Eats, History, Major Leagues

Giants vs. A’s

My friend David Mahoney very generously secured tickets for this afternoon game and, wonder of wonders, the seats were right behind home plate! That’s a true friend!

This was the second game of the latest installment of the Bay Bridge Series. The Giants won the first in dramatic fashion behind a stellar performance by Giants ace, Madison Bumgarner or Madbum as he is known here. So of course the A’s wanted to turn the tables and even the score. Further adding to the interest in this game is the fact that both teams are in the hunt for the second wild card spot in their respective leagues.

The game (and the series) were (this time) on the west end of the bridge in beautiful Oracle Park (as it is currently named), which is, indeed, one of the more interesting and comely baseball stadiums in the country. It features a seriously oversized Coke bottle (with a slide inside for the kids) and a very large replica of an old-fashioned baseball glove, not to mention the right field landing spot for many of Barry Bonds’ taters, McCovey Cove.

But the name, if it weren’t for the millions of dollars reaped by selling the naming rights, should be Willie Mays Park, since he has been the face of the franchise for nearly 70 years (he’s 88 and started with the Giants in 1951). This statue of him graces the entrance to the ballpark.

Although game time temperature was not up to Stockton’s standards (100), it was a very uncharacteristic 86 at the start and 88 by the end. I couldn’t help remembering the only game I ever attended at the Giants’ prior venue, Candlestick Park, which was in June and the end of a day in court. I knew I was in trouble when I arrived to see the ticket taker with his ear flaps down. My suit coat was scant protection against the Candlestick wind. I nearly froze to death. Not today.

The Giants win in the first game further nudged along, according to David Mahoney, the “happy talk” that the Giants were going to come back as in past years and get to the World Series. We both harbor some skepticism about that.

Our view was buttressed by the A’s offense (Matt Chapman hit two solo home runs and the team racked up 15 hits) and veteran Homer Bailey’s assortment of junk. Bailey didn’t give up a run, allowed only two hits while striking out seven and walking just one. The Giants didn’t have a clue. Oh yes, and he went two for three at the plate as well. But after Bailey left, the A’s relievers didn’t fare so well.

The high point of the game for me came in the bottom of the eighth when the Giants finally broke through to score five runs. The best three of those came on a first pitch home run by Mike Yastrzemski, the grandson of Carl Yastrzemski. Why? Because I happened to be at the game at Fenway Park in 1967 when Carl and the Red Sox clinched the pennant. Even though Mike’s dinger didn’t win the game, it was still a wonderful moment. Here he is just as the pitch is thrown and crossing home plate behind his mates. It wasn’t enough though as the A’s held on to win 9-5.

And let’s not forget food. Oracle has a good variety of food, though given it’s proximity to San Francisco’s large Chinatown, I would have expected more Chinese offerings. I saw only one, and it was obscure – I can’t remember the name. I had a Sheboygan sausage – wait, how did that happen – this ain’t Milwaukee – and it was good. But best of all was the organic food stand offering the world’s only “certified organic corn dog.” And to wash it down, you could get organic lemonade and vodka. No wonder California has so many people. The topper though – David told me this and even if it wasn’t true we’d have to believe it – the area beneath the Jumbotron in centerfield is planted in organic vegetables! Is this a great country or what?!

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Eats, History, M's, Major Leagues

Dodgers vs. Rockies

Before I address anything else, I have to say this is the best game I’ve seen all year and maybe even longer than that. What began as a pitching matchup between Dodger ace Clayton Kershaw and Rox star (get it ?) Kyle Freeland in the very tight NL West race delivered big time. There was good pitching, some amazing defensive plays, crowd excitement and a beautiful evening. Oh yes, and a walk off homer!

We came to L. A. to visit our son and enjoyed a terrific meal and evening of entertainment at the Magic Castle the evening prior, all to prepare for baseball. Neither disappointed.

This was not my first time at Dodger Stadium – that happened almost fifty years ago and there have been many other visits since then. The facility has been modernized and upgraded since then, but the basic feel remains the same. For this game, we were on the lower level and the problem we encountered was that the slope of the stands is too gradual, meaning that all too often, the folks in front of you sometimes partially (or in our case completely) block your view. The two in front of us did this often, having taken on considerable fan fuel before the game and needing to work it off with (all too) frequent chants of “Let’s go Dodgers” encouraging all nearby to join in. Let’s just say the decibel level was high and constant.

Another feature I complained about during the Heat/Humidity Tour is advertising on the foul poles. Those advertised chicken, but the Dodgers took a whole different approach – an Arabic airline.

One surprising and unfortunate aspect – the visual and audio on the Jumbotron were not synchronized. You’d think that the spend on the stadium upgrade would have fixed such a basic problem.

I thought I was mixed up when the grounds crew came out to drag the infield at the end of the second inning. Turns out they do that every other inning here. The standard everywhere else is every third inning.

As to the game, this was an important one for the NL West race. The D’Backs have tanked, so it’s really down to the Dodgers and the Rockies, both for the division title and the wild card. The Dodgers won the first game of the series, putting them a half game ahead, so this one meant either going up 1 1/2 games or 1/2 game back again. For much of the time, the score was tied at 2. In the bottom of the ninth, with two out and nobody on, Yasmani Grandal just missed a walk off home run – caught at the warning track. But then in the bottom of the tenth, Chris Taylor (former Mariner!) managed it for the first time in his career, to the delight of the home crowd.

And then there’s the food. The “naked chicken” wasn’t really naked – it was breaded and deep fried.

Here’s the always popular helmet o’ grub.

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But you can’t go to Chavez Ravine and not have a Dodger dog. Or two. Or three.

Finally, it was bobble head night – Matt Kemp was the subject, shown here in that form and in the flesh.

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History, Major Leagues, Rants

Hall of Fame Redux

The only fitting finale to the Heat/Humidity Tour is a visit to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been, but it is always rewarding. And this one fell on the weekend after the annual induction ceremony, so the crowds were minimal (we were even able to park on the street for free just a few blocks away!).

Speaking of inductions, here’s the six (can you believe it?) who got in this year. Still no Edgar Martinez, which is just wrong. Lobby your representatives people!

Before we got to the Hall, we spotted this hat in one of the many baseball-themed shops that populate Main Street. The explanation leaves many questions unanswered, but provides a truly obscure bit of baseball trivia to use with your friends.

Shortly after entering the Hall, there was a public announcement that the Astros’ world series trophy was on display but would be removed in just over an hour. It looked like all the others I’ve seen, but here it is.

See my July 26, 2016 post about the Hall. None of the suggestions I made then have implemented (is no one listening?!). The museum portion is still much too artifact based. Along with the suggestions I made before, there should be a significant offering on analytics and how it has and is changing the game. But it is baseball and tradition reigns supreme.

I was also shocked that neither the bookstore nor the museum shop carried Tom Verducci’s excellent book, Cubs Way, by far the best baseball book I’ve read in recent years.

The terrific Henry Aaron display has one quote I’d forgotten: “Trying to throw a fastball by Henry Aaron is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster.” Pitcher Curt Simmons.

This display of baseballs from the 1800’s intrigued me because of the small stitches on the balls compared to today’s version. There were others from the early days displayed elsewhere, including the lemon peel ball which had four seams running “vertically.”

So this tour is over. Eighteen states, eleven games, 4,876 miles, way too much ballpark food, but lots and lots of fun. I highly recommend it.

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Eats, History, Major Leagues, Rants

Braves vs. Marlins

Next to last major league ballpark for me, SunTrust Park, where the Atlanta Braves play their home games. It was opened last year, replacing Turner Field. It is big, seemingly functional, and for my money, undistinguished. It has four levels and the seat prices are certainly lower than Houston. The main concourse is wide and the scoreboards well placed and visible, communicating lots of information.

It also features a “Memorial Garden” reminiscent of Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park. But this one has a very cool display – 755 bats make up the record for home runs set by the Braves’ Hank Aaron.

I got to the stadium early and was surprised to hear over an hour of ballpark organ music. A nice relief from the usual blaring public address announcer or blasting music of another sort.

The Braves are in second place in their division, coming off the near no-hitter by Sean Newcomb, but they started poorly, giving up two runs in the first. Pitcher Julio Teheran later helped his own cause with an RBI single, and the Braves went on to win, 5-3.

I was pleased to see Dansby Swanson starting for the Braves at short. He was the number one overall pick in the 2015 by the Diamondbacks and started his professional career with none other than the Hillsboro Hops. The D’Backs traded him to Atlanta the next year and though he’s not a powerhouse at the plate, he’s been solid on defense. And, he’s back home in Georgia.

Swanson

For the first time on this trip, the game-time temperature dropped below 90. It was 83 degrees. I hope I don’t have to rename the tour!

You’ve heard me rant about the shift in a previous post. I observed in this game a new twist (I’d actually seen it in a few games on TV, to be honest). The Marlins played Freddie Freeman straight up at first, but once he got two strikes, the third baseman moved to the other side of second. It worked – Freeman grounded to the second baseman, who was playing not too far to the right of the first baseman, in shallow right field. (Unfortunately for the Marlins, it didn’t work the next at bat – Freeman homered.)

The food was not worth writing about and hardly worth eating. Almost no variety. Boring.

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History, Travel

Montgomery, Alabama

In the last post I described the Legacy Museum here. The same organization, Equal Justice Initiative, headed by Bryan Stevenson, created and built the National Memorial for Peace and Justice on a sloping lot above downtown.

The Memorial is even more powerful than the Museum. It is organized loosely in a spiral with each county where a lynching occurred having a column, and each such column naming the victims whose death could be documented from two sources.

There are 803 counties represented with more than 4,400 victims listed. The columns continue as you move through the display but as the floor heads downward, they are suspended from the ceiling, so that all are on the same level. The “spiral” culminates in a concrete wall with water running over it, which is dedicated to the countless victims whose names are lost, but who are believed to vastly outnumber the 4,400.

Outside, lying flat, are duplicates of the columns, which are intended as public memorials in each of the counties. For a county to get their memorial, they must have the approval of the appropriate local governmental body and an agreement that it will be displayed and maintained in the town square or similar public space. To date, no county has claimed their memorial, though, as the docent pointed out, there is a required process and this Memorial just opened in April.

In some ways, the design of this installation is very simple, but it was obviously done with great thought and care, and the impact is indescribable. If you ever get anywhere near Montgomery, do not fail to visit this wonderful and sobering tribute.

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Eats, History, Minor Leagues, Oddity, Travel

Biscuits vs. Generals

There was no sign of the previous night’s storm when we left New Orleans, headed east and north to Montgomery. Despite the fact that we skirted the Louisiana and Mississippi coastline, we rarely saw the ocean. Instead, it was mostly miles of kudzu.

When we arrived in Montgomery, we went first to the state Capitol, the focal point of so much of the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.

Next came the Legacy Museum, which opened in April. It was conceived and built by Bryan Stevenson, a truly remarkable man I had the pleasure of meeting and the honor of sharing a podium with several years ago at an ABA conference when I was working on a death penalty case. Bryan has made a career of such work through the organization he founded here in Montgomery, Equal Justice Initiative. If you want a real flavor of his genius, read his book, Just Mercy. I highly recommend it. The museum is almost overwhelming it is so powerful a portrait of slavery and its legacy. If you get anywhere near this part of the country, be sure to stop. We will go to the Memorial tomorrow. You can see pictures of it on the website.

Finally, the ball game. Well, almost. On the way to the ballpark, we first smelled, then saw Dreamland Barbeque. We only had 30 minutes, so we asked if we could get some food to take to the game. They told us we wouldn’t be allowed to take their food into the park, but after telling us the ridiculous prices for not-very-good ballpark food, they guaranteed us they could feed us and get us out their door in time for the first pitch. They did, and it was really, really good. Pulled pork and sausage and an unusual BBQ sauce that was not sweet, but had a nice piquancy that really enhanced the meat. Add mac and cheese and slaw and we were happy, to say the least.

The game featured the home town Montgomery Biscuits hosting the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals. The Biscuits are affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays and the Generals with the Diamondbacks in the AA Southern League. The Biscuits ballpark is called Riverwalk Stadium (though there is not a single indication of the name anywhere on the premises) and it is next to the Alabama River, though the river can’t be seen from the park (only railroad tracks). That’s fitting, since the stadium is a refurbished train station. It is quite lovely, and one of the locals told us it is consistently voted one of the top minor league stadiums in the country.

Game time temperature: 91 degrees. And, to my chagrin, they have the cursed Chick-fil-A foul poles, though the lettering on these was black, so one of my complaints vanished. (The violation of baseball propriety still stands!)

Though we didn’t partake, some of the culinary offerings were regional and eponymous.

We did indulge in one offering – a brownie sundae – made with chocolate ice cream. I gave away the cherry (and maybe took a bite of the brownie) before I remembered to take the picture, but it was good, especially on a hot night.

Montgomery was just one game out of first in their division coming into the game, with the Generals trailing them by a game. This game was tight and well played, with the Generals eking out a 3-2 victory. The Biscuits, in their game program, featured Nate Lowe, who was recently promoted from Single A Port Charlotte, where I saw him play (with his brother Josh) in May during my Florida tour.

Nate Lowe

The Biscuits mascot was a puzzle. Their team gear features a smiling biscuit, but the mascot is called “Big Mo” for no apparent reason. It looks to some like a rusty brown elephant, to others like an anteater or maybe an aardvark. One fan said it was a “biscuit eating beast.”

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Eats, History, Minor Leagues, Travel

Klamath Falls vs. San Francisco

After a couple of boring hours on I-5 to Eugene, I thankfully turned east on Hwy 58 toward Oakridge. The drive from there up and over Willamette Pass (5100 feet), past Lake Odell and Diamond Peak, with glimpses of scenic and sparkling Salt Creek is quite simply beautiful. Then it is a straight shot south, past the massive Upper Klamath Lake, into Klamath Falls, the first stop on this year’s tour.

My welcome there was not what I had expected. Because of forest fires in the area, most motels were fully occupied by firefighters and those that had space were asking (and apparently getting) double their normal rates. I did find one with a friendly manager who took pity on an old baseball fan and gave me a break on the rate. Turned out I was just a short walk from the ballpark.

This game wasn’t even professional baseball. It was between the Klamath Falls Gems and the San Francisco Seals of the Great West League, a summer collegiate wood bat league. The players are all in college and this league (and others like it) is designed to provide a program for them to improve their skills during the summer. By the way, that Seals name is a venerable one – harking back to one of the original teams of the Pacific Coast League at its founding in 1903.

The game was played at Kiger Stadium, one of just two remaining all wood stadiums in the country. It is tired. One might even say dilapidated. Parts of the outfield grass were brown. The rafters were decorated with pigeon droppings, deposited by birds clearly not intimidated by the several wooden owls hanging from the under side of the roof. That feature may be what kept the crowd small – I counted about 60 at game time. There were so few people that I found a foul ball in the parking lot when I left.

In keeping with the amateur nature of the event, the players groomed the field, laid out the foul lines, hosed down that part of the infield not covered by the in-ground sprinklers, a feature I’ve not seen in any other ballpark anywhere. In the same vein, apparently the team does not have a laundry service because some players sported already dirty uniforms before any baseball was played. They also shagged foul balls (no bat boy).

The first inning was scruffy, with some errors and all around amateur play, but then calmed down. The teams traded home runs (perhaps made a bit easier by the 4100 foot elevation and the short fence – 325 feet at the corners and 385 in center) and the score was tied at 3 and again at 6. The Gems got a run in the top of the 8th to go ahead, but couldn’t hold it, losing 8-7 after giving up two runs in the top of the 9th.

Some have proposed that I must eat a hot dog every night on this tour because it is “integral to baseball,” and that I should rate them to determine the best of the tour. I fear salt poisoning. However, I did start with a dog, and I can say confidently that it will not make the list. It took forever to cook (I suspect it came out of the freezer when I ordered it) and the condiments were in packets. Need I say more?

Oh yes, and game time temperature was 90 degrees. So the tour is aptly named.

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