - 8 (repurposed train station)
views from park – 3

view to field - 7 (no obstructed views but extended netting)
surrounding area – 3 (not much going on in DT Monty)
food variety - 6
nachos - 5
beer - 6 (bonus points for souvenir cups)
vendor price - 8
ticket price - 8 ($11 box seats)
atmosphere - 5 (splash day salvages this category)
walk to park – 3 (kind of sketchy)
parking price/proximity - 8 (free street parking 2 blocks away)
concourses - 8 (train terminal plus, outfield minus)
team shop - 9 (bonus points for biscuit hats)


best food – biscuits, of course
most unique stadium feature – repurposed train station
best jumbotron feature – Monty dancing
best between-inning feature – spraying kids with hose


field dimensions – 314/400/333
starters – Jordan Stephens (BIR) v. Genesis Cabrera (MGY)

opponent – Birmingham Barons
time of game – 2:32
attendance – 2590
score – 2-1 W

Brewers score that day – off

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tour 2017: SunTrust Park


All photos of The Battery Atlanta and SunTrust Park available on Flickr.

Our annual trip brought us to Atlanta this year, where we watched the Brewers battle the Braves in the first year of their new ballpark.  We both arrived in Hot-lanta on Friday June 23rd, which just happened to be one day before the 10th anniversary of the original Tour.  After walking what seemed like the entire length of the airport and riding the entire length of the MARTA train, we arrived at our accommodations - the Morrisons house in Brookhaven, which is northeast of the city.  The matriarch of the family is a cousin of Erik's wife Katie and they were awesome hosts for the weekend.  A very reasonable $15 Lyft and we were at the ballpark, a few miles west of the house we were staying.

We arrived right at the doorstep of the stadium around 4:30 and had some time to kill before the 7:35 first pitch.  Luckily for us, there is a huge commercial area supporting the ballpark, so we had plenty of restaurant and bar options.  This area is called The Battery and, unlike the ballpark villages in DC and St. Louis, was largely completed in parallel with the ballpark construction.  Before SunTrust Park was built, this area was primarily single-family residential and a few hotels.  Situated about 15 miles north of downtown at the nexus of two major freeways made it a prime location that both the Braves and the Cobb County seeked out for a major new entertainment, shopping, and mixed-use destination.  There has certainly been some controversy associated with this project - eminent domain, increased traffic in an already crippled highway system, and of course taxpayer dollars - but there is no doubt from our 3 days spent there that this is a major boon for the team and the city.  I'm a pretty vocal opponent of ballparks being conned to citizens as a magical development magnet, but in the case of The Battery that is built entirely as an outside destination, in a city as sprawling as Atlanta it seems to work great.  Erik and I spent all of our time either at the Morrisons house or The Battery and did not even set foot into downtown Atlanta, and there was more than enough for us to do even in its incomplete state.  It's a fantastic area if you can figure out how to access it.  It's not exactly pedestrian friendly outside of the Battery so it took us awhile to find it the first night and had to be directed through a parking garage by a staff member.  Somehow nobody thought to put in a dedicated transit line there either; it would have taken us 2 trains and a bus to get there from where we were staying.  There are also lots of people who go to the Battery just to hang out and not necessarily go to the game.  Non-ballpark patrons park in the same garages as gameday parkers do, so after the game you have to contend not only with game traffic but also with all the people who are putting their tickets into the machine to pay for an hour of shopping.  On Saturday it took us over an hour to get out of the garage and it was clear that the system needs improvement.  I highly recommend ridesharing for anybody going to this park; it drops you off right in front with no hassle.

We settled on a brewpub called Terrapin, which had a nice little perk of having direct access into the ballpark through a back door.  So after sampling a couple of local brews and conversing with some of the many Brewers fans in town for the series, we simply opened the glass door, showed our tickets, and walked right inside without having to wait in line.  Normally I do not like when a ballpark does not have a clearly designated main entry (like Target field), but in the case of SunTrust Park which is surrounded by two levels of bars, I appreciated the many different ways to access the stadium.  We took a lap around the main concourse towards our seats for Game 1 in left field next to the Brewers bullpen.  Along the walk to our seats we passed many team stores, including a store featuring only game-used/worn items, and a ton of delicious looking food options including BBQ, burgers, and tacos.  Coolest of all was Monument Garden behind home plate.  It was like Monument Park at Yankee Stadium but easily accessible right in the concourse.  It featured granite walls and water feature with all of the retired numbers, individual player awards, and acknowledgement of every single Brave that is a member of the Hall of Fame.  The centerpiece of the garden was of course dedicated to the greatest Brave of all time, Hank Aaron.  There was a statue of him moved over from Turner Field, a '755' display made up entirely of Hank Aaron bats, and a video running on loop depicting some of his greatest moments.  I hadn't realized until that day that the Braves are the longest continually running franchise in baseball.  I had always associated that title with the Cincinnati Reds, but when you factor in the ten or so names the franchise has had in 3 different cities, they have the Reds beat.  It was cool to see all of the Milwaukee Braves plaques and the 1995 World Series trophy and it was one of my favorite parts of the ballpark.

After acquiring some adult beverages and some catfish tacos we made our way to our seats for the game.  The Brewers lost Game 1 by a score of 5-4 behind a lackluster start by Jimmy Nelson.  He struck out 8 batters but also walked 3 and gave up 4 earned runs in just 5 innings, including a 1st inning homerun by new Brave Brandon Phillips.  The bullpen kept it close with only one run given up in 3 innings of relief, but an 8th inning 2-run double by Orlando Arcia was still too little too late.  By the 7th inning we had made our way to the right field bar called The Chop House, another of my favorite areas of the park.  I'm a sucker for the communal spaces and this 2-story bar open to all fans was an awesome social place to watch the game - and serving alcohol until last pitch didn't hurt either.  It was also a great place to watch the post-game fireworks.  We post-gamed at the PBR bull-riding bar across from the stadium which had turned into a nightclub by the time we arrived, a little young and loud for us at this point in our lives.  We were home by about 1:00am and rested up for another long day at the ballpark on Saturday.

Saturday we hung out at the house for awhile and went to the game with the Morrison family in tow.  It was quite difficult wrangling up 3 small children to do even the simplest tasks, but for the 3rd row seats they had provided us I was willing to put up with it.  The kids were surprisingly pretty calm at the game, possibly tired out from spending an hour at the kids zone behind the scoreboard.  The highlight of this area was a 25-foot tall zipline that I only too late found out could be ridden by adults as well.  I thought it was a good use of useless space with no view of the game to make a great interactive kids zone, another all but essential element in the modern ballpark.  The Brewers lost this game as well, this time by a score of 3-1.  Milwaukee got on the board right away in the 1st inning like they have been all year with an RBI bases-loaded fielders choice by Hernan Perez, but the knuckleball of Ageless Wonder R.A. Dickey for the most part baffled the Crew all day.  He gave up just the one run over 7 strong innings.  Matt Garza wasn't great but by Matt Garza standard should have been enough to win the game - 3 runs over 6 innings.  Rookie Josh Hader pitched another scoreless inning and still has not given up a run in his 6 innings since being called up.  Brandon Phillips hit another homerun in the 3rd inning in his push for an All-Star bid.

After a chill night at the Morrison house Saturday night, Erik and I were back up and at 'em on Sunday for getaway day.  We got to the Battery around 11:00 with plans for some heavy pregaming and found out an unfortunate Cobb County rule: alcohol is not allowed to be served until 12:30 on Sundays.  I'm guessing this was some old Georgia rule related to Christian Mass that has never been updated, but it explained the later start time of 1:35.  So we walked around the ballpark for awhile looking at all of the player statues (Spahn, Niekro, Cox) and made our way into the park to explore the last area we had yet to see - the upper deck.  Like the rest of the stadium it did not disappoint and there is just as much attention paid up here as there is the main level.  There was the same variety of food and drink stands, and a great standing room area at each foul pole.  Left field had a Coca-Cola area with lots of selfie opportunities and probably the best beer stand in the park.  Right field had the Xfinity area that was partially a private area but also partially for public use.  We also made our way to the 2nd level behind the batters eye to see the Braves drum and the 2nd floor of The Chop House, which is also mostly open to the public aside from some private tables in front.  Our only complaints about the park really were the use of private tables and the beer selection.  I appreciate the variety of seating, but there were at least 3 sections of picnic table type areas that seemed to waste prime seating locations.  As for the beer it is strictly Miller products and Terrapin, nothing else.  I'm guessing since the brewery is integral with the stadium that they have some exclusive rights but having only 3 or 4 beer choices in a modern ballpark is unacceptable.  A good majority of stands only served Miller Lite and Blue Moon. 

Our seats for Sunday's game were only a couple sections down from our Saturday seats along the 3rd base line.  Both Saturday and Sunday our seats included access to a "Dugout Lounge," which was basically a room with a concession stand, bathrooms, a few tables, and most importantly, air conditioning.  This really came in handy in the hot Atlanta sun and was yet another awesome feature of the ballpark.  The Brewers avoided the sweep on this day with a dominant 7-0 win.  Zach Davies picked a hell of a time for his best start of the season and delivered 7 innings of 4-hit shutout ball - perhaps even more impressively with zero strikeouts.  The Crew scored all of their runs in the first four innings, including an absolute bomb by Travis Shaw in the 1st inning.  It landed within the bar on the 2nd floor in right field and from what I can tell is the first ball to land up there in a game.  Domingo Santana and Keon Broxton combined for 6 hits and 4 RBI.  After the game Erik and I spent a few more hours at The Battery and crossed off another Tour staple - visiting the local Hooters - before calling it a night.

In general I appreciated the attention to detail in this park.  The lower level seats are a mesh fabric that doesn't bake in the sun.  There is a good mix of private, semi-private, and public social areas, including an adventurous kids area.  Monument Garden provides an interactive walk through the history of the storied franchise.  Even things that may seem insignificant like sunscreen dispensers and refrigerated cup holders at the bar are a clear indication that the Braves were involved in every step of the design process.  They certainly didn't want to make the same mistakes they made with Turner Field and have to move again in 20 years, and building this as one of the few true live-work-play destinations in all of baseball has all but cemented that.  The Braves wanted this home to last more than a generation and they delivered a top-10 stadium in my opinion.  Erik and I are now officially back in the 30-ballpark club and all is right in the world. 

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 8
views from park – 6 (The Battery)

view to field - 7 (no obstructed views but extended netting)
surrounding area – 10 (The Battery)
food variety - 7
nachos - 9 (BBQ of several varieties)
beer - 5 (on the cheaper side but low variety)

vendor price - 7
ticket price - 8 (upper deck $15)
atmosphere - 6
walk to park – 9
parking price/proximity - 2 (getting in/out of garage is awful)
concourses - 9 (all levels active, Monument Garden on main floor)
team shop - 7 (many)


best food – Smokey Q's
most unique stadium feature – Monument Garden
best jumbotron feature – Oblivious Cam
best between-inning feature – Beat the Freeze

number of Tomahawk Chops played in 3-game series - 22

field dimensions – 335/400/325
starters – Jimmy Nelson (MIL) v. Mike Foltynewicz (ATL); Matt Garza v. R.A. Dickey; Zach Davies v. Julio Teheran

opponent – Milwaukee Brewers
time of game – 3:18; 2:57; 3:01
attendance – 30521; 38463; 31634
score – 5-4 W; 3-1 W; 7-0 L

Brewers score that day – 5-4 L; 3-1 L; 7-0 W


STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 06.28:
Brewers 41-39, +1.0 (3 v. Marlins, 3 v. Orioles, 1 @ Cubs, 3 @ Yankees)
Reds 33-44, -6.5 (3 v. Cubs, 4 @ Rockies, 3 @ Diamondbacks)

Twins 40-36, -0.5 (4 @ Royals, 3 v. Angels, 4 v. Orioles)


2017 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 9 (+15 worked)

Peter - 24

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Debate over Expanded Netting


The New York Mets announced last week that they were going to be tripling the amount of protective netting around the field, quite possibly in an attempt to save the fans from the same injury fate their entire team seems to be having.  The Mets will more than exceed the Commissioner's updated netting guidelines.  They're certainly not the only team to have done this either - Pittsburgh, Washington, and Milwaukee are among other teams to go above and beyond what is required for netting.

There's been a lot of debate over the amount of netting and railings present at ballparks recently.  There's no denying that fan injuries, even fan deaths, at ballgames have been more prevalent in the news the last 5-10 years.  I think everybody remembers the fan fatality over a railing in Texas a few years ago, and there was also a fan who fell on his head at Wrigley Field this year and died a few days later.  While these incidents can't all be directly attributed to lack of safety features, it's enough that Major League Baseball should be taking notice.  The argument against expanding netting and railing is always "I can't see the game" or "people should be paying attention."  In my opinion one death or serious injury is one too many.  We can't obviously wrap the entire grandstand in a plastic bubble, but there are ways where a middle ground to be reached to protect the highest problem areas.  Anybody who has ever sat behind the dugout on the first level of any ballpark has undoubtedly seen a guy get smoked by a line drive foul ball.  The "exit velocity" stat metric that is all the rage now only brings more validity to this argument.  A projectile coming at you over 100mph, especially when you are not facing the action, is a pretty scary thought.  It is ridiculous to expect in today's low-attention span society, coupled with the nature of baseball as a sport with a lot of pauses, that one can stare at the field for all 9+ innings of a game.  There are plenty of players even on the field that do this professionally who are injured by batted or pitched balls.

There was a fan death in the NHL in 2002, and the league immediately responded by placing netting behind the goalie areas.  There were safety concerns from idiots jumping behind the goal posts in the 1970s to catch field goals, so the NFL added nets.  Baseball is a notoriously slow sport to enact any change, but it should not take this many injuries and God forbid any more deaths to come to a solution.  I think at a minimum extending the nets to the end of the dugouts is reasonable.  It was certainly an adjustment period in the NHL that fans still gripe about, but at the end of the day it does not affect attendance or fan enjoyment.  There is no evidence to suggest that less fans sit behind home plate at baseball games because of the netting.  The sooner that MLB fixes this problem, the sooner they can get back to other important things - like getting Montreal another team.

PS - Tour 2017 starts this weekend in Atlanta!  10th Anniversary of The Tour!

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 06.21:
Brewers 38-35, +0.5 (3 @ Braves, 3 @ Reds)
Reds 30-40, -6.5 (3 @ Nationals, 1 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Brewers)

Twins 35-33, -1.5 (3 @ Indians, 4 @ Red Sox)


2017 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 4 (+15 worked)

Peter - 19

Monday, June 12, 2017

Herr-Baker Field


All photos of Herr-Baker Field available on Flickr.

With the rate at which the Northwoods League is expanding, both in terms of number of teams and geographic area, it's getting harder and harder for me to keep up with all of the new parks.  A relatively easy one I was able to cross off this past week was the new Fond du Lac team, which is a little more than an hour north of Milwaukee.  The Fond du Lac Dock Spiders are a mouthful of a team that shares a field with the D-III Marian University team in town.  It was a nice easy drive up I-41 until I got off the freeway and found that nearly every summer athletic team on campus was playing at the same time.  Marian University has several other fields and is also across the street from Moraine Park Technical College and UW-Fond du Lac, so it was confusing to know which field was which and where to park (somehow a city of 50,000 people has 3 colleges).  Once I wedged my Kia into a spot on the street I found that very few of the parked cars were actually for patrons of the Dock Spiders game, so I was able to get a walkup seat just in time for first pitch.

The ballpark itself is really not that old - I can't find a date anywhere online but I think I remember the program said 2010.  In its original form the park was a simple layout of 3 sections of seats with a stone press box and an inning tally-style scoreboard.  The owners of the Dock Spiders - who are actually the same ownership group as the nearby Timber Rattlers - put in $1.5 million in upgrades to prepare for the new team and meet the standard of fan comfort that has come to be expected in the Northwoods League.  Additional box seating down the lines, additional concessions, a team store, a party deck, and a picnic/family area in left field were all added in the offseason.  Other than matching the materials, the architects and the team did not really take any care in making the addition feel like part of the original park.  As I mentioned before, when it first opened, Herr-Baker Field had 3 sections of seats - some box seats directly behind home plate, and a small bleacher section on either side of that.  Beyond that are some on-grade dugouts, so any seats that were added would have to be up higher.  This results in a weird disconnection between the addition and the original park - it's not physically possible to walk from the old bleachers to the new seats without going back on the concourse first.  The new added sections are also real seats and not bleachers, so this means that bleacher seats here are actually closer to home plate than most of the seats.  I bought my usual cheap ticket and was pleasantly surprised to find myself in the 2nd row behind home plate for less money than a box seat.  It's a very odd juxtaposition, kind of like if you are downtown in a large city and see an old shorter building wedged between 2 newer tall buildings and you can tell it looks out of place. 

The strange layout certainly gives the park a lot of character.  Most parks I've been to in the circuit have at least one odd quirk about them and the seating is what makes Herr-Baker Field memorable.  The team store and picnic areas would rival any Midwestern League team.  The picnic area has benches as well as some giant yard games for kids and drunk adults alike.  The party deck is at the top of the highest seating section on the 3rd base line, so I liked how the people here can actually watch the game.  So often the party areas are just an afterthought in the corner of a field and you can never actually see the game.  The main concessions building is very beautifully done in a type of stonework you might see on any older campus.  It was dollar dog and beer night when I went, so I made a lot of trips to the concessions stand.  In total for the game, free street parking, 2 dogs, and 3 beers, I spent $13.

The Dock Spiders lost to the visiting Rockford Rivets in 10 innings.  The Rivets are yet another new team in the league - I went to see them in August last year in their inaugural season.  This was a moderately better pitched game than the disaster I saw in Kenosha the week before, but not by much.  I'm starting to wonder if 20 teams in the league now may be stretching the available collegiate pitching talent a little thin.  Ryan Connolly out of the powerhouse Iowa Western Community College went 3.2 innings for the Spiders, walking 5 and striking out 5.  There were 12 combined walks in the game.  By the time both starters were out it was tied at 3.  Rockford scored 2 in the top of the 7th and looked like they were poised to win the game.  But Fond du Lac put a man on 1st on a fielding error to start the 9th and Colin Braithwaite knocked him in with an RBI double to tie it up.  It was all for naught however, as the Rivets retook the lead in the 10th on a fielder's choice and shut the door in the bottom half for the win.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 7
views from park – 2

view to field - 7 (new box seats are above dugout)
surrounding area – 2 (Marian University)
food variety - 5
nachos - 5
beer - 9 ($1 domestic, a few craft brews)

vendor price - 9
ticket price - 9
atmosphere - 5
walk to park – 3
parking price/proximity - 6 (free but hard to find a spot)
concourses - 4 (disjointed, no view of field)
team shop - 8


best food – combo ketchup/mustard/onion condiment
most unique stadium feature – seating arrangement
best jumbotron feature – n/a; only showed box score
best between-inning feature – visiting team member participates in human bowling


field dimensions – not listed
starters – Clay Moffit (RCK) v. Ryan Connolly (FDL)
opponent – Rockford Rivets
time of game – 3:25
attendance – 836
score – 6-5 L

Brewers score that day – 5-2 W


STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 06.12:
Brewers 33-31, +1.0 (4 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Padres, 4 v. Pirates)
Reds 29-33, -3.0 (3 @ Padres, 3 v. Dodgers, 3 @ Rays)

Twins 32-27, +1.5 (4 v. Mariners, 3 v. Indians, 3 v. White Sox)


2017 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 4 (+10 worked)

Peter - 18

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Opening Day in Kenosha 2017



All photos of Kingfish 2017 home opener available on Flickr.

The 24th season in Northwoods League history commenced this past week and I was of course in attendance at a home opener, back in Kenosha for the 3rd consecutive year.  We unfortunately didn't get to the park in time for the blanket giveaway, which would have come in handy as temps dipped into the upper 50s by the end of the game.  Nonetheless it was another solid Opening Day crowd at Simmons Field.

I've definitely been spoiled by all of the renovations at Warner Park over the years and come to expect big things out of Big Top Baseball.  I always hope to see something  different every year I'm in Kenosha, and this year they finally got a working jumbotron.  It may seem to be an insignificant contribution toward the fan experience, but it really helps to be able to keep track of what is happening in the game.  Knowing who the batter is and their stats will help engage even the most casual fan.  And, you know, functioning inning tallies is always a good thing.  In the concessions department, one new add this year is a beer that is being specially made for several Northwoods League parks in a partnership between a Kenosha brewery and a Rochester brewery.  It's called "Five Tool Ale" and it was honestly pretty disappointing; it tasted like Miller Lite.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I would think a limited edition craft beer could be a little higher quality.  On a sad note, PA guy Aaron Sims appears to no longer be with the team.  He was in the same role with the Mallards for a long time and was one of the reasons I grew to love this league, and also one of the main reasons I drive all the way down to Kenosha despite the Chinooks being much closer.  He really knew how to energize the fans and create a lighthearted fun atmosphere, which is what this league is all about.  I'll probably still go to Kingfish games in the future, but it's definitely a big blow to the team that won't go unnoticed.

Other than that, it's business as usual for the Kingfish, who are now in their 4th season of operation.  The home team held on for a 9-6 win in a very slow and very poorly pitched ballgame.  Both teams combined for an unfathomable 20 walks in the contest.  The visiting Bullfrogs struck first in the 2nd, but then the Kingfish came right back with 6 runs on 6 walks and 3 hits including a 3-run homerun by appropriately named Derek Bangert.  Starter Alex Stodola had 4 of those walks and was relieved in the middle of the inning and charged with all 6 of the runs in the 3rd.  On the other side, Davis Schwab fared a little better in the run department only giving up 2 runs (1 ER) but also walking 4 of his own.  Justin Hasek started the 6th and nearly blew the game for the Kingfish, giving up 4 runs on 4 walks and a hit and retiring only 1 batter, but in the end they managed to hang on for the win with an 3.2 innings of scoreless relief to end the game.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 06.06:
Brewers 30-28, -- (4 v. Giants, 3 v. Diamondbacks)
Reds 26-30, -3.0 (4 v. Cardinals, 3 @ Dodgers)

Twins 29-24, +1.0 (3 @ Mariners, 3 @ Giants)


2017 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 4 (+10 worked)

Peter - 17

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Come See What's Brewin'

(photo courtesy of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
A pretty cool local story came out last week that a few Brewers really got to live up to their team's namesake. On an off day last Monday, Eric Thames, Corey Knebel, and Oliver Drake partnered with MillerCoors and lent a hand to help create a custom signature beer to be sold at Miller Park later this year.  Thames is a self-described beer lover and has made it known that was part of the reason he chose to come to Milwaukee.  Knebel has dabbled in homebrewing during the offseason.  As for Oliver Drake - well, after the week he had, he probably just needed a beer.  Normally this type of story during a typical Brewers season in Milwaukee would make headline news of the Journal Sentinel sports page, but with how much the team has exceeded expectations thus far, it might have flown under the radar more than usual.
The type of beer the "brewers" created is being described as a "juicy IPA," and even me being the beer aficionado that I am had to look up with that was.  It's basically just a very floral and aromatic IPA.  Even if the team is out of first place by August when the limited-edition beer is expected to be ready, these players and the fans will have something excited to look forward to.  The Brewers have not only increased the quality level of play on the field this year, but also their beer offerings and promotional schedule, and this is just another of many cool events to look forward to at Miller Park.  As much as I enjoy a frosty High Life at a hot summer game, I've really enjoyed all of the more upscale local brews at the ballpark this year, and I can't wait to try this beer.

STANDINGS AND UPCOMING SERIES AS OF 05.30:
Brewers 27-24, +1.5 (4 @ Mets, 3 v. Dodgers)
Reds 24-26, -2.5 (3 @ Blue Jays, 3 v. Braves)

Twins 26-21, +1.0 (3 v. Astros, 4 @ Angels)


2017 GAMES ATTENDED:
Erik - 4 (+8 worked)

Peter - 15