Wednesday, March 15, 2017

US Bank Stadium

All photos of US Bank Stadium available on Flickr.

I'll just get this out of the way - no, this isn't a post about football.  But what were we doing at the Vikings new stadium in March?  Why, it's the new winter home of the U of M Golden Gophers!  Although I am not at an NFL fan by any stretch of the imagination, I was admittedly excited to see the new billion-dollar behemoth opened last year on the site of the old Metrodome.  I was even more excited that we didn't have to sit outside at Siebert Field in 20-degree weather.  Back in the day, the Gophers used to play a scattering of games in February and March in the Metrodome while waiting for their outdoor field to thaw.  Now that US Bank Stadium has been completed, the school once again has a temporary indoor home that gives them a huge recruiting advantage in the Big Ten.

We took the Green Line out to the stadium, and the first thing you see when you get off the train is a giant glass acute angled corner cantilevering out towards you, almost daring you to stare up at the sky and walk towards it.  The dozens of birds that smack into the glass on a weekly basis undoubtedly feel the same.  Contrasted with a crystal clear day and the black metal panel, the exterior is truly a spectacle and unlike any other stadium I have ever seen.  Once inside, the 30 stories of glass gives the inside an extremely airy feel and sense of urban context, despite being a 1.75-million square foot barn.  We didn't get to see that much of the interior because only a small portion is accessible for baseball games, but what I did see was quite impressive.  Everything is just so large from the trusses, to the jumbotrons, to the concourses, but all of the glass really makes a huge difference.  Being able to see the clouds above and the skyline in the distance made me feel like I was actually at an intimate baseball stadium.

However, since it is primarily used for football, naturally there are issues not unlike any other dual-purpose stadium.  The field is painted and cobbled and just generally looks like garbage.  Everything was a rush patchwork to get ready for an event that was clearly an afterthought for the football stadium.  Dugouts look like they were borrowed from a high school and the foul poles were noticeably askew.  There was not a spot of actual dirt anywhere, even on the pitching mounds.  The right field wall is also a 34-foot tall "baggie" reminiscent of the Metrodome where sections of seats were retracted back to make room for a decent size field.  I also have to say that the Gopher maroon and Viking purple are very painful to look at juxtaposed together all over the stadium.  The nice thing was that from where we sat along first base, we had a clear view out the tall curtainwall straight through to downtown.  Because it is a venue used only a few weekends a year for baseball, and because the design is so breathtaking, a lot of the shortcomings I expected and was willing to live with, as opposed to an everyday stadium like the Metrodome.  It was like the college kids were borrowing the keys to the adult's house, and they would try their best to put everything back the way it was when they're done.  You wouldn't want to live there but for what it was, it was a nice fantasy.

The game was a loss for the Gophers to the Missouri State Bears of the Missouri Valley Conference.  They would go onto lose Sunday as well to lose the series and drop to 9-7 on the year; not exactly a robust follow-up to their 2016 Big Ten Championship season.  Dylan Coleman hurled a masterful 7 innings for the Bears, striking out 7 with only 4 hits.  Unlike their former winter home affectionately known as the "Homerdome," the ball did not seem to carry very well here.  A lot of balls were crushed between the gaps and died before the warning track - and by warning track I mean a painted line on the turf.  The lone hit that was tagged was a homerun to left by Minnesota 3B Micah Coffey, and even that homerun was questionable as it did not appear to clear the wall, but the umpire was too lazy to run out for a better view.  Alex Jefferson had 2 hits and 3 runs including a HR for the visitors.

The main reason that I was in town was not just for the Gophers game, but so that Erik and I could plan and book our ball trip this year!  We are all set to be in Atlanta June 23-27 and could not be more pumped.  It'll be awesome to actually be watching ball on our 10th anniversary, and against the Crew no less.  The trip planning and the ballgame were both stark reminders that Opening Day is only 3 weeks away!  About a month ago we had a week of record highs in Milwaukee, and yesterday we got a foot of snow, so as always, it's anyone's guess as to what the weather will be that day.

park rankings and statistics:
aesthetics - 9
views from park – 8 (probably the best view you'll ever see from an enclosed stadium)

view to field - 4 (all seats on 2nd level)
surrounding area – 8 (downtown)
food variety - 1 (not much was open)
nachos - n/a
beer - 7 (for only having one beer stand, definitely not bad)

vendor price - 8
ticket price - 9 ($10 GA)
atmosphere - 3 (eerily quiet)
walk to park – 8
parking price/proximity - n/a (metro)
concourses - 9
team shop - n/a

best food – popcorn I guess?
most unique stadium feature – glass walls and roof
best jumbotron feature – n/a; only showed box score
best between-inning feature – Goldy Gopher steals children

field dimensions – 328/400/300
starters – Dylan Coleman (MOSt) v. Brett Schulze (MN)
opponent – Missouri State Bears
time of game – 2:45
attendance – 1271
score – 7-2 L

Brewers score that day – 5-3 W

Brewers are currently 10-8 in Cactus League play.

Erik - 2 (+0 worked)

Peter - 1

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

MLB Institutes New Batch of Rule Changes

Last week, a series of rule changes went into affect across the Major Leagues, effective immediately.  So immediate that anybody playing in a Wednesday spring training game had to play under a different set of rules than the day before.  These rules include but are not limited to the following:

  • Managers can now motion to the umpire to issue an intentional walk instead of the pitcher having to throw all 4 pitches.
  • Managers are required to decide within 30 seconds of a play whether or not to review it, and umpire reviews are now on a 2-minute time limit. 
  • Managers are also now allowed to challenge through the 7th inning, which is an additional inning than the former rule.
  • All markings used on the field used for defensive positioning are banned.  This is primarily in response to a lone incident last season in which the Dodgers used lasers to guide their fielders.
  • The "Carter Capps Rule" - a pitcher lifting his back foot during his delivery is now a balk or a ball, depending whether runners are on base or not.
  • "Hazing" has been severely limited - forcing players to dress as women or in any offensive costumes has been banned.
  • Base coach boxes will now be more strictly enforced.
Most of these rules make a lot of sense.  Everybody wants plays to be called accurately, but not at the expense of an extensive NFL-length replay delay, so the new replay rules are a good middle ground for that.  And while I will miss seeing Eddy Sedar hobbling two-thirds of the way to home plate to throw up the stop sign, it's probably best for his own health that he is confined to an area.  The rule that really irks me though is the intentional walk rule.  I'm all for improving inefficiencies in the game - a major criticism of the game for a long time as been the slow, deliberate pace, so I understand the spirit of the law.  But I would argue this rule affects gameplay itself, so I am opposed to it.  This would be like in basketball in that final minute of the game where you need to foul a guy to put him on the line, but instead of actually fouling the player, the coach just walks up to the referee and says "I would like to foul him."  It eliminates the potential for a steal, or a passed ball, or any sort of player error during that sequence to affect the game.  I can think of at least three times that Miguel Cabrera alone has gotten a hit off of an intentional walk pitch gone astray.  Most importantly, I think eliminating or changing a part of in-game strategy, however small it might be, is a slippery slope for the future.  Who knows what could be next after this?  They're already testing a rule in the minor leagues now in which a baserunner would be placed on 2nd base to start extra innings.  The game could look completely different in 10 years.

It's reasons like this that I have not been a huge fan of Rob Manfred thus far.  His biggest platform seems to be that he wants to speed up the game, but he also wants more offense, which is a complete oxymoron.  I want him to stop messing with the game and start focusing his efforts on more important issues like player safety and the Oakland/Tampa stadium situations.  Nobody is going to start watching baseball because it the games are 4 minutes shorter.  NFL games are nearly 4 hours long now, and the popularity of football is only going up.  People either love baseball or they don't and that's just the way it is.  What I worry about most is that Manfred will eventually bring the DH to the National League, and I will not go down without a fight on that one.  I've already written angry letters to my fair share of elected officials this year and I'm not afraid to add one more to the list.