Monday, September 18, 2017

Brewers Make Marlins Feel at Home in Milwaukee

Following the devastation of Hurricane Irma across most of Florida, the Marlins made the late decision last week that Marlins Park would be unable to host the Brewers in Miami.  Although Marlins Park itself was well prepared for the storm (large sections of the roof were actually tied down) and did not suffer significant damage, the team made the wise decision to not overly tax the city's resources just to play some baseball games that would more than likely be even worse attended than usual.  It's not uncommon for teams to move a series because of inclement weather or natural disaster - in fact, Hurricane Harvey relocated the Astros to Tampa just a couple weeks prior.  What was unusual about this circumstance is that the road team stadium was chosen as host instead of a neutral site.  No doubt in large part due to (A) short notice and (B) having a retractable roof, Miller Park and the city of Milwaukee opened its arms to the homeless Marlins for the weekend.

I wasn't able to attend any of the games this past weekend, but from what I read, the Brewers went all out.  They dressed up the park with palm trees, played walk-up songs for the Marlins players, and even batted first and played as the "away" team despite being in their own park.  They also donated a significant portion of the proceeds from the weekend to the Hurricane Irma disaster relief efforts.  The Brewers were under no obligation to do any of this and it got a lot of great press for the city and the organization, and helped save face from teams like the Cubs, Cardinals, and Rockies who were understandably upset about the Brewers essentially getting 3 extra home games on their schedule during a critical point in the season.

This isn't the first time the Brewers have done something like this either.  They hosted an Indians series in April 2007 that was snowed out, and a rather famous Astros-Cubs game moved due to Hurricane Ike in which Carlos Zambrano threw a no-hitter.  I don't have many regrets in my life, but not going to that game is still one of them.  Because of the stadium roof, this certainly won't be the last time the Brewers do something like this either.  It's one of the few perks of being a baseball fan in Wisconsin - guaranteed 81 home games and maybe even some bonus baseball, whether or not they go to the playoffs.

Brewers 79-70, -4.0, -2.5 WC (3 @ Pirates, 4 v. Cubs, 3 v. Reds)
Reds 66-84, -17.5, eliminated (3 v. Cardinals, 3 v. Red Sox, 3 @ Brewers)
Twins 78-71, -14.5, +2.0 WC (3 @ Yankees, 4 @ Tigers, 3 @ Indians)

Erik - 13 (+33 worked)
Peter - 34

Friday, September 8, 2017

Joseph L. Bruno Stadium

All photos of Troy and Joseph L. Bruno Stadium available on Flickr.

My 7th and final new ballpark of the year brought me to the Capital region of New York state to see the Tri-City ValleyCats of the NY-Penn League.  This was 5th ballpark visited in this short-season-A league and my 135th ballpark overall.  My good friend Josh and his family keep moving to different cities with ballparks I've never been to, so it works out pretty nice for me and my ballpark chasing.  When they moved to the Albany area about a year ago, I made sure to check the 2017 ValleyCats schedule as soon as it came out and plan for a visit.  Megan and I had a nice long holiday weekend relaxing with Josh, Kara, and their 2-yr old and newborn, but for purposes of this blog I'll just skip to the ballpark part.
We went to the game on Saturday night, which ended up being the last home game of the season due to a stretch of bad weather this week.  Joseph L. Bruno Stadium opened in 2002 and seats about 4,500 people, a good amount for a short-season league.  The ballpark has been hosting the Tri-City ValleyCats since their move from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and are so named because of the three city area of Troy, Albany, and Schenectady, which are all situated about 3 hours north of NYC along the Hudson River.  The park also hosts Hudson Valley Community College and both teams draw very well.  The ValleyCats have broken their franchise attendance record just about every year since their inception, and it was a near sellout even on a cool gloomy night in September.  We got seats about halfway up the 1st baseline behind the dugout for only $10 apiece.
Even though there was nothing very memorable about this ballpark, I was impressed with the overall size, concessions, and amenities for just a short-season ballpark.  For a league that is about the same schedule length as the Northwoods League, they had a lot to offer, certainly more than I was expecting after my visits to some of the other NY teams in the circuit.  There is a good selection of local beers and at least 3 bar seating areas, one of which was tiki-themed.  They had a spacious kids area and a lot of food offerings, including a wood-fired pizza area with an actual stone pizza oven, which I've never seen at any ballpark.  Megan and I found the pizza stand during a stroll around the concourse kind of tucked away, and I wish it would have been more prominent as it was the star of the park.  The main part of the building had your usual 2nd level with suites and press boxes and gave the park the presence of a larger scale.  A nice architectural touch was a masonry block and glass tower staircase leading up to the 2nd level.  A twin tower is mirrored on the other side and servs as the ticket office, and both together form a nice gateway entry.  I think baseball purists would complain about the extensive netting and between-innings buffoonery, but on the other hand they would appreciate how well-supported the team is and how seriously people take their baseball in New York, even for a parent franchise in the Astros that is halfway across the country.  I got a glimpse into my future as I totally used Josh's young son as bait to get a souvenir ball thrown to us by one of the mascots (I was nice and let him keep it).  I fully intend to exploit this as a father and add to my duffel bag full of game balls.
The ValleyCats defeated the Aberdeen IronBirds 6-1 despite an outrageous effort by Aberdeen starter Zac Lowther.  He gave up only 2 runs over 6 and struck out 12.  Carlos Hiraldo went only 4 frames but allowed one run fewer, and that was all it took for the win.  3 relievers shut the door with a combined 7 strikeouts.  We left after the 7th inning because, well, when a toddler does not nap during the day it is a disaster.  Little Simon was a trooper and certainly paid more attention than I did when I was that age.  We missed a 4-run 8th inning by the home team which included a homerun by Miguelangel Sierra.  One interesting tidbit of the game was that Ryan Ripken started for the IronBirds, who I can only assume is the son or nephew of Cal Ripken, Jr.  Cal and his brother Billy actually own the IronBirds and they are of course an affiliate of the Orioles.  Ryan being drafted by the family franchise is probably a case of nepotism, but he is hitting cleanup for Aberdeen and was a .287 average on the season as of this game, so he is at least holding his own so far.
That's probably it for ballpark visits for the season, other than Miller Park of course.  Hopefully I will have a fun playoff story to share in about a month.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 5
views from park - 2
view to field - 5
surrounding area - 4
food variety - 7
nachos - 3 (bag of chips)
beer - 9 (local brews, affordable)
vendor price - 8
ticket price - 8
atmosphere - 6
walk to park - 3 (parking situation is pretty weird)
parking price/proximity - 4 (free but an odd walk to stadium)
concourses - 6
team shop - 6

best food - wood-fired pizza
most unique stadium feature - Top of the Hill Bar & Grill
best jumbotron feature - there was a jumbotron but nothing of note occurred on it
best between-inning feature - local legends race (fun fact: apparently Uncle Sam is a real person and is from Troy)

field dimensions - 325/400/325
starters - Zac Lowther (ABD) v. Carlos Hiraldo (TC)
opponent - Aberdeen IronBirds
time of game - 3:02
attendance - 3633
score - 6-1 W
Brewers score that day - 3-2 L

Brewers 72-68, -5.0, -3.0 WC (3 @ Cubs, 3 v. Pirates, 3 @ Marlins)
Reds 61-80, -16.5, -14.5 WC (4 @ Mets, 3 @ Cardinals, 3 v. Pirates)
Twins 73-67, -11.0, +1.0 WC (4 @ Royals, 2 v. Padres, 4 v. Blue Jays)

Erik - 12 (+31 worked)
Peter - 33

Monday, August 28, 2017

Brewers Exploring New Spring Training Facility

(above: photo from my visit to Maryvale in 2011)

It was reported a few weeks ago that the Milwaukee Brewers are considering another alternative for their spring facility in the suburb of Gilbert, which is southeast of downtown Phoenix.  Initial reports were that Gilbert was going hard after the Brewers, throwing them over $90 million for a promise for a new state-of-the-art complex including a brand new 7,500-seat ballpark.  The Brewers would supposedly contribute $20 million under this proposal and more than likely make a long-term lease commitment to the area.

This isn't the first news of the Brewers exploring a new spring alternative and it won't be the last.  With only incremental improvements being made at Maryvale Baseball Park over the years (most recently in 2014), it is clear the team is not happy with its current situation.  It was floated around the time of their last renovation that Mark Attanasio was considering a move to the Grapefruit League and the Brewers decided at that time to settle for $1.6 million in upgrades and another short-term lease, so this may very well be a negotiating ploy.  It's just another example in a long line of teams holding communities at ransom for the promise of a new facility at the threat of packing up and leaving, and unfortunately it almost always works based on speculative and over-exaggerated promises of economic development.  Milwaukee has already seen this twice in its own city in the last 2 decades with Miller Park and the upcoming new Bucks arena, so our fans should be all too familiar with how this game works.

With Maricopa County tied up in a legal dispute with the Diamondbacks over Chase Field repairs at the moment, it could be interesting to see how the Brewers situation plays out.  Gilbert has since cooled in its efforts and I doubt Phoenix has any interest in upgrading a facility in such a "rough" part of town.  One thing is for certain, whatever your thoughts are on the politics of sports facilities - Maryvale is nowhere near the standards of other facilities in the Cactus League, particularly the lack of amenities in the surrounding area.  The Brewers ownership may have other more pressing issues at the moment considering the constant minor league shuffling and the large renovation just completed at Miller Park this past year, but this will become a front burner issue sooner rather than later.

Brewers 68-63, -2.0, -3.5 WC (2 v. Cardinals, 4 v. Nationals, 3 @ Reds)
Reds 55-76, -15.0, -16.5 WC (3 v. Mets, 3 @ Pirates, 3 v. Brewers)
Twins 67-63, -6.5, +1.5 WC (3 v. White Sox, 3 v. Royals, 3 @ Rays)

Erik - 12 (+29 worked)
Peter - 32

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Athletic Park Renovation

All photos of Athletic Park and Three Lakes area available on Flickr.

I made it to my 5th Northwoods League ballpark of the year this past weekend, as my wife and I stopped in Wausau on my way up north to catch a Woodchucks game.  It was my first visit back to Athletic Park in 5 years and first trip since the big renovations that took place over the last few years.  We started our trip by finally completing a list - not a ballpark list, but a brewery list.  I finally made it to the Wausau Great Dane to complete the tour, along with the other 4 locations in the Madison area.  Not quite as gratifying as notching a ballpark off the list, but gratifying nonetheless.

We arrived at the ballpark plenty early to ensure we could take full advantage of our our all-you-can-eat seats in right field.  Approaching the intersection of 5th & Wausau, I can honestly say that there was very little I recognized of the old park.  It is still surrounded by houses in a residential area, but there is a street directly adjacent and some lots that have been closed off to make room for a huge plaza.  Literally all I could identify from the old park was the cobbled stone perimeter wall, which was left completely intact around the whole block.  The old green siding press box was town down to the stone wall and built back up with a 2-story area full of suites and offices, along with some balconies and decks built overhanging the wall.  Very little remains of that original WPA structure built over 80 years ago but somehow it still maintains the same "old ballpark" feel and charm.  The neighborhood feel of the ballpark definitely has a lot to do with it and something the team really plays up to with the new plaza.  Rather than having everyone gather in the middle of an intersection to buy tickets at the window and then line up for the one entrance, the plaza offers nice overflow space and a good place to mingle before the game, as if it were its own private street.  We were warmly greeted at the gate to the plaza by Woody Woodchuck and Ronald McDonald.  Ron was there for McDonalds Night and would also sing the National Anthem later, and just generally put a creepy vibe on the entire evening. 

We made our way past the picnic tables and VIP picnic tent to our seats in "The Bullpen," a new party section at Athletic Park that is pretty the norm now for any Northwoods League park.  This section existed as a loose idea during my last visit, with just a scattering of miscellaneous tables in some left over dead space.  The section is all its own now and rivals Madison's Duck Blind in terms of value and design.  For $25 you get all-you-can-eat burgers, dogs, and chips for the entire game, and 3 beers.  I'm not sure how they even make money on that deal so I am suspect of what kind of meat is really in those burgers.  There is a separate new bar with a unique LVL/weathered steel structure and clad in regular plank lumber to give it that feel of a Northwoods shack.  The concessions building has a similar aesthetic with a private party area on top. I didn't know this area was private when we walked up there and I may or may not have stolen a cookie.  The roof of the concessions building creates a porch over some tables down the right field line and that was where we parked ourselves for the game.  We stood the entire time, but with all the activity of the party area, the visiting bullpen nearby, and the game itself, we never really felt like sitting down.  The field is very small - only about 315 down the line and 360 to center - and we were literally leaning against the boundary fence, so it kept us on our toes the entire 9 innings.  I even was alert enough to snag my first foul ball in a long time!  Between my 3 beers, the 3 beers from my pregnant wife, and a couple of 2-for-1 beer batters, I more than drank my share and totally exploited the system.  It was a great area to watch the game and we had a fantastic time.

The rest of the park from the inside looked nearly as unfamiliar as the outside.  There is a new multi-story party deck in the left field corner as well that looks to have replaced another structure.  It's a very oddly shaped with large overhangs and tucked back behind the bleachers, so seems like it would be impossible to see anything except the left fielder from that area.  I can only imagine how drunk those people were.  The bleachers and seats have all been completely replaced as well.  Overall the renovations totaled over $8 million in 2 phases and it looks like every penny was well spent.  The Woodchucks and the city of Wausau should be proud that this historic gem can now serve this community for decades to come, and it is a vast improvement over what was already a neat little ballpark.  Athletic Park is a prototype of how to maintain historic charm while still offering modern comforts.

The game itself pitted the Woodchucks against my adopted hometown team, the Mallards, the second weekend in a row we were cheering them on.  Both teams had no chance of making the playoffs and it was the last weekend of the year, so it was a pretty fun atmosphere standing that close to the Mallards' bullpen.  A number of players hopped the fence by us to grab hamburgers and it funny every time.  Wisconsin defeated Madison 7-1 behind an outstanding 6 shutout innings by Korey Rasure.  Lenny Kwizadala gave up only 1 run in the final 3 innings to pick up the save.  You would think there would be a boatload of offense in a park this small, but in actuality the fences forces the outfielders to play so much closer to the infield that it takes away a lot of extra base hits.  If it's not going over the fence it is usually a single.  The 'Chucks did manage 4 XBH on the evening, 3 of which came off a 3-run triple by Hunter Coleman in the 6th that put the game out of reach.  Tommy Bullock pitched in 3 hits for the Mallards and knocked in their lone run in the 7th.

Following the game was a fireworks spectacle that Erik and I are used to seeing at minor league parks but Megan and I had never experienced.  A couple of dudes in a Toyota Tundra just wheeled onto the field, set up a bunch of fireworks in a row, and then lit them all individually by hand, running away to cheat death just in the nick of time after each light.  It was a perfect end to our evening in Wausau and a great start to our weekend.  We spent all day Saturday up in the Chain O' Lakes area of Wisconsin, near the UP border, and I included those photos in the Flickr album at the top.

By the way, if you didn't pick up earlier in the post, my wife Megan is pregnant and we just found out this week that we are having a baby girl!  While my days of 50+ ballgames a year are now likely over, I can't wait to share my love of baseball with my daughter and introduce to her the thrill of ballpark chasing.  Until she's old enough to take a trip with Dad, Erik will still have to do.

updated park rankings and statistics
see original post from 7/23/12):
aesthetics - improves to 9
views from park - 2
view to field - 3
surrounding area - 4
food variety - 3
nachos - 9
beer - 8
vendor price - 8
ticket price - 9
atmosphere - improves to 7
walk to park - improves to 7 (new plaza)
parking price/proximity - 6
concourses - improves to 3 (new plaza)
team shop - 3

best food - pulled pork nachos
most unique stadium feature - stone walls, The Bullpen
best jumbotron feature - n/a
best between-inning feature - Ronald McDonald sings creepy "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"

field dimensions - 304/360/316
starters - Tristen Bayless (MAD) v. Korey Rasure (WIS)
opponent - Madison Mallards
time of game - 2:45
attendance - 2868
score - 7-1 W
Brewers score that day - 11-10 L

Brewers 62-59, -1.5, -5.0 WC (3 @ Rockies, 3 @ Giants, 3 @ Dodgers)
Reds 50-70, -13.0, -16.5 WC (3 @ Braves, 3 v. Cubs, 3 v. Pirates)
Twins 59-58, -6.0, -0.5 WC (3 v. Diamondbacks, 5 @ White Sox, 3 @ Blue Jays)

Erik - 11 (+27 worked)
Peter - 31

Thursday, August 10, 2017

New & Improved Duck Blind at Warner Park

All photos of Madison and Warner Park available on Flickr.
I grew up in Milwaukee, I love Milwaukee, my wife and I own a house in Milwaukee.  But Madison will always hold a special place in our hearts as the place it all started.  A series of unfortunate circumstances brought us both to Madison, but as fate would have it we met there nearly 4 years ago and have been riding the wave ever since.  We were only there together a short time, but still look forward to making the 160-mile round trip a couple times a year to see old friends and hit all our old spots.
With any summer visit, a Mallards game is always on the agenda.  The Duck Pond and Big Top Baseball were at it once again this year undertaking yet another massive fan improvement project, this time to the popular Duck Blind.  What was nothing more than a concessions stand and a bunch of picnic tables 5 years ago has slowly upgraded over the years.  Another deck behind the right field wall was added a few years ago, and this year the existing Duck Blind was completely overhauled.  At the right field pole, formerly where the manual scoreboard sat, is now a 4-tiered section of suites and private party areas.  The ground level is kind of like the ATI Club (or whatever it's called now) at Miller Park, where you are literally on field level separated only by mesh.  This area is completely under the suites above so it is kind of dark, but it offers very luxurious seats, a beer bar with TVs, and an arcade for the kids.  As you can imagine this area gets a little crowded, and it is unfortunate that all the nice seats pretty much go to waste because people are either at the bar or running around chasing kids.  I tried to go sit down there in the middle of the game but was shut down by some Nazi kid usher.  The 2 levels above this are more indicative of a suite you might see at a "normal" ballpark, except at Warner Park it is anything but normal.  In lieu of traditional stud-and-sheathing construction, the suites are comprised of shipping containers stacked on top of each other.  This is a popular form of construction with modular homes especially in other countries, but to see them used in a commercial application is something straight out of the Mallards playbook - innovative cost-conscious ideas that enhance fan experience.  I imagine these suites are insulated and air-conditioned because I did hear what sounded like a big RTU humming when we exited the park.  The second level has a few rows of stadium chairs in front of the suites, and the third level has bar-height seating in front.  The 4th level is more of a roof level with tables, chairs, and awnings.  

Megan and I unfortunately did not get to see much of this part of the Duck Blind as we only purchased GA seats, but where we sat was upgraded as well.  The flat expanse of picnic tables has been changed to a 3-tiered section.  My major complaint about the Duck Blind previously was that unless you are sitting right on the rail, you can't see the game.  Not that anybody in an all-you-can-drink section would watch the game besides me, but still I appreciate the Mallards addressing this deficiency.  The concessions building still has the area on top for sitting, but it is now a private area, and it is on the same level as the top tier of the GA section.  This puts the concession building sort of in a tunnel below the GA seats.  This is kind of nice because it alleviates a lot of congestion.  The game was packed and I never had to wait in line for more than a minute nor had to push through any crowds because the seating is now separated on a different level than the concessions.  When you first arrive at the Duck Blind, or any part of Warner Park for that matter, to the untrained eye it looks like a hodge-podge of found materials, random seating sections, and a patchwork of additions.  But it was clear after an evening in the Duck Blind that all of the decisions and adjacencies were very meticulous thought out, no matter how haphazard they may appear.

Every year I come to Warner Park I cannot think of any possible way the Mallards can improve their product any more, and every year I am proven wrong and leave more impressed.  We had a great night at the ballpark and can't wait to see what is in store for the coming seasons, because I understand now that the team will never rest on their success.

Brewers 59-57, -1.5, -6.5 WC (3 v. Reds, 2 v. Pirates)
Reds 47-67, -12.5, -17.5 WC (3 @ Brewers, 4 @ Cubs)
Twins 56-56, -4.5, -1.5 WC (3 @ Tigers, 3 v. Indians)

Erik - 11 (+27 worked)
Peter - 29

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Trade Deadline 2017

(photo courtesy of NY Daily News)

In what seemed to be one of the more active trade deadlines in recent memory, at least in terms of big name players, there were several winners, several losers, and a few surprises also.  The Twins went from buyers to sellers in the span of a week, trading for Jaime Garcia, and then flipping him to the Yankees before after just one start while getting stuck with the bill.  They also shipped off the resurgent Brandon Kintzler to the beleaguered bullpen of the Nationals.  A wealth of talented prospects, an endless supply of money, and a division lead proved to be a lethal combination for the Dodgers and Yankees.  LA picked up Yu Darvish who would almost certainly be an ace on 3/4ths of the teams in this league but may be the #3 or even #4 starter on this team.  The Dodgers now have 6 legit starting rotation options not even including the injured Clayton Kershaw.  They also picked up two left-handed Tonys for their bullpen - "I only throw fastballs" Cingrani fromt the Reds and Watson from the Pirates.  The Yankees made the biggest splash of the year, acquiring Sonny Gray for 3 prospects.  While they did give up 3 of their top 12 prospects, two of them are out for the season, and Gray still has 3 years of team control, so Cashman comes out looking like a wizard in this deal.  Speaking of wizard GMs, Slingin' David Stearns picked up a couple of relief arms last week for practically nothing - Anthony Swarzak from the White Sox, and Jeremy Jeffress from the Rangers.  If the Brewers can ever figure out how to hit again, these two should add to a pretty formidable back end of the bullpen along with all-star closer Corey Knebel and rookie Josh Hader.  Jeffress rejoins the team after being traded just last summer.  With Jonathan Lucroy going to the Rockies, the Rangers now have neither player left from the Brewers firesale last year.

Besides the Rangers cleaning house, the Astros were another obvious loser of the trade deadline.  Yes they have been running away with the AL West since about mid-May, but the only major acquisition they made was Francisco Liriano, who probably won't even make the rotation.  The Detroit Tigers also had an opportunity to dive feet-first into a rebuild this summer but chose to hold on to all of their aging veterans.  Justin Upton, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler, and Victor Martinez are for some reason all still Tigers as of this post.  The Phillies did the same thing when they refused to trade Rollins, Utley, and Howard 5 years ago while they still had value and now have been the worst team in the league for the last two seasons.  So we'll see if Detroit shares the same fate.

It will be an interesting stretch run for a lot of teams.  The trade deadline was probably more active this year because there were more sellers than in the recent past, but there are still 3 divisions and both wild card races that are wide open.

Brewers 56-53, -2.5, -5.5 WC (3 @ Rays, 2 @ Twins, 2 v. Twins)
Reds 44-63, -13.5, -16.5 WC (3 v. Cardinals, 4 v. Padres)

Twins 51-54, -6.0, -3.5 WC (4 v. Rangers, 2 v. Brewers, 2 @ Brewers)

Erik - 11 (+23 worked)
Peter - 27

Monday, July 24, 2017

Brewers Sliding After Unexpected First Half

At the All-Star break, the Brewers were 50-41 and 5.5 games up in the NL Central, both their high-water marks of the year up to that point.  They even extended that to 11 games over .500 with two wins out of the gate against the lowly Phillies.  But since that day, the Crew has dropped 7 of their last 8, including 1-6 so far on this road trip against two sub-.500 teams.  Couple that with a unfortunately timed hot streak by the Cubs and the two teams are now deadlocked for the division lead.  After spending 3.5 months building a 5.5 game lead, it has completely evaporated in the span of a week.  It doesn't get any easier for them either.  Next up are the Nationals who are a running away with the NL East and yet again a favorite to win the pennant.  Then they return home to face the two teams chasing them - the Cubs and Cardinals.  Then it is off to Tampa Bay and Minnesota who are both right in the thick of the AL Wild Card race.

There are a lot of things you can point to for why the Brewers are in a slide now.  Ryan Braun has been in and out of the lineup and playing through a number of maladies all year.  Junior Guerra and Zach Davies have been nowhere near where they performed a year ago and their best pitcher and hitter - Chase Anderson and Eric Sogard - have been on the DL since June (Sogard was activated on Saturday).  The Brewers were about 6-for-a-million with RISP in Pittsburgh, a problem that has plagued them in years past.  Bullpen explosions caused then 2 games on the road trip and almost a 3rd.  Perhaps it is just the young guys tensing up now that they are actually playing meaningful games, or just the results of an overworked bullpen finally catching up with the team.  Corey Knebel and Jacob Barnes are among the league leaders in appearances, and the team is on pace for 2nd all time in relief innings pitched in a season.

The solution in years past would be for Mr. Attanasio to sign a blank check and hand it to Doug Melvin to get whoever he needed to.  Mark has never been afraid to spend money and go for the kill.  But this year is a little different.  Most experts, fans, and even myself, figured the Brewers were at a minimum another year away from contending, more likely even 2 or 3 years off.  The team performing much better than expected has certainly been fun to watch, but has also thrown a wrench in the carefully laid rebuild plans.  David Stearns is now faced with the difficult decision of either trading away some of the key pieces he has traded for in the last 2 years, or staying the course and perhaps risking losing out on a great opportunity this year.  I think a lot of smart Brewers fans would not want to lose sight of having a competitive team for a 3-5 year window and throw it all away on something that isn't a sure thing.  But on the other hand, playoff opportunities for this franchise are few and far between and I would completely understand wanting to go all in this year.  More than likely there is some middle ground there where a few prospects are "untouchable" but Stearns will be willing to listen on anything that could help this team without mortgaging the future.  I think he is smart enough and not shortsighted to throw away what he has built, but he also has to answer to millions of fans and a hungry owner who will stop at nothing to win.  I certainly don't envy his position and I will be on the edge of my seat for the next week leading up to the trade deadline.  We've been linked from everyone from rental bullpen guys to elite pitchers like Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

Brewers 53-48, --, -4.5 WC (3 @ Nationals, 3 v. Cubs, 3 v. Cardinals)
Reds 41-57, -10.5, -15.0 WC (1 @ Indians, 2 @ Yankees, 4 @ Marlins, 3 @ Pirates)

Twins 49-48, -2.5, -1.0 WC (3 @ Dodgers, 3 @ Athletics, 2 @ Padres)

Erik - 11 (+23 worked)
Peter - 27

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.

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)

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